Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Poem for St. Bridget's Day

Your fire has never ceased to burn
A glow by which we live and learn
And when spring dawns our thoughts return
To Bridget, Mary of the Gael.

You are no pagan deity
But God bathed you mysteriously
In lights of ancient piety
Dear Bridget, Mary of the Gael.

Within the Bridget's Cross we find
The fabric of the Gaelic mind
Folklife and faith securely twined
Dear Bridget, Mary of the Gael.

With Patrick and with Colmcille
You guided us to do God's will
In these dark days, be with us still
Dear Bridget, Mary of the Gael.

Ar uair ár mbás bí linn go fóill
To watch, to comfort, and console
Spread out your cloak upon my soul
Dear Bridget, Mary of the Gael.

Friday, January 26, 2024

A Petition for More Public Bathrooms in Dublin

This has become something of a hobby-horse of mine in recent year, so I decided to start a petition on the subject.

Who knows whether it will reach the dizzy heights of my previous petition, asking RTE to bring back the national anthem at the end of the day's programming? Five people signed that!

Can we make it six this time? Help me out, mates, and sign here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Popes in a Year Email Service: A Recommendation

For a week now, I've been subscribed to the "Popes in a Year" email from Flocknote, and I recommend it to you.

You can sign up here.

I've been greatly enjoying these emails, and hopefully benefitting from them. There's a capsule description of one Pope every day. It's just the right length, if it was any longer I might not read them. (I find the jokey tone a bit annoying, but that seems to be the fashion these days.)

Yes, you can just look the Popes up on Wikipedia, or anywhere else, but it's nice to have these pen portraits delivered to your inbox every day.

I'm frequently amazed at how little I know about papal history. I learned only this week that there was an Anti-Pope Christopher who reigned from 903-904 and who was considered a legitimate Pope all the way up to the twentieth century.

It's also quite astonishing that the Vatican itself concedes that, at certain periods in history, it's impossible to tell who was the legitimate Pope when there are various claimants.

There's a great deal of discussion on the nature and limits of the papacy these days. Learning more about papal history can only help us in navigating such debates, whether as participants or as audience.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

My Talk at the Library Staff Day

On Tuesday I gave a talk at the annual library Staff Day. The library Staff Day has become an institution and a tradition in its own right. I've just delved into my diary and found that the first one happened in 2014. I've often been on the organizing committee for the event, including this year. This is the first time I've given a talk.

UCD Library is spread over one main library (the James Joyce Library, where I work) and four branch libraries-- the veterinary science library, the architecture library, the health sciences library, and the business studies library. They're all on the Belfield campus apart from the business sciences library, which is in UCD's other campus in Blackrock.

Between the five different locations and the fact that people work in different departments, the staff is quite dispersed. So the Staff Day is one day in the year when the whole staff gets together. The day usually starts with a "State of the Library" address by a librarian, and often an address by someone high up on the university hierarchy, like the Deputy President. Inevitably we're told what wonderful work we're all doing and how important the library is to UCD.

After that there are talks on other subjects, some library-related, some not. In previous years we've had guest speakers, though we didn't this year. There's usually a nice lunch, a fun quiz for people who want to take it, and activities like Scrabble or tai chi.

This year the decision was made to round the day off with "lightning talks" by library staff. We could talk on whatever we wanted.

I chose to talk on the subject of Ivy Day, which will be explained in the transcript below. (I always read from a script.)

It's a strange thing. I don't really get very nervous about speaking in public. I do get nervous to some extent. Five or ten minutes before, my heart is hammering. But once I get up there I'm usually OK, and even enjoy the experience.

In contrast, I dread the coffee breaks at events like this. Just as I dread "coffee mornings", or "finger food" parties, or any social occasion where people are "mingling" and "circulating". Just walking up to someone and starting to talk to them randomly has never been easy to me.

Even with people I know! I have different strategies for dealing with this. Sometimes I actually pre-arrange with people to go and chat with me, so I'm not standing on my own. Sometimes I go find a corner to sit and read. Sometimes I get so sick of the whole thing that I stand in the middle of the floor and sip my tea, not even making an effort. (Very often this results in somebody coming to chat to me, which is fine.)

Anyway, the talk went down very well, for which I'm grateful. Here it is. I began with some poetry, which will surprise none of my readers here:

Come gather round me, Parnellites,
And praise our chosen man,
Stand upright on your legs awhile,
Stand upright while you can,
For soon we lie where he is laid
And he is underground;
Come fill up all those glasses
And pass the bottle round.

And here's a cogent reason
And I have many more,
He fought the might of England
And saved the Irish poor,
Whatever good a farmer's got
He brought it all to pass;
And here's another reason,
That Parnell loved a lass.

And here's a final reason,
He was of such a kind
That every man that sings a song
Keeps Parnell in his mind
For Parnell was a proud man,
No prouder trod the ground,
And a proud man's a lovely man
So pass the bottle round.

There’s never a bad reason to recite Yeats. Those verses are from “Come Gather Round Me Parnellites”, a poem Yeats wrote in 1936, a few years before his death. As we all know, the Parnellites and the anti-Parnellites were factions that emerged in Ireland after the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell in 1890, when he was revealed to be having an affair with a married woman. The split has left quite a distinguished literary legacy, which includes this poem and the famous Christmas dinner scene in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.

Parnell died a year later and his funeral, on the sixth of October, was attended by an estimated crowd of two hundred thousand. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery and the crowd took ivy from the cemetery walls and put it in their lapels. This led to the sixth of October being commemorated as Ivy Day.

Rather incredibly, there’s been an Ivy Day commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery every year since Parnell died. Since I first learned about this, a few years ago, I’ve been meaning to attend, but one thing or another prevented me. I finally succeeded last year.

“Low key” would be an understatement to describe it. I was there an hour ahead of time, to avoid the rush. Only the presence of a makeshift podium and some workmen sitting on the fence around the grave indicated anything would happen. About fifteen minutes before kick-off, a few elderly people drifted in. The sound of bag-pipes was heard at the cemetery gates at ten to twelve. Within a few minutes, a small gathering had assembled, a wreath had been laid on the grave, and former Fianna Fáil TD Martin Mansergh gave a speech about political plularism. I was given a sprig of ivy by one of the members of the Parnell Society, who all seemed surprised but pleased at my presence. I’d guess there were fewer than fifty people there, and they all seemed to know each other.

Why did I feel such an urge to go? It’s not that I’m particularly keen on Charles Stewart Parnell. I expect I would have sided with the bishops and been an anti-Parnellite back in the day. No, I had another reason.

I have to admit to a certain anxiety that gnaws at me, and has done for many many years. I have a dread of homogenization, of globalization, of a consumerist monoculture flattening all the precious diversity of the earth. A world of MacDonalds and Starbucks and Netflix. Where every place looks like every other, and where every day looks like every other, aside from the ever-expanding commercialized frenzies of Christmas and Valentine’s Day and Halloween. A world of everything everywhere all at once, which doesn’t leave much room for the national, the regional, the local, the seasonal, or the distinctive, unless you flee to the farms of the Amish and the Mennonites.

I worry about this every minute of every day, including when I’m asleep or running for a bus.

Is this actually happening? It’s very hard to tell objectively. We are always in danger of confirmation bias, the same way everyone thinks good music stopped being made after their own youth. There are even some counter-indications. For instance, Cornish was considered a dead language until recently, when people started to learn it and speak it again. Then there’s the internet. In the heyday of TV and radio, a few editors decided what millions and millions of people did with their leisure hours. Now you can log onto a rubber duck lover internet forum, or a flat earth discussion group, or whatever you want.

Despite all this, many observers seem to agree that the world is getting more and more samey. For instance, though the news about Cornish is encouraging, it’s estimated that ninety per cent of the currently spoken languages will be extinct by 2050.

So, just in case, I propose that we all do as I did this year, and find some equivalent of Ivy Day to support. Memorize some folk ballads, and sing them to your embarrassed friends and family. Re-introduce some old pub game to your local, if you can drag people away from their smartphones. Get your kids to say “Help the Hallowe’en Party” instead of “Trick or Treat”. Hold a bonfire and eat a bowl of goodie on St. John’s Eve. Or even come with me to the next Ivy Day. As library staff, we spend all our working lives preserving things. What’s the point if we never revive anything?

I’ll leave the last word to Yeats, who deserves the last word on everything:

The Bishops and the party
That tragic story made,
A husband that had sold his wife
And after that betrayed;
But stories that live longest
Are sung above the glass,
And Parnell loved his country
And Parnell loved his lass.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Some Christmas Leftovers

Well, I'm back from my Christmas break. I hope all my readers had a good Christmas and New Year.

Here's something I posted on Facebook during the break, purely as a kick-off for 2024.

I have long been of the opinion that the "in-betweeny" moments of life are the best.

Yesterday our neighbours, literally across the hall, who we've only become friendly with recently, treated us to Christmas Eve dinner at their apartment. It was delicious. Then we went to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Bachelor's Walk for Midnight Mass actually at midnight. A cup of tea upstairs afterwards.

Then this morning, Christmas Day Mass in UCD chapel.

Then breakfast in our neighbours' apartment, on the very extensive leftovers from the dinner. 

Just with the husband, as the wife is working today.

Leftovers are always delicious and it was very peaceful and relaxed, sitting looking out the window and eating a late and ample breakfast, having meandering and easy conversation. Those low-key moments always seem like the nicest to me. I mean, I like formality and bustle and occasion and a sense of event. But I like the respite from it, the contrast to it, even more.

Happy Christmas!

And Happy New Year! This is the thirteenth year of this blog!