Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Journey of a Banned Book

Efa over at Not So Clever's comment on Cuirt an Mhean-Oice, “banned, as befell Ulysses” stimulated a memory that had me laughing. Terrible the things we did when young.
Some time in the 1960’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was finally published in the UK. Of course there was no hope that it would be on general release in the Republic. So one Saturday morning, a group of four, (two guys, two gals, one of them me) took the train from Dundalk to Belfast to acquire a copy. In what hope I’ll never recall.

Somewhere in the bookstalls of Belfast Market we acquired a copy in the ubiquitous brown paper bag. We had a lovely day in Belfast, I recall buying a mini-skirt that by today’s standards would be called knee length. Anyway, the journey back was eventless until we neared Dundalk, where one of our number became quite anxious about the customs men on Dundalk Station. Mindful of the shame, uproar, etc if the Sisters of Mercy, my school; or the De La Salle Brothers, the guys school, were to hear of our adventure, the guys decided that a quick exit from the train was necessary as it slowed to enter the station. So they opened the door and jumped, Lady Chatterley stuffed down the back of one of their jeans. She must have been delighted.

As my friend and I proffered our bags for inspection at the Customs, the guy (who had seen us depart that morning) looked at the two of us saying, “Didya leave those fellas above in the Six Counties?” at which we both broke down with laughter. He followed it up with “So you’ll both be free at Ballymac tonight?” Small town, everybody knows what everybody else is doing.
I do recall that by the time we met up with our train-jumpers they had both spent most of the time searching the book for the “interesting bits”, and declared that they couldn’t find any.
Maybe that’s why it was banned in the first place?

The Patriot Game..... with god on our side?

The Patriot Game (Song) The Patriot Game (Wiki)

"Come all ye young rebels, and list while I sing/ For the love of one's country is a terrible thing/ It banishes fear with the speed of a flame/ And it makes us all part of the patriot game."

Once upon a time, a young girl grew up in a divided country. A poor country, on the edge of Western Europe. Her childhood was embroidered with the myths and legends of her land.
She was raised on the stories of a glorious "before the conqueror past", and the sacrifices of the freedom fighters and the martyrs for the cause of freedom. Rebel songs and stories told of their struggle against their mighty imperialistic foe across the sea. She learned the rebel songs.

"My name is O'Hanlon, I've just turned sixteen/ My home is in Monaghan and where I was weaned/ I learned all my life the cruel English to blame/ So now I am part of the patriot game."

In her country, the people looked, and had long looked, through centuries of foreign domination, and oppression because of their Catholic faith, to their religious leader thousands of miles away. It was their Church and their faith, they believed that had supported them through the dark night of occupation, when the world did not care.

"This Ireland of ours has long been half free/ Six counties lie under John Bull's tyranny/ So I gave up my Bible to drill and to train/ To play my own part in the patriot game."

One day when she was 14 years old, the young girl came upon a book. The story within told of a people who because of their religious beliefs, had become the scapegoats of a totalitarian regime. The story told in detail how this country had organised the killing and murder of these people in the same way as her uncle, the farmer, would periodically organise the slaughter of his livestock.
The girl didn't understand, why no-one spoke of this. When she asked adults around her, their eyes moved away and they slipped off the subject. She asked her Father, who's eyes stayed with hers. He was suprised and asked how she knew of this. "I read one of your library books". Her Father thought for a moment and said, that this could happen anywhere, and probably at any time, and for many reasons, none of which would be any reason at all.

She mentioned it in her history class at school; the nun sent her to the headmistress for no reason she could understand. When in the headmistress's office she cried for being punished for speaking the truth, the headmistress telephoned her Father at work and asked him to come, immediately. The girl remembers her Father saying to the headmistress, "How can you punish a child for telling the truth?" The headmistress was silent. Her Father continued, "If you expel her, I will send her to the Protestant Grammar School". Secretly the girl was pleased with this, as her best friend was at this school, where they played hockey and were allowed to join the Guides.

But on hearing the Father's decision, the headmistress backpedalled and any threat of expulsion was lifted. "But", said she, "your father should not allow your to read books that are for adults, and remember, they killed Christ". The Father replied, "Perhaps you'd be more specific, Sister, as to who they, might be". Again the headmistress was silent.

As they left the headmistresses office the Father said to his daughter, "Just because people like Sister X, are considered to be holy, doesn't mean they are right in everything they say or do".
The girl never forgot any of this. She learned the protest songs of her own generation, singing out for an end to war and inhumanity.

"Oh my name it is nothing/ my age it means less/ the country I come from/ Is called the midwest/ I's born and brought up there/ It's laws to abide/ And that the land that I live in/ Has God on it's side." "With God on Our Side" - Bob Dylan's version of The Patriot Game.

When she was 21, she went to work in a country in Europe. Living there she met many people, English, American, German, French, Spanish. She met a survivor of the Holocaust, and a young Israeli woman, a Sabra. When she was there a "war" began between the two countries on her island. What had begun as a peaceful movement for equality became a war between people of differing religious beliefs, albeit both christian. Catholic and Protestant. She read the newspapers and watched as the army of the "foe across the sea" returned to "maintain peace". Then the Republicans and Loyalists armed themselves to protect their own.

"They told me how Connolly was shot in his chair, His wounds from the fighting all bloody and bare. His fine body twisted, all battered and lame They soon made me part of the patriot game."

People burned out of their homes became refugees and moved south. Her Mother wrote that she was helping refugees. Her Father wrote that all army reservists had been called up, and the Irish Government considered moving into Northern Ireland. This "war" was to continue for many years. And one of her friends was killed. Many tried to bring peace to the country. But both "sides" seemed implacable and refused to work with each other. There was no trust, and many memories of the wrongs done by both sides.

Time went by and later she began to hear that in the country founded for the survivors of this genocide, Israel, the Palestinian people suffered injustices. She could not understand how in Israel, a people so persecuted, could in turn treat other humans unjustly. What she did understand was that now there were more victims of injustice. And each group believed itself to be so threatened that they would defend their land with their lives.

And then one summer's day she woke up to another war. Israel was bombing Lebanon it's neighbour. The world cried out, but did little.

As the days passed, something changed within this girl now a woman, who's heart would always be with those oppressed by anything, she began to see things differently.

Who exactly is the oppressor here and who the oppressed?

A small country stands alone surrounded by some who have expressed a wish to see that country destroyed. Another small country is used as a base to attack it and now suffers military retaliation.

One country, we are told is backed by a mighty power. The other country, where a militant organisation has based itself in order to attack the first, is also we are told backed by mighty powers.

And what of the Israeli and Lebanese people caught up in this struggle of might and power; living their lives with a daily threat?

Are the lives of the Lebanese, Israeli's and Palestinian children also embroidered with myth and legends of the conquored peoples, their sadness and their shame? Are their children told the stories of the "glorious before the conqueror past", and of their martyrs for freedom?

Do these children sing the "rebel songs"?

I write this because I feel I see this human problem repeated. I write this because lately I've been returned to my childhood; to the stories I was told, to the rebel songs we sang; to the irrefutableness of the religious beliefs I was raised in and it's enmeshment in politics.

I understand now why I so strongly believe in the separation of State and Church; why I cannot take a stand on either "side". And why I cry whenever I see these images of death and despair, whether they be Palestinian, Israeli, or Lebanese.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Disappointed? No, Anger I Think......

Been reading a lot of posts about the recent Ferns report on other blogs. The State We're In at Thinking Out Loud, Richard Delevan's No More Mr Nice Guy, Irish Corruption's post, Irish Holocaust? - Monday, 24th October, 2005.

Bertie Ahern, The Prime Minister, (An Taoiseach) of the Republic of Ireland, commented recently on the Ferns Report. He expressed "disappointment". "Mr Ahern said that while there was a genuine sense of disappointment at the revelations of child abuse, without the input of the Church, Ireland would not have come as far as it has in recent years". - RTE. In Roget's, some of disappointment's other meanings are listed as: sad, bitter, cruel, blighted hopes, hopelessness. I imagine these could be the feelings of those who were abused. But disappointment....

Imagine this:
In a devout Catholic country, those who transgress the Church's repressed teaching on matters sexual, who are illegitmate, who's parent's are absent, or are orphans, are imprisoned.
Total control of these institutions is in the hands of a Church, (who also has total control of the education system), powerful enough not to have to answer to Civil Law, Government, or it's congregations.

Within the walls of these institutions, Orphanages, Industrial Schools, Magdalen Launderies, it's occupants are treated as non-persons. They do not exist, have no recourse to the law of the land, are used as cheap labour, their condition is ignored by both government and the general population.

They have been taken "into care" for their own protection. They have been "sentenced without trial". They were "disappeared". There is no known date of release. And how are they cared for and protected? They were not. They were often abused, subjected to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

Perhaps this sounds like some Kafkaesque sceneario? No, this was the Republic of Ireland.
Of course there were priests, nuns and brothers, who took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to heart; and because of their love for God, were able to love and show compassion to the children in their care.

But did they speak out when they witnessed brutality to those in their care? Well that's the worry, that many people, knowing the truth, did nothing.

Did we imagine that those who abuse would restrict their violence to those they had imprisoned, if we remained silent?

Silence is collusion, silence allows the abuse to continue, silence makes all of us in some measure responsible.

Silence outside the walls, created an atmosphere of fear, and a lack of trust.

Some years back, a young Irish woman, who became pregnant through sexual abuse, attempted to go to the UK for a termination; the government became involved and forbade her to travel. At that time in conversation with a relative, I was shocked when she said: "Why didn't she just stay quiet, it's what we did".

Yes, the words "it's what we did", that told me so much more.

So maybe at this moment in time, we could and should expand our focus outward from those priests found to have committed sexual abuse, to the entire Church organisation who have now lost the trust of the Catholic population of Eire, for in their silence they are also responsible. And then expand that further to an entire population silenced and fearful of the Church's power, who also share some of that responsibility.

In Eire, 95% of the country's educations system is in the hands of the Catholic Church. Is that situation to continue in the face of this massive betrayal of trust? Or will the population now take the responsibility to ensure that the Church is held accountable for it's actions? And the Governments that stood by and did not a lot over the years.

And I remember well the response to one who told of a priest's actions, "I'm sure he was just trying to be friendly, best to forget it".

Edna O'Brien, writing in Mother Ireland (1976) expresses not disappointment, she expresses "pity for a people reluctant to admit there is anything wrong."

"The real quarrel with Ireland began to burgeon in me then: I had thought of how it had warped me, and those around me, and their parents before them, all stopped by a variety of fears - fear of church, fear of gombeenism, fear of phantoms, fear of ridicule, fear of hunger, fear of annihilation, and fear of their own deeply ingrained aggression that can only strike a blow at each other, not having the innate authority to strike at those who are higher. Pity arose too, pity for a land so often denuded, pity for a people reluctant to admit there is anything wrong. That is why we leave. Because we beg to differ. Because we dread the psychological choke.

.....It is true that a country encapsulates our childhood and those lanes, byres, fields, flowers, insects, suns, moons and stars are forever re-occuring and tantalizing me with a possibility of a golden key which would lead beyond birth to the roots of one's lineage. Irish? In truth I would not want to be anything else. It is a state of mind as well as an actual country. It is being at odds with other nationalities, having quite different philosophy about pleasure, about punishment, about life, about death. At least it does not leave one pusillanimous".

Zurich Memory

Had a call from a friend. He and I shared some times in Zurich many years ago. He reminded me of a visit by the Abbey Theatre to the Zurich yearly Arts Festival. We went to see one of O'Casey's plays the title of which I cannot recall.

At some point in the play, one character says, "Ah tomorrow they will hang him as high as Kilimanjaro", and the character he is in conversation with replies, "Where's Kilimanjaro?" The first guy doesn't know and says "Somewhere on the south coast of Switzerland". My friend and I got the "joke" and laughed, until we realised that, we, were the only people in the theatre laughing.

We are still wondering whether or not that line was inserted to test if the audience was awake, and what the level of understanding of English?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


This is a place I’ve not been in since I was three years old. And I know it. I’ve always known it. But I didn’t understand this until I came back. A small country town, on the main road to other places. Bigger places. Cities and other, small country towns. I feel as though I have put on a old warm friendly winter coat. I snuggle into it and pull the collar up around my ears.

While I lived in other places, I know now, I was looking for this place. Every time I went on holiday, I chose a place that nestled in hills with trees on the rim. And somewhere a river was running. Gently or fiercely, the sound of water. Here I am safe and comfortable. Boundaried. Like being in my mother’s womb again.

I’m looking for the house where I lived. There were three of us then. Mammy, Daddy and me. My mother told me she used to go for long walks by the river, and home through the woods. I cannot live without trees, the sound of water, and a hill or two to fence my life. I ask the way. – Just up from the market square – she says. – And it is up, are you used to hills?

Am I used to hills? Put me on flat land and I lose my sense of direction. Flat land goes on too much, creates a need in me to keep going, to find the hills.

And then I am there. I know the house, I know the door. A fanlight window spread above the door. I know this from the inside, when I was tiny playing with the sunlight streaming into the hall and dancing on the floor. I’d try to catch the light as I played on the floor.

Reaching out I touch the door. For a moment I can see my mother opening the door and coming out. Both of us wrapped up for the weather. Just standing there lost between time. And then I realised that people may be watching this stranger, and wondering. I won’t knock now, another time I say as I walk away. And I’m not a stranger. Not any more.

Down by the river, I can feel Mammy, my memories now flooding clearer; how she threw the stones, skipping them across the river to the other side, - see Blackbird see – she say, every time a stone made it to the other bank. And when they sank, - another go. When the Magpies glided out of the trees she would sing, One for a girl, two for a boy….

If you’re here now I tell her, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t understand you. But you didn’t understand me. You were too busy trying to keep me safe, when I wanted to try out my life. I know, you didn’t want me to be hurt. God I must have been a teenager from Hell. I fought you and you fought me. I was scared, I felt suffocated. I couldn’t give you happiness. You seemed to think that as life went nothing improved, I wanted to believe things got better.

Mammy was homesick. She missed the mountains, they were visible from any place in her home town. She would sit in the river bank and tell me the story of the “Long Womans Grave”.

The Quest for Knowledge

I can remember when I first asked the question.
“Where do babies come from Mammy? “ My Mother must have been startled because she repeated my question. Where do babies come from she muttered looking into the distance. She paused and shook the sodabread dough from her fingers.
“Well we found you in the cabbages”. But I wasn’t giving up.
“And my brother?”
“He was in the gooseberry bushes”

My quest for knowledge temporarily satisified, I kept the cabbages and the gooseberries under close observation for some time. But nothing happened.

The next time I asked was a little more hopeful and indicated that my Mother might not actually have been truthful the first time.

“I’ll tell you when you grow up”.

Where babies came from was a closely guarded adult secret. And they were not telling, at least not until you “grew up”. But when might that be?

It was my friend Patsy who moved me a little closer to solving the mystery. Her Mammy had six children. She must know. I would have to wait a while though. I’d just given her a birthday card and misspelled her name. To Pasty I had written. Things were a little difficult for a week or so and she wouldn’t walk home from school with me. But then she came to ask for some peas from the garden and Mammy despatched us both with bowls.

I brought up the subject carefully. Patsy’s response was totally nonchalant as she was eating a handful of peas at the time. “Oh, they cut open the Mother’s stomach”. I had been helping myself to the odd pod of peas, despite instructions not to “spoil my appetite”. Suddenly neither the sweet crunchy peas, or the promise of jelly and ice-cream for afters seemed to appeal. My appetite was gone, swept away on the winds of knowledge.

Patsy went on, “well my Mammy’s had two like that, and I was one of them.
She sounded almost proud of this, though I couldn’t imagine why. My quest for knowledge took a nose-dive after that.

No wonder the grown-ups weren’t telling. Suddenly I had an enormous desire to become a nun, that would release me from the dangers of motherhood.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Creagha Dubha

Chapter one

The bus made it's way through the marsh, on either side.
The road a causeway between solid land and where the sea ate away at the soil. As we entered the outer reaches of the village, it was a raw day. Rain drops hung desperately to the windows of the bus. Using my scarf I cleared a circle on the misted window.

As a child watching the sun rise out of the bay, I believed that the sea swallowed the sun each evening and let her go the following morning at dawn.The sea looked angry, black and grey tipped with dirty white. The scene had the quality of an Ansel Adams photograph. But I wouldn't have known that as a child, and what I saw through the window threw me back in time at least thirty years to a time when I didn't compare, because I hadn't seen the rest of the world. I felt as I did then scared and wondering why the waves didn't crash into the hillside and take the land with it. The power of the sea was angry and cruel and yet it was comforting, because it was home.

Memories come back, marching past my mind like a black and white movie, this is the place where I learned to swim, where my cousin lost his eye, where the whale got beached, where the big storm of 57 marooned us in the hot press for almost 12 hours.Up on the hill that slopes away from the sea a US airforce small plane landed bringing a while village out to watch.Of all the things I miss it is the sea that I miss most, close to the sea again I feel this surge of energy, everything was touched by our proximity to the sea.

From the house we could see the bay, boundaried by the Cooley Mountains on the north side to Dunany Point on the south, like outstretched arms in position three in ballet protecting us.The sea lay literally at the bottom of the hill I lived on. In summer we would walk in swimming costumes and flip flops to our bathing rock where we would leave our towels and wade into the sea till it came up to our waists.

In autumn and winter and spring the sea often tried to come to us. High tides would block the coast road. My mother and I walking on the sea road where high tide waves would crash over the stone wall. We would wait between waves until they subsided and run to our next place of shelter.

The sea was the pulse of our lives. Surrounding us. Sooner or later in order to leave we all had to cross water.We could smell the salt and later we would come to the shore to collect the lastest delivery of seaweed. Mammy would make jelly from this and some she would use to fertilise our vegetable plot.At low-tide I'd collect the razor shells that we used to decorate the walls inside the big green wooden gate that hid our house, garden and lives from the road.

I had it all planned. I knew exactly how to do it, thanks to my grandmother's vast knowledge of plants and herbs and their uses. The recipe was already written all that remained was the method of it's application.My anger had been in the deep freeze for years. My therapist told me you can't shelve anger - you only do harm to yourself. She was right about the harm anger can do.

When my Aunt died [the house was truly mine. I had promised my mother I would let her live there as long as she needed, and I'd kept my promise, foolishly some family members thought] and left me the house I'd lived in till I was ten I thought at first I'd sell it. Property prices were sky high and the village was no longer the sleepy little costal hamlet, it was almost a suburb and a very fashionable one, of the nearby town. I could travel the world and still have money to put by. I wasn't even sure that I wanted to see it again. I'd cut the cord or so I thought.The solicitor's letter said little. The personal one from the solicitor, who is also my cousin and childhood friend - painted another picture. - it's a museum - she wrote. - history box. That sort of fit's with Aunt Frances, she had been a librarian. And the house reflected that, tidy indexed and everything in it's place, whether according to the Dewey system or not I don't know.You have to come and see this, it, she wrote, its like the whole family history is stored in these boxes. I suppose that got my imagination going. My aunt had mostly behaved as though because I didn’t have the family name I wasn't truly one of them. In fact I was surprised that she had not already bequeathed these treasures to the nephews and neices who did have the family name. But it seems that she had not.

So here I was on the local bus for the first time in a long time. I'd chosen to arrive, unannounced and by public transport because I wanted to move back to my past, and this was the past rearing up in front of me, slowly. Had I rented a car at the airport it would have been too fast for me. As we neared the stop for Backhill road, the bus driver called out the stop.

Memory Aid 1

In the beginning

Ok lets get started....