An raibh tú ag an gCarraig? – Were you at the rock?

This Saturday I start Beginner Gaelic at the Irish American Heritage Center, irish-american.org, even as Ireland currently writhes in political-ecclesiastical turmoil over the sexual abuse of children by the professed. If any informed Catholic, or especially Irish-Catholic, tell you their heart is not breaking, or they’re not enraged, they’re lying to you, or are woefully ignorant of current/recent events.

I cannot yet bring myself to read the Irish government reports, only so far reading reports about reports. We always knew being an Irish kid was tough, even a little brutal, but life can be brutal and toughness is a necessary adult quality, but not to this unspeakable extent. I am very glad the truth is coming out. I know I have a problem with truth, I like it too much, in all cases and situations, especially my own, most especially my own. Those survivors can be finally believed and receive the healing they more than deserve.

The IAHC is very near where Kelly and I live. We have a family membership. Chicago boasts two Irish heritage centers! Gaelic Park, chicagogaelicpark.org, in the southern suburb of Oak Forest and the IAHC on the northwest side of the city. There is an amicable, informal understanding, Gaelic Park will focus primarily on Irish sporting events and IAHC will host literary and cultural events.

I can always tell when I am in the presence of others of Irish ancestry. The pace of wit quickens, the teasing, the loving insults, the jests and the jokes become animated and fly fast and furious. How joyful. How pleasant. How much like home. I feel most at home then. At Old St Pat’s in the Loop, those who cannot disengage their ancestry even for a moment are referred to as, “professionally Irish”. 🙂

In my two visits to the “ould sod”, literally Ireland, I learned, traditionally, it is quite impolite to ask a native Irish person the standard American 1st or 2nd question, “What do you do?”, even innocently and sincerely, as in “How much money do you make?” This, I have found in my travels of the globe, is generally true. Our culture shows its adolescence.

This introduction, so natural and second nature to Americans, is taken negatively by the Irish. An income is merely a means to an end, one’s expenses, in the native Irish mind.  Some cultures have been around much longer and have had that length to distinguish what is truly important. The Irish would much prefer to know, “Are you any fun to be with? Do you tell jokes? Do you sing? Do you dance? Would I enjoy spending time with you in the pub?” A pub in Ireland is not a bar. It is not necessarily loud or abrasive or shallow or demonstrative. Quit the opposite. It is a communal extension of the community members’ living room. Babes are brought, even to be nursed. Cards are played. Good craic = fun. When a pub closes, especially if a good game of Gaelic football, footy/footie, or hurling is on and closing time comes, the regular customers leave. The intimate few are quietly migrated to the back room where the craic and the viewing and the Guinness will resume as nothing had occurred. When reopening, the opposite migration will occur with no fanfare. And, so it goes.

When I was in MBA school, one of my favorite teachers, Mark Tauber, taught us industrial psychology, although it had a much fancier, B-school sounding name. It still does. This kind, generous man learned that I had been a Dominican novice. He politely suggested I should become Episcopalian, marry, and then, I too could become a priest. Lovely man. I know my pupils dilated, and tried to keep that my only reaction. He noticed and his pupils dilated because mine did. Dear man. My mother’s voice heard, disembodied in the background, “If my children lose their Faith, I have failed as a mother!” I politely thanked him and said I would think about it. It’s an Irish thing. You wouldn’t…never mind. Reporters noticed James Joyce, the Irish author, had stopped practicing Catholicism. They asked him, “Mr. Joyce, have you become a Protestant?” He replied, “Good God, man. I’ve lost my faith, not my mind!” 🙂

The Irish, to the present, have been Catholics for 1600 years.  From the consolidation of English power in Ireland and “the bloody flight of Earls”, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_of_the_Earls, early 1600s-1869, the Penal Laws were in effect in Ireland:
– being a Roman Catholic priest was punishable by death,
– saying Mass was punishable by death,
– attending Mass was punishable imprisonment,
– harboring a priest was punishable by imprisonment,
– exclusion of Catholics from most public offices,
– ban on intermarriage with Protestants,
– Catholics were tithed to support the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism),
– Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces – (n.b. my great-grandfather on my father’s side was a sergeant in the British Army stationed in Egypt in the late 19th century. He could not become an officer due to the fact he was Irish. My father’s mother was born on Cyprus and is reported to have spoken six languages including Arabic.). —
– Catholics barred from membership in either the Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of Great Britain,
– Catholics could not vote,
– Catholics were excluded from the legal professions and the judiciary,
– it was illegal for Catholics to travel to the continent of Europe to be educated in Catholic schools and to return to Ireland,
– Catholics barred from entering Trinity College Dublin,
– on a death by a Catholic, his legatee could benefit by conversion to the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism),
– Catholic inheritances of land were to be equally subdivided between all an owner’s sons with the exception that if the eldest son and heir converted to Protestantism that he would become the one and only tenant of estate and portions for other children not to exceed one third of the estate. This law kept Catholics “land impoverished” in their own country and made them tenant farmers in the same and forcing the native populace into monoculture,
– ban on converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism on pain of traemunire (treason), forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch of the time and remaining in prison at the monarch’s pleasure.
– In addition to forfeiting the monarch’s protection, by said conversion, one forfeited protection under the law, no matter how atrocious any future crime against the converted,
– ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years,
– ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of 500 pounds that was to be donated to the Blue Coat hospital in Dublin,
– ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land,
– prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5 (in order to keep horses suitable for military activity out of the majority’s hands’,
– “No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm’ upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. Any and all rewards not paid by the crown for alerting authorities of offences to be levied upon the Catholic populace within parish and county. (You had to pay for the persecution of your own religion.).

During An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger, 1845-1852, English authorities offered a watery soup if one apostatized to Anglicanism.  Over one million Irish men, women, and children chose to starve over that humiliation. (Irish are offended by/resist the term “Famine”, as there was no famine in Ireland, plenty of foodstuffs were being shipped to England and English colonies:  wheat, cattle, fruits, vegetables, etc. All that was left to the Irish was the potato, which the fungus destroyed, and which the French would not eat as a staple, contributing to the French Revolution. The term genocide is not inappropriate or misused.)

The song “An Raibh Tu’ ag an gCarraig?” speaks of Penal Days when the Mass was celebrated in secret at remote gatherings. The “Carraig” was the “Mass rock” used as a meeting-place and altar. These can will still be pointed out by locals today.

According to native Irish “sean nos” singers, the words appear as a love song, “Were you at the Rock and did you see my Valentine?” (meaning either the priest or the Host). However, it was a code addressed to a disguised priest or congregant, so the enemy would not grasp the true meaning even if he spoke Irish. Death was the penalty for those caught at Mass. In Penal Times, a price of 30 pounds was offered for the head of a priest or hedge-school master, the same as for that of a wolf.

An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?
nó a’ bhfaca tú féin mó grá>nó a’ bhfaca tú gile,
finne agus scéimh na mná?

Nó a’ bhfaca tú t-úll
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth?
nó a’ bhfaca tú mo Vailintín

Nó a’ bhfuil sí á cloí mar táim.

Ó bhí mé ag an gCarraig,
is chonaic mé mé féin dó grá
Ó chonaic mé gile
finne agus scéimh na mná

Ó chonaic mé an t-ull
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth
Agus chonaic mé do Vailintín
agus ní sí á cloí mar ‘láir.

Were You at the Rock?
Or did you yourself see my love,
Or did you see a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman?

Or did you see the apple,
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom?
Or did you see my Valentine?
Is she being subdued as they are saying?

O, I was at the rock
And I myself saw your love
O, I saw a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman

O, I did see the apple
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom
and I saw your Valentine
she is not being subdued as they are saying.

At first glance, “An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig” appears to be a series of questions and answers about a young woman, but in reality it contains a coded message. The coded message is decoded below.

Were you at the Mass?
Did you see the Virgin Mary?
Did you take communion?
And say the rosary?

Did you see the chalice?
Did you see the sacrifice of the Mass?
Did you practice the faith?
Are we being persecuted as they are saying?

I was at the Mass;
I saw the Virgin Mary
I received communion,
and said the rosary

I saw the chalice,
and saw the sacrifice of the Mass
And I practiced the faith;
we are not being subdued as they are saying.

Love,
Matthew

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