Everything is only skin deep

I remember two times in my early youth that made me totally rethink everything at a very young age.

The first one was when I slowly realized that Christianity in Ireland was merely a veneer that the Irish Celts placed carefully draped over their pagan religion.

Roman Catholicism was the religion of pretty much everyone I knew growing up.

And I recall being slightly obsessed with religion as a kid. Not that I was spiritual, I was just kind of into things from the past in general.

And I started to notice A TON of similarities between Roman catholic celebrations and those of our pagan ancestors.

I remember once seeing an ancient celtic cross from the 8th century AD.

It had snakes creeping up around Jesus and hounds at the base of the cross. Clearly pagan influences.

This was four centuries AFTER St. Patrick was reputed to have converted the entire island to Christianity in 432 AD.

A likely story!

More likely it was a slow adoption over time.

Growing up in the west of Ireland, i saw remnants of paganism all over.

I remember once questioning the widespread practice of burning bonfires on the Summer solstice (!) and being told it was for “St. John’s Day”.

St. John’s day my ass!

And the omnipresent adoration of Jesus’ mother Mary, (not Jesus!), I found hilarious.

The Celtic earth goddess clearly was simply recast. The urge to worship a female form was handily replaced.

It was like the Roman catholic church was this somewhat flexible franchise operation you could tailor to your desires. No wonder it worked!

Yet when I would point this out to my parents and others I was met with odd looks and denials.

This puzzled me and made me kind of question everything I was told.

It was kind of obvious to me.

The second thing that made me question everything happened in 1981.

IRA prisoners went on hunger strike in Northern Ireland.

And these guys meant it.

They starved themselves to death to get recognition of political prisoner status.

And as they starved, Margaret Thatcher, the UK prime minister, let them die to prove how tough she was on terrorism.

And a deep and fundamental scar was scratched in the nation of Ireland.

And we all went a bit nuts.

The British embassy in Dublin was torn to pieces by hand in a riot.

What had been extreme suddenly became acceptable.

My mother put pictures of the dead hunger strikers under the big picture of Jesus in our kitchen.

The adults were losing it!

An entire nation was on the boil.

It was kind of exciting as an eleven year old kid.

I remember being actively encouraged to march in a protest march by all the adults who just months ago had been boringly moderate politically. And the march was about as highly charged politically as you can imagine. There was a very real and palpable threat of violence underneath it.

And it made me realize that civilization is just a veneer.

It was kind of disturbing to be honest.

But both these things made me realize how transient and superficial that thing we call civilization really is.

10 responses to “Everything is only skin deep

  1. I enjoyed this but it also mildly depressed me. Ireland can be such an odd backward place and yet maybe that’s also what’s so wonderful about it too. Also, I remember going to Patsy O Hara’s mothers house in Derry only a few years ago and the shine to him in the front room was poignant. It was like sitting at a wake house where twenty years on his Mammy still mourns him. Just as you described photos of him under the sacred heart pictures and flowers and blessed candles everywhere.

    • i know what you mean Annie. That’s why i left. it’s maddening but loveable. i remember patsy o’hara’s death. it was martyrdom in slow motion. painful.

  2. we are all animals, after all. i’ll tell you what, as a civilization, we have a lot further to go to earn our supreme being status here on earth. politics aside, i’ll use work.

    work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to get 2 weeks off a year. there’s no way in fucking hell this is the way humans should inhabit this earth. there’s no way this is how life should be spent.

    also, just because technology makes our lives easier, it doesn’t make the concept of LIFE any easier. and to think, some of us have to actually live through it.

    • I think we are entering a phase where technology, while making physical life easier, is actually making mental and emotional life more difficult. And I don’t think civilization is prepared to deal with it. Too much, too fast. And the fact that war seems to be the preeminent choice in solving problems between nations doesn’t speak well of our progression as a species. But hey, let’s keep making and selling arms to whomever can pony up the dough…

  3. You do know that Jesus is waiting for you in heaven and Johnny Ramone will spank you for not being right wing enough.

    You are one colorful rabbit and I can not wait to honeymoon in Ireland (yes she said the only country she wants to go to is Ireland) going to slum a night or two with Pat Quirke 8)

  4. so you went forth to create within the smithy of your soul the uncreated conscious of your own race
    but went to chicago instead of paris, zurich, and trieste

    • ha! my tenuous connection to Mr. Joyce is that I worked in a pub in Galway that stood on the site of the bottled water factory where the dead boy in his short story THE DEAD was employed. We had a running effervescent spring in the bar. Very strange.

  5. Vinny remember too the Marian procession through Renmore every May. Where people carried a statue of the BVM around the streets while saying the Rosary – pure pagan I tells you, with a nice veneer of shiny rosary beads.

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