Once upon a time, the American government worked. Bipartisan agreements made sure laws and budgets were passed, the court system wasn’t overloaded and exhausted and Presidents were kept in check by legislators, rather than the other way round. I know it sounds like a faerie tale in today’s day and age but it is true. People in government once did their jobs. America even had a law on the books that refused support or arms to any country that was designated as a human rights abuser and it could actually take a stand against others in that arena without being a complete laughingstock. To be sure, these embargoes always depended on which lobby had the most influence on the American government at the time, but occasionally the U.S. actually lived up to its own hype. On this day in 1979, the U.S. even stood against one of its biggest allies when it refused to send arms to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the RUC) in the North of Ireland on the grounds that the British government was violating the human rights of the citizens who lived there. To say that the powers that be on both sides of the puddle were upset by this stance would be an understatement, but there was no easy way to get around it thanks to Ad Hoc Congressional Committee for Irish Affairs.
Many of Ireland’s brave sons and daughters had to leave Ireland for one reason or another. One of those daughters was Katherine “Katie” Gilnagh who was just seventeen years old when her sister sent for her to come to the United States. She caused a bit of a stir before she left home by having her palm read. The astute (or gifted) fortune-teller told Katie that she’d be crossing water soon and that there’d be a lot of danger, but that no lasting harm would come to her. Soon after the reading, Miss Gilnagh left her family in Cloonnee, Co. Longford and boarded the RMS Titanic as a third-class passenger, bound for America.
On January 30th, 1972, thirteen innocent people were murdered and twenty-eight were shot during an anti-internment march through the Bogside area of Derry. Another innocent victim died later as a result of his injuries, bringing the total number of fatalities to fourteen. That bleak day became known as Bloody Sunday. At first the soldiers and the English government tried to claim that all who had been shot or killed were armed, dangerous, and/or members of the Irish Republican Army. Witness statements backed up with photographic evidence, forensics, and videos helped disprove their lies but it took nearly forty years and the most expensive inquiry in English history to finally exonerate the victims.
An anonymous teenage girl who would now probably be in her mid-to-late sixties made a quick and pivotal choice on Bloody Sunday that helped set those things in motion and has affected millions of people since. As she and her friends wandered through the aftermath of the Bogside Massacre, a stranger approached them. He quickly explained that authorities had begun searching people nearby and he had some rolls of film he needed to hide. This young girl quickly put the film in her underwear, assuming that her undergarments would not be searched if she were stopped. She was either not stopped or was correct in that assumption because later she met the man, Gilles Peress, at a hotel where she handed over his rolls of film and then promptly vanished. Peress drove straight out of Derry that night with his precious cargo and never saw the blonde girl again.
Well, you learn something new every day. Yesterday I attended a Bernie Sanders rally in Oakland, CA which was the very last place I thought I’d learn a new tidbit of Irish history but I was mistaken. One of the speakers had just returned from the North of Ireland. He butchered the pronunciation of Sinn Fein but he told the crowd that Bernie Sanders was one of the only politicians in the United States (and the world) who had taken the time to write an angry message directly to Margaret Thatcher in 1981.
Ireland has a really interesting religious past – and a history of being both totally progressive and completely conservative. Prior to the emergence of its massive religious influence, women enjoyed the same rights and privileges as their male counterparts and the freedoms that included. However, over the years that equality vanished and so did a lot of personal freedoms, no matter which gender you claimed. These lost choices included perusing even the least controversial nudie magazines. Thousands of books and magazines were officially banned in Ireland and it wasn’t until 1995, that Ireland officially allowed the buying and selling of Playboy magazine for the first time in thirty-six years. Millions of “article” readers rejoiced.
Fast forward a mere twenty years and Ireland became the first country to allow gay marriage by popular vote – which is an amazing and historic feat that is quite progressive and ahead of the times. However, well over two hundred other magazines are still banned in Ireland, and so are a lot of books about sex. One of the prohibited publications that is still (and permanently) banned is Playgirl. Go figure.
On this day in 1757, “St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles,” Ireland’s first mental hospital, was opened in Dublin. The name has changed throughout the years to the simpler St. Patrick’s Hospital – but when it opened it was a hospital designed to house the insane and afflicted. It was the final gift that Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver’s Travels fame) bestowed upon the world, and it was created at his request with money left for it in his will.
I usually stay away from religious holidays in general, but today is too good to pass up. Today is the feast day of St. Disbode – a 7th century Irish missionary. He was a bit of a hermit when he was not spreading his faith, but he traveled on a mission to Germany to convert the population. Legend has it that while in Germany, wine suddenly began flowing from his pilgrim’s staff and this convinced the Germans not necessarily to convert, but to create a thriving wine industry.
That’s a better reason than many for turning someone into a saint. Eat, drink, and be merry today – especially if you can find yourself some German wine…and if you’re a fan of Hildegard Von Bingen, throw some of her music in there too. She wrote a vita in his honor.