Blow-ins and Little Green Men

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“Grandad,” said my four year old grandson, “what do Aliens call us?” Little boys delight in questions and jokes. Ideally a question can also be a joke. ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ That’s a cracker, as the late, great Frank Carson used to say. ‘Frank Carson, News at Ten, Balbriggan.’  Something to do with the way he told them. ‘They’re building new houses in Balbriggan. They’ve no chimneys on them. The people have to carry the smoke out in buckets. Ha,ha,ha!’ Strange goings-on in Balbriggan indeed. But I have digressed—by four miles. ‘Why did the chewing gum cross the road?’ Another cracker. ‘Because it was stuck to the chicken’s foot. Boom, boom!.’ “No, but Grandad, what do Aliens call us?” Pay attention. Stop rambling. “I don’t know. What do Aliens call us?”  “They call us Aliens! because they think we look funny and we are Aliens to them.” That’s a good point. Poor bare, forked creatures. We do look a bit weird, considered objectively. It is a well known fact that Aliens abduct people all the time and carry them away in flying saucers. They take them apart to see what makes them tick. Or is it ‘thick’?

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I have a lifetime’s experience of taking things apart to see what’s wrong with them; clocks, washing machines, bikes. I marvel at the ingenuity of the makers; the beauty of the finely machined parts; the intricacy of the mechanisms, but sadly, I have had very little success in reassembling them into working order…..probably just like the Aliens. People who have been dismantled and reassembled in flying saucers, always seem to have a screw loose here and there. Aliens are not as clever as they’re cracked up to be. Anyway, they’re just blow-ins. Came down with the last shower. Who do they think they are, coming down here and telling us what make us tick?  (Watch the spelling there.) Crowd of bloody know-alls. Probably came over the Hoar Rock Hill playin’ penny whistles.

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The news is that out there, beyond our solar system, there is a star, not unlike our Sun and a planet possibly similar to ours, with an atmosphere that could possibly sustain life. It’s 1400 light years away, in round figures. Next thing we’ll have bloody Aliens, who set out around the time of our Dark Ages, travelling at the speed of light to come here and tell us how to do things. Damned cheek! We’re doing fine, thank you very much. Bloody blow-ins! We are intelligent life-forms, as you have already ascertained from your numerous dissections and experiments. And by the way….I would like my frontal lobe and my liver back please…..if it’s not too inconvenient, of course.

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Intelligent life at work.

It is probably a shameful thing to admit, but my parents were blow-ins to Skerries, one in 1903 and the other in 1939. I was born here, which might make me a ‘local’. I might even be entitled to voice an opinion, tentatively, in an assembly of the people. In a few hundred years I may be able pass myself off as a native. If I live that long, my contemporaries will all be dead. I will be able to bang on about things that blow-ins and young whipper-snappers couldn’t possibly know about.  Nobody will be able to contradict me. Bred, born and buttered here, as a well known (native) Skerries man once said. While I’m at it, I must confess that my late and much loved mother-in-law was a Balbriggan woman, which means that I married, 51 years ago, a half-Balbriggan girl.  A desirable alien, perhaps. I’m grateful to my blow-in parents too.

I blame the Great Northern Railway. Since the 1830s railways have been stirring the gene pool, sending blow-ins all around the country to intermingle, putting it delicately, with the natives. This is supposed to be good for the health of the race. All sorts of hop-off-me thumb jackeens and culchies, intermingling with real Skerries people…..Don’t get me started. That lad, Saint Patrick, bloody Welshman; your men, the Vikings; bloody Normans! We were grand the way we were. Now we have AIB Bank encouraging decent, hard-working people with bright, engaging children, to put down roots here in our town. Where will it all end?

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Orson Welles scared the daylights out of people with his Martian invasion. That was only on the radio. We never even got to see them. There was panic and a rush to judgement. They do look a bit funny all the same. It’s rude to stare. If they had ears, now, like we have.  Like normal earthlings have….Ears would be good.

 There was this Skerries woman who was married to a Balbriggan man for fifty years. The poor, decent man died. Friends, sympathising with her at the funeral spoke of what a good man he had been. “He was,”she agreed, wistfully. “He was a good man…..for a stranger.” Maybe it’s time to give blow-ins and Aliens a break. It’s a very small, round world. We all get our turn.

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Proposal for the Inclusion of Skerries on the Ancient East Trail.

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The ‘Bishop Window.’

Sent by Pope Celestine in 432 A.D. Patrick arrived with some few companions, at the island that still bears his name, close to the picturesque town of Skerries in Fingal. This was his first landfall on his return to Ireland, where he had once laboured as a child slave, tending sheep on the Hill of Slemish. He came to convert to Christianity, the people who had once captured him from his home in Roman Britain. The magnanimity and courage of this man, whose community had long been ravaged by Irish raiders, is astounding to contemplate. His earlier experience of Ireland had been one of suffering and loneliness. He survived by dint of faith in God and determination to escape. He returned as a bishop of the Roman church, not to exact revenge but to change Ireland forever. Wherever the Irish have settled around the world, the name of Patrick is honoured and venerated as the Apostle of Ireland. His mission began in Skerries.

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Of the many legends that grew up around the story of Patrick, the first one began here. The imprint of his foot can be seen in the rock at Red Island where he first stepped ashore to begin his work. A more colourful version is that he leapt in fury from his island, to challenge the Skerries people over the theft of his goat. Such was the force of his anger that his foot sank into the rock on impact. He was too late. The goat had been killed and eaten by the Skerries people. The thieves denied their guilt and all knowledge of the goat, whereupon the animal inside them bleated loudly, giving the game away.

This episode was a source of embarrassment to Skerries people for sixteen hundred years. The taunt “Skerry Goats” caused many an altercation with neighbouring villages over the centuries. In 1988 a plaque depicting the goat was placed on Saint Patrick’s Church in Skerries, by way of restitution to the saint for the theft and in recognition that the goat has become a much loved symbol of the town and its societies and clubs.

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Everything that was ours, was restored to us because of God and our invaluable friends.

Scholars maintain that the influence of the island church remained strong after Patrick’s time,despite it having been the likeliest location of the first Viking raid in 798 A.D. Saint Malachy convened a major synod on the island in 1148 A.D. to discuss re-integration of the Irish church with the Roman system of discipline and organisation. In the thirteenth century the monks moved to the mainland and rebuilt their monastery at Holmpatrick, beside the present Holmpatrick Church. An Ogham stone commemorates Peter Mann, the last abbot at the time of the Reformation and destruction of the monasteries.

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                                                                                                                                                               Holmpatrick Church.

Patrick’s last resting place is Downpatrick, nestling beside the Mourne Mountains, clearly visible from the island where he began his great mission. It is as if he had almost completed a full circle in his life’s pilgrimage.

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A sad footnote to the story of Patrick is the destruction of his crozier. It was long preserved at Ballyboughal, (The Town of the Staff) near Skerries. It was believed to have miraculous powers. It was removed to Armagh and later to Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. In 1538 Archbishop Brown of Dublin ordered that the staff be stripped of its gold and jewelled ornamentation. He then publicly burned the wooden staff as a relic of old superstition.

Further suggestions for a Saint Patrick  Heritage Centre.

Map and images of places closely associated with Patrick’ mission, with lines radiating out from Skerries: Tara, Slane,Croagh Patrick, Lough Derg, Armagh etc.

Panoramic map of the world, with radiating lines showing how his influence started in Skerries. Show world landmarks ‘Greened’ for Saint Patrick’s day.

High definition images of early Christian churches and relics, as a compendium of the Christian influence introduced by Patrick and others.

Images of High Crosses, The Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts.

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Patrick at Tara.

CGI images and model of the ruined monastery on the island.

Aerial views of Skerries Islands.

Live camera feed from nesting sites on the islands.

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Arrival of the clergy and plenary session of the Synod of 1148 (file pictures)

With the development of an Ancient East Trail, based partly on the historical riches of Ireland’s Early Christian Monuments, it would be logical to celebrate Skerries as the starting point and fulcrum of Patrick’s mission to change the Irish people. Without his efforts the ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’ might never have come about and our history would have been  the poorer.

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Sssnake Charmers, Saint Patrick and Child Labour

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One small step for a saint—a giant leap for Skerries. Okay, I borrowed that from Neil Armstrong. Just follow the (giant) green footprints and you will come to Saint Patrick’s footprint indented into the rock. This is where he began his mission to Ireland. It could be claimed that his footprint has worked many miracles over the fifteen hundred and eighty three years since he returned to begin his task . It could be claimed, but there can’t be any proof, because if you tell your wish to anyone, it will not come true.

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Tradition has it that he first came to Ireland as a child slave, forced to tend sheep on a bleak mountainside for many years. It is strange that he was never declared the patron of child labourers all over the world. The problem is rife. Many economies depend on the labour of children. My parents’ old friend, John O Halloran, spent much of his life in India. He told a charming story of children working in the carpet factories. They knotted the wool into the hanging frames of hessian while the company overseer walked up and down, singing the pattern and beating out a rhythm with his cane. Their little fingers were more suited to manipulating the intricate patterns, than the fingers of adults. No doubt he used his cane to stimulate productivity. That was in the days of The Raj and Empire. That was the natural order of things, when the world existed to supply the needs of the fortunate few. The little fingers still work, but now the companies are home-grown. How else could we, the fortunate, afford cheap goods from Third-World countries? Apologists for this situation will say that if we forsook these cheap goods, the poorer countries would have no income at all. It’s the economy, stupid. If it wasn’t for bad luck, they would have no luck at all. The children of the less fortunate, have no voice.

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John O Halloran also spoke of snake charmers and the Indian Rope Trick. Don’t try it at home. The fakir (sic) climbs up the unsupported rope and disappears. He saw gurus, lamas, holy men and other fakirs (sic) levitating. He saw sacred cows and scared cows, wandering through the teeming traffic. Saint Patrick took a more robust attitude to snakes. He put his foot down. He banished the whole bloody lot of them from the island. He missed a few fakirs (sic). Using the Tom Sawyer psychology and a promise of ice-cream, I enlisted some child labour to commemorate the banishment of the snakes. We attracted a few other little volunteers…with parental permission and a caveat about paint and good clothes. We painted a representative sample of the snakes fleeing from his footprint. We suffered minimal damage to clothes.  I was charmed by their chat and enthusiasm. They were delighted to paint on something other than paper. We may tender for a repaint of the Sistine Chapel ceiling next. It could do with a freshening-up.

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So that’s taken care of the snakes. Now for the ice cream. Mike was the overseer. He sang the pattern for a proper tub of ice cream. ‘Ferrero Rocher on the bottom; ice cream in the middle; marshmallows on top of that and smarties over the lot.’  Very satisfactory.  Always consult an expert. I still have some little snake painters who have to add their contribution and claim their wages.

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Some idiot bought Saint Patrick’s Island many years ago. He proposed selling the stones of the monastery as souvenirs. Saint Patrick put his foot down on that idea. You may visit him on his island but wear good boots and long trousers or you will be stung. There are no snakes, but nettles and thistles stand guard around the ruin. It would of course, be simpler to come to Skerries tomorrow and enjoy the parade. You will have no difficulty in finding the saint’s footprint, where you can make a wish….satisfaction guaranteed…. but sssssssh!  Nobody may know. I saw an advertisement in the Sunday Times yesterday where a man is selling his twelve-foot-long Burmese python, because his wife wants the room as a nursery for their new baby. Wouldn’t you fear for the baby? Burmese pythons, he says, can grow to a length of sixteen feet.  Now there’s a case for banishment and I don’t mean only the snake.

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Definitely some ice cream required here in a hurry.

Seafood, Saints, Sinners and Pyke.

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Not a bad haul from a morning walk. The crab was a little bonus. The razor clam and sea urchin were empty, just decoration. Catching razors is a whole different kettle of fish, to mangle a phrase. Sea urchins were esteemed in Classical times, as a delicacy. Some people eat them raw.  Not me. Maybe I got that wrong. Maybe they were steamed. I apologised to the crab, but I took him all the same. At last I have found the place where the mussels are not covered in barnacles. There is a lot of work in removing barnacles. The cockles I took, to complete the song and because they squirted water at me. It is a sin to refuse the good things that nature provides.  I left 47,000,000 for you at the next low tide. It’s a rough estimate, give or take a bucketful. Skerries, I emphasise, is a Blue Flag beach.

I heard a man singing heresy once, long ago. She wheeled her wheelbarrow—From Wearmouth to Jarrow—Crying cockles and mussels—Alive, alive o——– Well, you know what happens to heretics.  Not a bad rhyme, all the same, although it would have been a hell of a push for Molly Malone, leaving her in no fit state for her other, more extra-curricular activities, if gossip is to be believed.  The Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church, lived for much of his life in Jarrow. I’m sure he would have welcomed some fresh seafood to lighten the sparse monastic diet, whatever about Mollly’s other wares. But no. Molly was a Dubliner Isn’t there a statue of her in Dublin? If heresy were to take hold—and Heaven forfend—she would be trundling her little cart from Sandscale to Barrow, or anywhere else that happened to rhyme. The Venerable Bede himself, would denounce such heresy. He has been stuck in the mud at ‘Venerable’ for a thousand years. Isn’t it time he was upgraded to ‘Saint’?  His life’s course took him from Wearmouth as far as Jarrow where he completed his great work. Perhaps he has been venerated for too long. Give him the big prize.

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I went another time, to catch crabs. I did reasonably well. I had intended to photograph all the crab ‘courses’ to complete a directory for those who come after me and be venerated for all time, like the good monk…..but it rained. I had started out in summer clothes but autumn took a little lash at my presumption. (Presumption is a sin)  I will attach my recipe as an appendix to the directory.

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When Doc in Cannery Row waded in the tidal pools of Monterey, he mused about life. Long before Cousteau, he made marine life fascinating. The ebb and flow of the tide never fail to throw up something interesting. A good friend goes to Joe May’s bar on the harbour, to conduct tidal studies. He is quite an expert. The storms have eroded the sand and marine clay undisturbed, possibly, since the Ice age. The pristine new pools are populated at low tide, by shrimp and little dabs. You can detect the fish only by the slight disturbance of the sand. Wonderful camouflage. Do you remember Professor Magnus Pyke on childrens’ television.?  He was an expert. He waved his arms extravagantly to make his point. He explained why beaches are perpetually replenished and how stones float ashore. I know this because we had a houseful of children and saw a lot of childrens’ television. I still hate Scooby Doo. The monster was always Mr. Dettweiler, the villainous campground manager, (insert name and occupation as desired) in a costume far too big for him. It was the same story every time. The kids insisted on watching it even though they despised it too. It postponed homework. It has taken forty years  to get that off my chest. I digress. Professor Magnus Pyke showed how stones are colonised by seaweed and how, with the rising tide, they are lifted and borne by the currents and waves, to a beach near you. I notice too that the mussel, a by-word and a bivalve for stability, the original stick-in-the mud, can levitate in the same way, with his cargo of fellow-travelling barnacles.

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Saint Patrick, lifted by missionary zeal, got around a lot more than Venerable Bede. He settled for a time on his island. The monastery did well until the Vikings arrived. The monks eventually moved ashore and probably enjoyed a better diet at Holmpatrick. (A little plug there for Fingal’s splendid market gardening industry.)

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We went on the Viking Splash with some children. The driver was very entertaining. As we came up from College Green into Nassau Street, he indicated the statue of Molly Malone, showing her wares to the public. He suggested discreetly, out of deference to young listeners, that she sold other commodities besides shellfish. ‘I can’t say what she sold but, that shop on your right might give yiz a clue.’  The shop sells high quality door furniture. The sign reads Knobs and Knockers. Work it out for yourself. Since Classical times, shellfish have been regarded as the food of Venus. Work that one out also.

An old Skerries man ventured as far as London on his holidays. He didn’t think much of it. He couldn’t understand the language at all, at all. ‘Frank,’ he said to the barman, on his return, ‘did you ever hear tell of venerable diseases?’  ‘Venerable what?’  ‘Diseases. Every time I went to wash me hands I saw these warnings about venerable diseases.’  Maybe Bede was wise to stay in his monastery.

On a lighter note, the mussels were delicious.

Cigareets and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women. Oekumenism. Saint Patrick’s Church, Skerries.

goat, st patrick's church, belfry 002‘They’ll drive you crazy. They’ll drive you insane.’

I was eight years old at the time. There was bad news. Canon O Gorman , the parish priest had died. He was highly regarded. It was he who undertook the replacement of the old church in Church Street, with a new church that stretched from Church Street right through to Strand Street, thereby opening up two new shortcuts. That was done before I was around. Monnie Barrett, a gentle old lady, who stood behind the bar in Joe May’s, told me about the old church. It was so small, that the girls kneeling at the Communion rail, used to tickle the altar boys’ toes. The altar boys were in their bare feet. Tickling was probably a mortal sin in those sepia days.

I don’t remember Canon O Gorman  being alive, but I have a vivid recollection of him being dead. On balance though, the news was good. Because he was the manager of the National School, (The Nash. I have been told that Nash should be spelt with a G.)  that premises closed as a mark of respect. Because he was the parish priest, an extra day was added. A successor was nominated, Father Patrick McAuliffe. Father McAuliffe died before he even reached Skerries. Two more days off!  It was like winning the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake. We were on a roll. Bring ’em on.

My older brothers decided that we should go to Canon O Gorman’s wake. His what? His wake, you eejit. He was ‘reposing’ at the parochial house, the house now occupied by the Holy Faith Sisters. They confided to me that at wakes they give you whiskey and cigarettes. It’s an old Irish custom. Possibly the Wran Boys would turn up with an accordion. There was an outside chance of a brawl with shillelaghs and wigs on the green. It was too good to miss. I needed a drink and a smoke after all the excitement of parish priests dropping like flies all over the place.That was the refreshments catered for. Now for the wild, wild women.

He was laid out in his vestments, looking like a graven image on a tomb. His rosary beads were entwined around his fingers. He held a chalice, a chalice I believe, given to the parish in the 1770s, when the penal laws against Catholics were beginning to fade away. There is an awesome sense of continuity in that. There was an atmosphere of solemnity in the room. Some old women were saying the Rosary. We were included. I kept an eye on the door, wondering when there would be a break for drinks and a smoke. Did they ask us if we had a mouth on us at all? They did not. Were there any shennanigans? Divil a bit. We stayed for a few decades of the Rosary and departed quietly, overawed by the whole affair. He made a lasting impression. He was the first dead person I had ever met.  I looked at my older brothers with a tinge of contempt after that, spoofers, a pair of frauds. It was the driest wake I had ever attended in all my eight years. Okay, I’ll admit it. It was the only one.

Canon O Gorman oversaw the building of a fine, if somewhat austere church, dedicated to Saint Patrick, a good Skerries man. He commissioned a sculpture from Albert Power, a leading sculptor of the day. See Albert’s Pikeman in Wexford. The Pikeman expresses a vital and rebellious spirit, a man prepared to receive cavalry.  Saint Patrick, on our church, is more serene, but he caused a row nonetheless. Albert carved, at the saint’s feet, the ram caught in the bush and sacrificed by Abraham. Some said it was the deer that longeth for fountains of pure water. I don’t know why, but some parishioners, prominent benefactors of the church, took it to be Saint Patrick’s goat, notoriously eaten by the Skerries people, fifteen hundred years previously. A millennium and a half is but a moment in terms of an Irish grudge or an Irish jibe.  Who took the soup in famine times, God help us? Who came over the Hoar Rock Hill in the wake of Cromwell’s army, ‘ playin’ penny whistles?’  There were delegations and complaints. Albert was obliged to come back and remove the goat. All was peace again, until The Boys’ Brigade spent a week or two camping in Skerries.  Our separated brethren have no time for graven images. They whitened Saint Patrick’s beard with chalk and wrote ‘Santa Claus’ in the space where the goat/deer/ram should have been.  We weren’t into the old ecumenism in the 1940s.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. We lived in Church Street. Canon O Gorman enlisted my brother to keep guard over the new rose bushes in the church grounds. I’m not suggesting that my brother was an enemy of the Church, but it was good psychology all the same. My brother was a lively lad,  well capable of riding his trike or kicking a football, through a flower bed.   It was better to have him in the tent etc. etc. He had a strong sense of justice. So strong was his sense of justice that he used to send me out to play on the pavement, so that Ned Geary would hit me. I was like the tethered goat in a tiger hunt. He hated Ned Geary. He would emerge like an avenging fury to wreak a terrible vengeance on Ned Geary. He maintains that I distort the story by simplifying it.  It was much more nuanced than that.  I was too young to remember the facts, but there is nothing nuanced about a clout in the ear. The roses did well, by the way.

I went to early morning Mass in Milverton Chapel. This entailed a journey up Toker Hill. It entailed fasting.  I usually fainted during the Mass and sometimes had to go to a later Mass in Skerries, because I was unconscious during the Consecration. My brothers were canon lawyers too. Technically I had not fulfilled my Sunday duty. Technically I had not been at Mass at all. I was outside on the step, with the world spinning around me and archangels dancing furiously on the head of a pin. I had gone to Mass, granted, but I had not been at Mass. I could hear the murmur of Mass and the little jingling bell, but damnation and hellfire were staring me in the face. The void was opening under my feet and demons were cackling below, in the bottomless pit. I heard the priest saying: ‘Your prayers are requested for the repose of the souls of His Holiness, Pope Pius the Twelfth and Mary Anne Brien.’  Sceptre and crown must tumble down and in the dust be equal made, with the poor crooked scythe and spade. Mary Anne Brien lived in a thatched cottage near the chapel. She cleaned the chapel and looked after the altar flowers, she and her Sister, Kate. Some male relative loved topiary. He had a row of white-thorn bushes, shaped like hens, cockerels, urns and globes. Mary Anne kept pigs. It was part of the ritual of a family walk to climb up on the whitewashed wall and have a ‘dekko’ at the pigs. Part of the pleasure of early Mass in Milverton, leaving aside the theological disputes, was free-wheeling down past Mary Anne’s cottage and whizzing under the railway bridge, to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, with Olhausens’ sausages and black and white pudding. Food for the soul. Of course, that meant breaking the fast and no Communion at the later Mass. The canon lawyers were very strict on that too. They had a hard line on the risks of swallowing toothpaste. If a saint had a silver plate in his skull, would that be a first or second class relic? That would be an ecumenical matter. Mary Anne made a great contribution to the special quality of Sunday morning, as indeed, did the pigs. You should have seen her sister, Kate, shimmying up to Communion. ( I made that up.)

There was a serious outbreak of ecumenism in the 1960s. Everyone reached out to everyone else. Centuries-old rifts could be healed by dialogue and parity of esteem.  There was a big conference in Kilkenny. The Catholic bishop sat up on the platform. The Church of Ireland bishop sat down in the audience. A Jesuit explained that the word is not ‘Ecumenism’. Only muck-savages and heretics said ‘Ecumenism.’ The correct term is from the Greek, ‘Oekumenism.’  So there.  It is a good strategy to wrong-foot those with whom you wish to ‘dialogue.”  (That’s not a verb.) Before grappling them to your heart, it is no harm to remind them that they are wrong, but that you are prepared to forgive them. In this new spirit of love and reconciliation, a bus-load of ladies from the Shankill Road, came south to see what ‘they’ were really like in the Republic. They were on television. They paused at a roadside shrine in Monaghan. They looked at the graven image of the Virgin. ‘Put a few sticks of dynamite under that there,’ suggested one of the ladies. ‘That would be a start.’ The old oekumenism was gathering pace.goat, st patrick's church, belfry 006

The belfry of the old church survived.It’s a limestone pinnacle beside a granite church. Milverton limestone, no doubt. It had a magnificent roof, like something you might see in Bavaria or Transylvania. If I were a bat, I would have liked  to hang around the old belfry. Peter Halpin, the sacristan, let us ring the bell on occasions. It’s not as easy as you might think. You might find yourself being carried aloft on the rope. It’s all about timing. I tried it a year or two ago in Doneraile, during a festival. I haven’t improved. The bell went wild, spreading alarm and confusion all over the countryside. Peasants were hiding their gold in mattresses.  Refugees were loading up their carts and setting off for the coast. Old men reached for pikes, long hidden in the thatch. An experienced campanologist stepped in and took charge of the beast. He calmed it with a few practised tugs on the rope. He counted the changes. All was harmony again. The pikes went back into the thatch.goat, st patrick's church, belfry 008

As proof of how we have advanced, it is necessary to despise all that we were. The Church and Irish society have gone through massive convulsions. Sometimes we are like those writhing creatures in the Book of Kells, twisting back on ourselves and gnawing our own entrails. ‘Remorse’ translates also as ‘back-biting.’ Chairman Mao knew the importance of expunging the past. They have expunged him too.  A prominent Irish writer wrote about Good Friday. He always had a family barbecue in the garden and a football match, in order to shock the silly Catholics, as they went past on their way to church. What larks, eh! I looked forward with great anticipation, to his follow-up piece about a similar celebration of enlightenment in Mecca, during the Hadj. Two million devout Hadjis would love a chance to stop by on their way, for a beer and a few pork ribs. Soccer is taking off too, in the Arabian peninsula. The World Cup in Qatar will be an ideal opportunity to let the Muslims see the error of their ways. Olhausens might be interested in sponsoring him.  Watch this space for an update.

Fifty years after the opening of the church, a goat was put back under Saint Patrick’s statue. It is bronze, the end product of research and clay and the fascinating process of ‘lost wax.’  The inscription is from Peter in the house of Cornelius, referring to how his property and freedom were restored to him: Everything that was ours was restored to us, for the sake of God and of our invaluable friends.’ When the foundry men came to put up the plaque, they pulled their van up close to the wall. A grumpy old-Skerries man approached, complaining that the church was festooned like a dance-hall. (‘old-Skerries man’  is not the same as  ‘old Skerries man.’  Nuances again.) We said nothing about the goat. He went away. It was appropriate that Albert Power’s nephew, Henry should be the person to unveil it. It was originally patinated in green, but some zealous person has cleaned off the patination, to make it shine like a new penny. The patination will grow back over the next few centuries. It may have taken fifteen hundred years to give back the goat, but it must be said that Skerries people  pay their debts….eventually.goat, st patrick's church, belfry 004

Margaret said to me: ‘You were only eight years old. Would you have drunk the whiskey, if it had been offered?’

A purely hypothetical question but…..it would have been churlish to refuse. It would have been a grave discourtesy to the memory of a decent man.