Friday, October 27, 2023

Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace

Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer and fasting today, to petition God for peace in the Holy Land and elsewhere.

Every human being is infinitely precious. How horrible that, instead of caring for each other, some of us are trying to bring irreplaceable human lives to an end.

I don't want to trivialize the issues. They are obviously complex and real.

But I can't help thinking of something written by Carl Sagan (not someone I usually agree with): "If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another."

Send our troubled world peace, oh Lord, and remove hatred and strife from our hearts!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Villains in the Wax Museum, the Wicker Man, and a Swedish Astrochemist

The Halloween special of Ireland's Own, now on sale, contains my articles on villains (based around waxworks in the National Wax Museum) and the fiftieth anniversary of The Wicker Man.

The November issue of St. Martin's Magazine contains my article on Karen Öberg, a Swedish astrochemist who converted to the Catholic faith through reading C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Ballad of Ballymun

A good few months ago, I published this "ballad" (though it's only the lyrics, and there's no music) on the Tribute to The Old Ballymun Facebook page.

Tribute to the Old Ballymun is an extraordinarily active Facebook page. There seem to be multiple posts every day, and the common refrain is that the old Ballymun-- that is, Ballymun before the regeneration, when it was mostly tower-blocks and apartments complexes-- was a great place to live. Certainly there seems to be tremendous nostalgia for it.

As per the refrain, I really am glad I grew up in Ballymun. I like how distinctive it was.

It occurs to me that nearly everything in my life experience has been unusual. My name is highly unusual. Ballymun was an unusual place to grow up. I went to all-Irish language schools, and that was quite unusual. No wonder I'm a contrarian.

Anyway, this ballad was a bit of an experiment, a test-balloon. Regular readers (God bless them) will know that I write poetry, and also-- absurdly ambitious though this is-- that I aspire to somehow assist in a revival of traditional poetry.

The first and biggest hurdle is getting your poetry read in the first place. And getting it read is quite separate from getting it published. It might be published and not read. It might be read and not published. Does anyone read literary magazines?

I'm trying to think of strategies to get my poetry read. One is to write on a subject that people car about. Another is to write in a ballad format, which is less threatening than many verse forms, being repetitive and predictable. (I don't say that in a disparaging way.)

Anyway, the experiment was very successful. The readers of the Tribute to the Old Ballymun Facebook page were highly enthusiastic about my poem, and said lots of kind things about it. It got hundreds of "likes" and comments and shares.

Good or bad, here it is.

I grew up in the Ballymun flats
We weren’t exactly aristocrats
But I saw from my living room all the way
To the Wicklow Mountains and Dublin Bay.
We had wider horizons than anyone
And I’m glad I grew up in Ballymun.

Grey grey concrete and green green grass
Flickering lights in the underpass.
We had no money but lots of fun
And I’m glad I grew up in Ballymun.

In Ballymun our shop was a van
We had Alien Spacers and Desperate Dan
And Barry McGuigan and A-Team snacks
And we guzzled our way through packs and packs.
We ate such junk, but we’d run and run
So we didn’t get fat in Ballymun.

Grey grey concrete and green green grass
Flickering lights in the underpass
We had no money but lots of fun
And I’m glad I grew up in Ballymun.

I’d lie in bed past the witching hour
And stare at the light over Connolly Tower
The red light that kept us safe in bed
From low-flying airplanes overhead
I thought it would glow as long as the sun
But it’s gone with the rest of the old Ballymun.

Grey grey concrete and green green grass
Flickering lights in the underpass.
We had no money but lots of fun
And I’m glad I grew up in Ballymun.

Miss Mary’s and Tommy’s, the Penthouse, the Towers
All names that conjure a world that was ours.
The sky-scraping bonfires at Halloween
The biggest bonfires I’ve ever seen
Now “Help the Halloween party”’s gone
And they go trick-or-treating in Ballymun.

Grey grey concrete and green green grass
Flickering lights in the underpass
We had no money but lots of fun
And I’m glad I grew up in Ballymun.

It wasn’t all pretty, it wasn’t all nice,
God knows there was vandalism and vice
The lifts would be broken, the chutes would be full,
But how could you ever say it was ever dull?
I was proud as a peacock that everyone
In Ireland knew all about Ballymun.

Grey grey concrete and green green grass
Flickering lights in the underpass
We had no money but lots of fun
And I’m glad I grew up in Ballymun.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

Well, it's Friday the Thirteenth! I'm not superstitious, because it's bad luck, but I do like the idea of Friday the Thirteenth. I love all holidays, observances, commemorations, traditions, and special dates, as my last post attests.

To mark the day, you might want to read this post from ten years ago (yikes-- that's scary in itself!) on spooky television title sequences.

Speaking of spooky things, I actually watched a horror movie last night: Burnt Offerings, a sort of haunted house film from 1976, starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Burgess Meredith. I remembered it from my childhood; for years, myself and my brothers had a memory of the "smiley chauffeur", an unspeaking character who makes a few brief (but very memorable) appearances in the film, and who terrified us. We didn't even remember the title, which I only worked out recently. The film is pretty good.

Incidentally, I was recently corresponding (for work purposes) with an academic from Sacramento, who recognised my name from reading this blog! That cheered me up, since I'm increasingly unsure whether anyone reads it. The blog statistics have never been very helpful; I think they mostly track bots.

I rarely get comments any more. I won't go on moaning about this. I know one reader has been unable to leave comments for a long time and others may had this issue.

I'm wondering if I've alienated some of my former readership. There has been a lot of polarization in the Church recently and, unlike many of those who share my general outlook, I've refused to align with the Cardinal Burke/Archbishop Schneider/Cardinal Sarah camp. Not that I don't share many of their anxieties. I do. But, at the same time, I believe that the Holy Spirit is still very much in charge of things. I'm also unhappy at the manner in which this faction has increasingly embraced a sort of surly oppositionalism, and even questioned the validity of Vatican II. I'm not going down that road. I'm a JPII boy all the way.

Or maybe it's not at that at all, and I'm exaggerating the importance of my opinion to anyone.

In any case, this blog has been going so long that, in my mind, it's become a tradition of its own, and I hope to keep it going as long as I can.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Ivy Day 2023

Finally, after several years of intending to do so, I made it to the Ivy Day wreath-laying and oration in Glasnevin ceremony.

Ivy Day is the day when Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891), the former leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, is commemorated. He came close to achieving Home Rule for Ireland, but his career fell apart when he was revealed to be having an extra-marital affair. The scandal created fault-lines in Irish society between "Parnellites" and "anti-Parnellites".

Most of the Catholic clergy (though not all) were anti-Parnellites. After his fall, Parnell was something of a hero to the more modernizing and secular strands of Irish society. I don't really know his own views on social issues. He seems to have been intensely focused on the issue of Home Rule. I'm more sympathetic to the anti-Parnellites.

Nevertheless, Parnell was a great man. He's not really a popular hero in Ireland today, but then, neither are the vast majority of patriots and statesmen of our past. Irish people today are more interested in garden centres and shopping expeditions than anything dull like heritage or citizenship.

My main reason for going to the commemoration was my tenderness for old traditions. I don't really think we can have enough traditions.

There was an oration from Martin Mansergh, a former Fianna Fáil TD. It was eloquent, but it reflected the sort of civic patriotism that leaves me rather cold. I don't really see the point of an independent Ireland, or a united Ireland, unless it's a vehicle for a revived native culture. It can still be pluralistic and diverse.

The piper played "Raglan Road" and other tunes, as well as the National Anthem at the end.

There were about thirty people there. They all seemed to know each other, though I may be wrong about that. They were very welcoming. I hope to attend in future years.

Friday, October 6, 2023

"Though You Hunt the Christian Man..."

G.K. Chesterton was a very variable poet, and much of his verse (in my view) doesn't rise much above the level of accomplished doggerel. But at his best he was first-rate.

I think these verses from The Ballad of the White Horse express why I am a Christian, in a way, better than anything else. Christianity at its worst (and not perverted into something else entirely) seems better than anything else at its best. Even invoking the name of Christ seems to carry an atmosphere of white light and morning air and opening horizons. And all of the movements and philosophies that seek to destroy Christianity seem moribund even in their hour of triumph.

The speaker is King Arthur, disguised as a minstrel, replying to the Danish invaders who are mocking Christianity.

"But though I lie on the floor of the world,
With the seven sins for rods,
I would rather fall with Adam
Than rise with all your gods.

"What have the strong gods given?
Where have the glad gods led?
When Guthrum sits on a hero's throne
And asks if he is dead?

"Sirs, I am but a nameless man,
A rhymester without home,
Yet since I come of the Wessex clay
And carry the cross of Rome,

"I will even answer the mighty earl
That asked of Wessex men
Why they be meek and monkish folk,
And bow to the White Lord's broken yoke;
What sign have we save blood and smoke?
Here is my answer then.

"That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly,
And you hang over us like the sky,
You are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame.

"That though you hunt the Christian man
Like a hare on the hill-side,
The hare has still more heart to run
Than you have heart to ride.

"That though all lances split on you,
All swords be heaved in vain,
We have more lust again to lose
Than you to win again.

"Your lord sits high in the saddle,
A broken-hearted king,
But our king Alfred, lost from fame,
Fallen among foes or bonds of shame,
In I know not what mean trade or name,
Has still some song to sing;

"Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;

"Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery.

"Nor monkish order only
Slides down, as field to fen,
All things achieved and chosen pass,
As the White Horse fades in the grass,
No work of Christian men.

"Ere the sad gods that made your gods
Saw their sad sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale,
That you have left to darken and fail,
Was cut out of the grass.

"Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things."

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

My Hy Brasil article in Ireland's Own

My article on the mythical Irish island of Hy Brasil is the cover story of the Autumn Special of Ireland's Own, and it also contains my article on Archdeacon Bartholomew Cavanagh, the parish priest of Knock who tragically missed out on the apparition.