This trio of stories about holy wells, faith, and illness traces the evolution–or perhaps the devolution–of folk belief and the power ascribed to sacred waters and places. Our guest Elizabeth Stack begins with two stories from Tipperary: a teenaged boy cured at St. Patrick’s Well in Clonmel and a weeping statue of Mother Mary in Templemore during the Irish War of Independence. Elizabeth closes with a story of her grandmother’s family, when a young child died of a mysterious illness in Limerick in 1920.
Elizabeth Stack is the Executive Director of the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, NY. Previously, she taught Irish and Irish American History and was an Associate Director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Fordham. She completed her PhD at Fordham, writing about Irish and German immigrants in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. She has a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish Relations in the 20th Century from University College Dublin. A native of Listowel, in Co. Kerry, Elizabeth sees a clear connection between her own experience as an immigrant - she moved to the US in 2009 - and with the important mission of the museum to preserve and share Irish heritage and culture.
During the centuries of Penal Laws, Irish Catholicism was a strange blend of paganism and what could be remembered from the Latin church. The Devotional Revolution of the mid-nineteenth century crystalized the version of Irish Catholicism we’ve known in recent history. This was further with Ireland’s first president, Éamon de Valera and his insular vision of Ireland.
The way pilgrims flocked to Templemore in the midst of a war when the town was full of IRA and Black and Tan forces. Michael Collins’s role in the investigation of the Marian apparitions.
The 1920s, when Elizabeth’s grandmother was a child, was a time of restriction when dances at the crossroads were banned and women feared being sent to the Magdalene Laundries. Her stories of growing up contained “a kind of darkness.” She despised and denied Frank McCourt’s description of Limerick in Angela’s Ashes, but perhaps because it was too close to home.
Now, Ireland is more progressive than Irish America. In Ireland, where mass attendance is down and there are few priests, and same sex marriage was accepted by a national vote, you’ll find a more welcoming, less structured version of the church. It’s a conscious return to the original Celtic Christianity.
Ireland didn’t have a witch burning phenomenon because herbal medicine and other forms of “women’s healing” were commonplace rather than strange and suspect.
The clash and blend of the matriarchal society and patriarchal government and church. In the tradition of the warrior goddesses who trained Cú Chullain, Scathach and Aoife, women were deeply involved in the 1916 rebellion, but they were excluded from public life in the Irish Republic.
The evolution of the Irish American Heritage Museum and its mission of creating empathy for all people enduring hunger, exclusion, and exile. It is not intended to be a shrine to a misremembered past.
Music at the start of the show is by Beth Sweeney and Billy Hardy, a Celtic Fiddle and multi-instrumental duo based on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The traditional Irish reel we play at the start of the show is called "The College Groves." billyandbeth.com
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