In southeastern Hungary, near the Croatian border, we stopped at Villánykövesd, one of the five villages that comprise the Villány wine region that stretches 25km to include the twelve settlements of Siklós. Hard as it is to imagine in a village with two streets, we got lost and ended up driving (very slowly) on tractor paths looking down on the village and where we should have been.
Three hundred and seventy verses with 1480 lines make for one hell of a long poem. But I read them all, cover to cover, the first time I picked up a copy of Petőfi Sándor’s book János Vitéz (John the Valiant). I did the same the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time. What’s more, remembering back to 2007, I think everyone on my Christmas list got a copy of John Ridland’s 1999 translation. Read more
Chiesa di Santa Chiara is more than a church, it’s an indoor cemetery. Until 1767, it was home to the Jesuit fathers but later, after the Jesuits had been expelled from Sicily for the peace, security, and happiness of the beloved peoples, [apparently the Jesuits were getting a little too political and not staying with the confines of religon], it was given to the Poor Clares. Read more
Heading out of Scicli, our visit over, we turned back on ourselves as I carefully navigated a hairpin bend on a steep hill. There, over in the distance, MI spotted a cemetery. And what a cemetery. It seemed to go on forever. I had to go back. Read more
I finally got in to see the Jewish Cemetery in Nagykanizsa. We’d tried a few times but it was closed. This time, the chap was driving away as we pulled up but he very kindly went back to get the key and let us in. I plan on seeing him again. Read more
I’ve often wondered who plans and designs cemeteries. How do they start? Does someone have a grand vision, buy a field and wait for people to come to buy their plots as and when they’re needed? And when the space runs out, what then? Buy an adjacent field and expand? In Croatia recently, we stopped by Varaždin cemetery to see the results of the make-over it received back in the early 1900s. Its keeper, Herman Haller, had a vision. His legacy lives on in what is billed as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe. Read more
As a child in the 1970s, I remember June as an ambiguous time. Crowds would come down from the North to commemorate the death of Wolfe Tone, the founder of the United Irishmen and the ‘first leading light of Irish republicanism’. The laying of the wreaths by balaclava’d men was something I never got to see. I knew of it because my dad, a member of the Garda Siochána, was always on duty. I remember it as a series of Sunday commemorations ending in the one closest to June 20, the date Wolfe Tone died.
An account of the history of the commemorations dates it back to the 1800s, with various peaks and troughs depending on the popularity of the republican movement. The 1970s and early 1980s saw heavy traffic.
At home for Christmas, I stopped by to see the graveyard to see the place where it all happened.
It’s an odd little graveyard, with a mix of older headstones toppling over and new, more recent plots dressed for Christmas and well-tended. The five flag poles have memorial plaques at the bases, four of them noting the executions of republicans Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett, and Joe McKelvey, all executed as retribution for the killing of TD Sean Hales by the anti-treaty IRA in 1922. In a fascinating turn of fate, the execution order was signed by Kevin O’Higgins. Rory O’Connor had been best man at his wedding the previous year. Such was the madness of that era. There was something quite eerie about seeing the word executed, particularly repeated as it was four times.
There’s a small side gate from the main road and as you wander in the pathway, you’ll see a marker for Private Duffy who died in 1918. Curious to know more, I searched for him online and found this:
Duffy, Walter. Reg. No. 10675. Rank; Private, Leinster Regiment, Depot. Died home, July 7, 1918. Born Naas, Co. Kildare.
While there was just the one poppy cross and no flowers, the gravestone itself was in remarkably good shape. And I wondered.
Next to the ruined church, to the left of the five flagpoles, there’s a replica of the dock from which Wolfe Tone gave his final address after pleading guilty to the charges brought against him. In it, he asked for death by firing squad but was sentenced to death by hanging. Historians seem to be in agreement that Tone died from a penknife wound of his own making. And yet he’s buried in consecrated ground, unusual for those who committed suicide in those days.
In this small graveyard, nestled between the villages of Clane and Sallins, lies a chapter of Irish history that includes in its list of visitors those who come to remember. The group, the Wolfe Tones, have immortalised the graveyard in song. The words, written by Thomas Davis after he visited the grave in or around 1843 and found it unmarked but guarded by a local blacksmith who wouldn’t allow anyone to set foot on it.
The origins of words and phrases are as fascinating as the words themselves. Some say the term the kiss of death grew from Mafia lore where, if the Don kissed anyone on the lips, it was time for them to sort out their will. More likely though, it refers to Judas betraying Jesus when he identified Him by kissing Him (Matthew 26: 47–49). Read more