Enniskillen Castle (facebook page photo)

Enniskillen Castle (facebook page photo)

Thanks to my colleague in the William Carleton Society Frank McHugh (Fermanagh Family History Society) for alerting me to the new project at Enniskillen Castle. It involves the demolition of a former health centre, now derelict, at the entrance to the Castle. This also featured in a recent report by Julian Fowler on BBC Northern Ireland.

Exciting plans for the refurbishment of Enniskillen Castle Museums were unveiled at a recent series of information sessions. The project has received generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), the European Regional Development Fund, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Fermanagh District Council. Speaking about the plans, Chairman of Fermanagh District Council, Councillor Bert Johnston said:

“This is an exciting time for Enniskillen Castle Museums. Plans include a new visitor centre, improved amenities and a café as well as tourism, genealogy and heritage services. Four new galleries will interpret Fermanagh’s rich heritage, enhancing the Castle as the main introduction and gateway attraction for the region.”

Aine Kearney, Director of Product Development at NITB said:

“The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is delighted to announce part funding towards the development of this world class visitor centre within the historic grounds of Enniskillen Castle. Upon completion this project will provide the visitor with a unique and exciting experience.”

Enniskillen Castle was built in the 15th century by the Gaelic Maguires who ruled Fermanagh. Situated next to the River Erne and guarding one of the few passes into Ulster, it was strategically important throughout its history.  The Castle is within easy walking distance of the town centre and contributes greatly to the unique character of the area.

The new project will involve the restoration and refurbishment of many of the historic buildings contained within the Castle complex for reuse as exhibition space.  New visitor welcome and orientation spaces will be created to provide a more cohesive experience, hosting services such as a heritage, tourism and genealogy information point.  A digital film archive and history hub will also be created to provide access to the museum’s archives, photographic records and library.  Four new galleries will create additional space to showcase the Museum’s collections which consist of thousands of objects, images and oral histories relating to the region.

Commenting on the award, Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, said: “Museums have an invaluable role to play in helping us to learn more about our past by using their collections to engage and inspire local communities, which is why HLF has already invested £31million in establishing and transforming our network of local and national museums.

“We are delighted to make this latest announcement of support for the museum sector which will see this hugely important heritage asset become the heritage gateway to the area.  Having been awarded a first-round pass, Fermanagh District Council can now further develop the project to achieve its full potential and go forward to secure the full £2.47million grant.”

Mark Knight, of Kriterion Conservation Architects commented:

“We are delighted to be involved in sensitively transforming this significant heritage asset into a world-class visitor facility which will protect and enrich our built and cultural heritage. Conservation of the iconic buildings and integration of the new visitor centre will give new long-term sustainable uses to the Enniskillen Castle Museums and enhance the region’s rich heritage and tourism offering.”

Sarah McHugh, Enniskillen Castle and Cllr Bert Johnston, Cahir, Fermanagh District Council  Photo: Impartial Reporter

Sarah McHugh, Fermanagh County Museum and Cllr Bert Johnston, Cahir, Fermanagh District Council Photo: Impartial Reporter

Speaking about the long term plans of Fermanagh County Museum, Sarah McHugh, Manager of Museum Services said:
“This is a real boon to Fermanagh and will enable the museum service to be even more ambitious. My hope is that we are building an inspirational space where locals and visitors can explore the unique heritage of the region, gain more access to our museum collections and enjoy bigger and better events and activities. During refurbishment, which has now begun and is due for completion in 2016, visitors will still be able to enjoy Fermanagh County Museum’s Medieval Maguires display and The Inniskillings Museum.”


Miami Showband  Photo: avaaz.org petition

Miami Showband Photo: avaaz.org petition

Please consider signing the petition at AVAAZ.org:

Why this is important

Dear Bob Geldof, Bono, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison and all our Heroic Musical Family,

In 2015 we will mark the 40th anniversary of The Miami Showband Massacre when, during a carefully planned attempt to frame the hugely popular young band as terrorists, three innocent Catholic and Protestant musicians were savagely murdered by British security forces in collusion with the Loyalist terror organisation, The UVF.

In the early hours of July 31st, 1975, while attempting to hide a bomb on the band’s minibus at a bogus security check, two terrorists blew themselves up when the device they were secretly planting exploded prematurely. To eliminate all witnesses, the rest of the gang then opened fire on the unsuspecting musicians, murdering three of them: Lead vocalist / keyboard player, Fran O’Toole, lead guitarist, Tony Geraghty and trumpeter, Brian McCoy, all died at the scene.

Two serving members and one former member of the British security forces’ C Company 11 UDR were subsequently convicted and received life sentences; all three were also members of the Loyalist Mid-Ulster unit of The UVF terror organisation. The leader of the gang, Robert “Robin” Jackson, a former member of The Ulster Defence Regiment, avoided arrest following a tip-off given to him by RUC Special Branch police officers and, despite clear evidence linking him to the killings, Jackson was never charged with the murders. A recent investigation into The Miami Showband Massacre by the British Historical Enquiries Team (HET) identified Robin Jackson as a Police Special Branch agent. He died of natural causes in 1998 aged 49. The British Army Officer, with the posh English accent, in overall charge at the murder scene, has never been positively identified.

Had this evil plan succeeded, every Irish person, especially Irish musicians, would subsequently have been viewed as potential terrorists and the British authorities given carte blanche, by an unsuspecting world, to deal with the Irish as they saw fit i.e. in much the same way as many innocent races are dealt with today by powerful nations and falsely demonised by their compliant media. Fortunately, the wicked plan failed because, although critically wounded, the band’s bass player and saxophone player survived their horrific injuries and lived to tell the truth.

Now, forty years on, with the courageous and unyielding support of “Justice For The Forgotten” and “The Pat Finucane Centre”, the surviving members of The Miami Showband Massacre, bass guitarist Stephen Travers and saxophonist, Des McAlea, are taking a civil action against The British Ministry of Defence (MOD) and The Chief Constable of The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) for direct involvement in the outrage. Thankfully, this action will not be fought with bricks, bottles or petrol bombs on the streets of Belfast or Derry! It will not be a riot or a running gun-battle! This time, nobody has to die! Unlike the ordered practice of British security forces in 1975, this will not be a secret, murderous campaign waged against the innocent; instead, it will be open and transparent. The impending battle between this modern-day David and Goliath will be fought in a peaceful and civilized manner through the law courts where the truth about British state-terrorism in Ireland will be laid bare for all the world to see.
Remarkably however, while the evidence against the British authorities is overwhelming, the Irish Government has yet to respond to a request for assistance with the considerable cost of taking legal action against its closest neighbour for deliberately attacking and brutally murdering its own citizens. To date, the Irish Government has yet to formally request full British Government cooperation with the legal representatives of The Miami Showband Massacre survivors. In truth, the shameful silence from both governments on one of the most notorious atrocities of “The Troubles” is deafening.
On hearing the story of The Miami Showband Massacre for the first time, in an address by Stephen Travers to an international Radicalisation-Awareness convention, the former Beirut hostage, Terry Waite, exclaimed “Good Lord, they (the British) certainly kept this one quiet”. But, it is no longer morally acceptable to “keep this one quiet”. The time is long overdue for all responsible commentators to speak out publicly against the murder of a Rock n Roll band. The honourable and decent British public have no idea that this outrage was carried out in their name but they must be told in order to prevent it happening again!
Today, the survivors of The Miami Showband Massacre call on every self-respecting musician in the world to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their upcoming fight for justice against a regime that viewed innocent, Catholic and Protestant musicians as nothing more than lambs for the slaughter in pursuit of its own political and military objectives. We gratefully acknowledge the courageous support of our fellow Irish, British, European and American artists along with that of musicians, artists and writers from around the world and we now call on music celebrities that have the ear of world leaders to break their long and perplexing silence on this outrage and to use their powerful voices to demand justice for their slaughtered and permanently injured fellow musicians.
In another time and place…“Well tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you”.
Stephen Travers and John Desmond McAlea (Des Lee) The Miami Showband Massacre Survivors
Relevant Links

Click to access 190_Stephen_Travers.pdf

Follow us on our new Twitter account @MiamiShowband



ClontibretIt was hardly an ‘invasion’ in the true military sense. Nothing like the 200,00 Allied forces that invaded Iraq in 2003 or the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 or of Poland in 1939. Yet Peter Robinson’s nocturnal excursion along with a group of 150 loyalists across the border into the quiet County Monaghan village of Clontibret on August 7 1986 was dubbed an ‘invasion’ by some sections of the media.

It was more like a sortie, a raid, an incursion or an infiltration. His intention was to show what he believed were the gaps in cross-border security, following the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985. Yet it was the RUC who tipped off the Gardaí about his plans, according to Stormont papers recently released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Historian Éamon Phoenix who has researched them says that a note from a Northern Ireland Office official from the Political Affairs Division to the British Ambassador to Dublin refers to about 150 loyalists, “some wearing paramilitary uniforms and carrying cudgels” entering Clontibret.

They daubed the slogan “Ulster is Awakening” on a Garda station and from what I myself remember of the day in question, on some walls including that of a Church of Ireland school. The crowd also injured two Gardaí.

The BBC reports that the note said: “The RUC’s action in tipping off the Gardai during the night of 6-7 August about the incursion by Peter Robinson and his loyalist thugs was also warmly appreciated in Dublin, according to Michael Lillis [of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs].”

The NIO official who wrote the note told the ambassador: “We have done our little bit here by holding Irish hands in the [Anglo-Irish] Secretariat and feeding them with material for their hourly reports to their ministers during periods of particular tension.” The report notes that the crowd dispersed when gardai fired shots into the air.

“Robinson, who appears to have lingered behind deliberately, was arrested and held in custody for 32 hours (during which he refused all sustenance provided by the gardai, preferring the wholesome Ulster food brought to him by his wife) before being charged with four offences, including assaulting gardai and causing wilful damage.”

Although Mr Robinson was already in Ulster, this reference is to the breakfast brought to him by his wife Iris during his detention at Monaghan Garda station.

The official noted that Mr Robinson (who first appeared in court in Ballybay) was granted bail to appear in court in Dundalk on 14 August.

Other loyalist shows of strength planned to take place on the same night as Clontibret were limited by RUC activity to Swatragh in County Derry where a group of masked men, some carrying firearms, marched through the nationalist village, causing some damage to property. Both incidents were condemned by the British and Irish governments. For its part, the DUP hailed the operation “as a clear indication of the absence of cross-border security”.

A separate file reveals that Peter Robinson and his party leader, Ian Paisley, felt they “narrowly escaped with their lives” and made a formal protest to the British Foreign Office about inadequate protection, following a court appearance in Dundalk over the Clontibret incident.

Peter Robinson later took over from Ian Paisley as DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland.


Black & White Minstrel Show Record Cover  Photo: 991.com

Black & White Minstrel Show Record Cover Photo: 991.com

My comments tonight are sparked by a Channel 4 television show: It was Alright in the 1970s. Episode two focused on old-fashioned Britishness on TV in the 70s. From blacking-up pre-watershed, through to rampant homophobia and xenophobia, it asked whether the 70s was the decade that taste forgot. Narrated by Matt Lucas, this two-part series included interviews with the people who appeared in the programmes, those who watched them and those who made them, and asked them ‘what were you thinking?’ at the time.

The programme included clips of shows I remember watching such as the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’ and ‘The Goodies’. There were also bits of comedy from the series ‘Mind your Language’. One of the sequences included a flick through pages from a television guide (probably TV Times, as it included adverts). On one page there was an advert that said: ‘Golly it’s Good’.

Advert for Robertsons Jams 1959  Photo: historyworld.co.uk  Advert Museum

Advert for Robertsons Jams 1959 Photo: historyworld.co.uk Advert Museum

This included a picture of a golly (it is no longer politically correct to use the full version of the word). This was the marketing symbol for many years for Robertsons jams, made in Scotland. Jars of Golden Shred were a common sight on the breakfast table when I was growing up. But six years ago, after being part of British life since 1864, the jam was phased out. The golly character had become very much non-PC.

The black-faced minstrel doll with his natty red bow tie and trousers, flowing blue jacket and distinctive yellow waistcoat, danced his way across the label on pots for the best part of a century. Critics complained that the image was an offensive caricature of black people and was based on slave dolls.

In 1983 the Greater London Council stopped buying the firm’s jam and marmalade, saying Golly was racist. A year later, councillors in Islington, North London, banned a Golly-bearing road safety poster as ‘offensive’.

Roberstons Jam Lid Photo: ebay

Roberstons Jam Lid Photo: ebay

The Working Group Against Racism in Children’s Resources called it ‘undoubtedly an offensive caricature of black people; it embodies the mythical qualities such as the love of music and rhythm, superstition, large appetites, primitive simplicity and savagery’.

For years, Robertson’s defended Golly as a fictional nurseryland character, not a depiction of a black person. However, the character was axed from television adverts in 1988, and then disappeared from the labels printed in 2002. Premier Foods, who bought the brand from RHM in 2007 got rid of Robertson’s jam forever and promoted its other brand Hartley’s instead.

Golly! I had better watch my language in future in case of causing unintentional offence. However that did not seem to bother a 21st Century comedian on television last night. Des Bishop was very funny in parts but much of his sexually explicit language was in my view offensive.

Cartoon (origin unknown)

Cartoon (origin unknown)




Grave of Ann Lovett in Granard  Photo: Wikimedia commons licence By Vankim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Grave of Ann Lovett in Granard Photo: Wikimedia commons licence by Vankim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

It was, in the words of the Irish Examiner in January this year, one of the stories that changed Ireland. A 15 year-old schoolgirl Ann Lovett died after giving birth to a baby beside a grotto dedicated to Our Lady in the grounds of the Catholic church in Granard, in County Longford. Friends discovered her with her dead baby and she bled to death before an ambulance arrived to take her to hospital on January 31 1984.

I remember reporting from Granard on the day of her funeral, a time when the media were not welcome in this Midlands town. I got the cameraman to wait until after the funeral to get some pictures of the flowers covering her grave. No-one wanted to talk about the incident on the day but I did manage to get a radio news piece done from a public telephone box situated inside a local hotel. I tried to speak as softly as I could as I did not want those nearby to hear my report.

Although Ann’s death created huge public debate the only reference to her in the newly released National Archives documents is at the back of a file on the visit of US president Ronald Reagan to Ireland that year.

The Irish Times report from Fiona Gartland is as follows:

(The reference to Ann Lovett) “arises in letters from street poet Christopher Daybell to then Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and Tánaiste Dick Spring about the death. Mr Daybell enclosed a letter to him from the Archdiocese of Armagh written in response to his correspondence, which is not on file. The letter from the Archdiocese, dated February 23rd, a984, said Mr Daybell did “a grave injustice to the people of Granard and particularly to the teachers” at Ms Lovett’s school.

“It is rather difficult to solve a problem that one does not know exists. Any priest could tell you of similar cases where children came to full-term without it being known to either their parents or their teachers.” It said “it was rather unfortunate” Ann did not “make it known even to her friends who might have been able to help her or did not seek medical assistance independently of her parents or teachers. Why she chose to keep her secret will never be known,” it added. “I think her sad death reflects more on her immaturity than on any lack of Christian charity amongst the family and people with whom she lived.”

The letter was signed by the diocesan secretary to the Catholic primate, cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, and noted the cardinal was absent. In Mr Daybell’s covering letter to Dr FitzGerald, dated March 3rd, he told the Taoiseach the girl’s death “coupled with” the letter from the archdiocese, had driven him “almost mad”.

“The letter goes beyond hypocrisy – that man in Armagh is incapable of feeling beyond the walls of his office and the great institution into which he has built his being,” he wrote. Referring to the description of Ms Lovett as immature, he wrote, “Why should she not have been so, at 15?” He also asked what assistance or intervention mechanism existed in Granard “apart from those elements which induce fear”. He included a poem he had written about the death.

In his letter of March 2nd to Mr Spring, he said it could emerge, “considering the hideous attitudes of men toward women in rural Ireland”, that Ms Lovett “was driven by forces other than those within herself”. “I await the result of the enquiry in a now cool anger, and hope that it will stiffen the resolve of your government on divorce and contraception,” the poet wrote.

Only one letter in response to Mr Daybell remains on the file. Dated March 8th, it is signed by the Taoiseach’s then private secretary George Shaw. It thanks him for his “further correspondence”, which he said would be brought to the Taoiseach’s attention. In a different typeface, someone printed ‘locate previous papers and put away'”. (end of article)

I could not find a copy of Mr Daybell’s poem. But I did find a very evocative work written in 1991 by another Dublin poet Paula Meehan and available on the web.

“The Statue of the Virgin at Granard”
By Paula Meehan

It can be bitter here at times like this,
November wind sweeping across the border.
Its seeds of ice would cut you to the quick.
The whole town tucked up safe and dreaming,
even wild things gone to earth, and I
stuck up here in this grotto, without as much as
star or planet to ease my vigil.

The howling won’t let up. Trees
cavort in agony as if they would be free
and take off – ghost voyagers
on the wind that carries intimations
of garrison towns, walled cities, ghetto lanes
where men hunt each other and invoke
the various names of God as blessing
on their death tactics, their night manoeuvres.
Closer to home the wind sails
over dying lakes. I hear fish drowning.
I taste the stagnant water mingled
with turf smoke from outlying farms.

They call me Mary – Blessed, Holy, Virgin.
They fit me to a myth of a man crucified:
the scourging and the falling, and the falling again,
the thorny crown, the hammer blow of iron
into wrist and ankle, the sacred bleeding heart.

They name me Mother of all this grief
Though mated to no mortal man.
They kneel before me and their prayers
fly up like sparks from a bonfire
that blaze a moment, then wink out.

It can be lovely here at times. Springtime,
early summer. Girls in Communion frocks
pale rivals to the riot in the hedgerows
of cow parsley and haw blossom, the perfume
from every rushy acre that’s left for hay
when the light swings longer with the sun’s push north.

Or the grace of a midsummer wedding
when the earth herself calls out for coupling
and I would break loose of my stony robes,
pure blue, pure white, as if they had robbed
a child’s sky for their colour. My being
cries out to be incarnate, incarnate,
maculate and tousled in a honeyed bed.

Even an autumn burial can work its own pageantry.
The hedges heavy with the burden of fruiting
crab, sloe, berry, hip; clouds scud east,
pear scented, windfalls secret in long
orchard grasses, and some old soul is lowered
to his kin. Death is just another harvest
scripted to the season’s play.

But on this All Soul’s Night there is
no respite from the keening of the wind.
I would not be amazed if every corpse came risen
From the graveyard to join in exaltation with the gale,
A cacophony of bone imploring sky for judgement
And release from being the conscience of the town.

On a night like this I remember the child
who came with fifteen summers to her name,
and she lay down alone at my feet
without midwife or doctor or friend to hold her hand
and she pushed her secret out into the night,
far from the town tucked up in little scandals,
bargains struck, words broken, prayers, promises,
and though she cried out to me in extremis
I did not move,
I didn’t lift a finger to help her,
I didn’t intercede with heaven,
nor whisper the charmed word in God’s ear.

On a night like this, I number the days to the solstice
and the turn back to the

O sun,
center of our foolish dance,
burning heart of stone,
molten mother of us all,
hear me and have pity.

from http://www.politicalworld.org Poetry:- ‘The Invitation’ and others

Also Christopher Fox Graham website



Pope Francis  Photo: Christiantoday.com

Pope Francis Photo: Christiantoday.com

The message of Pope Francis for St Stephen’s Day. This article by Carey Lodge comes from Christiantoday.com.

“Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path,” but Christians are given peace by God in all circumstances, the Pope said today during his annual St Stephen’s Day address.

Speaking before thousands gathered in St Peter’s Square, Francis highlighted the witness of St Stephen – the first martyr of the Church – who he said “shows us how to live in the fullness of the mystery of Christmas”.

“Stephen honoured the coming into the world of the King of Kings, offering to him the gift of his own life,” the Pope said. “And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.”

Pointing to Matthew 10:22, which says ‘You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved’, Francis added that Jesus’ words: “Do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it.

“It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life,” he explained.

“To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current.”

The Pope also said that following the Gospel “is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will.

“At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, ‘on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests’. This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end,” he said.

The Pope concluded his address by praying for persecuted Christians around the world. “I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church,” he said.

“Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognise and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.”

He also greeted “everyone named Stephen or Stephanie” in particular, offering them his best wishes.

“And please, continue to pray for me. Don’t forget!” he finished. “Happy Feast Day, and have a good lunch.”



Zoomer the Robot Dinosaur  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur Photo: © Michael Fisher

Meet my new acquaintance. Boomer Zoomer, the robot dinosaur. I suspect Santa must have been busy delivering these toys aound Ireland and elsewhere for Christmas Day. A similar toy Teksta T-Rex appeared on the annual RTÉ Late Late Show recently.

Thanks to a nephew I was able to explore some of the capabilities of this dinosaur. He will gladly chew a bone or even your finger. If he is enraged his eyes will turn to red!

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur Photo: © Michael Fisher

The toy is very versatile and comes with a remote, but can also be set in motion without this device. Here are some of the specifications:

A pre-historic pet for the modern age! Boomer is a robotic dinosaur pet that can chase, chomp, guard and of course – ROAR! His eyes change colour with his mood, so make sure you give him all the attention he needs. Standing up on two wheels, he uses ‘True Balance Technology’ to zoom around and maintain balance. You can use your hands to tame him and build up a friendship and make him your loyal pet. Try and control him with the control pod, or even make him dance! But beware – you may lose control! With tons of cool features Boomer is the ultimate pre-historic robotic pet!

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur Photo: © Michael Fisher

Contents include 1 Zoomer Dino Boomer, 1 Control Pod, 1 Mini USB Cable and 1 set of instructions.

  • Two modes of play
  • Balances on two wheels
  • Boomer’s eyes change colour with his mood
  • Make Boomer speak, sit and tail whip through gesture commands
  • Chomping action
  • Head Sensors to follow you

The robot dinosaur has a super cool and playful personality. This interactive robot dinosaur is almost like a pet and just loves to have fun with kids. It is usually cool but when he gets angry he gets wild which drives kids go wild with more excitement.

This dinosaur toy moves around deftly balancing itself on its two legs with smooth head, neck and tail movements thanks to the Balancing Technology (TM) it possesses. The best part is that it responds to hand gestures. It is a great learner; the more you play around with him the quicker he responds to your commands. You can also command it with a remote control.

Boomer has multiple joints in his neck and he can swing his head from side to side. Same goes for his tail which again is pretty flexible for him to swish merrily. He can open his mouth to display his emotions while he moves around to keep everybody entertained. This charming robotic toy emits realistic sounds which adds to the excitement. It is a rechargeable toy, but the remote does need a battery.

So now you have met my latest Christmas visitor. Luckily the child in question did not receive the burping and farting version of Boomer, which is also available!

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Boomer the Robot Dinosaur Photo: © Michael Fisher


Saint Macartan's Cathedral Monaghan Photo: © Michael Fisher

Saint Macartan’s Cathedral Monaghan Photo: © Michael Fisher

I was at the Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Macartan’s Cathedral in Monaghan where the chief celebrant was Bishop MacDaid. Standing room only when I arrived. Here is the joint Christmas Message from the Bishops of Clogher Dr Liam MacDaid and Right Reverend John McDowell.





Pope Francis  Photo: news.va

Pope Francis Photo: news.va

Vatican Radio reports on the meeting Pope Francis had in the Vatican yesterday with the heads and other senior officials of the departments of the Roman Curia, in their traditional exchange of Christmas greetings. But there was something very non-traditional about the Pope’s remarks. He listed fifteen ailments of the administration that he wanted to be cured. The Holy Father focused on the need for those who serve in the Curia – especially those in positions of power and authority – to remember and cultivate an attitude and a spirit of service.

“Sometimes,” said Pope Francis, “[officials of the Curia] feel themselves ‘lords of the manor’ [It. padroni] – superior  to everyone and everything,” forgetting that the spirit, which should animate them in their lives of service to the universal Church, is one of humility and generosity, especially in view of the fact that none of us will live forever on this earth…The Curia is always required to better itself and to grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom to fully accomplish its mission. However, like any body, it is exposed to sickness, malfunction and infirmity… I would like to mention some of these illnesses that we encounter most frequently in our life in the Curia. They are illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord”, continued the Pontiff, who after inviting all those present to an examination of conscience to prepare themselves for Christmas, listed the most common Curial ailments:

The first is “the sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable’, neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service”.

The second is “’Martha-ism’, or excessive industriousness; the sickness of those who immerse themselves in work, inevitably neglecting ‘the better part’ of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Therefore, Jesus required his disciples to rest a little, as neglecting the necessary rest leads to stress and agitation. Rest, once one who has brought his or her mission to a close, is a necessary duty and must be taken seriously: in spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment, it is necessary to learn the teaching of Ecclesiastes, that ‘there is a time for everything’”.

Then there is “the sickness of mental and spiritual hardening: that of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves behind paper, becoming working machines rather than men of God. … It is dangerous to lose the human sensibility necessary to be able to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! It is the sickness of those who lose those sentiments that were present in Jesus Christ”.

“The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions. Indeed, the Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it. The Spirit is freshness, imagination and innovation”.

The “sickness of poor coordination develops when the communion between members is lost, and the body loses its harmonious functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra of cacophony because the members do not collaborate and do not work with a spirit of communion or as a team”.

“Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease, or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord, of the ‘first love’: this is a progressive decline of spiritual faculties, that over a period of time causes serious handicaps, making one incapable of carrying out certain activities autonomously, living in a state of absolute dependence on one’s own often imaginary views. We see this is those who have lost their recollection of their encounter with the Lord … in those who build walls around themselves and who increasingly transform into slaves to the idols they have sculpted with their own hands”.

“The ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the colour of one’s robes, insignia and honours become the most important aim in life. … It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism’”.

Then there is “existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honours. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life”.

The sickness of “chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren. It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs”.

“The sickness of deifying leaders is typical of those who court their superiors, with the hope of receiving their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, honouring people rather than God. They are people who experience service thinking only of what they might obtain and not of what they should give. They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness”.

“The disease of indifference towards others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. When the most expert does not put his knowledge to the service of less expert colleagues; when out of jealousy … one experiences joy in seeing another person instead of lifting him up or encouraging him”.

“The illness of the funereal face: or rather, that of the gruff and the grim, those who believe that in order to be serious it is necessary to paint their faces with melancholy and severity, and to treat others – especially those they consider inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity”.

“The disease of accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential emptiness of the heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but simply to feel secure. … Accumulation only burdens and inexorably slows down our progress”.

“The ailment of closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself. This sickness too may start from good intentions but, as time passes, enslaves members and becomes a ‘cancer’ that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes a great deal of harm – scandals – especially to our littlest brothers”.

Then, there is the “disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others”.

Pope Francis  Photo: news.va

Pope Francis Photo: news.va

Pope Francis continued: “We are therefore required, at this Christmas time and in all the time of our service and our existence – to live ‘speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’”.

“I once read that priests are like aeroplanes: they only make the news when they crash, but there are many that fly. Many criticise them and few pray for them”, he concluded. “It is a very nice phrase, but also very true, as it expresses the importance and the delicacy of our priestly service, and how much harm just one priest who falls may cause to the whole body of the Church”.

This is surely one of the most important addresses by any Pope in the past fifty years or so, since Vatican II. The video of his address in Italian can be watched here.


Devin Toner   Photo: Leinster Rugby

Devin Toner Photo: Leinster Rugby

Congratulations to Ireland lock Devin Toner on signing a new professional contract for Leinster Rugby, which will keep him with the province until at least June 2017. Big Devin made his senior debut for the Boys in Blue against the Border Reivers in January 2006 and has since made 157 appearances for Leinster, scoring three tries.

He made his Ireland debut in the 20-10 win over Samoa in November 2010. The 28 year-old has won 20 caps for his country and his last appearance for Ireland was in the 26-23 victory over Australia in November. Devin won a RBS 6 Nations Championship with Ireland in 2014 and has collected three Heineken Cups, an Amlin Cup and three PRO12 league titles with Leinster.

Devin Toner in training for Ireland  Photo: IRFU

Devin Toner in training for Ireland Photo: IRFU

Commenting on the new contract he said: “It is great to have signed on for another two years with Leinster. I have been with the province for almost a decade and during that time the club have invested a lot in my development and have given me the platform to reach my potential and achieve success at both provincial and national level”.

IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora said Devin had developed into an international level second row over the last few seasons. He had performed consistently at a high level for both Ireland and Leinster and was illustrating strong leadership skills in both the provincial and national environments.

Leinster CEO Mick Dawson said: “We are delighted that Devin has signed an IRFU contract which keeps him at Leinster up to the end of the 2017 season. Devin’s skill, athleticism and leadership add greatly to our environment and he continues to grow and develop as a player who has a huge role to play at Leinster over the next few seasons”.

Ireland rugby jersey  Photo: IRFU

Ireland rugby jersey Photo: IRFU