Céad Míle Leithsceal

You will pardon me for repeating myself – you always do – but I wrote a ‘poem’ in 1986, at a time when some of our people were engaged in one of their too frequent orgies of apologising. That was nearly twenty years ago.
Thought it might still be relevant today. This is how it went...

Oh for a million Seawrights,
A thousand Paisleys and a hundred Martin Smyths
With feet at which to fling myself
Begging forgiveness for the following:
My Auntie Maggie and my brother Pat
Two cousins and a favourite cat,
And two men whom I met going into church,
A parrot whom I taught to pray
And Catholic hymns to sing –
And of course myself
With head and heart, my hands and feet,
My present, past and all that's yet to come
With right to naught and guilt for everything.

In the half light, McCappinesque,
Roaring at the moon
A clergyman reminds us
We're dust and ashes of a fire
That never came alight
As covered with a wave of guilt
We were extinguished lest we might.

Oh for a very orgy of abasement (An orgy of the basement, why Bishop, that's a sin
An orgy of abasement, child, why that's a virtuous thing)
Abasement, effacement,
Sink without a tracement,
Oh for half a dozen
Languages to make apologies in
Gracias a Dios
Is mise ata thios,
Bien, je m'abaisse
Con gran' apologias....
Last night at Mass with joy I saw
How each one, turned to fellow worshippers,
Apologised – much nicer than a kiss of peace
And more in keeping with the times,
For thoughts you never had,
And for what you never were
Holy religious ecstasy
Born of other people's guilt
Nourished with buzz words
Uttered on various sad occasions And ending in disaster
As over-licked boots come crashing down on heads
Bowed too low to understand.

Thank you, thank you, thank you,
Masters, Leaders, Friends and Guides,
Who at that dangerous moment when we thought
We had restored our pride
Taught us to grovel once again,
Humbly to confess to those
Who don't confess to anything themselves,
Apologies and heart-destructive beating of the breast.
So that's what Jesus wants? I'm sorry
But I doubt it.

When I at last retire
Full of apologies and years
I'll find a house safe from preaching, gun and bomb
And call it (Oh, so aptly!)
'The Cabin of Uncle Tom'
(And for my next trick I'll delight Massa and de Slaves by Apologising
For being sorry for Apologising).

Not a very good poem, you will agree. But it's the thought that counts. And it appears we are still thinking the same appallingly weird thoughts as we did in 1986 – responding to demands for apologies as promptly as little dogs jumping through hoops. Shame in the asking. Shame in the agreeing. The McCappin mentioned above was a contemporary bishop in 1986, one of those who resurrected the doctrine of collective guilt and applied it to us. A doctrine we naively thought we had safely buried by 1965.

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