[Return to related issue of Nonviolent
Well, hello again and welcome back on
board [shouldn't that be 'bored'? - Ed] for the Colm that
tells it like it is, was, could be, shouldn't and shall. I
hope the summer was kind to you, that you were kind to each
other, and that you kind of had a good time. Once more, as
every year, what I got done over the summer in terms of things
that I expected to get done, well, not very many got done
and those that did took a couple of times as long to be finished
as I expected. Still, I got out and about as well. But September.
Not my favourite time of year. Nevertheless I hope you have
a brighter smile, and that you are better misinformed, after
reading my column.
It is a very grave matter indeed. Along with
social and political commentary we [is that the royal 'we'?
- Ed] [don't be so disgusting - Billy] try to bring you the
important stories of the day. So when a republican plot was
exposed - and by a Sinn Féin councillor at that, we
felt it our duty to report it in detail. I am of course talking
about Councillor, and leading Sinn Féin figure, Tom
Hartley's tour of the City and Milltown Cemeteries off the
Falls Road in Belfast which he does each year as part of the
West Belfast Festival. Excellent stuff. Though you'll have
to wait to next August to partake of that guided tour, you
can of course wander there to your hearts content. If you're
visiting Paris you can purchase DIY guides of famous cemeteries
with surprises in store, in fact without looking for it I
once stumbled across the grave of the inventor of the can
can dance in Montmartre but there is as yet no printed guide
to Belfast's cemeteries (though anything Paris can can do,
Belfast can do half as well.
There were various themes to the tour. One theme
in the City Cemetery was war and empire, another was those
who bankrolled and armed unionism in the end of the 19th and
early 20th centuries. But we saw also the graves of humanitarian
figures, educationalists like Vere Foster and Margaret Byers
and socialist Robert Lynd. The relative invisibility of women
was a recurring theme in both graveyards - one other woman
whose grave we saw (in Milltown) was Winifred Connery, political
and republican activist, at the GPO in 1916, secretary to
James Connolly, she married a UVF man and it seems they lived
happily (presumably with some interesting political debates!)
until she died in 1943.
We also saw the way in which establishment stalwarts
of up to the early 20th century were not afraid to proclaim
their Irishness through Irish script on their graves or Celtic
crosses. One of the graves of war dead was a Sandy Row (Belfast)
man killed in battle in the First World War; the British had
tunnelled under German lines and packed an enormous amount
of explosives. The troops were to go over the top exactly
at the same time as the explosives were to go off. It was,
in general, a very effective military operation, but not for
this soldier since the explosives in the sector he was attacking
went off 17 seconds too late, just as the British troops were
coming to the enemy lines. He was the victim of an 'own goal'
in Northern Ireland parlance, or 'friendly fire' in modern
military-speak. A marble pith-helmet on another grave spoke
also of the empire and service to it.
The City Cemetery was originally intended to
be for both Protestants and Catholics but the then Catholic
bishop did a deal whereby for relinquishing the 'Catholic'
space he got compensation and bought the first part of Milltown
Cemetery, down and across the road. But plans had already
been laid for a Protestant part and a Catholic part in the
City Cemetery (this was in the 1850s) including an underground
wall stretching down 9 feet (best part of 3 metres) between
the erstwhile Protestant and Catholic graves -the wall still
exists. What did they think the dead were going to get up
to that they had to keep them apart like that? More likely
doctrinal purity and fear of reactions stipulated that they
couldn't be too careful in keeping graves apart. But it makes
the most amazing 'peace wall' in Belfast ever. Someone has
since told me it featured in Billy Connolly's televised visit
to Norn Iron as part of his 'UK tour'.
Milltown Cemetery has for me one of the most
powerful statements made in death by anyone. Originally the
priests and the relatively small sized Catholic bourgeoisie
were buried at the front of the cemetery; there was a poor
ground at the back where stillborn babies, paupers, victims
of disease like cholera, etc, were buried. Tens of thousands
are buried in a couple of grassy areas with no marker to indicate
their existence at all and in a space which looked like it
would be standing room only. Just beyond the poor ground is
the Celtic cross marking the grave of the Bishop of Down and
Connor who died in 1814, John Tohill. He chose to be buried
there, in what was previously unconsecrated ground, so that
in blessing his grave the whole area would be blessed. I don't
know what John Tohill was like in life but this is a wonderful
example of a churchman taking one last option for the poor
in a heartfelt and meaningful way.
We also saw the graves of various people killed
in the Troubles on the 20th century, including a couple of
families wiped out by British forces just after partition.
In a wonderful piece of irony, Tom Hartley pointed out the
grave of a Catholic victim of this era and the Catholic member
of the RIC/RUC who had killed him, their graves in quite close
We took in the Antrim Memorial to republicans
of various eras, and the grave of Sean McCaughey who died
in Portlaoise Prison in 1946 after a 23 day hunger and thirst
strike, but we didn't linger at the modern republican plot,
though we were pointed out also the Official IRA and IRSP
About the City Cemetery, Tom Hartley said it
tended to be ignored by Protestants because it's in Catholic
West Belfast, and by Catholics as being Protestant (though
in fact there have been quite a few modern Catholic 'infill'
graves). Reflecting who had the wealth at the time, the City
Cemetery is the one of wide avenues and many more opulent
graves. Both graveyards portray so much of the history and
culture of Belfast and of Ireland. Worth a visit and definitely
worth going on Tom Hartley's tour next year.
But it reminds me also of the song John O'Dreams,
maybe because of the euphemism of sleep for death, or maybe
because of other parallels:
"Both man and master in the night are one,
All things are equal when the day is done,
The prince and the ploughman, the slave and
All find their comfort in old John O'Dreams."
As with sleep, so with death. Despite the fact
that some can have magnificent follies erected in their memory
while others have only the blades of grass.
Scene; A 24-hour convenience shop just a mile
or two north of Dublin city centre. Time; 12.30 a.m. The shop
is staffed by two men in their mid- to late-twenties, one
of central European origin on the till, the other a black
man working behind the counter towards the back of the shop.
An elderly and quite drunk Dubliner aged 65 - 70 comes from
the back of the shop shouting at the black man, "It's
your sort coming into Ireland that has this country fucked."
There is a queue, of varying nationalities including Irish
people. The man on the till asks him not to use bad and offensive
You are in the queue. What would you do?
a) Nothing. Pay for your carton of milk and
b) Go up to the man and start to try to talk
to him that you do not welcome racial abuse.
c) Shout back at the drunk man telling him he
is not welcome if he can't control his language.
d) Shout back "This country was fucked
by the Irish before anyone else was coming into it."
e) Go up to the black man who was verbally assaulted
and empathise with him.
f) Other response
The guy on the till actually said that he came
in every night on the cadge and was often given a cigarella
free by the staff. Here was his thanks. The guy shouted at
remained calm and stoical, doubtless he had seen it all before.
Oh, my spur of the moment response was d) - trying to take
his language and concept and throw it back at him. With drunks
there are limited opportunities for reasoning and while a)
might be an option it feels very inadequate and cowardly,
so some action of some sort was called for. The drunk man
himself was elderly and no physical threat to anyone. Just
maybe he remembered the next day what he had done and said
sorry. But I doubt it.
Such behaviour is not too unusual, e.g. a seventeen
year old was fined €75 at Dublin Children's Court at
the end of July for shouting "Fuck you, you black bastard"
at a shop assistant who had stopped him stealing a newspaper.
Again alcohol was involved; the young man was extremely drunk,
but it would be a mistake to simply blame 'the drink'. Drunkenness
can embolden but merely amplifies attitudes which are already
there. And as these two stories indicate, the racism can come
from either end of the age spectrum.
I can report that at least one part of Irish
music is in a healthy state after a visit to the 'Lisdoonvarna'
festival at the RDS in Dublin. Many thanks to Clare 'Co Co'
for declining to host a revived festival there because 'it's
a long long way from Clare to here' and I wouldn't have made
it down. Whereas Dublin was easier for me to get to. Mind
you I didn't even bother with the alcohol - the queues were
too long and €5 a pint, and with that music who needs
a drink. The answer is apparently a lot of people but the
mood was good and we only saw one person carted off by stretcher
which with up to thirty thousand (I estimate) that wasn't
bad going. And I didn't see one spot of bother.
Christy of course I loiked [yes, we've heard
that before many times - Ed]. The Frames, the main supporting
act, I didn't go for, maybe Glen Hasard's comment about 'spasi'
dancing (cf 'spastic' as term of derision) poisoned my perception,
though the fact that he used some of 'Two little boys had
two little toys' (that well known militarist dirge) as part
of a song, well, that didn't endear his act to me either -
though I did like a couple of songs on the set they played.
Other performers I liked included Ann Scott, Ketell Keineg,
Damien Dempsey, and Luka Bloom but with three or four stages
on simultaneously until the evening you couldn't get to everyone
anyway. Kilfenora Ceili Band did their stuff well too.
Luka Bloom fairly got the crowd going with his
take on brother Christy Moore's 'Lisdoonvarna'. Instead of
the chorus of 'Lisdoon Lisdoon Lisdoon Lisdoon-varna' he had
'Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin 4' (where the RDS venue is located)
and took the piss out of that area including its cappuccinos
and frappaccinos. Good stuff. I also liked his 'I am a bogman',
in fact I think I'll try to get a copy.
For the family holiday this summer we cycled
from west of Carnuntum as far as Aquincum. Well known European
urban centres. Well, they were a couple of millennia ago.
Carnuntum is east of Vienna and Aquincum on the outskirts
of Budapest, they were Roman towns on the northern edge of
the Roman empire. Further north lived the 'barbarians' (the
derogatory Roman term for those outside their control). The
Romans never conquered Ireland so we must be barbarians, maybe
they just decided not to bother though 'Hibernia', their name
for Ireland ('winter'), may have been a translation mistake
despite the fact that in Ireland it can be winter all year
around, except in an exceptional summer. In fact tourists
are going to be flocking to Ireland in the future as global
warming heats up, looking for a bit of cool. Well, no, I'm
only jesting but many's the true word was spoken in gist.
And if the Gulf Stream shifts them they can stock up on ice
in the winter. PS Interesting etymological fact; The Irish
language word for English, 'bearla', has the same onomatopoeic
origin as 'barbarian'; the ancient Romans categorised those
who spoke foreign gibberish as going 'bar bar bar' (formed
into a word as 'barbarian'), while the 'bla bla bla' of English
speakers became 'bearla' to Irish speakers. [This month's
useless but intriguing fact - Ed].
PPS And who remembers the Irish current affairs
journal 'Hibernia'. When it started a back page satirical
section it called it 'Hernia'.
Intercom, the Irish Catholic priests' magazine
(....'resource for people in ministry') has a column called
"Clio's Diary" which is an account of visits to
churches around the five provinces of Ireland (four don't
you mean, you're not in Roman times now - Ed) with comments
on interesting and sometimes bizarre features, though sometimes
too detailed for me. Well, imitation is the sincerest form
of flattery and given my holiday predilection for visiting
ecclesiastical sites, I was thinking of starting a column
called "Leo's travels" [don't you mean "Gullible's
Travels"? - Ed] which would look at what I found without
the detailed analysis of features from an ecclesiastical point
of view [you can forget all about that now - Ed]. Anyhow,
where did I get to enthusiastically ecclesiastically?
I saw an Irish Madonna and child in Hungary.
In the cathedral at Györ. An Irish Madonna? Well, from
Ireland, the oil painting taken by the bishop of Clonfert
when fleeing Cromwell in the 17th century. The story goes
that the Madonna cried tears of blood forty years later -
on St Patrick's Day no less!
The national Hungarian Catholic cathedral in
Esztergom didn't do very much for me. Too big in a showy kind
of way. But the Christian Museum nearby contained a magnificent
collection of religious art from the 15th century onwards,
some of which defied the stereotype images of the day. The
humanness of some of the faces communicated to me across the
centuries since. The suffering of Jesus on the cross was seldom
as well portrayed.
Back 'home', well in Ireland, a visit to Cong,
Co Mayo, included a lengthy peek into the church at the abbey
there. Wow. A wonderfully simple, small church, simple in
a complex way, where the light comes down through roof lights
on the congregation, and as well as what you would expect
in a Catholic church there were two beautiful, small stained
glass windows commemorating the Augustinians who were there
from the 12th century until time was called by the powers
that be in the 16th century. But there was more. A stained
glass window by Harry Clarke from 1933 had me gasping in amazement
at its beauty. Such style and accompolishment [that's not
a word - Ed] [it is now - Billy]. Congratulations to the custodians
of what is a beautiful Christian centre and as an entity I
would feel one of the very finest on the island of feints
But my trip to the west also put a thought into
my head If you want to see a beautiful lake, forget your Gardas
[unless you are being escorted by one - Ed] [Oh police don't!
I bet you used every padded brain cell to come up with that
joke - Billy] Windermeres and Balatons. You have to go to
the west of Ireland. Many European lakes have already been
suburbanised, and maybe Ireland's will be too in due course.
But there is something wild and free about most Irish loughs
still. [So you're not biased? - Ed] [No, I've only one - Billy].
While the train fare Belfast-Dublin return has
gone up to £23 day return or £32 monthly return,
the bus remains at £14 odd, which is a pity for those
of us who would rather the joys of train travel. The train
fare is expensive enough for just over a hundred miles as
the crow would fly if it flew straight - the mileage by train
is higher because it weaves about a bit, like taking in Portadown,
and while it should take two hours it is frequently more.
However the opening of motorway all the way from Dundalk to
Dublin's Whitehall means that the journey by motor is now
half an hour or more shorter at also around two hours to the
north side of Dublin. The northern part of the road Belfast-Dublin
is now relatively slower than the southern part! God be with
the days when by road you went through all the towns on the
route - Banbridge, Newry, Dundalk (which will still be passed
through, well its ring road, for another few years yet), Drogheda,
Balbriggan etc. I remember more than two decades ago when
there was only one lane open at Drogheda for traffic both
ways; a lorry had parked outside the church on the left as
you come into Drogheda from the south leaving only one lane
clear - maybe the driver was inside praying for a speedy journey.
Which made the rest of us considerably slower.
But what I did acquire for my last birthday
[your 90th isn't it? - Ed] [Sneer, sneer, sneer, jealousy
will get you nowhere - Billy] was a fold-up bike which I can
bag and take on bus or train for nothing. Brilliant. Sail
down to the station, sail off the far end.
The new motorway Boyne bridge west of Drogheda
is an interesting one, literally keeping you in suspension.
When lit up at night, passing over it, or should I say into
it, feels like entering the Mother Ship, a sort of Close Encounters,
you almost expect to be met by hospitable aliens. What is
also interesting is that its opening was both welcomed and
attended by representatives of the Orange Order. Now maybe
that is really out of this world. The new bridge is very close
to the site of the Battle of the Boyne where King Billy (no
relation) and his men they did join, all to fight for the
honour of religion (my erse), on the green grassy slopes of
Well, that is it for now, again, good luck with
all the autumn schedules and I hope you're not sunk by them.
As I was saying at the start, not my favourite time of year,
I'm afraid, back to busy-ness with a vengeance and Hibernia
beckoning beyond the autumn [maybe you should Hiberniate or
Emigrate - Ed]. All the best for now,
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).