Music and Murder in the Cathedral and elsewhere. Young Dublin Symphonia.

cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 018


It was Churchill who said, wryly, that The Balkans produce more history than they can consume. One hundred years ago they exported some of their history  and ignited a world war. Similarly in Ireland, we produce a lot of history. It is all around us, in the shape of our towns and villages and in the stones of our streets, pavements and buildings. We walk on top of it every day. It can turn to quagmire and pull people down into futile blame and recrimination. It permeates our songs and stories. It can set brother against brother and parent against child. It requires careful handling.

Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin is a good place to ruminate on history…and myth…and gossip…and legend… and rats… and forgetfulness. We went there last Thursday to hear our grand- daughter’s orchestra, The Young Dublin Symphonia and their Italian friends, a youth orchestra from Viterbo. Here’s a good one: back in 1278, the College of Cardinals  withdrew from Rome to Viterbo to elect a new Pope. They dithered for a year or so, much to the frustration of the good people of Viterbo. No doubt the cardinals were on expenses. Eventually the authorities stopped all deliveries,  took the roof off the palazzo in which the eminent churchmen sat and locked the door with a clavis (Cum clave—a key or bar for a door.) They got a result in three days.  Hence the locking of the door on the Sistine Chapel, until the white smoke comes out of the spout. (You couldn’t call it a chimney.)

cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 019      cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 017

Then I got distracted by  the meerkats. They are everywhere, in meerkat sunbursts in the floor tiling and incised into the backrests of the seats. The meerkat seemed to be the presiding spirit of the cathedral, the genius loci. He was looking over his shoulder There was something knocking at the back of my mind, from a visit long ago. It was something about a rat. I remember  seeing a rat in a glass case. He was tricked out in plus-fours and a tweed jacket. He carried a golf club, or was it a walking stick? This fellow seemed to be holding a pilgrim staff. That’s definitely a golf ball at his feet. I consulted the brochure. The rat and his associate, the cat, can be seen in the crypt. Was that the crafty cat that crept in the crypt? I would have to refresh my memory after the recital.

cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 015

This is Strongbow, leader of the invading Normans. The Dublin merchants paid over their rents and settled their debts on Strongbow’s tomb. He collaborated with Saint Laurence O Toole, on the rebuilding of the old Christchurch. Gossip says that the truncated figure to his left is the son whom he killed in a rage. The small figure is excluded by the shield. His son should have been to his right. It is no way to treat a child. The cathedral collapsed and destroyed his original tomb. This is, in fact a replacement, borrowed from some other noble knight. I wonder if he has a long lease on it. I hope that he is keeping up the rent and has made some restitution to his child in the Hereafter. Gossip also says that he is in fact buried in Ferns, in Wexford. Even historians come to blows over differences like that. Stalin removed Lenin’s widow from the Party and air-brushed her from photographs and from history, but he still needed her for appearances….so he appointed a new, “Official Lenin’s Widow.”  So where is the real Strongbow?

Saint Laurence prostrated himself before the high altar here, to pray against a ‘serjeant’ who had struck one of his servants. The ‘serjeant’ fell down some steps, shortly afterward and broke his thigh. The injury became gangrenous. The ‘serjeant’ died in agony, proof to all of the power of the church. Saint Laurence was subordinate to Beckett who was murdered in Canterbury. He himself was attacked in a cathedral on his way to Rome and died in agony, proof to all of the power of the iron bar, (clavis) that the madman had borrowed from the door.

cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 022

Fortunately, the recital began, driving away dark thoughts. The sun came out and shone down through a high window, illuminating my granddaughter and her fellow musicians. It was a joy to hear. No doubt the old knights underground, tapped their toes and jingled their spurs with pleasure.  Bach, Boccherini, Bizet, rinsed the shadows from the gloomy vaults and raised the spirits of proud parents and ambling tourists. The sun shone for  the rest of the day.

I still had to say ‘hello’ to the rat. I went down into the crypt. He is not an insouciant fellow with the jaunty air of a cartoon meerkat. He carries no staff or five-iron. He is not togged out in hideous tartan slacks. The tableau shows a poor divil fleeing for his life. It is difficult to feel sorry for a rat. He took refuge in an organ pipe and the cat followed him in. Think, for a moment, of their nightmare predicament.  A cat’s retractable claws are perfectly designed for climbing up or down, guaranteeing him nine lives. Unfortunately, they have no reverse setting. The creatures were irrevocably stuck, locked in life and death by mutual hatred. They were discovered, over a century and a half ago, in a mummified state , achieving  posthumous fame and prominence on a par with that of Strongbow. {“The moral of this story/Is a very simple one:/Them wot’s up the bleedin’ spout/Don’t ‘ave no bleedin’ fun.Wilfred Bramble} In terms of slaying human beings, the rat and his fleas, leave Strongbow and his Normans in the ha’penny place.

cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 023

‘On the Feast of Tiburtius and Valerian,’ wrote Friar John Clyn, in 1334, ‘the burgesses and true men of Kilkenny began to pave their streets. ‘  They took the stone from the collapsed belfry in the cathedral of Saint Canice, while the turbulent bishop was abroad. The townspeople freed themselves from the mire and walked dry-shod, but the bishop returned and there was Hell to pay. Friar John saw the advent of the Black Death to Kilkenny in 1348. The rats did for him too. Enough of this remembering. It was time to forget and follow the orchestra to Malahide Castle for an afternoon recital. The sun stayed out.

cat and rat Christchurch. Compass cake, YDS 024

Here she is again, caught in a sunbeam, taking her turn as First Violin. Well done to YDS and to Il Centro Sperimentale  Musicale per L’Infanzia, from Viterbo, for raising the roof, this time in a good way and of course, to their conductors and tutors. Now that’s a better way to encourage young people, than Strongbow’s iron hand. Malahide Castle was built by a Talbot, one of Strongbow’s companions. He got the lease from the king for a rent of one mounted archer per year. The family held it for 800 years That’s a lot of archers. Oh, never mind. Now it is a great public space. Well done to Fingal County Council, for ensuring that it will remain so, at least for another 800 years.

Credit where it is due. The water sommelier.

Falcarragh waves Jan 2014 Watchers 117 Falcarragh waves Jan 2014 Watchers 124

Some controversy arose about a year ago concerning the appointment of a water sommelier to a hotel in California. Ah, what can you expect, in California, eh? Evidence of a long suspected decadence and detachment from reality. But, wait. A Dublin hotel had a similar rare creature, years before that, at the height of ‘the boom.’ During ‘the boom’, it was incumbent on us ‘to party.’  ‘Party’ is a noun, not a verb, but when politics and economics are distorted; when  Mr. Micawber is derided as a fool who couldn’t get his head around a 110% mortgage, why not distort language as well?  ‘ I took the money’ became  ‘I would have taken the money’, introducing an element of doubt—tribunal-speak. ‘Lousy’ became ‘sub-optimal’.  ‘Dodgy’ became ‘sub-prime.’  The ship of state, careered onto the rocks, offshore. ‘ Offshore’ is where the shrewd operators hid their money. It is difficult to avoid nautical metaphors when a country is governed by incompetents and conmen. (Gubernator, latin, ‘a helmsman.)  Conning tower, the lofty eminence from which a submarine commander may look down on his crew. When a yacht ‘goes about’ or ‘gybes’, the crew can get a nasty smack on the head from the boom. Enough of the metaphors.

Were you at the party? Were your children, trying to buy a home and keep their heads above water, at the party?  Did you snap your fingers and beckon a fawning water sommelier to your table?  ‘A bottle of Blessington, perhaps?  Twenty five euros a bottle?  A rare Corrib, with a hint of cryptosporidium?’  Coca Cola launched a brand of bottled water, that turned out to have originated from the municipal water supply. Perrier and Evian were engaged in a struggle to out-do each other in shipping bottles of water all over the world. Eventually one of them hit on a wheeze– just sell the concession and ship the labels to the local supplier. No, email them.  A prominent Irish supplier fell out with the landowner, where their well produced ‘eight hundred year old water, filtered through rocks millions of years old.’  They moved the whole operation to another county and another well. Strangely, there was still a naked woman cavorting in the pool. Health and safety?  ‘Waiter! What’s this naked woman doing in my glass?’   ‘The back-stroke, sir.  Shall I get you another one?’  ‘Why not? It’s a party after all.  And have one yourself, my good man.’

Them was the days, Joxer. Them was the days.  Then we hit the iceberg. The captain and the officers took their pensions and scarpered. The rest of the country ‘took a hosing’, ‘a bath’, whatever aquatic metaphor you wish.  (Sorry about that.)  It has been ‘all hands to the pumps’ for six hard years. Many have gone under. Life belts have been in short supply.

To the point. The country has gradually begun to get back on an even keel, (Sorry, again) thanks to the sacrifices of many and, to be fair, thanks to a government that took harsh and unpopular decisions. There are still people dedicated to their work, people who raise their children decently and believe in fairness and a civil society. Voluntary effort is still significant. There is a sense of the possibility of better things to come. It is a precarious situation. From one side we hear the whining of the old crew, oblivious of the fact that they ran us up on the rocks. (Can’t help it.) From another side we hear the ranting of the people with the easy solutions; the advocates of rioting in the streets; the people with the slogans.

We are coming close to the local elections. I have been watching the work of the man repairing the breakwater at Holmpatrick. It was severely damaged by the storms. He works patiently and methodically, without drama or shouting. He puts back what was washed away and builds new defences. His work is governed by the tides. He is like a mahout on a mighty elephant, lifting and carrying, urging great rocks into place.  His methodical work is done on our behalf. It is reassuring to all who live near the water.

Saint patrick's Day 2014 001Easter monday 2014 breakwater 010Easter monday 2014 breakwater 012

People who enter public life, do so for many different reasons. We at least, owe them the courtesy of going out to vote. If they have all the answers and instant solutions, be wary. If they have a track record of diligent and methodical effort, give them the necessary support to continue the work. God knows, they won’t get thanks. Fingal County has a good record on imaginative initiatives and civic amenities. Their meetings are available online to all who are interested. You can form your own judgement. Look around your town. You may not agree with everything , but you will see many good things. These didn’t all happen by accident. Most are the result of good representation, cogent argument, careful planning and investment of our money. Beware of bar-fly politics: ‘They’re all the bloody same!’   It is incomprehensible that we hear calls for jettisoning the people who are at least, dragging us out of the water and bringing back the kind of clowns who got us in there in the first place. That would be ‘some party.’

Many years ago, we drank water from The Nag’s Head reservoir. It could have been worse, if the opposite end had provided it. Not much worse. It tasted of chlorine. If you poured a cup of tea, you had to add the milk immediately before an oil slick formed on the surface. It contained fluoride also,  so at least I can thank it for my remaining teeth. The pressure fell away in summertime, with all sorts of inconveniences, too numerous and too insanitary to mention.  The Nag’s Head is empty now. We have clean Liffey water all year round. That didn’t get here by accident either. Now there is an outcry because the bill is being presented. You could refuse to pay it and send for the water sommelier instead. A word of warning. I read that the plastic of the bottles, in certain circumstances, may release carcinogenic dioxins. You are nabbed either way. As the old joke had it: ‘Drink water only after it has been passed by the County Engineer.’

Easter monday 2014 breakwater 001

This is the gold standard of breakwaters, The White Wall, two hundred years old and not a stone out of place. It didn’t get there by accident either. A vote of thanks to the builders, perhaps?