Sunday, March 17, 2013

Connecting the Dots for St. Patrick's Day, Starting in Rome

Start Here:
Being in a hereditary frame of mine, when I was in Rome last summer I made a pilgrimage to the resting place of Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone (known as the Great Earl). He is the royal chieftain—from the royal Gaelic houses who had ruled Ireland since the days of Tara— who led the resistance against the English during the Nine Years War. 

Along with O'Donnell, they fought until they were defeated at the battle of Kinsale. They were under threat of arrest, and fled to Europe, the idea was to go to Spain and raise a new army and go back and root the English out once and for all.

This was called the Flight of the Earls, and it ended royal Gaelic rule in Ireland (clearly not their intention). The English took their lands to complete the Plantation of Ireland, bringing English Protestants over to live, and thereby planting the seeds of centuries of oppression. 

The harshest were the years of the Penal Laws. You don't hear many references to that collective atrocity, except the commentator of the parade yesterday explained that for Irish the traditional meal is not corned beef and cabbage, but bacon and cabbage. The cabbage came about because Catholics were not allowed to own livestock. So when they did procure a pig to celebrate their saint's day, they covered it with cabbage in the cart not to be found out. And so it went on, up through the Troubles of the 20th century, to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. 

O'Neill died in Rome of malaria on July 20, 1616, and with him the last hope for getting England out of Ireland. The Spanish buried them in their church, San Pietro di Montorio. The inscription: Dedicated to God, the Best & Greatest. The bones of Prince Hugh O'Neill. Because of the number of weddings in the church, the stone is usually covered by carpets. Most people have no idea they are walking on top of Ireland's bloody fate sealed by the fact of those bones. I found it very moving, touching this place of my ancient relative. 

The Next Dot
The Great Hunger Museum in Hamden, CT. If the English had not completed their domination of Ireland with the Plantation of Ulster, when the potato crops failed two hundred years later in 1847, the Irish might have rallied. But instead, because of the gross psychological hatred the English power class felt for the Irish, they perversely saw to it that food that could have fed the starving was exported to England and the continent. (Burying the Child, Lilian Lucy Davison. Photo Frank Poole).

Which Lead To . . .

Two million people leaving Ireland, many of whom landed and stayed in New York. And that led to the building of St. Patrick's Cathedral, started in 1858, haulted during the Civil War, continued in 1865 and completed in 1878.

Wiki tells us: "Most cathedrals and great churches have a cruciform groundplan. In churches of Western European tradition, the plan is usually longitudinal, in the form of the so-called Latin Cross with a long nave crossed by a transept."

It's a detail of architecture you don't see from the street. A guy I work with took this picture in 1979 when he worked on another building in midtown. Fifth Avenue is toward the bottom of the picture, Madison Ave is at the top, where the Lady Chapel juts out to the sidewalk. The Irish immigrants, who had not yet ascended to power in New York, built it out of pennies. It's a remarkable accomplishment.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all with some Irish in their soul.