Limerick Churches

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.


The Christmas Crib

I bumped into my lawyer, Gonad the Ballbearian recently on the street. He was talking earnestly to a small plaster effigy of General Franco and sweating like a criminal.

Aha! I said. Gonad! The very man. There’s a few fuckers I want you to sue for me. I have the list here somewhere.

No, he shouted. Stop. I can’t sue anyone after the hellish experience I’ve just had.

I could tell he was serious. His recessed eyeballs had sunk even deeper beneath his ape-like brow and the twitch was more obvious than I’ve seen it in a long time. Gonad was clearly troubled.

Clearly, you’re troubled, I told him.

I am, he agreed. And if you saw what I saw, you’d be fuckin troubled too.

This was serious. Gonad never swears in the presence of Franco.

Pray tell, I invited him.

Exactly, he said.


Precisely, said Gonad, like a madman. I was on my way back to work and I took a quick tour of the block to have a smoke. It’s my habit.

It is indeed, I assured him.

Anyway, he said, things were on my mind so I decided to slip into the church for a few minutes.

The church? I demanded. Are you mad? What the fuck were you doing in a church? Did anyone see you?

Ah, he said, I just wanted to sit down in the peace and quiet and maybe reflect for a few minutes ponder over all the shit and do a bit of reflection a small bit of contemplation evaluate the coming year and see if I can find a little bit more space for myself in the face of all the conflicting demands of other people.

When Gonad speaks without commas, I know there’s trouble.

Go on, I encouraged him.

Well, he said, I sat down in a seat next to the Christmas crib and I was looking up at the ceiling with all the holy angels painted on it, thinking to myself Jesus I bet it cost a fortune to get that painted. And then I was looking up at the altar with the candles and stuff and kind of starting to contemplate when suddenly a movement in the corner of my eye distracted me.

What? I said.

It was the crib, he said. I had a hallucination that a giant rabbit was waving at me from the crib.

Now I was certain he was losing the plot.

Gonad, I said, do you know fucking anything? Of course you saw a giant rabbit in the crib. And tell me, did you also see a giant owl, a giant armadillo, an aardvark chasing an army of killer ants and a water buffalo next to the three wise-guys?

He nodded.

Well, I told him, there you go then. Those are the animals listed in the Bible. The giant rabbit went on later that same day to crucify Santa Claus and was shot by the Romans as he tried to escape from custody.

Oh, said Gonad. I see. He began to sob. I’ve been such a fool.

Feel better? I asked.

Gonad nodded again. Thanks, Bock. You’re a real friend.

Crime Religion Scandal

Seán (can I call you that?)

Archbishop Seán Brady
Co Down

18th December 2006

Dear Archbishop Brady,

May I call you Seán? I read your comments in the paper today, and I have to tell you that I agree completely with almost everything you said. You’re quite right that there’s more coarseness and aggression in Irish society than there used to be. You’re also correct in saying that there’s a lot more drinking and sexualisation of children at too early an age. Fair play to you for pointing it out.

I’m glad for you that you’ve learned so much in the last ten years about the suffering of abuse victims. This is a good thing for you. Also, I’m sorry you’ve seen a decline to zero in the numbers of people joining your priesthood. That’s terrible, for you.

I’m glad you’re so committed to child protection. This is very encouraging.

Seán, (can I call you that?), I grew up in an Ireland where your church demanded complete obedience. I grew up in an Ireland where your church thought it had the right to dictate to the government on what laws it passed. I grew up in an Ireland where bishops like you thought they could tell the Irish people how to vote.

Seán (can I call you that?), you’d do well not to be talking about the sexualisation of children. Your colleague and predecessor, Cathal Daly, declared that he had no authority over that child-abuser, Brendan Smyth, because he was a member of a religious order. It didn’t stop you, Seán (can I call you that?) from silencing an Augustinian priest in Dundalk who did no more than share an act of communion with some protestants. An act of love.

Seán (can I call you that?), if you think there’s a moral vacuum in Ireland, you’re dead right. You see, in the Ireland I grew up in, people like you demanded total obedience, and the Irish people set aside their critical faculties in your favour, because they thought you knew everything. No civic society developed because you, Seán (can I call you that?), took charge of the whole lot and decided where people could dance, what they could wear and who they could talk to.

So, Seán (can I call you that?), is it really any surprise that, when your people are exposed as money-grabbing, child-abusing, power-mad hypocrites, there might be a small bit of a moral vacuum?

I think not, Seán (can I call you that?).




They just don’t get it . . .