Category Archives: Deirdre Carabine’s Blog

August 2016 2: Belfast, Beards, and the Bucket List Trip

Getting from Belfast City Airport to the Queen’s University is easy peasy; I’ve done it loads of times over the years. Not this time though! Went over a bridge and kept going instead of hanging a left. Ended up somewhere up the Newtownards Road (I don’t know east Belfast except for a wee shortcut from the City airport over to Queen’s via Short Strand!) and we spent a good thirty minutes quite lost until I thought I should look for Divis Mountain – that would give me an idea where to head, I thought. And indeed it did! In no time at all we where whizzing up the Ravenhill Road … and whizzing … and forgot to turn right! Ok, down this road and we’ll be fine; we’ll just take this here wee shortcut. Jeepers, got lost in the backstreets near the River Lagan bridge (and I know that area quite well) until we caught sight of the river itself. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the university. All that stuff about taking the girl outta Belfast … it seems that you can also take Belfast outta the girl, after all.

But it was indeed lovely to be back in the town of my birth. Something about the water I think. But let me tell you, Belfast has changed and is changing right before your eyes. First of all, there are tourists. Loads of them. Everywhere. Even up the Falls and Shankill Roads in black taxis. They are taking pictures of the City Hall and Belfast Buildings. St George’s Market (a bit uppity now it has to be said since the stinky days when my Granny bought her fish there) is full of them eating oysters and swilling down fancy coffees. But the thing that took me to the fair was the number of wee lads (well, 20 somethings) strutting their stuff in skinny jeans and wearing face fuzz. They all look like that Fifty Shader Jamie Dornan to me. And do you know that thing about the Northern Ireland accent being the sexiest on the planet? That had to do with him too, I suspect. So now it’s cool to be a young beardy in Belfast speaking Norn Iron. Can you imagine? Gone are the days … Apparently the cops have gotten in on the act too with their eye candy recruitment poster guy (also sporting a beard)!

ni-cop

There are some places in the world where beards are something to fear. Afghan refugees, for example, are afraid because they are immediately recognised. But not in Belfast. I know now why there are so many wee girl tourists: they are all looking for their very own Mr Spanky! Good luck to them! The wee lads of Belfast will have drunk them under the table in two hours flat, so enjoy this while it lasts lads. Next week some other role model will have popped up and Norn Iron might not be so sexy anymore.

I don’t know why I needed to visit the west coast of Donegal via Coleraine and Portrush and Enniskillen but I did. North Antrim was simply lovely. A bit on the cold and windy and rainy side, but still lovely. And the rain does tend to be followed by a great sunset like this one.

portrush

Sheridan and Annabelle were great company and we enjoyed the third (the first with my aunt and the second with my bro) of my sixtieth birthday parties with them. Thanks folks for the craic and the lovely hospitality! From Coleraine to Enniskillen on the back roads was a sight for sore eyes after the city: lovely countryside. We stopped at the Ulster American Folk Museum and spent a few hours out of the rain moseying around their exhibits. I kinna enjoyed it but it was a bit too curated for my liking. Fermanagh was, as always, welcoming and rain sodden. Bernie and Anna laid on a great meal with lotsa gin and wine and craic, and a great sleep was had by all that night. I considered that my fourth birthday party!

And finally we were doing the bucket trip journey. I must add here that I don’t think I’m on the way out; I am just celebrating sixtiness by driving around places of the past! First night Killybegs. On the second morning we climbed a goodly part of Slieve League (1972 feet above sea level) up into the damp clouds and even damper terrain. Great views though. And you would never find this sort of thing just anywhere these days, certainly not in Uganda. I wanted to drink from it but Himself wouldn’t let me in case the sheep above had done a pee.

mountain-spring

Too many tourists though, far too many in SUVs driving more than halfway up. Going through Teelin on the way to Glencolumcille I found the house where I stayed when learning Irish at Colaiste Aoidh Mhic Bhrice when I was fifteen; I had just turned sixteen when I was promptly kissed the next night at a ceile! Ah, such innocent memories! I came home and washed my mouth out with TCP – well I hardly knew the lad!

Over the Glengesh Pass to Ardara and up to Portnoo was the next leg of the journey. The coastline is superb and we stopped many times to ooh and ahh while the waves kept patiently hitting the shore and rolling back again. We were looking forward to the next part of the trip up to Dungloe of the famous Marys and then The Rosses through to Gweedore and Gortahork. Well, I could have cried. Those developers with pockets full of brown envelopes have but ruined that part of the Island of Ireland. Ruined. There are Daily-Mail-Book-of-House-Plan houses everywhere. And they are a blot on the landscape, an eyesore, a wart on the end of Sleeping Beauty’s nose, a boil on the cheek of the prettiest girl at the party … I could (as you know) go on, an on, and on! But then a bad thought popped into my head. What if they are all contaminated with that mica stuff that rots concrete and will fall down in about ten years time? That’s a thought to keep the spirits up. Except of course if they are real people’s homes and then it’s not such good news. Not in the slightest. Read about it in the Irish Times. But it is a pity. If they had built them in groups or small villages, it would have been ok, but they are scattered all over the place like confetti in a clean churchyard.

One thing that struck me as we drove into the Gaeltacht area in the north of the county: more signs are in Irish now than I remember from the old days. That’s not so bad because I can read them, but Himself, the map-reader, does not have the Irish (being a foreigner and all that), so it got a bit tricky at times, and I have to admit to a third incident of lostness (but only for a wee while). And then it was time for the final leg of the trip up to Downings. I bet a number of you readers will know of Downings, and I bet some even know Mrs Casey’s caravan site where hoardes of Norn Iron families fled for the twelfth fortnight every year. Sadly, Downings was not the same either: lots more Daily-Mail type houses so we didn’t even do the Atlantic Drive. I was so disappointed. But instead of a caravan or tent, this time we got to stay in the Beach Hotel. Horray! And that was the end of the childhood / teenage years memory trip. After that it was home to Culdaff for a quiet lazy week where I would have the fifth of my significant birthday parties. We visited Malin Head, now home to a coffee van at Banba’s Crown (Caffe Banba) and a soya cappuccino just had to be bought and drunk before the wind blew it out the the cup. EIRE is writ large up here so that German planes would know they weren’t flying over enemy territory.

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The Carndonagh Cross was also re-visited. I loved David as both harpist and soldier:

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That birthday party was had (and yet another one with my sis), all business and pleasure activities were done and dusted, and then it was time for sad farewells before the long and stressful journey from the Emerald Isle back to the Pearl of Africa for the seventh and final sixtieth birthday party. Sixty is definitely the new forty! Bring it on!

August 2016 1: Ancient Theological Fraud and Contemporary Theologians in the Towery City

conference

Last month yours truly spent at week in Oxford doing interesting academic stuff. Himself came along for moral support and we loved every bit of it. We attended a workshop about a philosopher / theologian called Dionysius the Areopagite and his commentators throughout the centuries, a guy who perpetrated one of the greatest identity fraud “crimes” (with the widest-ranging theological consequences) of all time. This Dionysius was a sixth-century monk / theologian, most likely from Syria, and in his writings pretended to be a convert of St Paul who had, sometime around the year 50 AD, preached a sermon on the Areopagus in Athens (“Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus ….” Acts 17:34). Why this sixth-century scholar decided to take on a first-century identity has been the subject of much diligent scholarly detective work but we are no nearer to an answer – not surprising given the intervening millennia! But Dionysius, despite his assumed identity, was to prove one of the most significant influences on medieval philosophy and theology. Even today, his work has sparked huge debates among the luminaries of contemporary thought, spearheaded by French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

But on the first day of that conference at Pusey Hall, St Cross College, Syria was often on my mind. The images on our TV screens of Aleppo and other besieged Syrian cities and towns make for harrowing viewing, and provided a seriously stark contrast with the sunny, humid setting of the small, intimate Oxford library in which we were gathered.

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Scholars from four continents were present for the workshop, and the discussions were truly participatory. Not surprisingly, there was a sizeable contingent of Orthodox scholars present, including Emeritus Professor Andrew Louth (Durham) who made the opening presentation and a further presentation on the last day. My slot was on day two, and of course I spoke about my Irish friend the ninth-century philosopher / theologian John Scottus Eriugena. Here he is on the old Irish punt note in the days before the euro.

eriugena

I was happy with the presentation, and in the chair, Dr Wayne Hankey from Dalhousie University handled the ensuing discussion with his usual aplomb. I am writing a review of the conference for the journal Sobornost and look forward eagerly to the publication of the proceedings. My friend from the Lesbos conference on Love in May 2015, Dimitrios Pallis, did a great job organizing the workshop, and my sincere thanks go to him for securing the sponsorship that enabled me to attend.

Academic work aside, I hadn’t been in Oxford since Christmas 1995, and while the place in general hadn’t changed that much, the streets most certainly had. Walking up to Cross College in the morning and back in the evening cost me a fortune! These days, the homeless and their (often frighteningly large) canine companions are a prominent feature on benches, in doorways, and anywhere really where they can sit, relax, and get their containers jangling. I simply couldn’t pass the street people with dogs. How did they manage to get enough to eat for two? Where did they get water? What about the doggy worming tablets and rabies vaccinations? How did they get their yearly bath (both humans and canines)? All these and other questions filled my mind as I struggled to gather my thoughts for the scholarly discussions to follow. And so my hand was constantly rooting around in my bag for cash as I asked the names of canines and their humans. In return I received many, many “God bless yous”, and for these I was, and am, most grateful.

To my great excitement we had been allocated accommodation in Christ Church. Wow! Just going through the massive portal that is called Tom Tower is a step back in time. As residents we could enter at any time, unlike the tourists who were were allocated a few hours in late afternoons. To my shame I must admit to a degree of smugness as we were whisked past the crowds waiting to explore this mighty institution. The college is built around a central quod (the original cloister), and as we walked around, I could hear centuries of music echoing in my head way back to the days of John Taverner the director of the first choir. The present-day church has its roots in the twelfth-century, and has the distinction of being both college chapel and cathedral.

quod

Interestingly, the first church on the present site dates back to the time of St Frideswide, founder of a church on the site; he was born around the time Eriugena was dying. In the twelfth century, Augustinian monks built a monastery church there, but this suffered the fate of all monasteries in the time of the Reformation: it was suppressed in 1524 and partially destroyed. But only one year later, the famous Cardinal Wolsey founded the college, and the church became the college chapel. Henry VIII also had a part in its history when he “re-founded” the college and made the church a cathedral in 1546. We spent a good three hours inside the church and emerged with very sore necks!

chirch-ceiling

Other interesting facts about are that Charles I lived at Christ Church between 1642 and 1646, while the brothers Wesley studied and were ordained there in the 1720s.

The more modern connections may be more interesting; my favourite is Lewis Carroll. Charles Dodgeson went up to Oxford in 1851 to study mathematics, and became rather fond of the Liddell sisters, especially Alice, daughters of the then Dean. He told stories about a girl named Alice to the girls who begged him to write them down. And so history was made. Here is the little door that was Carroll’s inspiration.

door

Edward Burne-Jones (who worked closely with William Morris) crafted a wonderful stained-glass window in the church where the representation of St Catherine of Alexandria is actually a portrait of Edith Liddell, Alice’s sister. Alice herself can be seen in a window in the magnificent Great Hall – the whole of which was actually reproduced at the University of Chicago – where parts of Harry Potter were filmed. We had breakfast there every day!

great-hall     hall2

 

 

 

 

My favourite place was the Jabberwocky Tree called after that wonderful nonsense poem of Carroll “Jabberwocky”. This is the actual tree at Christ Church where Carroll got his inspiration.

tree

My favourite (and most weird) fact about Oxford is that there once was “Oxford Time”. Yep, you read that right! Even today, Church services follow Oxford time which is GMT+1+5 minutes! How wonderful is that? We did not get to hear the Cathedral Choir sing because term was out, but if you want to have an idea of their sound just listen to the theme music for the Vicar of Dibley (The Lord is my Shepherd ) and — wait for it — Mr Bean (Ecce homo qui est faba).

All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I want to go back to visit all the nooks and crannies we did not reach. It was with a heavy heart that we jumped back on the bus outside Tom Gate that would take us back to Heathrow and on to the town of my birth. Coming up next: Belfast, Beards, and the Bucket List Trip.

Old Belfast, Horses, and the Titanic Dogs

I have been working on the Carabine family tree of late. I’m back to 1837 but can’t get very specific details before that. My great-great-great-great-grandfather died in 1900 having been a carter (horse and cart man) for the better part of his sixty-year working life. So when I found a video of Castle Junction in Belfast taken by the Lumière brothers in 1897, I was excited, thinking I might catch a glimpse of the man I have thought so much about. I may well have done, but I couldn’t really make out features on individual faces. I was, however, struck by the number of horses (and excrement) in the city at the time and wondered where they lived. More importantly, what happened to them once the electric tram made its appearance on the city’s roads? According to my father, his grandfather Thomas Carabine (a carpenter by trade) had drays so he might have had a side business carting stuff around the city. I suppose the horses simply died of old age and replacements were not needed. It put in mind the number of horses used during the first world war: apparently eight million horses and countless donkeys and mules died in those mad times.

Well one thing invariably leads to another on the Internet, and right below the YouTube listings of Old Belfast films was a series of Titanic-related clips. I haven’t been able to take myself away from those since, and am truly fascinated by the amount of minutiae we have garnered about this mighty tragedy.

One detail that captivated my interest concerned the nine (or twelve, depending on which account you read) dogs on board during the ship’s maiden voyage. Apparently only first-class passengers were allowed to travel with pets and some did indeed take their dogs, but there were roosters, hens, and possibly canaries on board as well!

This photograph, supposedly (there is doubt) taken by the famous Jesuit photographer Fr Browne shows three of them. An interesting aside about Fr Browne is that his Superior would not allow him to continue the voyage to New York and ordered him off the boat. Some wag is said to have later remarked that it may have been the first time holy obedience saved a life!

titanic

The Great Dane is the one I am going to tell you about. While there is still doubt as to the truth of the whole story (read more here), and we do not have a record of the dog’s name, we think the owner was a Ms Ann Elizabeth Isham who boarded the ship at Cherbourg. She was, according to surviving accounts, devoted to her pooch and visited F Deck every day for walkies and canine affection. But the sad part occurs when the Titanic struck the iceberg and began its slow sink into the icy waters of the Atlantic. As a first-class passenger, Ms Isham was given a place on a lifeboat. But, according to legend, when told that her dog could not also find a seat to safety, promptly got out of the boat to be with her beloved pooch. A few days later a rescue boat found the unfortunate woman, still holding on to her dog, but both of them had perished. Ms Isham was one of only four women from first-class who didn’t make it to safety. Here she is.

isham_ae

But the story got me thinking. What or who would make me get out of that boat if they were not going too? Husband? Children? Yes, certainly, but for many people their canine companions are dependents who are loved as much as their human children. I am a bit of a softie where dogs are concerned, so I’m almost sure I wouldn’t leave my current wee honey on deck while I disappeared in my lifeboat. For some, that is a ridiculous notion, but for others it makes sense because companionship is not species specific. Just saying.

In conversation with Andrew Louth

On 26 May 2015, the relaunch of my 1995 book The Unknown God took place at the Metochi Study Centre of the University of Agder. Thanks to Prof. Louth, Kari and Ivar for this lovely occasion. If you are interested, you can watch the conversation here.

… ravens of unresting thought

A wonderful poem by one of my favourite Irish poets William Butler Yeats.

This poem was accessed at: http://www.csun.edu/~hceng029/yeats/yeatspoems/TheTwoTrees

THE TWO TREES

BELOVED, gaze in thine own heart,
The holy tree is growing there;
From joy the holy branches start,
And all the trembling flowers they bear.
The changing colours of its fruit
Have dowered the stars with merry light;
The surety of its hidden root
Has planted quiet in the night;
The shaking of its leafy head
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
There the Joves a circle go,
The flaming circle of our days,
Gyring, spiring to and fro
In those great ignorant leafy ways;
Remembering all that shaken hair
And how the winged sandals dart,
Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For ill things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold,
The glass of outer weariness,
Made when God slept in times of old.
There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat,
Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
And shake their ragged wings; alas!
Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
Gaze no more in the bitter glass.