The Cultural Tutor

Areopagus Volume XL

Published about 1 year ago • 27 min read

Areopagus Volume XL

Welcome one and all to the fortieth volume of the Areopagus. Or perhaps I should say Céad Míle Fáilte! Today is St. Patrick's Day, and so it only seems right that this week's volume be themed around Ireland, that green jewel on the very edge of Europe, halfway between continent and ocean.

Green, blue, yellow, and red –
God is down in the swamps and marshes
Sensational as April and almost incredible
the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked
The raving flowers looked up in the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris – but mostly anonymous performers
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

That was The One, written by Patrick Kavanagh, and a perfect prelude to this week's seven short lessons...

I - Classical Music

Irish Rhapsody No. 6

Charles Villiers Stanford (1922)

Powerscourt, County Wicklow by George Barret (1762)
Music performed by the Ulster Orchestra

The life of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was rather tidy. Born in Dublin to a family of musical lawyers (lawyers who were also musicians rather than specialists in musical law...) he studied at Trinity College and afterwards at Cambridge University in England. Then he spent three years in Leipzig and Berlin before returning to England as Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music in London, in 1883. Musicians he taught include Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Stanford's students later recalled what an edifying teacher he was: intimidating because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of music, frustrating because of his deep musical conservativism, and exhausting because he expected his students to give everything they had to their studies.

So Stanford was a central figure in the music of late 19th and early 20th century Britain and the tutor to a whole generation of composers. Many of his students may have rebelled against him by embracing Modernism, but even reacting against a teacher is still to be influenced by them. And so much of the classical music now regarded as truly British, whether Holst or Vaughan Williams, finally disentangled from the influence of Germany, Italy, and France, would never have been created without Stanford.

But he wasn't just a teacher; Stanford was a prolific and popular composer. Irish Rhapsody No. 6 was the last piece of music he ever wrote. He finished it two weeks before his seventieth birthday in 1922. Thereafter his health declined and he died in 1924. It is perhaps fitting that this was his last piece. For Charles Villiers Stanford had spent most of his life away from Ireland, the land of his birth. And yet here, in his last ever composition, he returned to it for the final time.

What is a rhapsody? It's one of those wonderful musical genres which doesn't have a precise definition. The word rhapsody itself comes from the Ancient Greek term for a recital of excerpts drawn from popular epic poetry, almost like a "best moments" compilation. In the hands of 19th century Romantic composers the rhapsody was transformed into a one-movement instrumental composition of no set length or structure - a rhapsody can vary wildly in tone and style, jumping from one musical idea, technique, or mood to another.*

Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody, written in 1857, was infused with the folk music of his native land, and it started a trend of writing rhapsodies inspired by the music and character of a particular country or region. Such was the model adopted by Stanford with his six Irish Rhapsodies. George Bernard Shaw certainly thought Stanford was at his best when he indulged his "Irishness" and forewent the solemn seriousness of English Victorian music. What can we detect in Irish Rhapsody No. 6? Perhaps a composer who knows he is coming to the end of his time and, looking back over his life, recalls the love he felt for the land of his birth. There's gentleness here, and fondness too. Not sentimentality - Stanford seems to have been much too serious a man for that - and yet, I dare say, a certain poignance.

*This freewheeling musical form has its most famous example in Queen's 1975 smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody; it is a song remarkably well-suited to this genre.

II - Historical Figure

St Patrick

An Honest Man

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Today, the 17th March, is the date traditionally associated with his death and is therefore also celebrated as his feast day, the world-famous St Patrick's (or St. Paddy's) Day. It's a global festival of Irishness: Guinness, shamrocks, leprechauns, and all things green. A wonderful day, for sure, but hardly a true characterisation either of Ireland or of St Patrick. So who was he really?

Discerning the myth from the man can prove difficult. As with most saints the life of Patrick has been elaborated and mythologised down the centuries, turning a normal human like you or I into a figure more of legend than reality. The most popular myth tells how Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland. And yet the fossil records show that Ireland never had any snakes in the first place. Another myth relates that Patrick explained the nature of the Holy Trinity to an unbeliever with the three leaves of a shamrock. Thereafter it became the national symbol of Ireland. According to one 12th century account Patrick raised precisely thirty three people from the dead. What to make of such legends? Well, this tradition of mythologising the lives of saints is known as hagiography. Saints were incredibly important figures throughout the Middle Ages, and so the stories of their lives were among the most widely-read and known. The particulars of their stories were important because they provided the iconography for their depictions in art: think of St Catherine and the wheel. For Christians who could not read it was the paintings and stained-glass windows in churches that told the stories of the Bible and of the saints. Patrick could be recognised in the art of the Middle Ages or indeed of any era, then, by his shamrock or by the snakes fleeing in terror before him.

But who was the real Patrick? The first thing we should know is that he wasn't Irish. Patrick was born in England at some point during the 5th century AD either to a Roman family or a native one that had been Romanized. Here is how Patrick explains his origins:

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.

And so the teenage Patrick was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland, where he was forced into six years of slavery and labour as a shepherd, among other things. But, says Patrick, it was during these long years of hardship that he found his faith:

After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.

Patrick eventually escaped slavery in Ireland and, notwithstanding another brief captivity (this one lasted only two months) returned to his family in England. But he didn't stay for long. Patrick felt a calling to return to Ireland. It was a largely pagan country and he was inspired to convert it to Christianity. That being said, Patrick was a naturally uncertain man, prone to doubting his own virtues and forever ruminating on his own unreadiness. Here's how Patrick described the vision which encouraged him to return:

A few years later I was again with my parents in Britain. They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again. It was while I was there that I saw, in a vision in the night, a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then. Thanks be to God, after many years the Lord granted them what they were calling for.

His life as a missionary in Ireland was difficult, not least because he had the barbarous king Coroticus to deal with, a rather brutal ruler who had no compunction with murdering, pillaging, and kidnapping Patrick's converts:

I am hated. What shall I do, Lord? I am most despised. Look, Thy sheep around me are torn to pieces and driven away, and that by those robbers, by the orders of the hostile-minded Coroticus. Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots. Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ — I cannot count their number. Wherefore, be not pleased with the wrong done to the just; even to hell it shall not please. Who of the saints would not shudder to be merry with such persons or to enjoy a meal with them? They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder.

Patrick held steadfastly to his work despite the crimes of Coroticus and despite being captured and enslaved yet again. He does seem to have wrestled with his own desire for an easier life, but a strong sense of duty prevented him from ever leaving his mission:

I could wish to leave them to go to Britain. I would willingly do this, and am prepared for this, as if to visit my home country and my parents. Not only that, but I would like to go to Gaul to visit the brothers and to see the faces of the saints of my Lord. God knows what I would dearly like to do. But I am bound in the Spirit, who assures me that if I were to do this, I would be held guilty. And I fear, also, to lose the work which I began – not so much I as Christ the Lord, who told me to come here to be with these people for the rest of my life. May the Lord will it, and protect me from every wrong path, so that I do not sin before him.

All of this comes down to us from Patrick himself. He wrote two surviving works: the Confessio and the Letter To Coroticus. They are both autobiographical and both remarkably honest; rarely do ancient writers reveal themselves as clearly as Patrick. He is open about his insecurities and doubts - that he is unlearned, uneducated, and a poor writer - and he is open about his own imperfections and sinful ways, ever ready to admit that he has made mistakes. He is also blunt about the difficulties he has faced during his mission to Ireland. What we have here is far from the picture of a perfect and saintly man. It is, rather, the portrait of a human no different from the rest of us:

What happened was that, one day when I was feeling anxious and low, with a very dear friend of mine I referred to some things I had done one day – rather, in one hour – when I was young, before I overcame my weakness. I don’t know – God knows – whether I was then fifteen years old at the time, and I did not then believe in the living God, not even when I was a child. In fact, I remained in death and unbelief until I was reproved strongly, and actually brought low by hunger and nakedness daily.
My defence was that I remained on in Ireland, and that not of my own choosing, until I almost perished. However, it was very good for me, since God straightened me out, and he prepared me for what I would be today. I was far different then from what I am now, and I have care for others, and I have enough to do to save them. In those days I did not even have concern for my own welfare.

It is also from these works that we know Patrick was something of a controversial figure. He seems to have been accused by other churchmen of taking bribes for his services, accepting lavish gifts, and other such pecuniary crimes. Patrick responded to these accusations with typical directness and earnesty:

I know that I am inexperienced in all things. But still, I have tried to keep a guard on myself and for the Christians and virgins of Christ and religious women who were giving me small gifts of their own accord. When they would throw some of their ornaments on the altar, I would give them back to them. They were hurt at me that I would do this. But it was because of the hope of the eternal gift, that I was careful in all things, in case unbelievers would trap me or my ministry of service for any reason. Nor did I want to give those who could not believe even the slightest reason for speaking against me or take my character away.
Perhaps, however, when I baptised so many thousands of people, did I hope to receive even the smallest payment? If so, tell me, and I will return it to you. Or when the Lord ordained clerics everywhere through my poor efforts, and I gave this service to them for free, if I asked them to pay even for the cost of my shoes – tell it against me, and I will return it to you and more.

Patrick pointed out that he was a foreigner and that the customs of the native Irish, especially with regard to the giving of gifts, might seem strange to bishops and deacons elsewhere in Britain. But he perservered, despite criticism and enslavement and violent resistance, laying the foundations for the Christianisation of Ireland which has endured to this day. At the end of his life Patrick was taken to Saul, where he had established his first church upon returning to Ireland on his missionary quest, and it was there he died sometime toward the end of 5th century AD.

St Patrick, then, is one of the liveliest and most relatable figures from that whole era of British history. He is a patron saint whose life we can reconstruct and whose personality we can clearly imagine: honest, doubting, passionate, inspired, humble, plain, brave, pious, practical, cautious, and devoted; such a legacy is far greater than any fantastical stories about banishing snakes. This is the man celebrated on the 17th March.

III - Painting

The Book of Kells

Anonymous (c.800 AD)

Among the many saints who followed in Patrick's footsteps was Columba, a 6th century Irish missionary who travelled to Scotland and there founded the Abbey of Iona in the Western Hebrides. It was thanks to Columba and the monasteries he founded, in Iona and elsewhere, that the Book of Kells was created. Nobody's quite sure when it was made, although the date now agreed upon by scholars is around the year 800. We aren't even certain where it was made. Perhaps at the Abbey of Iona, even if only initially. Or perhaps not. It may have been created at the Abbey of Kells in Ireland, where it was kept for centuries and after which it has been named. Perhaps it was the work of many different monasteries and more than one generation.

What we know for sure is that it was the work of a very specific group of people: those British and Irish monks in one or more of the abbeys founded by Columba. These were monasteries which weathered the storm of the Roman retreat from Britain and preserved both Christianity and learning more generally during the ensuing Dark Ages. In these years they were isolated from the rest of Europe and the rest of the Catholic Church, and a distinctive form of Christianity arose, infused with Celtic culture. This was the context of the Book of Kells.

And what is the Book of Kells? A handwritten copy of the Four Gospels, all in Latin. Its pages are filled with illuminations of extraordinary elaboration. Some of them depict recognisable figures, whether Mary and the infant Jesus or the authors of the gospels themselves: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. In other places we find goats and sheep and dogs, and in others we find fantastical beasts which defy description. But many of these illuminations are purely decorative and entirely abstract: we find spirals, swirls, laces, knots and all manner of bafflingly and beautifully complex intracies. And so the influence of Celtic and Saxon art is clear, for we find none of this fabulous pattern in the classical art of Rome. This unique style has been called either "Insular Art" or "Hiberno-Saxon Art."

All these wonderful images complement the texts of the Gospels, of course, and the fact that this is a book should not be overlooked. For books were rare and precious objects in those days. If nothing else, the Book of Kells is a reminder that we should cherish the abundance of books in the 21st century, whether in print or online. It is a blessing of which the Columban monks could hardly have dreamed.

Each page is work of absolute devotion; every detail seems to have been treated with the sort of scrupulous attention and love that can only arise from a certain degree of isolation. We must remember there was no electricity then. This was work done entirely by sunlight or by candlelight, without heating and without the conveniences of modern life. The waves must surely have been thundering at the rocks, the bitter winds of the North Sea draughting through the holes in the walls, and the threat of persecution or pillage ever looming over them. Indeed, it was around the time of this book's completion that the Vikings first appeared in the British Isles, all too happy to ransack monasteries and slaughter the brethren. But here, in the midst of all that darkness, these Columban monks brought forth a work of astounding light.

We can see why the Book of Kells is regarded as one of the great artistic and cultural treasures of the Middle Ages. The monastic tradition of illuminated manuscripts was one of the bulwarks of art, religion, learning, and culture for centuries; nowhere was it realised with greater imaginative power or spiritual force than in the Book of Kells. It is currently held by Trinity College, Dublin, where it is on permanent display.

IV - Architectural Masterpiece

Skellig Michael Monastery


Skellig Michael is surely one of the most dramatic places on earth. It is a fist of rock just over seven miles off the south-west coast of Ireland, almost entirely unapproachable during winter and dangerous even during the summer. Its highest point is over seven hundred feet above sea level and the island is surrounded, on all sides, by precipitous cliffs. Puffins, gannets, and seals have made Skellig Michael their home. So too did a group of monks who made that dangerous crossing in search of solitude and built on this rugged and inhospitable island a home for themselves. The origins of the monastery at Skellig Michael are shrouded in mystery and nobody is entirely sure of its age. We know that it was established by the 9th century AD at least, since Viking raids on the island were recorded in that century. Nor are we certain when it fell into disuse, though it seems to have become a site of pilgrimage by the late Middle Ages and has remained one ever since.

Nonetheless, for however long these monks clung to the windblasted rocks of Skellig Michael, they built a number of beehive-shaped stone huts, a graveyard, stone terraces, stone staircases, gardens, two oratories (prayer houses), and a church. These were constructed on a little shelf over one hundred and eighty metres above the sea. There's also a hermitage on the other side of the island, accessible only by an incredibly dangerous staircase and situated just fifteen metres below the highest peak. There is one small area of relatively flat land between the two peaks of Skellig Michael, known as Christ's Saddle. It seems the monks may have done a little farming there. The island is scattered with other remains of those long centuries of monastic life, including stone crosses and inscriptions on the rocks.

Why is it a masterpiece?

The monastery at Skellig Michael is a supreme example of vernacular architecture: buildings not designed by professional architects but constructed by ordinary people or craftsmen according to their immediate needs and with locally available materials. So much is obvious simply by looking at it. These monks were not architects; they were hardly even stonemasons. What they built on the precipitous cliffs of Skellig Michael was dictated entirely by the limitations of their skill and the demands of utility. I don't wish to take anything away from what they achieved. After all, a thousand years after this little monastery was built it remains standing. One doubts the same will be true of many modern structures. My point is simply that they were not building according to any models or theories or styles or movements. They weren't trying to build something that was beautiful or which looked a particular way; they were building what they had to in the best way they could manage. That's vernacular architecture at its purest.

And yet these beehives of stone, absolutely unadorned and without any fanciful notions of "design", seem to possess more aesthetic power than any theoretical analysis of architecture could ever produce. They are honest and beautiful in their simplicity; rugged but charming by their imperfections; diminuitive but impressive by the labour evident in each of their carefully placed stones. It is difficult not to be moved by the sight of these huts clinging to the cliffs of Skellig Michael, for in all their desolation they are also beautiful and, I think, uplifting. However crude this little monastery in comparison with the wonders of modern construction you'd be hard pressed to find something which embodies more clearly to the immense power of the human spirit and the remarkable ends to which it is driven.

One can only wonder what led the monks to live on such an island and build such a dwelling for themselves. Perhaps they sought to escape persecution. Perhaps they simply sought solitude and a place for contemplation and religious devotion, to rise above the trivialities and normal life and reach a higher mode of existence. Perhaps they just wanted a challenge. Whatever the truth of this mysterious monastery, one senses it will remain at Skellig Michael long after our tallest skyscrapers have fallen down.

V - Rhetoric

The Modern Orator

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was proud of his Irish heritage and open about it; all of his grandparents were Irish immigrants to the United States of America. And JFK was, without doubt, one of the greatest orators of the modern age, a man who would have been readily praised by the rhetoricians of Greece and Rome as an exemplar of what it means to be a truly accomplished speaker. What makes his speeches so memorable and persuasive? Well, JFK was evidently a master of the basics of rhetoric; he knew how to use antimetabole and antithesis. Sometimes that's all you need:

Ask not what your country can do you for, but what you can do for your country.
Do not pray for easier lives; pray to be better men.
Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.
We choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Of course, quips are one thing and speeches are another. I thoroughly recommend listening to or reading his speeches in full. For while I will always advocate the study of a Demosthenes or a Cicero, it is of equal importance to see what a great modern speech looks like. So here are some brief excerpts from the speeches of John F. Kennedy, both to show that great speeches consist not only in clever use of rhetorical devices and that people in the modern day are no less eloquent than our ancient counterparts.

On the possibilities of space science:

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.

On students:

I come here today not just because you are doing well and because you are outstanding students, but because we expect something of you. And unless in this free country of ours we are able to demonstrate that we are able to make this society work and progress, unless we can hope that from you we are going to get back all of the talents which society has helped develop in you, then, quite obviously, all the hopes of all of us that freedom will not only endure but prevail, of course, will be disappointed. So we ask the best of you... I congratulate you on what you have done, and most of all I congratulate you on what you are going to do.

On the press:

No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.
I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers - I welcome it. This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it." We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed; and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment - the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution - not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply "give the public what it wants", but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

It's rather tempting to imagine that the quality of public speech has withered even since the days of JFK. This line of thinking, that "things aren't what they used to be" in politics, was shared by the Romans of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, who looked back to the days of the Republic and compared their own age unfavourably with the era of Cicero, Caesar, Cato, and so on. And yet we look back on their age with admiration. It's something of an endless cycle. But as our old friend Pliny the Younger said, "I am an admirer of the ancients, but, not like some people, so as to despie the talent of our own times. It is not true that the world is too tired and exhausted to be able to produce anything worth praising."

Alas, where better to conclude than with part of a speech given by John F. Kennedy to the Irish Assembly in June of 1963? It's another fine example of how he mixed erudition and eloquence with simple rhetorical devices and straightforward emotional appeals. Whatever we think of his political views, John F. Kennedy was an exceptional orator. He is certainly somebody we can learn from in the 21st century.

And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived in the United States. They left behind hearts, fields, and a nation yearning to be free. It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic as a bowl of bitter tears. And an earlier poet wrote, "They are going, going, going, and we cannot bid them stay."
But today this is no longer the country of hunger and famine that those emigrants left behind. It is not rich, and its progress is not yet complete, but it is, according to statistics, one of the best fed countries in the world. Nor is it any longer a country of persecution, political or religious. It is a free country, and that is why any American feels at home.
There are those who regard this history of past strife and exile as better forgotten. But, to use the phrase of Yeats, let us not casually reduce "that great past to a trouble of fools." For we need not feel the bitterness of the past to discover its meaning for the present and the future. And it is the present and the future of Ireland that today holds so much promise to my nation as well as to yours, and, indeed, to all mankind.
For the Ireland of 1963, one of the youngest of nations and oldest of civilizations, has discovered that the achievement of nationhood is not an end but a beginning.

VI - Writing

The Wit of the Irish

Strange how certain places seem to produce writers of a similar ilk; what Ireland has never lacked is writers of extraordinary wit. Oscar Wilde is perhaps the most famous, but he's not the only one.

There's also Jonathan Swift, most famous now for writing Gulliver's Travels but in his own time regarded as the greatest satirist of the age. He was bitterly and brutally funny. Just consider A Modest Proposal, in which Swift (writing anonymously, as he always did) proposes a simple solution to the problem of poverty in Ireland: that people sell their children as food to the rich. It is a mockery of the treatment of the poor, of course, but Swift carries through his satire without flinching.

And we cannot forget George Bernard Shaw. He lived to the grand old age of ninety four and his life, coming as it did between 1856 and 1950, was one that spanned eras. He was a colourful and controversial character, regarded by some as the greatest British dramatist since Shakespeare and by others as a gadfly. What nobody ever called him was boring. I find myself enjoying just about everything he wrote, whether I agree with it or not. He, like Wilde, had a gift for coining phrases of delightful and incisive wit.

Then there's Richard Brinsley Sheridan, one of the funniest playwrights who ever lived. Even two centuries after they were written and long after the specific social conditions they satirised have passed, you'll still find it rather difficult not to be amused by Sheridan's comedy. There's also Laurence Sterne. I haven't read his Tristram Shandy, published in the mid-18th century and apparently one of the most popular, influential, and well-regarded European novels of all time. Still, it's been recommended to me on enough occasions by people whom I trust that I feel comfortable mentioning it here. For somebody whose wit was rather darker we need look no further than the bleak and tragicomic genius of Samuel Beckett.

Lastly there's Edmund Burke, my favourite of the lot. He was an exceptional writer and that rarest of creatures: a truly independent-minded politician. Reflections on the Revolutions in France, Burke's answer to the French Revolution and the British thinkers who wanted to imitate it, certainly isn't funny in the same way some of the other works mentioned here might be, but it's one of the most incisive and prophetic pieces of political writing I've ever come across.

I suppose you can consider this a list of recommondations of Irish writers you might wish to consider reading. Of course, the potential list is essentially endless and these few have been selected only by a very particular metric.

VII - The Seventh Plinth

An online interview with... me

Next Tuesday (21st March) I'll be talking to David Perell, the founder of Write of Passage and the patron who supports my work. Anybody can attend and it's completely free. The recording will also be sent to everybody who signs up. Here is the link for the event. It's at 2pm ET, which is 6pm GMT and 7pm CET.

What will we talk about? My journey in creating The Cultural Tutor and the world of online writing. It should be helpful for any of you who are already writing online or have considered doing so. I've learned a great deal in the last year and I'm keen to share it with anybody who might gleen something useful from my experiences. Otherwise, if you simply wish to hear me talk about how I created and became The Cultural Tutor, please do come along.

Question of the Week

Last week's question to test your critical thinking was:

Where do good ideas come from?

This is David R's method for finding them:

I rely on my sleeping brain. My best ideas come after I have engrossed myself in the task for hours, then enjoyed a good night's sleep. After I wake up and resume thinking about the problem, solutions come to mind which weren't there the day before.

Mazlow gave a brilliantly poetic answer:

Good ideas are born from the ashes of bad ideas. They make great fertilizer. Cultivating succesive adaptations of your thoughts.

Here was Vanessa G's musation on the topic:

My best ideas come to me organically, percolating and sifting through my thoughts unconsciously, but mostly consciously, and eventually an idea of sorts makes its way upwards in my mind, where I will examine it, quite tenaciously sometimes, and then I will ponder upon how workable it might be, will it be the outcome I want, can I improve on it?
Which version of the idea is workable? Will it please me? Will it please another? Would it be harmful? Will it bring pleasure? Money? Praise? Will I be thought better of by presenting my idea - perhaps in a physical form or perhaps in the shape of a talk or an explanation?
I admit some of my ideas have misfired - having been unable to judge the enthusiasm with which they may be received, but some ideas, acted on spontaneously, have been (I think) mostly well received, brought pleasure, practicalities and amusement (sometimes anger if I misjudged) but ideas which are acted on spontaneously are often the best!

And that of Sebastian E:

I mostly find nighttime way more inspiring, it's not about the silence, since I live right in the middle of a Spanish city full of bars and restaurants which keep locals and tourists stampeding through the streets all night long, but I find it more comfortable, fresher. It's also easier to be by myself and that is when all the sparks fly and the muses start whispering in my ears.
If it's something artistic/creative, most of the time I don't even know where I might be headed but I always keep a pocket size notebook where I write ideas, concepts, phrases or simply a word that I found appealing and let my imagination or feelings run wild, a bit like automatic writing. But I must say that many of the scribbles in that small notebook come from conversations with people, hearing different points of view, books, and self experience.
So, in short, I'd venture into saying that good ideas come from within, fed by without. We are social creatures that have mastered the art of manipulating our surroundings and, ironically, this artificial environment has effects on us. It moves us, influences us and nowadays it is difficult to not be receiving any kind of input. I think a good idea has the power of giving meaning or a solution to something, it doesn't have to be strictly practical for someone else other than you, and it is a compendium of all the exchanges one has have with one's own environment; the ideas are there we just have to put the dots together.

John C emphasised the need to engage with the world rather than merely sit back and wait for creativity to strike us:

You cannot be cooped up in a hole expecting good ideas to simply flood your brain; you will overwhelm yourself trying to think of good ideas & nothing will come to you. Good ideas come from observing others & thinking about how you interpret their work, how you would do it differently, and what you would change.

And, to end, here was Mary G's answer, quoting her late father:

We are most truly ourselves when we are least aware of ourselves in an act of creating. Time and space disappear and we are caught up for a moment into eternity. It is a kind of blissful annihilation of the self. The living creative moments of transcendence in our lives happen when we are out of time and space and consciousness.

This week's question to test your critical thinking is...

Can any good deed be truly selfless?

And that's all

I look forward to seeing those of you who attend next Tuesday's talk. In case you missed it, here's a link for the event. Otherwise I wish a blessed Saint Patrick's Day to you all and a prosperous weekend thereafter. Farewell and Oíche Mhaith for now!


The Cultural Tutor

The Cultural Tutor

A beautiful education.

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