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Archive for April, 2010

If you are missing Belfast you might like to take a walk around it with me on my new slideshow, History Behind Bars, currently showing at The Street.

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Tim Brannigan’s new book, Where Are You Really From? recounts the life of a black boy born in Belfast who became a Republican activist.

Is having two identities a freedom or a burden? That’s a question I explored with him and others in similar double identity situations.

http://malachi.podcastpeople.com/redirect/media/38421malachi-o-doherty-38421mp3

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Normally a plane flies over my home every five minutes through the day.
I have often sat out in the garden in sunshine and marvelled at how accustomed I had become to what you’d expect would be a major disruption; having to break off conversation, for instance, as another roar descends.
Now that the planes have stopped the peace is creepy.
Others – many of my Facebook friends among them- are remarking on how pleasant it is to have this silence. Well, yes. I go on holiday for silence like this. I pay good money for it, but I live in a city and I expect a city to sound like a city. And if it doesn’t, then something in me reacts instinctively, a bit like the cowboy in a hundred films who notices that the war drums have stopped; far more ominous than the drums themselves.
There is no point pretending that our world hasn’t changed. OK, the threat of volcanic ash drifting down from Iceland is obviously one we should have anticipated. What else has Iceland got, apart from volcanoes?
But a perfectly inevitable disruption has arrived and reminded us how complacent we have been. The change is that we can not be so complacent again.
I have been planning to fly to Barcelona at the weekend. The weather forecast says I might be able to get away. Can it assure me that I will get back; that the winds over Ireland or Spain or the skies in between won’t have closed the route again while I’m gone?
For now we anxiously await the reopening of our airports, but how stable will air traffic seem even when flights are cleared for take-off?
On this little archipelago off the west coast of Europe we have been obsessed with the winds. If we didn’t have weather forecasts with every news programme telling us what way the winds are blowing and whether they are carrying rain, snow or clearing the way for ridges of High Pressure (Yo!) we would feel isolated and deprived. Now we need Angie and Celia to keep us informed about ash flow.
It is intrinsic to our lives as islanders that we take the first buffetings from arctic storms and that we also receive balmy southern breezes that bring whiffs of the Azores to us. Our collective mood draws on the weather, as the weather draws on the wind. Now we are reminded of our dependency on the wind and our freedom to travel abroad seems once again as reliant on its force and direction as in the days of sailing ships.
We can not feel secure any more in booking flights abroad and must always consider the danger that we will be stranded; certainly as long as this volcano blows, but in the long term too, considering that there will be other volcanoes.
The question we are confronted with is whether our modern technologically based life style can be maintained on a fickle and unstable planet.
We had been anticipating that the great reverses of our growth and development might come from climate change or awesome calamity, an asteroid strike or a super Volcano like Toba in Sumatra, which deforested India and started an ice age. And we have no assurance that something like it won’t happen again.
But we enjoy the comfortable delusion that we don’t really suffer natural disasters in Ireland. The tectonic plates grind each other only thousands of miles from us.
We have the evidence all around us of volcanic seizures reshaping the landscape, but we all know that’s not going to happen again, don’t we?
Who’s afraid of Slemish or Knocklayde?
But now we do know that a fundamental or our lifestyle, air travel, can be stopped by a minor volcano, far away, and we are suddenly much more vulnerable than we ever imagined.
For the moment we must plan our practical adaptations. The wind may scatter the ash back north and release us, but air travel has suffered already. The fall out will be financial. Travel must now become more expensive to cover the losses. Some companies will fold.
And the public will remember which companies looked after them and kept them informed and which didn’t.
I find that I can not cancel my flight to Barcelona; but can only transfer the payment to another flight some other time. That’s Easyjet and online booking for you. The stranded and those who have had to change their plans will want to be sure in future that they are dealing with people not computers, and a company that can adapt immediately to problems like these.
Coming after a winter of delays and on top of the ludicrious policing of the liquids in our hand luggage, people must be starting to wonder if travel by air is, after all, worth it at any price.
It may be as expensive to holiday in Ireland but at least you have a better chance of getting home afterwards.
In the long term we have to adapt philosophically and incorporate our new understanding of our vulnerability into our world view.
Humanity has spread over the earth like an infestation, with incredible rapidity, and that recent growth has relied on technology of a kind that can be disrupted by minor and routine natural events; indeed, if we think in terms of Nature’s routines, we have to include climatic and seismic disruptions that we could not survive.
We can not defeat Nature, so perhaps we just have to be more stoical, like our grandparents were. Some days you just have to accept that you are going nowhere.

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A few private thoughts will have circulated among churchmen and their
critics when the news came through on Tuesday night that Cardinal Sean
Brady had been rushed to hospital.
Those who love and defend the Cardinal, as many do, will have worried
that this was the outworking of the pressure put on him by media
manipulators and scandal mongers who have never understood the
Catholic church or known what a good man he is.
Others will have thought, more deviously; Isn’t this convenient?
At 70 the Cardinal does not look like a spry and durable man but he
climbed the pilgrim mountain Croagh Patrick just a few years ago and
he may have a more robust body under that black suit than is suggested
by his ambling manner.
He is not due to retire until he is 75 but an early retirement on
health grounds might be the best diplomatic response to the pressure
on him to resign.
In 1975 Fr Sean Brady, as he then was, administered an oath of secrecy
to young people who had been abused by the horrific Brendan Smyth.
Smyth was one of the most prolific predators on children to have
emerged from a church that has, we now know, never been short of the
type.
Cardinal Brady told his congregation on St Patrick’s Day that he would
take the season of Lent to reflect upon his position. That now extends
to Pentecost. Other bishops similarly tainted by their association
with inadequate episcopal procedures for curtailing paedophiles –
usually by shifting them to other parishes – had offered to stand
down.
Brady was heartened that his congregation applauded him and he said
that we wanted to consider whether the church still had a place for a
wounded healer, comparing himself to St Patrick.
If this seemed not the right tone for a man who was conceding that he
had done wrong, few in the pews seem to have been offended.
One of the concerns of many Catholics in Armagh is that Sean Brady is
being reviled for doing what any other priest of his standing at the
times would have done, he followed the instructions of his bishop, to
whom he had sworn obedience.
Another concern is the old rivalry btween Dublin and Armagh over who
leads the Irish church. Armagh is proud to be the seat of the Primate
and to have a primate who is a cardinal.  Some would worry that the
centre of gravity of the irish church would shift south and that the
historic ecclesiastical capital would lose it shine.
And in Dublin there is an archbishop who now makes a more credible
case for himself as a champion of the new clean up in the church.
Of course, the church is making such a botch of presenting itself as
more concerned to protect children than to preserve its good name,
that it can not be safely assumed that men like Archbishop Diarmuid
Martin will prevail anyway.
After the publication of the Murphy Report, disclosing the scale of
abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin last year, the church had seemed
ready to accept radical change.
Since then it has made a series of horrific mistakes.
The pastoral letter to the people of Ireland from the Pope himself
plainly dismissed the claim that the application of canon Law had been
part of the problem. It said that Canon Law had simply not been
properly applied.
So it was still, in his eyes, the job of the church to punish
paedophile priests, though the state should be deferred to in its
‘areas of competence’.
The latest smug riposte was the drivel from Cardinal Bertoni in
Brazil, suggesting that child abuse was more likely to stem from
homosexuality than celibacy.
Other senior churchmen have maintained the line that the church is
under attack from the media.
One said last week that he had heard the persecution of the church
compared to the persecution of the Jews.
The men who would be the moral leaders of the whole world may preach
the parable of the mote and beam but many appear not to have grasped
its meaning.
And this deepening defensiveness within the church comes in the run up
to a papal visit to the UK.
And anger is growing there, so much that it seems unlikely that the
Papal visit can proceed without protest.
Gays will not accept that they are more likely to rape children than
are men who commit themselves to living celibately for God.
And the legal case that the Pope is himself answerable for the cover
up of abuse all over the world now seems strong enough to warrant
testing if there was a court he could be brought before.
In all of this, there must be many in the church who realise that the
only way to prove good intention and a proper sense of moral
responsibility is to sacrifice a sacred cow.
And there he goes, striding the holy hills of Armagh, fit as a sandboy
but succumbing to pressure.
They may hope there are medical grounds for prompting him to make a
dignified stand down. On the other hand, they may be starting to
realise that sacking him out right would be the better face saver.
More likely they will do nothing, for this is a church as frail as the
dim old men who lead it, men unfit for clear action or moral courage,
hobbling through every crisis.

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This was the view from our picnic over Cushendall bay yesterday afternoon, April 11.  Anyone know what they were up to?

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