Saturday 31 October 2009

A great country this for old men!

The law is truly an ass! Welcome to Ireland 2009 where a pervert 57 year old dentist can take advantage of a vulnerable trainee dental nurse, unbuttoning her top despite her protests on the pretence of 'checking the buttons' and gets away with a €1000 euro fine while a consensual sexual encounter between a teenage boy of nineteen and a teenage girl of 16 ends up in the boy getting a criminal custodial conviction and an entry on the sex-offenders register! And we expect people to respect the law!

I don't like Saints!

Sermon for All Saints 2009

I want to start today with what may sound like an extraordinary statement:
I don’t like Saints!
Does that sound odd on this day of all days - All Saints Day? It may sound heretical to suggest that there is a problem with Saints, but I think Saints rather than inspiring us in our lives of faith can actually be a hindrance to our walk with God.
You might well ask what is the problem with the Saints – Surely people who led godly lives and did heroic deeds of self sacrifice for the sake of their faith should be celebrated and revered as the Church has traditionally done. What about St. Peter and St Paul, or more recent saints such as Mother Teresa or indeed our own St. Brigid or indeed St. Kieran who has a particular association with this group of parishes? Should they not be revered and celebrated. Actually No, I don’t think so or at least not in the way we tend to celebrate the Saints and have done through the ages. We have made of the Saints impossible role models who in the way their lives have been portrayed make us feel inadequate and guilty for our failings. We have attached to them a perfection that Christ himself never demanded of any of his followers. We have turned them from icons to idols always an easy line to cross and one which the Church has continually done through the ages.
There is an almost direct equivalent in today’s celebrity culture though at least in the celebrity culture we are aware of the warts as well as the achievements of our cultural idols. When it comes to Saints things are very different – they are painted in terms of their virtues with little or no account of their vices and yet like all human beings they had their vices….and were all the more human for them.
It is very hard for you and me, mere mortals, to identify with an image of almost sterile perfection.
It is neither realistic or attractive – It may fascinate us but we cannot ultimately relate to it. We really do the Saints a disservice when we portray them in this way. We actually devalue their witness because we dehumanise it and make it impossible for us to aspire to. I am named after St Stephen, traditionally the first Christian Martyr (I don’t aspire to that for one moment) I would love to think I had that courage but I doubt it - but I would love to know more about him – Apart from his Martrydom all that is concrete is that he was one of the first deacons of the Church – There was probably a lot more to St. Stephen, plenty of weaknesses and failings, plenty of idiosyncrasies, but all we tend to think of is a heroic martyrdom.
So one thing is clear, the lives of the Saints as presented and celebrated are heavily edited – all we get are the highlights and like watching the highlights of a great sporting occasion they are no substitute for the real thing. We miss those little seemingly insignificant moments which might actually have allowed us to identify with them.
The other problem with the Saints is that it is all about them! What do I mean by that? Well it is all about their achievements and their witness when it really should be about something or someone else entirely. The stories of the Saints are not about heroic human beings but rather about God’s extraordinary Grace working in them. It is not about them – It is about God! The Saints are not saintly because of any innate virtues but rather because they were open to God and so more perfectly fulfilled their God given potential, a potential in which we all share! How often are we told that we were created in the Divine image? What does that mean? It means surely that we ALL can be Saints of God and it certainly means that we are ALL called to be Saints of God. We all have the potential to mirror something of the Divine in our lives, not the totality but something and that is surely the most extraordinary privelage.
And sometimes it is in our imperfection that God is revealed. One of my favourite and I think most profound lyrics from contemporary music comes from Leonard Cohen and it is this – ‘There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in’.
The wonderful story of our faith is that we are acceptable with all our flaws and imperfections. By becoming incarnate god has sanctified the whole of Creation and revealed in Christ the incredible potential, not just of humanity but of the whole created order. It is not about the Saints but it is about God, a generous God who calls us all to participate in helping this beautiful world achieve its true potential to mirror the glory of God.

1 Parish 2 US Presidents! Are we blessed or what?

See the report below: President Josiah Bartlett is coming our way shortly. Actor Martin Sheen is a familiar sight locally as his family hail from Borrisokane where he is to film his latest work, STELLA DAYS.
Irish Times report HERE
and below:

An Irishman's Diary

Frank McNally

Sat, Oct 31, 2009

IT IS ALL of 100 years now since an Irishman living in Italy became so impressed with the potential of a new, fast-growing entertainment medium that he decided to introduce it to his home country. So in October 1909, he went back to Dublin to make the arrangements. And two months’ later, a week before Christmas, he opened Ireland’s first dedicated cinema at No 45 Mary Street.

It was not exactly a success. Partly because all the films he arranged to screen were in Italian, the cinema struggled. But undaunted, the would-be impresario – James Joyce – returned to Italy and went on to make quite a name for himself in another of his big interests, literature.

Fast-forward almost half a century and a not dissimilar drama played out in a small, north Tipperary town called Borrisokane. Too late for Joyce, Ireland’s love-affair with the movies was by now in full bloom, consummated nightly in such vast picture palaces as Dublin’s Carlton and Adelphi. But like many rural towns, Borrisokane still didn’t have a cinema, until one man determined to change this.

The unlikely Joycean figure was the local parish priest, Canon Cahill, who – defying the clergy’s traditional suspicion of the medium – decided that the town would have a silver screen. The priest was a cultured man, but also a steely one: known for his habit of swimming daily in Lough Derg, even in the winter of 1963 when the lake froze and he had to bring a pick with him to break the ice.

He was used to getting his way; so the necessary money was soon raised. And in April 1957 the Stella Cinema opened in Borrisokane’s Clarke Memorial Hall.

With a proper sense of occasion, Canon Cahill made a speech beforehand on the cultural importance of film, a medium that – at 60 – was about the same age as himself. He paid tribute to the pioneering Lumière brothers. And with a warning to the audience not to clap too hard – “It’s a very old building”, he brought the lights down on Marching Along , a musical biopic about bandmaster John Philip Sousa.

There were many better films shown during the Stella’s heyday – Casablanca, The Third Man , and All Quiet on the Western Front , to name just a few; along with such less celebrated classics as Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman . But it was a short heyday.

As mass entertainment, cinema-going had already peaked by the 1960s. Television was on the rise. And in May 1967, barely 10 years after it opened with great hoopla, the Stella closed almost unnoticed.

Its story is similar to many others in small-town Ireland. We might have heard nothing more about it but for two locals. One was Michael Doorley who, in 2002, wrote a book called Stella Days , a glowingly affectionate tribute to the old cinema. The other was a woman called Mary Anne Phelan.

The latter had emigrated to the US many years before, where she became Mrs Estevez. Her children were called Estevez too. But she is better known to posterity as the late mother of one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, whose stage name is Martin Sheen: a man deeply proud of his Tipperary roots and – incidentally – now about the right age to play Canon Cahill.

One thing led to another. And although the details are still being sorted, it is hoped that filming of Stella Days, directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan and with a cast including Sheen, Stephen Rea and Romola Garai (of Atonement and Inside I’m Dancing) will begin soon, shot partly on location in and around Lough Derg.

Sheen is not Borrisokane’s only link with Hollywood, as it happens. Although born in Dublin, the once famous silent-movie director Reginald Ingram Hitchcock – Rex Ingram for short – spent formative years in the Tipperary town, where his father was Church of Ireland rector.

Not to be confused with the actor of the same name, Ingram reached his peak with such films as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1922). A contemporary film-maker once called him “the world’s greatest director”.

But that was arguably not the greatest compliment paid him.

Unsurprisingly, he also came to the attention of the aforementioned Irish-Italian cinephile, Mr Joyce: earning a reference in Finnegans Wake as “Rex Ingram, pageant master”.

Of course, Finnegans Wake is widely regarded as a heroic failure, a bit like Joyce’s Volta cinema. For more encouraging omens, Borrisokane and the makers of Stella Days might look to another Italian source, the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso . Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, this concerned a veteran cinematographer’s return to his Sicilian birthplace for the funeral of an old friend, the projectionist in the local picture house who had inspired him as a child to make movies The film is about friendship, coming of age, love, and loss: all considered against the background of a small-town cinema. It did poorly on initial release in Italy. Then the producers cut half an hour out of it for international release, and it took off: winning the special jury prize at Cannes and the best foreign film Oscar, en route to earning status as a popular classic and reviving the Italian film industry.

© 2009 The Irish Times

Friday 23 October 2009

Trapatonni to lead Ireland to historic victoire!

Here's to Trapatonni- - The Corrigan Brothers encourage Trap to fry the French like their fries! No Mercy! (Or should that be Non Merci?)

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Canterbury has finally lost the plot!

++Rowan seems to think ecumenism is about being walked on! Will anyone rid us of this meddlesome priest? Please!!!

Sunday 18 October 2009

Obama plays the waiting game

Most interesting column by Andrew Sullivan in today's London Sunday Times:

President Obama may seem to dither, but he is ready to strike

There is a strange quality to Barack Obama’s pragmatism. It can look like dilly-dallying, weakness, indecisiveness. But although he may seem weak at times, one of the words most applicable to him is something else entirely: ruthless. Beneath the crisp suit and easy smile there is a core of strategic steel.

In this respect, Obama’s domestic strategy is rather like his foreign one — not so much weakness but the occasional appearance of weakness as a kind of strategy. The pattern is now almost trademarked. He carefully lays out the structural message he is trying to convey. At home, it is: we all have to fix the mess left by Bush-Cheney. Abroad, it is: we all have to fix the mess left by Bush-Cheney. And then ... not much.

The agenda may be clear. He wants an engaged Iran without nuclear weapons. He wants to be the first American president to enact universal health insurance coverage. He wants a sane two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. He wants to leave Iraq without having it blow up on him. He wants to find a way to solve the AfPak Rubik’s Cube. He wants to allow gays to serve openly in the military. But on all these things, it’s mid-October and still ... nothing substantive. So obviously, he’s a total fraud and failure, right?

Wrong. When Obama moves, he moves with chilling swiftness. The stimulus package went through Congress like a speeding bullet. The appointment of Hispanic judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was as clean as these things can be. But these were matters over which he had almost complete control. When he doesn’t have such control, he takes another tack.

He sets out a goal and then he waits. He waits for the other players to show their hand. He starts a process that itself reveals that certain options are unfeasible, until he is revealed by events to have no other choice but ... well, the least worst practical way forward. He always knows that things can change, and waits for the optimal moment to seize the initiative.

On Iran, for example, he has done not much more on the surface than open up direct talks. Beneath, you see deeper shifts. His election itself and his Cairo speech laid some important groundwork for June’s Green revolution.

He managed to inspire the opposition without throwing his lot in with them (playing the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, with finesse). In America, he has slowly defused the debate away from the polarising “Are you a patriot?” or “Are you with those scary Muslims?” to the more realistic: “If we want to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon, what’s the least worst way of trying — or is it impossible after all?”

By waiting, we learn. We now know, for example, that Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, is more sympathetic to sanctions against Iran than Vladimir Putin. We learn more about divisions within the Tehran leadership. We may also discover that even with a transparent, good-faith engagement from Obama, the Chinese and Russians have no intention of shifting. That will leave him with a clearer, if narrower, set of policy options. The president can afford to do this because he has more power than anyone else. But he doesn’t have total control, especially as America’s global power is balanced by China, India and Russia. He’ll act when he knows what the options really are. And not until.

On health insurance reform, you see the same cunning. Universal insurance is now all but certain in some form, but how to restrain costs remains a difficult challenge. One way would be the dreaded public option, or rather a compromise in which a public option would be available, but only if individual states approve it for their own populations. Obama knows the public option, insofar as most Americans understand it, is popular. So why not get his opponents to fight it in their states where they can be hurt, rather than nationally, where they can tar Obama as a “socialist”. Sneaky.

It may not happen, of course. But what’s important to note is that it’s still possible even at this late stage. After months of wrangling, his near-ideal solution is still viable. (Compare that with how Hillary Clinton’s fared in 1993.) He has fudged without cornering himself with a commitment he will be unable to fulfil, while leaving open the best practical option in the near future. That way, whatever happens, he will get the credit.

And he has framed the debate so that the Republicans find themselves as their own worst enemies. Support for Obama’s health reform was sliding until August’s right-wing temper tantrum. Since then, his approval ratings on the issue have steadily climbed, and Democrats are increasing their lead in congressional polling.

Now look ahead to next year. The impact of health reform will be initially all positive: more and more people able to get insurance, without the full costs being felt. The stimulus package has been so steered towards spending in 2010 (sneaky again) that it will doubtless boost the recovery as the mid-term congressional elections approach. And, with health reform under his belt, Obama could easily pivot from his liberal base towards an emphasis on fiscal responsibility — which puts the Republicans on the spot and appeals to independents.

In other words, he has kept most of his options open. He is thinking further ahead than the Republicans. If he gets real universal coverage, he will be an icon on the left and thereby get more breathing space to tilt to the right. That’s why he may well not make a big move or decision on Afghanistan any time soon. It would be nuts to either alienate or please his liberal base until he gets healthcare passed.

But if healthcare passes, and the economy revives, Obama will have dodged several premature traps. And he will then be in a very strong domestic position from which to deal with Iran and Afghanistan and Israel. My sense is that on the really divisive issues — accountability for torture, and gay rights, for example — he intends to wait for a second term. If that enrages his base — as it has — they have few other places to go. And he looks bipartisan by resisting them. At the same time, he has not explicitly ruled out bringing justice to the torturers or rights for the gays. He’s able to balance a commitment to the right thing with an almost chilling ability to restrain himself from doing it.

As a long-term political strategy, you can see the method in his apparent meandering. Yes, there are vast risks. It may still fail. And yet, when you look at it closely, you see that in all this, he has both maintained his vast ambitions and yet shrewdly minimised the political risks to himself. This is cunning, not weakness. And one day, his opponents will realise it.

The Men who built the Motorways

This new song from the Corrigan Brothers tells the story of the forgotten men who sacrificed home and family to build the motorways of the UK. I wonder how similar is their story to the East Europeans who have built our motorways? Time will tell. Anyway a great song and a great video to go with it.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

In Defence of Moneygall

This vile column appeared in yesterday's Irish Independent (12th October) and prompted me to write to the paper in response.
My letter was printed (somewhat edited) in today's edition. SEE HERE
Scroll down to see the original unedited version as sent to the paper.

Original Column:

A proud day for Ireland ...

By Ian O'Doherty
Monday October 12 2009

Sure, some people -- all of them racist, obviously -- have raised their eyebrows at Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

Sure, those doubters have pointed out that he hasn't actually done anything since he came to power and, in fact, his approval rating is now falling faster than Drogba in the box.

But the fact that Obama won the prize certainly tells us one thing -- you don't need to actually do anything to win it.

However, those people who are carping about the award are missing one big point -- this is great news for the witless simpletons of Moneygall who seem insistent on claiming Obama as one of their own.

No doubt we can expect a re-release of the emetic 'There's No One As Irish As Obama' and street parties from the proles down there trying to bask in some distantly reflected glory.

Interestingly, the Mayor of Ennis was the first to congratulate Moneygall, saying: "As the mayor of a town which produced the greatest boxer the world has ever seen, may I be the first to congratulate Moneygall on now having a Nobel prize winner as one of their own. Sure aren't we a great little country altogether."

Henry Kissinger was quick to add his congratulations: "Unlike me, Barack Obama did not have to be involved in an illegal war to win his prize. Oh wait, that's not entirely true."

- Ian O'Doherty

My letter (Unedited):

Dear Sir,
Not for the first time your columnist Ian O'Doherty has seen fit to launch a gratuitous and highly offensive attack on the people of Moneygall. In his column on Monday 12th October entitled 'A proud day for Ireland' he reflects on the mixed response to the award of the Nobel Peace prize to President Obama. Like many he is highly cynical about this admittedly premature award and even as a huge admirer of President Obama I would have a sympathy with this view. It may well have been better to wait until his politics of change bore demonstrable fruit. Although one could also point out that the gestures he has already made towards former 'enemies' of the US mark a sea change in America's relationship to the rest of the world.
However O'Doherty declares this is not the real point and he goes on to say that '[the award] is great news for the witless simpletons of Moneygall who seem insistent on claiming Obama as one of their own'.
He also speculates on a 're-release of the emetic 'There's No One As Irish As Obama' and street parties from the proles down there trying to bask in some distantly reflected glory.'

To describe anyone, never mind a whole community as 'witless simpletons' is cheap, nasty, lazy and trashy journalism and not something I would have associated with one of the quality national papers on this Island. It drags your publication into the gutter and is a betrayal of the many fine journalists who write for your paper.
On what basis does O'Doherty spew out such bile?

There is no denying that the people of Moneygall and indeed Offaly in general are very proud of their real and proven historical link with President Obama. At a time in our history when there is so much bad news is there anything wrong in celebrating an individual who has inspired people the world over to believe that there can be a better tomorrow? As one of the party from Moneygall who had the privilege of attending the Inauguration I will never forget the spontaneous joy and hope that was so evident in Washington on that historic day. I fail to understand why the people of Moneygall should have to apologize for celebrating this.

As to the song by the Corrigan Brothers; it celebrates not only Obama's Irish roots but also his Hawaiian and Kenyan roots too. It's a fun ditty and love it or hate it, the song captured the extraordinary diverse background of an outstanding world figure and brought a smile to many faces the world over.

It might surprise O'Doherty that the US administration are treating the Moneygall link very seriously indeed. The previous acting ambassador Robert Foucher has already visited the village and only last month a senior member of the Embassy staff visited the village to draw up an outline plan and itinerary for a future Presidential visit.
I cannot imagine that this would have happened without the approval of the President himself.

One is tempted to observe that Ian O'Doherty's initials are only two short of making him an idiot but that would be coming down to his level of insult. I do feel however that for the sake of the integrity of your paper if not for the reputation of the good people of Moneygall an apology and withdrawl of the undeserved slur is in order.

Yours truly,
Rev'd Canon Stephen Neill (Church of Ireland Rector of Moneygall)

Saturday 10 October 2009

Nobel Prize - Obama's take on a surprise announcement

This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I've said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won't all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award -- and the call to action that comes with it -- does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

So today we humbly recommit to the important work that we've begun together. I'm grateful that you've stood with me thus far, and I'm honored to continue our vital work in the years to come.

Thursday 8 October 2009

And Michelle too!

It seems that not alone does President Barack Obama have Offaly roots but so too his wife Michelle. See here for the story as recorded at Irish Central.
And here in the NEW YORK TIMES
See Megan Smolenyak's research here - On video
This time however the story is not a cause for pure celebration, but a reminder of the despicable practice of slavery, for it seems if the research is correct, (Knowing Megan Smolenyak I am sure it is meticulously researched), that Michelle's ancestor was a young slave girl Melvinia Sheilds who was once traded for $475. Melvina would go on to have children with an Irish-American slave-owner named Shields whose ancestral home is in Ballysheil, County Offaly.
I wonder how the President and First Lady will greet this news - We cannot rewrite history but one has to wonder is this a chapter that will prove too painful to revisit or would a Presidential visit provide an opportunity for the First Lady to highlight the ongoing crime of human trafficking in which Ireland is complicit.
One thing is certain; It is a fascinating twist on this already intriguing story.

Saturday 3 October 2009

A Saturday afternoon in Limerick

Aaron & I headed into Limerick this afternoon to see the Corrigan Brothers play at a charity gig in aid of Limerick Mental Health Week - Good fun and a bit of Tai Chi to warm up / de-stress before the gig. See the pics HERE