Ireland has a complicated relationship with religion. Many of its troubles in the last few hundred years are ultimately based in religious conflict and the church has ruled much of the island for centuries. But it wasn’t always so and some of its most-visited and well-known landmarks predate the Christian takeover of the island. Everywhere you go you can see signs of the old ways peeking through the hedges if you are looking for them. Many good Catholics will cross themselves or roll their eyes when they talk about the faeries but they also leave bowls of milk outside to appease them. You’ll still find iron in many doorways, though perhaps the reason it was placed there has been forgotten. As Samhain (more commonly known as Halloween) approaches, seasonal offerings left in fields, forts, tombs, and shrines increase all over Ireland. This time of year may not be the sanest time to go to the gateway to hell, but it certainly is the most appropriate one if you want to meet The Morríghan and her dark minions on one of the only nights they can escape the underworld.
It was the tear heard around the world. In one split (ahem) second Sinead O’Connor defiantly threw her figurative middle fingers in the air, lost a record amount of fans, and got banned from Saturday Night Live with her protest of the Catholic church. Many of the flock still haven’t forgiven her even now, twenty-five years later.
The North of Ireland is a complicated place – especially in July. Every year makeshift towers of debris, old tires, and wooden pallets reach higher and higher into the sky. They are decorated with sectarian slogans, political effigies, Irish flags (or Ivory Coast ones, since some can’t tell the difference between the two), and serious threats against Catholics, opposing politicians, Irish men and women, minorities, and the gay community. These dangerous displays are what they call culture this time of year and they are a horrifying example of the division that continues to exist in the North.
I know that our country is in trouble and that many of you are exhausted and super angry about how things are going down. I know how many problems we have and that everything from jobs to race relations have stalled in the last few years. It leaves many of us divided, frustrated, and looking for new possibilities and directions. I know our system is broken and skewed, and I know that if you have made up your mind, I won’t change it by anything I write, do, or say. That is not the point of this post. This one is for those who are willing to read with empathy and reason. Those who understand that I’m not another voice telling you what to do, but one that is begging you to listen….to everyone.
I arrived in Derry during a downpour, even though the sun was still peeking through the gathering storm clouds. By the end of the trip, I felt like the weather was a perfect metaphor for the city itself. Derry is rare. It is dark, but light pierces through it. It is grey but full of color. It is gathering and ready, but still and waiting. It is tragic and beautiful. Derry is a very special place.
My trip to Derry can’t be put into one post. There’s just too much to the city to compress it into one little tale and it is too special to me. It started when I bought a ticket to ‘Derry’ and the bus driver said he didn’t know where that was, but that he’d be happy to drive me to ‘Londonderry.’ This city is a complicated place, full of pride and controversy. Unlike it’s neighbors in the north, it has no towering, man-made “peace” walls, but it remains segregated and even its name is still hotly contested, as I learned that day. Its Loyalist population feels like its culture is under attack and being stripped away, just as they do in other parts of the region. This post is about their side of the river Foyle, in the town that many of them still call Londonderry.
It’s so very close to being finished and I just can’t keep it to myself anymore. I hope you’ll forgive the teasing since it is not available yet, but by December 1st, it will be.
It’s written. It exists. It’s a collection of short histories, and mini-biographies – many that started as blog posts here. In fact, there are only a few that I’ve held back for the book only, but in this form the entries are expanded, edited, and written slightly differently. It’s taken forever and I’m super excited about it – or I would be if I could just stop editing. But now there’s a single, real-life, (albeit marked up) copy in the world and the rest are so very close.
Now you know the title. And my real name for that matter. Hopefully some of you will love this book – and will be OK with me promoting you in it too. I can’t believe it. Coming so very, very soon!
Autumnal Equinox. Second Harvest. Mea’n Fo’mhair. Mabon. Whatever you call it, this day marks the changing of the seasons and it celebrates equality and planetary harmony on the earth. The Northern and Southern hemisphere rarely get the same thing at the same time. There are only two days that they see eye to eye when it comes to light and darkness, and Mabon is one of those days. During the Autumnal Equinox both hemispheres get exactly the same amount of light—and the same amount of darkness—due to the tilt of the Earth and the position of the sun. The seasons may still be reversed, but the lengths of the day and the night are exactly the same and that balance only happens one other time throughout the year. The harmony may not have anything to do with mankind at all, but man has celebrated it for centuries.
“Londonderry or Derry?,” asked a friend of mine when he was off to the North of Ireland. It’s an age old question and I found myself a little stuck when it came to answering. “That depends” seemed to be the safest bet at the time. However, the next time either of us visit, the question may no longer be an issue since last week Derry city and the Strabane District Council voted in favor of formally losing the London prefix.
While we’re on the subject of racism, sectarianism, and discrimination, here’s another tale of Anti-Irish (and Anti-Catholic) riots…not in Belfast but from right here in the United States. Back in 1844, the Protestant extremists were called Nativists, despite the fact that they were descended from immigrants and were not natives in any way. Ignoring that truth entirely, they felt that they were the established rulers of the area and were not pleased with the influx of Irish coming into the States. They began a large scale propaganda war promoting discrimination against the Irish and set out to spread their sectarian platform against Catholicism. By the time the Nativists in Philadelphia were done venting their anger, there had been riots for months, a lot of Catholic churches and businesses had been torched, over 200 people had fled their homes, and fifteen people were dead. Over fifty more people were injured by the end of the fight.