My beloved husband is my most steadfast writing critic. He suggested yesterday’s post on the Brehon Laws and dog ordure was a bit heavy. Or at least heavier than my usual tone. So here is something a bit lighter. This piece, written by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan, is from a fabulous book of children’s poems by Irish poets, Something Beginning With P. Seems altogether appropriate in many ways.
I know your dog is old and weary
for him his days grow slow and dreary
his legs are stiff, he stops and staggers
his tail now only limply waggers
his eyes, like mine have deepening baggers
but still he does his job for you – deposits
large and juicy poos.
Please, dear Neighbour, do me one favour
it is a point I fain would labour
those doggy shits I do no savour-
There is a saying that it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but about the size of the fight in the dog. However in this case it is about the size of the dog, and more specifically the size of his turds.
In earlier posts I’ve broached the subject of Ireland’s Brehon Laws. Although they were considered more codes than laws, these guidelines for living together in community were not imported from England nor based on either Greek or Roman law. Rather they emerged from the tribes, changed and shaped as necessary to respond to needs and situations. While there were judges to arbitrate in the most difficult of cases, generally it was up to the community to sort thing out, including matters of compensation. Left to this system of community arbitration the codes became both complex and incredibly detailed.
I am making my way through a book about the Brehon Laws written in 1879. Over 600 pages and it only covers some of the laws. The author writes, “The most extraordinary discussion is reserved for the case of dogs, the authors of which were certainly devoid of any sense of the ridiculous.” So that there is no question of any exaggeration on my part, I will quote directly. This deals with dog trespass and specifically the trespass involved in his depositing his ordure on the land of an adjoining owner.
What is required by law is to remove the dog’s ordure out of the ground as far as its juice is found, and it (the ground) is to be pressed and stamped upon with the heel, and fine clay of the same nature is to be put there as compensation. This is the test of reparation: that two horses of a chariot in yoke come there and graze there, and if no part of the sod of grass stick to their teeth in grazing on it the reparation is complete. And three times the size of the ordure is due for compensation, and its size of butter and its size of dough and its size of curds.
At 113 pounds our dog Ema, pictured above, is a large dog. I can only imagine the quantity of curds we would need to have on hand.
Yes, I find this humorous and more than a bit bizarre. At the same time what I find intriguing is that this seemly absurd level of detail became and stayed part of the code. Back in the age of Brehon Law, Ireland’s tribes would gather every three years to compare notes and update the codes. I can only wonder that every three years would have been sufficient. Fascinating that we humans, railing against the complexities of modern day law as we do, when left to a process of natural evolution would evolve as much or more complexity.
We stood on the high mound and looked across the river at the solitary tall stone in the middle of the field. Jack pointed out the remnants of a bridge that would have provided passage over the water from the mound to this ancient inaugural stone of the O’Briens. The stone in this photo is the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, near the Hill of Tara. A gift to the Irish people by the Tuatha Dé, when the rightful High King of Ireland put his feet on it the stone was said to roar in joy. Confirmation of his rightful sovereignty. And every tribe had their roaring inauguration stone.
I turned my gaze from the O’Brien stone and scanned the landscape. It wasn’t hard to imagine the vast clan gathering, camps and campfires scattered over the slopes of the surrounding gentle hills. They would be gathered for the banais ríghi, the wedding feast of kingship. Being king was a sacred trust with both the people and the land. This ceremony was a symbolic marriage between the mortal king and the Goddess of Sovereignty, the personification of Ireland herself. The king not only had to be acceptable to both the land and the people to become king, he had to stay acceptable or be deposed. It was an onerous job. The list of qualities and qualifications was long and daunting. He had to be physically unblemished and be possessed of the noble qualities of hospitality, reputation, dignity, exemplary deeds, righteousness, brilliance, generosity, geniality, honor, companionship, courtesy, bravery, affection, beauty, prudence, discernment, excellence and eminence – just to name a few. Taken together these comprised the Justice of the King. This from an ancient text…
It is clear to those who consider well, how profitable to the world is the justice of a king, for it is the peace of peoples, the security of country, the safety of the common folk, the defence of the tribe, the cure of illness, the joy of men, the clemency of the weather, the calm of the seas, the fruitfulness of the earth, the consolation of the poor, the inheritance of children, for the king himself, the hope of future bliss.
As Jack and I sat on the mound in the warm summer sun our conversation turned to the state of Irish politics and the upcoming US presidential election. Perhaps it is time to learn something from these old Stone of Destiny traditions. …how profitable to the world is the justice of a king… Perhaps it’s time to stone our leaders.
My beloved husband will wonder what this has to do with Ireland or the Irish as is the focus of this blog. Truthfully, not much. Although I could contrive a connection or invoke the Irish proclivity for social justice. But I won’t.
A clerk at the grocery store today asked me how many trick-or-treaters we got this year. None. In the 37 years we have lived here, we have only once had small costumed visitors. I told the clerk it was due to our remote location and long drive way. True. But the larger truth is I am glad of it. For I cannot participate in this annual candy ritual. Set aside for a moment the issues of corn starch and obesity. The real reason is that while our children clamor for the candy and especially the all-prized chocolate this comes at a horrific price. The tragic irony is that while our children are dying for chocolate other children are dying because of chocolate.
A Tulane University study found that between 2007 and 2008 nearly 820,000 children in the Ivory Coast and over 997,000 children in Ghana were enslaved in the cocoa industry. Slave traders target young boys between the ages of 6 and 16. These children are kidnapped or purchased from their parents, generally with false promises of food and education. But they are in fact sold to cocoa farms where they are forced to work long hours without pay, starved, beaten, locked up at night, bound, tortured and, in many cases, killed.
Who, you might ask, would buy chocolate from these farmers? Hershey, Nestle, and Mars who account for 35% of the global chocolate production. And there are others. Yes, the supply chain can be difficult to trace. But choosing not to look too closely or just look the other way comes at an unconscionable price.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
It seems there is always more. More slavery. More war. More poverty and starvation. More species lost. The list goes on, so familiar and so overwhelming. Yet if we are overwhelmed we are paralyzed wondering “what can one person do?” There are many great answers to that question. But perhaps it’s the wrong question. For doing arises from being, in this context being a person of compassion grounded in a sense of justice. Perhaps the question is, “what can one person be?”
King Cormac was a man of honor and justice, in right relationship with his people, the land, and the divine. His doing came from his being and from this following piece it’s clear his being took root in childhood. In this piece his son has asked, “What were your habits when you were a lad?” “Not hard to tell”, said Cormac.
I was a listener in woods I was a gazer at stars I was blind where secrets were concerned I was silent in a wilderness I was talkative among many I was mild in the mead-hall I was stern in battle I was gentle towards allies I was a physician of the sick I was weak towards the feeble I was strong towards the powerful I was not close lest I should be burdensome I was not arrogant though I was wise I was not given to promising though I was strong I was not venturesome though I was swift I did not deride the old though I was young I was not boastful though I was a good fighter I would not speak about any one in his absence I would not reproach, but I would praise I would not ask, but I would give For it is through these habits that the young become old and kingly warriors.
If we attend our grounding and our being, if we are just and merciful and humble, can there be any course of action or doing that doesn’t make a positive and meaningful difference in the world?
What does it say about our culture?
Or any culture, for that matter?
The Walk Free Foundation just published a report on slavery in 2013. A detailed and sobering document that estimates there are, today, 30 million people around the world suffering human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labor, organ harvesting, debt bondage, and more. It’s a grim list.
162 countries are highlighted in this report and I scanned the list to find the United States. Shocking. We are ranked 134, a ranking weighted against our total population, with an estimated 60,000 in slavery. At the bottom of the list, Ireland.
Happy as I was to find Ireland in last place, I had to wonder why. What in our US culture would rank us so much higher? Is there something intrinsic to the Irish culture that would rank them at the bottom? Continue reading →
Deep in research for the next wave of writing I just finished Bob Quinn’s book The Atlantean Irish. Provocative work. This Connemara man, author and film maker makes a well researched and persuasive argument that the Irish are not, in fact, Celtic people. Fragments and pieces of prior readings are falling into place and I am compelled to purge the term ‘Celtic’ from my writing. But that’s another thread to explore.
Hugely fascinating is Quinn’s idea that the Irish, like other peoples living in coastal communities before any significant road building, were connected to each other and other people by the sea – and that through these interactions and connections the various cultures were so informed by one another they became more similar to each other than to their inland neighbors. Writing about the “continuity of seaborne contact between Ireland and the entire Atlantic coast, from Scandinavia to Senegal, taking in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa,” Quinn concludes that “traditionally, the sea did not divide peoples: it united them.”
At a time when geographic boundaries were pushed back and forth between warring kingdoms, when rulers struggled to declare and then sustain their territories, rallying people around a sense of national identity, those at the water’s edge continued to work and live their unifying coastal and seaborne identity. Inland machinations were irritating, inconvenient and largely ignored.
In a time when countries were warring to unite people under one flag, these people were united by having no countries. Imagine.
For only $99, one of the ancestor search sites offers a simple DNA test that can tell you a lot about who you are and where you come from. Where you come from may be easily discerned, but who you are is vastly more complex than anything a DNA test will tell you What testing and ancestor searches won’t give you is what you come from. And it’s the what that stitches together the who and where into deeper meaning and knowing, It’s the what that holds the complexities of cultural, spiritual, and intellectual heritage.
My maternal grandmother used to tell us we were related to Lady Godiva. She delighted in sharing this dark family secret, always careful to tell us when no one else was around. Perhaps she was avoiding the possibility of being contradicted but I suspect it was more likely a factor of modesty. After all, the woman was riding naked. And although this 11th century English noblewoman was protesting her husband’s oppressive tenant taxations, that was never part of what we were told. For my grandmother the whole and only point was our relationship to a famous person. Riding naked was just a provocative bonus.
Being related to a famous person. Like striking gold while mining for family history. But without the contextual story, it’s just a name. A woman riding nude through the streets of Coventry is interesting. Lady Godiva’s story is fascinating. And it’s story that holds depth of meaning. Anything less is just legacy lite.
Megalithic meaning. I’ll get back to that. But since it came up in my last post I’m going to take a brief detour to Irish graveyards.
Back when Dennis and I had the design and marketing agency, a local funeral home and cemetery was one of our clients. We learned a lot. Probably more than we wanted to. I remember one fall day I was standing outside the funeral home with the director when, from a nearby bonfire of raked leaves, an ash floated down and settled on the ground between us. “Ah, Mrs. Johnson,” he said without missing a beat. Funny guy, Myron. He delighted in returning my phone calls when he was working the embalming room, punctuating our business conversation with a detailed description of what he was doing and revving the power tools near the phone. But I digress.
On the cemetery side of the business we learned that headstones are no longer available, replaced by flat plaques installed level with the ground. Flower vases are offered, only one per plot and only with a screw base so they can be detached from the plaque. Why? To make it easier to mow the lawn. It’s all about efficiency and convenience.
Visit an Irish cemetery, something I highly recommend doing, and it’s a completely different story. The headstones are massive. They have to be to list all those buried in the family plot and leave space for names yet to be engraved. Rarely have I visited a cemetery when there wasn’t someone tending a grave – watering the plants, adding fresh flowers, tidying the array of rosary beads and religious statues. Lighting candles. Praying and talking with the departed. Honoring the dead. It’s not about efficiency and convenience. It’s not about mowing the grass.
When we popped into the kitchen to let our hosts know we were off for the day Brendan dashed into the pantry, returning with packages of biscuits. “Here now, you might take these just in case.” Just in case what? Unspoken, the question hung in the air. “Well, you never know when you might be getting hungry.” We thanked him, tucked the biscuits in our daypacks and drove up Ireland’s west coast to the Mullaghmore pier.
It was a small boat but comfortable enough for the six passengers. The only shelter from wind and sea spray was the one person pilot cabin where our captain happily settled himself for the duration of our voyage. As we made our way out of the harbor and into the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean it was clear he wouldn’t be volunteering any information about our Inishmurray destination.
Yet there was much to know about this island with its monastic ruins, row of abandoned houses, crumbling church, cursing stones, graveyards and even a sweat lodge. So much history in a landscape two miles long and less than a mile wide. Although close enough to be visible from the mainland, rough seas and weather can render Inishmurray inaccessible for weeks and sometimes months at a time. With no beach or pier, landing a boat requires sidling up to the rock formations that are the island’s geological foundation, finding one about level with the boat, and jumping as the boat bumps against the massive stones. An adventure just to get there, yet this inaccessibility has served to preserve the island’s historic artifacts.
As we approached the island I studied the shoreline as the abandoned houses came into view. Scanning to the north I identified the schoolhouse but was surprised to see that instead of an open air ruin the building had a brand new metal roof and front door. Curious. I imposed myself on our captain’s sanctuary to ask him about this. “Well you see they had to do that for folks that get stuck on the island. Just a month ago I took some people out. It was a fine day. Just like this. But then the weather turned on us and I couldn’t get back to pick them up. They were out there for three days and finally a helicopter had to go out to bring ’em back.” I mentally counted the biscuit packages in our packs and wondered if someone in that stranded group had turned one of the cursing stones. Continue reading →