Fight for peace!

Fermanagh

My oxymoronic headline is an attempt to explain what I am witnessing today, November 11th, the 100th year commemoration of the end of WW1.

What the day is about is remembrance.  Remembering the lives and the deaths of ordinary men and women who gave their lives for freedom, for peace, for God, Country and Corps.  That last bit is the bit that gets me.  The Corps.

The ceremonies of remembrance are, first and foremost, a grand day out for the military.  In Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, during the ceremony a military honour guard paraded to take station at the stands where poppy wreaths are to be laid.  During the drill the plate of medals attached to the chest of one of the soldiers came loose, swung away from his chest, and fell to the ground.

In that moment I asked if this was perhaps a good thing.  Those medals represent the peak of military achievement by that man, that soldier.  Why, at a ceremony to mark futility of death in battle, do we celebrate our soldiers.  We allow the military to own these ceremonies.  They don their finest uniforms, polish their boots, oil their rifles, raise their flags and march with great precision to the glorification of their corps, their battalion, their unit, division, brigade, regiment, whatever.

On a day when we should be repudiating war we celebrate the soldiers.  We are effectively telling those soldiers “if you are lucky we could be praying for you here someday, when you gloriously die in battle”.

Instead of wearing their finery perhaps it would be better if we asked our soldiers to attend these events in civilian dress.  No marching, no military bands, no pipe or fife and drum.

Cover up your medals, store them away.  Roll up your flags and place them in a cupboard.  Lay away your uniform.  Lock away your weapons.  Let the solemnity of the occasion be fractured by the shouted commands of military drill.  Carry a flower and a handkerchief.

Suicide in the trenches; by Seigfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
who grinned at life in empty joy,
slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
and whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
with crumps and lice and lack of rum,
he put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
who cheer when soldier lads march by,
sneak home and pray you’ll never know
the hell where youth and laughter go.

 

 

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Sons of Érin

PP

An image instantly recognisable to everyone who grew up in Ireland.  Patrick Pearse in this iconic photograph, the hero shot!  He is our national messiah, the sacrificial lamb who was slain so our nation could be born.  Born on this day in 1879.  Teacher, Poet, Writer, Orator, Barrister and the Military Commander of the Easter Rising in 1916.  Pearse was executed in May 1916.

His brother Willie was executed the very next day for his part in the Rebellion.

Patrick wrote the following lament through the eyes of his Mother.  It is Ireland’s version of the Bixby letter from President Abraham Lincoln to the mother of five fallen union soldiers of the Civil War.

 

The Mother; by Patrick Henry Pearse

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
my two strong sons that I have seen go out
to break their strength and die, they and a few,
in bloody protest for a glorious thing,
they shall be spoken of among their people,
the generations shall remember them,
and call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
in the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
of the long sorrow-And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.

 

Willie & Pat

Willie & Patrick Pearse

From Guillemont to Ginchy

16th

Not a photo of Tom Kettle

102 years ago on September 9th, 1916, the Irish 16th Division took the French villages of Guillemont and Ginchy from the Germans in an action that formed part of the Battles of the Somme.

Somewhere between those villages Tom Kettle died in a hail of bullets.

An intellectual, Barrister, Politician, Visionary and devoted Christian he is best remembered for the last three lines of the sonnet he penned to his daughter four days before he died.

To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God; by Tom Kettle

In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
to beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
in that desired, delayed, incredible time,
you’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
and the dear heart that was your baby throne,
to dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
and reason: some will call the thing sublime,
and some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
and tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
but for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
and for the secret Scripture of the poor.

Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

Bold Boy

francisdrake17

Sir Francis Drake was a Bold Sailor

There is a wealth of history in how we use the word “Bold” in Ireland. It is a word that draws a line between the oppressor and the oppressed.

As a child I remember my English cousins being confused when they heard my Mother admonishing myself and my brother for being “bold boys” when we were clearly being naughty. In England it was a positive thing to be “Bold”. Sir Francis Drake was a “bold” sailor. Sometimes Pirate who became the Queens Admiral. He demonstrated that a Good Englishman could get away with walking on the wrong side of strict legality. For English boys boldness embodied all the qualities desired in a strapping young lad who was being raised to rule the British Empire. Bold boys were brave on the rugby field. Bold boys were confident, outgoing and made good leaders of men.

Boldness was not a quality the English wanted exhibited in their Irish, Scottish or Welsh subjects. A bold Irishman was a rebel. He was dangerous and a threat. Irish were expected to be obsequious and subservient. They were expected to take orders, not give them.

Irish mothers raised their sons in a manner to keep them safe. Being bold would not make you safe. Being bold would get you in trouble. So in Ireland being a bold boy was a bad thing.

The bold buccaneer: by John Le Gay Brereton

One very rough day on the Pride of the Fray
in the scuppers a poor little cabin-boy lay,
when the Bosun drew nigh with wrath in his eye
and gave him a kick to remember him by,
as he cried with a sneer: “What good are you here?
Go home to your mammy, my bold buccaneer.”

Now the Captain beheld, and his pity upwelled:
with a plug in the peeper the Bosun he felled.
With humility grand he extended his hand
and helped the poor lad, who was weeping, to stand,
as he cried: “Have no fear; I’m the manager here.
Take heart, and you’ll yet be a bold buccaneer.”

But how he did flare when the lad then and there
doffed his cap and shook down a gold banner of hair.
Though his movements were shy, he’d a laugh in his eye,
and he sank on the Captain’s broad breast with a sigh,
as he cried: “Is it queer that I’ve followed you here?
I’m your sweetheart from Bristol, my bold buccaneer.”

On an isle in the west, by the breezes caressed,
the bold buccaneer has a warm little nest,
and he sits there in state amid pieces of eight
and tackles his rum with a manner elate,
as he cries: “O my dear little cabin-boy, here
is a toast to the babe of the bold buccaneer!”

Band of Brothers

Crispins

Happy St Crispin and Crispinian's Day
And now let's hear it from Henry of England, fifth of his name.

WESTMORLAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Centenary of R.M.S. Leinster Disaster

lenister_featuredImage

RMS Leinster was the greatest maritime disaster in Ireland. Sunk one month before the end of WW1 just outside of Dublin Bay.

One passenger was Francis Edward Higgerty. On his way from Canada to take up a commission in the British Army, he took the opportunity to visit the land of his ancestors. The visit cost him his life. Frank was a poet and wrote the following verse on October 8th 1918, two days before the Leinster was torpedoed. The poem was found on his body.

From Canada my homeland, to Ireland my Sireland,
from Ottawa to Dublin, some three thousand miles away.
The call of one’s relations, above the din and war of countries
conserves the one green spot in memory for ever and a day.
And when back o’er the sea I wander to the land that there lies yonder
I’ll bring tidings from dear old Ireland to the land I adore,
to Canada my homeland, from Erin my own Sireland,
stretch fond memories and emotions for ever and evermore.

Three 17 year olds Anthony Baker, Anthony Jones and Ralph Murray, students of the Irish School of Telegraphy in Cork were also lost on the Leinster. The body of Anthony Jones was recovered and buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork. The bodies of Anthony Baker and Ralph Murray were never recovered.

Les Morts; by Albert Murray (Father of Ralph)

They sleep in quiet waters where Kish towers,
‘mid sand and slender sea-grass soft and deep,
through all the sunlit and the moonlit hours
they sleep.

They are content, they murmur not, nor weep:
no rushing flotsam hastes to mock their powers;
they are content, and very deep
their sleep.

No tombs enclose them, and they need no flowers,
no mothers’ kisses make their fond hearts leap —
‘mid slender sea-grass, bending where Kish towers
they sleep.