Dear fellow travellers
The capacity of Ireland to create 'heritage centres' is unbounded. In a month that marks the ninetieth anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, it seemed good to check out the memorial to Eamon de Valera in the village of Brú Rí (Bruree in English), a wee spot just off the main road from Cork to Limerick. Predictably, the onetime simple exhibition in the village schoolhouse where de Valera said the rosary and learnt English history, a quiet homage to the man who was the only leader of the Rising not to be killed by the British, has now become a multimedia heritage centre. From Athy to Skibbereen, from Cashel to Navan, modern heritage centres across Ireland package life and experience in their own peculiar way, relating myth, famine, emigration and rebellion in multimedia snippets that duck all the real issues in favour of a sanitized view of history. In the words of the Irish poet WB Yeats, in his poem Easter 1916: 'All changed, changed utterly'. And yet, for all the skimping with facts and emphasis on presentation, there is something quite haunting about many of these heritage centres that dot the map of modern Ireland. Detached from reality, diffracted through the lens of multimedia displays, there is something spectral, ghostly and cinematic, almost American even, about these places with their shops full of shamrock and leprechauns. Thankfully, the centre at Brú Rí is one of the more restrained in the genre, and de Valera devotees, or those just needing a lesson in Irish history, will be reminded that it was only by virtue of his American nationality that de Valera escaped the death penalty meted out by the British to the leaders of the Rising.
America and Ireland intertwine in the upcoming issue of hidden europe, when we encounter Fergal, who lives in a back alley in Boston, Massachusetts. Fergal is of Europe, yet not in Europe; a man who, despite advanced years and humble circumstances, can still recite with unfailing precision the name of every hamlet on the road to Baleybofey. For a full table of contents and excerpts from all articles in the May hidden europe, click here.
The Danube delta in Romania
Easter Sunday may have come and gone for the western Christian churches, but for much of eastern Europe and the Orthodox world, the celebration of Easter Sunday takes place today. In the Danube delta region of Romania, now taking the brunt of the flooding which has afflicted so much of central Europe and the Balkans this past month, Easter festivities are laced with anxiety as homes and livelihoods are threatened by floodwater. Nowhere more so than in Sfantu Gheorghe, a community of Lippovan Russians who live in brightly painted houses in one of the remotest corners of the delta marshlands. There, prayers today are to their eponymous saint, St George, that his intervention might save this fishing village from inundation. St George is, however, a man with many responsibilities, for few are burdened with such a heavy duty of patronage: from Portugal to Lithuania, from Malta to Georgia, there are few corners of Europe that do not claim some association with St George. And many great cities have him as their patron saint: Moscow, Istanbul and Venice are just three. Sfantu Gheorghe is tiny, but let's hope that its needs top the list of concerns of its patron saint today.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)