Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Ancient Ireland: The Bohea Stone

The West of Ireland is a humble place. Amongst the crags and clefts of rocks marking the hills, its barren land shows no wealth. The beauty of Ireland is in its understated treasures. The Bohea Stone is a most modest reminder of Ireland's mixed heritage between Celtic and Christian traditions.

Discovered in 1987 by the late Gerry Bracken, the monument bears concentric circles and has a small crucifix engraved on its side. The most remarkable feature of the stone is its alignnment with Croagh Patrick twice a year, on April 17th and on August 24th when to those standing at the monument that the sun appears to roll down the northern edge of Croagh Patrick. The significance lies in the ability of those who lived in Ireland before the coming of St. Patrick and Christianity to align their lives with the positioning of the stars. April 18th marking the start of the growing season and August 24th the start of the harvesting season. The complexity of the alignment is startling, considering it was done before 400 AD. The marks are still clearly visible on the surface of the rock and serve as a reminder of the wealth of Ireland's ancient, unwritten past.

The Christian influence on Irish society can is also engraved on to the surface of the rock. A small, neat crucifix can be seen on the right hand side of the stone, indicating that the stone could have been used as a Mass Rock during penal times. The rock also lies on the route of the Tóchar Phadraig, the pilgrimage from Balintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick. This is said to have been the route taken by Patrick and his followers in his time spent converting the Irish people. The strong connection between Celtic and Christian times can be seen as the Bohea Stone is also called 'Patrick's Chair', indicating that the conversion the Pagans to Christianity was done by the appropriation of local traditions to suit the aims of Christian priests.

The rock has an air of 'Magic Rock of Kiltibbert' about it. Situated between a derelict design studio and the outhouses of an unused farm, the Bohea Stone leaves a lot to the imagination. Small, rounded white stones on the surface of the rock mark the locations of concentric circles and cup marks. On bright, clear days the circles are clearly visible to the naked eye and leave wonderful marks on tracing paper. On cloudy days when the light is poor, the rock appears to be very much just like a big rock in between a house and an abandoned Volvo with no wheels on.

The Bohea Stone can be found just off the N59 from Westport to Leenaune. Leaving Westport, travel 6km from Westport through Knappagh, passing by the water filtration plant and the filling station on your left. Take the first left turn after the filling station. Travel uphill and turn right at the fork in the road. The Bohea Stone can be found behind the derelict design studio on the right, 200 metres from the fork in the road. It is marked by a sign in the garden.

Friday, 12 July 2013

"This is a Catholic Country"

An elder generation of Irish people would consider themselves Irish first and Roman Catholic second, and so to a young person who has grown up in a nation where the power of the church has weakened and the number of practising Catholics has fallen, the introduction of abortion, presumably, should be relatively easy. It's difficult to understand why the protection of the life the mother, avoiding the trauma of foetal abnormalities being carried to full term and the other valid arguments allowing for abortion failed to sway the vote decades ago.

Parents who have stopped going to mass, empty churches and broadening educational horizons have led to an awakened youth; aspiring to the independence and liberal freedoms of our European counterparts. While promising, it marks the stark contrast between young people and older generations in Ireland. For those who grew up in Ireland in the 1950's and 60's and even earlier, Ireland was an island of persecuted Catholics in the north, and subservient Catholics in the south. Comprehending such marked divisions along religious lines is challenging for the left-wing socially aware movement of today.

What highlighted this embodied faith was the prevalence of shrines to the Virgin Mary throughout the countryside. Travelling through the the townlands and countryside of Mayo, it was possible to see 9 Marian Year shrines positioned on the sides of roads, surveying junctions on country lanes and watching over communities. Built to celebrate the Marian Year of 1954, the various grottos and statues of the Virgin Mary were to strengthen "Marian values" at the behest of Pope Pious XII. Only in a country so indoctrinated in one faith could the Marian Shrine statues have been built, maintained and widely accepted. Their presence today reflects the underlying strength of the Roman Catholic Church that has remained within Irish culture.

The opposition to the introduction of legislation accommodating abortion has come as a surprise to many young people. The largely religious-based argumentation opposed to the introduction is as confusing as it is unpredictable. Faith-based groups have been deceptively silent in the psyche of young Irish people until the death of Savita Halappanavar and the now infamous quote "This is a Catholic country". For young Irish liberals, hoping for equality and the protection and upholding of bodily integrity for women, breaking free from the shackles of the imposition of religion in their lives is the challenge of their time. What must now be done, is to approach the opposition in a way which adequately challenges their way of thinking. The TD's carrying the voting responsibilities have the power to perpetuate religious dogma or enable and enrich the lives of Irish people

This idea, of enlightened parliamentarians is a challenge to entertain with the behaviour of TD Tom Barry, who during a break from voting on the introduction of abortion, pulled TD Aine Collins on to his lap in the Dáil Chamber. Such embarrassing misogyny from an elected representative is indicative of the difficulties faced by women in Ireland in breaking a male-centric culture and ensuring adequate protection for their freedom from harassment. Where the Irish medical profession and the government impliedly agree, is that women are unequal and undeserving the limited protection of their rights.

The full album of Marian Shrines is on the Skríobh Facebook page, available here.