That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Gaeilge (page 1 of 3)

Unpacking Scripture’s Cultural Baggage: Sermon for RCL Proper 7, Track 2, Year C (23 June 2019)

This is a special Sunday for me. Friday marked the 28th anniversary of my ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. It was on Sunday, June 23, 1991, that I celebrated my first mass. So I am grateful to you and to Fr. George for the privilege of an altar at which to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and a pulpit from which to preach the gospel on this, my anniversary Sunday.

Now that I am retired, I am filling part of my time studying Irish. In the world of Irish studies, I am what is known as a foghlaimeoir, which is to say “an Irish learner.” The truth is that I have been a foghlaimeoir for over eleven years, but I have not yet progressed to the level of Gaeilgeoir, that is, “an Irish speaker.” Studying Irish is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done; it is both fascinating and maddening, and I think that among the reasons for that are the cultural assumptions which underly the language.

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Grandparental Nicknames – From the Daily Office – May 10, 2014

From Matthew’s Gospel:

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake — for they were fishermen.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 4:18 (NRSV) –May 10, 2014)

Grandfather NicknamesSometime this fall, probably during October, my wife and I will become grandparents for the first time. Last night, a friend asked, “What will you be called?” Because the question came out of the blue (we hadn’t been discussing children or grandchildren), I didn’t know what he was asking — and my face must have shown it. “As grandfather,” he clarified, “what will you be called as a grandparent?”

Good question. Is it really up to me? Do I get to say, “I want to be called [something]”? If so, I’d like to be called by one of the Irish nicknames: “Daideó” (pronounced “DAH-doe”) or “Móraí” (pronounced “MO-ree”) or “Papaí” (pronounced “PAH-pee”). The actual word for “grandfather” in Irish is seanathair which means “old father” or (in older Irish) “wise father”; an alternative is athair mór which means “great father” (“great” here is more akin to “big” than to “wonderful”).

But is it really up to me? Families have long-running traditions about naming grandparents, I think. Every grandmother (for the three generations I have known) on both sides of my family was known as “Grammy” — my mother called hers “Grammy Buss” and “Grammy Sargent”; mine were “Grammy Grace” and “Grammy Edna” (we were a less formal generation, I guess), and my mother was “Grammy Betty” to our children.

Grandfathers were less uniformly addressed. I don’t know what my greatgrandfathers were called; both were long dead when I was born. My maternal grandfather, Richard Sargent, was “Daddy Rich” (a combination of what my mother and grandmother called him); my paternal grandfather was “C.E.” (what everyone called him) or, less frequently, “Granddad.” My father was deceased when his grandchildren were born, so if he was referred to at all it was as “your grandfather, York”; my stepfather, Stan Shivers, was called “GrandStan” by my niece and nephew and my children.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the first-born grandchildren get to make the decision. My brother was nearly ten years older than me, and I had two older paternal cousins, so by the time I came along grandparental names were pretty much cast in stone. We have nieces and nephews several years older than our own children, so they had settled the issue on both sides long before our kids had a say.

All of this comes to mind this morning because of “Simon, who is called Peter.” It was Jesus who gave him that name: “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Mt 16:18) For many years, I wondered why Jesus gave Simon this nickname and thought it was simply out of affection — it’s nearly the equivalent of “Rocky” and since Simon Peter often seems as dense as a bag of rocks, that made sense.

But I’ve come recently (while studying the prophets with an Education for Ministry group) to believe that Jesus is following in the tradition of Isaiah and, since he has no son to name, he is giving Simon a symbolic prophetic nickname in the same way that prophet named his children. Isaiah named his sons Shear-jashub, which means “the remnanet shall return,” and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “he has hurried to plunder,” as signs against Judah and Jerusalem. I think Jesus gave Simon the new name Peter in a similar way, as a prophetic sign to the church.

Shear-jashub, Maher-shalal-has-baz, and Simon Peter had no say in the matter. So I still wonder with respect to this question of grandparental naming, is it really up to me?

And I wonder if grandparental naming is a prophetic activity. Does the name chosen shape the relationship? Does it portend what the relationship will be? Certainly, one would suspect that if a child is taught to call its grandfather “Grandfather,” that relationship will be rather different than that of a child who calls his or her grandfather “Grampa.” But do “Granddad” or “Papaí” or “Nano” shape the bond differently? And, if so, how?

This matter of choosing a grandparental nickname is serious stuff . . . assuming it really is up to me.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Blessed Wedding at Cana – From the Daily Office Lectionary – August 10, 2012

From John’s Gospel:

Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 2:2-11 – August 10, 2012)

Marriage at Cana by Giotto, 14th centuryA year ago I was in Ireland, camped out in a cottage outside of the village of Banagher, County Offaly, on sabbatical. As my study project, I was translating old Irish hymns into metrical, rhyming English such that they could be sung to the music of the original. The hymns were published in the early 20th Century in a collection titled Dánta Dé Idir Sean agus Nuadh compiled by Uná ní Ógáin. Dánta Dé includes a communion hymn which elaborates on John’s story of the wedding feast; it is entitled The Blessed Wedding at Cana and is attributed to Maighréad ní Annagáin. I found I could not directly translate the hymn, so instead I wrote a poem of my own. Reading this story today, I recall working on that piece and offer it again.

This is my poem inspired by the gospel story and the old Irish hymn:

King of love,
King of glory,
King of graces, guest at a wedding.
With his mother, with his friends,
seated at the marriage feast waiting.
Came the word: “There is a problem!”
Mary told her son to help them.
“What is this to me?” he asked her;
but to servants she was speaking.

“There is no wine
for the feast.
Do as he says, no hesitation.”
Empty vessels standing there
for the rites of purification.
“Fill them,” he says, “with plain water;
and then draw some for the steward.”
“What is this now?” asks the steward,
“Finest wine in the nation!”

Blessed Mary,
Virgin pure,
Mother of God, you knew that even
that your Jesus was the Christ;
that he was the High King of Heaven.
But did you know he would become
the free way for us to our home?
Through baptism buried with him,
we, too, shall all be risen!

O Lord Jesus,
glorious King,
holy savior who bore the Thorn Crown,
you were beaten, crucified,
killed, and buried, layed in the cold ground.
In fulfillment of the promise,
you broke the bars closed against us.
With your own blood you have freed us!
Death is conquered! Life is newfound!

Your own Body
and your Blood
give us sinners true liberation;
Bread of Heaven, Blessed Cup,
holy table, feast of salvation.
Giving blessings beyond measure;
wedding banquet, splendid treasure.
At the marriage feast of the Lamb,
we are God’s new creation!

For those interest in the hymn as Gaeilge, here is the Irish original:

Ag an bpósadh bhí i gCána bhí Rí na ngrás ann i bpearsain,
É féin is Muire Máthair, is nárbh áluinn í an bhainfheis?
Bhí cuideacht ós cionn chláir ann, agun fíon orra i n-easnamh,
‘S an t-uisge bhí h-árthaibh nár bh’áluinn é bhlaiseadh?

A Dhia dhíl, a Íosa, ‘s a Rí ghil na cruinne,
D’iomchuir an choróin spíne is iodhbairt na Croise,
A stolladh is a straoilleadh idir dhaoinibh gan cumann,
Na glasa do sgaoilis, a d’iadhadh n’ár gcoinnibh.

Is ró-bhreágh an stór tá ag Rígh na glóire dúinn i dtaisge,
A chuid fola agus feóla mar lón do na peacaigh’.
Ná cuirigidh bhur ndóchas i n-ór bhuidhe nó i rachmas
Mar is bréagán mar cheó é, seachas glóire na bhFlaitheas.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

A Local Wishing Tree (Clonfert, Ireland)

The Gate to the Holy Tree in Clonfert, Ireland

The Gate to the Holy Tree in Clonfert, Ireland

At lunch after church in Banagher, Ireland, this past Sunday I was told that I’d missed something when I went to see St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Clonfert … evidence (as my informant put it) that “paganism is alive and well in Ireland.” What I had missed is called a “votive tree” or a “wishing tree”. I decided that before I left Ireland I would go back and see this thing.

Then, perusing the morning’s papers online, I came across a story in England’s The Daily Mail entitled Who says money doesn’t grow on trees? Coins mysteriously appear in trunks up and down the country about similar trees in Great Britain.

Apparently this is not a phenomenon limited to Ireland and England; Scotland and Wales have such trees, too. And there are others in such places as Hong Kong, Argentina, and Belgium. (Wikipedia has an article about wishing trees here.)

While some trees (like the ones described in the Daily Mail article) are “coin-only” trees, the tree in Clonfert is not. It is festooned with neckties, dolls, Roman Catholic holy cards, pictures of babies, toys, brassieres, hats, rosaries, cigarette packages … in incredible variety of things.

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

I’m not surprised to find a “holy tree” in Ireland; finds plenty of “holy wells” in this country, why not a holy tree? After all, although partially disputed by some modern Celtic scholars (for example, Peter Berresford Ellis author of The Celts: A History and Celtic Myths and Legends), the Roman authors Lucan and Pomponius Mela, claimed that the Celts of Gaul worshiped trees and met for religious rites in sacred groves, a practice which Tacitus and Dio Cassius claimed to have found among the Celts in Britain. The names of certain Celtic tribes in Gaul reflect the veneration of trees, such as the Euburones (the Yew tribe), and the Lemovices (the people of the elm).

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

In fact, “holy trees” are often found next to holy wells. Although it is the well not the tree that is considered the source of blessing or healing, one often finds votive objects tied to a nearby tree with strips or rags of cloth in the belief that, while the object remains, the prayers will still be effective. These trees are are often called “cloutie trees” (“cloutie” [Irish] or “clootie” [Scots] is a slang word for “rag”, perhaps from the Gaeilge clúidín for “small covering [or] napkin”).

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

There is no well next to St. Brendan’s Tree, although there is a path called “the Nun’s Walk.” I’m told that this path originally led to the Bishop’s residence and, apparently, there was a convent associated with the cathedral; a first portion of the road one takes from the Clonfert cathedral back to Banagher is called “Nunsacre Road”.

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

St. Brendan's "Wishing Tree", Clonfert, Co. Galway, Ireland

The Irish Cottage

"Address" marker in the stone perimeter wall of McDonalds Farm

"Address" marker in the stone perimeter wall of McDonalds Farm

For the past month (and the next few days), 15 August through 15 September, I’ve been living in an Irish cottage.

Front of Chestnut Cottage Showing Enclosed Porch

Front of Chestnut Cottage Showing Enclosed Porch

A distinctive feature of the Irish rural countryside is the Irish cottage. One might believe that these homes have been here forever, but in fact they are a relatively recent occurrence dating back to around the 1700s. The cottage in which I have been living for the past month is one of the earliest: the original central part of the cottage is believed to be about 300 years old! My landlord’s ancestor migrated to this part of Ireland from the north, acquired land and settled here on the south side of the Shannon River. The central part of this cottage is the original farmhouse. My landlord was born here, as where his eight younger siblings. At one time there were twelve people (all nine children, his mother and father, and his grandmother) living in this space. (The landlord married in 1978 at the age of 28, at which time he moved out of the cottage and built a new farmhouse immediately next to it. In 2005, he and his wife began renting out this cottage to vacationers; they added to it in 2007. In 2010 they built a second, modern rental cottage a short way down the lane from this property.)

The modern farmhouse (built 1978) at McDonalds Farm

The modern farmhouse (built 1978) at McDonalds Farm

The original cottage floor plan can be described as follows: One enters through a doorway which is basically central to the gable wall (an enclosed porch was added to this doorway in 1940). This brings you into the main room which was the original kitchen, dining area, and family room. To one’s right are two rooms, a very small bedroom and a bathroom which was originally the pantry (it was converted with the introduction of in-door plumbing in 1940). To one’s left, behind the fireplace wall, is a bedroom. (At the end of the cottage, behind the bedroom wall, is a storage room which was originally a stable for the family cow.) That’s it; the original cottage consisted of nothing more.

The entry porch (mudroom)

The entry porch (mudroom)

Two major alterations have been made to the original cottage: first, the additions of 1940 mentioned above which also included the addition of a small kitchen opposite the entry door and, beyond the kitchen; second, at the back of the cottage, in the “L” of the kitchen/bedroom wing and the original cottage, another bedroom and a bathroom were added in 2007. At some time, I’m not sure when, all floors in the cottage were either tiled with ceramic or floored with wood-look vinyl.

The bedroom added in 1940

The bedroom added in 1940

A very small bathroom, a converted pantry; indoor plumbing came in 1940

A very small bathroom, a converted pantry; indoor plumbing came in 1940

The modern bedroom added in 2007

The modern bedroom added in 2007

Cottages began to appear in the first half of the 18th Century which saw the rise of the “Protestant Ascendancy” in Ireland, local de facto rule by Irish Anglicans, many of whom built large manor houses in both the towns and the rural areas. Some historians believe that cottages are the result of local application of the building techniques employed for the larger estate houses. Before the building of cottages, the typical Irish farm dwelling was a round hut-style dwelling built of wattle and daub. Typically, these were grouped together in or around a round stone enclosure, a caher or “ring fort” (see my earlier entry about Caherconnell, Circles of Protection, 24 August 2011).

While cottages tended to have a common floor plan throughout the country, building materials varied from region to region. The only transportation available was a donkey or ox and cart, so materials had to come from nearby. Stone was used in coastal and rocky areas like the Connemara (such as where I spent my first month here in Ireland). Because of stone’s enduring nature, Connacht cottages abandoned during the Great Famine of the 1840s stand today as memorials to that tragedy (see my earlier entry about Famine Houses, My Daily Walk, 27 July 2011). In the midlands, such as where I have spent my second month here, clay bricks and smaller rocks would have been used, and in boggy areas, turf or sod could have been used; both of these building materials would have been (as this cottage has been) plastered and the exterior plaster lime washed. It has been said that these cottages literally grew out of the landscape that surrounded them.

Early cottages were built directly on the ground without foundations; however as building methods improved, foundations made of trenches stones, clay and mud became more common. Floors were usually of simple compacted dirt, although flag stones were used where available.

The front room (sitting room, kitchen, family room) of the original cottage

The front room (sitting room, kitchen, family room) of the original cottage

Usually, the center of the home was the fireplace or hearth in the main room which served as kitchen, parlor, and family room. It might also have been the room in which children slept; sometimes, a low sleeping loft was built over part of this room. The hearth was usually formed of stone and located at the center of the house. The most typical fuel was turf (see my earlier entry A Drive through the Bog, 31 July 2011), a fuel still in use today. Some fireplaces were built of wattle and daub, however the introduction of the hotter burning fuel (coal) necessitated stone flues to prevent chimney fires. (Although a central hearth was most common, there are cottages where the hearth is located on the entry wall and others where it was put at either end of the cottage.)

A “master bedroom” was frequently build behind the fireplace, and this is the layout of the cottage I have rented.

The original "master" bedroom of the cottage

The original "master" bedroom of the cottage

The fireplace was the heart and soul of the cottage, about which daily life revolved – cooking, drying, heating, and a focal point for social gatherings. The fire was never allowed to extinguish with ashes strewn over it at night to keep the embers alive for morning. The importance of the hearth in cottage life is illustrated by the Irish version of “there’s no place like home”: Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin (“There’s no fireplace like your own fireplace”).

Turf burning stove which replaced the original hearth in the mid-20th Century

Turf burning stove which replaced the original hearth in the mid-20th Century

During my stay, I’ve gotten to know the McDonald’s dog, Buddy. He’s considered a “collie” although I think he’s got a lot of other genes in him, as well. He’s natural cattle dog; we have taken walks down the lane together and he always wants to herd the cows in the fields we pass. He loves to be petted and sits in the doorway of the cottage when I have the door open. However, he’s not comfortable inside a closed house. If he comes in and I close the door, he begins to moan and becomes agitated. In any event, he’s a good dog and, in the absence of my own Fionna, good to have around.

Buddy, the McDonalds' farm dog

Buddy, the McDonalds' farm dog

I’ve enjoyed my retreat here. I’ve gotten work done on my music project (though not as much as I might have hoped), and I’ve very much enjoyed spending time with my adult children and their partners. But I’ve got to be honest and admit that I’m looking forward to seeing my wife again and, in a couple of weeks (after touring Scotland with her), returning home. The Irish are very right: Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin!

Chestnut Cottage (behind modern farmhouse)

Chestnut Cottage (behind modern farmhouse)

The cottage, by the way, takes its name from this very large tree just outside its front door.

The Chestnut Tree for which the Cottage is named

The Chestnut Tree for which the Cottage is named

All of the above photos of the cottage and more can be seen in a Facebook album here.

A Choir Anthem: The Trinity of Friendship

This is a picture of stone found at (and now on exhibit at) the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, Éire. In the center of the cross is a design known as a “Celtic triskele.” This symbol appears in many places and periods, it is especially characteristic of the Celtic art of the continental La Tène culture of the European Iron Age (a Celtic society which predates Celtic Ireland).

Inscribed Stone with Center Triskele from Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Éire

Inscribed Stone with Center Triskele from Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Éire

This symbol was often used in the artwork of the early Irish Christians as a symbol of the Holy Trinity. Often seen in Irish art is a triskele of three conjoined spirals. Although it is considered a Celtic symbol, this type of triskele is in fact pre-Celtic; the triple spiral motif is a Neolithic symbol in Western Europe. It is found, for example, carved into the rock of a stone lozenge near the main entrance of the prehistoric Newgrange burial monument in County Meath, Ireland. Newgrange which was built around 3200 BCE, well before the arrival of the Celts in Ireland.

This is another example of an inscribed cross with a triskele in the center, also from Conmacnoise:

Inscribed Stone with Center Triskele from Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Éire

Inscribed Stone with Center Triskele from Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly, Éire

Another familiar Celtic symbol of the Trinity is the triquetra or “Celtic Trinity knot”. One finds items of jewelry bearing this symbol for sale in all the tourist trinket shops in this country, and variations of both the triskele and the triquetra grace the Book of Kells and other Irish illuminated manuscripts.

A Triquetra Pendant

A Triquetra Pendant

Celtic Christianity is exuberantly Trinitarian, as these designs suggest. However, getting a real “handle” on a settled Celtic theology of the Trinity is quite difficult. One of the earliest Celtic theologians was Pelagius, a 4th Century British contemporary of St. Augustine of Hippo. Unfortunately, we have few, if any, original texts by Pelagius, only Augustine’s assertions about what Pelagius taught and a few quotations from Pelagius in other sources. In any event, the heresy which now bears Pelagius’ name (whether he actually taught it or not) was quite at odds with Augustine’s own teaching of “original sin”. According to Augustine, Pelagius taught that human nature is basically good and refuted the concept of original sin; people, said Pelagius (according to Augustine), have the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. This teaching was condemned by the church and early Celtic theology is remembered today mostly only as the source of this heresy called “Pelagianism”. (Whether Pelagius or the Celtic church were truly Pelagian or not, it has been suggested that Pelagianism is “the besetting sin of British theology.” “British theology,” theologian Karl Barth once remarked, “is incurably Pelagian.”)

In any event, Pelagius did produce a treatise on the Trinity entitled On Faith In The Trinity: Three Books of which one scholar has said:

By the time of Pelagius then, there were two accepted doctrines which had been hammerred out against the heretics and laid down by the Church in black and white, those of the Incarnation and the Trinity. No one could, or did, accuse Pelagius of denying these two fundamental doctrines; on the contrary, his teachings show that he lost no opportunity of attacking any who had done so, and not even Augustine claimed that his christology was other than orthodox. (Pelagius: Life and Letters, B.R. Rees, 1988, pp. 24-25)

A second influential Celtic theologian was Johannes Scotus Eriugena in the 9th Century; his name means “John, the Irishman, born in Ireland.” He has been called the Celtic world’s most significant philosophical thinker; Bertrand Russell called him “the most astonishing figure of the early Medieval period.” Unfortunately, like Pelagius before him, he was condemned as a heretic. Perhaps ahead of this time, he constantly wrote of God as “nothing”; for example, Eriugena called God nihil per excellentiam (“nothing on account of excellence”) and nihil per infinitatem (“nothing on account of infinity”). By using the term “nothing” (more accuretly, “no thing”), Eriugena seems to have meant that God transcends all created being. He also insisted on describing God as “nature which creates”; this eventually got him condemned as a pantheist and a heretic, and his books were burned in the 13th Century.

Nonetheless, we do have quotations from Eriugena which show that like Pelagius, he was thoroughly a Trinitarian:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit consume our sins together, and by theosis convert us, as though we were a holocaust, into their unity.

and

From the deformity of our imperfection after the fall of the first human being, the Holy Trinity brings us up to the perfect human being and trains us for the fullness of Christ’s time.

From the known writings of these two important Celtic theologians, then, we know that early Celtic Christians honored the Triune God. There is a pious legend (probably dating from no earlier than the 1700s) that St. Patrick brought the doctrine of the Trinity to Ireland and explained it to his converts using the shamrock as an illustration. When I was hiking with him through the bogs of County Galway a few weeks ago, historian and archeologist Michael Gibbons scoffed at that notion. The shamrock is relatively uncommon, even though in the 19th Century it became a symbol of rebellion against the English. Gibbons suggested that if Patrick used any plant, it was probably the trifoliate bogbean, which grows in profusion.

The Celts were probably predisposed to easily accept the doctrine of the Trinity. Irish (and other Celtic) folk lore is replete with proverbs (seanfhocail) in the form of triadic sayings. Here are a few:

There are three kingdoms of the happy: the world’s good word, a cheerful conscience, and firm hope of the life to come.

Three leaderships of the happy: being good in service, good in disposition, and good in secrecy; and these are found united only in those with a noble heart.

In three things a person may be as the Divine: justice , knowledge , and mercy.

Three things lovable in a person: tranquillity, wisdom, and kindness.

Three things excellent in a person: diligence, sincerity, and humility.

Three things which show a true human: a silent mouth, an incurious eye, and a fearless face.

[There are many websites dedicated to these triads; one of the best is Trecheng Breth Féne – The Triads of Ireland.]

Other evidence of a solid Trinitarian theology in Celtic Christianity includes the hymn bearing Patrick’s name, St. Patrick’s Breastplate. This hymn is a long invocation of the Trinity in the poetic form known as a lorica, a Druidic incantation for protection on a journey. It is best known in the metrical translation by Cecil Frances Alexander found in many hymnals (including The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church). The first lines in her translation are:

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

This hymn also appears in Dánta Dé, where one finds these lines translated by Douglas Hyde in this way:

I arise to-day
In strong power, strong prayer to the Trinity,
And in powerful faith in the Three,
In humble pure confession of the Unity,
High Creator of all elements.

In Celtic poetry, therefore, is a strong sense of the power of the Triune God, but there is also an amazing sense of the intimacy of the Trinity. Belief in the Trinity in Celtic thought is closely bound with a sense of the closeness, the friendship of God. In Dánta Dé is a hymn described as a “folk song for the morning” in which God is addressed as a Rí na gcarad. I translate this as “the King of friends” and Dr. Hyde has rendered it “the King of friendship.” One finds a similar sense of God as companion in a morning invocation from the Carmina Gadelica, a collection of folk charms, songs, and prayers collected by Alexander Carmichael in Scotland at the end of the 19th Century. In fact, this is the piece with which Carmichael begins his collection:

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.

This sense of intimacy in and with the Holy Trinity is similar to the theology and practices of Eastern Orthodoxy with which the Celtic Christians were very familiar. When St. Augustine of Canterbury arrived in Britain at the end of the 6th Century, his missionaries found that Christianity was already there and had been since probably the late 2nd or early 3rd Century! (The martyrdom of St. Alban, first martyr of Britain, has been dated by some scholars to as early at 209; St. Patrick’s missionary activity in Ireland was accomplished in the middle of the 5th Century.)

The Roman missionaries found that the Celts used a very early system to determine the celebration of Easter, a system they had learned centuries before from Eastern Christians. They also found the Celts using an order of service for baptism similar to the Eastern Orthodox service. Furthermore, although the Celtic Christians had celibate monks and nuns, they had married priests in keeping with ancient tradition which still exists in Orthodoxy and which was reclaimed in the West by the reformed churches.

So it is not surprising that we find in Celtic Christian belief and practice a sense of the Trinity not dissimilar to that of the Eastern church. Ian Bradley in The Celtic Way writes:

The Celts saw the Trinity as a family … For them it showed the love that lay at the very heart of the Godhead and the sanctity of family and community ties. Each social unit, be it family, clan or tribe, was seen as an icon of the Trinity, just as the hearthstone in each home was seen as an altar. The intertwining ribbons of the Celtic knot represented in simple and graphic terms the doctrine of perichoresis – the mutual interpenetration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (The Celtic Way, 2007, p. 44)

Perichoresis is term from Eastern Orthodox theology which describes our understanding that in all actions of God each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity takes part. Anglican theologican Alister McGrath writes that it “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two.” (Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed., 2001, p. 325)

The word itself is a compound word with two Greek roots: peri, which means “around”, and choreia, which means “dance”. Thus, it describes the Holy Trinity as eternally dancing: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit moving and flowing together in creation, in redemption, in sanctification, and drawing life from one another in a dance of perfect love. John of Damascus, who was influential in developing the doctrine of the perichoresis, described it as a “cleaving together”. It is an image of intimate friendship.

In Dánta Dé there are two short morning hymns with which I’ve been particularly taken. The first is the one to which I alluded earlier naming God as the “King of friendship”. Ms. ní Ógáin attributes the English translation in the hymnal’s appendix to Dr. Hyde:

O King of friendship, our Saviour’s Father art Thou;
O keep me erect, until the evening shall cool my brow.
O teach and control, lest I unto any sin should bow,
Save Thou my soul from the foe who follows me now.

O King of the world, Who lightest the sun’s bright ray,
Who movest the rains that ripen the fruit on the spray;
I look unto Thee, my transgressions before Thee I lay,
O keep me from falling deeper and deeper away.

The second is entitled An Réalt (“The Star”) and is described as an “old song of Ireland”. This is my translation of the Irish:

O Jesus, be in my very heart’s memory every hour,
O Jesus, be in my very heart’s quick repentance,
O Jesus, be in my very heart’s unfailing fellowship,
O Jesus, true God, do not cut yourself off from me.

Without Jesus my thoughts are not pleasing to myself,
Without Jesus neither my writing nor the words of my mouth;
Without Jesus my actions in life are not good
O Jesus, true God, be before me and behind me.

Jesus is my very King, my friend, and my love;
Jesus is my refuge from sin and from death;
Jesus is my joy, my constant mirror,
O Jesus, true God, do not part from me forever

Jesus, always be in my heart and on my lips,
Jesus, always be first in my understanding,
Jesus, always be in my memory like readings,
O Jesus, true God, do not leave me by myself.

Inspired by these two hymns and their melodies, I’ve written new lyrics picking up some images from the originals, together with the metaphor of the dance, and set them to a combined arrangement of the music. This is my poetry and below it a link to a five-minute MP3 of the arrangement. The music is synthesized piano and a synthesized SATB choir. I have neither a piano, nor a choir, nor recording facilities in the 300-year-old farm house cottage in which I am on retreat, so a computer synthesis will have to do. Unfortunately, the synthetic sounds are not as good as I would like and the playback is a bit uneven. Still, it gives an idea of the sort of thing I’ve been working on during this sabbatical. I look forward to polishing this up and working with a real choir and accompanist on this piece.

Be in our world, O Father, our refuge and our king.
Be in our world, O Father, forever sheltering.
Before us and behind, from sin and death our souls protecting.
O Father, the source of grace, our refuge and our king.

O author of friendship, the One, Holy Trinity,
In the dance of creation you formed us for community.
With your love lead and guide us, as you invite us to the dance ev’ry day.
We follow your lead for we trust in your saving way.

Be in our hearts, O Jesus, with your unfailing power.
Be in our hearts, O Jesus; be with us ev’ry hour.
Do not leave us alone, our constant friend and our companion,
O Jesus, the Son of love, with your unfailing power.

Be in our minds, O Spirit, and always in our praise.
Be in our minds, O Spirit, our actions and our ways.
Be first upon our lips, first in our thoughts and understanding.
O Spirit, our unity, always be in our praise.

O author of friendship, the One, Holy Trinity,
In the dance of creation you formed us for community.
With your love lead and guide us, as you invite us to the dance ev’ry day.
We follow your lead for we trust in your saving way.

O Trinity of friendship, always be in our lives;
O Trinity of friendship, surrounding us with light.
Community of love forever offering us welcome,
O Trinity, our Lord and God, always be in our lives.

O author of friendship, the One, Holy Trinity,
In the dance of creation you formed us for community.
With your love lead and guide us, as you invite us to the dance ev’ry day.
We follow your lead for we trust in your saving way.

O Father of grace, Son of love, Spirit of unity,
In the dance of salvation you show what you call us to be;
As we join in the fellowship of your dance, loving you as we ought,
O Trinity of friendship always be in our hearts.
O Trinity, our Lord and God, always be in our hearts.

Click on the title, Trinity of Friendship, to listen to the synthesize piano and choir.

Memories and Good-Byes

I received word yesterday that Earl, a long-time parishioner and good friend back home, had passed away. This was not a surprise; he had been diagnosed with lung cancer some months ago and we expected that he would die while I was on sabbatical. Still, it has filled the day with sadness. I think of his wife, his children, his grandchildren, all of whom I know, and I know that today is a hard one for them. No matter how prepared for a loved one’s death we believe we are, we aren’t. It’s that simple. Death is never easy.

My father died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was not quite six years old; we weren’t prepared. My mother and step-father both died after long and protracted illnesses; we weren’t prepared either time. My mother-in-law passed away after several years of decline into the living death that is Alzheimer’s Disease; even with that long and difficult course, we weren’t prepared. Through the years other friends and family members have died. Parishioners and parishioners’ loved ones have died and I have officiated at their burials and celebrated the Requiem Masses for the repose of their souls. The one thing all of these passings has taught me … no matter how prepared for a loved one’s death we believe we are, we aren’t.

The Irish live with death closer at hand than any other people I’ve encountered. Oh, for sure, there are places where the physical reality of death is nearer at the present; places where famine reigns, places like Somalia and in recent years Ethiopia and other north African countries from which we see the pictures of emaciated corpses and children with malnutrition-distorted bodies. The Irish lived through times like those 165 and more years ago; as the saying goes, they’ve been there, done that.

I’ve written earlier about the famine houses and how they are a living, daily memory of that time. I didn’t write in that entry that in addition to the abandoned homes, there are famine houses that were tombs. Starving families would simply close their door and huddle together in a corner of the house and die. There was no food; there was nothing else to do. (I’m told that there are recorded instances of cannibalism during the famine years. I’ve not read those records myself.) The Irish have been there, done that.

The famine houses are not the only reminders of mortality on this island. There are also the ruins of churches, of small parish churches, of missionary encampments, of great monasteries dating back to the first days of Christianity in Ireland. The names of some are well known: Ballentubber Abbey, a ruin now restored as a parish church and described in another post on this blog; Clonmacnoise in County Offaly which dates from the middle of the 5th Century; the Rock of Cashel, the remains of a 12th Century monastery on a site reputed to have been used by Patrick for the baptism of the kings of Ireland in the 5th Century; Glendalough founded in the Wicklow Mountains by St. Kevin in the 6th Century.

Others are not so well known; Teampall Mhic Ádhaimh (“Church of the Son of Adam”) is a local ruin here on An Cheathrú Rua. Local tradition has it that it was built by a Saint Smochan and archeological and architectural evidence points to a 15th Century construction date. This church is located near the water’s edge at Trá na Reilige (“Beach of the Burial Ground”) at Barr an Doire (“Oaktree Point”).

Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh (Church of the Son of Adam), An Cheathrú Rua

Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh (Church of the Son of Adam), An Cheathrú Rua

Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh (Church of the Son of Adam), An Cheathrú Rua

Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh (Church of the Son of Adam), An Cheathrú Rua

Another is Teampall Chaomháin (“St. Kevin’s Church”), the buried church on Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. These churches probably came into ruin as a result of “the Penal Years” when the practice of Roman Catholicism in Ireland was outlawed by the English. They came into ruin, but not disuse.

Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Like many local (and monastic) ruins throughout Ireland, these ruined churches were considered holy ground and so they became burial grounds.

Burial Ground at Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Burial Ground at Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Burial Ground at Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Burial Ground at Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Burial Ground at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Burial Ground at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Burial Ground at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Burial Ground at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

I wandered through the graveyard at Barr an Doire and photographed some of the gravestones, many carved in beautiful Gaelic text. This one marks the grave of Bairbre Nic Donncha, who died April 20, 1960, her husband Peadar, who followed her two days later, and their son Peadar, who died a few days before Christmas in 1995. The blessing on the marker reads, Ar deis De go raibh anam – A chlann a thog, which means “May their souls be at the right hand of God, their family prays.”

Gravestone at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Gravestone at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

The next stands over the tomb of Chóilín Phádraig Pheatsín, who died April 2, 1959, and his wife Nora, who joined him on March 1, 2002. The prayer reads Taispeáin dúinn, a Thiarna, do trócaire agus tabhair do shlánú (“Show us, Lord, your mercy and grant us your salvation”).

Gravestone at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Gravestone at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

And finally this marker over the grave of Bhrid Leainde, who passed away at the young age of 32 in 1959 and was followed by her husband Máirtín, who died at the age of 85 in 1987. I really like the sentiment expressed on this gravestone: Ó bhás go críoch ní críoch ach athfhas i bPárrthas na ngrast go rabhaimíd (“From death to an end not an end but new growth, we go to the Paradise of grace”).

Gravestone at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Gravestone at Teampall Mhac Ádhaimh, Barr an Doire, An Cheathrú Rua

Though surrounded by reminders of the deaths of the famine years and by the ruins of churches and the graves they contain, I’m sure Bairbre’s and Peadar’s family, that Chóilín’s and Nora’s children, that Bhrid’s and Máirtín’s loved ones were not prepared for their deaths. No matter how prepared for a loved one’s death we believe we are, we aren’t. And yet we are sustained by faith, by the faith that assures us that death is not an end, but the beginning of new growth in a paradise of grace where, through the Lord’s mercy, we enjoy the fruits of salvation and sit at God’s right hand.

There is a poem by Máirtín Ó Direáin inscribed on a stone plaque dated August 2000 at Teampall Chaomháin on Inis Oírr. The plaque includes a verse of scripture (Is mise an t-aiséirí agus an bheatha – “I am the resurrection and the life”) and a prayer (Suaimhneas sioraí dar muintir a d’migh uainn – “Eternal peace to the people who have left us”). The poem is entitled Cuimhní Cinn (“Memories”). I’ve tried to find a translation, but failing that have translated it myself.

Stone Plaque at Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Teampall Chaomháin, Inis Oírr (photo from Ciara Grogan)

Their memory still lives in my mind:
A white jacket and a bright shirt,
a blue shirt and a green vest,
trousers and drawers of homespun;
our honored old men
traveling to Sunday morning Mass,
a long journey on foot
wakening in my youth my own thoughts:
our ground, our earth, still our blessing.

Their memory still lives in my mind:
Long red choir robes,
blue coats dyed with indigo,
neat knitting women
now in heavy shawls up from Galway
traveling to Mass in the same way;
and although they are going out of fashion
their memory still lives in my mind.
Certainly life will come to me from this land.

Earl’s memory lives in my mind – a tweed sport coat, a purple shirt, two canes, a bushy beard, and ready smile. We knew this was coming, but no matter how prepared for death we believe we are, we aren’t. Being in community, traveling together to Mass memories alive in everyone’s minds, helps us get through that unpreparedness. I’m sorry I can’t be there with our church community to say “Good bye”.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

A Word about Signs

Signs are ubiquitous – they are everywhere! Do you remember that old rock-and-roll song by the Five Man Electrical Band (and I do mean old, like 40 years old!)?

And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply”
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do”
So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!”
Whoa-oh-oh

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

And the sign said “Anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight”
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house,
“Hey! What gives you the right?
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, Man, you’re some kinda sinner”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read?
You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here
The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside
Unh!

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper
and I made up my own little sign.
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.”
Wooo!

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Sign
Sign, sign

They are everywhere! There aren’t a lot of commercial advertising signs in the UK or in Ireland (well, there are a lot in Ireland, but they are mostly small and local). One of my favorites is this on one the local pier (Caladh Tadgh – “the stone pier”):

Sign at Caladh Tadhg, An Cheathrú Rua, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Sign at Caladh Tadhg, An Cheathrú Rua, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

I actually have no idea at all what this sign is saying, but I love the wording of it and all the things it suggests to a strange mind like my own.

Here’s another sign one sees a lot of in this part of Ireland these days:

Irish Real Estate "For Sale" Sign

Irish Real Estate "For Sale" Sign

Le Diol is Irish for “For Sale.” If I had the money, I’d be very tempted to buy one of the properties where a sign like this is posted. (The one in this picture is a bed-and-breakfast property in An Cheathrú Rua. I wonder what it would be like to run a B&B….)

There is a sign one sees in the UK and here in Ireland that is similar to a sign we see along roads in the USA:

UK - Ireland Road Sign showing a Camera

UK - Ireland Road Sign showing a Camera

In the States, the sign that is sort of like this (in that it depicts a camera) generally indicates a scenic view-point from which one can take nice photographs. I first saw this sign in southern Scotland, but it never seemed to be at a place where there was anything to see or, if it was, there was never a convenient place to pull over and take a photograph. So I was puzzled by these signs. Since I couldn’t see any scenic view-point pullouts, I began to ignore them.

Then in Derbyshire, I saw the sign together with a sign warning of the presence of pedestrians:

Camera Sign together with Pedestrian Sign

Camera Sign together with Pedestrian Sign

So I was all the more confused. Surely, these signs must be pointing to something worth seeing, and I was missing these scenic views! But there were still no places to pull over where the signs were posted and I didn’t want to just stop in the road way!

Then, near the home of my friends in Penn, High Wycombe, I saw a sign with the same camera image but accompanied by explanatory words:

Speed Cameras Sign

Speed Cameras Sign

Oh! They aren’t signs about scenic views at all! They are signs warning speeding motorists that they are being photographed and their license plate numbers recorded!

Thank heaven I was driving at or below the speed limit (not always true at home, I admit) in the UK and continue to do so here in Ireland. (Of course, I’m of the opinion that anyone who exceeds the speed limit – or, in some places, even drives as fast as the limit – on these roads is completely nuts!)

The lesson of this sign is that we ignore signs, especially those we don’t really understand, at our own peril. That’s true spiritually as surely as it is in driving through a country not one’s own. Being unable to read a sign reminds me of an incident in Matthew’s Gospel:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)

Matthew does not further explain “the sign of Jonah,” but Luke quotes Jesus as explaining the symbolism in his version of this story, “Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.” (Luke 11:30) Generally, the “sign of Jonah,” the witness of Jonah as prophet to the ancient Israelites is taken to mean that if Israel would not repent, God would take away the power and strength he had given them and give it to a another nation or people, and that nation would (in turn) humiliate and punish Israel.

So when we fail to appreciate, to understand and heed those signs that appear in our lives, we run the risk of losing that with which we have been entrusted. We run the risk of losing the ministry and the benefits we have been given, and find ourselves in need. We have all been given gifts, and we are expected to use them to the benefit of others; failing to do this, we run the risk of losing them. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)

Pay attention to the signs in your life!

I’ve not been back to Caladh Tadhg since shooting that first photograph, but when I do I’ll be sure to disinfect!

Another Walk through the Connemara

Yesterday and today our student body toured the demesne of Ballynahinch Castle, wandered the narrow main street of Roundstone, and climbed a steep, rocky, boggy hill outside of Cashel in the company of Michael Gibbons, a native of Connemara who is one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists, a writer, broadcaster, and mountaineer. He is a former director of local and national archaeological survey programs. In his talks about holy wells, ancient burial sites, and the history of the Gaelic lords, it was quite evident that he is very knowledgeable about Irish history especially the pilgrimage tradition in Ireland. I later learned that he spent three years excavating the summit of Croagh Padraig, climbing more than 2,500 feet to work every morning. He certainly moved skillfully and quickly up the hillside in Cashel!

Michael Gibbons, Irish Archeologist and Historian

Michael Gibbons, Irish Archeologist and Historian

Michael has supervised archeological work in such diverse places as the Negev Desert, Egyptian Sinai, and Southern Greece. He has lectured throughout Ireland, at Oxford and Cambridge, at the American National Geographic Society, and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It was quite a privilege to spend an afternoon hillwalking with him. (Half of the students when on his tour on Monday and half today. I was in the second group.)

Our first stop was at Ballynahinch Castle, a place where Evelyn and I spent a couple of days on our first trip to Ireland in 2005. I was disappointed that today we didn’t actually go into the hotel (yesterday’s group apparently did), but simply roamed the demesne following a circular path around the castle itself.

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel

Ballynahinch Castle Hotel

A famous resident of Ballynahinch was Richard Martin, also known as “Humanity Dick”, founder of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). His ancestors took over the house in 1590. His father the present manor house in the early 1700’s as an inn, the same purpose it now serves as one of the finest hotels in Ireland.

The name Ballynahinch comes from the Irish Baile na hInse meaning “settlement of the island”, a reference to the small island fortress in the lake over which the castle looks. The estate comprises 450 acres of woodlands, gardens, lakes, and rivers, just a small portion of the more than 200,000 acres which the “The Ferocious O’Flahertys” ruled from this place. The lands of the O’Flaherty clan stretched to within fifteen miles of Galway City on the east and into County Mayo to the north-west. The clan leaders were the Gaelic Lords of Connaught and held castles at Ballynahinch, Aughanure, Doon, Moycullen, Bunowen, and Renvyle.

Crannog in Ballynahinch Lake

Crannog in Ballynahinch Lake

Perhaps the most famous O’Flaherty was Grace O’Malley from Mayo who married Donal O’Flaherty in 1546. Called the Pirate Queen of Connemara, she is well known for her meeting with Queen Elizabeth I in 1593. At the age of 63 years at the time, she was said to be an awesome and formidable lady. Although Irish was her native tongue, Grace conversed comfortably the English queen in Latin. An English court scribe described her this way: “In the wild grandeur of her mien erect and high before an English Queen she dauntless stood.”

On the grounds of the estate, Michael Gibbons showed us a holy well dedicated to St. Feithin (Festus), one of several which stretch in a fairly straight line from east to west across this part of Ireland. He explained the importance and history of holy wells in the folk religion of Irish people. What I found of interest is that holy wells were disliked by and the tradition actively discouraged by both Anglican evangelical missionaries and the French-trained Roman Catholic clergy who came to this area after English law again permitted Catholicism to be practiced; nonetheless, the tradition continued and even today one finds holy wells as places of reverence throughout this nation. The Roman church seems to have learned the lesson that this sort of folk religion cannot be obliterated and so has adopted many of these sites as places of pilgrimage. The holy well at Ballynahinch, however, is not one of them as it has dried up (according to legend it did so because it was insulted by a Protestant).

Tobar Feithín on the grounds of Ballynahinch Castle

Tobar Feithín on the grounds of Ballynahinch Castle

We also saw, from a distance, the island fortress or crannog from which the area gets its name and the remains of a 16th century cannon used by the O’Flaherty’s to defend their headquarters. (The term crannog refers to emplacements on small islands, often artificial ones; remains of them can be found in many of Ireland’s lakes. The name is derived from the old Irish crannóc from crann, tree. These islands in many cases were fortified and lived on by people as late as the 17th century.)

After hiking around Ballynahinch, we drove to Roundstone where we spent an hour having lunch. I’ve written about Roundstone in another post on this blog.

Our bus next took us about twenty minutes south of Roundstone to Cashel Hill (Cnoc an Cháisil) where we climbed about eight hundred yards up the hill from a roadside cottage to a megalithic tomb dating from the end of the Stone Age or beginning of the Bronze Age, about 4500 years ago. It is known locally as Altoir Ula (altoir means “altar” and ula refers a tomb or penitential station ); it is also said to have been a “Mass Rock”, a place used by outlaw Roman Catholic priests to celebrate Holy Communion when Roman Catholicism was illegal during what are called “the Penal times”.

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Looking like a low hut built out of a few massive and irregular stone slabs, it is a wedge-shaped gallery grave. Its chamber narrows towards the rear or eastern end. The cap-stone forming its roof is about five feet square and sixteen inches thick, and rests on smaller slabs set edgeways in the ground to form the sides, which are the interior stones of double-sided walls. One of these outer slabs, five feet high, stands forward of the main chamber as a sort of portico at the front of the tomb. Originally the whole construction would have been covered by a cairn, traces of which can be seen around it. This is the only known megalithic tomb in the South Connemara area.

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Megalithic Tomb, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

After the tomb, Michael showed us a nearby active bog and explained how bogs grow. He showed us how to walk through bog safely (don’t ever try to jump from place to place!) and demonstrated the buoyancy of a bog mat. One of our classmates, Mara B., stepped out onto the mat (at Michael’s invitation). It was fascinating the way the “ground” in the bog bounced as others walked across it. The mat on which Michael and then Mara stood moved dramatically! The bog water around the mat may have been as many as 18 feet deep; Michael probed with his 5-foot walking stick and met no resistance. The bog is much like quicksand and can suck a person under in just a few minutes.

Active bog area, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Active bog area, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Mara B., active bog area, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

Mara B., active bog area, Cashel Hill, Connemara, Co. na Gaillimhe, Éire

The Blessed Wedding in Cana

There was a wedding on An Cheathrú Rua last week. (By the way, that preposition is correct. One speaks of being on An Cheathrú Rua rather than in it. It is a peninsula, after all.) The groom was a bartender at the pub frequented by our student body and the reception, such as it was (very unlike an American wedding celebration) was held there. Anyone and everyone who happened in was a welcome guest.

I did not have an opportunity to witness the wedding, nor any of the preparations. However, when I was in Ireland in 2008, some friends and I climbed Croagh Padraig, the holy mountain in County Mayo also known as “The Reek”. There is an annual event here called “Reek Sunday” (the last Sunday of July) when the penitent climb the mountain. The truly penitent climb it barefoot. Having climbed it wearing fairly sturdy hiking shoes, I can assure you that that would be a substantial act of penitence; but little old ladies were doing just that when I climbed it (a week after Reek Sunday), and they were going up that slope faster than I was! (The background image on this blog, by the way, is Croagh Pádraig.) The hike up the mountain is in emulation of St. Patrick who is said to have climbed the mountain, cleansed it of druid religious use, and offered the Eucharist on its summit.

Another part of the meditative tradition of Croagh Padraig is to start one’s pilgrimage to the mountain at Ballintubber Abbey. Ballintubber is an Anglicization of Baile tobair Phádraig, “place of the well” – the well in question supposedly being a place where St. Patrick baptized converts. Ballintubber Abbey is about 22 miles from Croagh Padraig, so the full penitential practice is to hike cross-country on the Tóchar Phádraig (“Patrick’s Causeway”) and then climb the mountain.

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire

The abbey church has been beautifully restored and is the parish church for the village of Ballintubber. (The church has a lovely website here.) http://www.ballintubberabbey.ie/ My friends and I short-circuited the tradition by attending Mass at the abbey church and then driving from there to the mountain.

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire

The grounds of the abbey church are filled with graves and with statuary, some of it very modern and very interesting, especially a set of non-representational Stations of the Cross which are abstract stone work in place of the usual pictures or statues of the fourteen steps of the way of tears; for example, the Ninth Station, Jesus’ Third Fall, is simply a fallen stone whose shape is vaguely suggestive of a human body.

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Stations of the Cross, No. 9

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Stations of the Cross, No. 9

The most representational of the stations is the Eleventh, the Crucifixion.

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Stations of the Cross, No. 11

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Stations of the Cross, No. 11

There is also a wonderful statue of the Madonna with her Child. I find the faces and the poses of the pair striking. Mary is, I believe, depicted as strong and sad; she looks both defiant and obedient, as if unwilling to turn loose of her Son and yet aware that that choice is really not hers to make. As she holds him in a cruciform pose, she seems to be both offering and protecting him at the same time. The Christ Child is depicted in the familiar cruciform manner, but his face is turned towards his mother, not toward the viewer as is more typical. He seems almost puzzled by his Mother’s expression.

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Madonna and Child

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Madonna and Child

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Madonna and Child

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Madonna and Child

I often wonder about the relationship between Mary and Jesus. We get only a few glimpses of it in the Gospels. One of my favorite episodes is the Wedding in Cana related in the Gospel of John:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5, NRSV)

I have long been fascinated and intrigued by the interaction here! Mary simply assumes that Jesus will take action (and that he has the power to do something to solve the problem of no wine). He feels free to respond negatively to her implied direction, “Help them,” but in the end he does as his mother seems to insist and the result is, as John will later call it, “the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee.” (v. 11) This multifaceted relationship (which, I suppose, was not too different from any mother-son relationship) was probably present all during Jesus’ life and is caught well, I believe, in faces of the Madonna and Child at Ballintubber.

The story from John’s Gospel brings me back to the wedding here on An Cheathrú Rua. On that particular Sunday three years ago, the church at Ballintubber was decorated for a wedding, as you can see from the accompanying photographs. Nuptial church decoration here in Ireland is pretty similar to what is done in the United States, which makes a good deal of sense since I suspect we got quite a few of our wedding customs from Irish immigrants and returning Irish probably have brought back a lot of American customs to this island.

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Interior, Decorated for a Wedding

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Interior, Decorated for a Wedding

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Interior, Decorated for a Wedding

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Interior, Decorated for a Wedding

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Interior, Decorated for a Wedding

Ballintubber Abbey Church, Co Mayo, Éire, Interior, Decorated for a Wedding

Post-wedding celebrations seem to be different – here there was no dancing (at least not in the pub), no toasts, no throwing of a bouquet or a garter, none of the typical elements of an American wedding reception – but what there was here as there is at home was joy and camaraderie, good wishes and good fun. It’s no wonder, given John’s recording of the first miracle and the human experience of wedding celebration, that the Wedding Banquet has become a lasting and indelible image of the reunion God has in store of God’s People and that the Holy Eucharist is referred to theologically as a foretaste of that heavenly banquet.

Dánta Dé includes a communion hymn specifically about the wedding feast. It is entitled The Blessed Wedding at Cana and is attributed to Maighréad ní Annagáin. Here is the original Irish text and Uná ní Ógáin’s translation of it, followed by a very free adaptation by me making use of some of the Irish hymn’s imagery and telling the story from John in meter and rhyme to be sung to the original tune.

First, the Irish original:

Ag an bpósadh bhí i gCána bhí Rí na ngrás ann i bpearsain,
É féin is Muire Máthair, is nárbh áluinn í an bhainfheis?
Bhí cuideacht ós cionn chláir ann, agun fíon orra i n-easnamh,
‘S an t-uisge bhí h-árthaibh nár bh’áluinn é bhlaiseadh?

A Dhia dhíl, a Íosa, ‘s a Rí ghil na cruinne,
D’iomchuir an choróin spíne is iodhbairt na Croise,
A stolladh is a straoilleadh idir dhaoinibh gan cumann,
Na glasa do sgaoilis, a d’iadhadh n’ár gcoinnibh.

Is ró-bhreágh an stór tá ag Rígh na glóire dúinn i dtaisge,
A chuid fola agus feóla mar lón do na peacaigh’.
Ná cuirigidh bhur ndóchas i n-ór bhuidhe nó i rachmas
Mar is bréagán mar cheó é, seachas glóire na bhFlaitheas.

Ms. ní Ógáin’s translation includes a verse not included in the Irish text of the hymnal, the second address to the Blessed Virgin:

At the marriage-[feast] in Cana
Was the King of grace in person,
He Himself and Mary Mother,
Was it not a beauteous wedding?
At the board the guests were seated,
And the wine to them was lacking,
And the water in the vessels
How delightful to taste it.

O Maiden most holy
Who to sin never yielded,
As thou wert a plant descended
From that king(a) who excelled,
[As of old], pray to Jesus,
To the glorious King of Heaven,
That He make a free way(b) for us
When we turn our steps Homewards.(c)

O dear Lord, O Jesu,
And O bright King of the Universe,
Who didst bear the Thorn-Crown,
And the sacrifice of the Cross;
Who was torn and rent asunder
Among men who were loveless,
Thou didst open the bars
That were closed against us.

Splendid is the treasure
Stored for us by the King of Glory;
His own Blood and Flesh [He giveth]
As Food for the sinful.
Put ye not your hope
In yellow gold or riches,
For as mistlike toys compare they
With the glories of Heaven.

Notes:
(c) i.e. David
(b) Lit.: or, ready road.
(c) or : That His Hand the way throw open
For our blessed home-returning.
(Westminster Irish Service-book).

And my poem derived from the Irish hymn:

King of glory,
King of love,
King of graces, guest at a wedding.
With his mother, with his friends,
seated at the marriage feast waiting.
Came the word: “There is a problem!”
Mary told her son to help them.
“What is this to me?” he asked her;
but to servants she was speaking.

“There is no wine
for the feast.
Do as he says, no hesitation.”
Empty vessels standing there
for the rites of purification.
“Fill them,” he says, “with plain water;
and then draw some for the steward.”
“What is this now?” asks the steward,
“Finest wine in the nation!”

Blessed Mary,
Virgin pure,
Mother of God, you knew that even
that your Jesus was the Christ;
that he was the High King of Heaven.
But did you know he would become
the free way for us to our home?
Through baptism buried with him,
we, too, shall all be risen!

O Lord Jesus,
glorious King,
holy savior who bore the Thorn Crown,
you were beaten, crucified,
killed, and buried, layed in the cold ground.
In fulfillment of the promise,
you broke the bars closed against us.
With your own blood you have freed us!
Death is conquered! Life is newfound!

Your own Body
and your Blood
give us sinners true liberation;
Bread of Heaven, Blessed Cup,
holy table, feast of salvation.
Giving blessings beyond measure;
wedding banquet, splendid treasure.
At the marriage feast of the Lamb,
we are God’s new creation!

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