IWAS in Armagh recently, throwing a prospecting eye around St. Patrick's Cathedral—the Catholic one ., (twin-spired, it stands 9n .a hill overlooking the city.) bn my reckoning, the general assembly would have ample room to meet in the nave. To begin with, each of the 26 diocesan assemblies could send five delegates. Then dioceses with a Catholic population of more than 150,000 could send three extra delegates for every 100,000 above that figure. In all. about 160 delegates.
There would be special seating, of course. 1 was trying to imagine how it would look. A semi-circle would probably be the best arrangement — facing towards the high altar, with the chairman facing down the nave and the "press gallery" somewhere in the centre of the semi-circle.
I heard that parish councils are burgeoning in the Armagh Diocese. If they were burgeoning everywhere, the day of national assembly in Armagh would seem nearer than it does. Why the delay, while the vast majority of the people would be very willing to follow a lead, if it were given? If it had been given a hundred years ago or less, we should have no "-Save the West" problem now. Probably there would have been no revolution either--people would have found the self-respect they needed more effectively the other way.
Armagh, the 1.500-year-old centre of pobal Phadraig—of "Patrick's people," as the Irish called themselves-is one of the handsomest towns in • Ireland. There is a fine sprinkling of church spires of all denominations, there are lovely old stone houses and some fine bits of Georgian. , When I was there a hotel was celebrating its 200th anniversary and the cherry trees were in blossom IT) the lanes.
Not far away from Armagh, in Clones, another kind of assembly took place during Whit week-end. It was the 18th all-Ireland festival of traditional music, called the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil . (You pronounce that firth kyo-11— well, more or less!) This annual event is the nearest we ever come in Ireland to Carnival spirit on a massive scale.
I wasn't at Clones, but judging by brief visits I paid to the festivals at Mull ingar and Gorey and by reports of others, I bike to think that was at the best Fleadh ever in Swinford, Co. Mayo a good few years ago. My impression is that Swinford was the pre. else point in the rise of the Flead'h to fame and fortune when the traditional music managed to draw large crowds without, as yet, being overwhelmed by them.
At Swinford, about 30,000 people—now it is nearer 80,000—converged on a town with a normal population of 1,500. I think that the exact number of bars, both ordinary and improvised, was 52. For me, it was Hemingway's Fiesta come to life. I was with a group of people, and, just as in Hemingway's novel, all sorts
of adventures and changes befell them, individually and as a group, during the three days.
The Fleadh scattered us and brought us together again, but each time it was different. And every pub was a concert-hall for chamber rnusic--raftersshattening when it was a ceili band, intimate when it was a tin whistle, thrillingly unpredictable when it was a chance combination of various instruments and of players who had seldom or never played together before.
But I don't want to citing to the past at the expense of the present. I have been hoping that the swollen Fleadh would find a new form of its own, somewhat different from the earlier ones, but satisfactory in a new way. People have been saying that master musicians have grown shy and that those impromptu sessions of high art are hard to come by at recent Fleadhanna.
This year there was a certain movement of ballad groups into the musical vacuum. Fine! And it was good to hear that two thirds of the participants in the competitions were ISyears of age or under. I don't forgive myself for having missed the prizewinners' concert on television.
Everyone assumed, with delight or with chagrin, that the bishops' ban on Catholics attending Trinity College, Dublin, had been "circumvented"—that was the ward used—by the Government's plan to merge Trinity with University College. The Bishops, in a joint statement last year, had wished the merger well, They said no word about the ban and it was omitted from the Lenten regulations of the Dublin Archdiocese. The behaviour of the bishops throughout had been discreet and gentlemanly.
The recent statement by a group of Catholic academics at Trinity was anything but the work of gentlemen. Turning the clock back, they asserted that the ban had not been justified and had done much harm over the years, and they called on the bishops to state whether it was still in force or not.
The tones were righteous and challenging, the motive aggressive and political: these Catholics do not want the merger. They hoped to throw a spanner in the works and to ingratiate themselves with the anti-merger wing of the establishment in a college where less than 30 per cent of the staff arc Catholics. (There is an anti-merger party in both colleges.)
Unfortunately, the Bishop of Galway obligedwith an onslaught on Trinity College. True to farm, for its part, the Irish Times attacked the bishop and said that the ban had now become again a "national issue." Following snit, the student Catholic societies in U.C.D. and Trinity repulsed the bishop. And all this over an issue which, far from being "national" or anything else, was a dead duck by virtue of a gentleman's agreement. It was emphatically, as m,fouryear-old son would say "Disgusting!"