What do you think of when you think of monks? Silent hooded figures praying in a shadowed cloister perhaps? Or the ethereal sound of Gregorian chant? You probably don’t think of a violent battle leaving thousands of dead and dying strewn on a blood-soaked field. Yet this is part of the story of a famous Irish monk named Colmcille, or Saint Columba. His Gaelic name means dove of the church, but Colmcille was far from a dove of peace when it came to Cul Dreimhne, the Battle of the Book. I heard about this strange episode in Irish history while staying in the village of Drumcliffe north of Sligo, in sight of the slopes of Ben Bulben where the sixth century Battle of the Book was fought. Colmcille instigated the battle in the aftermath of a legal dispute that is the first recorded case of copyright law. Continue reading
Map of the Spanish Armada shipwrecks in Ireland
Along with every other English schoolchild I learned the story of the Spanish Armada. In 1588 Philip II of Spain sent the largest fleet ever seen to conquer England, depose the heretic Queen Elizabeth I, and restore the Catholic faith. But luckily a storm blew up driving the Spanish ships off course. Trying to make their way back to Spain many were shipwrecked on the west coast of Ireland. Good Queen Bess was triumphant and England saved. End of story. Later, when I studied history for my degree, I learned the more nuanced version, setting the Armada story in the full context of sixteenth century European power struggles and religious conflicts. The story ended the same way though, with English triumph and Spanish shipwrecks. Not a word or a thought to what happened to the Spaniards who washed up on Irish shores. But I discovered in Ireland that the end of the English Armada story is where the Irish story begins. A story of Continue reading
Yeats mural in Sligo
Our boat slowed and began to circle the little island in the lake. Then over the loudspeaker came the voice of our captain, George, reciting the W. B. Yeats poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. We were circling that very island. We were in Yeats country, “the land of heart’s desire” around Sligo in the west of Ireland. This was just one of the magical moments we experienced in my first visit to my paternal grandparents’ country. And George was just one of the marvelous characters we met who made Irish history Continue reading
My favorite childhood book was never on my own childhood bookshelf. I borrowed Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome from my local library and enjoyed it so much that in subsequent weeks I checked out all the other books in the series. I do own a copy now, though it is currently on loan to my grandsons. This year was our fourth spending a week together at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. I’m hoping the lake experience will draw Continue reading
Americans used to love Paris. There’s even a song about it, something about springtime and fall and drizzles and sizzles. George Gershwin wrote a whole musical on the theme. He thought Paris ‘S wonderful! American literary types used to hang out in Paris and get inspired to write Great American Novels. Paris was on every American’s bucket list. It was the epitome of Romance. But no more. President Trump broke up with Paris bigly. Continue reading
Perhaps the most shocking thing, out of all the shocks that have battered us since the inauguration of President Trump, is the complete lack of responsible reaction from Congressional Republicans. Beyond a few bleats of “troubling” and “concerning” there is only evasion, excuses, or silence from those charged by the Constitution with checking and balancing the Executive Branch. Many commentators have drawn comparisons to Watergate when Republican leaders acted as patriotic statesmen, putting country before party. Today’s Republicans make us wonder, how would they have reacted if Hillary Clinton had been elected and behaved in precisely the same way as President Trump?
To find the answer I enter the British Police Box in my basement armed with a “subtle Continue reading
LP cover. “Birds” was the contemporary slang for girls.
Bubbling with the exited anticipation of teenagers, my friend and I rode the number 66 red double-decker bus into Romford. It was February 25th 1964 and we were headed to the Odeon Theatre to try to catch a glimpse of our latest crush. No, not Mick Jagger or any of the Rolling Stones, but Mike Sarne. Who, you may ask? Continue reading