The Soul of History


This morning’s run was brought to you by the good people who built the Royal Canal. And my brother. The canal because, well, I think you know me by now; it’s one of my favourite places to run when I’m not noodling around in the local park. And my brother because he needed to be dropped to the airport for a red-eye flight, so it meant an early start before half five, and I was back having breakfast soon after six, keeping a weather eye on the, eh, weather. The last two days have given us classic Spring sunshine; blue skies and great heat in the sun, but still with a memory of Winter hiding in the breeze and the shadows. A bit like a mafia hitman embracing you with a kiss whilst slipping a stiletto between your ribs. (Really? You went with that analogy. FFS! Ed.)

It has of course encouraged a sudden explosion in flower growth and insects have appeared out of their hidey-holes. I appreciate this happens each year, so it’s not exactly a surprise, and yet, it’s always a welcome sight when the first Lesser Celandines appear, followed by the Dog Violets, Wood Anemones and Primroses. I’m perhaps even more aware than normal about the world’s turning as I have finally (after years of saying I will) got around to doing a photo project in the local woods. Each week, for a year, I take a series of images from about six different locations. I will then time-lapse them together when I have the full set. It’s not terribly scientific in the photographic sense, in that a professional would be meticulous about their settings and exact position of the tripod, etc. but I am counting on my decent quality camera and lens, plus a little chicanery with Photoshop to pull it all together. I will of course let you all know how it goes.

Wood Anemones
Dog Violets

Earlier in the week, the country celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Many Irish folk of my vintage are sceptical of the festival for a variety of reasons, but chief among them would be the memory of sitting on your father’s shoulders in the freezing rain, being jostled by crowds of onlookers as some equally cold and miserable troupe of baton-twirlers from Boise, Idaho trudged past. In fairness, the parade has improved markedly in recent times, but in order to really cash in… sorry, I mean ‘celebrate’ our patron saint, the day-long ordeal now lasts a week. Bah humbug I hear you say. Well, ask me mickey, is all I can offer in reply. Childish enough, I grant you, but I’m not a great fan of Paddywhackery.

Having said all that, there is a parade here in Leixlip, and we are asked to attend. Indeed, we normally lead the parade out, and as I was driver on for the week, it fell to me to actually become, by default, the parade marshal, as such.

Earlier in the week, I had tracked down a stockist of flags, and one of the crew tipped over to pick up a Ukrainian flag for the front of the fire engine. Once we had returned to the station after the parade, we hoisted it alongside the Irish tricolour. I marvel at the Ukrainian fire service; they are still out there every day, rescuing people from bombed and burning buildings, sometimes as rockets fly overhead. A difficult job made almost impossible. And currently, never-ending. Herculean.

The discourse on this and other current affairs is as fractured and depressing as the troubles themselves. Just one recent example from this week: a young man cable-tied himself to a goalpost during a Premier League football match. His protest? Stopping Big Oil. Needless to say, the compassionate and deep-thinking football fans really appreciated his protest… In all seriousness, watch the video of the release (the link has a clip). The medics on scene are trying to use shears to snip the ties, and some crazy steward is having a full-on stroke with a pair of bolt cutters. I think, left to his own devices, and without the irritating presence of numerous cameras, he would have chopped the young lads head clean off. The rage in his face is priceless and yet also depressingly familiar. He is Gammon Man. Pints of beer and how’s your father and everything must stay the same and damn you if you try and point out that the world is going down in flames, I’m going on my fuckin’ ‘olidays in Torremolinos and I don’t give a damn about your fuckin’ global warming bollocks. And in the crowd, thousands of angry young men, all shaking their fists up and down in the ‘you’re a wanker!’ gesture. And of course, social media was absolutely stuffed to the gills with really incisive comments about ‘your cable ties are made of plastic, mate. that’s oil, mate, ha ha…’ Which in fairness was countered with a few of these:

The protestor had taken the time to record his thoughts before the event, and in a well-thought out statement afterwards, did point out that the cable tie around his neck that held him to the goalpost did indeed symbolise that oil is choking the planet. But that wisdom was lost in the maelstrom of bile that flooded Twitter and other outlets. Frankly, he’s lucky he got a police escort out of the stadium.

Anyway, that’s all terribly cheery stuff. Back to nature, shall we? A couple of days ago, in the garden, I thought I spotted a butterfly. It seemed a little early. But then I met our resident wildlife guy who lives a few doors down from us, and he confirmed that he had seen a Peacock, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma! So indeed, they are out and about. And sure enough, the following day, out with my brother and the dogs and the decent camera, we found a pair of Comma butterflies out near the woods by the river, and one was good enough to land long enough for me to get some really good pictures. (They’re on the ‘big’ camera, which is why they are not on this post).

My brother had come over from Italy to be with the family for Paddy’s Day, and hopefully take the folks out somewhere nice. Well, Dad put the kibosh on that plan when he had yet another fall at home and ended up back in the hospital with a slight hip fracture. And then to really put the tin hat on it, he had another fall whilst there, getting out of bed, and has broken his left leg.

This is Dad, a few days before he broke his leg. I went for the Marge Simpson hairdo effect,
although I couldn’t do anything about the tree not being blue…

There will be an operation on Monday, as far as we know, so fingers crossed. It of course means weeks and weeks of recuperation, and then more time again spent doing physio and occupational therapy. When Saoirse says of the trials and tribulations I put myself through for my running – ‘you do it to yourself, ya know’ – I realise now where I get it from.

And so, this morning, I found myself along the banks of the Royal Canal, sporting my new Hokas (which feel rather wonderful). As I joined the waterway at Coldblow, crossing over Collins Bridge, I could either go east or west. I often go west, and the clincher this morning was the breeze blowing from the east; that would be better in my mush on the way out and at my back on the return leg. So I set off towards Westmanstown and the Deep Sinking. The sun was up, and the tree-lined sinking gave me shelter from the wind. Ten kilometres from my doorstep takes me exactly halfway across the M50 Aqueduct. Here, in a spaghetti junction of concrete by the tonne, the canal crosses over Ireland’s busiest motorway. A little further on was my turn point at the 11th Lock. My plan was to do 20k, but it was impossible not to tack on the extra bit to bring it up to a half. My planned pace was 6 minutes per kilometre and indeed, as I trotted back down through the park, the watch ticked over to 20k at 1.59:45, so some precision running!

Royal Canal near Castleknock
On the M50 Aqueduct

And on the way back, I found this sign. It would have formed part of a temporary ‘shrine’ to Aisling Murphy. I use the word shrine, though perhaps a place of remembrance, or memorial may be more suitable. Aisling was murdered on the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore on the 12th of January last, while out jogging. Soon after, quite a number of these impromptu memorials sprang up in many places around Ireland, not least along canal towpaths.

I have no doubt it was the scene of a sad vigil with many candles and some flowers. All have since gone. This sign remains.

And so we rumble on. The world spins. Flowers bloom. Bees buzz around. Stupid humans continue on their slow and steady spiral down the pan, and we charge our glasses, and we go again.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Beckett. A truly cheerful chap. I’d love to be reading his blog these days. Just as George Orwell would be shaking his head and muttering ‘I told you’, Beckett would be cursing into the void and screaming ‘Jeezus it’s worse than I thought!’ He’d be raging against the dying of the light. Well, I hope so, anyway. His world-view was a little Kafka-esque. Another cheerful soul.

And speaking of souls (we were? ed.), let me expand on the blog title. I had my little FM radio with me on the run. Sunday morning radio can be quite interesting. You get classic hits if you’re out really early (I still get flashbacks to the Connemara 100), and then usually some good chat follows. Today, I was listening to a report on the rebuilding of Notre Dame, and the recent discovery of a lead-lined coffin that has been buried under the church for about 600 years. The current priest of the cathedral was concerned about the person contained within. We are, he said, tasked with the care of these souls. When this was mentioned to one of the archaeologists on site, he replied that while he understood that, he himself had to defer to a greater power: the soul of history.

And that, mes amis, is why you have to love the French.

And now, some dogs.

12 thoughts on “The Soul of History

  1. Hey, it’s not a parade without the local FD. Fire fighters are one of the few trades remaining that nobody will complain about having awesome, huge, wildly expensive equipment. Not even police get away with that stuff anymore.

    When someone’s $#!+ is on fire, they don’t want cheap. They want big, fast, and diesel. Three cheers for the firefighters!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. omigosh – hope all went well with your dad’s op!
    Bad news that Ireland caved to the US St. Paddy’s fervor. I get why diaspora-ed Amer-Irish would’ve made a big deal of it back in the day, but imho SPD only attained national popularity because it’s an excuse to get shit-faced drunk. On SPD, alcohol-consumption and drunk-driving accidents are off the charts. (2022’s SPD NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Commission) fact sheet: “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving, Live to be Irish Another Day”.)
    Well done on the Ukrainian flag though! And that time-lapse woods project? That’s GREAT news 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a mil. No word yet on the op. Comms with the hospital are patchy. And Covid is causing trouble again. Hope to have more news tomorrow but it’s a long road. Mind how you go 🙏


    1. Aye it is, thanks. I’ve been stuck in work (and a bit of training) and my Dad is back in hospital so life just sort of got in the way. Normal service to resume soon. I hope. 🤘🙏😎


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