Tag Archives: Ireland

17 July: F is for Fishguard

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What is it about Docks and Ports? Dover, East End of London, and now Fishguard? Things happen there, as they do at railway stations.

Fishguard, one of the ports to go to Ireland, is tucked into this rocky Welsh shore, not far from St David’s. I introduced readers to the late John Byrne a year ago last month; he was a highly respected Irish railway modeller.

He was also a retired sea captain. When we were in Pembrokeshire I sent him a photo of the Ferry arriving in port; he recognised her at once, saying she was not built for the Irish Sea and the Atlantic swells, but for the enclosed Mediterranean  or the Baltic, and gave many a rough ride when the wind was up.

I wonder how it was for Saint Nôn and her son David, forced into exile when he was little, voyaging on a tiny boat across the very sea that John’s big ship was so ill-equipped for?

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Let us remember in our prayers all those in peril on the sea, especially those trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. Like the one used to make the Lampedusa Cross. And remember, too, the crews who spend months at sea, rarely able to call home, ill-paid, forgotten by us consumers who depend on their hard work. crososososo1450655040

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23 May: B is for Blacklion, Brocagh and Belcoo

Most readers will not have heard of the twin villages, Belcoo to the North, Blacklion to the South, of a river bridge across the Irish border. The river joins the two Loughs, or Lakes MacNean. Once upon a time I was a student in Blacklion, and each week went to the village school at Brocagh, a good walk from the college, to give the youngsters a catechism lesson.

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Sometime around 1970 the little 2 classroom schools were closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. In 2011 I shared this photograph of the school on thepelicans.org.uk website, and it was from Belcoo that Olivia O’Dolan identified many of the children, helped by Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady-Keaney and Bridget Brady-Fitzpatrick with Ben McHugh and the Clancy family. Olivia and her family live in the old station house seen at the top of this post. Life goes on; at times it’s almost as if the border did not exist. These children’s cousins will have lived north and south, and things have been so much better in recent years; pray that life doesn’t deteriorate post-Brexit.

Mrs McCormack, the head teacher, (far right) gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row, hand to his brow.

One week after Easter we had John’s story of the barbecue by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith. I thought the lesson went well. The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and had always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

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Book Review: David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth.

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David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth. Enitharmon Press.

Born in South London, the artist and poet David Jones nevertheless grew up a fervent Welsh patriot, absorbing the romantic epics of Welsh history with its battles and brave warriors. Hardly surprising then, that he should volunteer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers when the Great War broke out.

Thomas Dilworth takes us through Jones’s wartime life as if inviting the reader to be a third party to a conversation between friends, and indeed the book is largely the fruit of interviews with David Jones and his friends. Like other poets and former soldiers Jones never got the Great War out of his system and he suffered depression and breakdowns in the years that followed.

He had spent the war as a private, unlike university educated poets Sassoon, Brooke and Owen, who were seen as natural officers. Jones resisted promotion, preferring the company of the Welshmen and Cockneys in the ranks. An officer once encouraged him to apply for a commission, saying, ‘You’re an educated man. Where were you educated?’ At Jones’s reply, ‘Camberwell School of Art and Craft’, he fell silent and never again would Jones be considered for promotion.

Jones was not alone in becoming aware of the iniquities of the class system through his wartime experiences. He had chance to contrast British public school officers with the French alongside, where there was greater camaraderie and an officer could encourage his troops with ‘mes enfants’. He also served in Ireland after the Easter Rising, and became acutely aware of the contrast between Britain’s defence of ‘poor little Belgium’ and the oppressing of Irish aspirations.

Above all Jones was an artist and one who took opportunities to exercise his gift while at war. At times he was detailed to draw maps of battlefields for his superiors; of those that survive, few can be clearly reproduced, but Dilworth gives us many pencil sketches of broken buildings, battlefields, equipment and men. There were months when drawing his companions became too painful, knowing he might soon lose sight of them forever. There is a sketch of a robed and stoled priest, about to distribute Communion. Dilworth links this to a moment of epiphany for Jones, when he came across a Catholic celebration of Mass in a battered barn. Seeing his Irish companions transformed at their devotions was a step towards his conversion.

Just as that experience would have been impossible to explain back home, so too the privations of mud, rats, lice, noise, explosions, shells, smells, death that remained with Jones the rest of his life.

Thomas Dilworth is a warm companion to bring us to Jones and his subsequent poetry and art. Read this book, make friends with Jones, turn to his poetry, and let it speak.

 

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Interruption: Wishing you a happy and blessed St Patrick’s Day.

It’s worth remembering that St Patrick was a missionary who returned to bring true peace and liberation to the land where he was enslaved. Many Irish missionaries have followed his example, even from the earliest times unto today. So while the team wish you a happy and blessed St Patrick’s Day, we ask you to pray for continuing strength of faith for all missionaries, wherever they may be called to work.


St Patrick’s Missionary Society was founded on St Patrick’s Day 1932 and for more than eighty years has continued the work of spreading the Gospel, following the words of Jesus:

Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.  (Matthew 28:19-20)

Let’s remember them especially today. Read more at spms .

Wishing you a happy and blessed St Patrick’s Day!

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