Saturday, 28 June 2014

   Drogheda, not least as I saw it then, electrically illuminated of a summer evening, struck me as a very attractive place. Anne took me to an excellent, affordable backpackers’ hostel on the County Meath (southern), as opposed to Louth (northern) side of the river Boyne. In return for her kindness I gave her the last Child 31 DVD I had on me at the time, especially because she was a teacher, who might therefore be able to introduce Mary’s Meals at her school. Soon after checking in I accepted an invitation to join the young manager of the hostel and some friends in the kitchen, and was offered some of their takeaway pizza and the chance to buy a bottle or two of lager beer. We chatted animatedly about football, and one of them recounted a visit he’d once made to Whitchurch near Bristol, which struck me as amazing because that day was Pentecost, aka Whit Sunday.
St Oliver Plunkett's head, Drogheda
   Two Olivers, one a hero, the other a villain, must feature in any account of the historic town of Drogheda. Like St Patrick and St Malachy before him, St Oliver Plunkett was Archbishop of Armagh from 1669 until his execution on trumped-up charges of treason in 1681. The renown of his pastoral and administrative accomplishments however, not least in the field of educational provision for both Catholics and Protestants, was so great, that not even a jury comprised solely of Protestants 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’s refusal to spare his life was born of a fear of inflaming anti-Catholic sentiment, typified 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 guilty of numerous atrocities in Ireland, shocking even by the standards of his day, most infamously his massacre of the Royalist garrison at Drogheda in September 1649, along with hundreds of unarmed civilians. In Drogheda's St Peter's Church meanwhile, St Oliver Plunkett's head is displayed in a very un-grisly way in my opinion (reminiscent of a mummified Egyptian pharaoh), and continues to draw the faithful in significant numbers, as it has ever since its arrival from Germany in 1921. Next to it can be found the following prayer:
St Oliver Plunkett - please pray for us.

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.

My visit to St Peter’s took place on Monday 20th May, after Mass at St Mary’s beautiful church, just down the road from the hostel. I spent much of the afternoon writing an entry for the blog, ‘The Island of Saints and Scholars’, in which I vented some of my anger at the British government’s determination to defile and demean the institution of marriage, contrasting this to the situation in Ireland, whose laws still largely reflect Judeo-Christian morality. The final words I wrote were taken from that day’s morning prayer in a very precious May 2013 edition of a booklet called Magnificat, which a friend had given me:
"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." 

With another appointment for vaccinations in Belfast next day, in the same internet session I booked an evening train back to NI, though half an hour or so before departure I was in another panic about this, as I thought I’d lost the piece of paper with the ticket code on it (in fact it was in my breast pocket). The cyber café where I’d been was closed by that stage, but thankfully I was able to go back to the hostel and ask to be allowed to quickly check my emails on the manager’s laptop. Returning to Belfast in the evening, the walk out to the improvised ‘bothy’ I’d identified, on the southern outskirts, was longer than I’d remembered, but I got a reasonably successful sleep on a dry patch of ground, thanks be to God.

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