(c) Northern Ireland Assembly; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Northern Ireland Assembly; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

the pope

I’d almost despaired.

It’s that long month of January that does it for most of us here in Norneverland. Many of the inhabitants have shot their financial load with the Christmas and New Year festivities. December’s early wage is long spent; they’ve maxed out their credit card ; the streets have emptied of shoppers and January’s gloomy days seem such a long and dreary haul.The hard wind is scudding across the land, pushing hammering rain into our faces ; the doors are tightly sealed and there is squealing in the chimney. At least that’s what people tend to say.January is a poorly served and unloved month. It hasn’t too many friends. They just want to get January out of the way, dispense with it , like a spurned lover and get into February and, hastily get ,on with the rest of the coming year.
Not only that …an inordinate number of famous musicians appear to have been culled too quickly and too soon , tearing holes in our memories and reminding us of our own temporal vulnerabilty, as though this January is a very Killing Floor of a month; not a pleasant place to visit at all. If the Great Reaper spills any more blood there’ll be nobody left to make music save for artless refugees from Simon Cowell’s awful television”starmaker” shows. With me , it’s the gloomy weather that colours my thoughts, so any entertainment to help raise those clouds is always welcome.Death in winter is not what we want to hear.Like I said …I’d almost despaired of some bright cheer and then came Ruth Patterson on the Radio, as if to remove the noose from our neck and somehow save the day….
In case you might live beyond the gated walls and borders of our magical land, Ruth Patterson is a very prominent ex-politician/politician in Norneverland who has recently departed from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a decidedly right -wing party of inconsolables over some internecine etiquette issue. She had somehow managed to overstep even their idea of ethics. Jude, our Master of Ceremonies, was there too on the radio sharing that same hard Radioland bench and I could almost feel a pang of jealousy that he was actually personally bearing witness at this unique event when the Norneverland nation had the chance to open their throats to their very fullmost and utter the loudest bellowing guffaw of riotous laughter they’d had the pleasure to emit during this slow miserable month. It was a tonic for the troo……listeners .Maybe , on second thoughts, I’d have been unable to stifle my own running tears and I would probably have had to exit the room before convulsing in spasms and paroxysms of unfettered ,mad mirth…The listening nation did a cartoon double-take and cried as one shuddering beast … It’s the kind of thing that Laurel and Hardy or Phil Silvers sets off in me.As Jude, no doubt ,crossed his legs in agony and compressed his buttocks to a walnut stiffness, lest he might physically embarrass his trousers……
“DID THAT WOMAN JUST SAY THAT SAINT PATRICK WAS A PROTESTANT?!” the nation queried as one …..the airwaves fairly lit -up and electricity consumption spiked.
Thankfully , what with the wonders of modern technology we can all listen to the entire interview over and over again for at least a month before it’s taken off the internet , but there is probably someone working away , compiling a comedy boxset of such utterances for our future entertainment, in any case.You’ll probably be able to buy it in Sainsburys or Tesco’s at the check -out in a month or so.
The entire conversation and Ruth’s self-promotion for the coming elections as an independant politician ,was all -but- forgotten. She began to refer to her potential voters as “Her People” ,as though gathering the Lost Tribe Of Israel under her skirts for comfort, but although we all chuckled at that presumption of solace , no one could still get past her earlier utterance….
Another myth had entered the lexicon of Norneverland mythology to add to the long and entertaining list…… and the very air had been sucked out of the room..Jude, no doubt, was finding it difficult to breathe…
My granny believed in many old superstitions, so I can readily believe that anyone is capable of believing just about anything. She believed totally in the Legend of The Bean Si …the “Banshee”…of Irish folklore …and she would regale us children with ghostly stories about hearing this “Woman of the Barrows” , the harbinger of a death.She told us she’d heard her many times. This moaning messenger of horror was associated with anyone whose name had a “Mac”/”Mc”/or “O” prefix ….so that obviously meant that myself and my siblings were in the frame for some future ghostly visitations alright. My father , on the other hand, always said that the minute electricity arrived , the banshee, faeries and ghosts all disappeared very quickly and were never heard or seen again..
In Norneverland we have a series of ongoing myths which usually children grow to realise are simply folk-stories. Not everyone appears to grow away from the myths, though. I’m sure that many, even yet, believe that Finn MaCool scooped up Lough Neagh and hurled it into the sea to form the Isle of Man.If you don’t think so , just remember that we have some Ministers in governmental and influential positions who believe that the earth is only 6000 years old . You might think that it is a crazy thing to believe and to actually think those kind of thoughts, given the evidence available, but the creationist -inspired “Caleb Foundation” has some very odd ideas such as this “Young Earth” belief and they have some influence in the aforementioned DUP ,one of whose party members holds the position of First Minister of Norneverland.
Another mythology concerns the legend of William Of Orange ,who is seen as a fantasy hero to many of the denizens in Norneverland and is all but sainted and celebrated annually on the 12th and 13th of July. A society of “Orangemen” who specifically cleave to this mythology which purports to be “protestant”, has been built up and founded around that particular origin-story.They too, have an inordinate influence on policy-making within our local government ,given that many of their members also belong to this cabal, and they also believe some very odd things. They are anti-anything Catholic or pre -Reformation Christian , which is their wont, making them at odds with quite a high percentage of the population in Norneverland who cleave to that particular original Christian religious belief. The mythology is not that King William of Orange actually rode a milk-white steed into battle at the Battle of the Boyne, as a sort of romantic heroic knight. In fact , that was essentially unlikely because William’s health was never that good.So roisterous horse-riding may not have been on the agenda at all. Nor was it the unimpressive fact that his death eventually came when his horse stumbled in a lowly little molehill and he fell and broke his neck. Those kind of things can easily be romanticised.
The pandering to popular ignorance was always a policy of Loyalism and unionism so it’s no surprise that much to the obvious chagrin of the Catholic-bashing Orange Order,that in reality Pope Innocent XI actually funded the aforementioned King Billy’s Battle of the Boyne and Battle of Aughrim, as part of the League of Augsberg.Notwithstanding the fact that King Billy has been eulogised in song and verse for saving Protestanism from the clutches of the papacy, he was actually in cohorts with the Pope in his Irish battles.
Famously there was a painting by Dutch master-painter Pieter Van der Meulen depicting this Orange /Papal alliance, that was on display in Belfast , featuring the Pope blessing William and his generals.William’s conquest of Ireland was subsequently depicted as an Orange propaganda war between Catholics and Protestants when that wasn’t strictly the case. During the 1930’s a former police inspector and then MP called John Nixon led a gang of Loyalists into Stormont where the painting was displayed and slashed the minor masterpiece with a knife ,also throwing red paint over the figure of the Pope floating on a celestial cloud in the top left-hand corner. The painting was then taken down from display and sent away for restoration and has never been seen on public display ,since . It is said to be worth some half a million pounds or thereabouts , so this was a serious act of vandalism and censorship.
Now I’m not saying that the Pope could actually levitate in the sky on a golden throne as depicted in oils ,but the artist gave him that power of flight as part of his own artistic ,imaginative license.What is actually true is that apparently when William’s campaign was successful in 1690 , prayers and songs were sung in his honour in all the Roman Catholic cathedrals across Europe, and as the painting depicts, the Pope blessed William of Orange.There’s a lot about “King Billy” that the Orange Order and its followers might like to forget because it messes up the neat mythological story arc.
All of this brings us back to some of the very strange fantasies which pass for reality inside the heads of some of our fellow citizens and subjects in Norneverland. Ruth Patterson has no doubt since ensconsed herself in her local library and is, even as we write and read ,discovering that St. Patrick’s story was also chock full of its own many mythologies and mysteries and that Patrick, according to lore ,was born in Roman Britain and subsequently captured by roving Irish pirates who sold him into slavery, as was their normal, ancient ,trading custom in those times.


Patrick, the story goes, converted to a then ,somewhat eccentric belief in Christianity, which had become the latest “OneTrueChurch” for many followers across the Roman Empire but was not a first choice for the Irish at that time . There is no doubt that the Roman Church eventually needed some major reforming as it had gone somewhat awry over the years, in its ways of corruption.That some of those Popes and the associated powerful families , in those unenlightened, pre-scandal times, had only the vaguest notions of morality and were au fait with a machiavellian misuse of power, is a matter of recorded fact. It wasn’t until King Henry V111 with his equally curious sense of morality, decided that he would be better off with his very own version of “the Church”, in order to conduct a series of very dubious marriages and power-plays , that things got a little more complicated.


As Patrick supposedly lived some four hundred years after Christ’s time and Henry and the Reformation assuredly happened some one thousand years after that again , I’m sure Ruth Patterson is now contemplating the errors, lapses and huge craters in her education and is currently removing that large shoe from her mouth.It will probably not have any effect on her political aspirations, in any case because “Her People” will doubtless know all of this treasure-house “knowledge” already and have binned it..
We should also mention that it is very unlikely that Patrick had occasion to ban any snakes from Ireland at any time as they don’t appear to have existed anywhere in the dampness of that magical land. At the time of their appearance on earth,having evolved from the reptilian line at around the same time as the tyrannosaurs originated, some 100 million years ago, Ireland would have lain deep underwater, which is why they never appeared there.Much later when the waters receded, snakes which prefer dry , sandy places , have never been known to cross oceans.
Of such stuff is tradition and political thought made in Norneverland ….the land and people who may not believe in evolution but whose sense of absurd humour is undisputed.
They just keep on giving …..