Dying Embers of Middle Eastern Christianity

At a time when Christians across the world celebrate the birth of their founder, a dangerous cocktail mix of Christian, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism is leading to the near extinction of native Christianity in its birthplace with a mass exodus of frightened Arab and other indigenous Christians fleeing rabid persecution.

At the beginning of the last century, Christians represented a quarter of the population of the Middle East. Their churches dotted the landscapes of what is now Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. When Islam appeared in the region in the seventh century, Arab Christianity was already six hundred years old. Its worldwide influence was profound. They practised the custom of ‘prostration’ now almost exclusively associated with Muslims, and had always used (and still does) the term ‘Allah’ to refer to ‘God’. Egypt's Coptic Christians gave to the early Irish Celtic church its tradition of monasticism. Assyrian Christian scholars translated many of the Greco-Roman and Persian scientific texts into Arabic, thereby helping in the flowering of Islamic civilisation under the Abbasid Caliphate. From the eight until the eleventh century the Nestorians, with their heartland in modern Iraq and Iran were the most influential of all Christian churches with bishoprics stretching as car as southern Arabia and eastern China.

A religious tolerance more or less held in the Middle East for centuries until it began to be replaced about one hundred years ago by hatred and even genocide. This began in World War One when, according to many leading historians, the Ottoman Turks massacred three million Armenians, Assyrian and Pontiac Greeks in World War One because of their faith and ethnicity.

From 2001, the ‘Born-Again Christian’ George Bush unleashed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that he termed a ‘crusade’ which has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Combined with the pro-Zionist views of influential right-wing American Christians, who believe that all of Palestine must become Jewish in preparation for Christ’s return to Earth for the great final battle of ‘Armageddon’ (aka the ‘Rapture’), the response across the Middle East and environs has been the unleashing of a wave of murderous religious extremism. Too often local Christian communitities became an easy and accessible target. Christians now make up less than 6% of the region's population.

Yet as with Russia and China, US foreign policy is driven by an imperial greed that has nothing to do with freedom, democracy, liberty and justice. Its key global allies are bigoted religious authoritarian regimes such as Israel with its campaign of colonisation of Arab lands by foreign Jewish settlers; Saudi Arabia where Christian worship and that of other religions is banned, where school children are taught to hate ‘infidels’ or non-believers, and where conversion from Islam to any other religion (apostasy) is punishable by death; Iraq where a campaign of ethnic cleansing has led to possibly 500,000 Christians fleeing the country since 2004; and an Egypt where religious discrimination is practiced, where churches are bombed; where reports of the kidnapping, rape and forced marriages of young Christian Coptic women to Muslim men are increasing.

The great Irish writer and Protestant cleric Jonathan Swift was correct in his analysis that “We have enough religion to make us hate each other but not enough to make us love one another”.

So surely there is an obvious case for the expulsion of these and other countries from a United Nations with its ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ that includes Article 18 which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”?

Sadly the EU and the Irish government will do little of substance to end religious and other types of persecution in countries where they have vested economic interests.

Twelve Days of Christmas in Galway 2010

Famous Irish Sayings & Quotations

'A Journey on into a New Year'
There is a lovely earthiness, warmth & sincerity about traditional Irish sayings & blessings.
So may I extend to those that I know & admire, one of my favourites as we continue our journey on into a New Year:

Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl ...Go lonraí an ghrian go te ar d'aghaidh ...Go dtite an bháisteach go mín ar do pháirceanna Agus go mbuailimid le chéile arís, Go gcoinní Dia i mbos A láimhe thú.

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

ps. The attached photo is from the lovely island of 'Inis Meain'

Armagh Prison: following in the footsteps of my great grandmother

One of my abiding memories of 2010 was visiting Armagh prison on the last day that it was opened to the public before its closure and planned conversion into a five star hotel. I was one of thousands that visited this huge architecturally impressive prison complex one day in September.

Eviction & Imprisonment

Like me, many of the visitors seemed to have a family affinity with this dreaded institution. Some were obviously republicans who had served time there. In my case, this gaol was where my great grandmother Lizzie Agnew spent two and a half years as a young mother sentenced there in the 1880s by a colonial judge. Her crime - breaking and entering what was formerly her hovel of a home soon after she, her husband Thomas and their baby were evicted by armed police, soldiers and hired thugs acting under the instructions of a British absentee landlord and his gombeen Irish agent for failure to pay an exorbitant rent. Lizzie was one of hundreds of thousands from the Irish farm labourers and farmers classes kicked onto the side of the road during the notorious mass evictions of the 19th century.

She had just given birth to her first child. Known as a strong-willed woman, she refused to accept that her new family should be evicted from her home by an unscrupulous landlord and broke back into the building. Having no money to emigrate, the alternative was starvation or life in the notorious local workhouse where family members were segregated into male and female dormitories, subsistence food only was provided and a harsh brutal regime existed. Soon after, she was arrested, brought to court in Carrickmacross County Monaghan and sentenced to imprisonment in Armagh.

Harsh Prison Regime

Armagh prison was commissioned by Richard Robinson, English-born Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, in the late 1770s on the site of an earlier military barracks. He was also responsible for many of the other fine Georgian buildings in the city, which has made Armagh today one of the most architecturally attractive urban locations in Ireland. The gaol was greatly extended in the 1840s and 1850s to accommodate up to 330 prisoners. During Lizzie’s time there, conditions were atrocious- severe overcrowding existed and diseases such as typhus were rampant. The daily food ration consisted of 7oz of meal in porridge and ½ pint of milk for breakfast and 12oz of bread and 1 pint of milk for dinner. Punishment cells and an execution shed existed in the complex where condemned prisoners were killed by hanging.

Main Prison Foyer

Capture & Jailed in Curragh

The prison accommodated both male and female prisoners, with women then being accommodated in ‘A Wing’. From 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, Armagh became a women’s only prison which it remained more or less until its closure in 1986. During the more recent ‘Troubles’ (1969- ), it held many well-known IRA prisoners including Mairead Farrell and the Price sisters (Dolores & Marion).

Lizze Agnew (nee Eccles) was not the only one of my ancestral family members who were imprisoned during the British period. My paternal grandfather Patrick Smith was an officer in the North Tipperary South Offaly IRA Brigade and was jailed in the Curragh jail after he was captured during a rebel attack on a British army unit. He was only released as a result of the Truce between the Irish republicans and the British government.

Prison Exercise Yard

Whilst there, I said a prayer to Lizzie while I was in the prison in recognition of her bravery and her suffering, and promised her that I would stay at least one night when it re-opened as a hotel. Not of any need to enjoy the trappings of luxury. But to show to her that her family had, like so many Irish, finally overcome poverty and foreign oppression. Yet I know deep down that she and my grandfather Patrick would not have been impressed that their struggles and hardships have led to an Ireland dominated by a native elite with no sense of morality, patriotism, community or a progressive ideology where greed, wealth and power are their defining traits, where control of our economic destiny lies abroad and where once again emigration has become a characteristic of our society.

But while there is life, there is hope! We all must do our bit in whatever way we can to make the world a better place for all its denizens.

NAMA is exposed as A Scam to Bail Out the Property Speculators at the Irish Taxpayers Expense

It made my blood boil to watch RTE's Prime Time investigative programme tonight & realise that the people who bankrupted this country & destroyed the hopes of our children, are still living the high life of big mansions, private helicopters, race horses & champagne. NAMA was exposed as a scam to ensure that the taxpayers bailed out the banks in order to save these property developers (I refuse to call them 'developers') from the consequences of their own greed. Worse, they were given the time to protect their most valuable assets by transferring ownership to their wives. As well as getting huge bailouts from us, we are also paying them huge annual salaries to look after our properties! Plus, we also pay them exorbitant annual rents for many of these properties. Believe it or not, they own the buildings that NAMA, the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Bank & many of the government departments & social welfare offices are housed in!!!!

Well done to Fianna Fáil for organising this scam to benefit their friends.
How stupid are we? How come the state doesn't refuse these failed property speculators the rents as they owe us so much? In fact, nationalise these buildings.

The 'Galway Race Tent' old boys network of bankers, property speculators & politicians is now exposed for what it was- an opportunity for the gombeen elite to milk the taxpayer for every cent possible.

Public pressure recently forced the government to do a U-turn and stop the 160Euro millions in bonuses that the AIB senior management had slyly set themselves up for.
We should end too the huge payoffs and pensions that the politicians now jumping ship by retiring before the next general election have organised for themselves. No pension should be given to any politician until they reach the retirement age as laid down by the law that governs the rest of us!!
Abolish too the big bonus payments to senior civil servants!
Shame not just on Fianna Fail but also on the Green Party. You have betrayed the people's trust!!!!!

What Did the Irish Ever Do for Chile?

As stated in my previous article on the 'An Irishman's Guide to the History of the World- 'The Americas' , brave freedom-loving Irish played an influential role in the liberation movements of at least nine American countries as they helped defeat nasty Spanish, English and other European imperialists.

First President of Chile
No Irish contribution in Latin America is more notable than in Chile where Bernardo O’Higgins, the illegitimate son of an Irishman, became the first president of the country when it was declared an independent republic in February 1818.
Chilean towns, roads and ships are named after those Irishmen who contributed to Chilean’s struggle for nationhood.

2010 - Joint Chilean & Irish Stamps Honour Irish Heroes of the Chilean War of Liberation
In October, 2010, Ireland and Chile issued stamps to commemorate the bicentenary of the beginning of the struggle for Chilean Independence. The stamps honour two men with Irish backgrounds who played a crucial role in the quest for Chile’s liberation - Bernardo O’Higgins and John (Juan) MacKenna.

Irish Drill Used To Rescue Trapped Miners
Coincidentally in the same month(oct), proof that the benign influence of Ireland towards this Latin Amerian country still exists was shown by the fact that the drill head used to miraculously rescue the 33 trapped miners in the Atacama desert in October 2010 was made by an Irish engineering company (Mincon) based at Shannon in Co. Clare.

Bernardo O’Higgins: Liberator & Democrat
Bernardo’s most famous victory was at the Battle of El Roble in 1813 when he heroically led a cavalry charge that routed superior Imperial forces. His rousing speech to his troops before the attack has become legendary. Shouting “Lads! Live with Honour or Die with Glory! The one who is brave is the one who follows me!” Riding by his side that day was another Irishman John (Don Juan) MacKenna from Monaghan who was Commander in Chief of Artillery & Engineers in the revolutionary army & later commander of Santiago.
Spain soon sent further reinforcements to the country, inflicting a series of defeats on the rebel army forcing the remnants to take sanctuary in Argentina. O’Higgins returned in 1817 with an invasion force jointly commanded with Argentinean hero José de San Martin which overthrew the Spanish within the year .

San Martin's Irish Officers
The rebel leader José San Martin had many Irish aide-de-camp in his service, including Thomond O’Brien from Wicklow who served by his side in all his major wars across South America including in the Chilean campaign.

Irish Origins of Chilean Navy
That other great liberationist, Simon Bolivar, also participated in the Chilean independence struggle and was brought to that country in the ship Chimbarazo commanded by another Irishman, Charles Wright from Drogheda in Co. Louth, who himself achieved legendary status for his naval exploits and later founded the Ecuadorian navy.

Bernardo O’Higgins had the foresight to establish a Chilean navy recognising that, without it, victories on land would be meaningless if the surrounding seas were controlled by the enemy. In his own words "This victory and a hundred more will be insignificant if we do not dominate the sea."
He commissioned an ex-British navy officer George O’Brien from Ireland to establish a navy.
The first ship the patriots secured was a royalist ship Aguila taken in Valparaíso by a boarding party led by Raymond Morris, an Irish officer of San Martín's army who had served in the British Navy. He was appointed her captain. With a contingent of 25 soldiers (Chile's first marine corp), Morris sailed to Juan Fernández where the crew daringly rescued rebel prisoners held in the town.
The 'O'Brien' Chilean Submarine

O'Brien was the first Chilean naval officer killed in action when he led a boarding party from the Lautaro against the Spanish frigate Esmeralda that was blockading Valparaíso.
The Chilean navy still commissions ships in his honour.

O'Higgins - Too Radical for Conservative Nobility
Unlike some of his fellow more conservative isolationist landowning Chilean revolutionaries, O’Higgins possessed strong liberal democratic ideals and fought for the liberation of all South America from colonial rule. He abolished titles of nobility and expelled Santiago’s royalist archbishop. Such radical reforms alienated him from the aristocratic elite who forced his abdication and exile from Chile in 1823.

An Irishman - Latin America's Most Powerful Ruler
Bernardo’s father Ambrosio (Ambrose) O'Higgins was the most powerful representative of Spanish Imperial rule on the continent, being Viceroy of Peru and governor of Chile. He was born in Sligo 1720, the son of a tenant farmer. Like many Irish in an Ireland experiencing a brutal British colonial occupation where Irish Catholics were treated as an inferior subjugated peoples and denied basic human rights, Ambrose was sent as a young man to Spain where educational and career opportunities existed for Irish Catholics.

Established First Transcontinental Postal Service
In 1756 he emigrated to South America, initially working as a trader before taking an engineering position with the Spanish Imperial Service. Ambrosio made a deep impression on the continent establishing its first reliable postal service, that linked once isolated Chilean colonies with the city of Buenos Aires via a chain of weatherproof shelters built across the inhospitable terrains of the Andes mountains.

Irish Governor Of Valdivia
His big breakthrough came when the military governor of Valdivia in Chile, another Irishman John Garland, convinced him to be his assistant. In the late 1780s, Ambrosio was named Governor General of Chile and began a remarkable social and economic transformation of what was formerly a backwater colony by building roads (including between Santiago and Valparisso) and cities most notably San Ambrosio de Ballenary. Ballenary was an aristocratic title bestowed on him by a gracious Spanish king, probably in recognition of his birthplace of ‘Ballinary’ in Co/ Sligo Ireland.

Friend of Native Indians & Landless Peasants
Ambrosio was an enlightened ruler, establishing roads, towns, libraries and markets and abolished the repressive encomienda feudal system whereby native lands and peoples were granted to Spanish colonists to do with as they wished.

MacKenna: Rebel Commander-in-Chief
John MacKenna, from Monaghan, was a close friend of both Ambrosio and Bernardo and was a key figure in Chile’s struggle for freedom, becoming Commandant General of the rebel army and credited most notably with an important victory over superior Imperial forces at Membrillo.
Similar to O’Higgins senior, he left Ireland for Spain before serving in the Spanish military. Ambrosio made him governor of Osorno in southern Chile, where he used his engineering skills to rebuild the ruined city.
After a coup d'etat by a faction led by José Carrera in 1814, he went into exile to Argentina with O’Higgins and was killed there soon after by José’s brother in a duel in Buenos Aires

Lynch: "Last Viceroy of Peru"
Born in 1824, Rear Admiral Patricio Javier de los Dolores Lynch was a Chilean naval hero who played a leading role in Chile's war against Peru in 1880-1881. He was appointed Supreme Military and Political Commandant of Peru during the occupation period and is often referred to at the "Last Viceroy of Peru". He was though denounced for his harsh rule and was condemned by many leading liberal politicians of the time including the prominent Chilean-Irish writer Benjamin MacKenna.
Since his death, the Chilean navy has always had a ship 'Almirante Lynch' in service.

Lynch: Galway to Chile via Argentina
Lynch was the son of Estanislao Lynch y Roo who had served with San Martin's Army of the Andes. He was originally from Argentina and was the son of Patrick Lynch from Galway who came to Buenos Aires in the 1740s.
Another descendant of Patrick was Che Guevara, the Argentinean-born hero of the Cuban Revolution. Che's father was Ernesto Guevara Lynch.

Benjamin MacKenna - Liberal Politician & Writer
One of Chilean's most well known writers, journalists and historians is Benjamín Mackenna, grandson of General Juan (John) MacKenna, hero of the Chilean War of Independence. During his lifetime he also served as mayor of Santiago and Chilean ambassador to the United States.
Benjamin lived in exile for many years after participating in the failed liberal revolution of 1851. Captured and imprisoned, he escaped disguised as a woman (shades of Eamon De Valera in his exit from an English prison in 1919!). Whilst abroad, he visited his ancestral homeland of Ireland.

Irish Sanctuary for Chileans Fleeing Pinochet Persecution
In a country where the Irish legacy has been one of liberation, freedom, justice, democracy and egalitarianism, it is only natural that refugees from Chile fleeing the Pinoche's military junta in the 1970s were granted asylum status in Ireland. Though their numbers were small, nevertheless their influence was noticeable in the contemporary student union movement, in left wing politics and amongst liberation theologians in the Irish Catholic Church

See also my articles on
What Did the Irish Ever Do for Austria?
What Did the Irish Ever Do for India/Pakistan?

What Did the Irish Ever Do for Americas/Mexico?

Huge Crowds show Galway Public Has An Insatiable Appetite for Science & Technology!

Pupils from Gaelscoil de hÍde demonstrating science experiments to an audience of all ages

Lt 'Owen' Uhura & 'Lukasz' Spock held captive by Borg & Klingons from the
Educate Together's 'Federation of Nasty Aliens'!

Toms, Yolanda & Kyrstian at the busy DERI stand

Pupils from Scoil Bhride Mionloch with their DERI supported 'Google Mapping' project

The two week long Galway Science & Technology Festival that ended on Sunday last was the most successful ever in its 13 year history, with a programme that endeavored to promote an awareness of science and technology amongst both young children and the school-going teenage population.
The brilliantly colourful 'Aquatic Science' exhibit from Scoil Bailemanach (Ballymana)

During the period of the Celtic Tiger and before, our youth were attracted in their droves to careers in the professions such as legal, construction and financial that were thought to be safe, lucrative, 9-5 and relatively stress free. The nation applauded and seemed to be entranced by the private jet-setting lives of property speculators, bankers and lawyers. We turned towards the easy money of building/land sales attempting as it seemed as if the whole island was being converted into one vast building site to the detriment of sustainable sectors such as product innovation, manufacturing, organic agriculture, tourism and natural energy sources.We imported cheap labour to do the menial jobs that we used to do ourselves.
Now that the boom is over and the country is economically on the rocks, we are slowly experiencing the harsh lessons of a 'reality check' and are painfully coming to undertstand that we must 'make things' again based on our own human and natural resources if we are to become a major player in the new unfolding Global Village.

Principal Máire Regan-Walsh and the pupils from Bawnmore National School
displaying their Computer Animation project work

St. Augustine's School Clontuskert launch Robotic Ireland's programmable Lego

As well as introducing these pupils to adult science experts, providing them with valuable Role Models and mentors from amongst the third level student science community, the Festival also gave them a rare prestigious public platform to show off and demonstrate their own prowess in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Engineering, Technologies & the Web. One that they took too with relish!

One of my tasks was to encourage and coordinate schools in taking stands at the exhibition. The response was terrific. Based on the exhibit space available, I secured 15 schools and had to turn many more away.

Scoil Náisiúnta Baile Chláir na Gaillimhe explaining the engineering concepts of the ancient catapult

A lot of the credit most go to great efforts of so many individual teachers who time and time again go over and above the call of duty in their efforts to help their pupils.

It seems like all the pupils of Coolarne turned up at the exhibition to demonstrate their scientific experiments based on Sound

Scoil Chiaraín Naofa Doorus teacher & pupils are rightly proud of their Lungs & Heart projects

Highlights of the festival included a lecture by Craig Barrett, (former Intel chairman) on Education for Innovation where he told the audience that it was up to the Irish themselves to pull the country out of recession; visits to schools by an array of attractive interactive science shows (Cosmic Explorers, Armagh Planetarium, Mad Science, Big Bug Show, K’nex Roadshow, True Physics Rocket Workshops, Weather Show, Science Magic, Magic Mathworks, Galileo’s Greatest Mistake…), a national conference of applied mathematics in NUIG, guided tours of the university’s science labs/institutes and its 3 science museums (geology, zoology & computing), science talks (e.g. anatomy, energy) science workshops, quizzes, debates…

Happy Smiling Volunteers at the DERI Stand

Within the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUI Galway, we hosted school visits, re-opened an exciting revamped Gary McMahon(R) from Galway City Council enjoying the vintage Apple Computer display in the Communications & Computing Museum that was transferred from DERI to the Áras na Mac Leinn for Sunday's Exhibition

Communications/Computing Museum (with eGalway) and started a weekly Computer Labs (computer programming/maintenance) initiative in a local post-primary school (St. Mary’s College).

Pupils from Fohenagh experiencing a 1960s classroom at the DERI BEO exhibit in Communications & Computing Museum

General Manager SAP and Bernard Kirk Galway Education Centre holding the ultimate Yuppie accessory from the 1980s - the 'brick' cell phone in the Communications & Computing Museum

This was due to the wonderful involvement of young researchers from the Institute such as Laura, Pierre, Lukasz, Jacik, James, Geariod and of course experts such as Alan Fitzpatrick who volunteered their time and effort for the greater good.

Toys 4 Boys!

Fathers & boys enjoy classic 1970s computer games in the Communications & Computing Museum

Distinguished Guests- Paul Nugent (St. Dominic's High School, Dublin) & Eoin Gill (Calmast Waterford Institute of Technology) were delighted with the different exhibits at the Communications & Computing Museum

Communications & Computing Museum Supervisors - DERI's Owen & Lukasz

30,000 Visitors to one-Day Science & Technology Festival at Galway University

Long queues were a feature of Sunday's Science & Technology Exhibition

The Exhibition, the festival finale, was held for the first time in Galway University (NUI Galway) and was officially opened by Maire Geoghegan Quinn EU Commissioner for Science, Research & Innovation, supported by Dr. James Browne NUIG President, Gerry Kilcommins (General Manager Medtronic), Noel Treacy TD and Tom Hyland (Chair & former IDA West Chairman).

With a visionary unity of purpose that united businesses, third level colleges, schools, government agencies and the public, the number of visitors exceeded all our expectations. Average attendances in previous years was in 10,000-16,000 category. This year the media estimated that 50,000 turned up to NUIG for the event (though I believe it was closer to 30,000). The queues started at 12.00 and were still there at the closing time of 5.30pm!

Thank God for Children’s Power as the young ‘uns dragged their parents along!
It was the biggest gathering of people that ever appeared in our university.

Demonstrating the Programming of Robotic Lego

Of course, it must be admitted that we the organisers must do better next year to handle such huge numbers and do our upmost to reduce the waiting time for entry to the exhibition centre. But we were caught unawares and will be better prepared next year by possibly securing a second large adjacent building on campus.

A fantastic achievement and a welcome sign that young Irish people have a serious and growing interest in experiencing the challenges of the sciences, the technologies and innovation. Long may it be nurtured.

KNEX kits at the Athenry Boys' School stand

Something Fishy project at the St. Joseph's School Oranmore stand

Brother Niall Coll, a veteran of school science exhibitions with pupils from St. Patrick's National School Galway City promoting their Invasive Species project

Star fleet officers, Borg & Klingons from Educate Together School Galway City with their excellent project on how the 1960s science fiction Star Trek television series inspired many of today's technologies such as the iPad and the mobile phone

Fohenagh National School gave visitors an insight into how modern computing technologies can bring local history alive by the use of Digital Archiving