Friday, March 30, 2007

The Quality of Mercy


Though the word 'mercy' has a more comforting ring to it.
I was reading once again about the My Lai Massacre, the horrific murder of helpless women and children caught so cruelly in the Vietnam invasion. And I think of Darfur today and Rwanda and Iraq. All these innocents denied the chance of a life. And - if you believe as I believe that this is the only life we ever get and that Cloud God does not exist - that is a very serious thing. To lose one's only wild and precious life.

I got to thinking of the massacre of my forebears - my mother's forefathers and mothers. There was only one survivor - Philip O'Sullivan who was twelve years old and hid himself away on the Island of Dursey, the seat of the royal O'Sullivan Bearas. The story he told was appalling, all the little babies of the island were put on pikes and paraded throughout the island before their parents eyes and then everyone alive was butchered and thrown over the high cliffs to be dashed on the rocks below. My mother told me the story with passion and fire and always ended with "How can I ever forgive the British for slaughtering my family and for the terrible famine afterwards?"

Here's the story of Dursey:
Dursey Island lies at the south-west end of the Beara Peninsula. The island is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water called Dursey Sound which has a very strong tidal activity. The water swirls in and is quite spectacular to watch. With only a few permanent winter time residents, the island is one of the quietest in Ireland area with no pubs, shops or restaurants. There is no accommodation on the island so unless you have prior arrangements or wish to camp, make it a day trip. Dursey Island, which is only 6.5km long and 1.5km wide, provides the tourist with some lovely walks and breathtaking views of the nearby West Cork coastline.

The island is about 15 miles from Castletownbere, but will take awhile to drive on the narrow roads. You’ll probably want to stop often to view the scenery along the way. Ireland’s only cable car was opened in 1969. It runs at about 250m above sea level, and the 250m trip takes about 6 minutes. The car can take up to six people at a time or one large animal. No cars allowed and you may have to share the ride with smaller animals. The cable car operates between 9 and 11am, 2:30 and 5:00pm, and 7 to 8pm. Different hours apply on alternate Sundays due to mass. Check locally for details.

The island appears to have been inhabited at least back to the bronze age judging from archaeological digs. Kilmichael church was built on the island built by monks from nearby Skellig, but little remains except stones now.
The inhabitants of the island suffered a massacre from the English under Queen Elizabeth in 1602 when many of the captured were thrown over the high cliffs on the island.

Dursey Island was home to Dermot O'Sullivan. He and his allies, the McSweenys, fought the English during the Desmond rebellion as well as the later Munster wars. Most of his sons were killed during the wars. He and his wife sought refuge in Coruna, Spain. He lived to be one hundred years old and he and his wife were buried at the Franciscan Monastary in Coruna.

Thirty years ago, after the collapse of the fishing industry, the government relocated the islanders to the mainland. The remains of the island's three villages can be explored, giving an insight into lives of the people at the time. The island is also well known for birdwatching and has many colonies of birds.

And I'm posting a picture too. A hallowed ground, much like Darfur and My Lai.
And we have to forgive, don't we? Otherwise it eats away at us and chews the very soul out of us. Even when it's a very personal story, like my family history or a more removed one like Darfur or Abu Ghraib. We are all affected by each act of cruelty. It tears the humanity away from us, if we let it.

Our higher selves must overcome the depravity of our lower. Mercy and forgiveness. Amen.

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