“Mo Ghile Mear”, lyrics composed later in the the 18th Century lamenting the failing of an earlier Rising, a traditional Irish air at least generations old, combined in the 1970s, sung today in great style.
I have not researched the origins of this myself but the theme is well-known, so from relying on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Mo Ghile Mear” (translated “My Gallant Darling”, “My Spirited Lad” and variants) is an Irish song. The modern form of the song was composed in the early 1970s by Dónal Ó Liatháin (1934–2008), using a traditional air collected in Cúil Aodha, County Cork, and lyrics selected from Irish-language poems by Seán “Clárach” Mac Domhnaill (1691–1754).
The lyrics are partially based on Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló (“My Heart is Sore with Sorrow Deep” (but “Gach Ló” means “every day” and there is no mention of “My Heart” in the title – D. Breatnach), c. 1746), a lament of the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.Mo ghile mear is a term applied to the Pretender in numerous Jacobite songs of the period. O’Daly (1866) reports that many of the Irish Jacobite songs were set to the tune The White Cockade. This is in origin a love song of the 17th century, the “White Cockade” (cnotadh bán) being an ornament of ribbons worn by young women, but the term was re-interpreted to mean a military cockade in the Jacobite context.
Another part of the lyrics is based in an earlier Jacobite poem by Mac Domhnaill. This was published in Edward Walsh‘s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847) under the title of “Air Bharr na gCnoc ‘san Ime gCéin — Over the Hills and Far Away”. Walsh notes that this poem was “said to be the first Jacobite effort” by Mac Domhnaill, written during the Jacobite rising of 1715, so that here the exiled hero is the “Old Pretender”, James Francis Edward Stuart.
The composition of the modern song is associated with composer Seán Ó Riada, who established an Irish-language choir inCúil Aodha, County Cork, in the 1960s. The tune to which it is now set was collected by Ó Riada from an elderly resident of Cúil Aodha called Domhnall Ó Buachalla. Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, and the song was composed about a year after his death, in c. 1972, with Ó Riada himself now becoming the departed hero lamented in the text. The point of departure for the song was the tape recording of Domhnall Ó Buachalla singing the tune. Ó Riada’s son Peadar suggested to Dónal Ó Liatháin that he should make a song from this melody.
Ó Liatháin decided to select verses from Mac Domhnaill’s poem and set them to the tune. He chose those that were the most “universal”, so that the modern song is no longer an explicit reference to the Jacobite rising but in its origin a lament for the death of Seán Ó Riada.
THIS RENDITION is to my mind and ear an excellent one in traditional-type arrangement and voices (not to mention looks of certain of the singers) and all involved are to be commended. I have not always liked the group’s rendition but this is just wonderful.
In history, we fought in Ireland for two foreign royals at two different times and on each occasion they left us in the lurch.
From Workers’ Republic, 18 March 1916.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
The question often arises: Why do Irishmen celebrate the festival of their national saint, in view of the recently re-discovered truth that he was by no means the first missionary to preach Christianity to the people of Ireland? It is known now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Christian religion had been preached and practised in Ireland long before St. Patrick, that Christian churches had been established, and it is probable that the legend about the shamrock was invented in some later generation than that of the saint. Certainly the shamrock bears no place of any importance in early Celtic literature, and the first time we read of it as having any reference to or bearing on religion in Ireland occurs in the work of a foreigner – an English monk.
But all that notwithstanding there is good reason why Irish men and women should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They should celebrate it for the same reason as they should honour the green flag of Ireland, despite the fact that there is no historical proof that the Irish, in the days of Ireland’s freedom from foreign rule, ever had a green flag as a national standard, or indeed ever had a national flag at all
The claim of the 17th of March to be Ireland’s national festival, the claim of St. Patrick to be Ireland’s national saint, the claim of the shamrock to be Ireland’s national plant, the claim of the green flag to be Ireland’s national flag rests not on the musty pages of half-forgotten history but on the affections and will of the Irish people.
Sentiment it may be. But the man or woman who scoffs at sentiment is a fool. We on this paper respect facts, and have a holy hatred of all movements and causes not built upon truth. But sentiment is often greater than facts, because it is an idealised expression of fact – a mind picture of truth as it is seen by the soul, unhampered by the grosser dirt of the world and the flesh.
The Irish people, denied comfort in the present, seek solace in the past of their country; the Irish mind, unable because of the serfdom or bondage of the Irish race to give body and material existence to its noblest thoughts, creates an emblem to typify that spiritual conception for which the Irish race laboured in vain. If that spiritual conception of religion, of freedom, of nationality exists or existed nowhere save in the Irish mind, it is nevertheless as much a great historical reality as if it were embodied in a statute book, or had a material existence vouched for by all the pages of history.
It is not the will of the majority which ultimately prevails; that which ultimately prevails is the ideal of the noblest of each generation. Happy indeed that race and generation in which the ideal of the noblest and the will of the majority unite.
In this hour of her trial Ireland cannot afford to sacrifice any one of the things the world has accepted as peculiarly Irish. She must hold to her highest thoughts, and cleave to her noblest sentiments. Her sons and daughters must hold life itself as of little value when weighed against the preservation of even the least important work of her separate individuality as a nation.
Therefore we honour St. Patrick’s Day (and its allied legend of the shamrock) because in it we see the spiritual conception of the separate identity of the Irish race – an ideal of unity in diversity, of diversity not conflicting with unity.
Magnificent must have been the intellect that conceived such a thought; great must have been the genius of the people that received such a conception and made it their own.
On this Festival then our prayer is: Honour to St. Patrick the Irish Apostle, and Freedom to his people.
I seem to recall that Connolly wrote something else about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps when he was living and working in the USA but can’t find it now. For similar reasons to what he lays out here, I supported and indeed organised public celebration of the feast day in London.
And I might have agreed with Connolly in the case of Ireland at the time he wrote it: the whole country under British occupation, in the middle of the First World War with thousands of Irish casualties in the British armed forces and coming up to the 1916 Rising.
But now? I don’t think so, neither with what it celebrates nor how it is celebrated, which always makes me want to get out of Dublin. Republic Day, which Connolly was party to creating but could perhaps not have anticipated being a national festival day, is what we should be focusing on now, I think.
No, that title is not a cryptic clue for a crossword but instead refers to a very common and much-despised plant with a truly remarkable story. A plant that has found amazing ways of propagation and distribution.
The week before last I saw my first dandelion of this year in bloom in Dublin. On a cold, dark and wet day, it had its sunny bloom shining on a bit of waste ground. And not far from it, a coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)in bloom too, a relative in the same genus sometimes confused with the dandelion, also in bloom. But this is the story of the ubiquitous dandelion, which we knew as “Piss (or Wet) the Bed”, from a mistaken belief that keeping the blooms in one’s bedroom would make one void one’s bladder while sleeping.
We have two common species of dandelion in Ireland, T. vulgaris and T. officinalis, Caisearbhán and Caisearbhán Caol Dearg (?) respectively in Irish. They belong to the genus or larger family of Asteraceae, one of the two largest genera of the flower family, including so many species, from the diminutive daisy to the giant sunflower.
It is an important early source of pollen and nectar for insects in this latitude, when not many other blooms are about.
The name “dandelion” is a rendition of the pronunciation in French of “dents de lion”, i.e “lion’s teeth”, said to refer to the serration of the leaves reminding people of lion’s teeth. Well, perhaps of a cartoon or heraldic lion, or one as imagined by Europeans who had never seen the animal.
As the season progresses, soon those cheerful yellow blooms will be seen everywhere, on roadside verges and waste ground, in gardens and fields, in woodlands, on hillsides ….. Except in bogs and strangely in some parts of the Burren1, there is hardly a place where it cannot be found, which makes us see it as common and perhaps view it with disdain.
But it is far from being an everyday plant.
PUFF CLOCK AND PARACHUTE BABIES
As children, we thought to tell the time by blowing on the fluffy balls that develop from the bloom in late Summer or Autumn, each puff being an hour and the correct time being the number of puffs to blow the last seed parachute away. It seems unlikely such an impractical idea would have occurred to us and we only did so because we had been told about it by adults.
But there is some wonder in those fluffy balls, full of separate parachutes, each bearing one seed. This is possible because what I have been deliberately calling a “bloom” rather than a “flower” is, properly speaking, a capitulum, a head actually containing many, many little flowers, or florets – and each one of those will bear a seed. It is a wonderful arrangement capable of producing a multiplicity of seeds even if parts of the bloom are damaged.
Each floret grows a silky “parachute”, the plant not only using the wind for seed dispersal (as do grasses with pollen) but developing such a means of delivery to cover great distance.
Upon hitting disturbed ground or even a crevice with soil, the seed takes quickly – the dandelion’s children are great opportunists — and sends down a long taproot, while above ground, leaves grow in a rosette shape upon rosette, later sending out hollow stalks that will bear the bloom of florets. Each bloom “responds to changes in light, in fine weather stretching the florets to the sun and following its course across the sky, or closing the head up as soon as rain threatens, opening also for sunrise and closing at evening.”1 As the florets die, their bracts close and the seeds and parachutes develop inside; then their surrounding bracts drop, allowing the expansion of the full ball of silky parachutes – i.e the maximum possible number of seed-carriers.
When the seeds have gone with the wind, the hollow stem dries up and falls away. The tap-root regularly shrinks and pulls the rosette of leaves tight to the ground: maximum absorption of sun and moisture but also maximum possible cover on ground, making it difficult for other plants to compete close to it.
Unless I dreamed it, somewhere I came across a phrase and image that I considered very democratic but have not been able to find it since. I had thought it spoken by a Shakespearian character but no search has turned it up. As I recall it, a worker or person of “low” social status says that his blood is as good as any royal person’s, for “a king on the march scatters his seed like a dandelion”!
To the average flower or vegetable gardener, the dandelion is an invasive noxious weed, rapidly colonising newly-dug, hoed or even raked soil and competing with what it is desired to grow. And the fact that hoeing the leaves off even a couple of times will not kill the plant, the root sending out new shoots, makes it worse. Using a rotavator chops up the tap root but many of the resulting sections can regenerate and start a new plant.
All this is amazing enough, were it not for the plant’s sex life – or absence of it!
SEEDS WITHOUT SEX
Most flowers, blossoms and blooms exchange pollen, usually with the assistance of pollinators – generally insects and in particular, bees. This fertilises the plants and causes the production of seeds, whether in the form of fruit or nuts or just plain “seeds”. The shape and colour of the bloom attracts the pollinator, knowing that inside there is nectar and pollen to be eaten (or collected, in the case of bees).
Well, dandelion blooms contain nectar and are visited by many insects, including bees – but the plants don’t exchange pollen in order to produce seeds. They produce the seeds alright, as we have seen – but asexually. Without sex. So why produce blooms and nectar at all?
Each new plant is a copy of the parent but no breeding occurs. Another mystery: there are a huge number of different microspecies of dandelion, differing in sometimes minute ways from one another and living and seeding in the same general area (more than 70 in Co. Dublin alone3). ‘In the British Isles alone, 234 microspecies are recognised in nine loosely defined sections, of which 40 are “probably endemic.”4
Let’s imagine an ancestral dandelion plant – how did it come to produce all these micro-species, seeding true but each separate and without cross-breeding? Botanists don’t seem to know: ‘the humble dandelion is, indeed, as the new Webb’s An Irish Flora confirms, “a very difficult genus”, its flowers not always to be told apart, even in the hand. The American ecologist Paul Ehrlich once described the reproductive policy of dandelions as “perhaps the greatest mystery in the world of plant sex”.‘5
FOOD, DRINK, DYE …. AND RUBBER?
All over Europe and Asia the plant has been known for culinary and/ or medicinal qualities but rather than just quote hearsay and unverified publications, I prefer to pass over most of the detail of these alleged qualities as the subject requires more research than I am prepared to undertake at this time.
All of the dandelion plant is edible1, except perhaps the bloom-stem: root, leaves, buds and blooms. Which is probably how this native Eurasian plant came to colonise America (though North America does have its own native species too) – brought there as a culinary plant by European colonists. The green leaves are likely to be too bitter for many tastes unless blanched first – i.e covered to deny them sun for a week or so, when they will turn yellow and lose much of their bitterness but still remain crisp.
Dandelion wine has been made from the flowers (a gallon of flowers for a gallon of wine7, but some other ingredients must be added, as with all European plants with the exception of the grape or the gooseberry). A mildly-fermented drink, dandelion and burdock8, has also been made from a combination of the dandelion flowers and burdock roots.
The flowers have also been dried, then ground into a powder to make a light yellow dye but I lack information on its colourfastness.
The white sticky liquid (latex) in the stems and along the main rib of the larger leaves has been said to remove warts but having tried it myself without success I doubt this claim. Furthermore, I believe the remedy may be confused with a similar-looking white sap from a completely different plant, the petty spurge (also known as “milkweed” and other common names), Euphorbia peplus, which I have found efficacious. However, the white sap in the dandelion has been developed by selective cultivation in one species to replicate the latex of the rubber tree9 and dandelion rubber may one day become a familiar product.
Soon, this seemingly ubiquitous flower of many “cousins” and many uses, an opportunist colonist with thousands of daughters sailing the wind, will be brightening our ways everywhere. Once we know even some of its qualities, can we ever again look at the dandelion with disdain?
1In New Atlas of British Irish Flora, quoted by Michael Viney, “Pissey beds lion’s tooth” etc (see Sources, References)
2Ibid, also Taraxacum – ‘A very difficult genus of a multitude forms, which set seed without pollinating, and never, therefore, interbreed.’ An Irish Flora by D A Webb, Sc.D. 1977, quoted in Wildflowers of Ireland (References, Sources).
I observed in Language Is a Treasure Chest 1 that it is full of wonders but that it has some horrors in it too. And I found it to be so again.
I was reading a novel in which the word “Cimarron” appeared and, doing some quick research on the word, I came across a 2004 query in an email website or page called Word Wizard:
What is the etymology of the word cimarron? I’ve always been told that it means “runaway slave” in Mexican Spanish. Can anyone verify this?
The reply is dated the same day:
From Greek. It refers to people who live in perpetual mist and darkness, akin to the ‘land of the dead’. Latin ‘Cimmerius’, Greek ‘Kimmerios’, Assyrian ‘Gimirri’ even the bible ‘Gomer’ Gen.10:2 and Esk. 38:6. In Western United States it refers to a stretch of land that gets rainfall when other near by areas are desert year round.
Apart from the topographical reference, I thought the expert’s explanation highly dubious. And in fact I happen to know something about the Spanish-language origins of the word.
The searcher replied:
Thanks, Jim. I just wonder what connection this word has to Hispanics of Mexican origin because it shows up in their surnames (although not as common as Lopez or Vargas or Garcia). Is it just Mexican in origin or did that also come from Spain? So the “runaway slave” theory has no foundation then?
The expert’s reply did come back with a Spanish-language connection and he may be on to something with the topography, though I think he has it the wrong way around (as we shall see).
The “runaway slave” theory is not so obsolete.
Mexico did not have slaves (Outlawed in 1810)but
American slaves who fled to Mexico had to pass
through lands with water, or else parish (sic).
When relating their tales of woe to the locals
the word ‘cimmaron’ arose to describe their flight
through the South West desert.
Very curiously, there was no further contribution to the discussion. I tried to leave my own but had to register, which I have done (though wondering if worth the trouble) and am now awaiting confirmation1.
THE FOLK MEMORY WAS TRUE
Continuing with a little light online research I find that the Castillian-language (Spanish) origin is the explanation most often given, with rarely a reference to Greek or other classical or archaic languages. For example, in yourdictionary.com:
American Spanish cimarrón, wild, unruly ( from Old Spanish cimarra, thicket): probably origin, originally referring to the wild sheep (bighorn) found along its banks
(Latin America, of animals) feral (having returned to the wild)
Synonyms: alzado, bagual, feral
(Latin America, of people) rural; campestral
(Latin America, of plants) of a wild cultivar.
But …. what about the “runaway slaves”? Under the title Cimarron People, Wikipedia has this to say: The Cimarrons in Panama were enslaved Africans who had escaped from their Spanish masters and lived together as outlaws. In the 1570s, they allied with Francis Drake of England to defeat the Spanish conquest. In Sir Francis Drake Revived (1572), Drake describes the Cimarrons as “a black people which about eighty years past fled from the Spaniards their masters, by reason of their cruelty, and are since grown to a nation, under two kings of their own. The one inhabiteth to the west, the other to the east of the way from Nombre de Dios”. (location in Panama — DB)
While we may indulge ourselves in a sardonic smile at commissioned pirate Francis Drake talking about the cruelty of others, or about slave-owning by a country other than England in 1570, we remember also that at the time Spain was the main competitor with England in the rush to plunder the Americas – and had got there well before them.2 Both colonial powers were already plundering Africa for raw materials and slaves.
The meanings of animals having gone “feral” or “returned to the wild” would easily have been applied by the society of the time to escaped African slaves, a society which, despite evidence to the contrary including agriculture in Africa, would have considered indigenous inhabitants of Africa as people living in the “wild”. Once escaped and no longer under European control, they would be seen as “returning to the wild”.
So what happened to the Cimarron People? Their settlements were subject to punitive raids by the Spanish, killing people and burning crops, so that in the end they came to a treaty with their old enemy. The Wikipedia entry says no more except that the “Cimarrons” and the English quarreled (not surprising, given that they were of no further use to the latter). I believe some of their settlements in Florida were raided and burned by US “pioneers” and soldiers and that the remainder became part of the Seminoles, a native American tribe that resisted the USA in the longest and most costly of the USA’s wars against the indigenous people, the Native (North) Americans. The Seminole had many tribe members of part-African origin in their midst.
And here – a surprise: The word “Seminole” is derived from the Muscogee word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “runaway” or “wild one”!
So, in line with what that on-line searcher back in 2004 had heard, no doubt a folk belief, the word cimarronis, in Mexico (and in the USA), of Castillian (Spanish) language origin and is connected to escaped slaves of African origin.
Some of the sources for “cimarron” also give us “marron” or “marrón” which is also related to escaped slaves and, in English, became “Maroons”. The Maroons, escaped slaves who inhabited mountainous regions of Jamaica and elsewhere became a great problem to the English settlers (after they took the island from the Spanish) which they failed totally to quell, the Maroons emerging victorious in many military engagements. In the Cockpits area of Jamaica, I have read, there is a place called Nanny Town, which is believed to be one of the settlements of the Maroons; their chief was said to be a woman called “Granny Nanny”3, whether because of her former slave occupation or for other reason4. In the end, like the Spanish with the Cimarron People, the English had to treat with them. Sadly the treaty required the Maroons to return newly-escaped slaves, which they did and for which they received payment.
However if instead of being a voluntary escapee to go to a wild place you were forced by people or circumstance, well then, like Alexander Selkirk’s “Crusoe”, you’d be “marooned”!
Well then, what about the “cimarron strips” in the southwest of the USA? Could the word refer to strips of land “gone wild”? Or could the expert replying to the question in 2004 have been on to something?
If the slaves escaping through the desert from the USA to Mexico did indeed make their way through strips of watered land (not just for the water, as the expert speculates but for vegetation to conceal them), then there is a connection between escaped slaves and these strips of land. But not as the expert sees it, rather the other way around: since the escaped slaves, the “cimarrones” were travelling the strips, they would be called by those who knew about it (escapee hunters, escapee helpers and just observers), “cimarron strips”, i.e “those strips through which the runaway slaves travel.”
CHRISTIAN ETHNIC PREJUDICE
However, if the word comes from Castillian (Spanish) what were the origins of the word in that language?
Perhaps a year ago, I was reading a book that described the Spanish State as having been characterised, contrary to many other European states, by mass expulsions and exiles on a number of occasions throughout its history5. Naturally enough, first on the list of expulsions was the well-known example of the Moors and the Jews. Those who were not slaughtered by the forces of the “Christian Monarchs” of Ferdinand and Isabella in the “reconquest” were obliged to convert to Christianity or to leave “with only the clothes on their backs”. This also occurred in Portugal.
Those Jews who left were the Sephardim or Sephardic Jews, who spoke Ladino, an archaic kind of Iberian Romance6language with Aramaic and Hebrew words, along with the Moors, who spoke an Iberian-Arabic mixture or Arabic. The key of their houses or gates have been handed down to this day in families of both groups.7
Many converted, often referred to by Christians as “conversos” (Jews) or “moriscos” (Arabs) but were constantly under suspicion of reverting to their old religion even with the threat and constant trials and torture of the Spanish Inquisition. According to what I have read they too were sometimes called “marronos”, i.e in the eyes of the Spanish Christian ruling class, those who had been “domesticated” (Christianised) but had “returned to the their wild way”, (Moslem) i.e “gone feral”.
Wikipedia on Marrones in Iberia confirms:The (Spanish) Inquisition was aimed mostly at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but were thought to be practicing their faiths secretly. They were respectively called marranos and moriscos. However, in 1567 King Phillip II directed Moriscos to give up their Arabic names and traditional dress, and prohibited the use of Arabic. In reaction, there was a Morisco uprising in the Alpujarras from 1568 to 1571. In the years from 1609 to 1614, the government expelled Moriscos.
THE BUSH FROM THE NUT?
And is “ci” or “cy” in “cimarron” then merely a prefix? The word “marrón” exists as a colour in Castilian and a number of Romance languages and came into English as the colour “maroon”. Its development is taken as originating from the colour of the large ripe chestnut, rather than given to it later. Of course there are a number of words for colours or tints which have a botanical origin, “orange” being an obvious one.
Alright, then the nut and tree might have been associated with uncultivated or “wild” areas, similar to those to which the “cimarrons” would escape. But where did the “ci” suffix come from? Somewhere in the midst of what I have been researching I came across an explanation, derived from Latin, meaning “towering”, “high” etc. But can I find it now?
The online sources are telling me that the relevant pages are up for deletion and I can join the discussion. No thanks, I do not have anything like sufficient knowledge to enter a debate on that, nor the patience of an academic to research it thoroughly.
But “high” and “wild” could easily correspond, given that valleys and plains lend themselves more easily to cultivation, as a rule, than mountainy areas, which might remain wooded or with with thick undergrowth. And that might also give us the “bush” or “thicket” referred to in a number of references for “cimarron”, which in turn might describe the “cimarron strips”. In parts of Latin America (and for all I know, in all of them) such as Chile, a “cimarra” is also a thicket or densely-grown area. The article in the Language Journal (see reference) comments that the “arra” cannot be a Romance language word-ending but even if true it seems to me that the author (or authors quoted) might be unaware that among those from Iberia who colonised or settled in the Americas, Romance language speakers were not alone. There were also Basques who spoke Euskera/ Euskara and for evidence, they applied a number of toponomics and left family names from the Basque Country (Basque descendants make up to 10% of the population of some Latin American countries). And “-arra” would be a common enough suffix or word-ending in Euskera.8
OKLAHOMA PANHANDLE AND THE CIMARRON STRIP
In the 19th Century wars between the Mexican Republic, the USA and the Native Americans in the area, it was carved up with less and less left to the Native Americans. Prior to the American Civil War, white Texas wanted to join the Union as a slave state and due to a US federal law prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ parallel north, white Texas surrendered a strip of land north of that latitude. The settlement (temporary of course), left a strip as “Neutral Territory” (one can only imagine the temptation for African slaves in Texas to make for there). After the Civil War big cattle ranchers moved in, disregarding treaties and named the area the Cimarron Strip.
But that was because the word Cimarron was already in the area, from the “Cimarron Cutoff” leading to a crossing of the Cimarron river. And yes, there was a popular 1967-1968 TV series called “Cimarron Strip”, starring Stuart Whitman. But, though I used to watch it, that is only faintly related to the story of the word that set me out on this journey.
1Which days later had still not arrived – perhaps the site is no longer in operation, which would explain the silence after those two posters.
2Columbus voyage to America 1641 and Spain’s first colonial settlement 1565 (now Florida); Mayflower expedition to America with English settlers 1587 (now Virginia). However, Europeans had founded settlements much earlier, as with the Norse in the 10th Century and very likely Irish monks in the 6th Century. But it was the English and Spanish who conquered most, the Dutch, French and Portuguese less. The descendants of the English settlers after gaining independence from England completed the seizure and colonisation of most of the North American continent, while English colonists remaining loyal to the English Crown seized land to form what is now Canada.
4All the folk tradition, albeit conflicting on some points, declares that she had not been a slave which leaves one to wonder how she might have reached Jamaica from Africa without having been enslaved.
5 I borrowed the book from the public library and cannot remember its title at the moment.
6“Romance languages” is the name give to the group on Indo-European languages such as Castillian (Spanish), Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian and French. They are sometimes called “Latin-based” or “Latin Languages” but there is some dispute about the origins and developments of these languages.
7 Ironically, the door or gate “key” is also a symbol of return for Palestinian refugees driven from their homes by Zionist massacres, threats and fear during the founding of the State of Israel.
8 Among toponomics of North America’s southwest Durango (Colorado and Mexico), Navarro and Zavala Counties (Texas) are perhaps the best known; while Aguirre, Arana, Bolívar (Bolibar), Cortazar (Kortazar), Duhalde, Echevarria (Etxebarria), García, Guevara (Gebarra), Ibarra, Larrazábal, Mendiata, Muzika, Ortiz, Salazar, Ugarte, Urribe and Zabala are but some among a host of family names of Basque origin from the American south-west to Latin America. And of course the country of Bolivia, from Simon Bolívar, a Basque surname from a Basque toponomic.
We now approach the festival called Christmas. A Christian festival, apparently, celebrating the birth of Christ, the baby Jesus.
Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
Such a sweet, holy image.
But actually, when we look around us, it seems more like a festival of the pagan gods: Bacchus, the god of alcohol and of Mammon, the god of wealth. Bacchus, because in non-Moslem countries, drinking of alcohol will be for most a big component of the festival. Whiskey, brandy, wine and beer will be bought to stock up the house. Alcohol will be drunk at Christmas parties (including office parties, where for months afterwards some people will regret what they did or said – or even what they didn’t do or say).
Alcohol will be not just drunk but also put into some of the traditional food and even poured over it.
Then Mammon. Well, you can see the retail businesses stocking up for weeks or even months ahead of the festival which, after all, was only supposed to be a one or at most a two-day event. Giving and receiving gifts has now become part of the festival and in most cases, gifts have to be bought. Which is a really big gift to the retail businesses and thence, really a sacrifice to Mammon.
In the Christian gospels of both Matthew and Luke, it is written that one “cannot serve both Mammon and God” — which goes to show how little they understood capitalism, where Mammon IS God. A theologian of the Fourth Century saw Mammon as a personification of Beelzebub, which in his time was another name for Satan or the Devil.
Interestingly, Protestant Christianity, which some credit as having invented capitalism, at the same time regarded Mammon, or said they did, as “one of the Seven Princes of Hell”.
Now, Santa Claus is also a big part of the Christmas festival, especially in western countries, a much more acceptable face than that of greedy Mammon and alcoholic Bacchus, right?
But originally, the Christians saw him a representation of St. Nicholas, 4th Century Bishop of the Greek city of Myra, a location now in Turkey. He was he patron saint of archers, repentant thieves, sailors and prostitutes. The prostitutes probably had to be repentant ones, of course! The sailors, who probably had at least as much recourse to prostitutes as had any other calling, were apparently not required to be repentant – to be in danger on the sea was enough.
But St. Nicholas was also the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers and brewers, so we can see how close he was getting there to the modern spirit of Christmas.
Now, the Christmas Tree, der tannenbaum, so much a part of the symbolism of modern western Christmas, came to us from Germany, as did the sled and the reindeer. The reindeer are not autochthonous or endemic in historic times to Germany, so they must have been brought in their myths from Scandinavia from where originally, the Germanic tribes came from. In turn, the Christmas Tree, Yule Log, reindeer and sled were exported from Germany to England in the reign of Queen Victoria, by her consort Prince Albert, who was German. And since the English ruled all of us in Victoria and Albert’s time, the Christmas Tree came to us too, to the cities first and then slowly spreading through the rural areas.
When you think about it, this German-English worship of the tree was a bit ironic, since the English had wiped out most of our forests already and were still cutting down our remaining trees in Queen Victoria’s time.
And Victoria, through Albert, gave us the Santa Clause we know and love today. A jolly man, well fed, white beard, twinkly eyes, dressed all in red with white trim ….
Now, wait a minute! It turns out he wasn’t always dressed in red. Originally, he was dressed in a brown, or green cloak. He was, originally among the Germanic people, a god of the forests – hence the evergreen Christmas tree. And like any sensible woodsman, he dressed in appropriate colours, brown or green. Neither Albert nor Victoria ever represented him as dressed in red. So how did it become so that we are incapable of seeing him today in any other colour than red? Well, it turns out that Coca Cola is the responsible party.
Yes, although it was the cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870s United States who first portrayed Santa in a red suit with a belt but it was Coca Cola, in their advertising campaign of 1931 and onwards who made his clothes red world-wide. Coca Cola is a drink served cold and almost undrinkable when warm and who needs a cold drink in cold weather? I guess Coca Cola needed a warm image to make it still attractive in winter. So therefore the warm, jolly man dressed in red, with a bottle of Coca Cola in his hand.
Coca Cola brand is worth about $74 billion dollars today, far ahead of any other cold drinks product. Which I guess brings us back to …. yes, Mammon.
You can mix the drink with a number of alcoholic beverages too, so tipping a nod – and a glass – to Bacchus.
Now, the German Santa Claus, this originally woodland god, is also thought to have been something like Thor, a god of fire and lightning. So can it be any coincidence that two of his reindeer are called Donner and Blitzen, i.e “Thunder” and “Lightning”? Of course not!
Although we see the image of Santa Claus everywhere and even pretend Santa Clauses all over our city streets, everyone knows that nobody sees the real Santa Claus. Children have to be asleep when he arrives to distribute his presents and somehow adults don’t see him either.
Which I suppose is a good thing …. I mean if you found an intruder in your house at night, not to mention near your children, you’d be liable to whack him with a hurley (that’s an Irish cultural reference) …. or a baseball bat (that’s a U S cultural reference) …. or stab him with a sharp kitchen knife (that’s an international cultural reference).
It was bad enough when somehow that portly – not to say fat – man could somehow come down your chimney and go up again, without waking anyone … but now he can get in your house or flat even when you don’t have a chimney.
Which is at least creepy, if not downright scary.
Let’s lighten the mood and sing together:
You better watch out You better not cry You better not pout I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Yes, lovely, lovely.
“You better be good, you better be nice, I’m not telling you twice” — Is it just me, or is that not downright threatening? And he knows when we’re sleeping or awake? He has our children under surveillance? In some kind of list?
HO! HO! HO! IN MORALITY PLAYS
Morality Plays were a genre of theatrical performances of the medieval and Tudor eras in which a character was tempted by a personification of Vice. Now Vice (not unlike a lot of police Vice Squads), was often seen as the epitome of evil, corruption and greed – in other words, the Devil. The playwrights tended to portray the Devil as somewhat of a comical character, perhaps to keep their audiences entertained (or to disarm them). So the character who played the Devil would announce his arrival with a stage laugh: “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
Nowadays, we tend to see the Devil portrayed in black but in earlier times, he was more often seen as coloured in red. The colour in which Coca Cola just happens to have dressed Santa too.
The German or Nordic Santa was originally a god of fire also, while even the modern Santa drives a magical chariot pulled by horned beasts and he is portrayed all in red. Traditionally, the Devil is seen as residing in Hell, a supposed place of eternal flames below ground. What does Santa Claus give to children who have not been good? A lump of coal! In other words, a mineral from underground that can burn to make fire.
Santa Claus is supposed to be modeled on St. Nicholas …. and what is the popular abbreviated version of Nicholas, i.e the nickname? Yes, Nick.
And the common name for the Devil, Mammon, Beelzebub, Satan ….. Old Nick!
The 23rd November is the anniversary of the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs by the English State in 1867 in front of Belle Vue Gaol, Salford1, Manchester. The “noble-hearted three” were Phillip Allen, William Larkin and Michael O’Brien. The Wikipedia page on the Manchester Martyrs says they were hanged for the murder of Constable Brett but this is completely incorrect. Although it was indeed the verdict, no murder occurred and, it is doubtful if even a verdict of manslaughter would have been correct.
On the 18th December of that year, Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and Captain Deasy, Fenian Brotherhood officers and Union Army veterans of the American Civil War, who had been arrested in England, were being transported in a horse-drawn prison van from the courthouse to Belle Vue Gaol. Manchester was an industrial town with a large working class population, of which at least a 10% of the population was of Irish origin. A large group of Fenians ambushed the prison van at a place since called locally “Fenian Arch”, as a railway line ran overhead. The Irish rescue party drove off the 12-man mounted police escort but failed to break open the van door with hatchets and crowbars and one of them fired a pistol shot at the lock.
It was unfortunate that just at that moment, Constable Charles Brett was peering through the keyhole – the bullet entered his brain through his eye and killed him. The lock was not broken and keys were still inside with the dead policeman but a female prisoner recovered them from his body and passed them out to the rescue party through a grille.
Kelly and Deasy were spirited away. A reward of £300 (£24,000 as of 2015, according to Wikipedia) was offered for information leading to their recapture but was never paid. Friedrich Engels, communist revolutionary lived in Manchester at the time with his common-law Irish patriot wife, Mary Burns and some say they were involved in hiding the fugitives (the Fenian Brotherhood had been welcomed by Marx and Engels into the First International Workingmen’s Association). Kelly and Deasy were never recaptured, getting back eventually to the USA.
A WAVE OF ANTI-IRISH HYSTERIA
But a huge wave of British State repression descended upon the working class areas of Manchester, in particular upon “Little Ireland” and scores of people were arrested. The British media named the events the “Manchester outrages”.
Twenty-six were sent for trial in a wave of anti-Irish hysteria and and eventually five were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. As noted earlier, without any intention to kill the officer, there should not have been even a charge of murder, never mind a conviction. Thomas O’Meagher Condon and Thomas Maguire had their sentences overturned; the first through the offices of the USA (of which he was a citizen) and the second was a Royal Marine and had a cast-iron alibi, as they say and the witnesses against him were exposed in lies. No convincing evidence was ever produced against the remaining three, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien and of those, only one had probably even been present at the rescue. But they hanged them all the same.
When their sentences were passed down by the judge, they cried “God Save Ireland!” and it was that which inspired TD Sullivan, an Irish constitutional nationalist politician, to write the lyrics to the ballad, known and sung to this day. TD Sullivan remarked that within a month of the executions, the song could be heard performed in pubs in England and Ireland, a remarkable feat for a time without radio, not to speak of mobile phones and the Internet! (Listen to Youtube video of the song being performed by the Dubliners ballad group).
Commemorations of the Manchester Martyrs became part of the events on the Irish Republican and Nationalist calendars and formed part of the tradition and history that helped form subsequent Irish revolutionaries; six Irish counties hold monuments to the three, two of those counties holding two each. The Irish community in Manchester commissioned a memorial to them in Moston Cemetery, Manchester, which was several times defaced by fascists and and an annual commemorative march was held there for years (sometimes too clashing with British fascists). There is a grand memorial to them too in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.
1Salford has received a number of uncomplimentary literary references, one in Frederik Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) and another being in Ewan McColl’s song Dirty Old Town (1949).
Introduction and translation by Diarmuid Breatnach
The San Fermines Festival in Iruña (Pamplona in Castillian) is renowned around much of the world for its colour and also danger with the running (corrida) of the bulls. But for many years it has been the occasion and site of sharp political struggle and there have been other dangers too.
ANTI-BASQUE NATIONALISM IN NAFARROA
Although the city is Basque, centre of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarre), it was run for decades by UPN (Union of Navarrese People), what some considered the Basque version of the Partido Popular, post-Franco Spanish political party founded by the Dictator’s supporters. Although in 2008 UPN broke from its fraternal relations with the PP, the party remains Spanish-unionist and conservative, strongly opposed to Basque independentism and wishing to remain separate from the rest of the Basque Country, whether the other three southern provinces or the three across the French border.
During the Spanish Republic of 1936, the ruling political interests in Nafarroa broke with the Basque nationalists and opted for supporting the military-fascist coup of Franco and the other three generals – the reactionary Nafarroan Carlists murdered 3,000 Basque nationalists, republicans, communists, anarchists and social democrats in their province alone. They also took part in fighting as part of the military-fascist forces.
For many years, the first day of the San Fermines festival has been the scene of struggle between those who sought to bring the Basque national flag, the Ikurriña, into the main square, to be present during the launch of the week of festivities. And beatings and for Basque independentists have resulted, even fines and jail sentences, especially when they have been successful.
But in the elections of 2015, a coalition of political parties of Basque independentism, nationalism, and left-social democracy took power in the Navarrese regional Government and began to change matters on a number of fronts. In 2017 the Ikurrina was flown from the official balcony and the the Spanish Government Delegation in the region took a judicial case against those responsible and the same people in 2018, EH Bildu, refrained from flying it, displaying instead a bare flagpole. However, that coalition lost its majority of seats in the elections this year and the UPN came back into power, with the resumption of ‘business as usual’.
ASSAULT AND RAPE
In recent years, another menace has come to the fore, with some men assaulting women in the press of the crowd. Most horrifying was the multiple rape of an 18-year-old woman on July 7th, during the San Fermines festival of 2016. The woman, who approached a few men to help her find her way and was apparently under the influence of intoxicants, was led into a doorway, her phone taken off her and raped in a number of ways by each, who also videoed the event and put it up on the Internet. Due to the description to the Nafarroan police by the victim and their promotion of their act on social media, the perpetrators were soon arrested. But they were tried not for the more serious crime of rape but for sexual abuse, because she appeared not to resist and therefore no violence was necessary to restrain her – a feature of Spanish law.
The group of five violators and rapists had given themselves the boastful title of La Manada (the Wolf-Pack) contained a Spanish Army soldier and a Spanish Guardia Civil policeman among its members. And they on a previous occasion filmed themselves having sex with an intoxicated woman on the flat bed of a truck and put that too out on social media.
The Pack claimed that their victim was willing but found it difficult to explain that she had only met them seven minutes before the assaults or their taking of her mobile phone and some other matters and were found guilty and sentenced to nine years jail but allowed bail when they appealed. Since their appeal might find them not guilty, one might argue that they were entitled to bail while awaiting the hearing.
BASQUE AND CATALAN INDEPENDENTISM V. RAPE
However, the youth from Alsasua (Basque town in Nafarroa), who were accused of assaulting off-duty Guardia Civil policemen who entered a Basque independentist late-night bar as a provocation in October 2016, were not only kept in jail while awaiting trial in Madrid but also four of them while awaiting an appeal hearing (against sentences of between two and 13 years jail!). And the Catalan independence grass-roots campaign leaders and elected politicians who were charged with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for organising a referendum on independence in October 2017, were kept in jail until their trial and are there still, now awaiting judgement. They include one who was elected an MP while in jail and another who was elected an MEP (Jordi Sanchez and Oriol Junqueras).
Many aspects of the Manada case led to an outcry over the whole Spanish state. Although the Prosecution had asked for sentences of 22 year and 10 months, they were sentenced to nine year jail. On December 5th 2018 their sentences were confirmed to those nine years, although two judges on the panel disagreed, wishing for sentences of a little over 14 years as they felt that there had been intimidation and coercion, there had been “degrading acts” and she had been left half-naked on the ground with her mobile phone taken (and memory cards removed). The five-judge panel however ordered the first court that tried them to issue another sentence for the filming and publishing of the rape as her privacy had been violated. The Defence lawyer has indicated that his clients would appeal the sentence as did also the City of Iruna (Pamplona).
THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS
Translation of short article in Publico.es
In the end, the ikurriña was present. The images of the first Sanfermines after the return of the Right to the City Council of Pamplona are already crossing the world and they do it with the ikurriña and the flag of Navarre displayed among the public. The earlier threats of Mayor Enrique Maya (UPN) had no effect, nor did the police deployment in the surrounding area.
Under an intense sun and in a crowded square, the txupinazo (firing of ceremonial rocket — Translator) of the Sanfermines – the act that marks the beginning of the festivities — took place at 12.00 o’clock. Minutes before, (many of) the attendees managed to deploy a ikurriña of great proportions, accompanied by the Flag of Navarra. A white placard also appeared in which the return of the ETA prisoners was demanded (i.e end of the dispersal of independentist prisoners all over the Spanish state — Trans).
“UPN, kanpora” (UPN, out!) was heard in the square when the Mayor was on the balcony. A few days before, Maya had issued a notice announcing that entering with fabric of large proportions was strictly forbidden, citing security reasons. However, the same Councilor said shortly after in an interview in the newspaper El Mundo that there would also be “a device” to prevent the EH Bildu councilors unfurling the Basque flag on the balcony of the town hall.
POLICE SEIZURE OF FLAGS
One hour before the txupinazo, journalist Gara Aritz Intxusta reported by Twitter that local police had seized “150 small ikurriñas that were going to be used in a kalejira” (festival parade) that was going to be performed in the streets of the city to protest against the Mayor’s party.
of daring event as the hour for the launch approached, Basque independentists in “disguise” of anglers, cast a line across from the rooftop on one side of the square to the other and then a stronger line was taken across with a giant ikurrina attached. One can see earlier, police rushing to confiscate a flag or banner and a giant political prisoners’ banner being held above many in the crowd. In 2013 the UPN Mayor deliberately delayed the launch past the traditional hour of noon so as to give secret police time to cut the line and not to have it happening with the Ikurrina hanging over the square.
On 24th June 1885 the UK Parliament passed a number of laws, allegedly for purposes of religious compliance but which impacted almost uniquely on the working and lower middle classes. On 24th June the workers mobilised to protest these laws, congregating in Hyde Park, where the aristocracy and their admirers in the capitalist class paraded. Karl Marx was there — click on this link for his report: Workers’ demonstration 24 June 1855 in Hyde Park
(Posted on 31st January, a very cold day in Dublin with hailstones and some rain).
ON A DAY LIKE TODAY, it would be instructive to spend some time around Moore Street. In waterproof and warm clothes, wearing two pairs of socks, the street traders were out there today, under the scantiest of shelters over their stalls but having to step outside to serve customers. Their fingers frozen but some not wearing gloves because of the difficulty of tying knots in bags and handling change with fingers in gloves.
All braved the elements until two o’clock, at which point the flower-sellers gave up but the rest were still there, including the fish-sellers. By five o’clock there were still seven stalls in operation when the hailstones started and a couple gave up then but the others kept going.
The lighting was pretty dim too.
This is how Dublin City Council managers treat the oldest outdoor fresh food market in Dublin, a tourist attraction promoted by the city’s tourist information, the last remaining street market of what was a whole souk now buried under the ILAC shopping centre — a big-chain preserve also facilitated by Dublin City Council with broken promises to street traders.
And Hammerson property speculators, who now own half the ILAC shopping centre, still hold the planning permission for the construction of a giant ‘shopping mall’ from Moore St. to O’Connell St., on the 1916 Battlefield, which should be a National and International Monument.
(I had posted this on Facebook ‘off the top of my head’, as they say but a lot of people liked it so posting it here too).
People visit the Basque Country for different reasons — among the touristic reasons are cuisine, folk culture and beach-type tourism including surfing. For some there may be business reasons and possibly on the other end of the spectrum from them there is the political aspect – interest in and solidarity with their struggle for independence and to a lesser extent perhaps, socialism. Eco-tourism and archaeological interest are probably not high on the list for most people but I’d suggest it would be worthwhile to include sites dealing with such aspects in any itinerary.
Many Basques would tell you that their country has a long way to go in environmentally-friendly practices – or at least in those less harmful to the environment; if true, it serves to illustrate just how far behind the desirable are the practices common in Ireland. Everywhere in Basque village or town, one sees the recycling containers in their five different colours for paper, plastic, metal, glass and organic waste. One frequent complaint is about timber-production forestation practices and though much of the Basque country is green with trees, many of those trees are conifersor, even worse, Basques will say, eucalypts in mono-cultural acres. The latter are indeed widespread and are said to suck the moisture out of the soil so that after they are felled, little else can grow there.
Environmentally-friendly timber production is less intensive and more diverse in species, less harmful to biodiversity of plant and animal life and more protective of the soil from erosion, flooding and desiccation. But to business — and therefore mainstream political interests — it is slower in turnover of profit. The perils of this concentration on early profit gain have been underlined this year with the infestation of the main crop pines, the “Monterey pine” (Pinus radiata) by the ‘Mycosphaerella dearnessii’ fungi and ‘Mycosphaerella pini’, said to have originated in Central America, which turns the foliage (needles) brown, eventually leading to the destruction of the tree.
That all said, at grassroots (forgive the unintended pun) and often municipal level, there is great interest and support for biodiversity in the Basque Country and discussion around the subject is much more socially widespread than one would find in Ireland or in most of Britain (though perhaps not in some other parts of Europe). There are many national parks and reserves of great beauty and even city Basques tend to have a culture of collecting edible fungi in the woods in the autumn and of hill-walking or mountain-climbing at various times of the year. And small farms can be found dotted throughout the countryside.
Education about the environment for adults, children and even tourists is taken seriously and, apart from schools, centres promoting environmental care can be found in many areas. One such site of interest is the bio-diversity and heritage centre of Madariaga, the Ekoetxea, in the Axpe de Busturia area between the towns of Bermeo and Gernika These are interesting towns in themselves of the coast of Bizkaia (Biscay) province and Gernika was of course made famous by its bombing by the Nazi Luftwaffe, in the service of the fascist generals (Franco et al) in 1937, during what probably most people call the the Spanish Civil War and others, the Iberian Anti-Fascist War. Bus and train services connects both towns and pass through Busturia, both services having a stop or station in Axpe. The bus and train services run at mostly half-hourly intervals, the train all the way to Bilbao, on a single track for much of the line, up and down trains alternating.
I dropped in to a charming tavern in Axpe named after the Basque flower, Eguzkilore: literally “Sun Flower”. This is not the “sunflower” which Van Gogh famously painted, so named because it turns to follow the sun through its journey across the sky; the Basque flower (Carlina acaulis)is a member of the thistle family and is thought to resemble an idealised image of the sun. Dried specimens are often found hanging over the front door of Basque houses as a good-luck symbol, quite probably a remnant of pagan sun-worship (like the Irish “St. Bridget’s Cross” and indeed the traditional Basque symbol of the lauburru is very like that Irish symbol too and interestingly, the Basque tradition related to me was that it was borrowed from the Iberian Celts).
The Eguzkilore tavern is owned by a friendly young couple, a Catalan woman and Basque man: he of course speaks Euskera and Castillian (Spanish) fluently, whereas she is fluent in Catalan, Castillian and English, speaks Euskera well and smatterings of other languages. Although I know from experience that their cuisine is excellent, I ordered only a simple kafe esnea there and after finishing it and a chat, set off up the road to the Madariaga Ekoetxea (“eco-house”), an easy walk of perhaps fifteen minutes. Turning left at the roundabout at the crest of the hill the centre was easily visible by the clock-bell tower and the taller viewing tower.
This latter was a defensive construction quite similar to the keeps constructed in Britain and Ireland by the Norman invaders, livestock quartered below and people living on floors above; one of the staff told me that it had been inhabited until the 1930s. Now the floors have been ripped out except for the top one, accessible by a short journey in a lift and once there one can view around something like 160 degrees: steep hills close by beyond the road, land sloping away towards Gernika and distant mountains on another side, beach of the estuary and some marshlands on another.
The Tower was in fact the last part of the centre which I experienced. It was a showery Sunday in mid-October and the centre was fairly quiet, less that ten vehicles in the car park and nobody but a receptionist immediately available upon entering the building. I used my limited Euskera in addressing her, which is my practice in the Basque Country, and which is usually – but not always – appreciated. The native language has become “politicised” here (as some say it has also in the case of Irish in Ireland), which is another way of saying that it was banned under the Franco dictatorship, that people of a Spanish unionist turn of mind often resent it and native speakers, learners and independentists want to encourage its spread and use in everyday life. Of course in a cultural type of centre in the Basque Country I would not expect any negative response and I was answered politely in Euskera with a quick conversion to Castillian when my limited store of Euskera ran out.
WATER AND BIODIVERSITY
I had seen a small charge advertised outside but there was none on that day or perhaps that time of year to see two standard exhibitions, one on water and the other on biodiversity. The one on water informs visitors that water is a circulatory system: 1) most of it falls from the air in rain or humidity, some of it on to land and some on to lakes or on to the sea; 2) some of that which falls on land is taken up by soil and vegetation and excess runs off into streams, rivers and lakes; 3) some also soaks through permeable or semi-permeable strata of soil and rock and forms underwater reservoirs and lakes. 4) The excess runs out in underground rivers and streams, emerging eventually to empty into seas and lakes, where 5) the sun heats up the top layers again, creating clouds, many of which precipitate on to land, renewing the circle.
The diagrams, photos and videos demonstrated this process well and attractively and there were samples of varieties of sandstone and limestone to examine at close quarters. For me, the photos of underground caves formed by the water wearing away the limestone and the various and sometimes fantastic formations caused by chemical-rich water dripping for millenia were the most impressive along with the few examples of invertebrates adapted to life without light and mammals using natural caves were the most interesting, while others might have found the supplying of water to the public of greater interest (and certainly this is an important issue in many countries and not least so in Ireland).
The section dedicated to bio-diversity is divided into different parts, including a room with video screens showing different types of humans (ethnic, gender, possibly sexuality, culture, age) and others dealing with plant, fungi and animal life. Passing through a type of broad corridor with explanations of what is a definition of biodiversity in many languages, one enters a brightly-lit room seemingly constructed entirely of panels, each one of an animal: birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates. Not only the walls but floor and ceiling appear constructed of the panels, a vibrant bright room somewhat evoking the effect of stained glass with light shining through, a church celebrating the diversity of animal life, perhaps.
Walking onwards, one finds a hall filled with large cubes, standing haphazardly upon one another, each carrying the image of an animal or plant. The names of the species are given in Euskera, Castillian and Latin. I find myself at times wishing to see the names in English and then chiding myself for the unreasonableness of this wish. There are images of plants to be seen too, some of plants which we are informed are native to the country and one found only there.
ATTRACTIONS IN THE WIDER AREA
A slim informational folded leaflet is available in a number of languages, one version being in English and French, not only about this centre but about a network of them managed by the “Basque Government” (i.e the Government of three of the southern Basque provinces, Biskaia, Gipuzkoa and Alava). These are visited every year by 100,000 people, the booklet informs us, 25,000 of which are schoolchildren; the ekoetxea which I visited receives 2,000 schoolchildren out of a total of 45,000 visitors annually.
Another, more substantial booklet available in English which shows signs of translation probably from Castillian gives more information on the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, the wider area in which the Madariaga Ekoetxea is located. This booklet advertises nature trails for hiking or biking, restaurants for Basque cuisine, a cave occupied by prehistoric humans, the Gernika Tree and General Assembly building and museum, markets and folk festivals, cider and wine-houses, painted forest, hermitages, bird-watching and sea activities including surfing and whale and dolphin-watching. Strangely (or not), in its caption about Gernika, it has nothing to say about the bombing of the town in 1937 nor, in its references to human habitation and culture of the wider area, nothing either to say about the Spanish Civil (i.e Anti-Fascist) war or about the occupation of the area by the fascist troops and the repression that followed, nor about the suppression of their language under Franco.
An information panel tells visitors that there are 3,335 different mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, fungi and plant species etc. in the the Urdaibai reserve and that 85 are in danger of extinction or are of special interest. Some panels showing examples of these would be welcome as would more about the wildlife native to the area (like what species are the owls one can hear hooting at intervals through the night from the forested hill above Axpe, for example).