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22 May 1997 Edition

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A rich blessing

Crying Out for Justice - a collection of talks and writings
By Fr Joe McVeigh
Published by Lurg Publications, Fermanagh
Price £5

When religious people in the Six Counties condemn violence they don't mean state violence and when they talk about Christian values they don't expect their listeners to think they are standing up for the poor and oppressed. With their vested interests and their comfortable lifestyles, the defenders of the institutional churches stand four-square behind the status quo.

It takes a brave priest or nun or minister to challenge this ``rich man's'' Christianity but there are a few. They have suffered threats and abuse for their stance, as anyone who speaks out against such powerful interests must expect. One of the most outspoken and most consistent of these people's priests has been Fr Joe McVeigh.

This book is a collection of his writings and talks since 1983. In 1992 he had this to say about the Irish Catholic Bishops: ``In their prayers for peace they speak only about the need for reconciliation - never justice. In their public statements they accuse members of their own Church of being responsible for this conflict. They do not confront the root cause of the conflict. They seem to accept that the British Government is genuinely seeking to create a just and lasting peace in Ireland.''

It is their willingness to look for the root causes that make the likes of Joe McVeigh stand out. He is prepared to say that anti-state violence does not result from a lack of human virtue; it has a deeper cause rooted in the actions of an oppressive state. That is a straightforward - and obvious - opinion for which to be villified, but such are the narrow terms of `mainstream' debate.that even the obvious is rejected if it does not fit the opinions of the status quo.

Crying Out for Justice is a book which strikes at the heart of religion's relationship with the affairs of people. In his preface Fr Des Wilson - another people's priest - writes: ``If religion is not about freedom it is about nothing. If it is used to oppress, it is a corruption. If it is used to set us free, to explore and realise our dignity, it is a rich blessing.''

Joe McVeigh's writings are a rich blessing.

By Brian Campbell

Saving the past

Archaeological Excavations at Patrick, Nichols and Winetavern Streets, Dublin
By Claire Walsh
Published by Brandon Books
Price £24.95

Despite the controversy surrounding the `development' of historical sites in Dublin - Wood Quay, Frascati, Hume Street House, Essex Quay - and around the country - Iron Age site at Sandlands, the Megalithic Carrow Mór, Eamhain Macha, an 18th Century school in Drogheda - the destruction of irreplacable, invaluable monuments of our past continues.

The most recent example was the flattening of the site of Ireland's yesteryear Olympics, na Cluchí Tailteann. Pleading ignorance, the new owner levelled the site to enlarge a field. The archaeologist who excavated Knowth says the ancient earthworks at Tailteann are as important as Tara.

In ancient times the Tailteann games were opened with the lighting of a torch at Tailteann in County Meath, which was then carried to Trim where it enflamed a beacon for the duration of the games. The games were held until the 17th Century, then were revived early this century and are remembered locally each year.

Despite the ignorant destruction of history in County Meath there is hope. Some archaeologists have been allowed to investigate sites, especially in Dublin, prior to the erection of dog boxes which are passed as apartments. In the case of the historical city of Dublin around Christchurch and Dublin Castle where development is running away with itself, the archaeologists are working against the developers' and the government tax concessions' deadlines, or other time constraints.

With big money tied-up in development projects, the temptations are to ignore historic findings, destroy away and face consequences later - if any. In one dubious incident a council employed archaeologist allowed a Megalithic dolmen to be relocated to facilitate non-essential commercial development - against all rules of archaeology. The site is as important as the structure.

In the case of Wood Quay the city fathers permitted the building of a monstrosity on the world's most valuable site of a Viking city despite having access to a comparible site on the far side of the Liffey.

Close by in Medieval Dublin development is continuing apace but as this book shows, all is not lost. When in the late 1980s Dublin Corporation undertook major drainage improvements in this general area, they recognised its archaeological importance. Claire Walsh of Archaeological Projects Ltd was retained to conduct a series of excavations. The findings of these digs are fascinating to a student of history or of archeology and are well represented in this book.

It is quite academic but I was rivetted by the discoveries from Dublin's Norman and Medieval past. Among the `treasures' unearthed were a tanning pit, culvert walls for the rerouting of the River Poddle, a timber-framed mill and the mill buildings, missing parts of the city walls, jetties and hundreds of pieces of earthenware, utensils, nails, tiles, shoes and the partial remains of seven human skeletons. All would have been destroyed but for the forethought, for once, of Dublin Corporation.

Much of the finds re-affirmed much of the history as was known. It confirmed the hidden meaning behind the street names of today and the veiled references in folklore to things no longer visible to the naked eye.

Maybe if original placenames or exact translations were used rather than Anglicised or bastardised versions, people would more readily appreciate the history of a locality and ignorance couldn't be used as an excuse to rob us of our past.

By Aengus O'Snodaigh

Chicken and sheep relationships

Hot Chicken Wings
By Jyl Lynn Felman
Published by Virago

A Keeper of Sheep
By William Carpenter
Published by Abacus

By Claire Hackett

``Lurking in the background of every scene I write is a sense of the forbidden''.

With this introduction Jyl Lynn Felman goes on to explore the theme of transgression in her collection of short stories. Common to all the stories is the evocation of Jewish identity and culture. The voices in the stories are varied, male female, young, old, gay, heterosexual. One story which stays with me combines the voices of a mother and a lesbian teacher responding to the reproaches of a young lesbian woman. Felman's interest in exploring experience is affirmed in her depiction of the complex relationship of all three characters. This collection is the writer's first work. I look forward to seeing more in the future.

A Keeper of Sheep is a somewhat frustrating read. At the core of the novel is the relationship between Penguin, expelled from her college for her feminist activism, and her neighbours, two gay men one of whom, Arnold, is dying of AIDS. In caring for Arnold, a composer who is trying to complete his final work, Penguin discovers her capacity for commitment to another person. This relationship is well drawn in the novel but the multiplicity of other characters who are introduced but not developed is distracting. This is a novel which requires persistence to complete.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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