THE WAY THINGS ARE
By Colette NiReamonn Ioannidou
Ireland, isle of saints and scholars. Glowing PR to which we can add sinners given the past clerical abuse of unmarried mothers and young children. In Saint Patrick’s lineage slavery was the norm. Ireland’s most revered saint, a patrician Roman, was enslaved by Irish marauders. Christian society should have long moved on from foul practices against the vulnerable after the above-mentioned scholars, mostly monks, brought Christian love and charity plus other facets of education to the land, but the unjust past is carried into the present by the variable or authoritarian natures of humankind.
The beautifully illustrated Book of Kells in Trinity College Library, Dublin is an example of Scots and Irish monastic skills created by Irish monks who travelled Europe and beyond converting pagans to their faith. In Ireland, they offered lessons in civilized conduct to a people whose former lifestyle was mostly savage but who also had fine creative abilities, as Celtic Art shows.
Patrick wasn’t misogynistic, like many men who wore the ecclesiastical robes then and into following centuries. While the hierarchy in Rome regarded women as inferior, he gave our next most revered saint, Brigid, the chance to flourish in her own mixed sex monastery. She now has a high-status name/feast day, February 1, equal to her mentor’s.
Patrick’s attitude reflected more the ancient Celtic Brehon equality laws with regard to Brigid’s value than that of the priests and politicians who came after him. A law that in its time gave more freedom to women than either Greece or Rome did. Today, Irish women, like their Cypriot sisters, are still fighting for true equality in a patriarchal society. Unlike others who suffered foreign occupation, the Irish failed universally to hold onto their language although groups of native speakers still use it fluently. But then, hundreds of years of English rule swamped Gaelic and punishment for those caught speaking it was severe.
Recently, though, ads have appeared for Irish translators; it’s now an official EU language. Greece wanted some for high level jobs admitting that, while salaries are basic, there’s the compensation of blissful beaches, marvellous weather and beautiful landscapes alive with myth and history as a sweetener.
One can get caught out feeling smug using a language on life support. When younger in London with a friend, it was convenient for private conversations. In a restaurant as we ate some men came in, one was striking, and we commented on him in glowing terms. He gazed at us, and we assumed he found us as interesting as we found him. But as we passed the table on our way out, to our gross discomfort, he greeted us in Gaelic.
Both Cyprus and Ireland are rich agriculturally, Irish dairy products are in our markets here; Cypriot products are available in Eire. Ireland is one of the biggest zinc producers in Europe, now in demand for wind turbines and solar panels. Cyprus gained its name from copper, still in supply. From mining to outer space knowledge-gathering, Irish scientists were involved in the launch of the amazing James Webb Space Telescope and the missions it will carry out. Cyprus too, has no shortage of scientific intelligence in evidence above and below our skies.
The great famine of the 1840s saw thousands of Irish leave for America. In 1790, between 14 and 17 per cent of its white population was of Irish origin. Millions of Americans claim Irish ancestry including a fair percentage of their presidents, the latest being Mr Biden. Almost two centuries ago, a group of people in America gathered money to send to Irish potato famine victims. Close to one million Irish were starving to death, this grim fact was acknowledged by Choctaw tribespeople who, from their own scant resources, collected contributions, by today’s standards of $5,000, because given their own suffering and precarious lives, they felt enormous sympathy for an oppressed, dispossessed people pretty much like themselves.
This hasn’t been forgotten. In Co Cork there is a graceful memorial The Kindred Spirit to that kindness. And the gesture was reciprocated when Covid struck. An Irish fund raiser collected more than $1.8 million which was sent to help Navajos and Hopi tribespeople in their time of need.
Cypriots and Irish are alike in many ways. However, there is one stark political difference. Two Irish female presidents distinguished themselves and the office they represented becoming more than mere symbols. They didn’t have the political clout of a taoiseach (prime minister), but what could they have achieved if they had? I have written a lot of stories about strong, capable Cypriot women. It’s time one of them put Aphrodite, our best-known titled female internationally, in the shade.