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Entries in Ireland (6)


No change in the Catholic Church policy towards child abuse

Another report has come out on the coverup of child abuse by the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Cloyne Report was specifically commissioned to investigate whether the Church has modified its approach based on relevations in the 80s and 90s. The report specifically looked at the Diocese of Cloyne during period from 1996 to 2008. The mission of the report was

to consider whether the response of the Church and State authorities to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse was “adequate or appropriate” and to establish the response to suspicions and concerns about clerical child sexual abuse. In assessing how the diocesan and other Church authorities dealt with complaints, the Commission has judged them by the standards set in their own documents – the Framework Document and Our Children, Our Church.

During 1996-2008, allegations of child abuse were made against 7.6% of the priests in the Diocese. So how did the Church respond to these allegations?

No attempt was made by the Diocese of Cloyne to ascertain if there were others who had complaints to make against these clerics. The Commission itself was able to ascertain that, in the case of Father Rion, (see Chapter 20) at least two complaints of a similar nature had been made against him during his time in Australia.

At least six other clerics were retired or approaching retirement age when the first complaint against them was made. Again, no attempt was made to find out anything further about these clerics and only some of the complaints were reported to the civil authorities. One of these clerics admitted to abusing at least four children during his early years as a priest. No attempt was made by Church authorities or the Gardaí to ascertain if there had been other incidents involving this priest. The Gardaí were not told by the diocese of all the admissions made by this priest.

And when the Commission judged the Church by the standards set forth in their own documents, how did they fair?

The response of the Diocese of Cloyne to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in the period 1996 to 2008 was inadequate and inappropriate.

Contrary to repeated assertions on its part, the Diocese of Cloyne did not implement the procedures set out in the Church protocols for dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. The main failures were:
(a) The failure to report all complaints to the Gardaí;
(b) The failure to report any complaints to the health authorities between 1996 and 2008;
(c) The failure to appoint support people;
(d) The failure to operate an independent advisory panel.

As I've said before, the Catholic Church will never be able to fix the problem until they fully admit that they are the problem - not secular society, not the 1960s hippy culture and not homosexuality. And while we wait for the Church to accept that, child molestors are still being protected by the Church.


The Scholars of Trinity College

The last two days have been in Ireland. We flew into Dublin on Thursday night and spent Friday in Maynooth and Saturday in Dublin. The Maynooth position is very tempting, tenure after one year, access to large grants for research, good pay and a role in moulding the direction of research in the Institute of Immunology. My big concerns were that last time (due to HR gone mad) I wasn't allowed to meet the faculty as my application had to be kept confidential (regardless of my personal preference, or the way every other university operates, with open interviews), and that mouse immunology was at a fairly low base in the institute so it would take me a while to build up to the infrastructure I needed for my research. So it was a big relief to me to be able to return and talk to some people.

It really eased my mind that the HR issue wasn't covering up some big problems. I was also impressed that they had Max Cooper there that day to give a talk on the evolution of alternative adaptive immunity in lungfish and hagfish, a fantastic talk. Lydia was less impressed with the opportunities Maynooth presented for her to work, she wouldn't have difficulty in finding work in administration or teaching, but nothing really jumped out at her. Walking down the tiny high street of Maynooth, we both agreed that we didn't really want to live in Maynooth either, so it'd probably have to be Dublin and commuting for me.

Saturday was to see Dublin. We started out at Connelly Station and did a circular walking tour of the city, through the main shopping district north of the river, crossing to Temple Bar (despite the current status as a binge drinking centre, it is named after the teacher and philosopher Sir William Temple, 1555-1627, Provost of Trinity College) and Christ Church Cathedral, and then walking to Trinity College.


Trinity College was an unexpected delight, and by the end of our tour Lydia was ready to sign up for another degree. Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth the 1st, on the site of an Augustine Monastery (closed by Henry VIII). The College is built around four squares. The first square we started at was Parliament Square, so called because it was built 1710-1840 after being founded by the short-lived Parliament of Ireland. The chapel on the square (designed by Williams chambers and identical to the exam hall) was the first chapel in Ireland to be consecrated for both Catholic and Protestant religions, but only alumni within five years of graduating can get married there. The scholars hall is also on Parliament Square, it is here where the Commons Lunch is served everyday, which is actually highly exclusive.

Students can chose to sit the scholars' exam after their second year, and those who do very well become scholars, being given a stipend to study, a scholarship for the rest of their degree and their post-graduate degree, and a free lunch every day. Scholars are called to lunch from the belltower, where school myth has it that anyone who walks under the belltower will never gradate from Trinity College with an academic degree. Our guide tells us that no student would ever walk under there sober, and he laughed when a group of school kids on tour did so. Next to the belltower is a statue of George Salmon. He was head of the university when there was a big push to allow women to join. He held out as long as he could, saying that women would enter "over his dead body". In 1904 the King decided to allow women to join and forced him to sign, he did so but said "I agree with my hand and oppose with my heart". He then made up a bunch of rules restricting women once they joined, such as only letting them enter by the back gate. By delicious irony, the old bigot had a massive heart-attack and died before the first woman entered, in the back gate over his grave.

The next square was Library Square, which contained the Old Library and Oregon maple trees planted in the 1820s, and New Square, with a nice law that only the croquette club are allow on. Since 1801 Trinity College has been a "copyright" library, meaning that they have a right to a single copy of every book published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. To house the enormous number of books they had to build a new library, which was built in 1967 in horrible brutalist style and is called the giant concrete photocopier by students. The last square was Fellow's Square, with the arts and social sciences buildings, built by the same brutalist architect, and joining onto the Old Library again. The Old Library was built in 1712, and is the largest single room library in the world. The room is lined by busts of scientists and philosophers, and all the books are arranged not by subject or author, but instead by book dimensions, making it great for packing in books on shelves and horrible to find a book unless you know its exact size. Within the Old Library is the Book of Kells, which we then went and saw.

The Book of Kells is a partial bible with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all heavily illustrated in Celtic style. It is these illustrations that the book is most famous for. It was written about 800 CE in St Colum Cille on Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, by after raiding by Vikings was moved to Kells for safety. It was then stolen in 1007 from Kells, recovered two months later minus the heavy gold of the cover. In 1653 it was sent to Dublin, and in 1661 loaned to Trinity College, where it has stayed. The book is written on vellum (calfskin immersed in lime or excrement and scraped clean of fur with a knife), and took 185 calves to write. The 8th century Book of Mulling and Book of Dimma are older, but neither have the stunning illustrations.

The illustrations required inks from around the known world. The brown of the written was just crushed oak apples and iron sulphate, but the colours had rare reagents in them. Blue was made by crushed lapis lazuli from a single mine in Afghanistan and by the plant indigo, native to northern Germany. White was chalk and white lead. Yellow was orpiment (yellow arsenic sulphate), while red was from the Mediterranean plant Crozophora tinctoria. Kermes red was made from the crushed pregnant bodies of the insect Kermococcus vermilio, only found in the Mediterranean. Green was copper and eggwhite.

We also saw the famous harp of Brian Boru, the last High King of Ireland. It is featured on the currency of Ireland despite being made a few hundred years after Brian Boru died in 1014.


Driving along the coastal highway of Northern Ireland

From Slane it was my turn to drive, the first time I have driven in two and a half years (and the first time in more than six years that I have driven a significant distance). I was rather relieved to find that it wasn't difficult at all to get back into the drivers seat (odd too, that despite living in the US for more than two years it still felt natural to drive on the left).

The plan was to head up to Belfast, see the political murals of West Belfast and then drive further onwards along the coastal road to Cushendall. The Irish countryside is very pleasant to drive through, lots of sheep and rolling green hills. Once we crossed the border into Northern Ireland (there is now no actual border crossing) it changed from sleepy little agricultural towns to more industrial and modern towns.

It was getting later than we had planned, so instead of stopping in Belfast we decided to just drive through it. Thanks to the complete lack of adequate signage, navigation was almost impossible without a detailed map - roads were not labelled, and when they were they used different names from the one on our basic road map. Eventually we managed to muddle our way out of Belfast, but not without cost to our congeniality.

The coast of Northern Ireland was stunning. We got to enjoy the long slow sunset and pink light over the Irish ocean, views of the mountains of Scotland in the far distance, and the smell of salt water. The towns we passed through were all quite cute, but from a gastronomic point of view strangely barren. We had given up hope of finding any food at all when we reached Glenariff which (oddly) had two late night Chinese take-aways open. The food was horrific, but it let us reach our hostel inland from Cushendall. At the hostel were no other tourists, just locals from Ballymena who came here on the weekend out of boredom. We shared a few beers and Baileys with them, try to stifle rolling our eyes at this one drunk girl and got some helpful advice on our following day.


The Neolithic chambers of Brú na Bóinne 

Thanks to the ineptitude of RyanAir, Luke and Shyla didn't get into Maynooth until past 2am, so we changed our travel plans a little and I spent the morning showing them what could possibly be my future hometown before catching the train back to Dublin to pick up our hire car.

Luke drove us from Dublin to Slane, unphased by his first time driving on the left-hand side of the road. Slane is a tiny village north of Dublin, of only around 1000 people. It has Slane Castle (unfortunately closed on Fridays), the Four Sisters (four large stone houses at the intersection of the two highways, by legend built facing inwards so that the four nosey sisters could spy on each other) and a number of rather crummy places to eat.

We were in Slane to visit Brú na Bóinne, one of the three World Heritage sites on the island of Ireland. It is one of the largest prehistoric megalithic sites in Europe, in fact of the 900 or so megalithic carvings in Europe, around 600 are in Brú na Bóinne. The area has multiple ancient complexes (older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids), including chamber tombs, standing stones and henges, dating back as old as 3500 BCE. Remains  found at Brú na Bóinne have been used to reconstruct the life history of the ancient peoples, showing that on average men lived to be 29 and were 5'8", while women lived to be 26 and were 5'6" (but a small number of people lived out into their 50s).

We went to the burial mound of Newgrange. The mound at Newgrange is 76m across and 12m tall, built in a circle on the hill-top to house the narrow 18m long passage into the small central chamber (with a 6m high roof). The hill had been covered for thousands of years by landslides from the mound, but when it was discovered in the 17th century the tunnel and chamber were still intact (due to the incorporation of gutters and waterproofing with burned clay and sea-sand putty). The archaeologist who restored the site assumed that the large amount of quartz stones found in the landslip were part of a retaining wall facing  the sunrise (but others have claimed it was actually a paved landing out the front). All up, the makers had to haul in 1/4 million tonnes of stone to build the monument, and even more impressively they had a stunning understanding of astronomy as it was designed such that at sunrise on winter solstice (21st December) a beam of light will enter the roofbox above the passage way and illuminate the central chamber for 17 minutes. Actually this doesn't occur until four minutes after sunrise, but this is due to the slight changes in the earth's rotation that have occurred over the past five thousand years.

It was very interesting to see, and even more to be inside, this ancient monument. Mind-boggelling to think that genetically we are identical to these ancient peoples, and any child of theirs raised today would be indistinguishable from us, and conversely the break in the transmission of modern science for a single generation would make our children indistinguishable from them.


A small country town in Ireland

I caught the train into Maynooth, a half hour trip from Dublin, and promptly lost the map I had printed up. On my search for my hotel I wandered completely across town and back, which being Maynooth only took about 15 minutes.

The National University of Ireland is by far the most imposing institution in Maynooth. It was founded as St Patrick's College in 1795 by King George III in order to prevent Catholic priests from having to train in France where they might pick up revolutionary ideas. Secular students were only allowed to enrol in 1968, but they soon outnumbered the dwindling priests. The college formally split in 1997 into the National University of Ireland (for humanities and sciences) and St Patrick's College (for theology). Catholicism is hardly a growth industry in Ireland after decades of heavy-handed rule and child abuse, so NUI is easily bigger than St Pat's (NUI has more than 8000 students enrolled, while last year a total of 2 priests were ordained - and this is Ireland's only seminary).

The South Campus is St Pat's, the humanities and mathematics section of NUI, and the admin area, and is simply the most beautiful campus I have ever seen. It had the remains of Maynooth Castle at the entrance, and staggering buildings built around a stunning courtyard. The North Campus is a little ratty, except the brand new Institute of Immunology and Institute of Electrical Engineering (sharing a common building).

After arriving I checked out the main street, which takes about five minutes to walk along before it becomes a long straight walking track down a tree-lined avenue leading to nowhere. I tried out the Indian restaurant last night (which was actually not bad), and then this morning I wandered through the beautiful NUI campus before my interview.

After a surprisingly short interview (their odd legal policies prevent the applicants and the department from actually meeting each other) I had the afternoon free. Due to the trend of Euros to disappear while travelling, I had a cheap lunch at "Supermacs Family Restaurant" which looked just like McDonalds but actually served food (and even better, their pizza was actually good). I had some house keeping time on the computer, but even so I was able to check out the rest of the town by walking down to the Royal Canal (a 170km narrow and shallow canal built in 1790 from Dublin into the countryside, just as canals were being replaced by train lines) to see where the residential area starts. Checking in at a real estate agent, the price of houses in this small country town is horrific (average 450 000 Euro for ordinary houses).

My travel buddies have unfortunately been hijacked by RyanAir, but hopefully will make it here for our road trip to begin.


Passage through Dublin

After flying from Gatwick to London I was due in Maynooth, but couldn't resist the chance to wander through Dublin. Heavy pack on the back and camera on the front I wandered from the main bus station on O'Connell Street to the Spire (the tallest sculpture in the world) and down pedestrian Henry Street. It could have been any shopping mall in the world. I cut down to the River Liffey and saw Christ Church Cathedral, which I'm going to go out on a limb and call the most beautiful cathedral in the world. It is elegant and gothic. The first cathedral built on the site was in 1038 by King Sitric Silkenbeard (such a cool name) but the current building was founded in 1171 by King Henry II. It is a Church of Ireland church, and basically empty in a Catholic country (although to be fair, they never built a Catholic Cathedral within the old boundaries of Ireland because even the Catholic churches are basically empty in Ireland).

I wandered from Christ Church Cathedral to Temple Bar, one of the few places in Dublin with the original medieval street pattern (complete with cobblestone streets), but fairly missable as it seems to have had the culture sucked out of it by tourism/capitalism. Close to Temple Bar is Trinity College, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I (making it the last of the seven ancient universities of the English-speaking world). The campus is quite beautiful. By this point I was running out of time, so I walked to Conolley station to catch a train to Maynooth.

I was quite surprised in a way that Dublin didn't seem very... Irish. It sort of looked like a lot of Australian cities. The pedestrian mall could have been translocated with Rundle Mall in Adelaide, while most of the buildings looked just like the neighbourhoods in London.  I guess the long occupation by the British left its heavy mark on the city, and the recent economic expansion has brought about the global homogenisation.