Thursday, June 27, 2024

A Trek Through Dublin Churches, Part Two

 For the second part of my series, I've taken three churches that are very familiar to me.

The first is the Holy Spirit Church in Ballymun.

I can fairly say that this is the church most familiar to me in the whole world. It was right across the road from the flat where I grew up and where I spent the first twenty-three years of my life. I could see it from my kitchen window. Many of the landmarks in my family history occurred there, including my mother's funeral. 

The Holy Spirit church is ten minutes walk from its virtual twin, the Virgin Mary. Many landmarks in my family history also occurred in the Virgin Mary, including my father's funeral and my First Communion.

It will come as no surprise that the Holy Spirit is my favourite church in the whole world, and in fact my ideal church. It's the kind of bright, modest, plain, comfortable suburban church that appeals to me immensely. This is the sort of church in which I feel most at home, an obvious consequence of childhood associations and nostalgia. This despite the fact that I had no great grá for going to church as a child, and in fact the only time I enjoyed it was on Christmas Eve.

In fact, the Holy Spirit was my first church a second time around; when I started going to church of my own accord, many many years later, I went to the Holy Spirit. Not immediately, though; I was so unsure about genuflections and responses that I spent a few weeks getting the hang of it in Our Lady of Victories in Glasnevin, a safe distance from anyone who might recognize me and see me floundering!

My second church today is Our Lady Seat of Wisdom church in University College Dublin. I don't know how often I've been to Mass in this church, but it's undoubtedly hundreds of times. We are blessed to have lunch-time Mass on campus in UCD.

Again, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom is the kind of plain, warm church that greatly appeals to me, especially the prominent use of wood in its interior.

This year, the church acquired a beautiful new altar, which has John Henry Newman's motto "Cor ad cor loquitur" carved into it. As you may already know, Newman was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University in Dublin, the predecessor of UCD. There's also a portrait of Newman hanging to the right of the altar, as you can see above. It was painted by the late brother of one of the chaplains. (It's been uncharacteristically sunny in Ireland recently, hence the haziness of some of the pictures.)

This is actually the second Taizé cross which has hung above the altar. I like it very much. I'm not particularly a fan of realism in sacred art; realism often fails to convey an appropriate sense of wonder and the sacred.

The confessionals are in regular use.

The shrine of Mary lights up when you step towards it. I love this statue. Its unpainted, unvarnished simplicity seems very appropriate to Our Lady.

Both the statute of our Lord with his arms outstretched, and the stations of the Cross, are new. Praying the stations of the Cross in this church is always a very moving experience; Friday is always a quiet day on campus, and the church is often deserted.

My third church is Our Lady Queen of Peace in Merrion Road, where I've been living since 2020. It's right across the road from me.

I'm not particularly fond of this church. It's huge and cold and grey, although it was also built in the sixties (as were the other churches featured in this post). The round-tower is a nice touch, though.

The huge crucifix behind the altar, with the cross set against a shiny gold disc, is its most distinctive feature. I like its strangeness and its otherworldliness.

There is a shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett, something I've never seen in any other church in Ireland.

My least favourite thing about the church is the fact that QR-code stickers are plastered all over the pews, soliciting donations. Wherever you sit, there's one right in front of you. I think it's tacky and in bad taste. The parish is run by Opus Dei, who I assume are not hard up for a few quid. On the plus side, it's open from early morning until late evening, and the preaching is suitably orthodox. It also provides the latest Sunday Mass in Dublin, that I know of, at nine p.m, and confession is regularly available.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Towards an Irish Counter-Revolution

The full version of Roger Buck's latest video, a preview of which I mentioned recently, has now been released. There's a fairly long comment from me in the comments section.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

A Trek Through Dublin Churches, Part One

Recently, I formed the ambition of visiting all the churches in Dublin. Of course, I've been to a fair few of them already. Whether it's realistic to visit them all, I'm not sure, but I'm going to try. In a leisurely fashion, of course.

I'm interested in churches for many reasons, but one reason is that most churches occupy that ambiguous territory between scenic and mundane. Obviously, cathedrals and otherwise magnificent churches firmly fall within the "scenic" category, and are duly included in guidebooks and the like.

But most churches are neither one nor the other. They are, as Samuel Johnson said about the Giant's Causeway, worth seeing but not worth going to see. (In Philip Larkin's famous poem "Church Going", the narrator reflects that "the place was not worth stopping for".) They are generic, for the most part, but not nearly as generic as a supermarket or a block of flats.

I've always been interested in such "liminal spaces", to use a vogue term. It's the same reason I'm interested in the recent past.

I had a three-day weekend this week so I visited three churches. The first was a church in Milltown, which bears the rather cumbersome title The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and Saints Gall and Columbanus. It was built in 1819 and added to in 1935. It was originally built on the site of a stable, and it still has a stable-like aesthetic all these years later (not a bad thing).

This church was pleasant enough, and I was interested to see a bust of St. John XXIII. At the same time, I found something strangely dispiriting about my visit, and I'm not sure why. I attended a vigil Mass there, and the congregation was fairly sparse, mostly elderly. The homily was unobjectionable but I don't remember much of it. (The gospel that Sunday was the parable of the sower.) Everybody seemed to know each other.

The next church I attended, on Sunday morning, was St. Joseph the Artisan church in Bonnybrook, Coolock, which was built in the 1960's. Although I've often been to Coolock (a place I like, especially the Northside Shopping Centre), I'd never even heard of Bonnybrook. (I'm fascinated by these places which are so local, you never hear the name used in general discourse.)

I really, really liked this church. It's almost the classic example of what I appreciate in a church. It's unmistakeably suburban, a long way away from the city centre. It's bright and clean and well-maintained. It's plain, but not excessively plain. And I liked the mild modernism of the altar, with the light shining behind the cross.

The homily was good, too. It compared the cult of productivity to God's patience. When the priest said: "Our worth is measured in productivity by capitalism", I thought: "Ho, hum". When he added: "And socialism", I sat up.

There was a good congregation, with a mixture of ages and ethnicities, and a community atmosphere. A young couple with two infant children were sitting beside me.

On Monday morning, I went to the church of St. Pius X in Terenure, for ten o'clock Mass. This church was built in 1960.

I was really taken aback by this church. It's huge, and remarkably ornate. I found the sheer size a little alienating, but it's undeniably beautiful. The statue of St. Pius X is very appealing, and a helpful reminder of the richness of Catholic history. 

Perhaps my favourite detail of this church is the frieze with portraits of saints that runs around the ceiling. There are dozens if not hundreds of individual saints portrayed there, identified by name. I've never seen anything like that and it really gives me an appreciation of the community of saints.

I liked the brown brick exterior of the church. I'm not a fan of every church being made of grey stone. It also reminded me of St. Benedict's in Richmond, Virginia, a beautiful church with reverent services, which I often attended when dating my wife-to-be and which nourished my faith.

From the sublime to the mundane, I also liked that it had a signposted, accessible bathroom. Every church, and every building open to the public, should have this.

The congregation was small and mostly elderly, but that's hardly surprising on a Monday morning. The gospel text was about turning the other cheek, and the priest gave quite a scholarly homily, which was mostly good but a little simplistic when he applied the text to the current situation in Israel.

I also appreciated the recorded choral music which was played during Communion. I know it's a terrible thing to admit, but I prefer recorded music in churches to live music. There's less fuss and ostentation about it; fewer busy-bodies at the microphone before the opening blessing ("Good evening, our opening hymn today.."), no danger of applause, more subdued, and it's not drawn out unreasonably. 

I'm not saying I would like to see church choirs abolished. I wouldn't at all. But I do like recorded music in churches. One of my happiest memories is walking into the huge Our Lady of Consolation church in Donnycarney, one day around Christmas, and hearing soft festive music in the background. It was being played on a constant loop.

Anyway, that's the beginning of my trek. Tell me if you find this sort of post interesting.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Must Ireland Be a Clone?

As early as the seventeenth century, there were laments that Ireland was becoming "Sacsa eile darb ainm Eire (another England with the name of Ireland). In the late nineteenth century, Dr. Douglas Hyde (Ireland's first President) gave his influential lecture "The Necessity for De-Anglicizing Ireland". The notion that Ireland is losing its identity or becoming a photocopy of some other country is hardly new.

That's not to say it's not a real concern. In fact, it is a very real concern, and one that concerns me greatly. I doubt a day goes by when I don't think about it.

So I was greatly interested in a recent video by my good friend, Roger Buck, which asked: must Ireland be a clone? (It's a preview of a longer upcoming video.)

I hope you'll watch the video, but here's an exchange I had with Roger in the comments:

Thanks for this, Roger. I one hundred per cent agree with you that Ireland is in danger of being a clone of other countries, especially America. As you know, I'm married to an American and have a profound love of America, but I don't want Ireland to become a clone of anybody. Of course, it's not going to be the best aspects of America we import here (although I would say, since you've mentioned it, that the homeschooling movement originates in America). We are not going to see Bibles in Irish hotel rooms or mainstream Irish politicians invoking God in their speeches or NGOs campaigning for something like the First Amendment to be inserted in our Constitution. It's going to be the entertainment industry and the "progressive" currents in American universities we import here. However, it's very hard to avoid this simply in a negative way. Just trying to avoid American influences would be futile and I wouldn't even want to do it. I could never begrudge, for instance, the influence Star Trek TNG had on my life. I think the better route is to try to promote Irish culture. Especially the Irish language, but also GAA, Irish music, the study of Irish history, and so forth. I'm not sure I entirely agree with you that globalisation is more or less Anglo-Americanisation. In the sphere of cuisine we definitely seem to be taking influences from everywhere. Whether that's a bad thing, I'm not sure. Starbucks coffee culture may have come from Seattle but it's obviously drawing on Italian coffee culture. I think you might be wrong on newspapers sold in Ireland. It seems to me that most are Irish. Tony O'Reilly, who died very recently, said that he got into the newspaper business because it's so insulated from foreign competition, that you could give away foreign newspapers for free and it still wouldn't reduce the demand for Irish newspapers.

To which Roger replied (and I'll give him the last word...for now!):
Maolsheachlann, thank you for your numerous and, as ever, thoughtful comments. As I've said before, even when we disagree, I always find you thoughtful indeed. What you are saying is worked out, rather than cliched or echoing the social media chambers. As usual, I agree and disagree with things here. 

In terms of Irish newspapers, it depends how you tally. There is, of course, the relatively low circulation of local papers and the so-called quality press. But in terms of circulation, the majority of the papers being sold to the nation will be the tabloids which are British in origin. Their circulation is always much bigger than the rest. Also I have said in other videos—if not this very short and fragmentary collection of clips—that Globalisation is not entirely Anglo-American. I mentioned things before like people doing martial arts and eating Chinese food. The New Age involves many Eastern elements, too—such as Yoga and Acupuncture. But Fr. Mich Pacwa once defined the New Age as "a highly-Americanised form of Hinduism". That's a nutshell and nutshells are evidently simplistic, but as nutshells go— *it's not bad*. The New Age is an Americanised version of Eastern things. So although I certainly know about Kung Fu, IKEA, Lidl and yes Italian coffee and obviously a few mosques that will start to be appearing in Ireland, to me it still seems minor compared to Hollywood blockbusters, soap operas, British and American rock, McDonalds, GAFA (Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon) Disney cartoons. And all the rest. What people will have in their living rooms is not Islam or Chinese philosophy for the most part, but the "philosophy" imported from these . . . 

Moreover, these brands etc. are merely the obvious manifestations of Anglo-Americanisation. Less noticeably, the way things are advertised and marketed in Ireland now resembles the America I grew up in far more than it does anything natively Irish. Modern marketing in general owes far more to America than it does to say France, Germany or Russia. I just want to say that my list of popular brands above is only the most obvious layer. But I can't drill down deeper in this already long response! 

On the other hand, you are very right to point out the many good things from America we are not adopting here. Certainly, it would be good to see Irish politicians invoking God more! And yes many, many positive, uplifting and wholesome aspects of American culture are not being exported here. It is good that you remind us there is a great American world beyond its liberal marketing power. God bless this too-often hidden side of American culture! : - ) And yes we cannot simply avoid American culture. A vigorous Irish culture must be worked for. I truly think, Mal, you can do great things here in years to come. I really mean that. Your real gifts, erudition, passion and clarity of thinking can offer so very, very much, I think.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

An Interview with Jonathan Barry, Author and Illustrator

Do you love classic stories? If the answer to this is "no", go away and think about your life and what on earth is wrong with you.

But if the answer is "yes" (as I feel sure it will be for every reader of this blog) you will enjoy Great Classic Stories And Why You Should Read Them by Jonathan Barry, a book that was released in March of this year. It's a series of appreciations of well-loved, timeless tales such as Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Wind in the Willows.

Jonathan Barry is a writer and artist who lives in Dublin. For many years now, he's worked as a painter and illustrator. Chances are, you've seen one of his innumerable book covers.

More recently, he has started writing (and illustrating!) his own books. His novel The Devil's Hoof (2017) is set in the Dublin mountains in the eighteenth century, drawing on the history of the notorious Hell Fire Club. That book was well-received, and now he's followed it up with Great Classic Stories.

I'm proud to say Jonathan is also a friend of mine, so I asked him for an interview.

ME: Thanks for this interview, Jonathan. I've read both your books and they are both excellent. I think readers of The Devil's Hoof might be surprised by Great Classic Stories. The novel has some very horrific scenes, definitely not for kids, but this book leans towards stories which can be enjoyed by both children and adults and has something of an avuncular tone. And there are many references to first reading the stories.

So I have to you remember the first "grown-up" book you read, the first book that could be read by kids or adults?

JB: The first grown up book that I read was The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read it when I was twelve years old, and it took me six months to read it. I was just about to leave primary school and start in secondary school, and so I started reading it during the summer before I entered secondary school. I was in an ecstasy of happiness reading it that Summer because it was such a step up from reading The Hobbit in terms of more mature prose and an epic almost Homerian long journey for my young eyes. I only read about four pages a day, and usually under my duvet at night with a torch (as I shared a room with my brother at that time and did not want to wake him.) I absolutely became engrossed in Tolkien's narrative and characters and because it took me six months to read it (almost the same time that it took Frodo, Sam, Pip and Merry to complete their journey to Mordor in the book) I felt I had actually lived the adventure with them. I grew to love all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring, and I was genuinely horrified - even depressed - when Boromir was killed. Tolkien's prose is beautifully balanced for both children and adults in The Lord of the Rings, although it is clearly aimed at mainly an adult audience. It is a masterpiece of fantasy, and without doubt is the greatest fantasy novel ever written.

ME: What elements do you think go to making a classic story or is that a complete mystery?

JB: What a marvellous and difficult question to answer. Without a doubt there are a number of tried and tested elements that will certainly give rise to the correct conditions that may throw up a classic novel. Gathered together they do not alone guarantee that a classic will be created - but without them, a classic cannot and will not be written. They are the essential ingredients of a great book. They are as follows :

1/. Clear fluid prose.
2/. A watertight plot that leads to a believable and satisfying ending.
3/ A unique and strong first person singular narrator.
4/ Memorable characters that the reader believes in.
5/ Perfect pace ( a slow pace may lose the reader).
6/. One or two powerful scenes that stay long in the readers memory.
7/. And finally, if possible, a unique and different story that has not been told before.
All classic novels and stories have all of the above elements.

ME: Desert island time! You're on a desert island and let's say you somehow know you'll be stuck there for two years. What five books do you bring? Collected Works not allowed!

JB: That is a tough proposition, but without doubt if I was impersonating Robinson Crusoe or Alexander Selkirk, the five books I would bring with me to my desert island would be : The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, Manage Your Fears and Manage Your Anger by Dr. Abraham Low, The Toys of Peace by Saki (H. H. Munro) - to make me laugh, The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne (to put me asleep with a smile on my face), and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (because I have never had enough time to read all of it).

ME: Do you have a favourite opening sentence and closing sentence, when it comes to books?

ANSWER: The greatest opening sentence of any novel or story that I have read in the English language, is surely the opening of "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe, which uses alliteration, assonance, pace, and cadence to perfection. Likewise, the closing sentence from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a masterpiece of prose writing diffused with sublime poetic and spiritual beauty.

[NOTE: And here they are below, for any reader-- like me-- who doesn't remember them:

"During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher."

"I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."]

ME: What are your ideal conditions for reading and writing?

JB: My ideal conditions for reading and writing are: quiet, peace of mind,18° degrees room temperature, and excitement at a clear plot and structure to a new book that I know will work, interspersed with a cup of Barry's Gold blend tea, and several fig roll biscuits. Seasonally, I write and read my best in the winter months between October to April.

ME: You're a horror writer and love horror, as do I. Is there a single scene from horror literature that stands out as the spookiest ever to you? Or if you can't narrow it down to one, are there several? And what about film scenes?

JB: Now Mal, you and I both love the horror genre, and as you know that is a fiendishly unfair question. Have you got ten blogs I could fill out? Or ten hours in which to read through all of my suggestions? He! He! As you know I have been running a Gothic Literary Book Club in Dublin for 25 years (of which you are an honoured member) and in which we have discussed and read most of the greatest horror stories written in the English language.

The spookiest ever? Goodness me! Well, the fabulous scene where the crumpled-faced monster rises up out of the bed linen in M. R. James' marvelous story called 'Oh Whistle, And, I will come to you, My Lad' is certainly powerful and deeply disturbing, leaving an indelible visual mark on the sensitive imagination. That is creepy beyond measure.

Likewise, the stunning use of playing shadows in Sheridan Le Fanu's classic ghost story entitled 'Squire Toby' s Will', where Scroop Marston's ghost starts to terrorise Glyingdon Hall, is a glorious attack on the reader's nerves. Le Fanu was a master prose writer and story teller of the supernatural. His ability to build up a tense and lonely atmosphere was delightful.

Also, the scene where Dracula gives a screaming baby to the three voluptuous and blood thirsty vampiresses, so that they can feed on its blood, remains vile and upsetting even to the tamest of horror readers. It was shocking in 1897, and it is still disgusting to read today. Stoker pushed the boundaries of horror in Dracula, and it is extraordinary how his novel went uncensored.

Thanks, Jonathan!

You can buy Great Classic Stories here and The Devil's Hoof here.