VISIT TO BALMORAL SHOW

McAree Engineering at Balmoral Show  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

McAree Engineering at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

OUT AND ABOUT AT BALMORAL SHOW
Michael Fisher Northern Standard  Thursday 21st May 2015 p.24
Monaghan was again well represented at this year’s Balmoral Show. Town of Monaghan Co-Op and Lakeland Dairies both had a presence to meet suppliers and to promote their dairy business. Among the thousands of visitors were several from Monaghan, who made the journey along the motorway to the new showgrounds at the former Maze prison, outside Lisburn.

Eimear Winters, Castle Leslie estate, Glaslough at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Eimear Winters, Castle Leslie estate, Glaslough at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

But for some, there were long traffic delays, particularly exiting from the large car parks. It was the biggest Balmoral Show in history and the organisers, the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, are determined to make next year even better.

Lakeland Dairies Stand: Peter Finnegan, Killanny, (agricultural advisor NI), Chairman Alo Duffy, Ballybay, and Group Chief Executive Michael Hanley   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Lakeland Dairies Stand: Peter Finnegan, Killanny, (agricultural advisor NI), Chairman Alo Duffy, Ballybay, and Group Chief Executive Michael Hanley Photo: © Michael Fisher

LAKELAND DAIRIES
At the Lakeland Dairies stand, Group Chief Executive Michael Hanley was in upbeat mood about the future of the dairy industry. He told the Nothern Standard it was important to retain a strong dairy industry in Ireland for the next generation. The Group based in Killeshandra, County Cavan, processes about one billion litres of quality milk annually into a range of products. Lakeland Dairies reported a 15% increase in revenues to €625.8 million for 2014, yielding an operating profit of €12.9 million, up by 10% on the previous year.
The food service division uses automated, modern production technologies to make dairy products for use in food preparation and by consumers internationally. The food ingredients division extracts the constituents of fresh milk to offer a range of milk powders, proteins and liquid dairy fats. The Group is a leading provider of dairy produce to Ireland’s Kerrygold brand .
As well as the home market, Lakeland Dairies exports large volumes of dairy produce to the UK, Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and other international markets. The agri-business division is a producer-focused business supporting thousands of farmers with nutritional information and high performance products.
Mr Hanley was keen to point out that Lakeland Dairies had begun construction of a €36 million milk powder processing plant alongside its current operation at Bailieborough in County Cavan. As reported in this paper two weeks ago, the ‘Dryer Number 3’ is expected to come on stream in a year’s time. The farmer-owned co-operative currently produces 90,000 tonnes of milk powders a year and this will rise to 130,000 tonnes on completion of the new plant. The same site also produced 24,000 tonnes of butter and butter products.
The overall development will lead to the creation of 81 jobs across the Lakeland Dairies Group over a five year period. Up to 180 construction jobs will also be created.
Following the abolition of milk quotas last month, annual milk supply to Lakeland Dairies is expected to increase by some 40% to over one billion litres by 2020. The Chief Executive says the development is designed to ensure that the co-operative is well positioned to take advantage of all future market opportunities for its milk producers.
Michael Hanley said there was a growing requirement for high quality milk powders and functional ingredients in nutritional, pharmaceutical and beverage markets, where the company serves leading food manufacturers and infant formula customers worldwide. He said the Group saw a consistently growing opportunity in areas including infant formula, dairy proteins and health-related nutritional products including lactose and whey, among other categories.

The McMahons including one year-old Henry at Town of Monaghan Co-Op stand Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

The McMahons including one year-old Henry at Town of Monaghan Co-Op stand Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

TOWN OF MONAGHAN CO-OP                                                                                                                                             Town of Monaghan Co-op with its new Chief Executive Gabriel D’Arcy is one of the longest established dairy co-operatives in Ireland. It was founded in 1901 by a group of Monaghan farmers and business people, who came together in order to own and control their own business for the long-term benefit of its dairy farmers.

Over a hundred years later, it remains a farmer-owned and controlled co-operative, still based on the same values of long-term sustainability, mutual responsibility and equality and equity. With milk suppliers in the Republic and Northern Ireland, Town of Monaghan currently handle and process 500 million litres of milk annually from 1,000 farmers at its site in Coolshannagh, Monaghan and at TMC Dairies (NI) Ltd in Artigavan, near Strabane in County Tyrone.
Its range of products includes whole milk and skim milk powders, which are primarily for the export market as well as fresh milk, buttermilk, butter, yogurts and desserts all of which are marketed in Ireland under the “Champion” brand.
The Co-op, which reported net current assets of more than €34m in its balance sheet at the end of 2013, has been considering the best options for investment in development of its business.
MERGER TALKS
Town of Monaghan has been in discussions with Ballyrashane Co-Op in North Antrim, the oldest dairy in Northern Ireland, about a possible merger. It produces milk, butter and a specialist cheese for the Greek market. Both have reiterated their view that a new merged entity would create a powerful new market force.
They say their complementary geography and production facilities, technologies, and customer listings, together with the combined balance sheet strength offer the unique opportunity to create a true leader in the competitive Ulster dairy food sector, focused on innovation and competitiveness. Ballyrashane has blue-chip customers, such as Marks & Spencer. Its butter plant is described as one of the most modern in the country. Both co-ops employ around 150 people.

RUAS Chief Executive Colin McDonald

RUAS Chief Executive Colin McDonald

RUAS EXPANSION PLANS AT BALMORAL
Colin McDonald, Chief Executive of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society, was delighted with this year’s show, which is estimated to have been attended by more than 100,000 people over the three days.
He told the Northern Standard: “This year’s show is ten per cent bigger than last year. It really has been perfect conditions for the livestock exhibitors, who have put a lot of time and effort into preparing their animals for showing.” He said the biggest factor regarding attendance was the weather, and that the sunshine until Friday afternoon had helped to bring the crowds out.
This year’s show was the third on the new Maze site, and included the new sustainable village. Next year’s show will be bigger again and unrecognisable with the new 6,000sq metre Eikon exhibition centre dominating the site.
Work has already begun on the building, with the concrete foundations finished just last week. The work was halted to allow the show to take place but is set to resume next Wednesday. The Eikon will be the biggest exhibition space in Northern Ireland when it is completed in September.

Patrick Corrigan, Jamie Corrigan, Luke Comiskey and Anthony Byrne from Monaghan town pictured at the Dale Farm stand at the recent Balmoral Show.

Patrick Corrigan, Jamie Corrigan, Luke Comiskey and Anthony Byrne from Monaghan town pictured at the Dale Farm stand at the recent Balmoral Show.

Mr McDonald revealed the RUAS had already received bookings for the new venue, which will host the Winter Fair later this year. A ‘green energy’ park is planned in the longer term, with a focus on solar power and the generation of electricity from biomass, windmills and solar panels. Asked about the timescale for expansion, Mr McDonald said the work was dependent on the flow of finance from the redevelopment of the show’s previous site in Balmoral in south Belfast.
The RUAS is retaining the front section of the site while the rest is being redeveloped, around half for housing and half for commerce, with the possibility of a major hotel group coming on board, Mr McDonald explained.
When asked about whether a new link road from the M1 motorway would be built to make the Maze site more accessible, the Chief Executive said that was a matter for the site as a whole, and insisted the show was able to handle its traffic without a problem. The flow of cars was even better than for a concert at the Odyssey arena in Belfast, he said.

NI Finance Minister Arlene Foster and First Minister Peter Robinson at the DUP Stand   Photo:  © Michael Fisher

NI Finance Minister Arlene Foster and First Minister Peter Robinson at the DUP Stand Photo: © Michael Fisher

POLITICAL PRESENCE
The main political parties were represented at the show, including the DUP and Sinn Féin. They have yet to agree on how the rest of the Maze site will be redeveloped. The North’s First Minister Peter Robinson blamed Sinn Féin for blocking the building of a new road to link the site with the nearby motorway.
But deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness hit back, claiming Sinn Féin had kept its side of the bargain by backing the move of the Balmoral Show to the Maze site. He claimed the DUP had let it down by not backing the creation of a peace-building centre at the site of the former high security prison.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy with NI Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy with NI Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA

Mr McGuinness attended the Department of Agriculture’s traditional breakfast at the show, hosted by the Minister, Michelle O’Neill. They were joined during the day by party colleague, Matt Carthy, the MEP from Carrickmacross.
The Minister said the farming sector was facing significant challenges at the present time but was contributing to the economic growth of the North. She said her department had a vital role to play in opening new markets and supporting exports. She was hopeful that 2015 would prove even more exciting in terms of furthering new market access across all meat sectors. The Minister also highlighted her recent efforts to open doors for exports in China, particularly for beef and chicken. She hoped that further growth in dairy exports would hopefully play a part in helping to turn around the recent decline in milk prices.
Sinn Féín MEP Matt Carthy who is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, said that an all-island approach to agriculture was required to address a number of issues affecting the agriculture sector. He told the Northern Standard:
“The past 12 months in particular have highlighted the impact of partition on our agriculture sector. First we saw the huge impact of the border on our beef sector when issues arose in relation to the label of origin on cattle reared in the south but finished in the North. Now we see a similar issue has emerged for sheep and lamb reared in the North but finished in the South”.
“I have spoken regularly with the Stormont Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who has engaged extensively with Minister Simon Coveney T.D., to have these issues addressed in a united manner. I have offered my full support at a EU level to any proposed efforts. The simple fact of the matter is that the issues affecting farmers in the North are the same as those affecting farmers in the South and our economy is too small to sustain partition”. Mr Carthy added:
“Whilst there remains a strong tradition of cross-border trade, it is vitally important if we are to promote agricultural produce effectively on the world stage that we work together on an all-island basis to overcome the challenges facing the sector. Moves towards a voluntary “Island of Ireland” labelling system are welcome. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that an integrated all-Ireland agriculture structure is required to ensure that Irish agriculture, North and South, not only is sustainable into the future but can reach its full potential”.

Two first prizes went to David and Kenny Boyd's cow Glaslough Miss Petra EX3  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Two first prizes went to David and Kenny Boyd’s cow Glaslough Miss Petra EX3 Photo: © Michael Fisher

SHOW RINGS
Once again it was a very successful show for Glaslough brothers David and Kenny Boyd. In the Holstein class, Glaslough Miss Petra EX93 won two awards, for mature cow in-milk (£80) and 50-tonne cow (£80) along with a special prize of £50 presented by Devenish Nutrition and the Craigbet Rosan Perpetual Challenge Cup, presented by Holstein NI. Another of their Holstein herd, Glaslough Miss Persia VG, took first prize (£80) in the senior heifer in- milk section.

Jersey cow Potterswalls Glams Elisha wins the dairy interbreed champion award at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Jersey cow Potterswalls Glams Elisha wins the dairy interbreed champion award at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

Ashley Fleming from Seaforde in County Down won the overall dairy interbreed (champion) with his Jersey cow in-milk, Potterswalls Glams Elisha. It was her second Dairy Inter-Breed Championship title in a row. It was also the Flemings’ seventh Balmoral inter-breed championship, having done the double twice.
“We are truly delighted with today’s result,” said Ashley Fleming. “Elisha calved a few weeks ago and she really is looking tremendously well. What makes it all the more special is the fact she is home bred. We also bred her sire.”
The cow is currently giving almost 50 litres per day with milk solids exceeding 10%. “Jersey cows produce very high quality milk,” Ashley explained. This is a key attraction of the breed, which is growing in popularity with milk producers.

Lely robotic milking machine display at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Lely robotic milking machine display at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

ROBOTIC MILKING
For the first time at the show, the crowds were able to see a robotic milking display using Lely machines. A temporary dairy was set up with forty cows from Draynes Dairies in Lisburn waiting their turns to be milked.
Fifteen years ago North Antrim milk producers Bryan Watton, and his son Mark, from Ballybogey near Ballymoney were the first farmers in Ireland to purchase two Lely Astronaut A2 robots. “Robotic milking was revolutionary at the time,” recalls Bryan. “Several of the household names involved in the manufacture of conventional milking parlours were trying to develop an automated system. By 1999 I had made up my mind that I was going to go down that route, and after studying the various options available I opted for Lely”.
Brian continued: “Most of the other companies were dabbling and trying to incorporate parts of a parlour onto a robot. I was impressed with Lely, as their engineers were new to milking systems and started with a clean sheet. In my opinion Lely was away ahead of the competition with its concept and design.”
The Lely Astronaut A2 robots were installed back-to-back, and have been working on-farm since 4th April 4th 2000. Town of Monaghan Co-Op told me five of their suppliers now use robot milking machines.
After 15 years both Bryan and Mark are still as enthusiastic about Lely and robotic milking as they were when they introduced the machines. “Robots transformed our farm, and there is no way we would even consider going back to conventional milking,” stressed Bryan. “In fact, we wouldn’t rule out purchasing a third Lely robot in the future”, he said. The father and son team milk 150 commercial cows producing an average yield of over 9,500kgs at 3.95% butterfat and 3.28% protein.

Geoff Taylor, Monaghan Mushrooms, receives M&S Innovation Award

Geoff Taylor, Monaghan Mushrooms, receives M&S Innovation Award

MONAGHAN MUSHROOMS AWARD
In the food hall, a Monaghan producer for Marks & Spencer was acknowledged for his excellence in innovation in the M&S ‘Farming for the Future’ awards. Geoff Taylor of Monaghan Mushrooms in Tyholland received a £1,000 prize and has been entered into an ‘Overall Farming for the Future Champion’ award for 2015, to be presented later this year. The innovation award recognises producers who are pushing the boundaries in their sector.
As Head of Product Development, Geoff has been key to co-ordinating and driving forward the progress of several exciting new business initiatives at Monaghan Mushrooms. Geoff said: “I come from a farming background and whilst agriculture will always be in my blood, I feel that product development is the really fun and exciting part of the food industry.
“One of the most interesting products I’ve worked on has been the development of Vitamin D mushrooms, which are now exclusively available in over 200 M&S stores across the UK and Ireland. With research showing that most adults in the UK are Vitamin D deficient, Geoff and his team of scientists and engineers set about developing a unique mushroom that could help reverse this situation.
With a passion for the environment, Geoff has also been instrumental in implementing changes to the packaging of M&S mushrooms. “Tyholland produces around 100 tonnes of mushrooms a week and because we are dealing with such large numbers, any small changes we can make to packaging really add up”, Geoff said.
A typical plastic mushroom punnet has now been redesigned to reduce its weight by 3 grams, which will result in over 5,700 kg of saved plastic each year. All punnet packaging material is now also completely recyclable and Geoff has even gone as far as to redesign the size of mushroom punnets to ensure that more can fit in each delivery crate, thus reducing the number of journeys needed to deliver the same amount of produce to store.
Geoff concluded: “The joy of product development is that there are always new projects on the horizon and things that can be improved upon. I am really passionate about my work and can’t wait to launch more of my new ideas in the future.”
Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at M&S said: “The Farming for the Future awards are now in their eighth year, acknowledging the dedication and commitment our farmers and growers are making towards the company’s ‘Plan A’ eco and ethical programme, and sharing best practice amongst the agricultural community across Ireland and the UK”. The plan aims to make M&S the world’s most sustainable major retailer.
Mr McLean continued: “Geoff is a very worthy winner and has proved this be demonstrating his innovative thinking, commercial success and social responsibility in the way he manages and executes his business. Our judges were particularly impressed with Geoff’s enthusiasm for creating new products with added health benefits, his commitment to reducing waste and passion for the environment”.

Taking the 'Chiecken Challenge' at Balmoral Show: (L-R) Lynsey Forde, Laura Louise Reay and Aoife Murphy from Monaghan town alongside (centre) Elaine Donaghy of the NI Food Standards Agency ©Brian Thompson Photography

Taking the ‘Chiecken Challenge’ at Balmoral Show: (L-R) Lynsey Forde, Laura Louise Reay and Aoife Murphy from Monaghan town alongside (centre) Elaine Donaghy of the NI Food Standards Agency
©Brian Thompson Photography

THE ‘CHICKEN CHALLENGE’
During the show, the Food Standards Agency in the North encouraged visitors to support Food Safety Week, which runs until Sunday 24th May, by undertaking a ‘Chicken Challenge’ and pledging to do the little things that keep their loved ones safe from food poisoning. Chicken is a traditional meal time favourite, whether it’s in a sandwich, a traditional roast dinner or sizzling on the barbecue. But there’s only one thing not to love about it. Chicken is one of the biggest causes of food poisoning, all because of a nasty germ called campylobacter. Among those who visited the FSA stand to learn more about food hygiene was a group from Monaghan town, Lynsey Forde, Laura Louise Reay and Aoife Murphy.

Irish Air Corps Alouette III helicopter of the type used on border duties in Monaghan: part of the Ulster Aviation Society collection at the Maze  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Irish Air Corps Alouette III helicopter of the type used on border duties in Monaghan: part of the Ulster Aviation Society collection at the Maze Photo: © Michael Fisher

DIARY DATE
Dates have already been confirmed for next year’s Balmoral Show. It will be held at the Maze site on Wednesday 11th, Thursday 12th and Friday 13th May 2016.

At the McAree Engineering (Ballinode) Stand at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

At the McAree Engineering (Ballinode) Stand at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

STABAT MATER: PATRICK COMERFORD

‘Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn,’ by Desmond Fisher, was launched in Donnybrook last week Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

‘Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn,’ by Desmond Fisher, was launched in Donnybrook last week Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

From a dissolute to a desolate life … a new look at the story of an old hymn

Patrick Comerford

Book launches are always a good opportunity to meet people with shared interests and stories.

Last week, it was a pleasure to be invited by fellow blogger Michael Fisher to the launch in O’Connell’s in Donnybrook of a new book by his late father Desmond Fisher, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn.

The book was launched by former Irish Times colleague and former Senator John Horgan, who is also a former Press Ombudsman. As a young reporter, John Horgan was given a job at the Catholic Herald in London by the editor, Desmond Fisher, who also worked for the Irish Press.

The attendance at the book launch included Wesley Boyd, who has reviewed the book in the ‘Irishman’s Diary’ in The Irish Times this morning [18 May 2015], and many former colleagues from, the world of journalism and broadcasting. But I was also there because of my theological and spiritual interests.

Stabat Mater is a much-loved Lenten hymn among English-speaking Roman Catholics, although it was once been banned by the Council of Trent and later by successive popes.

The title of this sorrowful hymn is an incipit of the first line, Stabat Mater Dolorosa (“The sorrowful mother stood”). The hymn meditates on the sorrows of the Virgin Mary as she stands at the foot of the Cross. It has been set to music by many composers, including Palestrina, Pergolesi, Alessandro Scarlatti and Domenico Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Haydn, Rossini, Dvořák, Karol Szymanowski, Poulenc and Arvo Pärt.

There are many variations in the translation from the original Latin. So, in this new book the late Desmond Fisher seeks to get back to the original meaning of the author who wroteStabat Mater 700 years ago. The hymn was well-known by the end of the 14th century. It was banned by the Council of Trent, but restored to the missal by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727, and was assigned by Pope Pius X in 1913 to the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (15 September).

But who was the author? At times, the hymn has been attributed to a variety of sources, including popes, three Saints and a member of the laity who was jailed and excommunicated.

In this book, Desmond Fisher identifies Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306) as the true author, and tells the story of his amazing life, from a dissolute to a disconsolate and desolate life. His privileged life came to end with the tragic death of his wife, and he eventually joined the Spirituali, an extreme, ascetic faction of Franciscans, before ending up in prison.

With a sympathetic and understanding approach, Desmond Fisher tells an amazing story of mediaeval extremism, but also provides a new translation of the poem, while adhering to the original metre and rhythm and re-presenting its emotions. He compares his own work with other well-known existing English versions – including those by the Irish poet Denis Florence McCarthy (1817-1882) and the English Anglican priest and hymn-writer Edward Caswall (1814-1878), who became a Roman Catholic – and tries to challenge long-accepted preconceptions.

This book was Desmond Fisher’s final achievement before he died on 30 December 2014 at the age of 94. In his final weeks, his manuscript was accepted by Gracewing.

As part of the pre-Reformation heritage of the undivided Church, it deserves to be better known among other traditions, including Anglicans. Even Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench omitted it from his Sacred Latin Poetry in 1874 because of what he saw as its Mariolatry. Hopefully, Desmond Fisher’s new book will help to redress this.

Stabat Mater

Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

Quae mœrebat et dolebat, pia Mater,

dum videbat nati pœnas inclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suæ gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
pœnas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum præclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriæ.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animæ donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.

● Desmond Fisher, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn, Leominster: Gracewing, ISBN 978 085244 862 5, 176 pp, £9.99.

IRISHMAN’S DIARY: STABAT MATER

Stabat Mater: Gracewing Publications

Stabat Mater: Gracewing Publications

An Irishman’s Diary on ‘Crazy Jim’ and a famous hymn

‘Stabat Mater Dolorosa’ by Wesley Boyd  The Irish Times Monday 18th May 2015

Known locally as Crazy Jim, he had a habit of crawling on all fours, saddled and bridled like a donkey, around the main square of his native Todi, a hilltop town in Umbria. Yet he was one of the finest Italian poets of the Middle Ages and is considered to be the most likely author of the great Christian hymn, Stabat Mater Dolorosa. Other contenders for the authorship include at least three popes and three saints.

New light on the origin of the work is promised in a book by the distinguished Irish journalist, Desmond Fisher – finished just a few weeks before his death at the age of 95 in Dublin at the end of last year. Desmond, a Derry man, whose journalistic posts included editor of the Catholic Herald, London editor of the Irish Press and deputy head of news at RTÉ, spent the many years of his retirement researching the subject. His book, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn, was published by Gracewing this month.

Stabat Mater Back Cover: with endorsements by John Horgan and Joe Carroll

Stabat Mater Back Cover: with endorsements by John Horgan and Joe Carroll

There are many roads to be following when exploring this haunting hymn to the Virgin Mary. Over the centuries it has been set to music by various composers, including Pergolesi, Haydn, Dvorak, Rossini and Vivaldi. (There was a memorable performance of Pergolesi’s arrangement in the old slate quarry on Valentia Island in 2004, directed by the Cork artist Dorothy Cross, and performed by the Opera Theatre Company from Dublin.) It was banned by the Council of Trent in 1545 but restored to the canon nearly three centuries later by Pope Benedict XIII to mark the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th. But interesting as the history of the hymn itself is it is less fascinating than that of its putative author, Jacopone Benedetti, Crazy Jim himself.

He was born into an aristocratic family in Todi around 1230, a time of war, plague and turbulence. He was sent to Bologna to study law and returned to Todi to pursue his career as an advocate, some say unscrupulously. After years of dissolute philandering at the age of 37 he married Vanna, the daughter of a local count. He did little to moderate his way of life but Vanna remained faithful. Then tragedy struck. There was a feast day in Todi and the local gentry assembled on a raised platform to watch the parade. The platform collapsed and Vanna was crushed to death. Jacopone tried to revive his young wife and he discovered that under her fine robes she was wearing a shift of coarse, hairy cloth. Shocked by her death and stunned by the revelation that she had been secretly doing penance for his misdeeds, Jacopone changed his lifestyle.

He gave up his comfortable career as a lawyer and took to to the streets and roadways of Umbria as a mendicant wanderer dressed in shabby robes.

After a decade on the roads he became a lay brother in the Franciscan Order in his native town but continued in his eccentric behaviour.

Invited to a wedding in his brother’s house he turned up naked, tarred and feathered from head to toe. Jacopone had a poem for it: “A wise and courteous choice he’d make/Who’d be a fool for the dear Lord’s sake.”

Within the Franciscans there was a minority group who wished to follow a more austere and frugal way of life. They were dubbed the Spirituals and not unsurprisingly Jacopone, always attracted by extremes, joined their company. They petitioned the new pope, Celestine V, for permission to establish their own order.

Celestine favoured their cause but under the strain of having to deal with warring Christian states and church intrigues and scandals he resigned in 1294 after only five months in office. He was succeeded by Boniface VIII who promptly locked up Celestine and ordered the recalcitrant friars to return to the jurisdiction of their regular superiors. There was a history of enmity between Boniface and Jacopone, dating from the time when Boniface got a plum ecclesiastical job in Todi in 1260 from the bishop of the town who happened to be his uncle Peter.

The poet’s support for the Spirituals was condemned by Boniface and he imprisoned his old adversary. While in prison he wrote some of his greatest poems. In the jubilee year of 1300 Boniface sanctioned the release of many prisoners but left Jacopone in the dungeon. It was not until Boniface died three years later that he regained his liberty.

Jacopone was now over 70, broken in body and spirit. After more wanderings he found refuge in the Convent of the Poor Clares near his native Todi. There he died on Christmas Day 1306 as midnight Mass was being celebrated in the chapel. He is buried in the Franciscan church, Tempio San Fortunato, in Todi. The inscription on his tomb says “…. having gone mad with love of Christ, by a new artifice deceived the world and took Heaven by storm”.

There are many translations of Stabat Mater. The latest is by Desmond Fisher. I hope Crazy Jim likes it.

GLIN CASTLE

Glin Castle,the end of an era.

Blog by A Silver Voice from Ireland.

Glin Castle, Co. Limerick

There is great sadness in West Limerick that Glin Castle is to be sold. Glin Castle is situated beside the lovely little town of Glin, overlooking the River Shannon. Glin has been the seat of the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years, and the village is proud of its association with the Knights of Glin down the centuries.The oldest part of the structure is a lower, two-storey “wing” of the castle, supposedly with  interior turf walls. The more imposing section was built in 1780 and the castellations added in the 1820s.

In the summer of 2014 I was fortunate to visit the Castle, courtesy of West Limerick Resources and Limerick City of Culture 2014. What a wonderful experience to visit such an historic and beautiful place! Just months later the castle has been put up for sale and I am delighted to share some of my photos from that day.

The Building:

The rather unusual title ‘The Knight of Glin’ became extinct with the death of Desmond Fitzgerald,the 29th Knight of Glin in September 2011, as he did not have a male heir. His three daughters do not ‘count’ when it comes to the title! ‘Knight of Glin’ was an ancient Irish noble title,handed down by chieftains since the arrival of  the family from Wales in the 12th Century. This title is not conferred by a monarch, but is rather a family tradition in the Fitzgerald family. The late lamented Desmond Fitzgerald was  President of the Irish Georgian Society and a former curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was an accomplished author the Irish representative of the renowned Christies Art Auction house in London. He was an avid collector of beautiful items some of which adorn the main reception rooms of this lovely house.

The Interior:

In the drawing-room table rests a copy of  ‘The Knights of Glin, Seven Centuries of Change’ a collaborative series of essays by Irish Scholars, ably edited by my former colleague,Tom Donovan and published by Glin Historical Society.

imageIt is to be hoped that the new owners of Glin Castle will cherish the very special relationship with the locals in the village, a special relationship  that has been nurtered and has endured for generations.

image

TIME OF OUR LIVES

Colm Arbuckle  Photo: BBC Radio Ulster

Colm Arbuckle Photo: BBC Radio Ulster

A new programme on BBC Radio Ulster at 2pm ‘Time of our Lives’ is presented by Colm Arbuckle and produced by Owen McFadden. Tune in to hear the over 60s reclaim the airwaves! My contribution can be heard halfway in, around 30:30 on playback. If you think my voice sounds strange, it seems to have been slowed down to suit the potential mature audience! I think when they were doing a digital cut, the speed was altered and not restored to ‘normal’ setting! I hope they will invite me back so you can hear what my voice really sounds like! Apologies if you thought something strange had happened in the years since I left RTÉ News…

WPFG Volunteer Michael Fisher with Kim Harper, Las Vegas Guns & Hoses at the Odyssey Arena July 2013  Picture: © Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye

WPFG Volunteer Michael Fisher with Kim Harper, Las Vegas Guns & Hoses at the Odyssey Arena July 2013 Picture: © Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye

IN RETIREMENT

Well, how are you? What’s the weather going to be like today? It’s a question I continue to get asked, nearly five years after my retirement. Or, more correctly, since I gave up a staff job as a television news reporter and took a voluntary retirement package.

So where, you might ask, does the weather come in? My job was always about news. Since 1984 here in Northern Ireland, that inevitably meant covering sometimes daily killings, and several major incidents. Before that two of my biggest stories were in County Kildare: a train crash and also the disappearance of the racehorse Shergar.

It’s true that my first story on my first day as an RTE News reporter in January 1979 was weather-related, when the temperature dropped to a record low of -18C. The story concerned the transport disruption caused by the snow and ice.

Back then it took me a while to work out why people from the farming community I was introduced to by my then fiancée would usually start a conversation by asking me about the weather. 35 years on and now in semi-retirement, that same question was posed to me as I looked out over the stony grey soil of Monaghan.

NOW I realise that the sunshine or rain enquiry was not because my interlocutor had heard or seen my reports on radio or on the box; it was because he or she thought the famous BBC weatherman Michael Fish had landed in their midst! So if that is my solitary claim to fame when I finally retire, I will be happy in the knowledge that I did have some impact as a television celebrity!

What also pleases me at this stage of my life is to know that manners and respect for older generations can still be found amongst 21st Century youth. When you reach your sixties, and become eligible for the brown travel card, you are glad of the courtesy shown when someone stands up on a bus or train to give you a seat. Or when a stranger unexpectedly offers to carry something for you. I’m already looking forward to the next stage: the blue pass, which entitles the holder to cross-border free travel, as well as within Northern Ireland.

Retirement has given me more opportunity to travel. Two years ago I persuaded my other half to go on a cruise departing conveniently from Belfast to Norway. We already knew a few of those on the trip. By the end of it we had made a number of new friends. Many couples on board were retired. Some, like us, were taking their first cruise. But the vast majority who came from different parts of Ireland had experienced cruises before and were enjoying a new stage of their lives.

If my plans work out, I will do some travelling while my health is reasonable. I do not need to look far for inspiration. My neighbour, who turned 70 recently, loves climbing mountains. He was in Australia before Christmas and travelled to Thailand in February. In October he will be heading to central Nepal and is currently raising funds for the area affected by the earthquake.

I have found that fundraising for charity has been a very productive way of spending some of my retirement. Today I will be helping out at a 10k run that will raise funds for the Special Olympics Ireland team. Previous volunteering shifts included the World Police and Fire Games, which led in turn to the Giro d’Italia cycle race.

All this unpaid voluntary work is my way of putting something back into the community and enjoying a role as an ambassador for Belfast and Northern Ireland. Next week you might come across me in Newcastle, helping to look after the many visitors to the Irish Open Golf. But if they ask me about the weather, I reckon I will just have to check my mobile phone.

BALMORAL SHOW 2015

Lely robotic milking machine at Balmoral Show  Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Lely robotic milking machine at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

The robotic milking parlour by Lely was a big draw for the crowds this week at the Balmoral Show.

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

Plenty of interest too in the judging of various categories including dairy cattle.

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

Traffic problems did not seem to be as bad as two years ago but it still took half an hour to get out of the main car park yesterday afternoon (Friday).

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Judging in the cattle ring at Balmoral Show Photo: © Michael Fisher