Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Why Oliver Cromwell's beatification process was mothballed

Two Olivers, one a hero, the other a villain, must feature in any account of the historic town of Drogheda. St Oliver Plunkett was Archbishop of Armagh (Primate of Ireland) from 1669 until his execution on trumped-up charges of treason in 1681. The renown of his pastoral and administrative virtues was so great, not least his unstinting efforts to improve educational provision for both Catholic and Protestant youth, that not even a Protestant jury would convict him in Ireland. So he was re-tried at Westminster Hall in London, and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. King Charles II refused to spare his life for fear of inflaming anti-Catholic sentiment, exemplified in the previous generation by Oliver Cromwell (Charles I's murderer), whose head was still at that time displayed on a spike outside Westminster Hall (following his posthumous execution at Tyburn in 1661). Besides succeeding where Guy Fawkes failed, Cromwell was the architect of a campaign of exceptionally violent repression in Ireland, ruthless even by the standards of its day, most infamously his massacre of the Royalist garrison at Drogheda in September 1649, along with 'an unknown but significant number' of civilians (Wikipedia). St Oliver Plunkett's head, meanwhile, is displayed in a very un-grisly way in my opinion, reminiscent of a mummified Egyptian pharaoh, in Drogheda's St Peter's Church (with various other artefacts including the door of his prison cell at Tyburn), drawing huge numbers of pilgrims since its arrival from Germany in 1921. Alongside it is the following prayer:

Glorious Martyr, Oliver, who willingly
gave your life for your faith,
help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you
to the See of Peter.

By your intercession and example
may all hatred and bitterness
be banished from the hearts
of Irish men and women.

May the peace of Christ reign
in our hearts,
as it did in your heart,
even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland.  Amen.

There's so much i could say about Dublin's buzz, the soul of Belfast, and curiously the festive spirit in the village of Naul on the old road that leads south from Drogheda, among other things, but they shall have to wait, either until the final write-up, God-willing, or until a later post. I've come to Ballina, County Tipperary, on a slightly cheeky stagecoach, to be looked after by a very kind cousin and his family, and must be on my way to Limerick before nightfall. May the Good Lord bless you wherever you are!

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Island of Saints and Scholars

On Friday i called in to Keegan's very finely decorated, wood-pannelled Bar, in Armagh City, to ask if the barman would fill up my water bottle. He did so, but i was summoned over to a gentleman a few meters away. Shortly afterwards, this fellow was fixing me with a direct stare and gesticulating, as he got up to leave, saying:

"If you move from here I'll wring your neck!"

He was going round the corner to buy me a spectacular portion of cod and chips! Bringing it back however, he made clear that i would have to wait until midnight before eating it, as it was Friday, and he had just returned from Medjugorje on Monday - where Our Lady has been urging observance of a fast, on bread and water, on Wednesdays and Fridays, over the last thirty years. And of course it didn't do any harm that he knew of Mary's Meals, from the cafe in Medjugorje. The fish and chip box happened to be covered in superlatives, like 'succulent', 'delicious', 'excellent', and most frequently of all - 'hot'. But the meal was certainly cold by the time i had it for a very early breakfast, at dawn, in an abandoned shed whose entrance was barely visible from the roadside some miles south of there.

In Scotland i was constantly(!) showered with donations to Mary's Meals, and generous support of one kind or another has continued in Ireland, all the way down here to Drogheda (ie on both sides of the political divide). Near Dundalk i was taken in their car by a solicitous local couple on a detour to the Shrine of St Brigid, at Faughart, learning there about the reed cross which the 'Mary of the Gael' is said to have sewn together, for the edification of a dying chieftain, to whom she administered the rite of baptism. From the hill-top there, shrouded in mist, could be seen the 'Gap of the North', or 'Moyry Pass', where numerous battles have been fought, this being a point of access to Ulster, not encumbered by forest or mountains. And one of these, in 1318, claimed the life of a personage who inevitably caught my eye, and whose burial place is believed to be on that very hill-top - Edward Bruce, a younger brother of the more famous Robert.

On the way here to Drogheda on the feast of Pentecost yesterday, a fellow among the crowd at O'Connors Gaelic Football ground saw me pass by, and signalled that i should go over and watch the game. Never having seen it before, that half hour or so was a revelation in terms of the game's skill, speed and fluency. And feeling especially worn out as i came near here last night, a kind lady offered me a lift which i couldn't refuse, and took me to the excellent 'Spoon and the Stars' hostel, where i was made to feel truly at home, and slept brilliantly, having been treated to pizza and great company (to the point where i could even forgive the co-proprietor's wearing a Chelsea shirt this morning...).

There's a certain irony in the popular stereotype of the Irish, among English people especially, that they somehow lack intelligence. Their loyalty to Christianity, of principally the Roman Catholic but also the Reformed varieties, has contributed to this, but how far does this merit their designation, for so many centuries, as second, or even third class citizens?

While there are people of every race and creed in Ireland, it isn't the Irish who took away the legal protection for unborn children, resulting in a demographic situation in England where literally hundreds of schools now have no, or only dwindling minorities of ethnically British pupils, and where cities like London, Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds and Leicester have growing "Muslim neighbourhoods" - and who can blame Muslims for having the common decency to respect the human rights of their own dear unborn children?

It isn't the Irish who stubbornly persist in exploiting human embryos for research purposes, even after scientific progress in the area of stem cells has made this totally unnecessary, as well as barbaric.

And it isn't Irish politicians who have arrogantly decided that marriage was up for redefinition, to suit the faddish whims of an increasingly witless, moribund culture - or Irish politicians who fancy that, once marriage has been mucked about with once, it won't happen again.

From today's morning prayer in Magnificat, a monthly magazine which a friend gave me before i left:

"Beside the river that watered the garden of Eden, God offered the first couple the choice between obedient love and self-seeking death. The choice remains ours to make each day."

Friday, 10 May 2013

Ayr on a Shoe String


How does one economise on a journey from Dalmally, near Oban, to Ayr - going via Moscow?

Very simple really. After East Kilbride, you take the A719 via the village of Moscow! At Craig Lodge, Dalmally, where Mary's Meals is based, it was splendid to stay in a beautiful room under the special protection of St Patrick (who i've seen more than once claimed for Scotland in the past couple of weeks). I also spent an extra night in a beehive cell, like those inhabited by the very earliest Christian missionaries to Scotland and Ireland, on the mountainside above Craig Lodge, reading part of St Adamnan's extraordinary Life of St Columba, and a short treatise on St Kessog. On the way down to my second visit to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, there was outstanding free accommodation and hospitality from Rev Dane Sherrard, a Church of Scotland minister responsible for the above-mentioned account of St Kessog, who specialises in pilgrimage at Luss (a friend of my Dad's), and from Fr Willy Slavin, the parish priest of St Simon's church in Partick (a Scot who has in fact a better claim to be Bristolian than i have, being born and baptised in Filton). Every year there is a walk from St Simon's to Blantyre, to commemorate the inestimable help in learning Latin given to the young David Livingstone by Fr Daniel Gallagher, enabling him to matriculate as a student of medicine at the university of Glasgow. Something i learnt at his birthplace museum in Blantyre (for which Fr Slavin bought me a ticket), inclines me to believe very strongly that, even if the international media don't know anything about the walk i hope to do, Dr David Livingstone himself does. As a result of the extra night in Dalmally, i left there on Wednesday 1st of May - the 140th anniversary of the death of Dr Livingstone, in the early hours of May 1st 1873. Previously i had left Blantyre in the week of the 200th anniversary of his birth: 19th March 1813. Interestingly, both these dates are feasts of St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. And here's where i do a bit of speculation. Scotland has very long established links to Malawi, dating from Dr Livingstone's journeying there in the 19th century, hence the place names Blantyre and Livingstonia. And there is no better single representative of these enduring ties than the work of Mary's Meals, originating there, and now helping a quarter of a million hungry schoolchildren in numerous countries around the world to receive a meal in their place of education . So i believe that Dr Livingstone is no less keen to tell the world about Mary's Meals than any of the tireless volunteers, employees and helpers who generously devote so much of their time and resources to it.

This journey is principally inspired by the film Child 31, which i cannot reccommend highly enough:

Apologies for being a bit remiss in keeping this blog up to date - and i only have a few more minutes in this library in Newton Stewart, Galloway. Thanks be to God however, the knee has been fine. I'm currently on my way, God-willing, to Whithorn, where St Ninian built Scotland's first ever church, dedicated to St Martin of Tours (a special Protector, with St Joseph and Dr Livingstone, of this pilgrimage) - and i now hope, with God's help, to continue not via England, but via Ireland.