In the year of our Lord, 1858, the Shirleys of Lough Fea boasted that their estate house contained the largest room in County Monaghan. The honour was not secure, however—a nearby Baron, Lord Rossmore, was determined to claim it for himself. He extended the drawing room of Rossmore Castle to steal the distinction from them. But the rivalry wasn’t over. Lord Rossmore had to extend the drawing room five times to stay ahead of the Shirleys’ relentless construction, and in the end his drawing room still came in second to their Great Hall.
Even though it lacked the largest room in the county, no one could deny that Rossmore Castle was beautiful, built as it was on top of a hill with a panoramic view and 117 windows to see it through (the Shirleys only had 96). Its towers and turrets looked as if they had been lifted straight out of a fairytale illustration, even more so when there was a party on, and there were a lot of parties. The guest lists were star-studded as well—the Prince of Wales was a personal friend of Lord Rossmore. But, as can happen in fairytales, the castle vanished. This had more to do with dry rot than magic, but the effect was the same.
Continue reading The Invisible Castle
I grew up when Star Trek: The Next Generation was popular, and now I’ve lived to see many of their imagined technologies become real. We’re still not quite there on warp drives or teleporters, but we’re getting closer to the holodeck with virtual reality, and we already have touchscreens, computers you can control with your voice, wireless communication that is constantly available, and handheld devices that can do all sorts of things. I’ve lived to see yesterday’s science fiction become today’s reality.
Continue reading What Star Trek Missed
I grew up beside a mountain in Alabama, with a dog. If you want a happy childhood, that’s a good start. Sometimes the dog and I would go up the mountain, just us, with no particular destination in mind. There was always something interesting up there—little run-off streams and rock outcroppings, sunlight through leaves and the awareness of being among innumerable living things. We stayed together, but not too close. The dog and I were interested in different things, probably because I couldn’t smell as well as she could. Still, we stayed within sight, and if I decided to explore in a different direction all I had to say was “Cinnamon, I’m going this way” and she would change course without complaining. I guess there were smells to discover anywhere we went.
Continue reading The Dog Knew Better
To say “He’s a gentleman”
Means he is kind
A man who is gentle with others
But the title’s been used
In ways far less sublime:
Of a man who has power and fortune
And even applied
(Most contrary of all)
To men who watch ladies undress
For oppression and shame
Won’t use their own name,
But wrap up in titles of virtue
Some things are worth saying over and over again. I’m sure that’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating. At our house, we said “sit down” and “eat your food” so often that my wife started saying those phrases in Irish, just to break the monotony. Still, we knew that saying it over and over again was the only way to get to the point of not having to say it over and over again.
But there are some things we’ll never get to that point with. There are some things that will need to be said as long as there are people on Earth. The reason for this is that us humans tend to forget basic truths almost as soon as we remember them. We work and fight and kill each other to right some horrible wrong like genocide, oppression, or slavery, then turn around and create new ways of doing the exact same things, like abortion, police brutality, or human trafficking. Each victory bleeds into a new battle, where we have to say the same old truths all over again, like “all people are valuable” and “all men are created equal”.
Continue reading The Importance Of Not Being Original
I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us.
Continue reading A Trip To The Embassy
One of my favourite places near our house is a little graveyard up the hill behind our village. Yes, I know how odd that sounds. I don’t even have relatives there; I know nothing about the people buried in that small patch of ground except what is written on their monuments and of course that they used to live where I live and breathe the same air and somebody cared enough about them to put up a stone in their honour.
Continue reading My Favourite Graveyard
As he rounded the corner, the view opened up and he saw the city in front of him, perched proud and confident on its hill, like a king enthroned. At the highest point stood the Temple, glistening gold in the sun, reflecting off the tears on his face:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…”
This was the city that rejected him. This was the golden Temple he would cleanse in righteous anger. These were the people who would shout “crucify him!” and make fun of him as he died. These were the people who would pierce his heart, and these were the people who broke it.
Continue reading Tears For My Enemies
William Wilberforce was a British white man who was born into wealth, and quickly attained significant political power. He was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 21, while still a student. From such a position of privilege, what could Wilberforce ever legitimately say about racism? He had no personal experience of slavery. And yet, it was Wilberforce who spent most of his life and strength spearheading the effort to end the slave trade in the British Empire.
Continue reading Two British White Men And The Foundations Of Racial Equality