I have hazy memories of the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979. The early morning start, the huge lines of traffic on the road to Dublin, the long walk to Chapelizod, the corrals, the Papal stage in the far distance, the great tents, the popemobile and the vast, vast crowd. It’s the crowd that I remember the most. There were periscopes on sale that helped me get an idea of the vastness of it all. As a ten year old, I was only allowed on my dad’s shoulders for a moment, but what I saw has stayed with me.

It’s different this time. A different pope. A different age. I’m a different person. I don’t have many thoughts on his trip. I’m not travelling to see him. There is no message he can give that will have any effect on me or my family. He represents a corrupt, arch-conservative organisation that has held back progress – particularly for women and gay people – for decades; an organisation that still refuses to take proper responsibility for the abuse scandal unleashed on children around the world; an organisation whose involvement in health and education comes with a high price tag. It’s long past the day when health, education and social welfare should be the prerogative of non-governmental organisations pursuing their own narrow agendas.

So, no. I’m staying put, like many of my fellow Irish people. If he reminds people to be better humans to each other, all the well. If he asks them to be better Catholics, well, there’s better ways to spend your time.

If someone was born in Jan 1, 1900 they would have been around for the first plane flight, the first commercial radio broadcasts, votes for women, the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the rise of communism, the end of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, the rise of the motor car, jazz music, antibiotics, Hollywood, plastics, the Wall Street Crash, fascism, the Second World War, the Holocaust, atomic weapons, the Cold War, the welfare state, television, the end of colonialism, American hegemony, domestic equipment, rock and roll, jet liners, satellites, the death of JFK, the contraceptive pill, men on the moon, the oil crises, terrorism, the killing fields of Cambodia, closeup photos of the gas giants, personal computers, IVF, the transformation of the office, the end of communism, mobile phones, and the internet.

We’re only 18 years into the 21st Century and we’re shocked by Brexit and Trump. If the last century is anything to go by, we’ve seen nothing yet.

I’ve been following a discussion on Meetup.com where a guy is alleging that we are not true sceptics. I think his point is that we are far too pro-establishment and that a real sceptic has to be anti-establishment, almost by definition.I think this comment gets straight to a core difference between science-based sceptics (us lot) and conspiracy based sceptics. Conspiracy based sceptics seem to me to distrust claims from official sources, or at least the official sources that they have an ideological bent against. They take it as given that “the establishment” is lying to us, and therefore it is important to be sceptical of everything they say. Science-based sceptics are distrustful of any claim where there is no evidence to back it up. These are very different starting positions.The conspiracy position seems tempting. Official sources lying to us might seem quite reasonable at times. There are plenty of examples where that has indeed been the case. However it seems to me to be a very flawed position. They indicate that because someone is from a particular group, then they must be lying, irrespective of the content of what they are trying to say. Apart from this being a classic ad hominem attack, I can think of many situations where official sources have told the truth. I can also think of plenty of situations where anti-establishment folks have told bald-faced lies. So, being establishment or anti-establishment is no real indicator of whether you are speaking to reality, or telling pork pies. You have to assess the evidence as it exists.If conspiracy based sceptics will agree that official sources sometimes tell the truth, then what is their barometer for distinguishing between truth and lies? It doesn’t seem to me they have any real way to do this. The tendency is to look for an even bigger lie, so that their initial position can be preserved. This creates an enormous rat hole – and a vastly irrational rat hole at that – lies upon lies upon lies: a vast edifice built on nothing but suspicion and distrust.Conspiracy based scepticism is seductive, to be sure, but ultimately, it’s an irrational ideological position, and a dangerously misleading one at that.I want to contrast this with science based scepticism, which is about discovering the truth of a claim based on available evidence. Whether that evidence comes from official sources is neither here nor there. What matters is whether the evidence is good. Science based sceptics will accept official sources when the evidence is there, and reject it when it’s not. Sometimes, official bodies can be quite good with evidence: particularly when reputation and integrity are important, and concerns about public repercussions are high. Sometimes, determining the truth in a situation requires specialist skills and detailed scientific knowledge, something only professional bodies may have access to.One thing that science based scepticism has, that conspiracy based scepticism does not have, is a proper barometer. If evidence arises that supports a position previously dismissed, then the science based sceptic must assess it on its merits. If supporting evidence is shown to be wrong or fraudulent, then the sceptic must assess this too, potentially changing their minds based on it. Science based sceptics have to be willing to change their positions based on changes in the evidence base. They have to be able to admit that they might sometimes get things wrong.As a science based sceptic, I am ok with official bodies making claims, so long as those claims are based on good science and good evidence. I an also ok with non-official groups making claims, when those claims are based on good science and evidence. I am not ok with official bodies making claims when those claims are made up. I am also not ok with non-official groups doing likewise. Even if an official organisation is involved with something I might disagree with, I still must listen when they make properly supported claims. For me, it’s all about the claim and its supporting evidence, and less about the people making it – and that’s where science based sceptics are very different to conspiracy based sceptics.

I’m spending a lot of time with Affinity Photo these last few weeks – originally looking at how to improve my portrait photos on the iPhone, but now looking at trees and buildings. I’m experimenting with methods of isolation – removing the subject from the foreground and placing it on a complementary, neutral background. It’s trickier than it seems, particularly when it comes to trees and plants – the complexity is immense. I’ve been working on selection refinement and feathering as ways to reduce complexity and to allow the subject to sit well with it’s background with no jagged edges.

Here’s a selection of photos I’ve been working with. I took all of them over a single hour last week in Castlemartyr Resort in Ireland, and I’ve since been working on extracting them from their backgrounds. Castlemartyr Resort has some stunning trees for me to work on.

Oak Tree, Castlemartyr

Oak tree, Castlemartyr Resort

Pine Trees, Castlemartyr Resort

Pine Trees, Castlemartyr Resort

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Spruce tree, Castlemartyr Resort

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Monkey Puzzle, Castlemartyr Resort

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Irish Yew, Castlemartyr Resort

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Mixed trees, Castlemartyr Resort

Lastly, a photo of the castle on the hotel grounds.

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I hope you like them.

Over the last few weeks, I have been listening to Neil MacGregor’s terrific “Living with the Gods” BBC podcast. It has helped me to reconsider some of my views on religion and belief.

The podcast is wonderful, in that it brings you on an audio journey to places and peoples across the world. You name it, it’s there – from the dank caves of southern Germany, to the sacrificial pyramids of Aztec Mexico, to the great Kumbh Mela festival in India. Newgrange is mentioned, as is the Angelus that booms out on Irish radio each day. It considers the symbolism in religion, the common rituals, the public displays and private moments, and the relationship of religion to the exercise of power. It takes all these disparate elements and synthesizes them into a concrete, powerful narrative.

What I hear from all this is that religion is core to who we are. In all religions, our own nature is echoed back. It is a mirror, reflecting our greatest fears, our greatest needs and our hopes for the future. If you bypass the specific details of any one religion, you find the same needs there. These great longings are familiar to so many of us.

Religion doesn’t even need gods or supernatural agencies. We’ve seen in the last century the damaging power of secular belief systems gone awry. It seems that people will reach out for anything that gives them a sense of security, purpose and answers. God is just one alternative among many.

Such a pity it is that the details become so important. People will kill and die over the minutiae of their own faiths. Wars have started over trivial differences, people executed and tortured for not adhering to the orthodoxy of the day. Even today, so many people take delight in disparaging other people’s religions (and I’ve been one of them) to the point that demagogues can exact discriminatory laws and great injustices can take place with nary a whisper. Behind the details, we forget that at the core of much belief is something entirely understandable: something quintessentially human.

Such a pity that more people don’t reach out to understand religious practices elsewhere around the world, because the impression to be formed is that no matter where we are or who we are, there is a commonality that runs through us all. Having no religion or being inquisitive within one’s own religion, may be advantageous in this regard.

Thought is given in the podcast to life without religion. This is possibly the least satisfying part of the series, as it suggests that it’s unsustainable in the long run. At the end of the series, MacGregor makes the bold statement that we run the risk of society breaking up completely – this is something I would have wanted to understand more. Personally, I see many people making a good fist of living without gods or the traditional rituals of yesteryear. I don’t see how humanistic societies can’t operate for the success and happiness of their peoples: the record of countries like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands is a case in point. Even Ireland is a happier place now that we have allowed God to fade into the background. Perhaps such states of affairs are unsustainable and perhaps communities are in peril, but at least a counter argument can be made in a world where we don’t now have to rely on revelation and traditional authority alone for matters of truth and belief.

Please give the podcast a go and let me know what you think.

In some ways, 2017 was a surprising year. I was expecting it to be all doom and gloom, and it certainly had its moments of awfulness, but lots of things happened and I’m surprised how much I managed to do over the year. Kids growing up: all teenagers now, some work trips to America and Singapore and a very enjoyable holiday in Wales. Day trips to Waterford and Kerry. Added to that were trips to see Brian Cox and Alt-J in Dublin, as well as hosting Professor Edzard Ernst here in Cork. I was busy at work though, and this resulted in me taking less photos and being less active online overall. I tend to get bored taking the same types of photo all the time.

Ballydowane, Co. Waterford

Ballydowane is a wonderful rocky cove near the coast road between Waterford and Tramore. It’s off the beaten track, but worth the spin. This tiny island is a regular subject of much local photography.  I took this photo in early January.

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Dromana Gate, Co. Waterford

Dromana Gate is located near Cappoquin, Co. Waterford. The gate is a Hindu-Gothic design originally built in wood and papier-mâché to celebrate the marriage in 1826 of Henry-Villiers Stuart and his wife Theresia Pauline Ott. It was later reconstructed in stone. It’s a fascinating structure – out of place for Ireland, yet a reminder of our varied cultural heritage.

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Pink Rock, near New Ross

I used to pass through this area of the country almost every week when I was a child. The River Barrow flows here, on its way to Waterford Harbour. It’s an area of steep ground and great views to New Ross and beyond to the Blackstairs mountains in Carlow. A large bridge is being built here at the moment, which will take traffic from Rosslare to Waterford, avoiding the narrow bridge in New Ross, which has been a bottleneck for decades.

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Fields of Barley, Co. Cork

During the summer, I took some photos in the fields close by the house. Some of them turned out well, I think.

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Lismore Castle

Lismore is a terrific place to go for a day out – the gardens are a real gem and the castle is such an imposing edifice over the Blackwater River. This photo was taken in May with the Rhododendrons in full bloom.

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Honeybee in flight

I took this photo with my iPhone in early June, patiently using burst photography to try to get the right shot. For a phone camera, the results worked out quite well.

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Coumshingaun Lake, Co. Waterford

In late June, I ventured with a group of friends into the Comeragh Mountains. We did the Coumshingaun Horseshoe. It’s one of my favourite walks in the country. A hard slog at the beginning, but it levels off quickly. The views are delightful.

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Waterford Greenway

This was the year we explored the Waterford Greenway properly – travelling over two different days the length of the route from Dungarvan to Waterford. It was fantastic. A relaxing journey, but not by any means trivial.  A great centrepiece of the Greenway is the viaduct in Kilmacthomas.

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Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

In July we travelled to Valentia Island in search of some of the largest tree-ferns in the country. We ended up in Glanleam house, walking through jungle paths, eventually breaking out to see some of the finest vistas Ireland has to offer. This picture was taken near the Tetrapod Trackway.

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Roche’s Point, Cork

On one of the summer days, we took a bike trip to Roche’s Point. This is the picturesque entry point to Cork Harbour, offering stunning views across to Crosshaven.

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Cardiff, Wales

I had a wonderful week with the kids in Wales. Cardiff Castle is one of my favourites – it dominates the city centre and it gives people an opportunity to walk through centuries of history. And what a history! Norman dungeons to gruesome medieval punishments.

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Stonehenge, England

I’ve wanted to go to Stonehenge for years. It’s one of the most iconic locations on Earth. And, right, it’s a busy place in summer – crowds of tourists everywhere. But I wasn’t prepared for the vast expanse around it, the barrows, the Cursus, the feeling that this area was a big deal millennia ago. A prehistoric Roman Forum, Mecca or Vatican City, of which no written clues have been left behind. If you are in England, I urge you to go.

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Bath, England

Bath is a city like no other. There is a deep sense of beauty in this Roman city, built of Jurassic stone. Modernity and great antiquity side by side with each other.

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Rhosilli Bay, Wales

I was here many years before, but I had forgotten how beautiful this place is. In the distance is Worm’s Head, a tidal island that’s connected to the mainland for a few hours each day.

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Silicon Valley, California

While Santa Clara valley is not the prettiest place, close by are areas of wonderful natural beauty. I was there in August, and one evening I took a trip up Sierra Road near Milpitas to watch the sun set over the valley. It was worth the drive.

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Shark Fin Cove, California

The Pacific Coast Highway is a favourite place of mine when I go to California. I always find something new on this route, and last August was no exception. This is Shark Fin Cove, not far from Santa Cruz.

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Comeragh Mountains, Waterford

The Gap is one of the most scenic walks in the Comeragh Mountains. Starting from the car park in the Nire Valley, it’s a relatively easy walk followed by a steep ascent to the plateau.

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Singapore

I was fortunate to be able to travel to Singapore again this year. It was so strange being in city so warm and humid when temperatures were in the single digits back home. After work, we would make a special effort to see different parts of the city. The area around the Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore River are particularly picturesque.

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So, quite a year last year, all said. Some great memories and interesting places visited.

Here’s to 2018.

It’s hopeless. There is no hope.

It’s hopeless imagining that white people will be the only people at the table, that other races will go back to doffing their caps to their supposed betters. That women will know their place and stay quiet behind their male superiors. That church authorities will rule over their wombs and their life choices. That love’s province must return exclusively to male with female.

There is no hope whatsoever that these days will return.

There is no hope that oil and coal will continue to power our lives and choke our lungs. No hope that we can persist in a myth of continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and our oceans with no consequences. No hope that polluters will not be judged harshly by history.

Those days are gone. They will never come back.

There is no hope that the young will simply fall silently in line with the edicts of a dying generation. There is no hope that the eager and educated across the world will remain content with second best. No hope that the way to compete with all this is to withdraw behind a high wall.

We are entering a new world. A world of racial and sexual equality. A world that increasingly sees itself as a single group of people, utterly dependent on the environment around them. When I look at teams of old rich religious white men wanting to set back the clocks, I see despair in their eyes. They are a minority of a minority of a minority of a minority, and they know it. Their only answer now is division, authoritarianism and bloody war. It’s pathetic. A futile attempt to turn back time.

I don’t know what the future will bring. I know that some nasty twists await as this story plays itself out. War, extremism, violence, repression, terrorism. It’s all there. It’s all possible. It’s not going to go smoothly.

But I know this. We’re not going back to the way it once was. It’s impossible. There’s not a hope in the world.

Ten Years Ago (2008)

This is the year where the Global Financial Crisis came to a head. After months of worries about the state of the global economy, investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, stock markets collapsed, inter-bank lending was frozen and governments around the world were forced to bailout failing banks. Barack Obama is elected President of the USA. The Large Hadron Collider is officially opened. SpaceX Falcon 1 became the first privately developed launch vehicle to achieve orbit. 11 mountaineers die while attempting to climb K2. Ireland: Brian Cowen is elected Taoiseach following the resignation of Bertie Ahern. Ireland votes No to Lisbon Treaty. The Irish Eurovision entry that year is a turkey.

Twenty Years Ago (1998)

US President Bill Clinton is impeached following revelations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky in the White House. The Second Congo War begins, killing upwards of five million people over the following years. India and Pakistan raise the geopolitical temperature by testing multiple nuclear weapons. Al Qaeda bombs US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hurricane Mitch kills 18,000 people after making landfall in Central America. The International Criminal Court comes into being; the United States and China vote against it. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is placed under house arrest in the UK. The first modules of the International Space Station are launched into space. Evidence is presented that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Google Inc. is founded. The movie Titanic wins 11 Oscars. Ireland: The Good Friday Agreement is signed, bringing to a close the 30 year Troubles in Northern Ireland. In August, dissident Republicans explode a bomb in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, killing 29 people. Death of “Father Ted” funnyman Dermot Morgan in London. Olympic swimmer Michelle Smith is banned for 4 years following drug tampering allegations.

Thirty Years Ago (1988)

The Soviet Union begins a program of perestroika (restructuring) which ultimately leads to its breakup. There are mass protests in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Estonia this year. 167 workers are killed in the Piper Alpha Platform Disaster in the North Sea. Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground. The Iran-Iraq War ends, having killed 1 million people in the previous 8 years. Terrorist organisation Al Qaeda is founded. The Space Shuttle flies again after a two year pause in operations following the Challenger disaster.  The Soviet Union launches a rival Buran space shuttle. It only makes one flight. George HW Bush is elected US President. Death of singer Roy Orbison. The Phantom of the Opera opens in Broadway. Ireland: British soldiers kill three IRA activists in Gibraltar. At their funeral in Belfast, UDA terrorist Michael Stone kills several mourners. During funeral procession, two British corporals are caught and killed by the IRA. The European Court of Human Rights makes a ruling against Ireland, asserting that its anti-homosexuality laws are unlawful.

Forty Years Ago (1978)

Pope John Paul I is elected and dies 33 days later. He is succeeded by Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope since 1523.  Spain formally ends 40 years of military dictatorship. The Jonestown massacre – over 900 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple cult take cyanide and die. Serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are arrested. Film director Roman Polanski flees the US after pleading guilty to sexual abuse. The first Global Positioning Satellite, NavStar 1, is launched. The first ascent of Mount Everest is made without supplementary oxygen. The first radio episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is aired on BBC Radio 4. First airing of the US soap opera “Dallas”. The film musical “Grease”, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, is released. Louise Brown becomes the world’s first baby born via IVF.  Ireland: Rose Dugdale and Eddie Gallagher become the first people in Ireland to marry in prison. Thousands of people march in Dublin in opposition to the building of civic offices in Wood Quay, a historical Viking site. Ireland’s second TV channel, RTE 2, is launched. Cork Regional Hospital (now Cork University Hospital) is opened. Dublin Institute of Technology is opened.

Fifty Years Ago (1968)

The Vietnam War is in full swing. The North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, a sustained wave of surprise attacks against South Vietnamese and US allied forces.  Reports of atrocities, including the My Lai massacre and the execution of Nguyen Van Lem, lead to widespread dissatisfaction in the US about the war. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in April. Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy is assassinated in June. Richard Nixon becomes US President in November. The Prague Spring: liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia are suppressed by a massive show of force from Soviet-allied countries. A massive wave of strikes and protests hits France, momentarily bringing the country to a halt. Enoch Powell makes his Rivers of Blood speech. Intel Corporation is founded. Premieres of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes and Oliver!. Apollo 8 enters orbit around the Moon, taking the iconic Earthrise shot. Ireland: Aer Lingus flight 712, en route from Cork to London, crashes off the coast of Wexford. A civil rights march in Derry is violently broken up by police, kickstarting The Troubles over the following years. John F Kennedy Arboretum, the University of Ulster, Coleraine and Cork County Hall are opened.

Sixty Years Ago (1958)

The European Economic Community (present day European Union) comes into being. The Great Leap Forward begins in China. Millions die of famine from subsequent agricultural and economic mismanagement. France’s Fifth Republic is established. 22 people, including 8 members of the Manchester United team, are killed when their plane crashes in Munich. Imre Nagy, leader of the Hungarian uprising, is executed. Britain’s first motorway is opened. The Lego brick is patented. NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration are founded. America launches its first satellite, Explorer 1.  Frank Kilby demonstrates the first working integrated circuit (aka silicon chip). The Jim Henson Company (Muppets Inc.) is established. The Lituya Bay megatsunami occurs in Alaska, reaching a height of 525 metres. Ireland: The world record for the fastest mile is broken by Herb Elliott in Santry Stadium. Brendan Behan publishes Borstal Boy. It is quickly banned in Ireland. The Harcourt Street railway line in Dublin is closed.

Seventy Years Ago (1948)

The Marshall Plan is signed by Harry Truman, providing 13 billion dollars in war aid to 16 countries. The Soviet Union blockades western Berlin, leading to a US-lead airlift of supplies into Berlin for most of the following year. Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated. Communists take power in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union builds its first ballistic missile. Israel declares independence and is immediately invaded by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka gain independence from Britain. South Korea and North Korea are established as separate political entities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is formally adopted. Apartheid rule begins in South Africa. British Railways and Britain’s National Health Service are established. The World Health Organisation comes into being. Ireland: John A Costello is elected Taoiseach. Ireland passes the Republic of Ireland Act, officially severing all ties to the British state.

Eighty Years Ago (1938)

Adolf Hitler assumes overall control over the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht). German troops occupy Austria. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns from talks with Hitler in Munich, declaring “peace in our time”. The following day, Nazi Germany invades CzechoslovakiaKristallnacht: Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues are looted and vandalised across Germany, with thousands of Jewish men arrested. Vast reserves of oil are discovered in Saudi Arabia. Chinese Nationalists flood the Yellow River in an attempt to halt the Japanese Invasion of China. Otto Hahn observes nuclear fission in uranium. Superman first appears in American comic books. The Beano comic appears in the UK. The ballpoint pen is invented by Lazlo Biro. DuPont Company announces a new synthetic material called “nylon“. A massive meteorite explodes over Chicora, Pennsylvania. Orson Welles’ radio show “War of the Worlds” is aired, to considerable consternation. South African fishermen catch a coelacanth – an ancient fish long believed extinct. Ireland: Douglas Hyde becomes Ireland’s first president. The Royal Navy hands over to the Government of Ireland the Treaty Ports of Spike Island (Cobh), Bearhaven and Lough Swilly.  Douglas Corrigan flies from New York to Ireland; supposedly he had made a navigational mistake having intended to fly to California instead.

Ninety Years Ago (1928)

Alexander Fleming accidentally discovers penicillin. John Logie Baird transmits a television signal from London to New York. New York station W2XB pioneers regular television programmes. The voting age for women in the UK is reduced from 30 to 21. Josef Stalin introduces mass collectivisation in the Soviet Union. The first flight across the Pacific Ocean is made from California to Australia. Herbert Hoover is elected US president. Ireland: The first non-stop fixed wing transatlantic flight from Europe to North America takes off from Baldonnell airfield. For the first time, Irish pound notes and Irish coinage are introduced. The Gate Theatre in Dublin is founded.

One Hundred Years Ago (1918)

This is the year of the 1918 Flu Pandemic. It wreaks havoc across the globe, eventually killing an estimated 50 million people. World War I comes to a close. After the withdrawal of Russia from the war and the failure of the German Spring Offensive on the Western Front, Allied forces launch a counter-offensive that breaks through the Hindenburg Line. German sailors mutiny in Kiel. On November 11, Germany signs an armistice agreement. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is broken up. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary become independent republics. Moscow is reinstated as the capital of Russia. The Tsar of Russia is executed along with his family. Britain assumes government over Palestine. Women over 30 years old are allowed to vote in the UK. Iceland declares independence from Denmark. The Royal Air Force is established. Death in jail of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who sparked World War I. The first pilotless drone, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, is flown. The brightest nova of the 20th Century (V603 Aquilae) is observed. Ireland: US troopship SS Tuscania is torpedoed off the coast of Antrim. There is a general strike against conscription in Ireland. The RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors, is sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of Cork. Death of John Redmond, Irish Nationalist leader. The Irish mailboat RMS Leinster is torpedoed – 500 people are killed. The British Government in Ireland issues a proclamation banning Sinn Fein, the Gaelic League, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers. Sinn Féin win a landslide victory the Irish General Election. They promise to set up a government in Dublin instead of taking their seats in Westminster. Constance Markievicz becomes the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1818)

US General Andrew Jackson invades Florida in the First Seminole War. The 49th line of latitude North (49th Parallel) becomes the official line of demarcation between the United States and British North America (Canada). Illinois becomes the 21st State of America. Chile is declared an independent republic. The British East India Company defeats the Maratha Empire, effectively resulting in British domination of India. Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein is published. The Christmas Carol “Silent Night” is composed. Karl Marx is born in Trier, Germany. 1818 Occultation: the planet Venus moves in front of Jupiter as seen from Earth. Such a phenomenon will not occur again until 2065.  Ireland: Ireland is in the grip of a severe typhus epidemic. Down Cathedral is restored. The General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street, Dublin, is opened.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1718)

The US city of New Orleans is founded. Pirates Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Stede Bonnet wreak havoc in the Caribbean. By the end of the year, they are both dead. The War of the Quadruple Alliance is declared when Britain, France, the Low Countries and Austria join together to quell Spanish territorial ambitions. The Hapsburg Kingdom of Serbia is proclaimed under the governorship of Johann O’Dwyer. François-Marie Arouet adopts the name “Voltaire”. Death William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Edmund Halley discovers the proper motion of fixed stars. The first textbook on probability theory is published by Abraham de Moivre. Ireland: Scots-Irish migrations to America begin. The Jervis Street Hospital is founded in Dublin. It is now part of the Jervis Street Shopping Centre.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1618)

Battle lines in the Thirty Years War are drawn after Catholic representatives of Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria are thrown out of a window by a Protestant mob in Prague Castle. The war will devastate central Europe, resulting in over eight million deaths. Sir Walter Raleigh is beheaded in Westminster after his men attacked a Spanish outpost in Guyana. He was executed as this incident broke a pardon agreement previously agreed with King James I. Three comets appear in the sky this year. Johannes Kepler discovers his Third Law of Planetary Motion. Ireland: The Plantation of Ulster continues.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1518)

King of Spain Charles V grants permission to send 4000 African slaves to the New World. This marks the start of what was to become a vast transatlantic slave trade. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses are translated into German. Within weeks, his writings have spread across Europe. A dancing plague hits the Strasbourg region. Major European powers sign a non-aggression pact in response to growing Ottoman power. Spanish Conquistador Juan de Grijalva lands in Mexico. The first epidemic of smallpox hits the New World. Albrecht Dürer etched “The Cannon“, his largest etching. Ireland: The young Archduke Ferdinand visits Kinsale and describes in vivid detail the strange attire of the local Gaelic townspeople.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1418)

The Council of Constance comes to a close. This brought the papacy together again under one pope (Martin V), based in Rome. In the Hundred Years War, Paris is captured by the Duke of Burgundy as more of France succumbs to English rule. The Vietnamese Emperor Lê Lợi leads a major revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. Chinese admiral Zheng He reaches Malindi in Kenya. Filippo Brunelleschi wins the competition to build the Dome of Florence Cathedral by balancing an egg on smooth marble. The island of Porto Santo in Madeira is discovered by Portuguese explorers. Ireland: The Great Book of Lecan is completed.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1318)

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland re-takes the strategic town of Berwick-on-Tweed after a long siege. A man purporting to be King Edward II turns up at royal court. He is arrested, blames his pet cat, and is executed. Ireland: King Robert’s brother Edward the Bruce is killed at the Battle of Faughart in Co. Louth. This puts an end to the devastating Bruce Campaign in Ireland.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1218)

Armies of the Fifth Crusade attack the Egyptian city of Damietta. The central Asian empire of Qara Khitai is defeated by Genghis Khan.

Nine Hundred Years Ago (1118)

The Muslim Almoravids lose control of the Spanish city of Zaragoza to Christian armies. Henry I of England finds himself in deep trouble in Normandy, when many of his barons rise up against him. Death of Baldwin I, first crusader king of Jerusalem. John II Komnemos becomes the Byzantine Emperor.

One Thousand Years Ago (1018)

King Cnut the Great accedes to the Danish throne, bringing the Kingdoms of Denmark and England together. Malcolm II defeats the Northumbrians to become the first king of a united Scotland. The First Bulgarian Empire ceases to exist – it will now form part of the Byzantine Empire. The Battle of the River Bug takes places between the Duke of Poland and the Prince of Kiev. Count Dirk III of Holland beats a much larger Holy Roman Empire army at the Battle of Vlaardingen.

One Thousand One Hundred Years Ago (AD 918)

The Kingdom of Goryeo was founded. This kingdom gives its name to the modern name “Korea”. Vikings under Ragnall ua Ímair defeat a Scottish army in Northumbria. Æthelflæd, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, dies in a battle with the Vikings in Tamworth. Ireland: Sitric Caoch the Viking becomes king of Dublin.

One Thousand Three Hundred Years Ago (AD 718)

The Second Siege of Constantinople ends in disaster for the Arab Caliphate. Pelagius founds the Christian kingdom of Asturias in Spain. Charles Martel “The Hammer” becomes de facto king of the Franks.

One Thousand Four Hundred Years Ago (AD 618)

Emperor Gaozu founds the Tang Dynasty in China. Songtsen Gampo founds the Tibetan Empire. Ireland: Death of St Kevin of Glendalough.

One Thousand Five Hundred Years Ago (AD 518)

The illiterate Justin I founds the Justinian Dynasty in Byzantium after the death of Anastasius I.

One Thousand Six Hundred Years Ago (AD 418)

Theodoric I becomes the King of the Visigoths. The Council of Carthage confirms St Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin.

One Thousand Nine Hundred Years Ago (AD 118)

Building work starts on the Pantheon in Rome. A mural of a man with a wheelbarrow is painted in Sichuan, China. It is the earliest known depiction of this device.

Two Thousand Years Ago (AD 18)

Emperor Tiberias grants Germanicus command over the Eastern Roman Empire.

 

Tambura

Based on the wonderful Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch. Script whipped from MontyPython.net   (then devilishly adjusted).

(a customer walks in the door.)
Customer: Good Morning.
Owner: Good morning, Sir. Welcome to the National Brexit Emporium!
Customer: Ah thank you my good man.
Owner: What can I do for you, Sir?
C: Well, I was, uh, sitting in the public library on Thurmon Street just now, skimming through ‘Rogue Herrys’ by Horace Walpole, and I suddenly came over all British.
O: British, sir?
C: Perfidious.
O: Eh?
C: ‘Ee I were all ‘angry-like!
O: Ah, angry!
C: In a nutshell. And I thought to myself, ‘a little fermented Brexit will do the trick’, so, I curtailed my Walpoling activites, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some Brexity comestibles!
O: Come again?
C: I Want To Leave The EU.
O: Oh, I thought you were complaining about the Bulgarian tambura player!
C: Oh, heaven forbid: I am one who delights in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse!
O: Sorry?
C: ‘Ooo, Ah lahk a nice tune, ‘yer forced to!
O: So he can go on playing, can he?
C: Most certainly! At least until 2019. Now then, some Brexit please, my good man.
O: (lustily) Certainly, sir. What would you like?
C: Well, eh, how about a little 350 Million a Week.
O: I’m, a-fraid we’re fresh out of 350 Million, sir.
C: Oh, never mind, how are you on Negotiating Free Trade Agreements with the rest of the world?
O: I’m afraid we never have that at the end of the week, sir, we get it fresh on Monday.
C: Tish tish. No matter. Well, stout yeoman, four ounces of British Empire 2.0, if you please.
O: Ah! It’s beeeen on order, sir, for two weeks. Was expecting it this morning.
C: ‘T’s Not my lucky day, is it? Aah, Have you some Impact Assessments?
O: Sorry, sir?
C: Financial Viability, Strategic Studies, that sort of thing?
O: Normally, sir, yes. Today the van broke down.
C: Ah. Agricultural assessments?
O: Sorry.
C: Regional assessments? Disadvantaged Areas?
O: No.
C: Any Supply Chain impacts, per chance?
O: No.
C: Military? Aerospace?
O: No.
C: Academic cooperation?
O: No.
C: Banking Sector? Insurance? Capital Markets?
O: No.
C: Fishing?
O: No.
C: Medicines and Biotech?
O: (pause) No.
C: Automotive?
O: No.
C: Extractive and Mining?
O: No.
C: Telecommunications, IT Sector, Information Security, Machine Learning, Media, Parcel and Bulk Transportation, Microelectronics, Nano-engineering, Quantum Computing?
O: No.
C: Horticultural, perhaps?
O: Ah! We have Horticultural, yessir.
C: (suprised) You do! Excellent.
O: Yessir. It’s ah… it’s a bit runny.
C: Oh, I like it runny.
O: Well,.. It’s very runny, actually, sir.
C: No matter. Fetch hither la Brexite de la Belle Bruxelles! Mmmwah!
O: I…think it’s a bit runnier than you’ll like it, sir.
C: I don’t care how fucking runny it is. Hand it over with all speed.
O: Oooooooooohhh……..! (pause)
C: What now?
O: The cat’s eaten it.
C: (pause) Has he?
O: She, sir.
(pause)
C: Open Skies Agreements?
O: No.
C: Access to High Skills Labour Pools?
O: No.
C: Gibraltar?
O: No.
C: Scottish Independence Referendums?
O: No.
C: European Cities of Culture?
O: No sir.
C: You… do have some Brexit, don’t you?
O: (brightly) Of course, sir. It’s a Brexit shop, sir. We’ve got-
C: No no… don’t tell me. I’m keen to guess.
O: Fair enough.
C: Uuuuuh, Enhanced Border Controls.
O: Yes?
C: Ah, well, I’ll have some of that!
O: Oh! I thought you were talking to me, sir. Mister David Enhanced Border Controls Davis, that’s my name.
(pause)
C: Security Co-operation?
O: Uh, not as such.
C: Uuh, Extradition Agreements?
O: No
C: Environmental Standards?
O: No
C: Pharmaceutical Testing?
O: No
C: Children’s Soothers?
O: No
C: Gastric Flushes?
O: No
C: Anal Fissures?
O: No
C: Transylvanian Botulism Brexits?
O: Not -today-, sir, no.
(pause)
C: Aah, how about Customs Agreements?
O: Well, we don’t get much call for it around here, sir.
C: Not much ca–It’s the single most popular Brexit in the world!
O: Not ’round here, sir.
C: (slight pause) and what IS the most popular Brexit ’round hyah?
O: ‘Illchester, sir.
C: IS it.
O: Oh, yes, it’s staggeringly popular in this district, squire.
C: Is it.
O: It’s our number one best seller, sir!
C: I see. Uuh… ‘Illchester, eh?
O: Right, sir.
C: All right. Okay. ‘Have you got any?’ He asked, expecting the answer ‘no’.
O: I’ll have a look, sir.. nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnno.
C: It’s not much of a Brexit shop, is it?
O: Finest in the district sir!
C: (annoyed) Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, please.
O: Well, it’s so clean, sir!
C: It’s certainly uncontaminated by Brexits.
O: (brightly) You haven’t asked me about the Irish Border, sir.
C: Would it be worth it?
O: Could be.
C: Have you –SHUT THAT BLOODY TAMBURA OFF!
O: Told you sir…
C: (slowly) Have you got any Irish Border Agreements?
O: No.
C: Figures. Predictable, really I suppose. It was an act of purest optimism to have posed the question in the first place……. Tell me:
O: Yessir?
C: (deliberately) Have you in fact got any Brexit here at all?
O: Yes,sir. Brexit means Brexit.
C: Really?
(pause)
O: No. Not really, sir.
C: You haven’t.
O: Nosir. Not a scrap. I was deliberately wasting your time, sir.
C: Well I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to sack you.
O: Right-0, sir.
(The customer takes out a ballot and votes out the shopkeeper)
C: What a senseless waste of human life.

Inspired by this senseless waste of human life.

Airport arrivals, the point of transition. From a world of cramped spaces, endless queues and tiresome inactivity, now life can begin again. It is a place where worlds come together. In this spot, each day, a thousand mini-stories get told.

Witness the anticipation, the young woman hiding behind the sign. The father and daughter wearing outrageous, unkempt wigs. The small children sidling up to the doors, furtively looking down into the hallway. The expectant stares, the worried looks, the checking and re-checking of panels, counting the flights that have landed. What’s keeping them? Why is it taking so long?

Then the joy, the elation. The moment of recognition. Passivity suddenly replaced by pure joy. The children racing around, soon to be whisked into the arms of a loved one. The young woman jumping from behind the sign. The cries and grasps of delight. The older traveller feeling like a small helpless child, now reunited with a person long missing from their lives.

The embraces. The looks of sheer love and relief. The passionate kisses. The tears. For a moment, all is well with the world. For a moment, emotions are laid bare, differences forgotten. The importance of these people, being here, in this place, at this time. Nothing else counts.

The grabbing of the bags, the gifts handed over, the hands clenched tightly around each other. The small children raised aloft, like tiny trophies after the journey. Here, this way. Let’s go. You are with us now.

The story ends, to be replaced in seconds with another tale. Then another. And another. The arrivals hall. If there is such a thing as magic, you will find it here.

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