The Starry Plough

An interesting article on HubPages from Liam A. Ryan, about Ireland’s Starry Plough flag. Excerpts:

The original Starry Plough flag was first adopted by James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army in April 1914. The original design had the symbol of a gold ploughshare with a sword as its cutting edge and the seven stars of the Ursa Major constellation superimposed upon it, with a green background. This flag is also carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement although the various factions of the Official IRA used it quite prominently as a de facto logo in the not so distant past. The original Starry Plough was designed as the military ‘colours’ or standard of the Irish Citizen Army and this explains its slightly oversized appearance when reproduced on conventional flag dimensions. In recent times the Provisional Sinn Fein splinter group Éirigi have to a certain extent re-claimed the ICA version of the Starry Plough flag.

The modern-day Starry Plough design with its striking seven white stars on blue background made its first appearance during the 1930s as the emblem of the Republican Congress. The Republican Congress of the 1930s was a Left-wing Republican political construct created by Peadar O’Donnell and others in the hope of placing Irish Republicanism on a more overtly Leftist trajectory. Since then, the modern day Starry Plough has been intrinsically and rightly linked to Irish Republican Socialism.

Various Irish Trades Unions have adopted both versions of the Starry Plough or incorporated them into their emblems over the years. The Irish Labour Party at one stage used it as their party logo, on a brownish-red background but have since ditched it, along with any pretence at being remotely a Socialist party after habitually paddling in the murky waters of coalition government with Fine Gael, a party who spawned Ireland’s only significant fascist movement, the Blueshirts.

The Communist Party of Ireland’s youth wing, the Connolly Youth Movement, have used the Starry Plough in their banners. One of the most iconic images from the early ‘Troubles’, showed militant Belfast Official IRA leader, Joe McCann, armed with an M1 Carbine, with the Starry Plough flag flying beside him at the battle of Inglis’ Bakery in the Markets area of Belfast.

The Workers Party use the early Starry Plough design (which is also known as the Plough and Stars) in their party logo and for some time that version of the flag was closely associated with the Stickies [members of the Official IRA after the Provisional IRA split from it – JG]. However, over this past two decades the original Starry Plough flag has been carried by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement during demonstrations and in Colour Parties, along with the modern Republican Congress version of the flag – the instantly recognisable 7 stars on blue background.

All contemporary Irish Republican organisations, including Provisional Sinn Fein, Republican Sinn Fein, Saoradh, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and others carry the Starry Plough flag during parades, although it is more for traditional symbolic purposes than any real political commitment to Connolly’s Marxism. During a Free State army commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, one of their colour parties carried the original Starry Plough standard of Connolly’s Marxist militia, the Irish Citizen Army. One may very well ask what connection the Free State armed forces could ever claim to have to the Revolutionary Socialist flag of a worker’s militia, the ICA.

In recent years a version of the Republican Congress Starry Plough with a red background has become increasingly popular, especially after its very public appearance at the funeral of veteran Derry Republican Socialist, Seamus ‘Chang’ Coyle. Although it is unlikely that the red background ‘Plough will ever replace the more established designs, it certainly complements them. With a border poll becoming an increasingly popular issue in Ireland and Irish reunification a serious possibility, the Starry Plough flag may well take on an even increased significance as the rallying standard of the Irish working class, as envisioned by James Connolly and Seamus Costello.

I’m curious about the existence of the IRSP/INLA, three of whose members died on hunger strike in 1981. Why would you join this party and its “military wing,” and not Sinn Fein/PIRA? The latter claims political legitimacy from the Easter Rising of 1916, the Second Dial, and opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty/Irish Free State. I understand the historic importance of James Connolly and the ICA, but making Irish republicanism more “socialist” was what caused the PIRA to split from the “Stickies” – it was ultimately a distraction from the real business of a united, 32-county republic of Ireland.

I wonder what sort of feuding went on between the PIRA and INLA…

Avicenna in Ireland

From Atlas Obscura:

Found: A Medical Manual Linking Medieval Ireland to the Islamic World

Knowledge transcends borders.

AN EXCITING LINK BETWEEN MEDIEVAL Ireland and the Islamic world has been discovered on two sheets of calfskin vellum lodged into the binding of a book from the 1500s. The sheets hold a rare 15th-century Irish translation of an 11th-century Persian medical encyclopedia. For 500 years, they sat in a family home in Cornwall with no one the wiser to their origins.

“I suppose [the owners] just took a notion to photograph it with their phone and they sent the photograph to one of the universities in England, who sent it to another university, and eventually it got to me,” says Pádraig Ó Macháin, who has spent his life with medieval Gaelic manuscripts and leads the modern Irish department at University College Cork. For him, identifying it as a medieval Irish medical text was a cinch, but he needed a little help to determine its source.

Ó Macháin, founder of Irish Script on Screen, Ireland’s first deep digitization project, where the manuscript and many more old Irish texts can be seen, shared the fragment with Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha, a specialist in Irish medical texts at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. She identified it as a passage from the first book of the seminal five-volume The Canon of Medicine.Written by 11th-century Persian physician and polymath Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, the work is considered the foundational textbook of early modern medicine. While many references to Ibn Sina and his work pop up in old Irish medical texts, this is the only known evidence of a full translation of his encyclopedia. He originally wrote in Arabic, and the Irish rendition is likely translated from a 13th-century Latin version by the prolific Gerard of Cremona. “This is one of the most influential medical books ever written,” says Nic Dhonnchadha. “So the fact that it was being studied in Ireland in the 15th century was certainly a link to the Islamic world.”

More at the link.

The Centennial of the Armistice

Lapel poppy as sold by the Royal Canadian Legion.

For the past four years we have been observing the centennials of the various events that comprised the Great War, including the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) and the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917). Today we mark the end of it: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, an armistice went into effect, ending hostilities on the Western Front, which had thus far killed over three million people and wounded over eight million, all started by some damned fool thing in the Balkans. And, as everyone knows, the settlement that ended the war simply set the stage for the next one: the Treaty of Versailles was not as fair as Wilson had promised in his Fourteen Points, nor as punitive as it needed to be to ensure that Germany did not rise again. So just as the Great Famine of 1315-22 weakened the immune systems of a whole generation of Europeans, and made the Black Death of 1346-51 more virulent than it otherwise would have been, so also did the First World War lead directly to the Second, which then overshadowed it in cultural memory.

Garden of Remembrance, St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, City of London, November 11, 2010.

This is especially true in the United States, which only joined the First World War in 1917, and only as a result of a potential threat as revealed by the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States also joined the Second World War “late,” i.e. over two years after Germany invaded Poland, but it did so as the result of a direct attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Americans played a significant role in defeating Nazi Germany; they played an even bigger role in the defeat of Imperial Japan, including through the use of the atomic bomb, which they had developed at great expense. So it’s only natural that, to an American, the Second World War means more than the First.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, 2018.

It’s somewhat different in Britain and the Commonwealth. Once the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, all the Empire, even the Dominions, immediately followed, and fought, and bled quite profusely, for the sake of Britain’s allies on the continent. For well-known reasons, the war bogged down into a bloody stalemate where the advantage was always to the defense, and it soon became obvious that this was going to be a war of attrition – the first side to run out of men and materiel was going to be the one to lose, and this is more or less what ended up happening. Four years of mass industrial slaughter on the Western Front was deeply traumatizing, and gave birth to rituals of remembrance that Americans generally don’t share: the sanctification of November 11 (at first designated Armistice Day, and now as Remembrance Day), the wearing of a lapel poppy* in the run-up to this, the ceremonial placement of wreaths of poppies at war memorials on the day itself, and the two-minute silence at 11:00 AM. (November 11 may be Veterans’ Day in the United States, but memorializing the war dead is the function of Memorial Day in May, which derives from the Civil War. The VFW occasionally sells poppies, but the practice is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in Canada or the United Kingdom.) Of course, as with the United States, the UK and its Commonwealth also remember the Second World War, and probably to a greater extent, given Churchill’s refusal to make a deal with Hitler, his inspirational speeches, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-Day, and an unconditional surrender forced on a monstrously evil regime.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. Wikipedia.

All the same, the First World War does loom larger in the Commonwealth than in the United States. And it deserves to be remembered, in both places. As pointless as all the killing was, the Great War turned out to be the Great Divide, and represented the real end of the nineteenth century and the birth of the twentieth. When the dust settled, four empires – the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – had fallen, and many smaller nations won their independence. Communists took over Russia, and the stage was set for what Henry Luce called the American Century. Women were granted the right to vote in both Britain and the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the Great War shattered European self-confidence, and caused the mainstreaming of skepticism, pessimism, and “uncertainty” (one of the reasons, unfortunately, why Britain and France did not stand up to Hitler until it was too late).

Diamond War Memorial, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

So I was pleased to learn that a World War I memorial is being planned for Washington DC. From a BBC article about it published last year:

“The Great War” was overtaken in the national consciousness by the Great Depression and World War II, says Edwin Fountain, vice-chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission. The commission has been authorised by Congress to build the new memorial in Washington, DC, as well as increase awareness of the war.

“The Centennial is the last best opportunity to teach Americans that World War I was in fact the most consequential event of the 20th Century,” he says. “It had effects that we live and struggle with today, overseas and at home.”

“The debate about the role of America in the world, the balance between national security and civil liberties, the place of women, African Americans and immigrants in our society – all those issues were vigorously discussed during WWI.

“You cannot contribute to those discussions today without understanding our historical roots.”

Gable end mural, Northland St. (arbitrarily renamed “Thiepval St.”), Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At the same time, how the war was fought, and not just its aftermath, deserves closer attention too. If anyone knows anything about the Great War, it is an image largely created by Remarque’s great autobiographical novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Historian Dan Snow recently countered several myths about it, including that most soldiers died, that it was the bloodiest conflict in history to that point, that the upper classes got off lightly, and that soldiers lived in the trenches for years on end (in truth, they were cycled out regularly).

Mural, Glenwood St., Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Still, it was no picnic, as a recent article in the Economist reminds us:

The first world war was not just a grand tragedy. For the 67 million who fought, it was a sordid hellscape. Few of the ten million killed in combat died from a “bullet, straight to the heart”, as pro forma telegrams to relatives put it. Many more bled to death in no-man’s land, their wails lingering for days like “moist fingers being dragged down an enormous windowpane”, as a British lieutenant wrote of the Battle of the Somme. Traumatised survivors sometimes slept in open sewers, and begged for their mothers as superiors ordered them over the top.

They guarded what slivers of humanity and dignity they could. At Compiègne today visitors can view silver rings from the trenches bearing initials (LV, MJ, SH or G) or four-leaf clovers; pipes with marks worn where teeth once clenched; a tube of insect-bite cream; letter-openers fashioned from shell casings, the names of yearned-for correspondents etched into their blades (“Marguerite”, “Mlle Rose-Marie”). A certain stoic humour also played its part. “I was hit. I looked round and saw that my leg had shot out and hit the fellow behind me (who got rather annoyed about [it])” wrote Charlemagne’s great-grandfather in his diary in 1915, just outside Ypres.

The article goes on to note that (emphasis added):

The first world war happened because a generation of Victorian leaders took for granted the stable order that had prevailed in most of Europe for decades. They should have read their history books. Yet the war was also a tale of forces beyond the power of any leader, however well-read; of nations and continents not as trains on history’s railway lines, run by drivers and switchmen, but as rafts tossed about on history’s ocean, dipping at most an occasional oar into the waves. Fate was the real grand homme of the “Great War”. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 would not have happened had his driver not taken a wrong turning in Sarajevo. The German army’s initial advance was halted at Nieuwpoort by a Belgian lock-keeper who flooded the surrounding marshlands. Political twists in Berlin, not crushing defeat on the battlefield, pushed Germany to sue for peace in 1918.

I am chary of drawing “lessons” from history, but it seems in this case that history really does provide us with an instructive example.

Memorial to Lt. Col. John McCrae, Guelph, Ontario, 2015.

* The poppy as a symbol of remembrance derives from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, who was serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and who died of pneumonia in January, 1918. He was by no means the only English-language war poet: the First World War produced a remarkable amount of poetry from the viewpoint of its participants, a product of the war taking place after the advent of mass literacy but before other forms of entertainment relegated poetry to a niche interest (see Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory for more on this). I was pleased to see the memorial to sixteen representative war poets in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey this summer, including the greats Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen.

Sadly, the poppy is “political” in some parts of the world, and not just because people believe that it justifies war. Among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the poppy represents “Britain’s War,” and thus represents British imperialism and British oppression. Nationalists, as noted, wear lilies in memory of the Easter Rising, and will generally refuse to wear poppies, even going so far as to taunt those who do.

UPDATE

Arms of the Archdiocese of Dublin, in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral.

Micheál Ó Comáin, a herald of arms at the Genealogical Office in Dublin, informs me that the Chief Herald is not taking sides in the fundamental divide between the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. As reported earlier, the Church of Ireland arms of the Archdiocese of Dublin and Glendalough, that is:

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

must now be differenced by a bordure Or, while the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin gets the arms without any difference at all. Would this be to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church is more legitimate than the Church of Ireland? Just because the pre-Reformation Church was “Catholic” does not mean that the current Roman Catholic Church is its actual successor – that case could be made just as easily for the Church of Ireland, which possesses most of the pre-Reformation church buildings, and which represents legal institutional continuity, even if most Irish people didn’t become members of it.

Wikipedia.

No, all that happened is that “a certificate in favour of Cardinal Archbishop Desmond O’Connell ratifying and exemplifying his personal arms impaling the undifferenced diocesan arms was issued during his incumbency [1998-2004]. The diocesan coat appearing on a such a document and duly recorded in the Register of Arms is tantamount to a Confirmation.” In other words, the Catholic Archbishop simply beat the Protestant Archbishop to the registration, forcing the Protestant to difference his archdiocesan arms when he got them confirmed in 2016.

The Irish in America

The Wikipedia category “Irish emigrants to the United States (before 1923)” contains some 872 entries – that is, people notable enough to merit a Wikipedia article. This is really quite remarkable. Two of them have recently been brought to my attention, and deserve to be better known. From Wikipedia:

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829-1892) was an Irish-born American composer  and bandmaster who lived and worked in the United States after 1848. Whilst serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Gilmore wrote the lyrics to the song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” This was published under the pseudonym Louis Lambert in September 1863…

In many ways Gilmore can be seen as the principal figure in 19th-century American music. He was a composer, and the “Famous 22nd Regiment March” from 1874 is just one example of his work. He held the first “Promenade Concert in America” in 1855, the forerunner to today’s Boston Pops. He set up “Gilmore’s Concert Garden”, which became Madison Square Garden. He was the Musical Director of the Nation in effect, leading the festivities for the 1876 Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

Ron Good adds (having heard RTE’s P.S. Gilmore: Ireland’s First Superstar):

He made adjustments to the inclusion of instruments in bands (i.e. the addition of woodwinds) which resulted what we know today as concert bands. He also used anvils specially made in England which gave off sparks when struck with the hammers of dozens of faux blacksmiths.  Also used artillery pieces to add excitement.

Also from Wikipedia, we have notice of:

Thomas Francis Meagher (“Marr”; 1823-1867) was an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. After being convicted of sedition, he was first sentenced to death, but received transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) in Australia.

In 1852 he escaped and made his way to the United States, where he settled in New York City. He studied law, worked as a journalist, and traveled to present lectures on the Irish cause. He married for a second time in New York. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Meagher joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general. He was most notable for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade, and encouraging support among Irish immigrants for the Union. By his first marriage in Ireland, he had one surviving son; the two never met.

Following the Civil War, Meagher was appointed acting governor of the Montana Territory. In 1867, Meagher drowned in the swift-running Missouri River after falling from a steamboat at Fort Benton.

What a fascinating character.

News from Dublin

A couple of items that I’ve just discovered:

• The relic of the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, which had been stolen from Christ Church Cathedral in 2012, has been recovered and will be unveiled in a new setting on November 14, 2018. From the Diocesan website:

The heart of St Laurence O’Toole goes on permanent public display in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, from November 14, 2018. This occasion will be marked by free entry to the cathedral from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, welcoming the people of Dublin to view the heart of the city’s patron saint.

A special ecumenical service of dedication and thanksgiving marking this historic occasion will be held that evening  at 5:45 pm. The Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, will first bless and dedicate the redesigned grounds incorporating the new stone labyrinth. Following this the Archbishop will preside at a service of Festal Choral Evensong, sung by the Cathedral Choirs, during which he will bless and dedicate the new resting place of the heart of St Laurence O’Toole. This service will be open to the public and all are most welcome to attend.

St Laurence’s heart will be housed in a specially designed art piece, crafted by the renowned Cork–based artist Eoin Turner.

Commenting on this upcoming special day of celebration, the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, The Very Revd Dermot Dunne, stated, ‘I am delighted that we have two such tremendous reasons for celebration at this time. We are deeply grateful for the grant funding from Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland that has enabled the redesign and landscaping of our grounds. Further it is my great privilege and joy at this time to be able to return the heart of St Laurence to the people of Dublin.’

From Wikipedia:

[The relic] was recovered in Phoenix Park in 2018 after a tip-off to the Garda Síochána. Media reported that the unidentified thieves thought it was cursed and caused family members’ illnesses.

• As of two years ago, the arms of the United Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough (i.e., in the Church of Ireland) have been differenced with a gold bordure. From the website of the National Library of Ireland:

The relevant English text reads:

Whereas petition hath been made unto me [Colette O’Flaherty, Chief Herald of Ireland] by the Most Reverend Doctor Michael Geoffrey St. Aubyn Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Glendalough, Primate of Ireland, setting forth that certain armorial ensigns have long been used and borne by the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough and do not appear to have been recorded in my office as pertaining unto the said United Dioceses and that he is desiring that the said arms might now be confirmed unto it with such differences as I might find appropriate.

This is most interesting. Ecclesiastical heraldry has traditionally been beyond the concern of secular heraldic authorities; only in the twentieth century was there a drive to get Anglican diocesan coats of arms regularized through the College of Arms. In Ireland, as noted earlier, there are two more-or-less identical church structures, one sponsored by the Church of Ireland, the other by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, both claiming legitimacy and both employing the same heraldry. I’m curious about the politics here – what prompted the archbishop to get these arms confirmed by the Chief Herald of Ireland, and why did he agree that they should be differenced? Did the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin beat him to it? (Unfortunately the Genealogical Office does not have an online register of grants and confirmations that it has made, unlike the Canadian Heraldic Authority.)

Irish Discoveries

A couple of interesting finds on Wikipedia:

Conolly’s Folly is an obelisk structure and National Monument located near MaynoothCounty KildareIreland. The folly was built within Castletown Estate (containing Castletown House), which contains two follies, both commissioned by Katherine Conolly, the philanthropic widow of Speaker William Conolly, to provide employment for hundreds of the poor of Celbridge when the famine of 1740–41 was at its worst.”

The Wonderful Barn is a corkscrew-shaped building on the edge of Castletown House Estate, formerly of the Conolly family, in CelbridgeCounty KildareIreland. The barn itself is formally in neighbouring Leixlip. Flanked by two smaller dovecote towers, the barn was built with the stairs ascending around the exterior of the building. The barn was built in 1743 on the Leixlip side of the Castletown Estate.

“Several purposes are suggested for the unique structure:

“One theory is based on the custom in Georgian times of using doves as a delicacy when other game or animals were not in season, and suggest its use as a dovecote.

“The height of the structure would also lend itself to sport shooting, supporting another theory of its use as a shooting or gamekeepers tower.

“The tower is seen from the east windows of Castletown House, so it filled that vista, possibly as a folly.

“However, a central hole through each of the floors supports the generally accepted theory of its use as a granary. The barn was built in the years immediately following the famine of 1740-41, as there was a need for new grain stores in case of another famine. The Conollys owned Kilmacredock and rented it out, so the barn was also useful for their tenants.”

Gerald of Wales

Enjoyed a good discussion on Gerald of Wales’s History and Topography of Ireland in HIS 323 this past week. Geraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146-c. 1223) was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, studied at Gloucester and Paris, was ordained a priest, acted as an agent of the archbishop of Canterbury in Wales, and then became a royal chaplain to King Henry II. In 1185, Gerald was chosen to accompany Henry’s son John, who had been named Lord of Ireland, on his first expedition there. The Topographia Hibernica was the result. His descriptions of natural phenomena, and especially his credulity about marvels and freaks of nature, remind me of Herodotus, but this book has a specific agenda – essentially, to justify Henry’s claim to Ireland. He specifically mentions the claim in 92, referencing Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain:

As the British history relates, the king of the Britons, Gurguintius, son of the noble Belinus and grandson of the famous Brennius, when returning from Denmark, which his father had formerly conquered, and which, when it had rebelled, he himself had again brought into subjection, found at the Orkney Islands a fleet which had brought Basclenses there from Spain, Their leaders approached the king, and told him whence they had come and the reason for their coming, namely to settle in a country of the West. They were urgent in their request that he should give them some land to inhabit. Eventually the king, on the advice of his counsellors, gave them that island that is now called Ireland, and which was then either entirely uninhabited or had been settled by him. He also gave them pilots for their expedition from among his own fleet.

From this is is clear that Ireland can with some right be claimed by the kings of Britain, even though the claim be from olden times.

Secondly, the city of Bayonne is on the boundary of Gascony, and belongs to it. It is also the capital of Basclonia, whence the Hibernienses came. And now Gascony and all Aquitaine rejoices in the same rule as Britain.

The kings of Britain have also a newly established double claim. On the one hand the spontaneous surrender and protestation of fealty of the Irish chiefs – for everyone is allowed to renounce his right; and on the other, the favour and confirmation of the claim by the Pope.

For when Jupiter started thundering in the confines of the western ocean, the petty Western kings were frightened by the thunder and averted the stroke of the thunderbolt by sheltering from it in a peace.

Do you find this convincing? The double claim from olden times seems a bit of a stretch. It is true that many Irish kings submitted to Henry, and Pope Alexander III confirmed Henry’s position as Lord of Ireland. (As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, it would have been great if Henry II had properly followed up on this grant and exercised good lordship over Ireland – for starters, not outsourced it to the feckless John.)

The rest of the work follows the usual imperialist script of praise for the land coupled with the disparagement of the people who live there. For instance, “The land is fruitful and rich in its fertile soil and plentiful harvests. Crops abound in the field, flocks in the mountains, and wild animals in the woods” (2). The country “is well supplied with beautiful lakes, full of fish and very large” (4). And not only are there no venomous snakes in Ireland, there are no poisons at all! The land is so pure that poisonous reptiles brought to Ireland die instantly, and Irish boot thongs can be employed elsewhere as antidotes to poison (21-22, 24). The climate is the most temperate of all countries, and there is little need for doctors, given how healthy the air is (26). 

But the people! Some of them are good. There are a few saints, who perform miracles (61-62, 64-65, 68). The clergy are in many points praiseworthy (and should have more power than monks) (104, 106). They are excellent musicians (94), and can throw projectiles accurately (93). But one woman of Limerick had a beard and a mane down her back (53), and a man of Wicklow looked like a man, but had the extremities of an ox, i.e. hooves for hands and feet, and two holes directly on his face where his nose should be. He was likely the product of bestiality between a man and a cow, because in Glendalough another man-cow was born of a similar union (54). In Connacht, a woman entrusted with keeping one of the king’s prize goats ended up fornicating with it (56). Indeed, bestiality and incest are particular vices of the Irish. Furthermore:

• they are not carefully nursed after birth
• their clothes are made in a barbarous fashion
• they do not use saddles or spurs when riding horses
• they go naked and unarmed into battle
• they are a wild, inhospitable people, still mostly pastoralists
• they have no idea about city living
• they don’t realize the potential of their fields for crops
• they don’t mine any of the metals or minerals that abound in Ireland
• they don’t weave flax or wool, and in general do no work at all (93)
• they are ignorant of the rudiments of the faith (98)
• they don’t keep their word, and will physically attack you when they can (99, 101)
• great numbers of them are blind by birth, lame, maimed in body, or suffering some natural defect. This is what you can expect from a people “adulterous, incestuous, unlawfully conceived and born, outside the law, and shamefully abusing nature herself in spiteful and horrible practices” (109).

The only solution, therefore, is to colonize the place, to take advantage of its natural riches and to improve the habits of its benighted inhabitants.

Some of the students in HIS 323 noted the similarity in between this book and the rhetoric surrounding Manifest Destiny in nineteenth-century America, especially the notion that the natives don’t keep their word. I would say that the book not entirely useless as a source – the Irish pastoral lifestyle probably did strike the English as rough and backward, and I would not be surprised if the taboo against bestiality was weaker in Ireland than in England, i.e. it might not have been just something that Gerald made up. The Irish style of horseback riding is confirmed by the Statutes of Kilkenny, and the fact that Gerald is willing to give credit to the Irish for whatever good qualities they have makes his criticism of them somewhat believable.

However, you can tell he’s definitely accentuating the negative. Moreover, the legitimacy of English rule is an entirely separate question. Even if the Irish were as bad as Gerald says, the English could have done much better as rulers of the place than they actually did.

(Quotations from Gerald of Wales, The History and Topography of Ireland, trans. John J. O’Meara [Penguin, 1982])

News from Ireland

• Our guide in Belfast claimed that the different communities were beginning to appreciate each other’s customs. But what this can mean in practice is that the one community might adopt the other community’s customs, in reverse. If Unionists will go marching around in nationalist neighborhoods, then nationalists will go marching around in Unionist neighborhoods. If Unionists have huge bonfires on which they immolate nationalist symbols, well then nationalists will do the same with Unionist symbols. A twitter post from Leave.EU showed a recent nationalist bonfire in Derry that consumed several Union Jacks, Ulster banners, poppy wreaths, a British Army flag, various Protestant paramilitary flags, a Trump flag (!), and, to the consternation of the Times of Israel, an Israeli flag.

• I don’t know which community was the first to paint its kerbstones in the relevant colors (red, white, and blue for Unionists; green, white, and orange for nationalists), but apparently doing so counts as a hate crime now (or at least, you can report it as such, and the PSNI is obliged to investigate).

• Féile an Phobail, or the West Belfast Festival, was founded in the late 1980s in order to convince people that the Republicans who lived there had other interests besides terrorism. Alas, you can’t have something in West Belfast without someone ruining it; the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar opened the festival this year and was roundly criticized for doing so, after the appearance of IRA flags in the crowd. He had been warned that this was likely to happen, but went ahead and participated anyway.

A Good One

From the University of Ulster’s Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) project, about attempts to find a compromise solution to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland (emphasis added):

Two attempts to set up devolved institutions were initiated by two Northern Ireland secretaries of state, Roy Mason and Humphrey Atkins [in 1977-78 and 1980]. Neither got to first base. They were opposed, for different reasons, by the SDLP and the UUP, but both simply petered out. As a measure of the cultural gap between the two sides, two bars were set up in Stormont during the Atkins talks of 1980, one serving only non-alcoholic beverages. Students of national stereotyping may guess which bar was designed for which political parties.

I find it odd to read a baseball metaphor in a description of Irish politics.