Tuesday 30 July 2013

Home For The Races

The arrival home of Mam’s relations from England for the Galway Races was the high point of our summer. They usually stayed at the home place at Raford out in the country but they would visit us and sometimes stay the night.

All the anxiety and tension of life went out the door when they came in and it was a time of enjoyment. There were crowds of them from Birmingham and London.

We watched it all from the distance of childhood with fascination and much pleasure. They might go off to the Merlin Bar where Dad worked part-time and come home for a session that filled the house with the dense blue fog of cigarettes, bottles of porter, loud conversation, laughter and music.

In the early mornings I’d get up before everyone else and immerse myself in the aftertaste of the night’s pleasure – drinking the dregs of empty bottles and smoking the butts that overflowed in ashtrays. Breakfast could wait.

People would appear and the place got cleared and the fry fried, its aroma mingling with the scent of fresh fags and conversation spoken in half Irish half English accents.

“I say Maureen, I say, I say” and “Lord God Maureen”. “Harry, have a fag. Go on have one of mine love. Sure I’ve plenty more in the car.” And they’d retell and retell how Dad was trying to light a fag last night but couldn’t get the match and cigarette to connect, his hand always veering off in another direction. And they’d laugh and laugh and Dad would smile. But I didn’t like them making fun of him.

They had fabulous cars that I loved to look at and touch and wash and sit in and the sun would shine and everything gleamed.

In the afternoon we would trek over the back wall, across the field and out by O’Meara’s butcher, over to the races in Ballybrit. We never went to the Stand and I assumed it was reserved for extra special people and, therefore, out of bounds. But it was an extraordinary and fearsome thrill to stand by the railing as the horses passed by - the sight and thunder of them that made you tremble to the core.

The big field was always thronged with people, totes, caravans with the wonderful smell of greasy chips and big white tents – some for drinking porter and others selling tea and squares of fluffy cakes with pink icing. We never got beyond the edge of any tent, the pink icing always out of reach.

Young lads shouting “race cards, race cards, cards a shilling, race cards” and stout women wearing aprons calling out “apples, oranges, pears, peaches, bananas”.

There were shifty looking men doing the three-card trick on a small fold-up table that could be whisked away at the first sight of a gard. And stalls with toys and competitions for winning them and we lingered dreamlike in front of them all.

Uncle Jack, Mam’s oldest brother, was a bachelor who lived in Birmingham and he was very quiet. He brought me to the races once on my own while everyone else went off touring somewhere. It felt really special to be with him and we got soaked on the way home and tried to light a fire but the briquettes and coal were as wet as ourselves and nothing would persuade them to light.

The adults were always meeting other adults they knew. The races were great for that. You might never meet anyone during the year if it weren’t for the races..

Children stood silently by and would be introduced in time, smiled at and commented on. He looks just like his father. And there would have to be a sigh and a whinge about “children nowadays”.

But we got our turn on the swinging boats and tugged that rope hard so that we would swing as high as possible, rising out of our seat – the exhilaration was fearsome and thrilling. We were really at the races then.

MY HOME TOWN - Galway On A Sunny Summer Day

Sunday 14 July 2013


St. Catherine of Siena had a mystical experience in which she was taken up to Heaven where she experienced the fullness of life and joy in the presence of God. After a while Jesus told her "It's time for you to go back." And when she protested He said, "I need you to go back to bring love to the world!" "I am not able to love" she said. Then Jesus took her heart from her, placed His own Heart within her and said, "now you are able to love!"

A lot of the time we are good Samaritans to the people we meet in life; like the man in the gospel our hearts are moved with compassion for the sufferings of others, moved to the extent that we actually do something to help them. But there are times when we feel unable to love as we should and there are times when we are like the priest and the Levite - when confronted with the wounds of another we pass by on the other side and do nothing; sometimes our eyes are shut, our ears and hearts are closed and we don't even notice what's there in front of us. It might simply be too inconvenient for us to notice. We are called to do something about this and Jesus offers us the Heart that will enable us to do it.

In breaking through our deafness, blindness and inactivity we might also need to deal with the fact that we ourselves have been attacked, wounded, left helpless and ignored on the journey of our life. We need to be anointed, lifted up and brought to a place of healing. Jesus himself is the Good Samaritan who brings us the relief and healing that enable us to be wounded healers for each other.

The call to be Good Samaritans also extends to society. We have a duty to be attentive to what is happening to society and to respond with compassionate hearts where the good of society is threatened, as is the case with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

It's an issue that affects not only mothers and babies in the womb but also the fathers and every citizen; it affects the soul of our country.

During the past week Good Samaritans of the Pro-Life Movement were moved with compassion to gather outside the Dail from Tuesday night until Friday morning praying silently for the protection of mothers and babies during pregnancy, praying for the defeat of the the Bill in the Dail. They were subjected to insult and mockery by demonstrators from the other camp. These deserve great credit as do the TD's who voted against the Bill.

It is quite understandable that the Pro-Choice demonstrators celebrated the passing of the Bill but it is chilling that they chanted "one step closer", reminding us of what we were warned about - that this Bill is a stepping stone to more liberal abortion legislation. And we have to accept that in some way our indifference has helped this come about. It is also sad that the passing of such a law was greeted with applause in the Dail.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

FREEDOM - Like A Swan That's Here And Gone


Away, I'd rather sail away

Like a swan that's here and gone
A man gets tied up to the ground...

The line from 'El Condor Pasa' has been with me for a couple of weeks and it expresses something of the yearning for freedom that is in every human heart - to fly and soar unfettered. But we are also tied down by  many things and so we are held in the tension of these two realities of life.

"When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free" (Galatians 5:1)

Galatians 5:1,13-18 ©
. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community.