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Why are you

Upon this Rock magazine is published by EuropeAxess Media, Gibraltar. Editor Fr. Stuart Chipolina: Production Editor: A. Sargent Cover: Joint Stamp Issue First Day Cover graphics by Stephen Perera

To advertise: This magazine is hand delivered to homes, churches, hospitals and many businesses around Gibraltar every month. Copies are sent abroad far and wide, to the Falklands, North of Scotland, USA and Malta. To discuss your advertising requirements call Tel: 200 79335. Church Groups or Charities: If you would like to have an article considered for publication, please send it by e-mail to the production editor at the address above. Enquire for details of sending high resolution digital images to illustrate your article.

The first person to hate his brother was Cain. God warned Cain: ‘Why are you angry? Sin is couching at the door; it’s desire is for you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:6-7). Sin doesn’t just happen; it first grows as a seed in one’s heart. Unless it is mastered, by God’s grace, it grows like a weed and chokes the life out of us. Jesus addressed the issue of keeping the commandments with his disciples. The scribes and Pharisees equated righteousness with satisfying the demands of the law. Jesus showed them how short they had come. Jesus points to the heart as the seat of desire, choice,

Editorial is selected by EuropeAxess Media in liaison with the Catholic Diocese of Gibraltar. Neither of these parties is responsible for the accuracy of the information contained herein, nor do the views and opinions expressed herein necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either party. Advertisers are not endorsed by virtue of advertising in this magazine. EuropeAxess Media reserves the right to refuse space to any submissions or advertisements.


Do you allow sin or anger to master your life? and intention. Unless forbidden and evil desires are uprooted and cut-out, the heart will be poisoned and the body become a slave to sin and passion. Jesus illustrates his point with the example of the commandment to not kill. Murder first starts in the heart as the seed of forbidden anger that grows within until it springs into words and actions against one’s brother or neighbour. This is a selfish anger that broods and is long-lived, that nurses a grudge and keeps wrath warm, and that refuses to die. Anger in the heart as well as anger in speech or action are equally forbidden. The Lord Jesus commands by grace – take away

u angry?

the anger in your heart and there will be no murder – whether in thought, speech, or deed. What is the antidote for overcoming anger and rage? Mercy, forbearance, and kindness spring from a heart full of love and forgiveness. God has forgiven us and he calls us to extend mercy and forgiveness towards those who cause us harm and grief. In the cross of Jesus we see the supreme

reconciled quickly. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me. When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends. May I win no victory that harms either me or my opponent. May I reconcile friends who are angry with one another. May I never fail a friend who is in danger. When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain. May I respect myself. May I always keep tame that

example of love and the power for overcoming evil. Only God’s love and grace can set our hearts and minds free from the tyranny of wounded pride and spiteful revenge. Do you harbour any anger towards another person? And are you quick to be reconciled when a rupture has been caused in your relationships? Ask God to set you free and to fill your heart and mind with his love and truth. Eusebius, a 3rd century church father, offered the following prayer as instruction for his fellow Christians: “May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest me: and if I do, may I be

C O N T E N T S 2. Fr. Stuart on Anger Management. 4. Glendon Martinez talks about the Gibraltar and and Vatican City joint stamp issue. 5. Our Lady of Europe Jubilee Competitions 6. Worrier or Warrior? How to handle pain and fear. 8. Christian Family Movement Wedding Anniversary Celbtations 9. First time ever, the photos of all CFM celebration

which rages within me. May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow in their footsteps.” Do you seek to live peaceably and charitably with all? God Bless you Fr Stuart

participants are reproduced. 10. No God in schools, Ben Stein looks at the logic behind denying God a place in society. 11. Designer of the Year Competition 12. Suzanne Gordon tells the story of how she became a Catholic. 14. Anne Mesilio explores the origins of Irish Riverdance as we approach St. Patrick’s Day.


Unprecedented event marks 700 years of Our Lady of Europe

Gibraltar & Vatican City Stamps Glendon Martinez, Director of the Gibraltar Philatelic Bureau, talks about the joint issue Our Lady of Europe Jubilee Year stamp.

“If ever I was going to actually advise you to have a particular set in your collection this is it.” Glendon Martinez, Director of the GPB continues, “The 700th Anniversary of the devotion to Our Lady of Europe is being celebrated in Gibraltar to the highest levels and it will all become tangible with the release of this trully historic stamp issue as the

continent of Africa. Gibraltar was under Moorish occupancy when the Spaniards recaptured the Rock in 1462. They converted a small mosque into a Christian shrine in honour of Our Lady as Patroness of Europe, with devout intention of consecrating to God, through Mary, the whole continent, from a place of prayer and worship at its southernmost point. The Spaniards built a large chapel at right angles to the mosque’s east wall and the whole area became the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe. Glendon continues “This issue has been made possible thanks to the assistance and support of the Gibraltar Government and the Gibraltar Catholic Church who have been involved at all planning and development stages. This issue is the first indication of the outstanding issues lined up for you this year, The credit crunch just promises doom and gloom but we’ll do as much as we can to make it a great 2009.” Bishop Charles Caruana said of

Vatican has come on board with us to create a joint stamp issue”. said Glendon. The set is composed of two sheetlets with four stamps depicting the priceless, hand-carved ancient statue that resides in the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe at Europa Point, the most southern area of the Rock, looking out to the Strait of Gibraltar and the










the issue “It is with immense pride and joy that we celebrate the 700th anniversary of the devotion to Our Lady of Europe in Gibraltar. The Vatican has joined us in our celebrations by producing this stamp issue of Our Lady of Europe with us. This unctuous gesture is both historic and without precedence.”

Jubilee Arts Competitions

Open to anyone, with a Lourdes Pilgrimage for two and 4 Netbooks to be won. Our Lady of Europe Art and Drama Jubilee Competitions are aimed at fostering creativity through participation in and appreciation of the arts. Art, Word and Music entries may be invited to contribute to the Jubilee Celebrations, in print or performance Winning entries will be exhibited at the Catholic Community Centre then at the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe exhibition hall which is open to the public free of charge throughout the year, on the website: ourladyofeurope. net and published in the Shrine Messenger and Upon this Rock magazines Categories:

1. Art: Painting, Photography and Crafts. 2. Words: Writing, Poetry, Song Lyrics 3. FILM: DVD, Powerpoint, New Media 4. MUSIC: Own Composition, Vocal, Instrumental. Entry forms available at the Catholic Multimedia Centre at the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned.Main Street from 1st February 2009. The closing date for the Art, Music and Word competitions is the 23rd of March 2009, but the Film category has been given an extended period to 1st June 2009

The closing date for the Art, Music and Word competition categories is the 23rd of March 2009!

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Hasin your been turned upside down? Life thelife Spirit

J. Alcantara

Worrier or Warrior? On putting pain and fears into a balanced perspective. I mourn the death of a dear friend, gone so quickly, long before his time; my heart is pierced by the suffering around an even younger friend, battling through his final days; I feel the depth of pain in parents at the sudden loss of their daughter … “ la cuesta de Enero !”.. dear God !! I retreat and sit in the secure shelter that is my home and switch on the TV news. There’s a big, angry, heated debate going on about a proposed third runway at Heathrow in London. It’s a huge project destined to take a whole generation to complete … dates are bandied about .. now hold on!! However much medical science might progress, I’ll be dead long before it’s finished ! That realization is sudden and sober-

are reminded of Martha and Mary. Martha “distracted with all the serving”, missing the point, missing the opportunity. “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things,” chides Jesus gently. Sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to Him speak “ it is Mary who has chosen the better part ..” (Luke 10 vv 39 -42) Is that my only option ? to be a constant worrier running from life ? St Paul reminds us through the Corinthians (1 v16) “do you not realize that you are a temple of God with?” Truly !! Indeed, he exhorts us to be not “worriers” but “warriors”, taking up “all God’s armour” (Ephesians 6 v13) refusing to “go on living the emptyheaded life that the gentiles live .” (Ephesians 4 v 17 ) It is a matter of perception and faith. I remember once visiting an old student of mine who had just lost a leg and might lose the other. A lad who had borne a heavier cross than most in his young life, I stood beside his bed, full of pity masked as compassion. He gave me a double lesson I won’t

ing. Death and dying is not just in someone else’s patch .. it is very much a part of mine !! “Master, do you not care ? We are lost..” (Mark 4 v 39) In the words of Psalm 39 : “ so now, Lord, what am I to hope for ?..” A vision of life draining away … suddenly the worries … the anxieties. Whether we choose the cocooning of life away from all perceived risks and dangers .. or the “eat, drink, and be merry .” syndrome, hogging all material life, either route make us selfmade prisoners , selfish and egoistic in the paralysing framework of fear. A corrupt and corrupting vision of life, dulling awareness, missing its riches, “we played the pipes for you, and you wouldn’t dance” (Matthew 11 v17) We


readily forget. He was actively more concerned for a fellow patient’s distress and fear than any of his own; and actually looking forward to seeing the last of his other leg and the end of pain ! Therein lies a secret, focus away from oneself brings balance and peace . He thanked God he could see an end to his suffering ! St Paul’s is not a call to borrow battle fatigues from the Gibraltar Regiment and go around assaulting souls with incense burners. This war is much more difficult and subtle than that “for it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle” (Ephesians 6 v 12). Our “battle orders” are clear; we are, first, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength” and, second: to “love your neighbour as

yourself” (Mark 11 v30) Otherwise, like St. Paul’s gentiles, we remain intellectually “in the dark … estranged from the life of God “ (Ephesians 4 v 18) There are many ways a Christian “warrior” can act but mostly, and most effectively, in the way he conducts his life. A personal, committed testimony to a life full of the joyful hope in the promise of Our Lord Jesus Christ. An “eagerness to spread the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6 :15) There are so many options and opportunities to demonstrate love for neighbour .. charities .. hospitals .. prisons … centres … These actions need not be dramatic or all-consuming. Enough that parents bring up their children in knowledge and love of God; that sick and infirm family

Registration forms available in the Bookshop members are cared for; that our daily routines become an offering of service to God. Like my old student, it is in caring for others, looking outside ourselves, that we put our own pain and fears into a balanced perspective. A perspective energized and constantly renewed by the Sacraments, reminding us that the Spirit of God is living in us. “ Why (then) are you so frightened ? Have you still no faith ?” (Mark 4 v 39). We plead at Holy Mass in the Lord’s Prayer: “In your mercy, keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Each day the “warrior” goes in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Notes on the illustration: This is a poster from the film ‘Peaceful Warrior’. Dan Millman (Scott Melchowiz) is a talented, yet arrogant college gymnast who seems to have it all. He gets good grades, has disposable relationships and is trying out for the Olympics. But he still wakes up in cold sweats at night. His world is turned upside down after he meets a mysterious stranger he refers to as Socrates (Nick Nolte). Socrates seems to hold the power to tap into new worlds of strength and understanding. When Dan suffers from a serious injury, Socrates and a mysterious young woman, help him to realize that strength of spirit is what leads a man to his true greatness. He learns that he has to let go of the person he thought he was and start living in the moment by appreciating the journey and accepting his lack of control over the future.

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Christian Family Movement letters from the participants

Wedding Anniversary Celebrations On the 23rd January 2009 the Cathedral was once again packed to capacity with 38 married couples celebrating their wedding anniversary together with close relatives and friends. These included 2 couples celebrating their 64th and 68th wedding anniversaries. It is a great blessing and very encouraging to see so many people from all walks of life coming together to renew their marriage vows with great enthusiasm and determination, witnessing by their perseverance in married life, how they continue to show the strength of the marriage bond when lived out as God meant it from the beginning.

Dear Sir/Madam Renewal of Marriage Vows Celebrations On behalf of my parents, Ruggie and Violet Garcia, who currently reside in Mount Alvernia, we would like to express our sincere thanks for organising a lovely service held last Saturday at St. Mary the Crowned. Our Parents enjoyed the whole celebration and were overcome with emotion at the realisation of having accomplished sixty-eight years of married life, and are still very much together. We would be very grateful if you could please pass our sincere thanks to everyone who made this day possible for my parents and family. We would also like to thank you for the sterling work you do all year round.

At a time when there is so much speculation about broken marriages, one has only to attend this marvellous and exemplary reunion in Church, to perceive the blissfulness of the traditional marriage even when faced with the difficulties and threats directed at the Family in today’s Society. Many thanks to our Guests from the various Apostolic groups who participated on the night. Our special thanks to all the celebrants, family and friends for coming along and making this event a memorable one for all concerned. We shall continue to pray and work in support of all the families.

Best Regards Yvette Olivera and family Subject: re: Wedding Anniversary Celebration Father Charles, We wish to thank you, his Lordship the Bishop and the Christian Family Movement members for organising such a wonderful and well organized celebration; we had a wonderful evening from the start of the service at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned through to the drinks/refreshments at the Catholic Community Centre. It was a memorable evening and we look forward to celebrating our 50th God Willing. May God Bless You All , Best Rgds Freddie Becerra


Mr & Mrs Garcia


Mr & Mrs Collinson

Mr & Mrs Galliano

Mr & Mrs GOLT

Mr & Mrs Jurado

Mr & Mrs Matto

Mr & Mrs MOSS

Mr & Mrs RISSO

Mr & Mrs Santos

Mr & Mrs sene

Mr & Mrs alcantara

Mr & Mrs barnes

Mr & Mrs Barragan

Mr & Mrs Becerra

Mr & Mrs Bugeja

Mr & Mrs Calamaro

Mr & Mrs caruana

Mr & Mrs conway

Mr & Mrs escalona

Mr & Mrs Gaetto

Mr & Mrs gerada

Mr & Mrs jones

Mr & Mrs lima

Mr & Mrs lopez

Mr & Mrs Manning

Mr & Mrs Nu単ez

Mr & Mrs riley

Mr & Mrs Vi単ales

Mr & Mrs tavares

Mr & Mrs catania

Mr & Mrs charvetto

Mr & Mrs earle

Mr & Mrs parody

Mr & Mrs pitto

Mr & Mrs schembri

Mr & Mrs sivers

Mr & Mrs vaughan

Friends and family join the celebrations


From the e-mail

No God in schools The following was written by Ben Stein and read by him on the ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ programme. My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees... I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me

in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a crib, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away. I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being


Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat. Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to. In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking. Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding hurricane Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe

Ben Stein on CBS TV God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’ In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbour as yourself. And we

Anne Mesilio said OK. Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said OK. Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves. Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’ Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-

Design Competition

mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace. Are you laughing yet? Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it. Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us. Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in. My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully, Ben Stein

Faces invite applicants who wish to compete in the Designer of the Year Competition 2010. Closing date for entrants is 30th April 2009 All profits from the event will go towards Faces’ aims, which are to benefit Gibraltar resident children and young adults facing critical or chronic illnesses. This is an opportunity for the fashion-conscious and talented people of Gibraltar to compete for coveted prizes. Ages 14-16 Young Designer Of the Year. Ages 17 + Designer of the Year. This year there is an exiting opportunity to compete in a separate category “Design a Gibraltar National Costume” This can be entered by anybody and you do not have to enter the main competition to be part of this. (Please note this is for competition purposes only)


Designer of the Year 1ST Prize (judged on Design) £1000 and a short course at the London School Of Fashion. Other minor prizes per category. Young Designer of the Year. Sewing Machine Young Designer Trophy If you would like to compete please contact e-mail info@ or call 54007757 /20070744

The History of a Local Charity. For more info see the new website Suzanne Gordon

How I bec Suzanne is the daughter of the Major and Mrs Douglas who used to live in Convent Place.

“ I was born in 1924, in Crouch End, Middlesex. Because my father was a practising Anglican, I was baptised in the parish church. My mother was a Swissborn ‘Protestante’ and we spoke French at home because we had a Swiss nanny. Later on, after my father who worked in shipping in the City was relocated to Gibraltar, I learned to speak Spanish too. My father had driven my mother, my nanny and myself overland to Gibraltar in 1930, in his brand new Austin 16., leaving my eldest brother in England at boarding school. Life was easy in Gibraltar. I attended a private nursery for several years then , in 1935, my parents decided I should attend formal school. The main educators in Gibraltar were the Christian Brothers and the Loreto nuns whose convent I joined. I loved them and think they loved me but I was not entirely one of the group. Half the girls were Spanish boarders and, I felt very happy with their religion. We said the Our Father and Hail Mary every morning but when it came to Mass I had to stay in the corridor and get on with my reading. I would sit happily listening to the hymns wafting down to me.


During out time at the school everyone was preparing to be a Child Of Mary. I tagged on, not really being noticed until one week before the grand ceremony when Mother Superior sent for me. She told me that she very much regretted that because I was not a Catholic I could not be a Child of Mary. I found this deeply disappointing. As well as the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, Gibraltar has an Anglican Cathedral dedicated to the Holy Trinity. This was where in 1938 I was confirmed. In 1939 war broke out. The military became active and in June 1940 the powers that be decided it would be prudent to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Gibraltar. This caused great hardship to some 15,000 evacuees who were sent first to Casablanca ( a French Protectorate), then recalled when France collapsed, then afterwards dispersed to Madeira, Jamaica, England and Northern Ireland. In common with many others, our family home was requisitioned by the army. I went to school one day to be greeted by Sister Laughton and told that the school was closed for the duration.


Anne Mesilio

came a Catholic My father remained on the Rock but our family split up and it was in 1946 before we could all be back together in Gibraltar. I found out then that the only bomb to have fallen on the Rock had landed on the Loreto Convent, destroying part of it and killing Sister Laughton. In 1952 I met Roy Gordon who was serving with the Royal Air Force in Gibraltar, who would become my husband. He was due to return to England in less than a year, so ours was whirlwind romance. A cradle Catholic, he said we must get married in the Catholic Church and the Catholic Chaplain to the Forces agreed to marry us. Just one week before our wedding we were called to the military hospital where the Chaplain was seriously ill. He would not be able to marry us after all ! He gave us a letter and told us to take it to the Bishop immediately. At the Bishop’s residence, when we told the secretary who opened the door that we had an urgent letter for His Lordship, he said, ‘Just a minute’, and disappeared, reappearing moments later to say, ‘Well it’s tea time. His Lordship wonders if you would have tea with him?’ Bishop Richard Fitzgerald put our letter to one side, saying, ‘Let’s get on with tea!’ and we chatted about this and that for about half an hour until eventually , my fiancée interrupted to ask about our wedding. The Bishop said, ‘Oh don’t worry about that. I’ll marry you myself’ which is how we came to be married on 19th February in the Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned. I had had hardly any instruc-

tion but had promised to bring up our children as Catholics. My school days had been happy and the Catholic faith had been at the back of my mind for many years. Roy was then posted to St Morgan in Cornwall, beginning an unsatisfactory period as far as my religion was concerned. I accompanied him to Mass every Sunday in Newquay and he told the Chaplain at St. Morgan that I wanted to become a Catholic. The Chaplain said ‘How nice’ and forgot all about it. Within a year we had our first baby and still the Chaplain did not appear. In June 1954 because I was in the unhappy situation of not being able to take communion, Roy arranged for me to be baptised in a chapel at Laheren, Cornwall, attached to a convent of enclosed nuns. No one was present apart from Roy and myself, the priest and a Catholic colleague of my husband. My only memory of the occasion was that it was very dark and we had to return home quickly to relieve the baby sitter. I felt much happier now that I

could receive Communion. For Roy’s next posting in Northwood, we were allocated a hiring in Wendover where the little church of St Ann was served by the Dutch Fathers of the Sacred heart from Great Missenden, who were over here to convert us heathens! They were very kind to me and the parish priest said I should be confirmed. Not wanting to embarrass me by making me join a group of young people, he arranged for me to be confirmed in the Confirmation service held once a month in Westminster Cathedral. At that time, 1955, there were many adult converts to the Catholic Church and I was confirmed with about 100 others. Andrea, my mother-in-law was my sponsor. When I went to Gibraltar to visit my parents, the nuns invited me to become a Child of Mary which meant a tremendous amount to me. After about twelve moves here and there, in 1971 we came to Salisbury. We lived in married quarters at Harnham for a year attending St Osmund’s Church.


When we bought a house in Stratford sub Castle in 1972, we had crossed the river boundary so we had to go to the Holy Redeemer. This year, on the 19th February, we celebrated 55 years of marriage by renewing our vows before Canon Michael at St. Osmund’s. I thank God for sending me a loyal, loving husband who played such a large part in bringing me into the Catholic faith and for his mother, Andrea , who gave me much guidance. Our marriage has been blessed with four children, nine grandchildren and one great grand daughter.

One of Suzanne’s brothers is the actor the late Carlos Douglas.

Anne Mesilio Modern Magnetic Data Management Document destruction and recycling.

Reel around the sun Saint Patrick’s Day, 17th March, always falls in the austere season of Lent when all sorts of revelry is forbidden.

The Irish around the world have a way round that and invoke the dispensation by many Bishops that allows it to be a day of celebration in honour of our patron saint. Dance will play a big part in these festivities and we have to thank the Druids, that priestly class in ancient Celtic societies who preserved cultural ways, and are credited with

dancing in religious rituals honouring the oak tree and the sun. When the Celts arrived over two thousand years ago, these ancient European peoples, they added their own folk dances. Some say the art of dancing dates from the time of the early Egyptians, and this may well be so. Dancing is a primitive instinct in man and is practised by people world wide from the earliest times. It may be a religious rite, theatrical entertainment (modern day Strictly Come Dancing) a form of art, a means of psychotherapy etc. The American Indians (for instance) danced war dances, victory dances, dances of exorcism

by medical men and dances were performed to invoke the gods for a good harvest and various tribal needs. In all countries the people preserve their own folk dances which are stamped with their distinct identity e.g., Scottish Highland Fling. Nowhere is this truer than in the island of Ireland where the legacy of Celt and Druid have left their mark on Irish people today. The history of Irish dance is as varied and as rich as that of the country, well, they are intermingled. The Celts were an advanced and sophisticated people with respect for law, poetry, music and learn-

ing, and the island of Ireland prospered during this ‘dark age’ of isolation from the mainland of Europe. The Romans arrived in Britain but never crossed the Irish Sea, yet this was a turning point which heralded an end to this unique fostering of Irish heritage. External and unwelcome influences would invade the island over the next one thousand years. The Vikings came first, their incursions on a small scale over long periods and Ireland managed these ravages without losing her independence and identity. Traditions remained strong in the form of stories, song and dance. The clouds of change gathered once more over the Irish Sea when in 1170 Strongbow arrived from England and proclaimed himself King of the province of Leinster and shortly after Henry the 2nd arrived to concern himself, uninvited, with Irish affairs. For the next 800 years the English influence was deep and strong.


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The worst repressive measures were enacted in the Penal Laws of 1695 which were meant to obliterate the soul of a nation. The ‘real’ Ireland went underground and kept alive in this terrible darkness its traditions, culture, poetry, music, song and dance until it could once again shine in the light of day. This new day finally dawned in the 18th and early 19th centuries with what can broadly be termed the Gaelic revival. Traditional Irish dancing was back and from that day to this children all over Ireland responded to the infectious gaiety of dance music. Jigs, reels hornpipes and set dances were being taught in schools. I remember, in the fifties, Friday afternoons being set aside for dance lessons. Reminiscent of the Penal days, a roving teacher and her fiddle came to teach us to ‘hop, one, two three’, untiringly teaching us the intricate steps. It was a great relief from lessons too! Taking part in a Feis, (festival of dance) has always been an important part of rural cultural life. The competitions took place in almost every town in the country, usually in draughty town halls, I seem to remember well. Once upon a time I lived for the Feis, as much as for the love of the dance, but mostly to get a chance to wear one of the dancing costumes. The dress, hand embroidered in Celtic design was based on the traditional dress worn by the peasant women of Ireland for centuries. The designs were based on those in the Book of Kells, intricate and beautiful but requiring skill and patience to reproduce. I remember how my mother and others would ply their needles to produce this

work of art and the joy of wearing it was unsurpassed, even by winning a shining medal. The lilt of laughter and the stomp of feet rang out on summer evenings at the cross roads as neighbours gathered to dance to the music of tin whistles, fiddles, and maybe an old ‘squeeze box’. Another tradition, that of the ceilidh, (a gathering of neighbours) goes back to pre famine times (1845) and young and old enjoyed them. Like the cross roads dancing they endured despite having ‘lookouts’ for English soldiers, and during the 1950’s for the priest, that guardian of morality as dancing was considered a threat to the immortal soul, but it seemed only the priest believed that, judging by the many weddings which resulted from these meetings! The 39th Eurovision song contest held in Dublin in 1994 saw Ireland record a sixth victory for itself. The contest has become memorable for a seven minute ‘filler’ in the interval called ‘Riverdance’ which received a standing ovation and has been voted the most popular interval act in the 52 year history of the contest.

Riverdance is a theatrical show of traditional Irish step dancing, noted for rapid leg movement whilst body and arms are kept stationary. That technical description does not capture the weaving of Celtic mythology in a vibrant and energetic spectacle of grace and movement which the show Riverdance has become. It opens with the dance ‘Reel Around the Sun’ celebrating , like the Celts the benevolent power of life, light and fire the sun brings each day. Riverdance, for me, has become the culmination of centuries of this love of dance. The country could not contain the exuberance and it swept out of Ireland, this tidal wave of high kicking tap dancing celebration of our native culture. It is a triumph of survival that proclaims a sense of identity which will live on. The spirit of the nation is alive and well. A happy and blessed Saint Patrick’s Day to you all. Beannachtai La Feile Padraig. A young Irish dancer in the modern version of the traditional riverdance costume.



Upon This Rock 93 March 09  

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