I’ve said it frequently: nobody does pomp like the British and this is certainly epitomised with their commemorations. Their annual Festival of Remembrance of WW1 on the 11 November is always particularly poignant. Having visited the Normandy WW2 cemeteries this year, Poppy Day was even more touching.
I watched the service in the Royal Albert Hall.
There were the usual quotes of some famous war poets:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.At the going down of the sun and in the morningWe will remember them.(from For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon)
Perhaps someday I shall not shrink in painTo see the passing of the dying year,And listen to the Christmas songs againAlthough You cannot hear.But, though kind Time may many joys renew,There is one greatest joy I shall not knowAgain, because my heart for loss of YouWas broken, long ago.
(from Perhaps 1916 By Vera Brittain, a nurse in WW1)
When you go home Tell them of us and sayFor your tomorrowWe gave our today
(composed at the end of WW1 by wartime codebreaker, John Maxwell Edmonds, often called the Kohima epitaph)
The idealistic slogan "The war to end all wars" from the H.G. Wells’ 1914 book The War That Will End War is usually used to describe WW1 little realising that the aftermath of that war contributed almost directly to WW2.
For many years we didnt acknowledge Poppy Day or its significance in many Irish lives. Happily, we’ve rectified that. The Irish Times today related the similarities of these past horrors with the catastrophe of current conflicts in the two articles on page 22 which emphasise the need for us all to take the side of PEACE.
Even in darkest places, there are those who keep a light shining
Thinking Anew: The horrors of the Hamas assault on Israel, and now of the bombing of Gaza, should not blind us to hope
I watched the film Invictus (again) recently, probably as the Rugby World Cup 2023 was in its initial stages. The film told the story of Nelson Mandela’s first term as President of South Africa who enlisted the national rugby team as a symbol of unity in an Aparthid-torn land on their quest to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Fast forward to Saturday, 28th October South Africa again emerged victorious, sweeping up many records as well as the Web Ellis Cup:
the first rugby nation to win four men’s Rugby World Cups
the second (after opponents New Zealand) to claim back-to-back title,
and undefeated by New Zealand in any Rugby World Cup final – twice they have defeated New Zealand in the final, in 1995 as Nelson Mandela’s dream and now again in 2023.
When I listened to the speech of their captain, Siya Kolisi, at the end of the match, it seemed as if Rugby is still as important and symbolic as it was in 1995. He made an incredible speech:
“Look what 1995 (and South Africa’s very first World Cup win) did for sport in our country. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that, and the people that came before me. The people that made it possible for people of my colour to play.”
“People who are not from South Africa don’t understand what it means for our country. It is not just about the game. Our country goes through such a lot. We are just grateful that we can be here. I want to tell the people of South Africa ‘thank you so much’. This team just shows what you can do. As soon as we work together, all is possible, no matter in what sphere – in the field, in offices, it shows what we can do. I am grateful for this team, I am so proud of it.”
“There is so much that is wrong in our country,we are the last line of defence… there is so much division in our country but this team shows what people of different colours and backgrounds can do when they work together”.
These sentiments were echoed by his team-mate Faf de Klerk: “Hopefully this shows what unity and team-work can do… if we can come together like this, it can be a better country, and be a better world.”
I know very little about the game of Rugby – but if it means that much to a country – surely they are worthy winners. As a YouTuber commented: This Springbok team was special, not in talent, not in skill….special as they will be everlasting in our memories.
This was Bram Stoker weekend and there were activities all around Dublin. The events I attended , while not directly connected with Bram or his character Dracula, celebrated blood and gore worthy of any horror story. Both took place in the National Museum.
Hands-on History: Malady, Mourning and Mystery
I didn’t realise that there were “hands-on” collections in the National Museum. They are taken out for particular events and occasions.
For Hallowe’en weekend the Museum educators presented a range of objects from the Museum’s handling collection that reflect a history of life, disease and death.
Stories about how bone marrow was extracted, the use of mercury to cure STD’s, mourning broaches which contained hair of the deceased, vials and measures of potions and powders, bandages, first aid kits, and booklets about health and safety.
I was particularly fascinated by the quotes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula:
I know what sorrows you have had, though I cannot measure the depth of them.
I fear no weapon wrought alone by man’s hand would have any effect on him.
There is a poison in my blood, in my soul, which may destroy me.
Now, little miss, here is your medicine. Drink it off, like a good child.
A world full of miseries and woes and troubles: Life, Disease and Death in Collins Barracks
The second event was billed as a tour with a Museum guide to “discover the chills, ills, and kills in Collins Barracks’ 300-year long history”. Our guide told a detailed and very graphic story of the trials and tribulations of life as a soldier living in the Barracks from the 1700s until the late 1900s, with a focus on (ill) health, as well as the transition from one of Europe’s oldest occupied Barracks into one of Ireland’s National Museums.
It certainly lived up to expectations. The horrors of Dracula are nothing compared to the grim stories of the residents of this building over the years.
I hadn’t realised that our overpopulated country of the late 1700’s provided the Commonwealth with a steady valuable resource – man power. Over half the British army was Irish and they carved out the Empire, playing a significant role in the Napoleonic war, Crimean War, Zulu War, Boer War and WW1.
The Royal Barracks, as it was called, was one of the oldest and largest inhabited barracks in Europe, housing up to 1500 men and two troops of horses. Life was hard for the ordinary soldier, with harsh discipline and cruel punishment for infringements. The Provost Jail was quite literally two black holes dug under the Provost House for about five prisoners each but frequently accommodating forty to fifty.
Living accommodations was dangerously inadequate and the levels of disease very high. A limited number of families were housed in the most unsanitary conditions of the barracks. Cholera and Typhoid were rampant.
When their husbands were away fighting, the women also faced frequent attacks from soldiers on the base. Life for wives and children in the slums outside the barracks was even worse with their husbands absent for years, many of the women were forced into prostitution. The Lock Hospitals which were established close to many military barracks caused huge social problems as women could be incarcerated there for many months for merely living beside the barracks.
Hundreds of prisoners were housed in the barrack prison after each of the many Irish rebellions. Our guide described the severe methods of interrogation and torture practiced, very often for the entertainment of the troops rather than for information gathering. Flogging with “the cat” was common. Edward Heppenstall, “the walking Gallows” gave many performances of his skills in the barracks square. Pitch capping was also a frequent source of amusement.
STEPHEN STOKES TAPESTRY
We were all delighted to escape the stories of misery and disease, when our guide took us inside to see the Stokes Tapestry. British army soldier Stephen Stokes made this amazing textile while he was stationed in Ireland.
More than 30 panels tell the story of his career, first in the cavalry (the Royal Dragoons) and then in the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Stokes spent more than 15 years working on the tapestry and showed it to Queen Victoria when she visited in 1849.
He omitted telling her of his Irish sympathies, although they were cleverly hidden in the tapestry.
The Royal Coat of Arms is depicted with the shamrock intertwined with roses and thistles all coming from the same stem. I doubt Queen Victoria would have supported its display at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851
I recently watched the film, All Quiet on the Western Front, the story of the horrors of WW1 from the perspective of German boys/men.
Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen published in the London Times in 1914 expresses the same sentiment of loss and horror from a British point of view.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, There is music in the midst of desolation And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
H.G. Wells, the British author, coined the expression: “The war that will end war” to describe World War One.
My visit to the WW2 cemeteries of Normandy with their thousands of crosses clearly indicate the fallacy of Well’s statement.
In these recent days, we see the atrocities being perpetuated in the Middle East, the media opinions on who is right and wrong, who started it. Apportioning blame, justifying violence, seems to be the order of the day. But I wonder who speaks for peace? Where is the voice of the moderate?
Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading Colm McCann’s book, Apeirogon, based on the friendship between a Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and an Israeli, Rami Elhanan: “An Israeli, against the occupation. A Palestinian, studying the Holocaust.” The men are united in their grief – they lost their daughters: Smadar, turned into “a scattered human jigsaw” at the age of 13 by a suicide bomber, and Abir, assassinated aged 10 by a trigger-happy member of the Israeli army. Both men join the Parents Circle, a group of bereaved parents who unite in their sorrow to press for a peaceful resolution to the conflict: “This became their jobs: to tell the story of what had happened to their girls.”
Apeirogon, a mathematical term for an object of an “observably infinite number of sides” is a most apt title for a book that addresses the entrenched positions in the Middle East with a stance that is on both sides and neither.
What a coincidence that I went to see the Film Oppenheimer today, 6th August, the 78th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.
The film tells the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, who, during WW2, was appointed to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spent years developing and designing the atomic bomb. Their work came to fruition on July 16, 1945 with the world’s first nuclear explosion in Hiroshima, an event that forever changed the course of history.
There are two storylines and the film moves back and forth between the two. One is in colour and tells the story of Oppenheilmer’s early life, his work in the Manhattan project and the loss of his security clearance because of early communist connections but probably more so because of his opposition to the development of the H-Bomb. His name was never cleared fully until 2022, around the time the trailer of this film was released
The second story is shown in black and white and follows the confirmation of Lewis Straus to the Senate. It unfolds that Strauss was almost single-handedly responsible for the stripping of Oppenheimer’s security clearance.
I was most impressed with the portrayal of Oppenheimer’s torment in the wake of the bombing in Japan. I read somewhere that after witnessing the destructive power of the bomb he had designed, he quoted Hindu scripture: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”.
I think it’s also worth remembering on this day, Paul Tibbits who captained the aircraft, Enola Gay (named after his mother) that dropped the bomb. He did not share Oppenheimer’s regrets at the events of August 6th, believing instead that it was the only way to win te war. Furthermore, to dissuade anti-nuclear protests when he died, he asked that there would be no funeral rites and no grave; that his ashes be scattered over the English Channel.
“When the Dubs go up to lift the Sam Maguire we’ll be there” – pre match, we sing it with such hope, but doubts always niggling. And when the final whistle blows and we’re victorious, it’s as if this is how we always pictured it….. . and Sinead O’Connor again, this time with a soulful rendition of Molly Malone.
Cork poet Theo Dorgan captures the excitment of All-Ireland Sunday – losses as well as victories.
We stand for the anthem, buoyant and tribal, heart beating with heart, our colours brave, our faces turned towards the uncertain sun. The man beside me takes my hand: good luck to yours, he says; I squeeze his calloused palm and then – he’s gone. A shadow socket where he was, the one beside him vanishes and another before me; all around Croke Park one by one we wink out of existence: tens, hundreds, then thousands, the great arena emptying out, the wind curling in from the open world to gather us all away. Each single one of us. I could feel myself fail at the end, but then maybe everyone thought that, each single one of us the last to go. The whistle blew and we all came back with a roar, everything brighter and louder, desperate and vivid. I held his hand a moment longer, I wished his team all the luck in the world.
We had the years of programme selling – early meetings to sell our allocation as quickly as possible and get in to sit on the steps of the Cusack for the game.
We had the years of the Dubls – wins and losses, going back to The Barn Owl in Thomas Street (now part of the Luas line) or the Shakespeare on Parnell Street to disect what had gone right/ wrong, a congrats to the opposition always ending up on a positive note with “Next year”. We never knew where Jim sourced so many tickets but we all enjoyed the get together and the analysis after.
We still source a lot of tickets. The Annesley house is our new analysis/celebration centre. And Sinead O’ Connor sings and we all join in “Nothing Compares“
St. Brigid is the female patron saint of Ireland. She was born in the middle of the 5th century during an era of great change in Irish history, the beginning of Christianity. She was actually born into a pagan community and converted to Christianity. So both her life and her legacy spanned periods of religious change.
Many of the stories and legends associated with St Brigid date to the earlier goddess Brigit/Brigantia; St. Brigid’s feast day of the 1st of February falls on the same date as the pagan Imbolc festival that marks the beginning of Spring.
Coming from a family with many Brigids (grandmother, aunt, cousins) and living and teaching in Kildare where she founded her famous monastery, it was difficult not to have an interest in this lady.
Many of the miracles attributed to St. Brigid took place around Kildare town which became an important place of pilgrimage from the Early Medieval Period. There is still a focus on pilgrimage in Kildare today. That legacy is particularly embodied within St. Brigid’s Cathedral in the heart of Kildare town and at the more newly established Brigidine Solas Bhríde Centre, located on the outskirts of the town.
And so we come to this year’s particular celebration of ‘Brigid 1500’ as we look at Brigid, the woman and her the life and legacy in a broad and rich way. The main aim of ‘Brigid 1500’ is to appeal to a diverse contemporary audience and engage them in meaningful way with the ‘Brigid’ story and heritage. It is hoped also to provide a relevant link with the past and with Brigid’s own values of faith and spirituality, biodiversity and sustainability, arts and culture, social justice, peace, hospitality and education. The ‘Brigid 1500’ programme comprises of initiatives including festivals, concerts, talks, art commissions, illuminations, pilgrimages, and craft workshops.
Brigid around the world
It was interesting for me as a child to see that Brigid was recognised around the world. There were many churches dedicated to her across “the British Isles” some of them relating to stories that she travelled there as a holy lady but others relating to the pagan goddess.
However, I only realised this year with a planned visit to New Orleans, that Brigid features in the voodoo culture of New Orleans as Maman Brigitte. Voodoo is a cross cultural religion which supposedly developed in the Caribbean around the 18th Century at the height of the slave trade. Maman Brigitte, sometimes symbolised by a black rooster, is the only goddess whose did not originate in Africa; she is probably a blend of cultures and beliefs of enslaved people from Africa and indentured servants from Ireland. She was associated closely with death and cemeteries. Like our Brigid, she was also known to be a powerful healer and a protector of women.
Great credits for this piece of poetry to Malachy Clerkin, Irish Times Sports writer, Sat Dec 24 2022 – a very humerous synopsis of World Cup punditry over the last few weeks
I’m always on the lookout for a witty piece of poetry. So I could hardly avoid this, a parody of my favourite Christmas Poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. Throw into the mix that it’s a play on BBC’s broadcasts of the craic and banter between Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richardson over the World Cup: you’ll understand how I just had to have it in my blog.
Three unwise men: ‘Twas the night before Christmas…
Come on you reds: Jamie Carragher, Roy Keane and Gary Neville
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
The accents were squabbling – Cork, Manc and Scouse.
There was Carragher and Neville and obviously Roy Keane,
And their dudgeon was high, and their language obscene.
“How the *%^& can you say that? You’re a right *%^&ing fool.”
Roy roared this at Gary, who rocked on his stool.
“Don’t start on me, mate,” was Neville’s retort.
“It’s not life or death here – we’re just talking sport.”
“Calm down the pair of you,” Jamie jumped in.
“Either kiss and make up now or get in the bin.”
“GO *%^& YOURSELF, CARRA,” screamed Gary and Roy,
And Jamie went quiet, a good little boy.
Here was the problem – the lads were wound up.
They’d spent the past month at the Qatar World Cup.
There’d been days in the desert and nights in the bars
And it all took its toll and they came home with scars.
There’d been talk about protests and what it all meant,
Of cash and backhanders and where it all went.
Talk about cultures, talk about gays,
Of yer man Infantino, his tedious ways.
There was also some football, conveniently for Fifa,
England won 6-2 at Stadium Khalifa.
The ITV panel was buzzing and rocking,
Until Roy nailed Iran with a single word: “Shocking.”
There were goals for Ronaldo, some his and some not.
And Messi scored seven, with four from the spot.
Giroud and Mbappé scored bagfuls for France
And Roy got annoyed at Brazilians who dance.
He was generally okay though, amused by it all,
Until England went two up on poor Senegal.
Harry Kane scored and Neville just lost it.
But Keane didn’t flinch, so cool he looked frostbit.
Everyone wondered what he wrote in his notes
While Wrighty and Gary were clearing their throats.
It was all quite straightforward, he simply wrote down:
“How much longer will I have to work with this clown?”
The weeks trundled by and England went out,
And Neymar stopped dancing, no more twist or shout.
Croatia were dogged, Morocco were fun
But when it all ended, there was only one.
It was Messi’s World Cup and he got the glory,
The best final ever, a beautiful story.
And everyone came home, exhausted and wrecked,
Ready to rest and take time to reflect.
Until Jamie popped up in the trio’s WhatsApp,
Refreshed and relaxed and just up from a nap.
He’d had the month off, not giving a fig,
No travel, no Qatar and no TV gig.
“All right lads!” he chirped as he welcomed them back.
Neither replied as they’d both hit the sack.
But Jamie persisted, he was keen as could be
To get back in studio, Sky Sports’ Big Three.
So he took out his phone and he started to type.
The boys needed lifting, they needed some hype.
“No time for lounging or World Cup fatigue,
“It’s back to the grindstone, the Premier League!”
That got a reaction – Roy said: “You what?!”
Jamie said: “You’re back on.” And Roy said: “I’m not!”
And Gary chimed in, crying: “Give us a break!
“Don’t put us together, at least for my sake.”
This could get nasty so Jamie thought quick.
“I know what I’ll do now, I’ll channel Saint Nick.”
He went back to them both with a trick up his sleeve,
And sent them an invite: his house, Christmas Eve.
They both turned up grumbling – “Why the *%^& are we here?”
“Belt up, lads,” said Carra, “Have Christmas good cheer!”
And though they were grouchy and grumpy and gruff,
They heard Jamie out, as they liked him enough.
“I know it’s been tense and I know it’s been hard.
“The World Cup was long and you went every yard.
“But life’s getting better, it’s all looking up,
“At least you weren’t stuck with the Carabao Cup.”
He fed them and schmoozed them and got them together,
But both were still close to the end of their tether.
They couldn’t believe there wasn’t a pause,
No time for festivities, no Santa Claus.
“This is bullshit,” said Roy. “It’s absolute nonsense.
“Whoever has done this has no *%^&ing conscience.
“Tell you this much for nothing – whatever occurs,
“There’s no way I’m working at Brentford v Spurs.”
That was all Jamie needed, his opening was clear
He said, “Don’t worry Roy, they’re not that severe.
“You can both have the week off, take your sweet time.
“The Boxing Day games are on Amazon Prime.”
“Stephen’s Day,” muttered Roy before letting it slide.
“No game till next Friday is doable,” he sighed.
And Gary perked up: “Let’s not let it fester.
“We’ll probably feel better come Liverpool v Leicester.”
Suddenly the trio were sitting straight up,
To hell with exhaustion, forget the World Cup.
They talked about Pep and they talked about Klopp,
They’d fully forgotten that Arsenal are top.
Now Haaland, now Salah, now Foden and Saka!
On Almiron, Mitrovic, Rashford and Xhaka!
Now financial doping and reffing mistakes,
On Glazers and oligarchs, Saudis and sheikhs.
By the time they were finished, the lads had come round.
And Gary and Roy had found common ground.
They got in a circle and made sure to hug tight.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
“I had the feeling that this was the one.” — Lionel Messi after winning the World Cup for the first time.
Having watched every one of the 63 matches of the 2022 World Cup tournament, I spent the evening of the final with the Naas Active Retirement Group in the 3 Arena. I did sneak a peek of the match progress during the interval and was delighted to see Argentina 2-0 up. At next check-in, 45 minutes later the score showed as 2-all – what had happened?
Extra time had just finished as we left our seats at the end of the show. Both teams had scored. We joined some other football fans to listen to the penalty shoot-out. Relief – Argentina, the obvious favourites in the 3 Arena, had won.
I read all the post-match reports today, but decided to trawl the replay channels and at least experience the excitement of the highlights. Even though I knew the result, it was till an amazing match of ups and downs where the winning team had to win three times. That’s sport. According to the media today it was one of the best finals in history.
SOME QUOTES from a TOURNAMENT of contradictions:
GROTESQUE WEALTH IS PROPPED UPON ABJECT POVERTY and COMMUNAL RIGHTS ARE VALUED MORE THAN THE INDIVIDUAL
“After the World Cup road works and construction begins again and labour is so poorly valued that the workers have no water, and maybe no pay for months at a time. This is the real Doha”.
“Death is a natural part of life, whether it is at work, whether it is in your sleep,” said Qatar’s chief executive Nasser Al-Khater, when asked about ‘Alex,’ a Filipino national who died while working at the Sealine resort, Saudi Arabia’s training base in Mesaieed.
Everyone is welcome in Qatar,” insists the World Cup Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, “but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture.”
Gianni Infantino’s tribute to a tournament that has netted millions for Soccer: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”
On opening night Morgan Freeman asks: “Am I welcome?”
Seven European captains abandoning the One Love armband, designed to support LGBTQ+ rights, for fear of receiving a yellow card, prompted Roy Keane to comment: “The players could have done it for the first game. I think it was a big mistake by both players, they should have stuck to their guns, if that’s what you believe then go with it.”
Roy Keane’s comment about Brazilian celebrations of goals “I don’t mind the first kind of little jig – whatever they’re doing – but they’re still doing it after that, and then the manager getting involved with it.
Hassan Al Thawadi’s, Secretary General at Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy comments on human rights: “We are a relatively conservative culture. In the West the individual’s personal rights always trump, let’s say, the community rights. That’s what is most sacred. But there are other societies, the Arab world being one of them, in the Middle East, it is the communal values, which is fundamentally related to religion, that is of a higher value, of higher importance.”
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