Archive for the ‘Irish’ Category

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 21, 2017

Because spring has arrived, here is a poem translated to English from the Irish language.

Anois teacht an tEarraigh

Spring is now coming

Now with the springtime
The days will grow longer
And after St. Bride’s day’
My sail I’ll let go
I put my mind to it,
And I never will linger
Till I find myself back
In the County Mayo.

In Clare of Morris family
I will be the first night
and in the Wall on the side below it
I will begin to drink
to Maghs Woods I shall go
until I shall make a months visit there
two miles close
to the Mouth of the Big Ford.

I swear
that my heart rises up
as the wind rises up
or as the fog lifts
when I think about Ceara
or about Gaileang on the lower side of it
about Sceathach an Mhíle
or about the plains of Mayo.

Cill Liadain is the town
where everything grows
there are blackberries and raspberries there
and every sort of fruit
and were I to be standing
in the center of my people
age would depart from me
and I would be again young.

There is always wheat and oats
growing barley and flax there
rye in branch there
flower-bread and meat
the folks who make moonshine
without a licence selling it there
the pride of the country
playing and drinking.

There is sowing and plowing
and fertilizing without manure
and it’s many the thing there
of which I have not yet spoken
kilns and mills
working without rest there
with hardly any talk about a pennys rent
or about nothing of that sort.

 

 

Written by the famous Irish language poet, Antaine Ó Raifteirí.

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 14, 2017

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How in the world did Polly Noble, a bubbly little girl with freckles, born just outside Dromore in January 1837, live to become the subject of a biography more than a century later in Toronto.

It was on her father’s farm, an old Coach Road between Dromore and Enniskillen, that Polly spent an idyllic two years with her parents, George and Jane Noble.  Then disaster struck.  On January 6, 1839, the Big Wind rose out of the sea and swept across Ireland, wailing like a thousand banshees.  It flattened whole villages, burned down farm houses, and finally killed her father.  It changed Polly’s life forever.

Two years later, Polly’s mother, Jane, married William Fleming, the handsome widower across the road at Bridgewater Farm.  Soon Polly began to walk back and forth the mile or so to the one-room school run in Dromore by the Kildare Society.

But she also found time to plant potatoes, milk the cows, look after the goats, pull flax, chase the hens and run bare-foot in the meadows.

Then disaster struck again.  The potato crop failed and famine and typhus threatened Bridgewater Farm.  Like thousands of others the Fleming decided they must escape.

They packed what they could and traveled by horse and cart to Londonderry/Derry, drinking in their last views of the green fields and hills of Ireland.  On the 14th of May, 1847, along with four hundred and eighteen other passengers, they boarded the three-masted sailing ship Sesostris.

After an appalling voyage, during which some of the passengers, including Polly’s darling little brother and sister died, they docked at Grosse-Ile, the quarantine station on the St-Lawrence River, about an hour from Quebec.  After three years in Montreal,  where she met her future husband, Polly was now ready for her next adventure in a vast unknown land called Canada.  Her destiny would be linked with a dozen children who had called their mothers, one of them a future mayor of Toronto.

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

March 7, 2017

The Blackbird of Derrycairn

by Austin Clarke

The Blackbird of Derrycairn by Austin Clarke. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top

Is whistling and the sun is brighter
Than God’s own shadow in the cup now!
Forget the hour-bell. Mournful matins
Will sound, Patric, as well at nightfall.

Faintly through mist of broken water
Fionn heard my melody in Norway.
He found the forest track, he brought back
This beak to gild the branch and tell, there,
Why men must welcome in the daylight.

He loved the breeze that warns the black grouse,
The shouts of gillies in the morning
When packs are counted and the swans cloud
Loch Erne, but more than all those voices
My throat rejoicing from the hawthorn.

In little cells behind a cashel,
Patric, no handbell gives a glad sound.
But knowledge is found among the branches.
Listen! That song that shakes my feathers
Will thong the leather of your satchels.

The poem is about the dominance the Catholic church held over the government in Ireland.

PIT STOP

March 2, 2017

Here’s Neil with his column in the Senior Times

Pit Stop

Look to Northern Ireland for a way to peace in Middle East

The recent outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland seemed at first like a black cloud threatening the fragile peace process. Until the silver lining appeared.

What happened after two British soldiers and an Irish policeman were murdered by a discredited IRA dissident group is almost unimaginable. The forces that had been at each other’s throats for decades came together to publicly denounce the killings.

Thousands of people, Catholic and Protestant alike, took to the streets to express their outrage and abhorrence. And the republican splinter groups who have claimed responsibility have been roundly condemned by the mainstream republican organization, Sinn Fein. Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister in the power-sharing executive, stood shoulder to shoulder with the protestant first minister, Peter Robinson, to condemn the killings: “We were elected to lead and, through democratic institutions, deliver for everyone throughout the community. We will not allow a tiny mindless minority to set our political agenda or divert us.”

McGuinness called those responsible “traitors to Ireland” and urged Catholics to cooperate with police in catching the culprits. Such an unambiguous display of support for the Northern Ireland Police Service from the leadership of Sinn Fein is unprecedented. As the London journal The Tablet wrote: “Twenty years ago they would have been plotting the killing of soldiers and policemen themselves.”

Those responsible for the bloodshed plainly intended to destroy the power-sharing structure of the Assembly at Stormont and escalate sectarian tensions across the community. However, the response from politicians and even more importantly from ordinary citizens, who took to the streets in significant numbers at short notice to support vigils and peace rallies, made clear that any attempt to turn back the clock on the peace process would not be tolerated.

These public displays were followed by the unprecedented image of Catholic republicans and Protestant loyalists attending the funeral of Stephen Carroll, the murdered Ulster police officer. In a highly personal address at the end of the service, in the presence of Carroll’s widow, the head of the Police Service, Sir Hugh Orde, told her:

“He will not be forgotten, Kate. I promise you. My staff and officers will not forget what he did. I know the community will not forget what he did.”

The hard fact is there will be no united Ireland for the foreseeable future. But the blinkered IRA dissidents refuse to recognize that. They first demonstrated their hostility to the peace process when they planted a car bomb in Omagh in August 1998 that killed 29 people in the main shopping street. (I walked on this street in a trip to Ulster a couple of years ago. The Omagh blast is still fresh in the minds of the citizens there).

Undeterred by the hostile reaction, pockets of disgruntled republican activists throughout Northern Ireland vowed to defy majority public opinion, re-arm and revive “physical force” republicanism as the traditional and only effective means they could see of ever achieving a united Ireland.

For a time there was nothing much more than propaganda stunts with armed, hooded figures on manoeuvres in remote Irish boglands. From time to time police on both sides of the border intercepted arms and explosives in transit to a planned atrocity. The dissidents suspected that the mainstream IRA was double-crossing them by infiltrating its own people into their ranks to betray them.

But several well-planned ambushes over a year ago, in which police officers were wounded, underlined the growing dissident threat. Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde warned that the dissidents were intent on killing a police officer, a grim prophecy that has now been fulfilled.

Still, tragic as the killings were, what remains is the virtual universal condemnation of them in Ulster by the ordinary people and their elected leaders. Remember these same leaders had been fighting each other for decades. Now they are united for peace, an extraordinary accomplishment and a way forward for others.

It is no coincidence that U.S. President Barack Obama chose as his new envoy to the Middle East the very man who played a large role in bringing the warring Irish factions together in the Good Friday Agreement. Former democratic senator George Mitchell now brings his negotiating skills, honed in Ulster, to building peace between Israel and the Palestinians, whose enmity is perhaps the most dangerous in the world.

But the peace process in Ulster is a paradigm for a similar development in the Middle East. There are dissimilarities of course, but if the hard men in Ulster can unite for peace, so can those other warring factions – the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The peace process in Ulster points a way to peace in the Middle East.

The Senior Times

Pit Stop April 2009

Neil recounts his time on TV

February 16, 2017

After returning from Ireland in the summer of 1987, where the John Main biography had been launched at Trinity College, I was astonished to receive a telephone call from a senior program producer at CFCF television, Don McGowan, a well-known Montreal television personality in his own right. Over lunch at the garden café of the Ritz-Carlton, McGowan asked me if I would be interested in doing a live talk show on television, a sort of poor man’s Larry King Live. McGowan would provide a chauffeur-driven limousine to pick me up each morning (impressive for the neighbors) and an extensive new wardrobe (a delight for Catharine who never approved of my doing radio in a scruffy T-shirt).

04-28-2013-4

Neil on set at CFCF

Of course I jumped at the opportunity, and in September 1987, we went on air with Montreal’s first English live call-in television program, McKenty Live. Television is more cumbersome and complicated than radio, but for the next three years I had a lot of fun – the limousine with a bar, telephone and TV set in the back seat; the warmth and soft hands in the make-up room; a small, friendly staff. During the three years we had some remarkable guests: the famous sexologist, Dr. Ruth, who was so tiny she had to sit on a Montreal telephone directory; Canada’s chief negotiator, Louis Reisman, with whom I had a ferocious argument on free trade two days before the federal election; and René Lévesque, the only guest who not only smoked, but offered a cigarette to everyone in the crew. Only a week later, this man whom I liked very much, died of a heart attack. René Lévesque’s last appearance in public might well have been on McKenty Live.

Neil and a  guess at CFCF

Although I enjoyed McKenty Live and my associates on the program, Daniel Freedman, Wendy Helfenbaum and Bernie Peissel, at the end of the third season, I decided to leave the program. My reasoning was: I would be repeating programs we had already done; some of my associates were being changed; I wanted to do some more writing, perhaps a book on Catharine’s grandfather, onetime mayor of Toronto; and both Catharine and I were busy with the Benedictine Priory and meditation. So in June 1990, I left CFCF television.

from the Inside Story.

Tuesday Writing Conversation: some background on Polly book

June 27, 2016

Catharine McKenty wrote ‘Polly of Bridgewater Farm’ after she investigated her family history in Dromore, Northern Ireland. A key breakthrough was meeting a local historian, Florence Corey. Click below to hear Florence describe how she met Catharine.

Tuesday Writing Conversation: Grosse Île, Londonderry/Derry and Cabbagetown.

June 20, 2016

Catharine writes:

Today I sat in the window of a local restaurant, sipping apple juice as our local heat-wave increased in intensity. A father with his three children sat at a small table on the sidewalk just outside.

I could watch the adorable expressions on the faces of the two little boys facing me as they played their way through the quiet meal.

Then I found myself thinking of the suffering of children all over the world – why, oh why, I asked myself – why does this suffering continue?

It’s as though we are caught up in an ongoing cosmic battle with evil that can flare up at any time. And, in these circumstances, why is it that the words “Father, forgive them – they know not what they do,” seems the farthest thing from our minds? I found the tears welling up as I sat there, as though some old pain were healing itself without my being aware.

Those words would be a good mantra for me to cling to. Even when coping with the everyday frustrations that occur living within a close-knit community.

I think of my great-grandmother Jane Fleming who lost two small children and her baby girl on a terrible 31-day voyage from Ireland to Canada. Their twelve-year old daughter died at the Grosse-Ile quarantine on the Saint Lawrence river an hour downstream from Quebec city. My great-grandparents had fled in 1847 in the midst of that terrible famine that killed over a million starving Irish.

When I was in Ireland a month ago, a woman at the Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Londonderry/Derry told me ‘people still find it hard to talk about that period.’

And at the Centre were copies of ‘Polly of Bridgewater Farm’ laid out and now being used as part of the healing process after the community tensions of the last century in Northern Ireland.

In a way that is still mysterious to me that our family story is being used to bring hope in adversity. As I was writing, I had the sense that the story was coming through me, and onto the paper without my conscious control.

I was writing at a level I had never come close to earlier in my life.

And then the people who turned up at every stage of the writing to help me in whatever way was most needed.

Without Carol Moore-Ede’s help as my editor the book would never been completed in its present form, if ever. She brought all of her 40-year experience at the CBC, and as founder of the Cabbagetown-Regent Park Museum to bear, during a summer none of us will ever forget, along with her colleague Sally Gibson, the writer of books about the early days of Toronto.

Catharine Fleming McKenty

 

Tuesday writing conversation: the sycamore

June 6, 2016

This is Catharine back at the old family farm in May 2016.

Dromore 014

From Polly of Bridgewater Farm

The Sycamore

On days that did not go so well, like wash-day, Polly had a special friend she could count on, the old sycamore that stood between the farmhouse and the coach road.

That old sycamore. It had been battered by many a storm, becoming a little more gnarled and bent each time, but still it stood, offering shade in the summer and a bright flash of gold in the autumn. That first winter on the farm, when she was just four, she had watched the tree gradually turning black in the late afternoon sun, a proud silhouette, a friend in the dusk, the leaves of the highest branches tipped with light.

If you stared at the tree long enough, she thought, you might gradually become part of it, reaching up towards heaven through its leaves. That never quite happened, much to her regret. But one hot August evening the following year, she was sent to bed for some minor infraction. She was leaning out of one of the two gable windows of the loft as far as she dared. Joseph had attached a hinge to it so that his grandchildren might benefit from fresh air, their one free commodity.

The summer scents were intoxicating; clover, honey suckle and new- mown hay, with a dash of pungent manure. The grasshoppers and cicadas were in full throat. A fox barked in the distance; horses’ hooves clopped on the dry roadbed. The sycamore, her friend, loomed as a dark silhouette against the western sky. Away down the slope of the nearest field a single blackbird had begun his evening song. It floated clear and high above the hum of insects, so powerful that in the end Polly heard nothing else, leaning into the song as though she had become part of it, a melody half-heard, half-remembered, going on all around her, whose meaning she couldn’t quite grasp.

And the song ended, and the evening star came out, a moment she would remember for the rest of her life.


 

for more information visit pollyofbridgewaterfarm.com

Tuesday writing conversation: a conversation in Dublin

June 1, 2016

Michael Lane talks with Catharine McKenty about her book ‘Polly of Bridgewater Farm’ in the gardens at Trinity College, Dublin.

Tuesday Irish photo

May 24, 2016

Here we are at Trinity College in Dublin where we did a video conversation about John Main. The setting was appropriate because John Main had taught law at Trinity – and much later Neil McKenty’s biography of John Main was launched here.

Trinity College, Dublin

In front of a lilac in bloom in the quad at Trinity, from left to right: Rosemary and Richard Rice; Catharine McKenty; and Michael Lane.