The Abortion Referendum

Our first day in Ireland was May 24, which was the same day that the Republic held a referendum on whether or not to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution, which dates from 1983 and which prohibits the practice of abortion except in very extreme circumstances. As you may be aware, the Irish voted overwhelmingly to repeal the eighth amendment, 66.4% to 33.6%. What I did not know is that the eighth amendment was also enacted after referendum back in 1983, which the Irish people voted for by a similar margin: 66.9% to 33.1%. So the result was seen as symbolic of a sea change in attitudes over the course of 35 years, part of the secularization of society and of the declining power of the Church, something observed across the western world over the course of the twentieth century and which has only belatedly has come to Ireland.

I think it’s great that Ireland decides these things by referendum. It’s much better than leaving it up to five of nine Supreme Court justices and whatever creative and tendentious interpretation of the law that they come up with on a given day.

As you can probably imagine, we saw a lot of advertising on the topic throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, the “No” side had most of the signs in County Kerry, while the “Yes” side had most of the signs in Dublin. But it was unreflective of the actual results: the only constituency that “No” actually won was County Donegal, and there only by a slim margin.

I took this photo from the coach as we were heading into Dublin. I wanted to get signs from both sides in the same frame. As chance would have it, this is about as strident as it got (“killing babies” vs. “my-body-my-choice”).

Otherwise, I was surprised at how subdued most of the propaganda was, as reflected by the above two signs. The “No” sign in the bottom photograph was sponsored by something calling itself “Love Both,” i.e. both mother and child, the two “O”s forming an “8” for the amendment in question. This, I suppose, was in response to the “Yes” side’s emphasis on “compassion.” (I regret to say that I did not get a photo of a sign communicating this message.)

But there was certainly some mockery of the other side: note the “Love Boat” sticker over the number of days at which the fetus’s heart starts beating. This is in reference to the “boat” that Irishwomen must take to Britain or the continent in order to procure abortions there, and which the “Yes” side cast as an undue hardship. (They can’t go to Northern Ireland – as I discovered, abortion is banned there as well. Apparently this is a rare thing that both communities can agree on.)

The Catholic Church, of course, was flat-out for the “No” side. I picked up some pamphlets in the churches I visited.

I thought this one laid it on a little thick…

But what I found most interesting is the appeal to Irish nationalism (not necessarily Catholicism, although of course there is going to be some overlap).

As far as I can tell the first three people at the top of this sign are the Irish revolutionary leaders Sean Mac Diarmada, Patrick Pearse, and Eamonn Ceannt. (I cannot discern who the fourth one is.)

Note how this drink coaster makes a connection between the rebellion of 1916 (see the declaration of the Irish Republic in the background) and the “rebellion” against the movement to liberalize abortion laws in 2018.

And, as is traditional with Irish nationalism, Britain is figured as the prime source of evil. I saw another sign citing the British abortion rate, and exclaiming “Don’t Bring This To Ireland!”

But neither religion nor nationalism worked this time. (“Cúram le Chéile, Vótáil Tá” = “Care Together, Vote Yes.”)

The Temple Church

After our Irish trip, I spent some time in London with my family. I had visited London many times before, and even lived there on a couple of occasions. But for all the time I’ve spent in that great city, I had never visited the Temple Church until now. It is in the (square-mile, capital-C) City of London, between Fleet Street and the River Thames. It dates from the late twelfth century and it was once the London church of the Knights Templar until that order was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1312. 

Outside the church, a monument to its original owners: a sculpture of two knights riding a single horse, taken from the Templar seal.

What really marks this church as Templar, however, is its shape. The order derived its name from the Temple of Solomon, the site of which has been occupied since the seventh century by the Dome of the Rock, and in reference to this “Temple,” most Templar churches were round.

I do not know how the round church functioned liturgically, however, and as can be seen from this scanned postcard, a longer, rectangular chancel was added to the original building some time later (note the difference in arches – romanesque to the left, gothic to the right).

The round part does hold the grave of a famous occupant: William Marshal, a powerful political figure of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, who acted as regent for England for the first three years (1216-19) of the reign of the young King Henry III. Throughout his career he admired and supported the Templars and took membership vows on his deathbed, thus his burial here and not (say) in Westminster Abbey. 

Here is an interior view of the chancel looking toward the east (which had to be reconstructed after serious damage sustained during the Blitz).

A close-up of the altar, with its decidedly post-medieval reredos, featuring classical detailing and the Protestant emblems of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

The altar frontal features two coats of arms, one comprising a cross of St. George with a golden Agnus Dei at the fess point, and the other a white pegasus on a blue field. These are the arms of the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple respectively, which are two of the four Inns of Court, professional associations for barristers in England (the other two are Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn).

Composite coat of arms of the Inns of Court: 1. Lincoln’s Inn 2. Middle Temple 3. Inner Temple 4. Gray’s Inn. Wikipedia.

Following the dissolution of the Templars in 1312, King Edward II granted the site to the other major crusading order, the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, i.e. the “Hospitallers.” They in turn leased it to two colleges of lawyers, which evolved into the Inner Temple and Middle Temple, named after the grounds they occupied (did the Hospitallers themselves occupy the “Outer Temple”?). King Henry VIII, in turn, dissolved the English chapter of the Hospitallers in 1540, and in 1608 King James I granted the church to the lawyers on a permanent basis, on the condition that they maintain it. Thus have they done so ever since.

This is a device used by the church, showing both the Agnus Dei and the Pegasus, separated by a musical staff (in medieval notation), in honor of the musical tradition at the Temple Church.

Of course, following the appearance of the Temple Church in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, it has become rather popular with a certain type of tourist, and the church sells a pamphlet addressing the issues raised in the book. But I was far more interested in their display about Magna Carta.

Irish Coats of Arms

Lots of heraldry in Ireland too. The cities of Dublin, Derry, and Belfast all make extensive use of their coats of arms. 

1. The arms of the City of Dublin feature three towers, often in flames. Numerous theories exist about about them: that they are watch towers outside the city walls, that they represent Dublin Castle repeated three times, and they are actually three gates into the ancient Viking city.

The arms themselves were granted in 1607 by Daniel Molyneux, Ulster Herald of Arms, acting on royal authority, but were based on something older. Above is the thirteenth-century seal of Dublin Corporation, scanned from a pamphlet I picked up at Dublin City Hall (the floor mosaic above is also at City Hall). The seal shows that the three towers of the coat of arms were originally just one tower with three turrets, and that each turret had a crossbowman defending the city.

Apparently, the crossbowmen are symbolic; they don’t refer to an actual siege that Dublin endured. And in a similar way, the fire of the three towers in the coat of arms is also symbolic, referring to the zeal of Dubliners to defend their city. This fits nicely with the motto, which means “the obedience of the citizens is the happiness of the city.”

The majority of streetlight posts feature Dublin’s coat of arms, sometimes painted over, other times with all the details in different colors. It’s always a pleasure to see such civic pride on display!

The flames are not necessary, though – in fact, the three towers can be extracted and displayed as a minimalist logo.

Photos of these and of many, many other versions of Dublin’s coat of arms may be seen in a delightful book I discovered in Hodges Figgis: Michael English, The Three Castles of Dublin: An eclectic history of Dublin through the evolution of the city’s Coat of Arms (Four Courts Press, 2016). 

2. According to Wikipedia, the arms of Derry may be blazoned:

Sable, a human skeleton Or seated upon a mossy stone proper and in dexter chief a castle triple towered argent on a chief also argent a cross gules thereon a harp or and in the first quarter a sword erect gules

These were confirmed by Daniel Molyneux in 1613, around the time that the city was renamed “Londonderry.” This would explain the chief of these arms, which are in fact the arms of the City of London: the cross of St. George, with the sword of St. Paul in the upper left. (St. Paul, of course, is the patron of London’s cathedral.)

Here’s a rendition of these arms on the Tower Bridge that I snapped in the week following our trip to Ireland.

You’d think, therefore, if “Londonderry” is so offensive to nationalists, that they would efface the chief of the arms of the city, just as they blot out the “London” part of “Londonderry” on road signage. But this does not seem to be an issue.

Instead, what matters is the harp at the fess point of the chief. It’s recorded in Molyneux’s 1613 blazon, but it fell out of use over the years, as it has on this streetlight pole.

 This one also doesn’t have it…

…but this one does, along with most of the other versions I saw. (The council officially restored it in 2003.) Apparently defacing the arms of London with an Irish harp counts enough!

But that’s not the really interesting part of these arms. What on Earth do the tower and skeleton mean? As with the arms of Dublin, numerous theories exist:

• The castle refers to the early fourteenth-century castle of Richard de Burgh, earl of Ulster, and the skeleton is that of his cousin, whom Richard had starved to death in the dungeon in 1332.

• Others hold that the skeleton refers to Cahir O’Dohertythe last Gaelic Lord of Inishowen who, after serving the English, launched an ill-fated rebellion against them and was subsequently executed in 1608.

• In the twentieth century, Roman Catholics used to joke sardonically that the skeleton was a Catholic waiting for help from the local council.

But in 1979, after thoroughly studying the question, the city council determined that the skeleton refers to no identifiable person.

Be that as it may, it is great that Derry still uses these arms, which are wonderfully enigmatic, as good heraldry often is.

3. The arms of Belfast are described as:

Party per fesse argent and azure, in chief a pile vair and on a canton gules a bell argent, in base a ship with sails set argent on waves of the sea proper.

The motto is taken from Psalm 116 and may be translated as “For so much, what shall we repay?”

The arms themselves date from 1613 when Belfast became a town, but were only officially granted in 1890 when Belfast became a city. I do not know what the “pile vair” in the chief refers to, but the bell is canting on Belfast, and the ship is an obvious reference to the city’s status as a port, and to its shipbuilding industry.

As bad as things can get between the two “communities” in Belfast, it does not appear that the coat of arms is an issue, as it is in Derry.

Addendum

The Central Fact of Irish ecclesiastical history can produce some heraldic confusion: both the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland claim legitimate descent from the pre-Reformation church. They both sponsor identical diocesan structures, with identical names and coats of arms (although the Church of Ireland has amalgamated its dioceses to a greater extent than the Roman Catholic Church has).

In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

In St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.

Here are two coats of arms of Archbishops of Dublin, one Protestant, the other Catholic. As you can see, they both bear Azure, an episcopal staff in pale or, ensigned with a cross pattée argent, surmounted of a pall of the last, edged and fringed of the second charged with five crosses pattée fitchée sable. A bishop impales his personal arms with the arms of his diocese, so in the first photo we have the arms of Joseph Ferguson Peacocke, Archbishop of Dublin 1897-1915 in the Church of Ireland, and in the second John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin 1940-1971 in the Roman Catholic Church.

Fortunately, the churches use different peripherals – the Church of Ireland adheres to the older custom of placing a bishop’s mitre over the shield, while the Roman Catholic Church tends to show an archbishop’s hat, which is green, with ten tassels depending from each side.

Irish Flaggery

Lots of flags to see in Ireland! This post includes some thirty images, most of which are photographs from our recent trip.

In the Republic of Ireland, the Irish tricolor is very popular and widely flown. It helps, of course, that it is a simple and striking design, and meaningful to boot: as is commonly stated, the green represents Catholicism, the Orange represents Protestantism, and white the hope for peace between them. Its form is also a deliberate reference to the flag of republican France. It dates from the abortive revolution of 1848, and its status was assured forever when it flew from the General Post Office during the Easter Rising in 1916. This meant that it was contested between pro- and anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War 1922-23, a story detailed by Ewan Morris in his book Our Own Devices: National Symbols and Political Conflict in Twentieth-Century Ireland (2004). So not only does it represent the 26-county Republic of Ireland, the successor to the Irish Free State, but also all the dissident republican groups that descend from the losing side in the Irish Civil War and who reject that state.

The photo above shows the flag flying from Bunratty Castle, Co. Clare.

Another way to express Irish unity: four flags for the four traditional provinces of Ireland. In the photo above, from left to right, these are Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connacht. I took this photo in the Bogside neighborhood in Derry.

Wikipedia.

You can get all four flags in one, if you want, although there is no set order to the quarters (no one has taken up my brilliant proposal, sadly).

Here is another example of the four-provinces motif. I took this at the GAA Museum at Croke Park in Dublin. Note also the Round Tower, the Irish wolfhound, and the Celtic cross, other symbols of Ireland.

This is the James Connolly room in Dublin Castle. It’s very interesting – in the midst of the throne room, the state drawing room, the state dining room, and all the other remnants of the ancien régime, we have a monument to James Connolly, one of the leaders of the rebellion of 1916. Connolly was injured in the fighting and brought to the castle, which was serving as a hospital; the British executed him by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol on May 12, 1916. He had been so badly wounded that his doctor gave him only a day or two to live, but they executed him anyway, bringing him to the prison courtyard on a stretcher and tying him to a chair before shooting him. This was especially outrageous to the Irish public, and was a major reason why Sinn Fein took 75% of Irish seats in the election of 1918.

Wikipedia.

To the left of the Irish tricolor in the Connolly room, we have a reproduction of the “Irish Republic” flag. While not as well known (or well designed) as the tricolor, this flag was also hallowed by the Easter Rising, and I saw a souvenir vendor selling reproductions of it on O’Connell Street. According to an article in the Irish Times, the original was made of wool, and painted by a man named Theobald Wolfe Tone Fitzgerald at the home of the revolutionary leader Constance Markievicz. It flew over the General Post Office in 1916, but survived because its pole was shot through and it lay undisturbed on the roof. Taken by the British as a souvenir, it was kept at the Imperial War Museum and returned to Ireland as a gesture of goodwill in 1966. It is now on display at the National Museum in Dublin.

Wikipedia.

To the right of the tricolor on the Connolly room, the Starry Plough flag. This was employed by the paramilitary Irish Citizen Army, which Connolly had founded with Jim Larkin and Jack White in 1913. The ICA’s main aim was to protect workers’ demonstrations from the police, but it joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers to carry out the Easter Rising. The idea is that “a free Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars.” The original is also in the possession of the National Museum. 

I saw numerous examples of it flying around the Bogside in Derry, and I bought one in a republican shop there.

Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, in 1934 the Irish Transport and General Workers Union introduced a simplified version of the Starry Plough with a blue field, and it was adopted as the emblem of the Irish labor movement, including the Irish Labour Party, although they eventually dropped it. I understand that the Irish National Liberation Army liked to use it during the Troubles.

Here is a copy (with six-pointed stars) on display at the Museum of Free Derry.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of INLA, has a flag of sorts. I saw this one flying on the Bogside. Note the use of the Starry Plough.

A flag on display at the Eileen Hickey Irish Republican History Museum: the sunburst flag. The sunburst, as an emblem, is inspired by the Fianna (warrior bands) of Irish mythology, and was first employed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the mid-nineteenth century. This modern version, I understand, is largely associated with Republican youth.

I saw a few examples of this flag flying and I took this photo in a shop in Derry. Turns out it’s the flag of Cumann na mBan, and features an abbreviation of their name, with a gun.

Wikipedia

Cumann na mBan (“The Women’s Council”) was founded in April 1914, and during the Easter Rising acted as an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Constance Markievicz acted as its president for ten years after the Rising, and it still exists, although it is a proscribed organization in the UK.

If the Unionists hearken back to the time when they fought for Britain during the First and Second World Wars (and a great deal of their propaganda does), then Irish republicans will remember the time when some of them fought against Franco in Spain, as members of the Abraham Lincoln International Brigade. The flag above (flying on the Bogside in Derry) is the flag of the Brigade, with writing added: “XV Brigada Internacional” on the top band, and “No Pasaran” on the bottom.

This freestanding gable end, bearing the words “YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY,” is one of the icons of the Troubles, and of the Bogside in Derry. I did not know that it is repainted every now and then with a different theme: a friend of mine said he saw it done up for Joe Hill, and a souvenir in the Free Derry Museum showed it decorated for the referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015. As you can see, when we were there it showed a large Palestinian flag, and I saw plenty of other Palestinian flags flying throughout the Bogside. Irish nationalists, of course, tend to identify with the Palestinians, on the principle that both are supposedly engaged in the same struggle.

Irish republicans also identify with the Catalans, Basques, and (from what I can gather), the Tamils in Sri Lanka. (I do not know about Cyprus, Quebec, or Tibet.) Catalonia in particular is especially meaningful to them, given that it was the heartland of the republican side in the Spanish Civil War. I did not see any Catalan flags flying but I did see it for sale in the store in Derry. The picture is from a mural in Belfast.

And on the other side…

The most common emblem of Ulster loyalism is the Royal Union Flag, which is of course the official flag of the United Kingdom. One problem with it is that you have to make sure that it’s not flying upside down, like it is here, in the unionist Fountains area in Londonderry. Another problem is that it is offensive to about half the population of Northern Ireland, and so does not fly officially very much anymore. This means that private citizens of unionist persuasion wave it all the more.

Wikipedia.

Flying beneath the Union Flag is the Ulster Banner, a cross of St. George with the red hand of Ulster on a crowned, six pointed star at the center. This was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953 to 1972, when it went into abeyance with the suspension of Northern Ireland’s parliament at Stormont. It has not been reintroduced by the current, power-sharing parliament, and attempts to find a neutral flag for the province have so far been unsuccessful. However, ESPN does identify (e.g.) the golfer Rory McIlroy and the Northern Ireland football team with the Ulster Banner, for lack of an alternative. Needless to say, the unionist community waves it almost as much as the Union Flag.

A riposte to the four provinces display of the nationalists: the flags of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom! In the photo, left to right we have Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Wales (mostly obscured, but you can see a bit of the green poking out behind England’s cross of St. George). The Union Flag flies in the middle, and in the foreground is a made-up flag featuring the logo of the NI Football team (out of the frame), an outline map of NI with the Ulster Banner on top of it, and the legend “Our Wee Country” in comic sans.

Wikipedia.

I took the photo above outside the Northern Ireland Supporters Club on the Shankill Road. I guess that the football team draws most of its support from the unionist community? You’d think that they wouldn’t fly the flags of their potential competitors, but apparently politics reigns supreme here.

Also in the Fountains area in Londonderry: the flag of the Loyal Orange Institution, a fraternal organization for Protestants founded in 1795, and so called on account of William of Orange, the hero of the Battle of the Boyne.

Wikipedia.

They have a distinctive flag (orange in color, with a cross of St. George in the canton and a Williamite purple star on the fly), but they’re most known for getting dressed up in dark suits, bowler hats, white gloves, and orange sashes, and marching around on July 12, often through nationalist neighborhoods, to great consternation. A man in a unionist souvenir shop claimed, however, that the Orange Order is not as popular as it once was. The police have cracked down on some of their more provocative parade routes.

One place where the Union Flag is forbidden is over Belfast City Hall – or rather, city councillors, in 2012, voted to bring city hall practice into line with UK government practice, meaning that the flag would only be flown there on eighteen designated days of the year. This being Northern Ireland, however, certain unionists took this move as a provocation, and it was greeted with widespread discontent, even rioting. (From 1906 to 2012, the Union Flag had flown every day of the year over Belfast City Hall.) Since then there have been daily protests at lunchtime (pictured). The irony is that June 2, when the photo was taken, was one of the designated days – it’s Coronation Day, and the 65th anniversary of the original one in 1953. The Union Flag was indeed flying over the front entrance of City Hall, although the wind wasn’t blowing it and the sun wasn’t shining directly on it, meaning that none of my pictures turned out. But I saw it, I swear!

Another view of the protest reveals that, if the nationalists side with the Palestinians, the unionists side with the Israelis. (In a happy coincidence, both unionists and Zionists employ a six-pointed star as an identifying device.)

Wikipedia.

But is City Hall the best place to fly the Union Flag anyway? It’s Belfast City Hall – why not fly the flag of Belfast? It’s simply a banner of the arms of the city, but it’s not an overly complicated design. However, I did not see it flying anywhere.

Wikipedia.

Dublin certainly flies its own flag. It’s a pretty good design to boot, comprising the flag of the province of Leinster (a gold harp on green), with arms of Dublin on the canton.

I saw the Dublin city flag flying in a number of places, including this vertical variant outside Dublin Castle.

Wikipedia.

One final Irish flag: the St. Patrick’s saltire, a red X-shaped cross on a white background.  It is essentially the arms of the Fitzgerald earls of Kildare and (later) dukes of Leinster, repurposed in 1783 for the Order of St. Patrick.

Here are some of the jewels of the Order of St. Patrick, on display in the Ulster Museum. Note the red saltire on all three of them. The motto, “Quis Separabit?” means “Who will separate us?” – biblically, “from the love of God,” but politically, “from the British sovereign.” (The answer to that question, of course, was “Sinn Fein and the IRA.”)

From openclipart.org

With the Act of Union in 1801, St. Patrick’s Saltire could fit into the Union Flag as it then existed, although they had to modify it slightly for reasons I’ve never quite understood.

In an American context a red saltire on white acts as the flag of Alabama; here it is flying over Fort Gaines in the summer of 2016. However, I did not see St. Patrick’s Saltire flying anywhere in Ireland.

Vexillology Ireland.

But some people still use it. A group called Vexillology Ireland posted this photo to Facebook for St. Patrick’s Day. I have no idea where it was taken or in exactly what year, but it clearly shows people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with a red saltire flag. Or maybe they’re all retainers of the Duke of Leinster, who knows.

                

One sees references to St. Patrick’s Saltire here and there – note the flag on the ship in the arms of Belfast (top left, from Wikipedia), the flag on the castle in the arms of Trinity College, Dublin (top right, also from Wikipedia), and the coat of arms of the Queen’s University of Belfast (bottom).

I thought that it was most appropriate for this traffic sign in Dublin to take the form of St. Patrick’s Saltire, although I don’t think this was necessarily intended!

Finally, a defunct flag, the banner of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, on display in St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. The RUC was the police service for Northern Ireland from the state’s founding in 1922 until it was abolished and reconstituted as the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2001. RUC officers were prime targets for terrorists during the Troubles, and some 300 RUC officers were killed during that conflict. For its courage under such conditions, the organization was collectively awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor for bravery, in 1999. (Thus is the medal displayed on the canton of this flag, like the flag of Malta, which was similarly awarded the George Cross in 1942 in the wake of Nazi bombardment.)

Alas, as brave as RUC officers may have been, the organization had a number of skeletons in its closet, including collusion with Protestant paramilitaries and prejudice against nationalists, both in recruitment and in exercising power. Thus was it replaced by the PSNI, which has strict rules about cross-community membership.

Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway

While in Ireland we got to see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Newgrange (in the Republic, and a “cultural” site), and the Giant’s Causeway (in the North, and a “natural” site). I would have loved to have seen the third, Skellig Michael in Co. Kerry, but access is strictly limited and entails a boat ride across an often choppy sea, and a perilous climb up steep and slippery steps – not ideal for a tour group of 35!

1. Newgrange is the largest monumental structure at Brú na Bóinne (“Palace of the Boyne”), a complex of tombs, stone circles, and other manmade features just north of the River Boyne in County Meath, north of Dublin. Drogheda (the site of a frightful Cromwellian massacre in 1649, and also the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne in 1690) is about ten kilometers to the east of Brú na Bóinne, but we were there to see something much older: a neolithic passage tomb dating from c. 3200 BC, and thus predating Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids. 

From the outside, it’s really just a large but shallow mound, with a retaining wall on the front made up of white quartz cobblestones. This wall is the work of one Michael O’Kelly, the main twentieth-century archaeologist for the site and is based on his “best guess” of what it might have looked like in the neolithic. Needless to say, this feature is somewhat controversial.

Things get really interesting, however, when you enter the doorway shown above. You squeeze down a dry stone passageway for about twenty meters, and arrive in a corbeled interior chamber with three side “chapels,” each with its own stone “altar” (designated a basin). The guide claimed that this passageway is original and was never reconstructed – in fact, the entrance was covered and hidden until AD 1699, when a local landowner found it and brought it to the attention of antiquarians.

No photography was allowed inside, so I scan some illustrations.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóine (2010), 2.

This is a view from the interior chamber looking back towards the entrance. The spiral motif is common at the site, but what it actually means is anyone’s guess.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóine (2010), 17.

This is a view of the right-hand side chapel, with basin stone. Apparently cremated human remains were discovered on these stones, but the cremations did not take place in the chamber itself. This has given rise to the theory that bodies were cremated outside, and the remains brought into the chamber for a special ceremony, most likely at the Winter Solstice, then taken out and interred elsewhere (plenty of smaller burial tombs have been found at Brú na Bóine).

From a postcard.

Why the Winter Solstice? Because that’s when sunlight penetrates to the interior. Here is another view of the entrance – note the “roofbox” over the door.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóine (2010), 20.

And here is how it works: note the upward slope of the passageway, which blocks out light from the doorway, and allows only the shaft of light from the roofbox to reach the central basin stone. The slight zigzag of the passageway also ensures that the light is focussed by the time it gets to the interior. Our guide turned out the lights in the interior chamber and then lit one that simulated the solstice effect, but she said that it was a poor substitute for the real thing. But to experience this, you have to apply for it. The sunlight gets in for a few minutes a day over a period of about five days, roughly Dec. 19-23. They let ten people in per day, and you can bring a friend, meaning that 100 people can experience the Winter Solstice at Newgrange every year. The trouble is that some 32000 people apply! So the odds really aren’t in your favor, although they have started live streaming it over the Internet.

Brú na Bóine is by no means the only such neolithic site in Europe. All along the west coast, from Spain to Scandinavia, one finds the remains of these monumental structures, usually circular and astronomically aligned, indicating surplus wealth generated by agriculture, political organization to order them constructed, and far-flung communication networks to spread knowledge of building techniques, and trade networks to import construction materials (Brú na Bóine contains material from as far south as the Wicklow Mountains, and as far north as Slieve Croob in County Down). Alas, they are definitely prehistoric, in that nothing resembling a script has ever been discovered at any of them, so much of our knowledge of this period must remain speculative. 

2. The Giant’s Causeway is a volcanic formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Similar sorts of formations may be seen elsewhere on the Earth (the one I’m most familiar with is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming), but they are rare and distinctive enough to be intensely captivating.

The standard theory is that the columns were created some sixty million years ago, when a large and thick lava flow cooled very slowly and, due to the chemistry of the basalt, formed regular polygonal columns. These were hidden deep underground, as the top layer of the basalt, exposed to the air, cooled much more rapidly and thus did not develop the distinctive pattern. Successive Ice Ages, however, stripped away those top layers, revealing the basalt columns and creating what, to a human, is a bizarre, ethereal sight.

But our tour guide, Jamie Kerr of EF Tours, mockingly denigrated this theory. She preferred the original, mythological explanation, and the reason why it bears the name “Giant’s Causeway.” A similar basalt formation may be found in Scotland on the Isle of Staffa, which gave rise to the idea that:

Finn McCool was a giant who, for the most part, lived a quiet life with his family here on the Northern Irish coast. But there were rivals, other giants, and perhaps to pre-empt a challenge from his Scottish neighbour, Benandonner, Finn laid down the gauntlet and then built the Giant’s Causeway so they could meet and do battle.

However, on his way over to Scotland, Finn spied Benandonner in the distance and realised that his rival was much bigger, taller and stronger than he had appeared from across the water. Finn decided he didn’t want to fight Benandonner any more and ran back home as fast as he could – so fast that he lost his boot on the shore.

Finn found his wife Oonagh and explained the terrible mistake he had made. Oonagh, being the brains of the pair, devised the plan of dressing up Finn as a baby and putting him into their son Oisin’s cot, covering him with blankets and wrapping a shawl around his head.

Just then there was a loud banging at the door – Benandonner! ‘Where’s Finn?’ he demanded, ‘I want to fight him!’

‘Calm down!’ said Oonagh, ‘Finn’s out herding the cows… but while you’re here why don’t you let me introduce you to our son Oisin?’

When Benandonner saw the giant baby in the cot he got scared. He thought, if that’s the size of the baby, how big is the father?

Benandonner immediately ran out of the house and home across the Causeway, tearing it behind him to make sure Finn couldn’t follow him.*

The current visitors’ center, which opened in 2012, is architecturally very well done (more at dezeen – check it out). It lies unobtrusively low to the ground, but its walls reflect the Causeway’s geological formation.

After our visit I kept seeing references to the Giant’s Causeway all over the place, and it seems to me it’s a symbol of Northern Ireland. This is a memento on display in the Belfast City Hall Museum. A bonus is that the six-sided columns (and in this case, six columns) can refer to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

I never made this connection, but the Giant’s Causeway is the setting for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album Houses of the Holy (1973). I loved this record in high school! Where’s that confounded bridge?

* From Anna Groves, A Souvenir Guide to the Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim (National Trust, 2016). The funny thing is that in recent times there really was a science vs. mythology dispute at the Causeway: some of the exhibits in the new visitors’ center, when it opened in 2012, gave a Young Earth creationist view of the site, soliciting praise from Answers in Genesis, and condemnation by Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, et al. (Following a review, the creationist interpretation was downplayed.)

Cathedrals

A cathedral, of course, is nothing more than a church building where a bishop has his seat – his cathedra, hence the name. But usually, much attention and expense is lavished on cathedrals, making them aesthetically pleasing and architecturally and historically significant. I do enjoy visiting a cathedral when I get a chance. Here are some of the ones I got to see in Ireland.

1. The “Rock of Cashel,” Cashel, Co. Tipperary

This is essentially a ruin atop a hill, but it has a very rich history, and it is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Ireland (the Queen visited in 2011). The hill itself is associated with one of St. Patrick’s conversions, and was the seat of the kings of Munster until 1101, when King Muirchertach Ua Briain bequeathed it to a resurgent and reorganized Church (meaning that the Church would now take his side in his disputes with others). Cashel was established as an archbishopric at the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1118, and shortly thereafter a chapel for Cormac McCarthy, king of Munster, was constructed on the rock, a small but handsome building of German influence, complete with a characteristically Irish round tower (pictured) some distance away. The cathedral itself was built over the course of the thirteenth century, connecting the chapel with the tower. Given the cathedral’s strategic location, the west end of the nave was enclosed and fortified as a residential castle, a feature I have never before seen. Alas, it was not enough to save the people who had taken shelter there during the Confederate Wars, when in 1647 Parliamentarian troops sacked it and massacred the royalists within. In the eighteenth century, the Rock ceased to act as the cathedral for the archdiocese (the seat was moved to the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. Patrick in Cashel, which we did not get a chance to see), and the archbishop, who was somehow connected with the Guinness family of beer fame, removed the roof for reasons known best to himself, rendering the building liturgically unusable. People are still interred in the graveyard, however.

Here is a better view of the Rock of Cashel, and on a nicer day, scanned from a postcard I bought.

2. Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Seat of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. The church dates from 1028 when Sitriuc Silkbeard, the “Hiberno-Norse” king of Dublin, and Flannacán Ua Cellaig, king of Brega, returned from a pilgrimage to Rome. The Synod of Kells in 1152 elevated Dublin to the status of an archbishopric, joining Cashel, Armagh, and Tuam. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin (1162-82), was canonized in 1225 and became the patron saint of the city; a relic of his heart was stolen from Christ Church in 2012. Most of the church fabric dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but it was extensively renovated in the nineteenth, so there is a great deal of Victorian gothic as well (e.g., the floor tiles). The church is also known for hosting the grave of Richard de Clare, the second earl of Pembroke (commonly called “Strongbow”) who, allied with Dermot MacMurrough, was the first Englishman to invade Ireland in 1170, and for being the venue for the coronation of Lambert Simnel, an anti-Tudor pretender to the English throne in 1487. Also, the crypt housed an interesting exhibit on Magna Carta Hiberniae, that is, an issue of Magna Carta (1215), but for Ireland, with the appropriate substitutions (“Irish Church” for “English Church,” “Dublin” for “London,” etc.)

I scanned this view of the interior in from the visitor’s guide I bought.

The seal of the cathedral chapter illustrates that its formal dedication is to the Holy Trinity, thus the depiction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

3. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Just down the street from Christ Church, another cathedral, this one dedicated to St. Patrick. Why does Dublin have two cathedrals, both elaborate and within a short walking distance of each other? A good question! In the thirteenth century, this collegiate church was somehow elevated to cathedral status, and it may have been that someone was hoping to replace the monastic Christ Church with the secular St. Patrick’s. Many years of bickering produced an accord between the two in 1300, with Christ Church retaining supremacy, but St. Patrick’s having certain privileges including full cathedral status, and both cathedrals committing to work together if need be – like when the choirs of both churches combined to perform Handel’s Messiah at its debut in Dublin in 1742.

Since the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, St. Patrick’s has been designated the “national cathedral,” while Christ Church remains the cathedral for the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

One distinguishing feature of St. Patrick’s is that it acted as the chapel of the Order of St. Patrick, which is technically still in existence, although no new members have been admitted since the 1930s. (The Republic of Ireland may have continued to grant coats of arms through a Chief Herald, but it has no interest in maintaining an order of chivalry.) On display: the banners of arms the knights as they were at the time of disestablishment in 1871.

The most famous dean of St. Patrick’s is of course the great Jonathan Swift, who held the office 1713-45 and who is memorialized and buried in the church.

The rose, royal arms, and portcullis of the cathedral seal mark it as particularly Tudor. I’m not exactly sure what the other symbols are supposed to mean, although I assume that’s St. Patrick in the base.

4. St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

Still in Dublin, on the north side of the River Liffey, we find yet another cathedral, or rather a “pro-Cathedral,” dedicated to St. Mary. It is now that I must mention a central fact of Irish history: King Henry VIII (1509-47) tried to impose the Reformation on Ireland as he did on England, but he had much more control over the latter than the former. As a consequence, most English people accepted the Reformation, however grudgingly; only eccentrics like Thomas More held out, and paid for it with their lives. In Ireland, by contrast, there are parallel church organizations: Henry’s Church of Ireland, until 1871 the established church and to this day a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church, obedient to the Pope. The Church of Ireland took over all the extant church buildings and diocesan structure, but the Roman Catholic Church, despite all the government’s penal laws and other knavish tricks, retained the loyalty of most Irish people and did not go away. The Catholic church presumed to continue its own diocesan structure, a copy of the Church of Ireland’s, and to claim legitimate descent from the pre-Reformation church. Of necessity the Catholics were compelled to build their own church buildings, thus St. Mary’s, which dates from 1825 and is classical in form, predating the gothic revival by a few years. That it’s a “pro-Cathedral” (i.e., an acting cathedral) is a cheeky way by the Catholics of saying that they would like Christ Church back. (And why not, really? Let the Church of Ireland have St. Patrick’s, and let the Catholics get Christ Church. If nothing else it would make things simpler.)

5. St. Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry

St. Columb’s is within the walls of the old city, perched atop a hill. It is Londonderry’s oldest extant building, dating from 1633. As you can probably guess this makes it Church of Ireland. I could not take any pictures inside but here is a scan of a postcard I bought:

Many regimental colours and flags are displayed within. The caretaker kindly showed me a 48-star American flag, kept in a display drawer, left by the US troops who were stationed at Londonderry during the Second World War.

The seal of the dean and chapter is emblematic, showing a dove of peace bringing an olive branch to a castle, under the watchful eye of God.

6. St. Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry

As you look out from the walls of the old city toward the Bogside, you can’t miss St. Eugene’s, which stands out above the residential streets. The Roman Catholic cathedral was begun in 1849, opened for business in 1873, and finished in 1903. As you can see, this was a time when the gothic revival was in full swing. Many Irish-American Catholics gave money to help build it.

I enjoyed visiting this handsome, peaceful church.

7. St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

The distinguishing feature of the Church of Ireland cathedral is the tall, needlelike spire where you’d expect something a bit more substantive. This “Spire of Hope” looks like the Spire of Dublin and, as this one dates from 2007, may have been inspired by Dublin’s. The lady at the desk said that St. Anne’s is built on what was once a swamp, and that the church is subsiding; the weight of a traditional spire would have compounded this problem.

Within the church, a number of things, including the “science pillar,” a Titanic memorial pall, the grave of Edward Carson (founder of Northern Ireland), a labyrinth that leads nowhere if you follow “the path of sin,” and numerous interesting side chapels.

The Cathedral identifies itself with a display of four coats of arms, three of the amalgamated dioceses for which it is the cathedral (Connor, Down, and Dromore) and one of the city of Belfast.

8. St. Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast

Alas, I didn’t actually get into the Roman Catholic cathedral for Belfast, as I arrived too early. But I did find a postcard of the interior which I have scanned:

This church was opened for worship in 1866, and as you can see is another gothic structure, but it wasn’t named a cathedral until 1986. It is in the Divis Street area near the Falls Road, i.e. what was once Ground Zero for the Troubles, and I can’t help but think the decision to move the bishop’s seat here was political somehow.

Dingle Peninsula

The first stop on our tour of Ireland was the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry. The famous Ring of Kerry is on the Iveragh Peninsula to the immediate south, but many people told me that the Dingle Peninsula is preferable in terms of history and natural beauty. I can’t make any comparisons, but I can say that it is very edifying indeed.

Upon our arrival in Dingle Town we were treated to a boat tour of Dingle harbor and got to see its most famous resident, Fungie the Dingle Dolphin. Our captain then took us out to sea and we got to enjoy the rugged beauty of west coast of Ireland.

The next day we took coach tour of the peninsula, which included stops at Inch Strand, St. Catherine’s Church in Ventry (resting place of the Irish scholar Pádraig Ó Fiannachta), a place to view the Great Blasket Islands, and the Gallarus Oratory (pictured), which I was very excited to see. There is a debate whether it is from the early or the high Middle Ages – I favor the latter interpretation, given that the beehive huts of the early-medieval Skellig Michael are round, and this one is longitudinal, and has a Romanesque-style window on the far end. But whether it was a chapel or a shelter of some kind (or both) remains a mystery. I admired the construction – each stone was shaped to fit, and as a consequence not much mortar was needed (it’s not quite a dry stone building). What is more, the cracks between the bricks slope outwards, so that water does not leak into the interior.

We stopped for lunch across from Dunbeg Fort, an Iron Age promontory fort near Slea Head. Unfortunately, we only got to see it from the road: it was severely damaged in a storm in 2014 and has been closed to visitors since then. We did get to see a well-formed ringfort from the coach, and we stopped at Kilmalkedar, a ruined twelfth-century church that was once the center of a monastery founded by St Maolcethair. The church itself may have been modeled on Cormac’s Chapel at the Rock of Cashel (more on this later), and the yard features numerous interesting things like a medieval sundial, some Ogham inscriptions, and from a more recent time, the grave of one Lieut. Thomas Russell, Irish Volunteers, 8th Battalion Clare Brigade, “Murdered by English Forces, Carraigaholt, Co. Clare, 17 March 1918, Aged 21.” That would be before the Khaki Election and the War of Independence – I wonder what the story is there.

Blarney

The Irish are stereotypically charming and garrulous, and we certainly met a number of people who fit that description. Of course, what they tell you is not necessarily true, but who cares?! As my fellow tour member Stephanie Marchant said, it’s a storytelling culture, just enjoy it.

• At the St. Columb’s Cathedral cemetery in Londonderry, our guide told us that poor people would be interred beneath the ground, but rich people got put into above-ground tombs. This provided a grander memorial, and allowed for an escape if someone was ever buried prematurely. The trouble is that if you really were dead, your corpse would start to rot, and passersby could smell it, and that’s where we get the expression “stinking rich.” (Actual reason: it’s merely an intensifier, like “drop-dead gorgeous.”)

• One of our tour members asked our guide at Dublin Castle what “KG” meant as a pair of postnominal letters. (A number of portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century grandees were of people designated “KG”). Without missing a beat, she replied that it stood for “King’s General.” (It actually stands for “Knight of the Garter.”)

• She also said that in the nineteenth century, women’s makeup had a wax foundation, and if a woman thus made-up sat too close to a fire, her makeup might melt off, so a kind soul invented a screen to put in front of the fire to mitigate the intensity of the heat and to keep women’s makeup on, and that’s where we get the expression “to save face.” (Actual reason: “‘Lose face’ began life in English as a translation of the Chinese phrase ‘tiu lien’. That phrase may also be expressed in English as ‘to suffer public disgrace’, that is, to be unable to show one’s face in public.”)

• The Vikings introduced metal coinage to Ireland, which the Irish thought was a good idea. But they didn’t have any pockets to keep it in, so they stuck the coins with beeswax onto their armpit hair. (I highly doubt this ever happened.)

• When Queen Victoria died, the residents of Dublin were ordered to paint their doors black as a sign of mourning. But not everyone admired Queen Victoria, so they painted their doors different bright colors as a protest (many terraced houses did indeed have different colored doors). As a bonus, you can easily recognize which door is yours, on a mile-long terrace of houses, if you’re coming home in the dark after an evening of drinking in the pub. (Query: what were doors painted before the authorities allegedly ordered them painted black? I can see people wanting to distinguish their houses with their own color of door, but I cannot imagine any level of government ordering people to paint their doors a certain color, even in 1901.)

• Regimental colors on display in churches are often falling apart. They are deliberately allowed to rot like this, because “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” UPDATE: The First Floor Tarpley military correspondent writes: “I think that may be true as a practice, although the real reason would likely be to do with the fact that the colours were consecrated and also the fact that no money was devoted to their upkeep once laid up. I think many churches are now preserving originals and displaying replicas in their place.”

• Our driver through Killarney National Park claimed that the original horse racing steeplechase took place between St. Mary’s Church (the “steeple” in question) in the town of Killarney and a site in what is now the park, and back again. (According to Wikipedia, the first such race was indeed in Ireland, but it was between Buttevant and Doneraile in County Cork.)

Language and Politics

Some notes, to complement my post from three years ago:

• On my transatlantic flight to Shannon airport I sat next to a charming young woman from County Donegal who was returning from a medical research conference in the United States and who is about to defend her dissertation at the University of Galway. Donegal contains one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland although she was not a native speaker of Irish (she was Xhosa, in fact), she did her duty and learned the language in school. The trouble, she told me, is that each of the three west coast Gaeltacht areas (Ulster, Connacht, and Munster) speak a different dialect of Irish, and they’re all different enough to cause problems. So when you go to take your final exam, there’s no guarantee that the person examining you will be speaking the same dialect that you’ve studied!

• Our first stop on the tour was the Dingle Peninsula, a Gaeltacht area (and home of the Munster dialect). There were plenty of signs in the language although I think I overheard it being spoken exactly once. Our guide told us that many high school students come during the summers and stay for two weeks in an Irish-speaking home, on a government-sponsored program to help promote the language. On a coach tour of the peninsula we stopped at St. Caitlín’s (i.e., Catherine’s) Church in the village of Ventry, which was distinguished by being the resting place of its longtime priest Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, who died in 2016 and who is responsible for translating the Bible into Irish. According to our guide, he was the first person ever to accomplish this feat. I thought, surely not – surely someone translated it before? Turns out that there have been previous translations, but Ó Fiannachta’s was the first Roman Catholic one (prior to Vatican II, of course, a Latin Bible was all that a good Catholic really needed). A stained glass window in the church commemorates Monsignor ó Fiannachta and specifically compares him to St. Jerome, who had originally translated the Bible into Latin in the fifth century.

• As I noted before, most personal names and most place names are translatable. That is, if you’re speaking in English, you use the English version, and if you’re speaking in Irish, you use the Irish version. Exceptions exist, of course: being a native Irish speaker and scholar, Pádraig Ó Fiannachta is so called, never “Patrick Finney.” The Gaeltacht village of Lispole has been spared having its name rendered as such on this road sign:

Note how the other place names are given: Irish version first, in Title Case and italics, and English version second, in ALL CAPS and roman. This convention is a good one: it produces a clear distinction between the versions and probably cuts down on confusion, and hearkens back to the time when Irish required its own font.

• A number of other Irish names and words are standard when speaking English. I jotted down a few:

  • Oireachtas Éireann (the Irish legislature), comprising the Seanad Éireann and the Dáil Éireann
  • Teachta Dála (a member of the Dáil)
  • The political parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin
  • Garda Síochána (the police)
  • Taoiseach (Prime Minister, but note that his ceremonial superior is simply the President)
  • Tánaiste (the deputy Prime Minister)
  • Brú na Bóinne (the “Palace of the Boyne,” which I’ll be writing more about)
  • Amhrán na bhFiann,” the national anthem, which is sung in Irish (although there is an English equivalent called “A Soldier’s Song.”)
  • The transportation companies Bus Éireann and Aer Lingus
  • RTE, that is, the national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann
  • Éire (not “Ireland”) appears on postage stamps

Also, county names appear only in Irish on the number plates:

Cork

Kerry

Louth

• But note that the town of Dingle, which the Irish minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs ordered in 2005 be known only by the Irish version of its name (“An Daingean”) held a plebiscite the following year to reverse this decision, and overwhelmingly voted to return to the bilingual place name dispensation. As one man stated: “People feel they are being bullied. They have lived with ‘Dingle’ all their lives.” Methinks tourism branding might have had something to do with it as well. If the place has been known and advertised as one thing, why mess with it?

• Our guide in Dublin Castle pointed out that most place names in English are simply phonetic renderings of the Irish names. The English generally didn’t bother to translate what the names actually meant. Thus did “Dubhlinn” become “Dublin,” and not “Blackpool” (which is what the name means, and which refers to a dark pool on the River Poddle near where it enters the Liffey). But why, I asked, is the Irish name for Dublin actually “Baile Átha Cliath” (pronounced “bally a klee”)? That, she told me, comes from a different geographical feature at a different site: a “hurdled ford” further up the River Liffey. (“Bally,” I discover, simply means “place of,” hence Ballyduff, Ballygally, Ballymena, Ballymoney, etc. But I don’t think that “Ballyackley” ever existed as an English name.)

Apparently Dubhlinn was the Viking settlement, and Áth Cliath the native Irish one; one name stuck in English, and the other in Irish. History is full of these sorts of nominal weirdnesses.

• But for a real naming dispute, you have to travel to the North, where “Are you Derry or Londonderry?” is a question one can ask in that particular city, by means of inquiring which “community” one belongs to.* That is, the nationalists prefer Derry, while the unionists Londonderry. Note that this is a dispute in English: the Irish equivalent of Derry is Doire, and presumably you could call it Londaindoire in Irish if you wanted to, although I highly doubt anyone ever does. According to Wikipedia, it wasn’t that big a deal prior to the advent of the Troubles (viz. the “Apprentice Boys of Derry“), at which time it became a shibboleth. I saw signs in the Republic reading “Doire DERRY” in the prescribed typography noted above, and I actually saw a “Londonderry” sign in the North, that is, some nationalists had gotten to it and effaced the offending prefix.

In the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, how to solve this impasse? Many people say “Derry-Londonderry,” and I saw it written out “Derry/Londonderry” more than a few times. Our guide said that this has given rise to the jocular nickname “Stroke City.” I think that a good compromise would be to call the city “Derry” (it has a nationalist majority which naturally took control of the place once the gerrymandering was abolished) and the county “Londonderry” (there never was a “County Derry”).**

Failing that, you can always use the name of the local river and its estuary as an avoidance strategy, as does this place:

• At the time of the Romans, some of the people inhabiting what is now Scotland were known as the Picts, and spoke a Celtic language related Welsh and Breton (a Brittonic, or P-Celtic language). The Scots themselves were originally from Northern Ireland and settled western Scotland in the early Middle Ages, founding the kingdom of Dalraida. Thus is the country known today as Scotland, and Scottish Gaelic is a Goidelic, or Q-Celtic language, related to Irish and Manx. If this language was reintroduced into Northern Ireland as a result of the Scottish settlement in the seventeenth century, I saw no evidence of it. But I did see some signs in “Ulster Scots,” which some people hold up as the official minority language of Northern Ireland, and which, as far as they are concerned, is due the same amount of protection and promotion that the Republic lavishes on the Irish language. The trouble, as our guide pointed out, is that Ulster Scots “doesn’t really exist,” and I think she is right. Here is the opening paragraph for “Lunnonderrie” in Wikipedia:

Lunnonderry, kent by monie fowk as Derry, is the seicont mukkilest ceitie in Northren Ireland (eftir Belfast) an the fowert-mukkilest ceitie on the iland o Ireland. In the 2001 Census the ceitie proper haed 83,652 indwallers.

The ceitie ligs in the nor’wast o Northren Ireland naur the mairch wi Coonty Dunnygal, whilk is pairt o the Republic o Ireland. The ceitie is naur the mooth o Loch Foyle an kivers baith banks o the River Foyle. The auld wawd ceitie o Derry is on the wast bank o the River Foyle. The wast bank is aften kent as “Ceitiesyd” whyls the aest bank is aften kent as “Wattirsyd”.

In other words, it is English, with its speakers’ accent rendered phonetically, and certain dialect words that you might recognize (“kent,” “mukkilest”) if you have ever had to read Chaucer, Langland, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

But as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and the spirit of outreach that it has promoted, Irish has been finding more and more of a place in Northern Ireland.

* Apparently the name of the eighth letter of the alphabet also marks the distinction, at least according to an article from the Guardian from 2013:

Almost two thousand years later we are still split, and pronouncing H two ways: “aitch”, which is posh and “right”; and “haitch”, which is not posh and thus “wrong”. The two variants used to mark the religious divide in Northern Ireland – aitch was Protestant, haitch was Catholic, and getting it wrong could be a dangerous business.

** One slight problem with this is that “County Londonderry” doesn’t really exist anymore, except for ceremonial purposes. All across the UK, in the 1970s, local government was reorganized, producing bogus “counties” like “West Midlands,” “Tyne and Wear” or, in Northern Ireland, “Causeway Coast and Glens.” I respect the way that the Republic has not meddled with these historic subdivisions (even though they are a legacy of English imperialism!). I was reading a newspaper article on the results of the abortion referendum and noted a map of the results: populous counties (most notably, Dublin) had been subdivided into smaller units, while sparsely populated counties had been amalgamated (e.g. Sligo and Leitrim, if I’m not misremembering). But note that the counties themselves retain their territorial integrity. Up the Republic!

Nelson’s Pillar

The most distinguishing feature of Trafalgar Square in London is Nelson’s Column, put up in the 1840s to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, the victor (although fatal casualty) of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. At that historic encounter, the Royal Navy defeated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet, thereby reasserting British control of the seas and foreclosing the possibility of a Napoleonic invasion.

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London, June 2018.

Unfortunately for the Irish, it also foreclosed the possibility that the French would liberate them from the British, as Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet had hoped. The local authorities thus erected a pillar to Nelson on Sackville Street in Dublin in 1809, in celebration of this triumph of the British Empire.

Nelson’s Pillar, Sackville Street, Dublin, c. 1830. Wikipedia.

You could climb up it for a view of the city, but aesthetically it tended to dominate the street, and not in a good way, at least according to several people quoted in an interesting book I bought at the Hodges Figgis bookstore in Dublin.

As the twentieth century wore on and Ireland gained more and more independence, the prominent place of Nelson’s column in Dublin seemed anomalous, especially as it was right next to the General Post Office, the headquarters of the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916. Some people were determined to do something about this deplorable situation, and in 1966, just prior to the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, two IRA members managed to plant a bomb halfway up the column, which exploded and brought the top half crashing down into the street. The cover photo Fallon’s book illustrates their handiwork. The Irish Army then demolished the rest. Spokesmen for the IRA disclaimed the action, saying that they were interested in the actual governance of Ireland, not in symbols of the previous regime, although apparently President Éamon De Valera telephoned a newspaper and suggested a headline: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air.”

I was interested to discover that, since 2003, the Nelson Pillar has been replaced with something designated the Spire of Dublin, a stainless steel pin-like monument that extends 120 feet into the air. This was part of a redevelopment for O’Connell Street (as Sackville Street was renamed in the 1920s); it is generally seen as a monument to the “Celtic Tiger” boom years of the 1990s and 2000s.

Spire of Dublin, O’Connell Street, Dublin, May 2018.

Sanctioned or not, blowing up pillars then became somewhat of an IRA tradition. Here is an engraving of “Walker’s Pillar” as it appeared in the 1830s, overlooking the walls of Londonderry. George Walker was an English soldier and Anglican priest who was killed at the Battle of the Boyne, when the Protestant William III defeated the Catholic James II, and secured Protestant supremacy and continued Protestant settlement of Ireland.

Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry. Nineteenth-century engraving. Ebay.

And here’s what it looks like today: nothing more than a plinth, with the remains of a paint bomb thrown at it for good measure. The IRA blew up the column in 1973.

Plinth of Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, June 2018.

Interestingly, this custom was not shared by the members of the Front de Liberation de Québec, who left the Nelson Column in Montreal in its original state.

Nelson’s Column, Montreal, 2005. Wikipedia.