When I was small, my auntie used to take me to the churches around Limerick . It was great being a kid in those days. Spooky exorcist shit: plaster saints and candles and all that Hollywood stuff, but almost free. No entrance fee except you had to put some money into a shiny box if you wanted to light a candle.
I remember them so well. The Augustinians – the church with the best drainpipes in Limerick. It was easy to climb them because they were square and easy to hold on to. The church had a flat roof you could play football on it, like Brian Crowley did,wherever he lived,, and fall off and got paralysed as well, like he did. I nearly did that once, leaping over a parapet and gazing down into a forty-foot drop. I still don’t know how I seemed to just stop myself and fall back. Frightened.
Let’s not forget the Franciscans. The good old Franciscans, the humblest of them all, in open-toed sandals and simple friars’ robes just like Saint Francis, their team captain. Songbirds landing on their hands: hello St Francis, can I have a nut? So fucking humble that when a nearby block was being redeveloped, they vetoed an upper floor on the building because they didn’t want their views of the River Shannon obstructed.
Let’s see now. Where else? Oh right, of course. How could I forget the Redemptorists, or, as we serfs knew them, the Holy Fathers? The Holy Fathers. The saintly, wise Holy Fathers with their arch-confraternity. The good, decent Holy Fathers who were behind the only pogrom in Ireland that I’m aware of. Maybe you know of another, in which case you can email me and I’ll be happy to publish the details. I’m proud to say that my parents never sent me to the confraternity because they held the fuckers in contempt, and so I was spared that quasi-fascist shite, but sadly, my home town of Limerick was not.
Moving right along here, you had the new churches that looked like crashed aeroplanes, and we won’t talk about them. They were designed by a fucking fool called the Chevalier Sheahan, a sort of architect with a plume of feathers on his head for special occasions. He was called the Chevalier because he got some kind of a kiss on the back of the bollocks from the Pope of his time. (Hey: I told you this used to be Albania!) He was a sort of architect, though he had no formal qualifications at all except for a loud mouth, a thick neck and the ear of some fucking bishop. A miser and a good Catholic who treated his staff like shit, I’m told. A Christian man. We’ll come back to this guy some day, I promise.
Saint Michael’s was great. It has the real Saint Michael on the roof still to this day, killing the Serpent with a lance. Take that, you fucking serpent, he’s saying in Latin. He was one of the Archangels: the guys with special powers. I think Saint Michael’s special power was that he could curse in Latin.
But my special favourite was the Dominicans. Not because of the paintings on the ceiling, though they were impressive. Old naked guys with beards waving at each other: how’s it goin’ Boss? Not even because of the side altars they had, full to the brim with spooky plaster saints. No. What I loved was a piece of plumbing outside the church. A steel tank, rectangular, proto-cuboid, perhaps two metric feet by two metric feet by one deep. Grey-painted and not much to look at. With a small tap at one extremity, about two metric inches from the bottom.
I nearly forgot to mention that the Dominicans were the people behind the Inquisition, a fact that leaves me feeling a little uneasy. What if they should take exception to anything said here? Would it be the Iron Maiden for me? Probably not, as they were forbidden to shed blood, out of Christian mercy. More likely, it would involve multiple dislocations, breaking on the Wheel, and perhaps a bit of racking, followed by the Boot. Since childhood, I’ve admired the evil ecclesiastical genius who came up with the Boot. Saint Plumbum, perhaps?
Where were we? Tank. Tap. Yes. Holy water. A tank of holy water, that my beloved auntie could use to replenish the Baby Powers bottle for the font in the hall, without disturbing the tranquillity of the saintly fathers. Glug glug into the bottle.
In those days, people went through a lot of holy water.
Well, here comes the chemistry. You see, in my childish error, I thought that every night, one of these saintly gentlemen appeared on the roof and zapped some holiness into the tank for tomorrow’s pilgrims. It’s the least you’d expect, isn’t it? A crash of thunder. Some lightning, and there he is on the parapet. Spiderman! Or Dracula.
But no. Not a bit of it. It seems the tank worked the same as a toilet. When it was empty, a ball-float simply dropped down and let more water in, just like the cistern in your bathroom. Nobody ever went near the fucker.
So, I asked my little nine-year-old brain. How, who, what, when, what the fuck?
Simple. The good Fathers’ reasoning was impeccable, befitting a community of their erudition. The two inches between the bottom of the tank and the tap meant that there was always some holy water in there. The knowledge of ullage, you see, gleaned in college. Glowing H2O particles forever transiting in Brownian serenity. And because you can’t dilute holiness, they just let the blessed molecules mingle with the mortal.
Do you remember a chap by the name of Avogadro? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. Avogadro did the scientific groundwork that allowed scientists to quantify the number of molecules in any small amount of stuff, and it works out to be precisely one metric fuck-load. You see, there are so many molecules in even the slightest quantity of water that they irradiate the whole lot with their holiness. Brilliant. That’s productivity.
If I called up to the Dominicans today, filled a Baby Powers bottle with their holy water and then tossed it into the majestic River Shannon, thereby to convey it to the sea, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that in short order the entire Atlantic would be holy water? A weapon of mass-sanctification.
Or perhaps the salt would neutralise it.