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."

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