Billy King: Rites Again, NN 308

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hello again. ‘April showers bring forth May flowers’ perhaps but April is on average the driest month in Ireland – so get out there while you can before the monsoon season soon appears in the summer.

Scamming using scams

There are a million and one varieties of scamming and fraud, and most are facilitated by remote communication and online financial transactions. You still can get the occasional ‘Nigerian prince/daughter of a dictator/unclaimed bank account’ type of email but most fraud has moved on to more sophisticated ruses.

However a new scam that came through my virtual letterbox in the last month concerned the alleged distribution of assets which had been retrieved from scams. Now why the ‘open’ distribution by email of such ill-gotten gains would be used as opposed to these assets going back to the victims was obviously not explained (or being used for charitable purposes where the victims could not be established). But actually mentioning scams in an attempt to scam people is a new and audacious move, I certainly hope it doesn’t work but who knows, it only takes one in a million and the scamster has a profit and a damn scam scam wham.

Letting out a whoop

I was outside in lake and hill land in Donegal when I heard an unmistakeable sound – Whooper Swans. As would be normal in flight, I heard them before I saw them and there were about thirty of them flying north in three V formations, two formations about the same size and one slightly smaller. It was very impressive and it being mid-March they were on the move, whether heading directly to Iceland or not.

The last survey done of Whooper Swans (2020) estimated that the population in Ireland in the winter was nearly 20,000, an increase from the previous survey and an indication that conditions are good for them in Ireland and in Iceland where there migrate to in the warmer half of the year. So I had just seen probably 0.15% of Ireland’s Whooper Swans in flight together. It is great – and unusual in the current era – to see some wildlife having a stable or even increasing population.

The same survey indicated only a handful of the slightly smaller Bewick’s Swans were in Ireland because with climate change they don’t need to journey so far in winter from Arctic Russia where they nest.

Before the advent of hot air balloons, and even more before human fixed wing flight, humanity had longed to fly. Flying was for the birds but humans wanted to emulate that. For many people now, flying is just a fast bus with wings. While some people have no choice but fly, for work or to see loved ones, many of us can choose whether we fly or not. Given the high environmental cost of flying, not just the amount of emissions but the fact that most take place a long way above the earth where they are slower to break down, we need to avoid flying when possible, certainly until the fossil fuel link is broken. And helicopter and private airplane flights, except perhaps for very light aircraft, should be banned except for emergency services. Once again flying should be for the birds and we can settle for marvelling at their ability and agility.

Shannon military airport

OK, he said “semi-military airport” but it still means the (US) military is big there at Shannon Airport. It was RTE Radio 1 on 14/3/2 at about 9.05 am, and Oliver Callan was standing in as presenter for Ryan Tubridy (he who is about to pass on the baton by being the late presenter of the Late Late Show).

The context was President Biden’s forthcoming visit to Ireland and I presume the remarks were scripted but in talking about the different places Biden could arrive at, Callan mentioned the US connection with Shannon, he said it was a “semi-military airport at this stage”. Many’s a true word is spoken when talking about something else (Biden coming). Shannon Warport it is, and an unofficial US base in effect. And the Irish authorities never check what is coming through. The history of course includes involvement in renditions but the biggest part of it is the day-to-day facilitation by the Irish state of the US American war machine. It is not just a crying shame but a dying shame – for many in Iraq and elsewhere. Two-faced doesn’t come into it, those who control the state have, in that Belfast expression, “more faces than the Albert Clock”. As always you can check out the US military doings, and peace resistance to same, at the Shannonwtach website at

On the duty…

of civil disobedience…. Interesting and thoughtful piece by Joe Humphreys in The Irish Times of 23/3/23 on civil disobedience and Enoch Burke’s struggle against the school he taught in and the state. If you don’t know who Enoch Burke is then a word search should throw up more than you want…….He has certainly been courting publicity. [Oh dear, punnets again – Ed]

I would make a number of qualifications to Joe Humphreys’ coverage. Yes, I agree that religious belief doesn’t give you any additional rights to be civilly disobedient, even if it can provide a particular motivation. But while being public in your disobedience is appropriate in many societies it is also much more difficult, if not suicidal, in other societies which are fascist or authoritarian; in the case of the latter, hidden disobedience is advised, at least until enough momentum has been built up to go public – and there will still be a very high risk there (think Iran currently). The same could apply within ‘tight ship’ business or other organisations, even government departments, where whistleblowing is tantamount to treason; resigning is of course an option but then you may be less well placed to draw attention to abuses.

He also quotes Prof Kimberley Brownlee saying that those who practise civil disobedience “are not revolutionaries”. Well, it depends what you mean by ‘revolutionary’. That particular word is used and abused. There is often a misunderstanding that to be revolutionary you have to be violent but revolutionary violence often ends up instituting a new regime which is worse than the first. Those practising civil disobedience may or may not be ‘revolutionaries’ – people proposing a radically different society – though how far they get with change can depend on many factors.

Nonviolent activists would argue that nonviolent civil disobedience is more radical and far-changing than violent – and the conclusions of Chenoweth and Stephan’s study of social change movements from the start of the 20th century would back that up. Being ‘revolutionary’ should not necessarily mean drastic and sudden change, by whatever means, but rather change which is fundamental and deep; it can be ‘revolution by evolution’, i.e. ongoing commitment to radical change, step by step.

Humphreys’ article is a useful one and he concludes appropriately with a quote from Henry David Thoreau which ends “What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” And I say ‘amen’ to that (religious or otherwise).

Peace studies and war studies

A report on a safeguarding investigation regarding a Catholic priest in a town in Norn Iron revealed that while a teacher at a Catholic boys grammar school in a town in the west of the North he had set up a “Peace Studies class” between his school and the Protestant boys’ grammar school “aimed at fostering good relations “ between the schools and this has continued for several decades.

However the report goes on to say “Over the years the Peace Studies class has seen pupils of both schools undertake collaborative research into the First World War, where they learned how Catholics and Protestants fought side by side, and marked the centenaries of both the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising.” Um, I don’t know anything more about the approach taken but I can safely say that studying wars and violence is unlikely to be ‘peace studies’ but rather ‘war studies’ – unless of course the approach was ‘How could this war have been avoided?’ (and there is no indication of that in the report but I am ignorant of the details). The fact it is bringing young people together across a divide might make it ‘good relations’ work but not ‘peace studies’; bringing people together like this can be very positive, this being situated in a residentially and educationally divided society, but how it is done and what it does also matters.

There has been a lot of work in the North and indeed on the whole island in reclaiming the lost and hidden stories of Catholic involvement in the British armed forces in both world wars. It is good to do that. No stories should be left untold. But this has usually happened at the cost of being uncritical of the wars in question and how they came to happen (and the Second World War was a direct result of the outcomes of the First World War which stemmed directly from imperial and imperialist rivalries). This all risks inculcating violence at a higher level than the sectarian.

Calling something ‘peace studies’ does not mean it is that.

Salad days

I gave up on growing lettuce a long time ago, slugs like it too much and cutting open a lettuce full of wee slugs is not what you want when preparing your meal. As an organic grower I only use beer in jam jars to trap slugs and snails – they don’t have a central nervous system so I hope it isn’t too bad a way to depart this life. Instead we more than get by with rocket, land cress, green in snow (it was totally unphased by the 10 days freeze up in December…), and red veined sorrel which is perpetual. The red veined sorrel adds a great bit of colour to the plate. Someone gave me perpetual (‘wall’) rocket last year so I am experimenting growing that but I don’t mind making about three sowings in the year of rocket and land cress.

I have been known to inscribe a water barrel (no ifs or butts? – Ed) in a peace camp garden with the phrase “Lettuce work for peas” however. If you have tasty leaves in your salad you don’t need a lot more beyond a dressing but we grow a varieties of chives and Welsh onions (which are like thick scallions only you leave the bulb in the ground to sprout more green stems), fennel, lovage, tarragon and occasionally other herbs for salad use (and basil if it grows for me indoors – outdoors it just gets eaten by said slugs).

All of these can be grown in tubs or window boxes – and red veined sorrel is reasonably decorative though there is a period when it goes to seed in the summer and you can’t use it. I will be trying to do a good sowing of land cress and green in snow come mid- to late- August for winter and/or early spring use – I think I enjoy fresh salads most in the springtime when they, or maybe me, feels full of the joys of spring and they feel fresh and new. It is easy to save the seed of these plants too – but you need to leave them in your soil or growing medium until well after their flowering and the seeds are fully formed.

Of course other kinds of salads than green leaves are great too, including the classic Waldorf, and it is amazing the salad you can make with some leftover veg or even a tin of chick peas. Maybe add some croutons on top of a leaf salad though and you have the makings of a meal [is that making a meal of it? – Ed].

I’m always sad to see the decline and fall of daffodils, I think it is because they are the first big burst of colour in the year and harbingers of warmer days. The mid- and late-flowering ones are still bright in our neck of the woods but not for much longer. Spring draws on.

That’s me until after May Day though the way the planet is going it perhaps, tragically, should be mayday. In the mean time take care of each other and our wee planet. Speaking of which I was sad to learn of the death in March of Sr Catherine Brennan SSL who was a founder and leading light of Eco Congregation Ireland, the Christian churches’ network on ecological issues; she was a lovely woman and a bundle of energy. May she rest in green and tranquil peace. – Billy.