An ancient youth.

Boyne-Valley.jpg

In archaeological terms Ireland is a child.  There were no humans on the island in the paleolithic.  We have no history of neanderthals, homo habilis, homo erectus or earlier australopithecenes.  In the grand history of man we arrived on the island as fully formed modern day humans.  The earliest people arrived between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.  They probably walked here over land-bridges left by the retreating ice sheets of the last great ice age.

At  the same time the history of Ireland is ancient.  We have great monuments and burial mounds that pre-date Stonehenge and the Pyramids.  We occupy a landscape that is steeped in history and sense of place.  We are well rooted in our environment and secure in our place in the world.

Tourists come to Ireland and take a quick spin around what is a small island.  They tick off the boxes on their holiday to-do list;  The Wild Atlantic Way, the Cliffs of Moher, Giants Causeway, Dublin Castle, Irelands Ancient East, Killarney, Queen Maeves Grave, Yeats Tombstone, the Guinness Brewery, Rock of Cashel etc.  In the new world that is how you have vacations, you go from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.

The odd time you meed a real world traveler who understands how to see Ireland properly.  Ireland is to be found in the fields and ditches, down back alleys and up mountain sides.  It is a country of many small attractions, each one having its own story.  The trick is to find the local historian who can walk a site with you and bring it to life.

Then you go to the pub and discuss the important things; sport, politics, religion, the shape of a girls ankle and the fall of a sparrow.  On your way home, if you are very sensitive to your surroundings, you may even be lucky enough to turn out a shadow that could be a fox, or a fairy, a banshee or the shade of a long dead king.

At Currabwee; by Francis Ledwidge

Every night at Currabwee
Little men with leather hats
Mend the boots of Faery
From the tough wings of the bats.
So my mother told to me,
And she is wise you will agree. .

Louder than a cricket’s wing
All night long their hammer’s glee
Times the merry songs they sing
Of Ireland glorious and free.
So I heard Joseph Plunkett say,
You know he heard them but last May.

And when the night is very cold
They warm their hands against the light
Of stars that make the waters gold
Where they are labouring all the night.
So Pearse said, and he knew the truth,
Among the stars he spent his youth.

And I, myself, have often heard
Their singing as the stars went by,
For am I not of those who reared
The banner of old Ireland high,
From Dublin town to Turkey’s shores,
And where the Vardar loudly roars?

Happy Thanksgiving

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Today is Canadian Thanksgiving.  My brother Rory is Canadian, and he is over in Ireland at present, so he is having a family get together.  Rory is the boy on far left of the photo.  I am the one beside him with my back to the camera.  My two oldest brothers are missing from the photo.  I am guessing that one of them took this.

It is a great photo for capturing the zeitgeist.  Clearly back in those days Batman was popular.  Imagine that!

If you saw a picnic today, would you see five kids drinking cups of tea?  Note the Primus stove against the wall with the kettle on it.  The kettle was a fundamental requirement of a picnic in those days.  No coke or sodas, and strangely enough, no overweight people.

We are all sitting on a rubberised groundsheet.  In those days people worried about damp the way we now worry about bird flu and Al Quaeda terrorists.  Damp was the enemy.  You did not sit on damp ground.  You did not wear damp clothes.  Laundry regimes ensured that clothes were dried, folded and stored in a hot press to drive out any residual molecules of moisture before the clothes were worn.

My sister Deirdre (far right) has one trouser leg riding up and one held down with a strap.  Remember when girls slacks had hoops that went around the foot?  They stretched the fabric to keep it sheer.  Do they do that anymore?

This was taken in Skerries, a seaside and Fishing village in North County Dublin.  The Quinn Family (Fergal Quinn of Superquinn fame) used to run the Red Island holiday resort there at the time.  The pink paint on the bench looks funny.  Nowadays it is all blues and greens for seaside furniture.  It’s like somebody wrote a manual of approved furniture paints for seaside applications.  If they painted promenade benches pink today there would probably be complaints from the “concerned public”.  Too racy by far.

Trying to put a date on this.  I am guessing it is the summer of ’69.  That would make me 5 and Batman (Cormac) 3.  He looks about 3.  But he could be 4, so it could be 1970.

My sister Síle (black hair) believed she was adopted.  I wonder why?  For info, the two missing older boys also have red hair.

Note that despite the glorious sunshine and a clear blue sky, there is an umbrella hooked on the back of the bench.  Well, it is Ireland after all.  It never rains on those with umbrellas!

Today also happens to be my mothers birthday, so the thanksgiving is also a birthday celebration.  Sadly I will miss it in person, but thanks to the wonders of Skype I hope to attend in spirit.  Happy 86th Maura.  Here is the poem that I always associate with my mom.  She learned it for her Diploma in Speech and Drama and I have vivid memories of arriving home for lunch from school, to hear her reciting it.  And I remember that my lunch was not ready.  Imagine, a parent having a life!   The indignity.

Stony Grey Soil ; by Patrick Kavanagh

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick-tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life-conquering plough!
Your mandril strained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of coward’s brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food.

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I still stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisened pen

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsha, Drummeril, Black Shanco –
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.

Dignity

As babies we have none of it, as children we want it not and as we age and grow weak and decrepit it slips away from us as our bodies let us down.  But for most of our lives we value our dignity.  If die we must at least let us die with our dignity intact.

Sadly this was not allowed to one young Indian woman who died in a hospital, a long way from home. Savita Halappanavar died from childbirth complications in a modern western hospital.  She was, as least in part, the victim of the medieval and sexist influence of the Catholic Church dominance of schools and hospitals in Ireland.  The chaotic state of abortion guidelines for the medical profession in Ireland is a throwback to the misogyny of a church which does not permit priests to marry, but tolerates their abuse of children.  Where is the dignity in that?

Half way around the world another Indian girl died in a hospital a long way from home.  Victim of a brutal gang rape and a subsequent assault designed to kill her in the most undignified way possible.  To add to her misery the police, instead of caring for her, argued with each other over juristiction at the scene.

And what of the rapists?  Products of a Delhi slum.  Do they have dignity?  Did they ever?

How can we protect dignity in others if we have never known it ourselves?  For this reason I am very proud of my 16 year old son, who is travelling to Kolkata in February.  His mission is to bring dignity to the street children of that city.  That is a gift that will last a lifetime, and more.  Once you give dignity to a child they will want to pass it on to their own children.

If you would like to know more about his trip you can follow his blog on wordpress:

http://jerrytocalcutta.wordpress.com/

and if you are moved to help him reach his target, press this link.  He is over three-quarters of the way there, so please help him make his target.

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/raiseforcalcutta/

As for those two Indian ladies who died in such tragic circumstances, I offer a poem out of respect.  May they rest in peace and live long in the hearts of their loved ones.

Break, break, break ; by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
         The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
         That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
         That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
         To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
         And the sound of a voice that is still!
Break, break, break
         At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
         Will never come back to me.