The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Third String.
Tales from a Dagda Bard
The Sunday sun beat and bludgeoned down upon the island. Its heat and fires remarkable for their intensity. Remarkable in that everyone was remarking about it where ever we walked. Snatches of conversation sticking to my consciousness as we navigated the crowd.
“Sure isn’t it a great bit of warmth? Won’t be needing a sun holiday this year.”
“I hope those young folk are wearing sunblock or at least using aftercare. Too much U.V. and its skin cancer, I’m tellin you.”
“Had a mate return from Spain just the other day and they are spittin that I have a better tan from staying home than they got over there. Ha!”
“This hose ban is killing my garden and the flowers. I’m out with the watering can twice a day doing the rounds, and then they go power hosing the streets and that big feckin cross in the park for yer man’s visit? Nonsense.”
Part of the populace seemed delighted with the heat wave, the rest not so much, but then what do you expect. Opinion is a matter of perspective and every person has a unique outlook because they are themselves unique.
I glanced up at the Big man shambling along beside me. He was dressed for the weather today, though, given our previous talks on the topic of temperature, I was pretty sure that this too was an unnecessary accommodation on his part. Shin length cargo shorts, a loose fitting linen shirt, and shades, his hair held back from his face in a bobbin, beard clipped tight. His skin shone with the oily sheen of sunscreen, its scent mixing with his own earthy smell.
We crossed the road and passed along by a large red brick building. All massive stature, crucifix crowned and attached to an even more ostentatious cathedral
“Have to say I agree with that last one. Seems a lot of pointless effort for the figurehead of an organisation which protects criminals and believes it’s above the lawful Will of the people. I don’t see why the man is even accepted when Irish people have to bear the burden of cost and we have impoverished people who don’t even have a roof over their head. I don’t think he should be welcomed at all. ”
My companion gave a little shake of his head, as we stepped our way through and around the crowds in the city.
“I get why you would be angry alright, and I agree with you about the need to stand against the crimes of any organisation and speaking out against someone coming in the capacity of a figurehead like that can be important. That shower has done a lot of harm as much as good whilst promoting their agenda.”
“Well, I guess you would know right? I mean they did a lot to remove your Name from its place right?”
“Ah sure it wasn’t like that in the start. A bunch of em turned up just looking for the quiet scholarly life. We got on right well in the beginning, exchanging thoughts and ideas, finding the shared truths behind the variety of words and language.”
I turned my upper body sideways to take up less space as we passed a group of women who were chatting, being careful of the broadness of my shoulders.
“It was the later arrivals that caused an issue. Sent by one of the previous lads once he heard about the truth sharing. All closed minds and zealotry they were. If it wasn’t in their version of things, written in their book, then it was wrong and needed eradicating with extreme prejudice. They espouse a set of rules written down thousands of years ago. Words debated on by a council of men who selectively picked the ‘chapters’ so that the finished story would read in a way they wanted. A lot of which was written after the poor lad it was written about wasn’t even around to set them straight anymore.”
“So you agree that he should be denied hospitality then?”
He stopped, stepping us aside out of the flow of foot traffic, clearing space for a group of women who, deep in conversation, hadn’t noticed us moving to cross their path.
“You just made a very tricky statement there lad, and I’m not sure you understand all of its complexities. Not everyone has the ability to deny hospitality to someone, though they may be more trouble in the long run. Even then denying hospitality to a person when they have specifically requested it can be a different kind of trouble. It can lead to closed minds and hearts, to dismissing and denying folk because they don’t fit with your own ideals. That wouldn’t be doing right by the spirit and people of this land now would it?”
“What? You would really accept the visit of the head of an organisation who have been recorded as knowingly involved in the recruitment and protection of pedophiles? The incarceration, abuse, and enforced labour of women and if that's not bad enough the sale of those women’s children? Surely the laws on hospitality would allow a person deny access to a representative of that nature? How is allowing that person in doing right by the people and the land?”
My anger rose, adding my own heat to the words.
“You’re not wrong, the actions of the group are crimes that require justice, and proper restoration for the harms done.”
He looked at me and in his way, through me.
“The thing is, the rules around hospitality are very detailed, lad. There are a couple of things that might be worth being clear about. You seem to be caught up on the first bit and forgetting some of the other aspects of it.”
We stepped ahead again and started on about our stroll.
“First, not everyone is obliged or even authorised to accept a request for hospitality. There were still classes in the old days and not everyone had much to call their own unless they were a chieftain of some sort or another.
You, for example, are under no obligation to accept anyone into your home. You have the ground to judge what you feel is best for your place as is only right for a person living in a private space.
Thing is, Ireland is not just your private space. The ruling class of this land has more than just your opinion to manage and there are a lot of folk in Ireland that still seem to look up to the guy in the funny hat, despite the more unsavoury aspects of what he represents. There is a bunch of em that are a well-meaning lot, and they have done some good in their own way, but that can never take away from what the group as a whole are responsible for. ”
He paused to give a smile and nod to a young newly wedded couple who had seen him, as they moved about their day.
“There are still services to the people that are fulfilled.”
He caught my objection before it could even cross my teeth.
“It’s only what they know because it’s what they were raised with, true, but when you don’t know better, you take what education you can, and when you can, you start asking the right questions and not giving up without an answer.”
“Hospitality though, in the older sense was a process of balance and accountability. It was a mechanism for survival ensuring that there was someplace to come together in safety, that there was some ground in which everyone was valued and everyone was cared for.
It was the process by which community formed and folk moved away from a solitary ‘me first’ attitude, seeking by any means, the fullness of their belly and the safety of sleep.”
In the old days, Kings and Chieftains had the most so were, of course, the most accountable, but so too were the wealthy craft folk and briugu.”
He smiled to himself for a moment and though I couldn’t see his eyes behind the sunglasses, I knew from the manner of his smile that they were distant, cast back into the realm of memory.
“My old pal Goibhniu was one of the best for a feast. Now I’m no slouch when it comes to hosting, but there is always something extra about a feast you don't have to prepare yourself.”
His smile slipped for a minute as his eyes moved back to the people bustling on by with their bulging bags.
“That structure doesn’t exist anymore, and for all of the bountiful abundance some folk experience today, there are still others who are left without.”
He stopped for a second and crouched beside a homeless person, looking for spare change by the side of the street. The huddled form was pressed back in a doorway so as not to be tread on by the passing shoppers. I didn’t hear what my Big friend said to the person, but I saw him take the person’s hands in His and press a bank note into them. He held the person’s gaze for a moment then gave a nod and rose to his feet, moving us back along with the flow.
With a slight shake of his big head, he glanced down at me.
“So, those who have it, provide for those who come seeking it. Those who had more were expected to provide for those who came to them. Those who didn't have a lot were under no obligation to go without, though many folk would adopt the culture and spirit of the process and give what little they could to those who had even less than themselves. That’s how we survived. That's how we came together, that’s how community formed.
Our people still do it to this very day in forms of charitable donation or offerings of time in service from everything to the bucket chuggers on the streets to the United Nations peacekeepers in other lands. Ireland Gives.”
He turned his upper body slightly as we moved through a busy section of city streets so as not to jostle a passing woman.
“Now it’s this next part that is hardest and is often skipped over when people consider the rules around hospitality, but this part only seriously applies to those who are not allowed deny a request. Trust me, I have had some terrible ‘guests’ in my time, even one who, unjustly, took the food from my own plate.
Each person finds a portion in keeping with their merit. The workers for without whom there would be nothing to feast upon. The warriors for without whom there would be no security. The druids and draoi without whom there would be no wisdom. The bards and file without whom there would be no memory. The Chieftain upon whom the burden of leadership falls, without whom there would be no direction.
It’s not an open free for all on the person’s larder, nor yet is it a miserly scraping of scraps. There is balance in hospitality that sets a baseline, even the old, the ill and the disabled are cared for as every person who comes has merit. Even if it’s solely by living and breathing.”
We stopped for a moment of shade and allowed the foot traffic of the busy Sunday city shoppers pass us by, both of us watching the collection of humanity about its business.
“Reassurance of access to a solid meal and a safe place can do a lot for a person’s outlook on life and indeed community don't you think? Imagine how much that might mean to a person who wouldn’t have to fret about where their next meal is coming from, nor fear for their safety when they lay themselves down to sleep. Imagine what crimes could be prevented if a person never had to go hungry nor live in fear of their safety.”
He let that statement sit for a while as the people moved back and forth along the street. We were just two friends taking some shade on a hot day and easily ignored. Every person who walked passed no matter their age, gender, heritage, ethnicity, sexual preference, past actions or inactions had merit. Had a right to exist and know the reassurance of safety and the absence of hunger. Even those who had committed crimes had some merit by being alive. By being a person who has the potential to grow and change that they too deserve safety and to be fed.
“Ok. I hear you, but we aren't talking about the local homeless person here. We are talking about the head of a country who leads a global organisation of power and influence. One which all seems designed to place people in a state of fear for their immortal soul and through that control them. We are dealing with the request of a rival chieftain here, one who is coming with the intent of setting our people back on our progress of growth and development. One who has spoken out against the decision of our people in how we chose to acknowledge marriage equality, or decriminalise an aspect of medical care for our women. Ireland is the wayward lamb, and ‘the good shepherd’ is coming to take us back to the flock...and we are supposed to pay out millions for this?”
He let out a heavy sigh, which set a frown on my face.
“Yeh you’re not wrong there. They have done a lot for establishing a community and instilling their view on things. There have been a lot of horrible things done, things that should never be forgotten or forgiven. Justice cannot be denied and will come in one manner or another.
That is not disputable by any lengths.”
What you’re not seeing, or refusing to see is that the principles of hospitality are open to one and all, and there are those who for various reasons, cannot decline a request. I’m not talking about the hospitality of chieftains or those under a geis here, I’m talking about the guaranteed provision of safe neutral space, and a meal to break bread and talk.
The world is not as it was, that's for sure, but if no one comes to table, if no one sits and shares space and a meal then one of the corners of community becomes broken and folk drift back to looking out for only themselves.
True the person at the door might be a rival chieftain. True that conflict may be inevitable, but if they come in good faith, are willing to abide by the safety of the space then there is some chance that change can be carried on the weight of words instead of the backs of blades.
And should that worst come, should the answer be blades, well at least it can't be said of you that you didn't offer fairness in the fore. I’m not saying that everyone should offer to sit with their mortal enemy. No one should be compelled to be near an abuser if they are not willing or able. I Know there is no such thing as an ideal world. I know that tolerance cannot stop the intolerant. I know that there will always be those who take advantage, in one form or another.
For all of that, for all of the broken pain fuelled trauma of the world, I hold to hospitality as the one last line where hope can provide a safe space for communion of those willing to respectfully participate and where those who have need are cared for.”
He looked down at me and I noted the roll of tears coming from beneath his dark sunglasses.
“I told you it was a difficult question you asked.”
Of course, he was right, but that doesn’t make it easy. To look at someone who had done wrong, and to see the person, and not just the wrongdoing. That takes a perspective that I know I don’t have, especially where that wrong has been done to me, my family or those I consider my people. I don’t have to accept every request for hospitality, but if no one ever did, then I guess we would have a lot more hate and a lot less peace.
“You’re a better man at this than I am Big D, but I take your point. I still think we should just stick him in an Airbnb and order him a chipper though. That’s as far as my view of his ‘merit’ would take him.”
The Dagda let out one of his rumbling laughs and I felt his mood shift at my words.
“Yeh, but only a reasonably priced one, nothing fancy and he can pay for his own can of coke with his chipper eh?”
That laugh of his is not something easily resisted, nor the elbow nudge that set us off moving again. I chuckled along as we rejoined the crowd making our way onwards.
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An Scéalaí Beag