Weekend of Hit and Miss in Banagher and Longford

I made the Readings at the Pallet this year, and found that its ten years since I was in at the first one that I attended, with next years being the official 25th its hoped I was told to do something special such as a publication for it which would be very nice to see coming together. My great plans to get to Longford for the two lectures on the Cruinnu and to get to Audrey Healys book launch all went askew in typical Carty fashion!

Derek Fanning had made it from Birr, and a good selection of the locals were there too, though a few regulars were missing due to family plans as always happens. Dave Boylan, Niall Ryan and others read to bring the room to a respectful hush, which can be hard to do with a crowd in a bar, and as per tradition George Smith done MC and kicked off the event with a reading of “The Pint of Plain”

Id read “St Rynaghs Church Bell“, and told the story of the two Catherines in my verse “The Lady of Culray“, bringing a local connection again in the verse “St. Johnstown, So Beautiful a Name” among other verses. As can be usual in such events, one of the verses Id typed out was all scrambled up and had to be abandoned… but such is the joys of reading you carry on regardless.

Dave Boylan told us “You Cant Say That”, a poetic rant against political correctness!, but the favourite verse of his was of the Banagher Derby whoch alas, was only a dream! But a great verse regardless!

The Padraic Collum Weekend in Longford

I made the last few minutes of the second lecture due to the lack of bus connections and rail to Longford at the weekend compared to during the day. However, I did make the church tour given by Colm O’ Reilly and also the talk given by Martin Morris at the former workhouse in Longford.

I was hoping to get a verifiable history of Padraic Colum as Tina Boyle had contested that he was a UCD student and maintained he only paid bail for his father who was involved in the riots and was not an organiser himself, which ran contrary to my sources hence the title of the article Padraic Colum Longford Writer and Riot Inciter. However it was not to be, and it shows how at the weekend when folk are off, how limited they are in reaching towns like Longford for events that they may want to attend.

The riots were castigated by Yeats who declared “Ireland, you have disgraced yourselves again”, and indeed we had, in what was a political protest and not spontaneous as the history books make out. Those who attended had saught to be offended, and their defense of the honour of Ireland as they saw it only made Ireland look more foolish, as those portrayed in the play exist in all nationalities, not just in Ireland.

It may be on DVD, the talk, and if so, I hope to get a copy, or if its online.

Touring St Mels with Bishop Reilly, the Wonder of Windows, and a Sculptors slander of Church Mice!

Bishop Colm O’Reilly, former bishop of Ardagh hand Clonmacnois, known to us as “Red John” Reilly’s son, gave the tour of St Mels in Longford, and made mention of Padraic Collum, his records in the church, his work in Chigaco where they are on stations of the cross over there, and other features of the restoration after the fire that had gutted the church.

At the doorway he pointed out the mosaic with the inscription YHWH, the triangle which he said represented the Trinity – but I know of folk who would differ! – and the circle for eternity with a lovely prayer in Latin which greets the person entering the Cathederal. He spoke of the fire, the pictures of which was on the wall, and that brought to mind clearing up Ballinamuck after the disaster I had, and its odd the things that survive, in the Cathederal as statue featuring highly flammable pain had survived with only smoke damage among a few other things, and that brought to mind the Celtic shirt and the cameo picture of my grandmother that survived my fire, and the few plates (most of which I clumsily smashed with a pick not knowing they were there!) that was found among the ashes, and most odd was the family tree among the papers that hadnt burned which founded the foundation of my research onto the family history which has brought me down a few roads that are very interesting indeed, and getting even moreso.

His tour centered around the Stations of the Cross, which some folk liked and more did not, as Colum had made a set of verses and reflections for a Cathederal in Chicago for their Stations of the Cross. It was as part of this, the story of the church mouse came about, as it was featured in two of the sculptures, which I had not known, always seeing them as a friendly feature of a church, when according to folklore they are a personification of the devil distracting folk from prayer. In jest and yet serius I penned “Defense of a Church Mouse” as I think the poor mouse got a raw deal!

Windows in Saint Mels Cathederal in Longford
Windows in Saint Mels Cathederal in Longford
Id toured it before – the Cathedral, and was put out by a zealous warden who wanted to close up early, and had remarked on the windows which I neither liked or understood their relavence to a church, and as the Bishop spok I realised that I was not the only one. But he expllained the artist, who I think is a French priest (?) wanted to create and envronement for prayer as opposed to show a scene, and if that’s not what the church is to do itself I dont know what it is to do, and so in their abstract designes they may well be the most achieveing of their aim when they were created. I incorporated this to my verse “After Touring St Mels Cathederal“, and I will never look in abstract art the same dismissive way as before, maybe heretofore I have been guilty of dismissing it as the prayerful have the church mouse!

Perfection in Plainness: a Sculptor speaks

Those with an interest in freemasonry, if not taking note of the entrance mosaic will surely identify with the alter in St Mels, a perfect and plain stone which could be taken to represent the perfect man, which we should all strive to be, and in Christian belief Christ was though also divine. The bemused comments of the bishop as to why the architect insisted it was not adorned with decoration as there was enough in the rest of the building recalled what must have been a very interesting conversation indeed had one been a fly on the wall, or even a church mouse in the vicinity to hear it.

Alter of St Mels Cathederal in Longford
The noticeably plain Alter of St Mels Cathederal in Longford

Whatever reservations the Church has about masonry, it was in the building of churches it developed in the modern era, and mythically in the building of the Temple of Solomon it draws its origin. When all other public bodies and clubs complied with the orders of the Crown to ban Catholics, right down to the Guilds, only the masons flew in the face of regulation to try and keep equality until a better day had dawned. Its sad to still see papal opposition and discrimination, though thankfully people are ignoring this remnant of the fire and thunder church that peaked with the Ne Temere decrees, and we now have somewhat of a humbler church.

The Workhouse Walk – The Poor Beyond the Town

The poor beyond the town lived in the workhouse, and it was in the workhouse as son of the Master of it that Padraic Colum was born, and the people he met there before moving to Dublin at the age of 7 including the Fiddler Kiernan made the basis of a lot of his work. His poem “Old Woman of the Roads” is often taken to be a Traveller (gypsy) but as I pointed out in my article, she could have been Spailpin or just one of the traditional tramps what wandered alone across the country.

In closing of the lectures, the lady in the library had pointed out the sheer fed up feeling one got from hearing Padraic read the poem which gives for her the meaning of it, and indeed it may have been from the lamentations of a woman of the workhouse that he got the idea for the verse which was a favourite of my mothers. She also made a timely and appropiate mention of the current homeless crisis in the country and the fact that the homeless in the workhouse would have appeared to the regular folk of the time as the homeless of today look to us, and the reactions to them was the same, which explains a lot.

The remains of Longford workhouse
The remains of Longford workhouse
The workhouse itself is mostly demolished apart from the Fever Hospital which is now offices and day clinics. The conditions described before the arrival of the reforming nun whose name escapes meas I write brings to mind the description my parents had of the “County Home” where too many died in relative poverty at the end of their days. A stone at the gate marks the fact of Padraics birth on the site, and in his talk Martin Morris told of the circumstances Patrick Colum left, which gives the temperament that would see him at the centre of the riots in Dublin, whether or not his son was an organizer of them.

For all our talk about nursing homes and the welfare state, they are a lot better than the workhouses, which themselves were a beacon of hope for the starving, who often had to walk to them from up to 20 miles around when they had little or no food to eat, and this not even in famine times when it was far far worse.

Its hoped to make it an annual event, and if so, Ill make it my business to be at the next one!

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