Tag: stations

Good Friday meditation

Friday, 25 March, 2016 0 Comments

One of the earliest Christian poems in English is The Dream of the Rood. Language note: The Old English word ‘rood’ means ‘crucifix’. Recorded by scribes in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, The Dream of the Rood is carved in Anglo-Saxon runes on the 8th century Ruthwell Cross, and is one of the most valuable works of Old English verse.

The sorrowful quality of the religious rites of Good Friday day reminds us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering on this day. This excerpt from The Dream of the Rood is dedicated to all those who were humiliated and tortured in life. Their brave defiance of “wicked men” inspires us every day.

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honour me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Mammy praying

The Saint Patrick’s Day badge

Thursday, 17 March, 2016 0 Comments

It was my mother’s custom to send a Saint Patrick’s Day badge annually to be worn on the big day; to display the identity that meant so much to her; to represent her notion of nation in the wider world. No badge arrived this year and no badge will arrive ever again. Last year, conscious of her declining health, she made provision for 2016. The badge will be worn today and every moment of the wearing will be a tribute to her kindness and to her memory. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

St Patrick's Day

St Patrick's Day

The Sorrowful Mystery

Sunday, 6 March, 2016 3 Comments

Six months have come and gone since 6 September and the pain, the loss, the grief is undiminished. Everything changed when that great force of nature and nurture known as “Mother” left us. It’s been a sorrowful time.

Sorrowful are the Mysteries of the Rosary, one of my mother’s favourite prayer rituals. From the perspective of a young boy, the nightly incantation of the Rosary was a chore but there were moments when the boredom cracked and something intriguing broke through the beads. Strange words tumbled out between the ‘Glory Be’ and the ‘Hail Mary’ and so was born a love of language.

The Rosary Vocabulary

“To thee do we send up our sighs.”

In the beginning was alliteration: several sad sighs sent since

“Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”

The geography of suffering was mapped out early. Young travellers would have to learn how to weep.

“So that by her fervent intercession we may be delivered from present evils.”

If there is going to be intercession, then let it be fervent. Who needs timidity when faced with present evils?

Eternal gratitude to you, Mother, for the love and the love of language.

Mammy praying on the road to Knock

The tropic of grief

Wednesday, 20 January, 2016 0 Comments

“Let me tell you something about her,” Julian Barnes wrote of his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, in the half-chapter of A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, published in 1989. In fact, Barnes told readers very little about her.

Pat Kavanagh died in in 2008, five weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, and Julian Barnes needed five years before he could express his anguish in book form. Levels of Life is that book. Actually, it’s three essays and only in the final one does Barnes approach the great love that gave way to the great grief he endured and continues to endure. Distraught by how many memories of Pat he has lost, he lists what he remembers: the last clothes she bought, the last wine she drank, the last book she read. But he doesn’t reveal what they were.

Rightly, Barnes is contemptuous of the euphemism “passed” and he quotes E. M. Forster: “One death may explain itself, but it throws no light upon another.” The condolences offered to the grieving are enumerated and rejected: suffering makes you stronger, things get easier after the first year, you will be reunited in the next life. There is no comfort in formulae, no compensation in phrases.

“This is what those who haven’t crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn’t mean that they do not exist.” — Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

In Lisvernane

Perfect moments were had in that garden

Thursday, 31 December, 2015 0 Comments

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory,” said Leonard Nimoy, who died in February. The year was still young when the world’s most famous half-Vulcan passed away and our great gardener was still creating those perfect moments. They ended in September and we were left to ponder the words of Kahlil Gibran: “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” As we say farewell to 2015, we remember the fortitude and courage and every other aspect of the great human soul now gone to her eternal reward. Perfect moments were had. For those we are grateful and they are preserved in memory.

Farewell, mother

The fourteenth Station: Legacy

Monday, 7 December, 2015 0 Comments

The happy news: These “stations,” these posts, will appear in book form in time for the 6 September anniversary next year. In this way, part of my mother’s great legacy will be preserved and published. She’d like that.

Mammy in Bally

As we stand at this final station in the life of Kit Fitz, as she was known by so many of those who admired and respected her, we give thanks for the privilege it was to have shared her company for so long. Her boundless energy and thirst for knowledge ensured that every moment in her presence was theatrical, informative and challenging. The Latin phrase, ora et labora (pray and work), which is rooted in Christian mysticism, was the engine of her life. She knew that time is fleeting and in her doing and her being she encouraged everyone to make good use of the precious hours we’re allotted. Despite the constant urging to strive and to save for “the rainy day”, she abhorred the pathetic existence of the workaholic. There had to be time as well for play. The cards, the games, the music and, above all, the prayers, were important because they helped anchor a person in the world.

We miss the constant expressions of wisdom and we regret not documenting more, but we are determined to share and safeguard this priceless legacy.

The thirteenth Station: Love

Sunday, 6 December, 2015 0 Comments

The union that was celebrated by the wedding guests on 16 June 1952 at Riversdale House in the Glen of Aherlow witnessed many wonders in the 63 years of its fortunate existence. None was more wondrous than that expressed in the two words “rural electrification.” It would prove to be the tipping point for the enterprise that became the happy couple’s mission in life.

Daddy and Mammy

When many of today’s generation hear about rural electrification, they think either of the developing world or of ancient agrarian history. For my parents, however, their marriage year coincided with the electrification of rural Ireland. It was a happy coincidence because electrification was the difference between power and powerlessness, between past and future, between regression and progress. Tellingly, my mother and father rarely used the word “electricity”. They referred to it as “the light”. If, during a storm, a transformer was affected and power was cut off, the first thing that was noticed was the outage of the electric light as represented by the Sacred Heart lamp in the kitchen. “The light’s gone,” was the phrase that was used to declare the loss of electricity. The use of light as a synonym for electricity was significant in that the alternative state was darkness, with all its metaphorical connotations.

During the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond the first decade of the 21st century, mother and father devoted themselves to raising their family, expanding their business and establishing an envied presence as an example of wisdom, respect and integrity in their community. Such are the rewards of the thing called love, which is, in the long run, unique to each couple, their personalities, their dreams and their principles.

An anecdote sums up what love meant to my mother. One evening last year, her great companion Bridget Fitzgerald arrived with the latest recording by the rural heartthrob, Nathan Carter. We drank tea, listened to songs and then, Bridget holding up the CD cover featuring the handsome Nathan, said, “Kit, wouldn’t you like to wake up in the morning and seen him in the bed beside you?”

My mother glanced at the toothful Nathan and then looked up at the wedding photo from June 1952 and said, “Bridge, if I could, I’d have the same fella again.” Such was love.

Tomorrow, here, our final station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Legacy.

The twelfth Station: Pain

Saturday, 5 December, 2015 0 Comments

There’s a difference between pain and pains, and it’s not just between singular and plural. My mother rarely spoke about pain, but she was an authority on pains. Or, as she called them, “the pains.”

The great hands

These “pains” were the result of life-long physical labour in spring, summer, autumn and winter in all kinds of weather. From childhood, she had fed calves, milked cows, cleaned outhouses, planted potatoes, saved hay, washed clothes, baked bread, plucked turkeys, made puddings, polished floors, painted doors, cleaned churns, planted shrubs, lit fires, cooked dinners, cut hedges, picked berries, darned socks, knit cardigan and trimmed hair. And that’s the shortened version of the list. The result was rheumatism, arthritis and a bad back but this was the price she was willing to pay so that so that others would benefit from her work and compassion.

As regards pain, she dealt with it by praying. Hail, holy Queen was one of her favourites because it offered comfort: “Mother of mercy, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” It’s not romantic; it’s unsentimental, just like pain.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Love.

The eleventh Station: Substance

Friday, 4 December, 2015 0 Comments

“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Those words from the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical were written with us in mind for this photograph shows our very own Camelot.

Home, sweet home

The camera never lies and what it captured with its eagle eye on this summer’s day was an Arthurian castle with walls, enclosures and fortifications. Here we were secure because father and mother had built something of substance that would protect us from the elements and shield us from invaders. Well, that’s how one young imagination saw it anyway.

The court was the kitchen. This was where ambassadors were received, feasts were enjoyed, tales were told, games played, songs sung and plans for the upkeep of the kingdom were made. Despite the many demands of “business”, there was always time for tea because tradition required that knights, ladies, clerics and scholars had to be entertained. Substance was more than just putting food on the table. It was hospitality, it was generosity, it was decency, it was dignity. The satisfaction that my parents felt in the substance that was the result of their labour was reflected in the attention they devoted to its upkeep. Paint was applied, weeds were banished and flowers were cultivated.

Our Arthur and Guinevere have found their final rest in the local Avalon but for those who sat at their table it will never be forgot, “that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Pain.

The tenth Station: Style

Thursday, 3 December, 2015 0 Comments

Style is innate, but it can be nurtured. Photos of my mother’s mother, and ones of her grandmother, show elegant, confident women wearing beautiful coats trimmed with fur, sporting graceful hats adorned with feathers and holding the finest of leather handbags. No wonder my mother understood style. It was part of her heritage and that’s why she preferred to use “style” rather than “fashion” when talking about beautiful clothes and those who wore them.


Style represented defiance. Bad weather, hard times, troubles and worries were part of life but a bit of style was an expression of boldness in the face of those forces that would destroy the spirit if they were allowed to have their way. One had to fight and the armour was style.

“What did you make of the style?” was one of the first questions asked about a formal occasion such as a wedding. Her exacting standards meant that most praise was accompanied by a “but”, regardless of the outfit. “Oh, she was gorgeous entirely, but the shoes were too flat. A bit of a heel is nice.” Alternatively, “There was no meaning to the shoes, and what harm but the dress was lovely.” Perfection was the standard, but it was rarely if ever attained in her opinion.

Style had a practical component. “Those are good shoes. How much did they cost?” If there appeared to be a sensible relationship between the price and the purchase, style points were awarded. If not, they were deducted. Shoes were the foundation upon which all style was built and my mother could spend weeks, months, in pursuit of the “right” shoes. If a suitable pair was found, they would be expected to earn their keep.

Fashion comes and goes, but style is permanent. That was her credo and, like most of her beliefs, some of which were not fashionable, it was right and remains true.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Substance.

The ninth Station: Tracing

Wednesday, 2 December, 2015 0 Comments

It’s a summer evening, we’re in the home of John Grogan in the Glen of Aherlow and the tracing is about to begin. Neither of the main performers takes strong drink — only a ‘mineral’ — but the custom of the country dictates that other refreshments are provided in case the observers get thirsty. Then the remembering starts.

Mother and John Grogan

What is tracing? It’s the skill of joining the dots between the living and the dead. It’s an oral tradition of genealogy in which lineage is parsed during a performance that tests the memory of the “artistes”. In a world where blood is far thicker than water, your relations are of paramount importance because you can never tell when you might need their help, and when you go looking for that help it is advisable to know who married whom and where and when. Every human closet has it skeletons so having the back story, with all its triumphs and failures, can prevent one from saying the wrong thing. Why did they have to sell the place? Did she have a child? Was he in jail for a while? What happened to the youngest of them? It’s a small world, knowledge is power, a faux pas can be fatal, so it’s best to be informed. Hence, tracing.

Paper is needed for the more common type of tracing, but it plays no role in the traditional practice, which is why it’s almost impossible to write down the improvisational memory exchanges that happens when two star performers are in full flight. Just to illustrate, however, my mother and John Grogan said things like this during that evening’s tracing last summer:

“He was called Edward O’Donnell, I heard.”
“Well, he was baptized Edmond O’Donnell, my father said, and he could go back as far as his grandmother, who was a Mullins woman, and his father was one of the Gallahues — a Dan Gallahue.”
“That name is in the Gallahues, all right. And what happened to this Edmond O’Donnell?”
“He went to America, like most of them those times, and his three brothers went after him.”
“What were their names?”
“Con, John and Dan.”
“And all of them went to America, you say?”
“They did, but the only one we heard about after was this Edmond. He went to San Francisco and after that he went to a place called Salt Lake City.”
“I think I heard my own mother saying that. He was in the undertaking business.”
“He was and he married a girl called Miller, she was an American, and the family kept on the business, and it might still be there today.”
“When did he die, then?”
“Well, I can tell you exactly. It was 1923 and do know you how I know that? This is a funny one for you, my mother, God rest her, was in Cork and she…”

And on and on flowed the talk as the tracing filled the spaces between the generations and conjured up images of those who went before us. There was magic in those words. There was humanity in those memories.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Style.