Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Useful Violence"

Came across this passage today in 'A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland' by Samuel Johnson. "No faction of Scotland loved the name of Cromwell, or had any desire to continue his memory. Yet what the Romans did to other nations, was in a great degree done by Cromwell to the Scots; he civilized them by conquest, and introduced by useful violence the arts of peace. I was told at Aberdeen that the people learned from Cromwell's soldiers to make shoes and to plant kail. How they lived without kail, it is not easy to guess: They cultivate hardly any other plant for common tables, and when they had not kail they probably had nothing."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I took a trip to Ireland this month for a family wedding and had a lovely, peaceful visit. After performing on Charlie McGettigan's 'Saturday Connection' on Shannonside FM we headed northwest from Longford to where some good friends live between Knocknarea and the sea in Strandhill, Co. Sligo. It's a very peaceful place where I always feel at home spending time with these friends who have been very good to me. As it was raining and there was only a day to spend there, I spent most of the time in conversation rather than walking up Knocknarea. The last time I was there they took me to the Fairy Glen, a magical place where I first had to wash my face in the well beside the road before turning around and taking the gate into the glen. I had heard about this place years before in New York so it was lovely to finally find myself there.

A few days later I went to Strangford Lough in County Down. We took some walks in the hills nearby that are steeped in lore about St. Patrick and the establishment of his first church there at Saul, from the early Irish 'sabhal' for 'barn': Patrick is said to have converted the chieftain Dichu, who then gave him a barn in which to establish his church in Ireland. Walking up the steep St. Patrick's Hill could be seen dozens of dishevelled boiled eggs left over from the Easter Sunday celebrations of the previous week. We also visited Downpatrick Cathedral where Patrick is thought to be buried along with Ireland's two other patron saints Bridget and Colmcille. It's a high, peaceful spot in the town of Downpatrick which is accessed by an inclining path through a pleasant grove of trees where bluebells and daffodils were in bloom.

It was on then to Loughcrew, an even more ancient site near Oldcastle in Co. Meath for an ascent to sit on The Hag's Chair (that's where I am in the photo), to take in a splendid view of the surrounding countryside from a fine height.

Finally as this trip came to a close I unexpectedly found myself in Glendalough walking through the ruins of Kevin's monastic settlement and imagining the lives of the monks there and the imagery of much of my favourite Celtic nature poetry about the ascetic life.