Proof Pope Francis should have been a Mother

  • Pope Francis is my hero. For years. Catholicism ruled much of Ireland and there are those who believe it still does.  Ar least, 80% of Irish schools are still Catholic and even with history dug up from the Magalene laundries .. to priest pedophiles ..  to the power the church had to take children away from single mothers and fathers .. Catholicism still thrives today. In fact, according to the viewpoints and actions of Pope Francis,  the church has more responsibility than just making an atonement for her sins.  Although he is making it his life’s work to shake up the Catholic church and set things right,  that isn’t why this man is my hero.popefrancis Pope Francis should have been a mother.
    The idea occurred to me this morning when I was worrying about one of my daughters. No matter how old they get, no matter how accomplished or intelligent and even when they are with the right man I will still worry about them because that is what mothers do. I wonder if  that is how Pope Francis feels about the Poor?. He has given up his Papal apartment in the Vatican in favor of a small efficiency, takes the bus instead of being driven around in an expensive automobile and expects his bishops and cardinals to live much more frugally. Coming form a Jesuit background, he has ideas that appear to be quite radical by previous Catholic standards.My favorite story about Pope Francis happened recently in Rome. He invited a  poor man to dinner at the Vatican. When the man declined, saying he felt unworthy and had not bathed, Pope Francis had an idea. A fantastically brilliant idea! He built several public showers inside St. Peter’s Square for the poor and he has other ideas too like asking students of a local hairdresser to give free haircuts to the poor. He’s also given 100 sleeping bags to people sleeping on the streets. A local Roman charity publishes a handbook on where to eat, sleep, and wash, written in several languages.
  • Cath school
  • I remember reading an Irish novel, Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt. Growing up Ireland, Frank relays why he didn’t finish school. In order to go to secondary school,(the Irish version of High school) a boy or girl had to be approved by the clergy.It was totally in their power to approve or disapprove and poor Frank, not a favorite of the priests at the time,  wasn’t chosen to further his education. Ironically,  Frank would write a world famous memoir and 2 other books the first made into a movie,. He went to college in the U.S, (yes, without a HS diploma) and he became a teacher in NY City. He used to play the harmonica and tell stories of his youth to inner-city youths in the Bronx, an area no other teacher was fond of teaching in. Frank is my hero too.
  • What are your views of how Ireland has changed toward the church? Do you think it is possible for one man to make a difference when the Catholic church has committed so many wrongs throughout the centuries?



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How did the Celts Measure time? New Years in Ireland?

The Celts measured time not by days but by nights. beginning at dusk instead of dawn. With Samhain when the crops were waning.Celtic king Beginning on  Oct. 31st. Not Jan 1st. One of the reasons for beginning with evening, is the Celts’ reverence for the moon and certainly they followed the stars, were great astrologers in fact. Take Newgrange in Ireland.  Newgrange is a  5000 year old passage grave and is situated so that the only drop of light shines through a tiny window on the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21st, remarkably close to Christmas and not a coincidence for sure, as the way of the Catholic church was to replace what pagan ideas they could with their own Christian teachings. See other posts on this blog for more information about early Christianity in Ireland.

Cair in the BurrenIf you have a desire to watch the stars yourself, check out this resource: Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve for directions and information about  viewing the night sky. Ireland is one of the best places on the planet to do so, as there are far fewer lights and its geographical and unpopulated location near the sea, affords a perfect view.

Newgrange ceiling stone engravings

Newgrange ceiling stone engraving

Solar Festivals were another way the Celts measured time.
The earliest known Celtic calendar was a lunar calendar called the Coligny calendar written in Latin characters but in Gaulish and made up of bronze plates. It divides each month into fortnights rather than weeks and begins with the full moon. (See for more information) Then of course the months were divided into sections beginning with each festival.

Fire FestivalSamhain,  Celtic New Year, Oct 31st, Ancient Fire Festival, the time when the veil of the Otherworld was lifted.

Imbolic Jan. 31, the beginning of winter, Lambing season and a time for women; perhaps they were thought to be most fertile during this period. The Catholic church changed this festival into St Brigit’s Day., thus Christianizing one of the Pagan goddesses.

Text of BeltaneThe book at the left has many more modern traditions celebrating  the Celtic festival, Beltane, which is on May 1st. It was another fire festival and in ancient times, cattle were driven between two fires, perhaps to cleanse or encourage the gods to make them fertile. All festivals  included what modern celebrations do today, games, food, and joy.

Lughnasadh July 31st celebrates summer, and the God of Lugh . The festival was celebrated with competitions of skill and horse racing. In Ireland, Lughnasadh was associated with the fertility goddess,  Emain Macha, who died in childbirth after being forced to race.

These are the more well-known festivals and perhaps the most celebrated. There are others to be sure, and also many more fairs, which were also cause to celebrate. For instance in my novel, the Sun Palace, I’ve a reference to the Tailtean Fair.

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How the First Irish Saints and Scholars Discovered Ireland

A sixth-century monk named Brendan,  who would later become known as St. Brendan the Navigator,  set out in his tiny seal skin boat with his fellow abbots to a far away land called Hibernia, the name given to Ireland by the Greeks. They voyaged across the cold Atlantic shores toward a wild, mostly untamed territory. They were looking for grace or a way to come closer to God.They came from Britannia (England), Germania (Germany), and Rome as well as all over Western Europe. They wrote Latin and poetry, spoke different languages and came from the highest social ranks. After blending with the Irish, they became the record keepers of genealogies and stories. They became known as the most learned men of Europe. Whether they learned from the Celts or the Celts learned from them is inconsequential. The first Irish monks in Ireland were born ..  and Ireland would be changed forever by their arrival..

Repo. of Celtic Cross in Heritage Park, Wicklow Ireland

Repo. of Celtic Cross in Heritage Park, Wicklow Ireland

The First Women in Christianity

Christianity blended with the people of their new continent. The Irish chieftains who became priests were naturally married, and refused to shun their wives along with their lands upon conversion. Some women however, chose to become nuns ..  as far back as the sixth century. St. Patrick himself, included embroideresses in his entourage. (from The Flowering of Ireland by Katharine Scherman)

Ireland’s most famous female patron saint, Brigit, born in 450, was the daughter of a Pagan chieftain  named Dubthach. His first jealous wife sent Brigid’s mother away before she was born and she was born in the house of a druid who lived nearby. When Brighid was around ten years of age, she returned to her father and to his dismay began giving away all his food and whatever she thought useful to the poor. Then to further insult him,  she returned to her mother who was sick, in order to take over her duties as a milk maid. She churned so much butter for the druid that in delightful gratitude, he allowed himself to become baptized and became her servant for life. He also gave her some of the butter and one of the cows, which she promptly gave away. Perhaps to curb her activities, Dubthach insisted she marry but Brigid refused, disfiguring her own face so no man would want her. Finally her father gave her the money to ‘take the veil’ and it is believed her face became beautiful once again. A sweet little poem is attributed to her. This is the first line. I would like a great lake of ale for the king of the kings; I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal. and one more verse: I would like the people of Heaven in my house: I would like the baskets of peace to be theirs.  You can see through her words, the blending of Christianity while still retaining some of the old world views.

St Kevin's Church Wicklow, Ireland

St Kevin’s Church Wicklow, Ireland

The first Irish saints and scholars did not live in groups but in seclusion such as St. Kevin of Wicklow (Coemgen in Irish)  who sought a closeness to God by living simply in the Wicklow Mountains. He was only a boy when Brigid was very old and it is written that he died at the age of 120. Kevin had been born of royalty descended from the kings of Leinster but he never wished to rule or to fight, choosing the life of a poor lonely monk instead. There are numerous stories about St Kevin such as when a girl tried to seduce him, he fled into a patch of nettles then threw them at her, stinging her sorely or when he stood with his arms outstretched, resembling the sign of the cross and stayed there until a black bird built her nest in his hand, an exhausting pose to be sure. Most of the stories are suspect if not fantastic for who knows what is true or what is mere legend. What is not fantastic are the  bee-shaped dwellings and stone made houses the monks left behind such as those on the top of Skellig Michael 600 feet above sea level and only reachable by precarious stone steps.

Life for the first monks under certain abbot’s was strict. St Enda’s rule for example, was rigorous in the extreme. Not only did the monks work their own land but they refused to use any tools. They ate silently and frugally, their food consisting mostly of oats and barley from their fields.  They slept in their day clothes on the bare ground and they seldom had a fire, even when the weather was wild. They prayed both day and night and allowed themselves only brief hours of sleep. Finian, like Enda  also preached an ascetic lifestyle. Written by one of his scribes, so great was Finian’s plight that his ribs could be counted through his inner raiment and a worm seen coming out of his side, for he wore a cold girdle of iron which cut him as penance for his body.

A lack of sleep, harsh physical conditions, little food and heightened pain were thought to strengthen a man’s soul. A profound faith in God as a living presence drove Ireland’s first Irish saints and scholars, but who are we to judge? Perhaps they did become closer to God.

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How The Sacred Wells of Ireland shaped Christianity

brideswell in IrelandThe Celts believed water had magical properties. One  reason  might have to do with how the water got here. Though there are many myths about the beginning of civilization, one theory is that the world was covered in water, flooded so to speak, and when the waters receded, the most holy of it was left behind, perhaps seen as a passage between the earth and the Otherworld. The most holy and the largest of the waters, ( in Ireland at least)  the River Boyne and the River Shannon. The water of sacred wells was also seen as a  regenerative life-force, perhaps to grow back severed limbs, make a woman conceive or give great wisdom when drunk or bathed in it. . During Pagan times, carved totems, jewelry, weapons and cauldrons were dropped into wells, lochs, and rivers as votive offerings to the deities.ireland                         Holy or sacred wells actually predate Christianity, even though many of them are named for Christian saints. In Walter and Mary Brenneman’s book ‘Crossing the Circle at the Holy Wells of Ireland, ( a fabulous reference with lots of photos)  they list sixty three holy wells, although another source claims there are as many as three thousand all over Europe. Many date back as far as prehistoric times. They attract both natives and tourists alike though you won’t find their locations in most travel books but you might find a friend or two at the nearby pub to point the way..

 Tales of the Fenian Cycle  One of the main bodies of Irish literature called The Fenian Cycle tells of Finn ma Cumaill who gained wisdom from the Otherworld by drinking water from the Well of Segais. In the story Finn and two friends find a magical mound with the door ajar and try to go in. The three daughters of Bec mac Buain who is lord of the mound try to slam the door shut on Finn but water from a pitcher she is carrying spills on Finn’s lips.  Finn catches his thumb in the door. He puts his thumb in his mouth to numb the pain and swallows some of the sacred water, giving him wisdom. Another story concerning Finn tells of Finn and his teacher, Finn Eces. The teacher tells his pupil to catch the magic salmon who lives in the pool of Linn Feic and cook it. Fin does catch the salmon but burns his thumb in the cooking of the salmon. Naturally he puts his thumb in his mouth again and becomes the smartest man alive!

An Irishman intoxicated? Why, its the water of life!   The myth of Niall and his four brothers illustrates another aspect of intoxication and the water of life. Niall and his brothers obtain weapons to go hunting. One of the brothers, Fergus is sent to get water from a spring. He meets a black hag who demands a kiss, which he refuses. Each brother in turn refuse to kiss the hag except for Niall who closes his eyes and plants a big wet one on the her hideous face. When he opens his eyes he sees the most beautiful woman in the world.  She gives him “the drink” and he becomes king. The water in the tale is compared to strong drink therefore intoxication is thought to be magical.   Not all the Holy Wells are Christian In the Burren, County Clare there is what is called a cleft well on a high ridge overlooking the sea. They call this the tooth well and no local saint is associated with it. The well is no more than six inches in diameter, a round hole in solid limestone. Beside it is a small stone-alter containing offerings of teeth and bone fragments.  Surrounding the well are two  circles carved into the stone, evidence of its Celtic heritage.

Wells to make one pregnant? In Ballyshannon, County Donegal, there is a sea well dedicated to St. Patrick.  It’s located on the shore of the River Erne just before Donegal Bay and is shaped like a keyhole, supposedly resembling a vagina.Near the well is a thorn bush covered with clooties, rags tied to a tree or bush as offerings. Surrounding the well are fourteen white metal crosses.  At high tide the sea covers the well, covering it in fertilizing water. The fresh and salt water combined symbolize the Great God and the Goddess, the union of all beings. Women leave “serpent eggs” beside the well in the hopes of becoming pregnant.

There are many more stories to illustrate the power of the holy or sacred wells of Ireland but these are some of the less known ones. If  you know of any others or have photos you’ve taken please  leave me a comment or better yet subscribe to this blog. Posts on Irish and American history and the like come out one to two times a month.  You can unsubscribe at any time.



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