Bill Power Photography: Blog https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog en-us (C) Bill Power FIPF, EFIAP/p, MPSA, ARPS billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Fri, 25 Sep 2020 16:44:00 GMT Fri, 25 Sep 2020 16:44:00 GMT https://www.billpowerpx.com/img/s/v-12/u582644909-o635751531-50.jpg Bill Power Photography: Blog https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog 120 120 PORTRAIT OF ELLEN https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2020/9/the-story-of-ellen I met Nellie for the first time at her cottage at Ballyvisteen in 2012, when I was researching a book I was writing for her cousin, John Magnier of Coolmore, and for a few years I became a regular visitor to her home. I knew I’d ‘made it’ when, one evening, she invited me to sit down for a chat. It wasn’t my first time being asked in, but it was the evening I felt that she had become at ease with me and that she was keen for company, so we sat and talked in her big open fireplace.

Nellie (baptized Mary Ellen) Magnier was born in December 1931. Her only brother, Tom, died when he was a mere twelve months old in 1935, and her three-month old sister, Mary Josephine, died in 1936. Then another year later, her mother, Norah, was only 37 when she too died. Afterwards, Nellie lived with her father, Michael, on their family farm north of Kildorrery. After his death in 1969, she lived there on her own, working hard, minding a modest farm that had been in her family since around 1740.

On a sunny evening in June 2013, I drove down the cul-de-sac to her home at Ballyvisteen, parked the car and walked around the corner. There she was at the front of the house, kneeling on the ground wearing a bright blue jumper, extracting cinders out of the ashes from the fire. We chatted for a few minutes before I plucked up the courage to ask if I could take a photograph of the house for John Magnier. I took a few before I asked if she’d mind standing in for a photograph. Despite her apparent shyness, she didn’t hesitate, and without any prompting from me put on a thread-bare coat. The bright blue was covered up and this old coat seemed perfect. I took some shots of Nellie around the yard and then asked her to stand at the open south-facing front door. With the evening sun low to the west and the blackness inside, I set about my task. 

I stood her in ‘the sweet spot’ between darkness and light and moved myself into place. I deliberately positioned myself to look up at her, because I wanted to make her appear taller than her five feet. I wanted to portray her as the quietly proud, likeable and stoic woman that I knew her to be. She still had remnants of natural blonde through the white of her hair. Her blue eyes seemed eternal. Every vicissitude showed on her weather-worn face. I pressed the shutter on continuous fire - click, click, click; then paused, quickly refocussed, and then another click, click, click, click. In six of the seven shots, she was looking down and it made her eyes look closed. In this one image, Nellie looked up for a split-second at something in the sky that caught her attention. That was it! I had before me my perfect portrait of this wonderful dignified character. 

Any time I visited Nellie after that, the scene by the fire was repeated. Us sitting in the big open fire, with the timber-plank door left wide-open behind me and the breeze driving the heat up the chimney. I stepped back in time to an Ireland consigned to my childhood memories. A fire machine to one side, a crane over the open fire, objects stuck in little cubby-holes of the wall. To my left was her cluttered kitchen table that, until recently, had probably been used every single day it had stood in the house. 

She had known my father and there were people we both knew. We connected through chatting about simple things and the more I got to know her, the more I came to appreciate her life. She was content, had everything she needed and always kept busy doing chores about the house and farm. 

She was thankful for the cousins, friends and neighbours who kept an eye out for her and minded her. They were her lifeline, bringing her to the doctor or to Mass on Sundays, or helping with whatever else she needed. When the Stations came around every few years, she insisted that they be held in her house, and she drafted in cousins and friends to get the place ready for the ‘show’. Nellie, on such occasions, was in her element. Christianity was at the centre of her life and having the neighbours in for the Stations was something that came naturally to her.

On Christmas Eve 2013, I brought her a framed print of the photograph. I suggested that if she didn’t like it, she could throw it into the fire. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’ll put that down with the others in the room’. I never saw ‘the others’ but I knew she meant her bedroom and I guessed it might have been with family photographs, perhaps of her mother and father. No higher compliment could my portrait of ‘Ellen’ have received than that she liked the photograph enough to put it in a special place. Meanwhile, it has travelled around the world in international exhibitions and competitions and has won a few awards, but I love it purely because it encapsulates the genuine grá I felt for her. 

Nellie was in her 89thyear when she passed away last week, but I didn’t know this until afterwards, so all I could do was visit her grave in Kildorrery last Sunday to say farewell. ‘They shall not pass this way again’ was the thought that crossed my mind. Nellie was one of the great characters of Kildorrery. Her move, over a year ago, to the nearby Abbeylands Nursing Home gave her a new lease of life because they were able to give her the care and kind attention she needed. Her passing wasn’t entirely unexpected.

I believe I have the finest image ever taken of Ellen Magnier. She lives in my memory and amongst those in Kildorrery who knew her from the times she cycled into the village, or went to Mass on Sundays, or went to parties and plays in the hall. She was a decent country woman, a gentle soul, one of the ‘auld stock’. Her passing marks the end of an era in her home at Ballyvisteen, where Magniers have lived for almost three centuries. Out of that house were descended farmers, horse breeders, priests, nuns, solicitors, businessmen of all descriptions, and a lovely woman called Nellie Magnier, immortalized through the lens of my camera on a sunny June evening in 2013. May she rest in peace.

 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) alone an auld Ballyvisteen Cork country end era family happiness Kildorrery kindness life living Magnier Mitchelstown neighbours Nellie of photography portrait stations stock the https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2020/9/the-story-of-ellen Fri, 25 Sep 2020 16:32:17 GMT
IN MEMORIAM https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2019/10/in-memoriam I spoke yesterday with an artist I know whose young daughter died in May. I only heard the news very recently and didn’t want to merely text or message, so I made a phone call. We had a brief chat and, as sad as it was, I’m glad I made contact. Her daughter, Rachel, died just weeks after being diagnosed with a serious illness. ‘It is what it is,’ her mother said. Those are words I know all too well because I’ve said them many times since Kathryn was diagnosed with cancer in May 2016.

In the hours after our conversation, my thought’s turned to an infant whom I’ve known only because her name is on a stained glass window that depicts Christ the Shepherd holding a lamb to his chest. It's in memory of Mona, the infant daughter of Courtenay and Jessie Mona Moore and includes the biblical quotation ‘He shall gather the lambs with his arm’. I used a photograph of that window on the cover of a book I wrote 18 years ago. I’ve always liked it but until lately my curiosity went no further. Most people who enter the former church don’t give it a second thought. Because of that window, her parents’ timeless grief and their tragedy have transcended 140 years and I needed to try to discover a little more about this little infant's story.

Who was Mona? Who was this child that inspired such a beautiful piece of art in a building that I share in trust as chairman and director? I began by hunting for her birth certificate which I found in the Superintendent’s Register for the South Dublin Union. I learned that Mona was born in Saint Patrick’s Hospital at Upper Pembroke Street on the 19th of June 1878. Her father was described as ‘Clergyman Church of Ireland’ from Upper Conva, Ballyhooly, and his wife’s maiden name was Jessie Mona Duff. Canon Courtenay Moore has been the catalyst behind my life-long passion for history. His portrait watches over where I sit in my study. Even though he died long before I was born, he has been an inspiration to me for forty years, and his writings have always inspired and intrigued me since I first read one of his pamphlets when I was in Secondary School.

Research is sometimes hit and miss but I was lucky to find one more record of this little child. It said that Mona died on the 20th of June 1878. She was three-and-a-half hours old - she didn't make it through a second midnight. Her cause of death was ‘weakness’. I have no idea where she was buried or if she has a headstone but I’m quite sure that her father baptised her and that he prayed over her tiny grave. What else could he and Jessie do but remember and be sad, and hope that their Faith would see them through.

Four years later, Courtenay and his wife moved to Mitchelstown, having left the rectory in Ballyhooly to lead a new flock at Saint George’s Church, in the parish of Brigown. He had briefly worked there in the past as a curate, and his return must have meant that the good Protestant folk of Mitchelstown were keen to have him back amongst them. But the pain the Moore's felt over the loss of their child had not eased. They erected this stained glass window over the baptistery. It was a reflection of their faith, of their hope in everlasting life, and it became their way of acknowledging that ‘it is what it is’.

What a curious thing it is to think that the only legacy of this little girl’s existence are two entries in official registers and a beautiful stained glass window. It’s more than most children have to remember them by when they die so soon after birth. Sometimes morning light bathes through the glass and reflects a rainbow of colours into the darkness inside. It elevates that dim corner of Saint George's to the sublime. It gives it life. That’s Mona’s gift and it has given me much thought and a moment of inspiration. Her legacy lives in a piece of vitreous art, surrounded by Celtic and Christian motifs. A legacy from an era long gone and of her parents' love for her. Light through that window has shone on every child baptised there ever since.

Mona’s sister, Louie, later married and divorced, then married again only to suffer the loss of her second husband, who was killed leading the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers into the Battle of Ypres on the 9th of May 1915. Under the pen name 'Mrs Victor Rickard' she wrote thirty books and counted Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lady Lavery among her friends. Her imagination survives through her writings and she ensured her husband would not be forgotten when she commissioned the iconic Irish painting of World War I, ‘The Last Absolution of the Munsters’. You can see a huge reproduction of that painting in the military section of the Collins Barracks Museum in Dublin, and it has become the most iconic Irish painting from that war where so many sons were needlessly sent to their destruction. She also wrote a book about the 2nd Battalion in which she immortalized her husband and his fallen comrades.

My heart goes out to that mother in Wicklow who has lost her precious beautiful daughter. There are no words to ease her pain. The lost moments, the lost conversations, the loss of a future. Memories cherished. Through her wonderfully exceptional talent she expresses her loss and her love through the images she creates and exhibits on the internet and in galleries across the globe. The beauty of art is one of the special things that defines us as a species and we sometimes express our moments of greatest happiness and deepest sadness through what we create.

I am touched by the grief and hope captured in glass by the parents of an infant child whose life never got the chance to blossom and by the heartbreak and love of a mother whose precious daughter’s life was cut far too short. Every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose a child.  

 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) arm art artistic Ballyhooly brigown child Christ church Courtenay daughter death faith Fermoy gather glass grief he his infant lamb lambs loss louie love mitchelstown moore mourning rickard sadness shall shepherd stained the wicklow with https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2019/10/in-memoriam Mon, 14 Oct 2019 22:01:00 GMT
HAPPY NEW YEAR https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2018/12/happy-new-year LET ME SHARE A LITTLE STORY that I've not shared with many but at this moment the time seems right. We weren't at home on New Year's night 2016 and neither were we at home on New Year's night 2017. That wasn't our choice. Both of those weeks between Christmas and New Year’s Day were spent entirely or in part in the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where my wife was a very ill patient. In both years, she was in Saint Bernadette's which, if you know the Bons, you won't need to be told that's it's the oncology wing. Although we were at home for Christmas dinner in 2016, three days later, Kathryn was back in hospital as sick as ever and stayed there for a couple of weeks. She had been a candidate for stem cell transplant, but the repeated unexplained sickness meant that she was eventually turned down because as her consultant explained, ‘we could be trying to cure something that’s not there’.

But it turned out it was there and the relapse in November 2017 resulted in a return to hospital for further aggressive chemo. It didn’t go well. That wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was beyond anyone’s control. Hope of a normal Christmas at home evaporated as the month progressed and ended on 22nd December when Kathryn was taken into intensive care. You know things are really serious when your wife is one of three people in ICU on Christmas Day. I thought to myself, ‘this means she’s one of the three sickest people in the hospital. Oh fuck!’

Only close friends and close family know the trauma that followed during last January when all hope seemed lost. The 12th January is etched on my memory as a day I wish I could forget but it was also a day when I encountered some of the most extraordinary kindness I have ever witnessed and experienced in my entire life. I fell in love with all the nurses in the Bons back in 2016, but in January 2018 those nurses became our angels and there were a couple of chaplains, both women as it happens, whose humanity and compassion helped keep her strong.

After 49 nights, Kathryn came home to Mulberry House but the prognosis was not good. A glimmer of hope came on 6th February when, against all expectations, she was still alive and the discovery of a major fungal infection in her liver (which was originally thought to have been the spread of cancer to that organ) meant that they could make another attempt at treating her lymphoma. The light in the darkness gradually grew brighter. Further treatment and months of anxiety culminated with being told on 5th July that she was in remission again. While others cribbed about the hot summer and sought rain, we just enjoyed it thinking 'they haven't much to worry about' and it really was a bright summer for us, even on the days it rained. We were all still here, and that's what mattered.

There were some 'glitches' in September and October but coming up to this Christmas our hope was that we'd all be at home together and that's just how it's worked out. There were a couple of 'glitches' in the past ten days but fortunately we've come through our first Christmas at home in Mulberry in three years. We always took that for granted in the past but not anymore.

I'll never forget the lonely walks to ICU at Christmas 2017. Neither will I forget that on Christmas Day there were doctors, nurses and many other unsung heroes keeping people like us going, not just in the Bons but in every hospital in Ireland. I cannot begin to describe the kindness, humanity and simple decency we, as a family, received from every single one of those with whom we came into contact. They kept Kathryn alive and they kept myself and Seán going. So, when I heard the Taoiseach make silly comments recently about nurses and doctors not working over Christmas I felt their anger and understood their annoyance. I often think of a comment one of the senior nurses (a mother of small children) said to me on Christmas Day 2017 – ‘you’d be giving out about having to come in here on Christmas Day but when you walk in that door you change your tune quickly’.

So, we as a family can only say thank you to those nurses, doctors and care assistants who kept us going this past year. We are so thankful to the friends and family who helped when things were darkest. There were stand out moments like when a dear friend who was our local Church of Ireland rector, called in to visit me early one morning for a chat after another night of sleeplessness. Then there was a photographer friend who cooked our Christmas Dinner for delivery to the ICU. It wasn’t his fault that Kathryn couldn’t eat it but it was appreciated. I owe my sanity to my sister because she, better than most, understood what I was enduring. Sometimes help came in the shape of a thoughtful word, or a prayer, or a text, but each one of those gestures mattered because most people are genuine and their intentions are positive. Admittedly, a few are nosey but all one can do is laugh at them and tell them tall tales.

Therefore, when I wish you all a Happy Christmas or a Happy New Year, I don't say it with just the usual cheerful undertones but I also say it with a sense of relief and thankfulness. We've lost a few friends this year because of one kind of illness or another and I guess you have too. Life is for living. But please stop complaining about things that don't really matter. For all our sake, don’t be a saint either because saints are alright in heaven but they’re hell on earth. Just make the best of life because it gives us the chance to love, and to work and to play, and to look at the stars. Happy New Year!

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Bon Secours cancer care Christmas clergy Cork decency dinner doctors family Fermoy friends hope intensive care love lymphoma Mitchelstown New Year non-Hodgins nurses Taoiseach https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2018/12/happy-new-year Mon, 31 Dec 2018 22:31:40 GMT
COFFEE AT ELEVEN https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2018/4/coffee-at-eleven A very dear friend of mine died on this day 17 years ago. He was 96, a great age as they say, but I still miss our chats and the times we spent together. When he died, I founded a small committee that set out to erect a plaque in his memory. We planned to raise €2,000 but the fund reached €10,000 within a couple of months and we had to ask people to stop donating. We already had too much money. Instead of a plaque, we commissioned a two-metre tall sculpture in limestone and bronze and we donated the surplus to his favourite charity in Africa.


One of the things I remember about my friend is dropping in to see him around 11 o'clock in the morning. This almost always guaranteed that he'd invite me to have coffee. He made it his way - Maxwell House mild blend in heated milk (never boiled because that spoiled the flavour) in an old saucepan on an ancient big Aga cooker. I used to call it 'Br O'Brien Coffee' (I didn't know what a cappuccino was back then and anyway, there was no chocolate and he wasn't a Capuchin).

I sometimes think that his coffee was exceptional not because of the milk, or the brand of coffee, or how it was heated, but because it had a special ingredient of conversation with an old friend who, like too many of my friends, I knew more about after he died than when he was alive. People pass on without us learning more about them because we don't know the right questions to ask, or because we keep meaning to but don't. Life is just like that. I often think of death as being a conversation that won't happen again and those conversations I miss so much when friends pass away.


Diarmaid O'Brien was charismatic. Rooms changed when he entered them. He was a Gaelic scholar, historian, proud Irishman, a font of immense knowledge, a decent human being and above all a good Christian Brother. He was one of the most loved men in my home town, where he lived 26 years of his life before the local monastery closed in 1998. He spent his last remaining years in a nursing home in Baldoyle, County Dublin. When he died, much to the disappointment of many in Mitchelstown, he was buried in a private cemetery beside the nursing home and this was why we wanted to have something locally so that he would be remembered in the place where he settled at the end of a long life. He once told me he never put down roots anywhere until he came to Mitchelstown. It became his home and the place he had expected to die and be buried. When it came to erecting his memorial, we chose a green patch in Brigown because it has a monastic ruin that dates to the 7th century. As it happens, it's only 200 metres from my front door and I pass that way most days.

The kitchen that we chatted in so often is no more, vandals made sure of that when they wrecked the inside of the monastery after the last brother left. But I can still hear his voice, reduced to a whisper from teaching for seventy years. He started teaching at the age of sixteen and still taught a class a day until he was 92. I remember the feel of his arm firmly linked around mine to keep him steady, because at night-time he was virtually blind and once admitted to me that when walking back to the monastery at night, he sometimes walked into hedges because he couldn't see where he was going. I have often said that if I was asked to nominate someone for sainthood, then it would be him.


The front of the sculpture has a relief in bronze of Br O'Brien and begins with the ancient Irish inscription 'Ór do M. Diarmaid Ó Briain Brathair Chríostaoí 1904-2001' ('ór' do means 'a prayer for'). On the back is a Celtic Cross, which is based on a cross motif from from an early Christian grave marker at Clonmacnoise in his native county of Offaly. It has an inscription from the Gospel of St. John, which I chose because it said much about the man. “He who speaks in truth comes into the Light because his Deeds are done in God”.

So, on his anniversary I always try to treat myself to a Br O'Brien Coffee and remember, if only for a few moments, a very special friend. There are worse ways to be remembered.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) anniversary br o brien" monastic monastery Brigown bronze celtic christian brother coffee Cork cross diarmaid diarmaid o briain good headstone ireland limestone memorial memory mitchelstown Monastery North o briain Offaly remember saintly sculpture Tullamore https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2018/4/coffee-at-eleven Tue, 24 Apr 2018 14:19:35 GMT
LINES WRITTEN IN PLUGHOLE STREET, BELGIUM https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2018/1/lines-written-in-plughole-street-belgium "Here as I lie in the trenches,

I gaze at the bright shining moon,

And I ask myself the old question,

I wonder will God end it soon?

Or why doesn't he cry out 'Cease firing!'

Aloud from His high throne above,

And get out out of this damn spot, and back to the friends that we love....

These were lines written by an Irish soldier from Newmarket, County Cork, who fought with the Australian army on the Western Front in World War I. I met his grandaughter, Alannah O'Mahony, when she was a Rose of Tralee contestant in the early 1990s. She gave me copies of some of his poems which I put away safely and now cannot find. I cannot remember his name, or where I put the photocopies, but I can remember those first lines, and the last line:

'If this is the way that He does things, a sure funny bloke He must be".

 

I sometimes think of this somewhat in times of tribulation.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) australian ireland newmarket plughole street" belgium poet poetry war world war ii https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2018/1/lines-written-in-plughole-street-belgium Wed, 03 Jan 2018 02:57:08 GMT
FROZEN IN TIME https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2017/7/frozen-in-stone My life-long interest in the past brought me to my passion for photography. In the beginning, I regarded my camera as a tool to record things. My early interests focussed on churches, graveyards, castles and old buildings. These record shots, so much frowed upon by the arty photographers, were my stock in trade. I still photograph them but not as much as I used to and I honestly think that in time to come, far more people will be interested in my 'record shots' than they will be in all the stuff for which I've won awards.

Sometimes, I go back to my photography roots, especially when on holidays abroad. One of my interests is church interiors. I know a little about the iconography and symbolism within old churches and am well aware that most people these days know little or nothing about such things. I can read churches in a way other people read books. I touch the stone pillars and rub my hands along the pews to get a feel for these places. Stained glass windows capture my imagination. Light dappling through coloured glass seems as heavenly to me as they must have seemed to the poor people who saw these places a century ago. Inscriptions on windows and plaques remind me, as they are intended to do, of the dead people who once felt the emotions I now feel but whose lives have left little or no trace. 

The rural churches of France are magnets to me. Most are centuries old, much older than most churches in Ireland. I like their quietness. I like being alone in them. They invite reflection and make me wonder about others who have been there long before me. I scan them with the eye of a photographer looking for things to photograph. Photography teaches you to notice detail in the smallest of things. So it was that I found myself visiting a French church recently which had a statue of Saint Christopher. I'd been in this particular church before but had forgotten that my photograph of that statue, which I'd taken a few years ago, had come from there. 

Christopher is always depicted holding a child. The story goes that one day Christopher, who was a very tall man, was at a river when a child approached him and asked him to help him across. Christopher put him on his shoulders but by the time he reached the middle of the river, the child had become so heavy that it gave Christopher everything he could do to carry him to the opposite bank. It was there the child revealed that he was Jesus and that when Christopher carried him, he was carrying the weight of the world. Churches are, for so many people, places to go to when the weight of the world is upon them. As Jerry Ryan used to say on his radio programme, 'there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole'. Willie Nelson's song 'Too Sick to Pray' is another way people 'pray'. They just have a conversation and hope someone 'up there' is listening.

Churches, like religion, are not as popular as they used to be. People seem almost afraid to go inside them in case they might somehow get contaminated by religion. But their architecture, history and iconography transcend space and time. Even if you don't believe in religion, they can still be spiritual places, if you allow them to be. We've lost a lot of our understanding of that 'magic' that used to make churches such special places. For past generations of the poor, churches were little pieces of heaven here on earth. I was chatting about this with a friend of mine this evening. He happens to be a priest. He reminded me that some churches had inscriptions at their doors inviting worshippers to enter the door of heaven. That's what people believed - enter here and enter the door to heaven.

Churches are not dead places. Sure, the people might not pack into them as much as they used to but they still hold magic for those willing to visit and look carefully. Light streaming through stained glass can be almost mystical. Plaques, memorials, statues, windows, even the flags on the floor, are part of a story that, occasionally at least, I try to capture, whether in camera or in my mind. I feel a certain sadness to see them empty yet it's when empty that they are most fascinating to me.

I once asked a Church of Ireland clergyman 'what is the future for the Church of Ireland'. His response surprised me. 'If God has a use for us we'll continue, if he hasn't then that's that'. In France, churches and religious buildings have been the property of the State since 1905, and these places them as part of the responsibility of local mayors and communes. In many villages, when I arrive at a locked church, I go to the mayor's office to ask for the key and I have never been refused. I visit the church, take my photographs, express my thanks, and go on being a tourist somewhere else. So, it seems, in France, the churches belong to the people of the villages and towns, even to those who have no interest in ever visiting them. The responsibility for the church is with the mayor, not the priest who is left do his job of preaching and praying and not having to worry all the time about church repairs. If people recognise these buildings as part of their heritage and their community's past, then I think they have a future albeit different to that for which they were originally built. Interesting idea that, if you care to think about it.

 

 

 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) architecture atheist beauty catholic church church of ireland consolation france french history hope iconography mayor ownership peace photography protestant quiet religion saint christopher stained glass understanding windows https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2017/7/frozen-in-stone Mon, 24 Jul 2017 23:59:41 GMT
WHAT REALLY MATTERS https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2016/12/fightingcancer Dinner is in the oven. The presents are opened. All I ever wanted for Christmas was turkey, cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts. I've learned that even those simple things don't matter. 2016 has been a bol..x of a year for my family. I have not written about it previously but writing is my craft and the temptation to commit thoughts to the written word compels me to say something.

Photographically speaking, as my Facebook friends know, 2016 has been a very successful year for me. I've won more awards than ever and enjoyed a level of success I only dreamed of, not least because winning IPF Photographer of the Year was a dream come true. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy winning awards but it is not my raison d'être, it never has been. At the end of the day, medals are scrap metal. They have no value to anyone other than those who have had the enjoyment of winning them.

While medals kept coming my way, for the past ten months my family has been on a roller coaster. At times I have felt as though we were trapped in Armageddon or facing Golgotha. Behind a veneer of photographic successes were two entirely different stories for my mother and wife, each of whom was diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. In March, my mother went through a twelve-hour-long operation to remove a malignant tumour. After much worry, she recovered remarkably well and is back to her old self. We are of course relieved, but just as things seemed to be going well, another saga was about to unfold.

On Monday 9th May my wife, Kathryn, was admitted to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork. By the following night, I knew we were in a nightmare. Things that seemed to be important didn’t matter anymore. Our lives changed irrevocably. Our son summed it up best when he said in August that it was the worst summer of his life. He has been my rock this summer. He kept me going even though most of the time he didn’t know it. By early September, Kathryn had spent 86 out of 106 nights in hospital. She went through hell. She is feeling really well at the moment but the saga is not over. There is more to come and the war resumes in January. The first few months of 2017 will be very tough. She has a rare cell-type and in an effort to prevent the return of the disease, she will have to spend at least a month in Saint James’s Hospital in Dublin. That’s the reality of her life and ours.

Kathryn, Seán and I call ourselves ‘The Three Musketeers’ – all for one and one for all. We stick together no matter what. That is the kind of year 2016 has been for us. We endured, suffered, cried, endlessly worried, slept very little, cleaned out every cupboard in the house and tidied almost everything. We talked endlessly to each other and to others, and occasionally we laughed too. It is a year we would love to be able to forget but can’t. I am an optimist and a dreamer. I try to infuse that positivity into those I care about and love. That has helped keep us going but it was so tough at times. How often have I thought to myself, 'if you can keep your head about you while others are losing theirs, perhaps you've misunderstood the situation'. But I had to try to keep my head about me and I've had to remain positive. There is no alternative.

Faced with serious illness, we were at the mercy of doctors and nurses. No words of mine can truly express the gratefulness we feel for the skill and professionalism of Dr Brian Bird, Dr Gul Ahmed and their colleagues in Cork Bon Secours Hospital. Saint Bernadette’s Ward has incredibly professional caring staff (from nurses to caterers) and dear god am I thankful to them for what they have done for Kathryn and, by extension, for us. I have always admired nurses, but this summer I fell under their spell. They are awesome.

To everyone (many of whom we don't know) who said prayers, sent positive thoughts, wrote texts and sent get well cards, had masses said, gave an understanding look, showed us unimaginable decency, or just said a kind word at the right moment, THANK YOU. Those are two simple words but they are words that are not expressed often enough by most people. A friend whose wife has been through a similar experience said to me in May that in the months ahead we would find out who our friends are and who our relatives are 'but they are not the people you think they are now'. How prophetic those words have proven to be. If any of you read this, you know who you are. Thank you. It has been the worst summer of our lives but most of you have made it a little bit more bearable. And if it appears that I have become less tolerant of fools, then that's because I have. For a long time now, when I've observed idiotic behaviour I am inclined to mutter 'there's someone in need of a problem' - never have I said it more often than in 2016.

Every day I think of friends, new and old, who are going through their versions of hell this year and this Christmas. My heart goes out to you because now I understand in a way I couldn't have before. We are members of a club no sane person wants to be in. The ones who are not in that club have no idea how lucky they are. Cancer is another word for evil.

So what matters in Mulberry House this Christmas isn’t the dinner or all the “other stuff". What really matters is that the three of us are still here. We are the Three Musketeers, all for one and one for all.

Carpe diem, Sieze the day,

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time it is still a-flying.

And this same flower that smiles today, 

Tomorrow will be dying. 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Armageddon Bon Secours Brian Healey Bird Christmas Cork Golgotha Hospital Mitchelstown Mulberry House Secours St James's awards cancer carpe diem friends friendship hell help hope illness important kindness love lymphoma mother non-hodgkins-lymphoma nurses photography serious sick strangers support thank understanding wife https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2016/12/fightingcancer Sun, 25 Dec 2016 14:30:14 GMT
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2016/1/publish-and-be-damned Writing is not everyone's cup of tea - writing two books at more or less the same time is what I’ve been at for the last while. Although I sometimes describe it as 'working' I don't really feel that way about it. But still, that's probably what it would be if I didn't enjoy what I was doing.
 
So, sometimes my life is taken over by editing, fine-tuning and proof-reading books. My next book consists of 300 pages, 69,000 words, 375 photographs and illustrations. Every dot, space, spelling, misprint, image, image caption, family tree, map, timeline, bibliographic detail has to be checked and rechecked. Every element of design has to be carved into perfection. Somehow, no matter how much time and effort is put into it, I know from over thirty years of experience that there's always something to go wrong. It results in the moment when, after you open the first printed copy, you loudly exclaim the word 'feck,' or 'damn,' or something that lets anyone within hearing distance know that perfection isn’t possible. Whoever it was that said 'publish and be damned' knew what they were talking about. But getting the first copy into you hand is more likely to result in what could be described as 'publish and say damn'!
 
That's my week ahead - detail, detail, detail. Attention to detail. Checking, double checking. Still, it could be worse and I might only be at the start of writing the book. Then the fence would rise dauntingly before me, as big a challenge as any gone before. As it is, we're almost but not quite over the top of this fence, and then I can look forward to finishing the next book. I can’t show you what the current book looks like or what’s in it, but I can show you an image from the Blackwater book, which is the one to follow. In both books, I get to combine my passions for photography and history. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong at all.
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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Bill Power Blackwater Fermoy Mainistir Mitchelstown Muighe book editing grey heron history kingfisher passion photography river writing https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2016/1/publish-and-be-damned Mon, 25 Jan 2016 17:47:00 GMT
SLOWING DOWN https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2015/5/slowing-down I've been very busy this week (again) and the next few days will be even busier. So, just for a few minutes this morning before reality dawned, I stopped, rested my two elbows on a wall in Fermoy, and decided to enjoy nature's free spectacle.

I'm not religious, but I've always liked Cardinal Cushing's prayer 'Slow Me Down, Lord'. He asks for the ability to be able to stop amid the noise and confusion to find moments of inner peace. That's what I was doing. Finding a space for a few moments on the banks of my beautiful Blackwater.

Swifts and swallows wheeled under the arches of the bridge. A heron moved into position on the weir. There was no sight or sound of the kingfisher that often fishes from the low-lying branches in the opposite banks. How often have I been told by people that they've never seen one. That's because they don't know how to find them. I do, and photographing them and the herons has taught me much about nature, and about what's important to me.

Cars and trucks passed on the bridge. People parked cars, paid for parking tickets. All were oblivious to me and my thoughts.

One swallow in flight dropped a white feather. Another almost instantly caught it in its beak and followed the other. Have I just witnessed a courtship or bonding behaviour? I know I saw it but no one else did.

Time to fly. But sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to slow down and watch the world pass by.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) down heron kingfisher nature peace photography quietness Slowing solitude swallows swifts https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2015/5/slowing-down Fri, 15 May 2015 08:23:52 GMT
THE LATE NELLIE QUINLAN https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2015/5/the-late-mrs-nellie-quinlan Nellie (Hartigan) Quinlan, of Thomas Street, Mitchelstown, who died on 21 July 2011 was the doyenne of local press correspondents. Her name will mean little or nothing to a generation of Mitchelstown people reared on the internet, local radio and mobile phones. But to those who remember a gentler age when ‘news’ came weekly through local newspapers, Nellie was the queen bee with a court that depended on her for their version of the local news to make it into print. In those days, 'The Corkman' and the 'Cork Examiner' were the newspapers of record in Mitchelstown. 'The Avondhu' arrived much later on the scene and its readers also benefitted from her penmanship.  

Nellie succeeded her brother, T.J. Hartigan, as press correspondent in Mitchelstown when he died in the 1964. They were the only children of Tom Hartigan who had come to Mitchelstown to open a jeweller's shop in New Square. In the 1911 census, her father declared that he was born in Ceylon and that he was a master-jeweller. He later moved the family business to Lower Cork Street.

T.J. was legendary as a local correspondent. His camera accompanied him everywhere, although people regularly suggested that the reason his photographs rarely appeared in print was because he didn’t have film in the camera.

During almost thirty years as local correspondent, there was very little that happened in Mitchelstown which Nellie didn’t get to write about. Deaths, births, marriages, crime, badminton, tennis, soccer, GAA, fundraisers, gymkhanas, hunts, dances, dress balls, indoor football, bingo, whist drives, 21st birthday parties (including my own) – the list was almost limitless.

As the local correspondent, Nellie had her pulse on Mitchelstown. This was helped by her involvement in a wide variety of organizations, but the one that was most dear to her heart was the Mitchelstown Geriatrics Association. Because of that involvement, she became a founder and director of the Tearmon Uí Chaoimh sheltered housing project in James Street.

During the first years of the Festival of the Galtees in the 1970s and ‘80s, when it was one of the great annual events of North Cork, Nellie could be seen night after night in the festival caravan taking copious notes, writing up results and having everything ready for the coming week’s issue of the ‘Corkman’. In those days, she was the only local contact point for the regional and national newspapers. Most of her stories came by way of callers to her door and from those wishing to get advertisements into the national and local papers for whom she corresponded.

Nellie did not suffer fools. Hers was a very direct approach which did not always earn her friends. She had a capacity to rub people up the wrong way. Privately, she saw Mitchelstown for what it was and could comment acerbically on those whom she felt deserved it. As a young reporter I was in awe of her. On one occasion, referring to something I had written, she advised me that journalists should ‘always temper justice with mercy’. I haven’t always succeeded in following that advice but I’ve never forgotten it, and I quote is as a guiding principle for those who sit in judgement over others.

Nellie was a force to be reckoned with. She was one of those who did more than most for her community but as is the way of all things, with the passage of time her contribution has been forgotten. Her chief legacy include the thousands of reports written by her, almost all anonymously, in the newspapers for which she wrote.

Her retirement as press correspondent, following her husband Tom’s death in 1989, marked the end of an era. Her sudden decision 18 years ago to move into Corpus Christi Nursing Home came as a shock to everyone who knew her because she was then and for many years later, in very good health. She was never seen in public again. At the time of her death at the age of 92, she was the longest resident at Corpus Christi Nursing Home.

Early in my career, Nellie frequently told me that that when she died, she wanted me to write her obituary. I used to laugh it off, as one does, for nobody knows what lies around the corner. I'm sure she wouldn't have liked what I've written about her, that was just the way she was, but she might forgive me, sometime. Above all, I shall remember her as the last great local press correspondent from Mitchelstown. I remember her with affection and in doing so I have tried as best I could to temper justice with mercy.

May she rest in peace.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Cork Examiner justice mercy Mitchelstown Nellie Quinlan obituary press correspondent The Avondhu The Corkman Thomas Street" geriatrics https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2015/5/the-late-mrs-nellie-quinlan Sat, 09 May 2015 10:17:00 GMT
2014 CHRISTMAS STAMP BY BILL POWER https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/11/2014-christmas-stamp-by-bill-power Through a series of good luck and happinstance, one of Ireland's three 2014 Christmas stamps is of a stained glass window I photographed some time ago in Millstreet, County Cork. It's a stunning window by an outstanding craftsman.

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Here's the link to County Sound radio which interviewed me about the project.

 

https://soundcloud.com/half-back-1/bill-power-talks-to-patricia-messenger-on-his-christmas-stamp
 

 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) bill christmas clarke glass harry interview power radio stained stamp https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/11/2014-christmas-stamp-by-bill-power Fri, 07 Nov 2014 13:48:00 GMT
IMPORTANT THINGS I'VE LEARNED IN PHOTOGRAPHY https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/important-things-ive-learned-in-photography IMPORTANT THINGS I've learned in photography.
1. (Got this from my super US cousin 
Rosemary Tufaro) - use back-button focussing. Rory told me about this back in 2010 ('All the pros in the States use it,' she claimed) and it was like a revelation. I've never taken an image on a camera of my own since then, unless it has been reprogrammed to back button focussing. It makes my photography ten times easier.

2. Trust the technology. You've paid hundreds, possibly thousands, for your camera and lens. Trust the auto focussing and the auto metering, but most of all trust your instincts.

3. Look and learn. Look at images by photographers you admire and like. Look at them. Soak them up. Train your mind through observation. Teach your brain to see differently and then work out how to translate that into a photograph.

4. Listen to advice but remember, wise men don't need it and fools won't heed it.

5. Savour success, in whatever form it comes, because it doesn't come around too often. Anyway, you're only as good as your last photograph.

6. Help others, if you can. It costs nothing. Share knowledge. Accept help when offered and try to return the favour if given the opportunity.

7. One of the best things about photography are the crazy people you meet. But it's also full of lovely people, weird people, real people, creative people and dreamers. Steer clear of those who drive you nuts or try to make your life a misery.

8. You get out of it what you put into it.

9. Take the photographs you like, and feck the judges.

10. Cherish friends.

11. Above all, enjoy the journey. The destination isn't really all that important.

12. Everything I've said may be a load of rubbish.

 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Photography advice friends images judges knowledge photographs photography revelations technology https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/important-things-ive-learned-in-photography Wed, 22 Oct 2014 22:05:37 GMT
CONDONS AT CLOGHLEIGH IN 2003 https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/condons-at-cloghleigh-in-2003 NOT HAVING A family castle of my own, I found it to be rather interesting recently taking a group of Condons to see one of their ancestral castles at Moorepark, Kilworth. As we walked from the farmyard in Moorepark to Cloghleigh Castle, it struck me that there was a time when the Condons would have just walked or ridden up to the castle. Nowadays they need public liability insurance and permission from State mandarins, and very helpful ones at that, working in the Moorepark research institute, which now leases the lands around Cloghleigh from Dairygold.

The ruins of Cloghleigh (‘grey-stone’) Castle stand on a commanding rock over a ford of the Funcheon river, near Kilworth village. It also overlooks the N7, which until relatively recently was the main road from Cork to Dublin. Rapidly growing tree plantations will soon conceal most if not the entire castle from the view of passing motorists who regard it as a landmark on the road.

Cloghleigh was probably built in the early 1500s and is notable for its rounded corners - a defensive feature to prevent cannon balls from chipping bits off corners whenever the building might have come under attack. Until the late 1600s, this castle was a chief residence of the Condons who held extensive lands in the Kilworth, Araglin and Fermoy areas during that period.

As I have often explained to groups visiting this castle, Cloghleigh was at the cutting edge of warfare technology at the time of its construction. There is evidence to suggest that it was originally surrounded by an outer bawn wall (now gone). Recent pioneering research by Eamon Cotter on castles along the Blackwater valley has shown that some of this wall still survives on the nearby cliff face at Cloghleigh.

Other defensive features include its very thick external stone walls that get thinner as one rises higher in the building. Any assault on the castle would have met with one obstacle after the other. Presuming that one could smash in the front door, there were still two others to destroy before gaining entry to other areas of the castle. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, this closely confined area between the three doors, known as the ‘murder hole,’ is looked down upon by a ‘tunnel’ from which defenders could have fired arrows or boiling smelly substances.

Even if the door leading to the stairs was hammered down there were still more obstacles in the way. The immediate impression on entering the castle is its darkness and the confined nature of its stairs. A stranger (presumably right-handed) would have to take a stairs rising in a clockwise direction, thereby making it easy for another right-handed defender to use his sword to keep back the attacker. Then of course, there were the ‘trip-steps’ placed at uneven heights to cause anyone unfamiliar with the castle to stumble and fall as they attempted to dash up the steep stairs.

Comparatively speaking, taking a castle required a lot more men than defending it. Taking all of Cloghleigh’s seven stories would have been an ordeal, but not, as history has shown, an impossibility. Sometimes, taking the castle had to be achieved with subterfuge. During the Desmond Rebellion in 1587, Patrick Condon had his lands seized by the English Crown, but these were restored to him in 1590, when he received a pardon from Queen Elizabeth I. However, most of his lands remained entangled in legal disputes until the 1620s, when Sir Arthur Hyde and the Fleetwoods took possession of Condon’s lands.

Prior to 1608, with the death of the last effective White Knight at Mitchelstown, the Condons regarded themselves as arch-enemies of the Roches of Fermoy. However, with the loss of the last White Knight and resulting from the increasing influence of English power, the Condons made an alliance with their former enemy, Lord Roche of Fermoy.

The most famous series of events associated with Cloghleigh took place during the Confederate War in 1642, when Lord Barrymore (from Castlelyons) took the castle. In that year, Condon sent a ‘half-witted brogue maker’ into Kilworth with a supply of drink. He was arrested by Lord Barrymore’s men who took him to the castle. The shoemaker plied the English with drink. In the dead of night, when everyone was drunk, the brogue-maker slipped open the doorway to a secret passage which allowed the Condons to enter the castle and kill all inside.

Later, in July 1642, Sir Charles Vavasour marched into Condon Country and with a much superior English army forced Cloghleigh Castle to surrender after a stout defence by a relatively small number of men. Afterwards, the English massacred twenty men, eleven women and seven children who were involved in the defence of Cloghleigh, in a form of scare tactic employed by most armies in most wars.

Later again in 1642, an Irish army under Lord Castlehaven, retook Cloghleigh. Richard Condon, Chief of the Condons, continued to resist English domination but his death in 1671, caused by a fall from his horse, ended the Condons’ claim on the property, which subsequently formed parts of the estates of the Earls of Mount Cashell, the Hydes and the Fleetwoods.

Moore Park, in which the castle is now situated, remained the property of the Earls of Mount Cashell. Their residence, Moore Park House, was built in the park in the mid-1700s. The Mount Cashells kept the castle in good repair until debts forced the last of that family to sell the park to the British War Department at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, Moorepark House was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1908 and was subsequently demolished.

Cloghleigh Castle stands as a fine example of an Irish tower house. Many of its earlier features may have disappeared, but the main tower still stands to its full height of seven stories – a total height of 22 metres (72 feet). Views from the castle are simply fabulous, particularly towards the south and west along the Blackwater valley. 

Two of the upper floors have survived intact, as have some of the internal floor beams of another floor. Unfortunately, Cloghleigh was more often taken over by teenagers who left its upper floors littered with dozens of empty beer cans and daubed its walls with Satanic symbols and offensive foul language. This modern-day aspect of Cloghleigh was not an impressive sight for my Condon visitors, most of whom were non-Irish and visibly unimpressed by the sight of such a glorious building. Since 2003, the dorway to the castle has been closed with concrete blocks, presumably to prevent unauthorised access. That's a pity really, because it prevents access to those genuinely interested in such places.

I know that some time ago, efforts were made to restore the old castle as a Condon visitor centre with, perhaps, some other features attached such as restaurants and parking (at a suitable distance). But more often than not, the noblest of plans come to nothing. Moorepark Castle, Army TentsMoorepark Castle, Army Tents

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Barrymore Cloghleigh Condon Condons Country Kilworth Moorepark Vavasour castle devence history war https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/condons-at-cloghleigh-in-2003 Sat, 18 Oct 2014 00:04:58 GMT
REAGAN AND THE EVIL EMPIRE https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/reagan-and-the-evil-empire FORTY THOUSAND PEOPLE were expected in Ballyporeen for the visit of President Ronald Reagan in June 1984. Manhole covers in the small Tipperary village were welded shut for fear of terrorist attack. Gardai stood at every door along the presidential route from the parish church to the centre of the village. CIA and FBI agents (or at least that's who we thought they were), wore bullet-proof vests under trench coats and sported little gold lapel pins on their collars. They seemed to be everywhere.

So too were the camera crews and the newspaper men and women, among whom I stood, overlooking the spot from where the President was scheduled to address the people of his ancestral home. By the time I got into this prime position, I knew I was in the wrong place. Being from a small local paper, I had been allocated an out-of-the way position near the church. These locations were, quite literally, known as corrals, a suggestion, perhaps, of what the CIA thought of journalists. A slight error and a little ingenuity on my part, had me ushered onto the main press stand, courtesy of an amazingly friendly White House aid, who told me to keep quiet about who had put me there. My mistake turned out to be a stroke of good luck because I had one of the best positions anyone could have hoped for.

There was great banter and joviality between the journalists as we waited for the President’s helicopter to fly in. Soft rain fell early in the morning but it had cleared by the time the show got underway. Then there was the wait after the helicopter landed, before Reagan walked into the parish priest’s house where he inspected records showing that he was descended from Michael Regan, a small tenant farmer from the townland of Doolis.

As the Reagan’s approached our corral, a photographer from the ‘Daily Mirror’ shouted ‘Mrs Reagan, Mrs Reagan!’ in an effort to get Madame President to look our way. After several failed attempts he shouted, even louder, ‘Nancy! Nancy! Look this way!’ She turned and camera shutters clicked.

Back then I was not a fan of Reagan. Like many, I distrusted his policies. His fanatical promotion of the ‘Star Wars Programme’ seemed downright madness. Provoking a nuclear arms race seemed to be his objective and provocative descriptions of the Soviet Union as the ‘Evil Empire’ were tantamount to warmongering. Then there were an endless number of apparently insane policies towards countries in Central America, Palestine and the Middle East.

Reagan was indifferent to Ireland. He followed the British line when it came to Northern Irish issues. But he knew the value of the Irish-American vote, which he tried to woo by visiting Ireland in an election year. The 40,000 expected in Ballyporeen that day did not come. A few hundred arrived to protest but we considered most of them to be anti-war protesters or members of CND (remember them)?

I did not really appreciate on that soft June day in Ballyporeen that I was in the presence of one of the great American presidents. Few men ever change world history. Reagan did. Through clandestine involvements with Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church in Poland, he took on the ‘Evil Empire' in ways that none of his predecessors or successors have done. The smallest state in the world, under the leadership of a Polish pope, teamed up with the most wealthy country on earth to set in train events that brought about the collapse of communism in the Eastern Block, the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany. Mikhail Gorbachev played his part too and when history comes to be written, his place in changing the world and bringing down the Iron Curtain will have its just recognition.

Reagan achieved the impossible. His anti-big-government policies still dominate American politics. He restored pride and confidence in the American military machine after the Vietnam defeat. He remains immensely popular amongst the American people. 

In the rest of the world, there was the usual cynicism about America. He was regarded as old, doddery, the sort of fellow who could accidentally launch an ICBM at Russia instead of turning off the light before going to sleep. 'Spitting Images' portrayal of Reagan as an old fool captured how most of us felt about him.

I did not nor can I ever share his views on fiscal policies. I do not admire America’s ignorance and indifference towards world affairs – Reagan was part of that problem. Iran-Contra, Nicaragua, Iraq – these will always be blemishes on his record as President. But even those policies seem wonderful compared to what Trump is up to at the moment. 

Ballyporeen has every right to feel proud of its moment of fame on the world stage. The press information pack from the visit to Ballyporeen seems twee now. It turned up in my attic, a week or so before he died, and helped bring back a flood of memories. My Press Card from the visit has turned up more recently. I'm glad I found it.

Ballyporeen is much changed from those days. ‘The Ronald Reagan Pub’ where Reagan drank a mouthful of the ‘Black Stuff,’ once central in a village with nine or ten pubs, is long since closed. The once inaccessible overgrown graveyard at Templetinny, where Reagan’s ancestors were thought to have been buried, is now the model of care and tidiness.

Back in 1984, some American magazine, ‘Time’ I think, described Ballyporeen as ‘not so much a village, but the widening of a very narrow country road'. That caused upset in Ballyporeen where for those few short days, some locals thought they were in the centre of the world. Also prior to the Presidential visit I wrote an article which bucked the trend of the twee pro-Reagan coverage given to the visit by local media. My mildly cynical observations upset local people who failed to see the humourous side to all the fun and frolics that went on around that time.

But long before Reagan, the world was on a very narrow, dangerous widening road. During Reagan’s rule, the road widened, straightened a little, and became less dangerous – at least for a little while.

For Ballyporeen, the dividend from the Reagan visit was exceptionally short lived. Not that many tourists came as a result of the visit. Reagan was not John F. Kennedy.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) 1984 Ballyporeen June Mitchelstown Reagan Ronald US President" visit. ancestors corral empire' evil press war https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/reagan-and-the-evil-empire Wed, 08 Oct 2014 23:39:48 GMT
A MUCH MORE HONEST NAME https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/a-much-more-honest-name SIR JOHN BETJEMAN is one of my favourite poets. I can relate to his poems and I am fascinated that his knowledge of English church architecture and the little parish churches of England, has been excelled by few others. I thought of him lately when visiting the old Protestant cemetery at Beechfield in Fermoy, and later that day when I visited Killathy graveyard, near Ballyhooly. His poem, 'Churchyards' has often been quoted by me. It's a long poem that encapsulates much of what I feel when I visit graveyards, especially those ones that have been titivated into parks and manicured lawns.

I choose those terms – graveyard and cemetery - carefully. At the risk of sounding pedantic (which I'm told I can be), I make great distinctions between the two words and do not use cemetery when, in fact, I’m talking about a graveyard. They are not, nor should they be, interchangeable or indistinguishable. Let me explain. Beechfield is a cemetery. It does not now, nor did it ever have, a church attached. Killathy, like the old burial grounds at Brigown, Marshalstown, Rathcormac, Castlelyons, Lismore, Gortroe, Castlehyde, and so on, had or have a church (now in ruins), which means that it is a graveyard – the burial yard attached to a church.

Some graveyards have a special feel to them. I know Brigown intimately. My ancestors were buried there. I pass it almost every day and can see the ruins from my bathroom window. Its round tower, one of only 64 to have been built in Ireland, was demolished in 1807. In that year, a Church of Ireland clergyman who wanted its stones to build a rectory at Brigown, levelled its ruins. It was a tragedy really, for had it remained (albeit as a ruin because most of it collapsed in a lightening storm in 1720) then historians and archaeologists would probably pay far more attention to Brigown than they do. Like so much else in Ireland, we seem to value our ancient buildings when they are gone but not while they are standing. So you won't be surprised to know that I have always strongly agreed with Canon Courtenay Moore who remarked that, ‘for acts such as this [the demoliton of Brigown round tower], one is inclined to advocate the reintroduction of capital punishment'.

Of equal fascination to me is Labbamolagga in the parish of Kildorrery. Now there is a place oozing antiquity. The cursing stones of Labbamolagga, add to the mystery of a graveyard that I have also known since childhood. The whereabouts of only two of the original stones is now known. Others have been stolen from the site. Those cursing stones, when turned anti-clockwise, were used to place curses on people. One verse, from an old text, goes,

          ‘He loosed the stones that killed the King

          He cursed them in their flesh and bones,

          And ever in the mystic ring,

          He turned the maledictive stones'.

 

Unlike Brigown, Labbamolagga still has its early medieval enclosing wall, which marked that place as a sanctuary from the secular world outside. In the field adjoining the graveyard is a set of Neolithic standing stones, perhaps some 5,000-years-old, ‘four posters’ as they are known to archaeologists. These overlook the graveyard from the south and provide evidence of the continuity from one culture and civilization to another.

In understanding that sense of continuity, it helps to know that graveyards are a Christian concept. It was once unthinkable not to be buried in a churchyard/ graveyard. Until modern times, only non-Christians were buried in cemeteries.

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Dr. Zahi Hawass, probably the most famous living Egyptologist, who was then in charge of the antiquities in the Valley of Giza. He is a charismatic fellow, often seen on the Discovery and National Geographic channels. He speaks enthusiastically about excavations of dozens of small tombs in the valley, which were built to hold the remains of ordinary Egyptians, many of whom were involved in or directed the building of the great pyramids.

In those much simpler chambers were buried personal objects, just as people nowadays put mementos in the coffins of loved ones. Instead of their statue of an Egyptian god, or tokens to smooth their passage to the afterlife, we now place a watch or crucifix, or maybe a naggan of whiskey or some other object important in our understanding of the deceased person's life and what they loved. The objects we place in graves may be different to the Egyptians but the hope for eternal life was the same.

Sir John felt strongly about what we sometimes do to our graveyards and cemeteries. He railed against over beautification and perfection, preferring, as I do, a touch of untidiness and wildness. In one of his poems, a favourite of mine, he wrote:

          ‘I hate to see in old churchyards

          Tombstones stacked round like playing cards

          Along the wall which then encloses

          A trim new lawn and standard roses.

          Bird-baths and objects such as fill a

         Garden in some suburban villa’.

 

Beechfield has that look – all trim and tidy, with the headstones propped against the wall. Someone had plans to make it a park for nearby residents, but despite all the grass cutting and ground levelling, I’m not sure that it gets much use. Somehow the idea of kicking ball or having kids playing football over the skeletons of Fermoy’s first Protestants and many of its Famine victims, does not appeal to me. Nor do I like the idea of dog owners using it as a toilet for their pets. But it's not as bad as in Kilbehenny, where the old Protestant church was demolished many years ago. During the 1970s and 1980s, the community built a carpark and tennis courts, and then an extension to their hall over the graves of an unknown number of local Protestants. I remember discussing the situation with Bishop Darling, who visited the site, and prayed for those buried there. But at the time, things in Northern Ireland were sensitive and nobody wanted local stupidity and disrespect for the dead to be turned into a controversy that could have had more serious consequences elsewhere. So, the Protestants of Kilbehenny lie in their graves driven over by cars and where tennis is played by people who never give a thought to those beneath them. It was not what Betjeman had in mind when he wrote:

          ‘The Bishop comes; the bird-bath’s blessed.

          Our churchyard is now a "garden of rest"

          And so it may be; all the same

          Graveyard’s a much more honest name.

          Oh why do people waste their breath

          Inventing dainty names for death?

          On the old tombstones of the past

         We do not read "At peace at last"

          But simply "died" or plain "departed".

          It's no good being chicken-hearted.

         We die; that's that; our flesh decays

          Or disappears in other ways.

          But since we're Christians, we believe

          That we new bodies will receive

          To clothe our souls for us to meet

          Our Maker at his Judgement Seat.

          And this belief's a gift of faith

          And, if it's true, no end is death'.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Beechfield Betjeman Brigown John Kilbehenny Killathy Leabbamolagga Marshalstown Sir burial cemetery death graveyard headstones https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/a-much-more-honest-name Wed, 08 Oct 2014 15:37:31 GMT
TOWARDS THE RISING SUN https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/towards-the-rising-sun SOME TIME around 600AD, Pope Gregory I decreed that all Christians should be buried in churchyards, not cemeteries, so that those attending ceremonies would remember the dead on their way to  church. His belief was that the deceased, who in all probability needed the prayers of the living to reach heaven, would not lie forgotten in out of the way places.

It has been a tradition that stood the test of time but over the years I have found myself in conversations with priests who resent the inconvenience and expense of keeping a parish graveyard. They all too readily blame the Government and county councils for letting the Church carry responsibilities, which, in modern times, are seen as being within the remit of the State and local authorities. The modern clergy’s objections are understandable. However, like some teaching brothers, nuns and priests who regret their former powerful role in education, such a position conveniently disregards the Church’s once all-reaching role within society.

In the not too distant past, the Church was more than eager to devote itself to educating boys and girls. Indeed, it could not imagine abandoning such an important role to the State which could not be trusted to teach either religion of morality to the mass of the population. The writings of, for example, Canon PA Sheehan of Doneraile, on the subject of education, provide ample evidence of this. Widely published in German educational publications, he promoted the idea that boys and girls should not be educated above their status in society (it was pointless, he felt).

But I digress. Customs and traditions associated with Christian burial were many and complex. Some churches were built on earlier pre-Christian sites. It was a means of conquering the older religion and making a clear statement about the dominance of what became a new and dynamic religion that transformed society in Ireland over the past 1,700 years.

Christian burial was different to what went before it. In the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, burials were either individually on sacred sites, or as family groupings in places such as Leabbacallee near Glanworth or, more famously, at New Grange, County Meath. Cremations were common in Ireland until the arrival of Christianity, which in turn and until very recent times, completely frowned on the practice.

By contrast, Christians were usually buried communally in churchyards (graveyards) attached to churches. Christians believed that the first burial in a graveyard was claimed by the devil. To get around this, a dog was killed and buried first – the humans came afterwards! Also, burying a dog or animal with a human corpse was seen as a mark of great hatred and contempt.

Some traditions were probably inherited from older beliefs. In many places, a corpse was brought around the graveyard in a deasal (clockwise) direction before arriving at the final place of rest. This custom survives in at least one graveyard I know in East Cork, where remains are brought three times deasal around the burial ground before interment. To approach the grave in the opposite direction would be unforgivable.

It was also believed among Christians that the most recently buried person became the ‘churchyard watcher'. This spirit had to protect the graveyard until the next burial took place, at which point that newly arrived spirit assumed the role of ‘churchyard watcher'. Such a position was to be avoided at all costs because, if, as is so often the case nowadays, old graveyards became disused, the last person would become the ‘churchyard watcher in perpetuity'. Eighteenth and 19th century accounts of funerals indicate that, where two burials were likely to take place in one day, the mourning parties vied with each other to ensure that their loved one was the first rather than the second to be buried that day.

I kind of like that idea that every graveyard has a ghost watching over it. Maybe that's why, one evening many years ago when I visited an old graveyard at Ballyhooly, I felt an inexplicable fear come over me, so much so that I took off out the gate and didn't go back there for years. Normally, I find myself walking around graveyards looking at headstones and taking in the atmosphere of peacefulness that most of them seem to convey. 

A distinguishing feature of Christian burial was that corpses were buried on their backs, hands held in prayer, facing east towards the rising sun. Priests, as Christ’s representatives on earth, were buried facing west. This custom came from the 'Book of Revelations,' which prophesied that at sunrise on the Day of Judgement, the dead would rise to meet the Lord. However, not everybody was buried lying on their backs or on the right side of a church. Murderers, outcasts and suicide victims were often buried face down, and usually on the north side of a graveyard where they remained symbolically and spiritually in the perpetual shadow of the church. The north-side of a graveyard was, it seems, reserved for souls that were believed to now belong to Satan (himself a fallen archangel). This explains why so many have so few headstones in that part of the burial ground - most burials in that part of graveyards tend to be quite recent, because that medieval belief about this being Satan's part of the graveyard is no longer popular.

In Cloyne Diocese alone, there are about 131 medieval parish graveyards. I have visited all of them. Perhaps twenty have churches still in use, over two-thirds have ruins of churches and the remainder have no visible ruins at all. In the Roman Catholic diocese of Cloyne, there are 40 modern parishes, many of which incorporate at least two or more of the medieval parishes. In the Church of Ireland, there are just five unions of parishes, where Fermoy Union, for example, incorporates over twenty of the older parishes.

Almost all of the disused medieval graveyards of Cork, Cloyne and Ross passed to the County Grand Juries when the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869. These in turn passed to Cork County Council when that body was established in 1899. The County Council, with very limited resources, now acts as official ‘churchyard watchers’ of this wealth of history, archaeology, architecture, folklore and culture.   

In our increasingly secularised society where political correctness reigns more significantly than our understanding of the past, council engineers have mistakenly taken to call these ancient churchyards ‘cemeteries’ – a misnomer which disregards and disrespects the culture and history of these ancient places. That's a pity really. Graveyard is, as Sir John Betjeman said in his poem, 'Churchyards,' 'a much more honest name'.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Christian Cloyne Cork Ross Satan belief burial cemetery churchyard custom graveyard medieval tradition watchers https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/towards-the-rising-sun Wed, 08 Oct 2014 08:42:37 GMT
SHARK'S TEETH AND DEVIL'S TOENAILS https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/sharks-teeth-and-devil-s-toenails IT'S ENJOYABLE TO VISIT a classroom and ask children what they think is the oldest thing around. The answers are usually predictable and occasionally imaginative – the teacher, a local graveyard, a church, someone’s granddad, a nearby castle, will often feature on the list.

After a minute or so of exploring the possibilities, I produce from my briefcase a 40,000-year-old shark’s tooth, its enamel still perfect and as sharp as it was when that creature swam in ancient seas. Sharks, being a perfect killing machine, have hardly changed at all since that tooth was encased in silt and eventually turned to stone. It has not had to evolve all that much, because it has reached what could be argued is evolutionary perfection.

In classroom talks, I soon follow that tooth with a piece of coral from Clew Bay – 250 to 290 million years old and proof that we once had warm seas around Ireland. Eyes light up as the conversion turns to how fossils are formed. The children’s fascination with those ancient lives about which we know so little is encouraged by teachers who appreciate that the past isn’t dead, it’s just waiting to be explored by imaginative young minds.

As I go back in time, with fossils even older than the onealready shown to the class, the sense of wonder amongst the children grows. My favourite fossils are trilobites, ranging in size from a couple of centimetres in length to the largest in my collection, which is 18 centimetres long. These were the most numerous and successful marine creatures on earth some 570 million years ago. Some grew to over three feet. Like most fossils, the trilobites are now extinct.

The timescales involved in fossil collecting is just mind blowing, especially to 12 and 14 year olds who think that someone of 40 or 50 is ‘old.’ For me, there is the humbling knowledge of just how short my life will be in comparison to the age of fossils of once living creatures whose lives were so long ago that I cannot begin to comprehend the distance involved.

Since I began collecting fossils back in the late 1990s, I have built up a small collection that rests on a bookshelf behind where I sit and write each day. I also have a collection of miniature owls (but that's another story). A nice piece of coral (perhaps 270 million years old!) turned up in limestone that once came from an old quarry at Mulberry Lane, just up the road from where I live. Another, a brachiopod from 250 million year ago, is representative of a group of creatures still living in the sea today. That fossil came from limestone taken from a cliff at Maryville in Kilworth.

Curiously, computer technology is helping us to understand and comprehend how creatures from gigantic dinosaurs to tiny trilobites once lived. In extraordinary cases, such as when a beetle or small frog was trapped in tree gum that eventually turned to amber, paleontologists can closely study every detail down to the microscopic facets of an insect’s eyes. Anyone who saw the BBC series, ‘Walking with Dinosaurs,' got a glimpse of how some creatures probably lived and moved long before humans first appeared on the planet. Very many were already extinct by the time we got here.

In the case of dinosaurs and some other creatures, it’s not just their fossilized bones that tell us about how they lived. Much more interesting is their fossilized tracks, eggs and babies. These are found in parts of the world from Montana to Mongolia. Some of the footprints are three feet long and using computer technology, scientists can work out the speed at which those amazing animals travelled.

Trackways are also invaluable. In Colorado, large long-necked dinosaurs walked in groups, keeping their babies in the middle for protection just as many other species of animals do to the present day. We know this only because of the fossilised footprints they left behind.

There was a time when people thought that all these fossils were the remains of animals and plants that perished in the biblical flood. That was nonsense, of course, but people believed it because they had no reason to doubt what was said in the bible. In England, fossils of the bivalve Gryphaea, commonly found in Devon, were though to be devil’s toenails because they resemble cuticles from the hooves of goats. Looking at my ‘Devil’s Toenail’ I can see why beople might have thought that, and wonder how amusing some of our current beliefs about the world will seem to future generations for whom we will be merely insignificant curiosities. But for such things as these fossils I never cease to be fascinated. 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Bay Clew Kilworth Maryville Mitchelstown brachiopod collecting coral fossil https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/sharks-teeth-and-devil-s-toenails Wed, 08 Oct 2014 00:34:54 GMT
THE FERMOY TALIBAN https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/the-fermoy-taliban Here's an edited version of something I wrote back in 2004. After its publication in the Avondhu newspaper, a local historian in Fermoy told me to 'stick to Mitchelstown' and that I had no right to make any comments about Fermoy. Little could he have guessed that within five years I would write extensively about the history of the town in my book 'Fermoy on the Blackwater,' which I still regard as one of my finest.

It's now 2014. The Fermoy Taliban are still there, unmoved, and unloved.

FOR MONTHS NOW I have remained silent about something that increasingly irritates my sense of what is and is not good art, but not anymore. It’s those monks in Fermoy – what possessed anyone to choose THAT design? If ever I have seen a sculpture designed and approved by a committee then this is it – the ultimate compromise that does not work!

Those who dubbed the monks ‘The Fermoy Taliban’ got it right from day one. The sculptures were certainly not representative of the Cistercian monks that they are supposed to portray. Their style of clothing was clearly not researched and their uninspiring demeanour frightens rather than impresses. It has, sadly, become a parody of Fermoy, something to amuse tourists. Do you remember that town in Ireland with those weird sculptures? Is that how Fermoy wants to be portrayed to visitors?

Indeed, almost everything about the sculptures are wrong. The arms are too short. The waists are in the wrong places. The cross on the book (bible?) was obviously carved as an afterthought (did you ever see a bible with a cross carved in a corner?); the faceless spectres flanking the central figure are more likely to frighten children than generate awe and inspiration from an admiring public. Of course, it’s easier to leave a face hollow than to carve what many sculptors find difficult to do successfully.

Then there’s the lettering of ‘Mainistir Fear Maighe.’ Good sculpture should not have to say what it is, and even the use of the name in the way it is cut into the stone looks daft to anyone who does not know that this is the Irish name of Fermoy, rather than the individuals’ names. Even at that, I’m not going to begin to get into the valid issues stated about the Irish of Fermoy in a letter to the ‘Avondhu’ by Sean O’Murchu, which was published at the time of their erection. All that needs to be said here is that Mainistir Fear Maighe is not the Irish name of Fermoy. It is Mainistir Fir Muighe (literally, 'the monastery of the men of the plain').

Of course, some will argue that this is a modern sculpture and not meant to be an exact or accurate portrayal of the monks who founded Fermoy. They may even argue that this is a good piece of modern art. To make such arguments is to deny common sense and the obvious. Art is art, regardless of the style. Rubbish is still rubbish.

Ken Thompson, who is probably the country’s best and must accomplished stone sculptor (and not living too far from Fermoy), produces exquisite sculpture with clean crisp lettering and considerable attention to detail. I have never known him to produce a piece that has not been thoroughly researched in advance and considered down to the smallest detail. Nor has he produced anything that looks stupid or incongruous.

To see what I mean, visit his memorial to the Air India Disaster on the Mizen Peninsula, or look at the fantastic Patrick he carved for Croagh Patrick. If those are too far away, visit New Square in Mitchelstown to see how a simple idea was turned into something wonderfully subtle that entices the imagination of adults and children alike. Indeed, critics declared Mitchelstown’s ‘Timepiece’ the best new sculpture in Ireland on RTE radio’s ‘Rattlebag’ programme, in December 2001. They did not even mention the ‘Fermoy Taliban’ which has a more prominent position than Mitchelstown's ‘Timepiece'.

There are many other good sculptures around the country. The Phoenix on the way to Cork airport is modern and imaginative, but sadly in the wrong place (it was meant to be in the airport entrance roundabout but had to be moved for air traffic safety reasons). The Irish deer on the Cork to Mallow road is inspirational for its use of an otherwise unremarkable hilltop. I passed it at dusk recently and one could imagine it leaping to life against the glowing evening sky. The emigration sculpture at Cobh is everything that needs to be said about those who left these shores in the hopes of finding a better future.

The regrettable thing about the ‘Fermoy Taliban’ is that they tell us nothing about Fermoy and cast a cold eye on the town of today. I was not surprised when traffic cones were placed on the monks’ heads by locals whose perfect understanding of what the sculptures represented surpassed anything imagined by those who commissioned the piece. A Harry Potter set of triplets, or Taliban? You choose...

Unfortunately, the ‘Fermoy Taliban’ are proof that anonymous committees should wield their responsibilities carefully when appointed to select public sculptures that we the public then have to put up with for the rest of our lives. It could also be argued that the committee showed a lack of sensitivity towards those who worship in Christ Church. The select vestry of the Fermoy Union of Parishes (Church of Ireland) was not consulted. It would have been a courtesy to have done so. Sadly, the opportunity to place a fabulous sculpture in such a great location against Christ Church was lost. Now we have to look on in horror every time we pass one of Fermoy’s finest architectural landmarks, and be distracted by sculptures that are, well, stupid looking. Apart from a member of the committee which put them there, I have yet to meet someone who likes or is willing to defend them. That speaks volumes in itself.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Air Christ Church Disaster Fear Fermoy Fhear Fir India Ken Mainistir Mitchelstown Mizen Muighe Taliban Thompson Timepiece limestone monks sculpture https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/10/the-fermoy-taliban Wed, 08 Oct 2014 00:12:18 GMT
DEATH OF A CANADIAN AIRMAN IN 1941 https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/death-of-a-canadian-airman-in-mallow-1941  

THE REMAINS OF Sergeant Douglas Albert Woodman, known as Dougie Woodman, lie a few metres inside the gates of Gould's Hill Cemetery, Mallow. Most who pass that way to funerals or when visiting the graves of loved ones, take no notice of the maple leaf carved above words that record his name and that he was an air observer with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He died on 24th October 1941, a young lad, aged only 24. Every November poppies and little wooden crosses are placed against his headstone by locals who ensure that his memory is not forgotten. But beyond that, nothing is remembered in Mallow about Sergeant Woodman. This is the story of how I became aware of his fate.

In 1997, I was attending a conference in Wales as a representative of Ballyhoura Development when I met up with John Brock, then aged about 80, who had a lilting Welsh accent and was one of those rare species in local heritage – a doer rather than a talker. It was not the first time that we had met. Our first encounter had been some years earlier when I was with another Ballyhoura group visiting the old radio control station at Royal Air Force Carew Cheriton. RAF Cheriton was a World War II airfield attached to Coastal and Training Command near Carew, in Pembrokeshire, about ten kilometres north of Tenby. On the occasion of my first visit, we were told about how a group of local volunteers had acquired the disused control tower which until the 1990s had been used as an animal shed by a local farmer. Within a relatively short time they had turned RAF Cheriton into the only restored World War II radio control tower in Britain.

On my second encounter with John, I enquired about how things were progressing at Cheriton. With enthusiasm he told me how they had created a local tourist attraction and how this, in turn, had led to donations of all sorts of memorabilia associated with the old airfield. John, who repeatedly referred to me as ‘brother’ and ‘my Irish friend,’ said that they had not known of what became of a Blenheim Mark IV bomber which flew out of Cheriton in 1941. It had, so to speak, ‘gone off the radar’ and never returned. He had only recently discovered that it had crashed off the south coast of Ireland. As far as he knew the crew had been taken as prisoners of war by the Irish and one of them later died of injuries from the crash. John assured me that he would have some more details for me when our group visited Cheriton.

On the following morning at RAF Cheriton, I listened quietly in the audience while he spoke about the restoration of the radio control tower. Early in his talk, he notice me. ‘Ah, my Irish friend, I have something for you,’ he remarked, as he passed down a sheet of paper. As I read the text I thought of how my pursuit of history has given me the joy of serendipity – ‘the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident’. When he finished speaking, I said, ‘John, not only do I know where the flight went down but I know the cemetery where Sergeant Woodman is buried. I live about 20 miles from Mallow’. There began a quest to find out more about how a World War II Canadian airman came to be buried in Mallow.

 

THE CRASH

At the end of 1941, Britain stood alone against Hitler, and world opinion believed that Russia would fall before an apparently unstoppable German army. America remained firmly neutral, declining to take part in a war. Churchill was doing his best to get America into the War but President Roosevelt, responsing to public pressure, kept his country firmly neutral. However, the president signed the ‘Lend-Lease Act’ which allowed his government and American companies to sell supplies to Britain. This became a shameless exercise for opportunists in America who made ‘a fast buck’ from Britain, which lost all its gold reserves in paying for war materials (much of it out-dated) and other essential supplies from the Americans. Meanwhile, German u-boats inflicted terrible damage on the convoys to Britain, sinking 212 ships between February and March, sending 818,000 tons of supplies and equipment to the bottom of the Atlantic. Not a week passed without ships being sunk by German submarines and one of the primary objectives of the RAF was to engage in u-boat hunting and to provide convoy protection. Irish neutrality (inadvertently assured by Britain with the return of its naval ports in the south of Ireland to the Irish Government in 1938), had denied the RAF and British navy the ability to protect a large part of the Atlantic. Nonetheless, British aircraft were able to fly relatively closely to the Irish coast while on protection duties.

On the morning of 23 October 1941, the Bristol Blenheim IV (F) (V5728) left RAF Cheriton to take part in convoy patrol duty off the southern Irish coast. On board was an all-Canadian crew consisting of Sergeant Charles (Chuck) Brady from Toronto who was dorsal air gunner; the pilot was Sergeant Paul Webster from Vancouver; and the navigator, Sergeant Dougie Woodman, was from Ontario. The events of that day were later described by Sergeant Brady.

'We were flying the Blenheim Mk 4F which had four forward-firing guns. I operated a single gun in my cramped turret. The day before we ditched, one of our squadron had lost an engine but managed to get home safely. We were suddenly faced with the same problem when our starboard engine suddenly packed up, and a few minutes later, the port engine’s oil pressure started to shoot up – we had no alternative but to ditch.'

However, because they were located over a convoy, they were prohibited from sending out an SOS signal or turning on their Indicator Friend or Foe (IFF) Responder which would have alerted their position to other ships and aircraft. To have done so would also have revealed their position to u-boats in the area. This would then have made the position of the convoy known to the enemy and an easy target for submarine attack. In the moments that followed, the Blenheim crew headed for the Irish coast, crash landing into the sea at Calf Island, near Schull, close to where a Luftwaffe Condor had crashed several months earlier.

Sergeant Brady said that:

'We struck the water at about 120 knots. I got out of my turret and crawled to the back where I was able to open the rear hatch and exit. Paul the pilot got out through the top, but poor Dougie Woodman, the navigator, who was in the nose and had forgotten to strap himself in, was flung right through the front of the aircraft into the water. We helped him into the dingy which we had launched, but his bones were sticking through his knee and his chest was all caved in. Despite his injuries he asked me for a cigarette.'

In those days, there was no rescue service. The Canadians were left floating around in the water for seven hours before they were rescued by a motorboat brought in by locals.

'By now Dougie was in agony and he was taken straight to hospital. Paul and I were in pretty bad shape and a priest came in to comfort us, bringing a bottle of brandy and the pair of us sank the whole damn bottle which, I guess, sort of softened us up! We were interrogated, and then started off on the long ride up to the Curragh internment camp. We had hit the sea at noon that day, 23 October 1944, and as midnight struck we were lodged in the Curragh.'

Webster and Brady had been initially questioned at Bantry House Military Station. Dougie Woodman, however, was not so lucky. He was taken to Bantry Hospital from where he was immediately transferred to the new general hospital in Mallow, 120 kilometres away. This was regarded as having one of the best surgical units in Ireland. Mallow also had the advantage of being designated a military hospital. However, he died at the hospital on the following day.

Mrs Anne Scannell's late husband remembered the funeral told her that it provided a great spectacle, with delegations from the British, American and Canadian embassies being present. The funeral also attracted considerable local attention, especially because a full British military funeral had not been seen in Mallow for twenty years.

Donal MacCarron in ‘Landfall Ireland,’ quotes an unnamed local boy who remembered the funeral in his adult years.

'The Catholic Church at the time was very strict, over strict in fact, as I will tell you. As his funeral passed through the main streets of the town with the bank playing "The Dead March," blinds were drawn and doors closed and large crowds lined the streets and followed the remains to the cemetery. "The Last Post" was sounded and three volleys fired. The following day at school we were addressed by the local parish priest in our assembly hall who said that all of us who had attended the Protestant burial were guilty, as Catholics, of a very serious transgression. We were all made to go to confession and afterwards the priest said that he was now prepared to accept that we were not aware of the gravity of our actions. The pressure put on people to remain well within the parameters of their own religion can only be fully appreciated by those, like me, who lived in those far-off pre-ecumenical days – it was religious bigotry at its worst which would not be tolerated today. I later gathered that the young airman… was in fact a Presbyterian. He still lies in the local cemetery where his grave is beautifully tended and marked by a simple headstone bearing his name, his rank in the Canadian Royal Air Force, and the date of his death. Anniversary services are sometimes arranged in Protestant churches and are attended by people of all faiths.'

Brady and Webster were subsequently interned in the Curragh, where a barbed wire fence separated German POWs from the British. Irish neutrality was, as is widely acknowledged, a ‘neutrality in favour of one side’. During the earlier part of the war, when Germany was enjoying victory after victory, the British had to put up with the German POWs singing Deutschland uber Alles (the German national anthem), on a regular basis. However, when the British won the Battle of El Alamein a year after Webster’s and Brady’s arrival in the Curragh, the British got their hands on fireworks and treated the Germans to fireworks display.

Life as an Allied POW in Ireland was not as awful as one might imagine. While food in the Curragh camp was dreadful and the daily routine boring, from early in the war, Allied POWs were allowed play golf in the Curragh, go to the Curragh races and enjoy day trips to Dublin – all paid for by their respective national delegations. Contrary to the long held view that the first duty of a POW is to escape, in neutral Ireland, there was an explicit understanding that this would not happen. 'Live and let live' were over-riding principles between the POWs and their captors. On one occasion, when some airmen escaped to Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary promptly put them into a police car, drove them back to the border and handed them to the Irish (with an apology). This status quo continued until de Valera’s Government decided that, as a matter of course, Allied combatants who found themselves on Irish soil ought to be quietly taken to the border with Northern Ireland and handed over to the RUC, who officers then repatriated them to their respective air force or navy.

The same courtesy was not accorded to German or Axis POWs held by the Irish State.

Some reports of what happened Brady and Webster after their capture state that they ‘escaped’ from the POW camp. But it is more likely that they were handed over at the border some time in early 1942. Webster was killed in action over Dieppe. Brady was released to his Unit and survived the war, afterwards returning to Vancouver.

Members of the Warplane Research Group of Ireland (WRGI) erected a small memorial plaque to Dougie Woodman outside Bantry House in 1987. His headstone in Gould’s Hill reads:-

R.60047 Sergeant D.A. Woodman,

air observer,

Royal Canadian Air Force

24th October 1941 age 23.

At the going down

of the sun

And in the morning,

We will remember them.

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) 1941 Bantry Blenheim IV Canadian Cheriton Dougie Funeral Goulds Hill John Brock Mallow Ontario POW RAF Sergeant Douglas Albery Woodman Woodman air observer airman crash https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/death-of-a-canadian-airman-in-mallow-1941 Wed, 13 Aug 2014 10:29:21 GMT
SWANSONG https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/swansong  
 
August 5th 1914 is not remembered in history books. Everyone remembers the day before because that was when Britain declared war on Germany. The 5th was merely the first full day of a war which most people thought would be over by Christmas. No one imagined that it would last until 1918 and cost millions of lives. But in Mitchelstown, the 5th of August was historic. For it was the occasion of the last recorded garden party at Mitchelstown Castle - an event that might have gone unnoticed had it not been for Elizabeth Bowen who described that day in her book, 'Bowen's Court'. 
 
Elizabeth was 15 years old in 1914, an only child, whose mother had died some years previously. On the day of the garden party, she travelled by pony and trap, driven by her father, from Bowen's Court to Rockmills. 
 
'At Rockmills my father - whose manner, I do remember, had been growing graver with every minute - stopped the pony and went into the post office. There was a minute to wait, with the pony stamping, before I again saw him framed in the low dark door. He cleared his throat and said: "England has declared war on Germany." Getting back into the trap he added: "I suppose it could not be helped." All I could say was: "Then can't we go to the garden party".'
 
They drove on to Mitchelstown, picking up one of the Oliver girls on the way. Elizabeth described how 'the bye-roads had dried in the wind and were glaring white; the War already gave them an unreal look'. Arriving at King Square, they ate lunch at her Aunt Sarah's house before walking up the short avenue to the castle, where they were greeted 'by the gusty sound of a band" (it was the Mitchelstown Brass Band, who were paid £5 for their services). The guests were welcomed in the castle gallery by Willie Webber, the elderly owner of the castle, and his companion, Minnie Fairholme. Once those formalities were over, everyone was encouraged back outside. It was, after all, a garden party. Elizabeth's words tell the story -
 
'Wind raced round the Castle terraces, naked under the Galtees; grit blew into the ices; the band clung with some trouble to its exposed place. The tremendous news certainly made that party, which might have been rather flat. Almost everyone said the wondered if they really ought to have come, but they had come - rightly: this was a time to gather. This was an assemblage of Anglo-Irish people from all over north-east County Cork, from the counties of Limerick, Waterford, Tipperary. For miles around, each isolated big house had disgorged its talker, this first day of war. 
 
'The tension of months, of years - outlying tension of Europe, inner tension of Ireland - broke in a spate of words. Braced against the gale from the mountains, licking dust from their lips, these were the unmartialled loyalists of the South. Not a family had not put out, like Bowen's Court, its generations of military brothers - tablets in Protestant Churches recorded deaths in remote battles; swords hung in halls. If the Anglo-Irish live on and for a myth, for that myth they constantly shed their blood.
 
'So, on this August 1914 day of grandeur and gravity, the Ascendancy rallied, renewed itself. The lack - it was marked - of one element at that party made us feel the immediate sternness of war: the officers from Kilworth, Fermoy and Buttevant had other things to do that afternoon. They were already under orders, we heard…
 
'It was an afternoon when the simplest person begins to anticipate memory - this Mitchelstown garden party, it was agreed, would remain in every one's memory as historic. It was, also, a more final scene than we knew. Ten years hence, it was all to seem like a dream - and the Castle itself would be a few bleached stumps in the plateau. Today, the terraces are obliterated, and grass grows where the saloons were. Many of those guests, those vehement talkers, would be scattered, houseless, sonless, or themselves dead.'
 
Mitchelstown Castle was occupied by anti-treaty supporters in the aftermath of the June 1922 General Election. In that election, which was contested by pro and anti-Treaty candidates, 80 (eighty) per cent of the popular vote went to pro-Treaty candidates. Of that vote, 20 per cent went to the Labour Party, which also supported the Treaty.
 
In the early weeks of August, the castle was looted. On 12th August 1922, it was burned on the orders of their local leader, Pa Luddy. Luddy boasted that fact for the rest of his life. 
 
On that same day, as the National Army advanced southwards, Liam Lynch ordered the evacuation of Fermoy, which was the last town held by anti-Treaty supporters. Before their retreat, he ordered the burning of the two military barracks in Fermoy, its military hospital, Kilworth Military Camp, Moorepark Military Camp, Mitchelstown Workhouse, Mitchelstown Police Barracks, Mitchelstown Military Barracks, Mallow Barracks, Ballyvonare Military Camp and Buttevant Military Barracks. Dozens of bridges were blown up, including the railway viaduct in Mallow. The anti-treatyites had planned to blow up the bridge in Mallow, but that was stopped by the rector and parish priest who went onto the bridge to lead the people in prayer. The clergymen told the IRA that if they blew up the bridge, they'd have to blow them with it.
 
In August, Eamon de Valera argued with Lynch over the continuation of the civil war. De Valera wanted to achieve their republican objectives by political means. Lynch would have none of it. De Valera argued that if the republicans couldn't hold a single town how could they expect to win a republic. Between August 1922 until April 1923, neighbours killed each other. Brothers fought brothers. Murder, reprisal and counter reprisal became the order of the day. Wrongs were done on both sides of a political divide that still shapes Irish politics. Civil wars are the worst of wars. The Irish Civil War left a bitter legacy.     
 
Lynch was killed on the Knockmealdown mountains on 10th April 1923. Ten days later, the civil war ended.
 
Meanwhile, in the 1914 to 1918 war, up to 40,000 Irishmen had given their lives for freedom. Most believed that it was for Ireland as much as for the freedom of small nations like 'Little Belgium'. Only recently have we in Ireland learned to acknowledge their sacrifice.
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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Civil destruction Eamon de Valera Elizabeth Bowen fire First World War garden Garden Party Liam Lynch looting Mitchelstown party War https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/swansong Mon, 04 Aug 2014 17:05:52 GMT
MALLOW, AUGUST 1922 https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/mallow-august-1922 By August 1922, North Cork was at the centre of hostilities as the better equipped and organised National Army advanced southwards from Limerick. The retreating Republicans had blown up or burnt hundreds of bridges, houses, police and military barracks. Most notable among these were the spectacular railway viaduct in Mallow, the huge military barracks in Fermoy and Mitchelstown Castle, the biggest house in Ireland.

In early August, after a rapid advance from Charleville and Buttevant, a detachment of the National Army, consisting of the Dublin Volunteers under Commandant Tom Flood, took control of Mallow. The National Army, augmented by local Free State supporters, endured sporadic sniper fire, occasional grenade attacks and a barrage of verbal abuse. By mid-August, the ‘Green and Tans,’ as their Republican opponents dubbed them, had taken control of the area.

Many IRA supporters were taken prisoner during house raids that were carried out in the belief that de Valera was in hiding in the locality. During one raid, Dick Bolster and Jack Willis, senior officers in the North Cork IRA, were captured, and held at a room in the Royal Hotel. There, they were beaten by an officer, later identified as Major James FitzMaurice, whose reconnaissance plane had crash landed a few days earlier at Mallow.

Several Free State soldiers protested at the treatment of the prisoners and threatened mutiny if it did not stop. Commandant Flood claimed he was unaware of what had happened. He agreed to remove FitzMaurice from Mallow within 24 hours, otherwise, one of the Free Staters would be allowed to carry out his threat to shoot FitzMaurice.

Imagine then, what might have happened had it been discovered that Eamon de Valera was in Mallow, visiting William O’Brien at his home in Bellevue?

On 12th August 1922, Arthur Griffith, leader of the Treaty negotiations in London and president of the new Free State Government, died suddenly in Dublin. On that same day also, two towering figures in Irish history met in Mallow. As Eamon de Valera drove in the short avenue to ‘Bellevue’ he knew he was about to meet a man who, at the height of his political career in the 1880s and 1890s, was second only to Charles Stewart Parnell.

In the drawing room, de Valera, who had grown a beard as a disguise so that he would not be recognised by his enemies, was in the presence of one of the most respected political leaders of his time.

William O’Brien’s fame was firmly established during the Land War when he rose to prominence as Parnell’s principal lieutenant. But O’Brien was how six weeks short of his 70th birthday and retired from politics. Although his illustrious career as a Nationalist Politician was over, his name still commanded enormous respect.

Such had been the friendship between O’Brien and Parnell that ‘The Uncrowned King of Ireland’ had stood as best man for O’Brien at his wedding to Sophie Raffalovich in 1890. It was attended by every member of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

However, the O’Brien wedding was the last time that the Irish Nationalist Parliamentarians met in harmony before the scandal of the O’Shea divorce case. On 6 December 1890, Justin McCarthy walked out of an Irish Party meeting with 44 members, leaving Parnell with only 27 followers.

It was a measure of O’Brien’s standing in the party that Parnell went to see him in France. O’Brien endeavoured to put forward a peace formula which would restore the unity of the Irish Party. Parnell agreed to the proposals on condition that O’Brien succeed him as leader.

This O’Brien refused to do and proposed instead that John Dillon should head the party. Parnell strongly opposed this and the peace effort proved to be a disaster, mainly because of the latent antagonism between Parnell and Dillon.

Throughout his political career, O’Brien emphasised ‘conference and conciliation’  between Unionists, Nationalists, landlords and tenants as the means to resolve Ireland’s problems.

Irish Home Rule was at the top of his political agenda throughout his career, but he was not prepared to pay just any price for it. O’Brien vehemently opposed any form of partition of Ireland. Consequently, because of his concerns on this issue, he voted against the Home Rule Bill, which was passed into law on 18 September 1914. Only the outbreak of war with Germany prevented its implementation.

O’Brien believed, like John Redmond and others, that Ireland could win greater concessions from Britain if the Irish parliamentarians encouraged recruiting into the British army. However, O’Brien’s support for recruitment at public meetings in 1914 and 1915, cost him dearly in terms of popular support. After the Easter Rising in 1916, he realised that the mood of the country had moved towards Sinn Féin. He resigned from politics in June 1916. In retirement, he continued to follow all that was going on with a tense sympathy for the young revolutionaries who were taking up the Irish cause.

William and Sophie were in Paris when the Truce came in June 1921, and they closely followed the Treaty negotations which followed in London. At the end of November, he received a telegraph in Mallow from Tim Healy. ‘Strongly urge you to visit 22 Hans Place, London. Am going myself. Immediate outlook deplorable unless intervention improves prospects. - Healy.’ 22 Hans Place was the headquarters of the Irish delegation in London. O’Brien replied: ‘Would willingly go if invited. But have received no hint whatever my intervention desired. Rather to the contrary.’

In his unpublished account of the foundation of the Free State, O’Brien elaborated on the events behind these two telegrams. He said that;

"As a matter of fact, in reply to an enquiry whether I could be of any use with Mr Lloyd George, during a visit of mine to London a couple of months previously, Arthur Griffith had in the friendliest terms intimated that for the present any communication with Downing Street except through strictly official channels might lead to an impression that Sinn Féin was weakening. The [telegram from Healy] was the first I heard of an active participation on Mr Healy’s part in the negotiations which were going on in Downing Street and which, at the date of his telegram, had reached a stage when, so far as the delegates of Sinn Féin were concerned, their communications with the British Cabinet were all but formally broken off."

Sophie’s mother became seriously ill in Paris, so they travelled there via London. Whilst in London, Tim Healy called to see O’Brien. ‘It was news of extraordinary gravity,’ said O’Brien. He added that: "Healy announced that negotiations between Downing Street and the Sinn Féiners had been broken off, but that he himself had been urgently pressed (by whom he did not specify) to re-establish communications between them and had to a great extent succeeded. He entreated me to exercise my influence with the Delegates at Hans Place to smooth matters over. He described the poor fellows as in a state of pitiable helplessness, surrounded with busybodies of all sorts, addling them with polyglot advice. I was obliged to reply that nothing but further confusion could come of any interference of mine during the few hours I had to spend in London.... Healy said that they were substantially offered Canadian Home Rule and that the crux was about the Oath of Allegiance, the veto of the governor-general and so forth. I said difficulties like those seemed to me trivialities in so mighty a matter, but what was the proposal concerning what in my judgment surpassed all other considerations from the standpoint of Irish nationality, viz the partition of the country? His reply was obscure and not altogether reassuring. The Articles of Agreement would give the six northern counties the option of secession, but in the beginning they would remain under the jurisdiction of the Dublin Parliament. He intimated that the Sinn Féin Delegates would not seem to be so intransigent on that point as upon the Oath of Allegiance and the veto, mentioning that they had at first lost a good deal of time discussing the transfer of this or that county or barony from one side of the border to the other. I said he must know that for me at least the integrity of our nation is the only conceivable basis of a permanent settlement: he and I had battled for it before Sinn Féin was of any consequence. Nothing could induce me to make myself a party to an agreement which apparently was to be a revision of the Partition bargain the Irish Party had consented to in 1916."

Healy told O’Brien of Lloyd George’s and Winston Churchill’s plan to put down opposition in the north. This alarmed O’Brien. He held it as an unwise policy. He felt that the north could not be coerced to join the rest of Ireland.

The O’Briens were in Paris when the Treaty was signed. The French newspapers were full of the news. His first reaction was to send a letter to de Valera to congratulate him on the outcome. But he was unhappy about partition and decided not to send it. He chose, instead, to send a letter to the Independent to encourage Irishmen to remain united. Of course, they didn’t!

During the Civil War, he did what he could to bring Irishmen together. It was for such reasons that he remained in contact with Eamon de Valera. It was this which brought the political leader of the Republicans to Bellevue in August 1922.

The Mallow railway viaduct had been blown up by the IRA. De Valera remarked: ‘if this kind of warfare goes on, we will be the most hated party in Ireland.’ He said that he was only a soldier in the fight. It was the military chiefs who gave the word of command. O’Brien could never understand why de Valera had not led the Treaty negotiations. Sophie remarked that ‘My husband’s idea was that a leader must lead. If his followers did not accept the decision, let them take another leader.’

In his unpublished book, O’Brien gave a somewhat pragmatic view of the new leaders of Ireland. He said that:

"The insolence of the young autocrats in Dublin was sometimes almost past bearing. They produced no man of eloquence or fascination, or gifted with the higher imagination....  It is often commonplace men who give stability to a State, although it must take more dangerous men of genius to bring it into existence. The juvenile dictators and the body of hide bound officials they inherited from the old regime conducted the every day business of the country with respectability. The Conservative Forces of an almost bigoted Conservative nation were with them of necessity, if not from any more altruistic motive. An elderly electorate, male and female, thanked the higher powers for the leniency of being able once more to sleep in their beds in peace, without fussing to inquire whose was the guilt of breaking the peace, or by what red-handed means it had been re-established."

Meanwhile, he had refused a Cumann na nGaedheal offer of a seat in the Seanad. He also rejected an invitation from de Valera to run for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He did, however, join Fianna Fáil, largely because he admired its youthful dynamism and especially because of de Valera’s adherence to the principal of a 32 county Ireland.

On 20th August 1922, eight days after the de Valera-O’Brien meeting, Michael Collins stopped off in Mallow on his journey south to Cork. Unlike de Valera, he did not go to visit O’Brien although there is no evidence to suggest that he was invited to do so. He reviewed his troops and met with a delegation of the town’s leading clerics, including Bishop Roche and Archdeacon Corbett, who obtained a promise from his that the railway viaduct would be rebuilt as soon as possible.

John O’Connell, a porter at Mallow Hospital, went with him as a guide to take him through the hazardous countryside to Cork. Two days later, at Beal na mBláth, the course of Irish history changed with one bullet.

The O’Brien/ de Valera meeting was a fleeting moment of possibilities and impossibilities. Could O’Brien have brokered some kind of peace between Collins and de Valera? He certainly had the desire to see reconciliation between the two men and the ideals they personified. Geographically, he lived almost but not quite halfway between Collin’s native place and de Valera’s home in Bruree. Mentally he possessed their mutual dreams and had a lifetime’s experience of trying to achieve the impossible. But a meeting between Collins and O’Brien was not to be and any serious efforts at peace involving the three men was never attempted.

Sophie O’Brien wrote that "I often grieved that Michael Collins and William O'Brien never met. Somehow I fancy they would have understood one another."

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) Arthur Griffith Bellevue Brien Brien" Buttevant Charleville civil Collins 22" "Sophie" 1916 "Eamon de Valera" Mallow "Michael Collins" Mitchelstown "Tom Flood" "William O independence war https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/mallow-august-1922 Sat, 02 Aug 2014 18:06:02 GMT
RECONCILIATION https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/reconciliation  

Address delivered by Bill Power at the

Remembrance Day Commemoration

in Christ Church, Fermoy, Sunday 11th November 2007

 

 

When you are standing at your hero's grave,

Or near some homeless village where he died,

Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,

The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

 

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;

And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.

But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find

The mothers of the men who killed your son.

 

Those words reeled ‘round my head when I walked through the German war mausoleum at Mont d’Huisnes, near Mont St. Michel in Normandy. We had spent the previous few days visiting the beaches of the Normandy D-Day landings of 1944, and, of course, we also made the obligatory pilgrimages to some of the World War II cemeteries that dot the Normandy landscape.

Earlier in the day, I had visited the American cemetery at St.-Laurent-sur-Mer, near the Ponte du Hoc. The atmosphere is one of victory. One passes a church on the way-in to row after row of impersonal white crosses that lead to a muscular white giant that dominates the manicured lawns. As we were leaving, I went into the imposing church. I saw to my astonishment that its walls are dominated by battlefield plans and diagrams, covered with surging arrows and pincer movements. ‘How American,’ I thought, and I wrote in the visitor book, ‘C’est magnifique, mais c’est ne pas la guerre.’ It is magnificent, but it is not war.

Later in the afternoon, we went to see Normandy’s biggest German cemetery at Mont d’Huisnes. This is a disturbing testimony to the futility of war. Perched on the side of a hill and visible for miles around, its tall steel cross emerges from the centre of a circular mausoleum that holds the remains of 11,887 German soldiers.

When we got there, I told my wife that I wanted to go around the mausoleum on my own and asked her to divert her 84 year old uncle away with her. Fr Celsus was a retired parish priest with the curiousity of a five-year old. He had a tremendous intellect but sometimes his probing questions were more than I could tolerate, especially as he was hard of hearing and the replies required loud answers. This was a place of silence.

So, as we entered the building through a reception dedicated to peace and reconciliation, I bolted and went off on my own. Mont d’Huisnes is a sobering place. Its centre is covered by a lawn out of which rises a huge white cross. I walked around, entering each storey of the mausoleum from an external stairs. Each level is filled with thousands of Germans filed away into cold concrete vaults. There is no attempt to defend the indefensible here and yet one feels an overpowering sense of sorrow.

I was and am in no doubt that these men had to die so that Hitler and the Nazis would die with them. I found it difficult to feel sorrow for the men lying there. The Our Father reeled around my head, and I thought of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, ‘Reconciliation.’

When you are standing at your hero’s grave,

Or near some homeless village where he died,

Remember, through your heart’s rekindling pride,

The German soldiers who were loyal and brave.

 

Men fought like brutes; and hideous things were done;

And you have nourished hatred, harsh and blind.

But in that Golgotha perhaps you’ll find

The mothers of the men who killed your son.

 

There was a handful of other people walking around the mausoleum. Some spoke German; perhaps, sons or daughters of men lying there. I saw that a few vaults had wreaths or little flowers, but most did not. All these years later, I still cannot make up my mind about those German soldiers lying at Mont d’Huisnes. Were they the pawns of mad men or the willing led by a cause so abhorrent that it defies understanding or forgiveness?

As we left after a visit of an hour or more, we passed a large black granite slab with lists of names on it. ‘They must be the generals,’ said Fr Celsus. We took a closer look. The only German I speak is what I learned from history books or from reading childhood war stories. I had enough to understand ‘kinder’ ‘soldat.’ 187 of them. Children soldiers, under the age of fourteen - ‘Reconciliation’ and the ‘Our Father’ still reels round my head.

At Bayeux a few days later, we walked through the biggest British cemetery in Normandy. It does not have the brash American declarations of ‘how wonderful we were to beat the Nazis.’ The British have an altogether different understanding of war. Yes, they won, but look at the price that was paid. In that cemetery, like so many others, were men from County Cork who volunteered to join a cause with a former foe against the evils of Nazism and Hitler. Despite holding the graves of over 12,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, Bayeux is personal, intimate.

Unlike other nations, the British gave the families of their war dead the option of adding a motto of their choosing onto their soldier’s headstones: - ‘One corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’ ‘One day we will understand.’ ‘Our lad at rest.’ On one headstone I recognised a symbol that would be understood by any scout who knows his tracking trail signs – a circle, with a dot in the centre. It means, simply, ‘Gone Home.’

During another visit to France, this time the Charente region, when Fr Celsus was again with us – he was now 85 years old – he frequently remarked that ‘the Germans didn’t do a lot of damage around here.’ It was a comment that exasperated me and I decided to do something about it.

So, one Sunday I invited him to come with me to a place called Oradour-sur-Glane, 15 miles north-west of Limoges. The village of Oradour-sur-Glane stands just as the soldiers of the SS das Reich Division left it on 10 June 1944. I told Fr Celsus nothing of what to expect before we got there. As we approached the gate, I pointed to a sign ‘Silence’ and to another sign ‘Souviens-toi’ - Remember.

Then I told him about the afternoon of the 10 June, when a detachment of the SS das Reich Division arrived into the village and rounded up every man, woman and child. The women and children were taken to the church. The men were removed to three stone barns. Sometime later, the village doctor, who had been away on a sick call, returned in his motorcar. He was shot dead as he got out of it. A short time later, another shot was fired. It was signal. The three barns were set on fire and anyone who tried to escape was machine-gunned. At the same moment, the church was engulfed with a fire bomb that killed all those inside. The village of Oradour was completely destroyed by fire. Afterwards, when de Gaulle came there, he declared Oradour-sur-Glane a National War Memorial and ordered that it be enclosed with a high wall.

635 men, women and children were murdered in Oradour that afternoon, but as awful as that sounds, it pales into insignificance compared to the twelve million who died in the Nazi concentration camps between 1940 and 1945.

I walked about ten yards ahead of Fr Celsus as we went up the main street. I was again avoiding questions and wanted to take in what I was seeing. This too was a place of silence. The roofless houses of the village streets were all that was left of them after the fire. Rusting cars and bicycles are left exactly as they had been found by the Allies. Telephone poles, tram cables and gutters are fixed in tormented attitudes where the fire’s heat left them. Other cars rust in garages. The grape bushes have gone wild and are never picked. At the church, a molten lump of bronze is all that is left of its bell - bronze melts at 3,200 degrees centigrade. As we walked away from the church, with me keeping my ten-yard distance from him, I looked around for Fr Celsus. He had a rosary beads in his hand. My point was made. Later, as we drove away from Oradour, he said ‘I never thought the Germans were that bad.’ But they were and he, like thousands of other Irishmen and women of his generation never really comprehended what was going on in the continent in a war that became known in Ireland as ‘The Emergency.’

During that time, my father was a member of the Local Defence Force, or as we later called it, the F.C.A. His service certificate is at home in a drawer and I am proud that he and others like him were prepared to do their best at home for Ireland’s independence and neutrality. Some revisionist historians have taken to condemning Irish neutrality during the Second World War as an act of cowardice. I believe that perceptions of our past need to be challenged and, if necessary, rewritten. I have no fear of revisionism but its conclusions must be based on facts and not agendas. Too much of Ireland’s history has been written from the perspective of one tradition or another, without any regard for the other person’s point of view.

I do not find it inexplicable that Ireland remained neutral in the Second World War. I believe that, politically, de Valera would have plunged Ireland into civil war if we had gone into the World War on the Allied side or any other side. That could only have benefited the Nazis.  As an historian, I believe that, for reasons right or wrong, he was making a declaration about Irish independence that no Irish leader had been able to make for 600 years. We were tragically naïve and our behaviour, towards the Jews who sought refuge here before, during and after the war, can never be erased from our nation’s copybook. That attitude was driven by narrow minded Catholic doctrine far removed from the Christianity that it purported to espouse.

But de Valera was correct to allow Irish men and women to join the British, American and other Allied forces. Our contribution to the war, through them, was considerable but it has been neglected for far too long. The Irishmen of World War I and World War II were written out of our history. They and their relatives were called names, spat at, made the subject of nasty remarks and stupid innuendo. Irishmen who fought bravely at Ypres, the Sommes, Gallipoli, Normandy, Berlin, and on countless other battlefields, had to go to England or, worse still, keep their mouths shut when they were at home. The conflict and sectarianism of Northern Ireland did not speed efforts at reconciliation between the traditions on this island.

Over the years, I have sometimes thought of Elizabeth Bowen’s remark that World War I was really the first phase of a war in Ireland. ‘For Ireland,’ she said, ‘between 1918 and 1939, peace contracted into a shorter space than people in England realise – in fact, perhaps one does not say of Ireland that war began again, but that war resumed.’

But peace has come to Ireland. I wept when I heard that Bertie Ahern had given a bowl made of Irish yew from the site of the Battle of the Boyne to Rev. Dr Ian Paisley and his wife, Eileen, to mark their 50th wedding anniversary. Apparently, it made a profound impression on the Paisleys and, in a small but significant way, made it possible for him to visit the site of the Battle of the Boyne earlier this year. On that occasion, he gave the Taoiseach a musket from the Battle. They laughed and joked. Lord, how things have changed!

I am a child of the Sixties. Among my childhood and teenage memories is Mr Clemenger, who called to our door selling Poppies around this time of year. I remember, at least once, asking my mother what the Poppies were for. She told me that ‘those people’ (I presume she meant the British Legion) did a lot of good for the Irish soldiers who fought in the First World War, which, she added, was more than the Irish government ever did for them.

I had a neighbour, Tom Feeney, who fought in the War of Independence and went on to become a soldier in the Free State Army. Another neighbour, Tom’s brother-in-law, Georgie Donegan, was as staunch a Fianna Fail republican as one could ever meet. The two men taught me military drill in Georgie’s back yard. Thanks to them, I can still present arms, slope arms, stand at ease, stand to attention, and carry out other basics of military drill. But I never joined the army. Like many boys of my generation, I had a fascination with war because we, more than any other generation, grew up against the backdrop of shootings, bombings, punishment beatings and the beastiality of what became euphemistically known as ‘The Northern Troubles.’

I still have a fascination with war. But it’s not the fascination that makes a boy want to go out with a gun, kill the bad guys and come home a hero. Having put away some childish things, I have come to understand a little of what war and hatred is about. I have met Zoltan Zinn Collis, a survivor of Bergin-Belsin, who was four years old when the camp was liberated. He was sitting on his mother’s dead body playing with stones. She had died only 20 minutes earlier and liberation for her was death. Zoltan, his brother and sister, were adopted by Bob Collis, a noted Irish doctor who served with the Army Medical Corps during the war. If anyone wonders what the Second World War was really about then they should talk to Zoltan.

As a Regional Commissioner in scouting in the early 1990s, I made it a point of principal to wear the Poppy on my uniform. I recall the consternation it caused among a tiny but vociferous handful of my leaders. But I wore the Poppy for the Dr Collis’s, the Murphys, the Kielys, the O’Donoghues, the Condons and all those others whom I never knew, who fought for the freedoms that I, and we, enjoy. I also wear it for that scout in Bayeux, whose name I have forgotten, but who has ‘Gone Home.’ Fermoy has recently commemorated its World War dead; Mitchelstown will, I hope, do so soon, and so it should be.

To me, the Poppy is not just a symbol of remembrance, because in Ireland, it also symbolises reconciliation with those Irish men and Irish women who fought for us, but were written out of our history. Thank god that time has passed and we remember.

 

Souvient-toi! Remember them.

 

 

 

 

 

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billpowerphotos@gmail.com (Bill Power Photography) British Christ Church Commemoration Fermoy First World War Fr Celsus O'Connell Irish Mitchelstown Mont d'Huisnes Murphy Nazi Normandy Oradour sur Glane Remember Siegfried Sassoon scouting scouts soldiers https://www.billpowerpx.com/blog/2014/8/reconciliation Sat, 02 Aug 2014 16:19:40 GMT