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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Private Dixon Vallance...

a 22-year-old soldier in the 79th Cameron Highlanders, served with distinction during the Battle of Waterloo. He had been raised on a humble farm in Lanarkshire and had little formal education. But now, at the height of the Napoleonic wars, he put aside the plough and took up the musket. He was one among many farm-boys who either volunteered or were forced to join the service and fight under the Duke Wellington.

    News of the French advance reached Brussels on the evening of June 15, 1815, when many of the British officers were enjoying themselves at a ball held in their honor. Soldiers and civilians alike were roused to action, and Private Vallance scampered off to retrieve his shirts from a local laundress. Still soaking wet, he just had time enough to wring them out and stuff them in his knapsack before getting dressed in his full uniform. 

    He and his comrades tried to get some sleep in the few hours remaining, but they were rudely awakened at dawn by the skirl of bagpipes, blare of bugles, and rattle of drums. Their generous Belgian host gave Vallance and his three comrades a loaf of bread and a bumper of gin each before kissing them farewell. The 79th Regiment mustered at the Grand Place in the center of Brussels, and each kilted soldier was given another helping of gin. As they marched through the streets of the city, many of the pedestrians cheered them on, and to their great pleasure, the girls spontaneously rushed forward to embrace them.

    By midday, they were trekking through a wood where Vallance took the opportunity to get a drink of water at a brook and lay out his soggy shirts to dry. It was then he noticed his Bible laying at the bottom on his pack and decided to take up his “best, but much-neglected, companion” and read the psalms that he felt were appropriate for a soldier about to face possible death in battle. He was happy he was alone by the brook, because he knew he might incur the scorn of his less religious companions if he were caught meditating on Bible verses.

    At 2 p.m., the 79th reached a crossroads called Quatre Bras some 20 miles south of Brussels. The sounds of battle could not be clearly heard, and Dutch and Belgian soldiers staggered past the Highlanders to lick their wounds, while some fainted from loss of blood. Together with two other battalions, they prepared themselves to take the brunt of the French infantry and cavalry. Vallance’s battalion set up their position in a field of clover and rye, while the first shots from the enemy began to hit their mark. An old veteran from the 79th had the feather from his bonnet torn off by a ball, but he only laughed. “I have had many a one of that sort.” 

    Vallance had a ball whizz by him, smash through his canteen, and then wound a soldier behind him. The soldiers were soon ordered to lie down among the clover, but the bullets still were too close for comfort. One ricocheted off Vallance’s camp-kettle inside his knapsack and another slit across his belt. A soldier next to him was shot in the head and killed instantly. Soon, many men were struck, and Vallance found himself splattered with the blood of his comrades. Finally, they were ordered to charge the French position, chasing the enemy back a ways before returning to the clover field. Later, the French ordered a cavalry charge against the British position, but they were repulsed by the Highland fire power. The see-saw of attack and retreat went on all day.

    In another part of the battlefield, the Duke of Wellington stationed himself just behind the 92nd Gordon Highlanders Regiment, peering at the enemy lines through a spyglass as shells burst all around him and seemingly unperturbed by the danger he was putting himself in. At 5 p.m., he spotted a French column advancing towards them and ordered the Gordons to charge them. Colonel John Cameron of Fassiefern led the assault, but was mortally wounded in the process. Hot fighting broke out and continued between the two sides until 7:30 p.m., when the Brigade of Guards came to relieve the Highlanders.

    The Battle of Quatre Bras lasted until sundown, and resulted in a successful British defense that bought the Allies much needed time. Vallance spent the night on guard duty on the field, listening to the groans of the wounded and weathering the gusts of wind that swirled across the crossroads. Meanwhile, some of the other British soldiers looted the bodies of dead Frenchmen. The next morning, the Highlanders were given the rare treat of beef for breakfast in recognition of  their tenacious fighting the day before. Trying to live up to their fierce reputation, the Scottish soldiers removed the breastplates from the slain French soldiers and used them for frying pans.

    “They suited our purpose very well, only we lost a little of the gravy by the holes which our bullets had made,” Vallance later recalled nonchalantly.

    They invited some nearby Belgian soldiers to join them in the feast, but the Belgians were under the impression that the Highlanders were actually cooking the Frenchmen’s flesh, and understandably declined taking part in the cook-out!

    At the same time the British were celebrating their victory, news came that Napoleon had trounced the Prussians at Ligny on the same day. Wellington ordered his army to retreat from the hard-won crossroads at Quatre Bras and regroup closer to Brussels at the small village of Waterloo on June 17. The previous day’s fighting would prove to be only a taste of what was to come. As the British marched, a torrential storm blew up causing the ground to turn into a muddy morass and soaking the soldiers’ uniforms, packs, guns, and ammunition. They staggered on after nightfall, cold and wet and weary. When dawn finally came, many of the soldiers simply collapsed from exhaustion and did not wake up until they heard the whiz of cannonballs flying past them.

    To keep spirits up, the men were each issued a ration of gin. They hardly had the chance to enjoy it, however, because a little after noon the French columns advanced shouting their battle-cry, “Vive l’Empereur!” Wellington’s 68,000 British, Dutch, and Belgian troops faced off Napoleon’s 72,000 Frenchmen and Imperial sympathizers beside the road that led to the town of Ohain. The British were on the slope of a ridge, which meant they would be able to hide on the reverse slope when necessary while the French would have to exert great energy scaling the height. After testing Wellington’s right flank and finding it strong, Napoleon’s artillery opened fire in a massive barrage on his center near the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte. This was where Private Valance and the 79th Regiment under the divisional command of the Welsh-born Sir Thomas Picton were positioned.

    Lying flat on the ground to avoid the projectile, the Highlanders watched with relief as many of the cannonballs became imbedded in the muddy ground rather than bouncing towards their intended targets. Still, some of the men were struck, one soldier having his cheek torn off and unnerving him comrades by his agonized screams. Vallance would have been hit as well if not for the observation of one of his comrades that he was lying directly in line of the cannon fire. He quickly moved, and a ball fell in that spot almost immediately afterwards.

    When the barrage finally ended, the Highlanders stood up to find themselves facing 16,000 advancing French soldiers. The French fired their muskets at a distance, and most of the balls did more damage to the feathers in the Highlanders’ bonnets than to the Highlanders themselves. Meanwhile, the Highlanders were instructed only to open fire when the French were within striking range. The full brunt of the French assault was hard for the Highlanders to resist, especially when Sir Thomas Picton received a bullet in the brain and fell dead in front of them. He had been wounded two days before, but kept it a secret so that he could lead his men in the upcoming battle. When his uniform was late in arriving, he simply went into battle dressed in civilian clothes and a top hat, fearlessly cheering his men on from the front. His loss was a severe blow to morale.

    Seeing that the 79th were leaderless and seemed to have had “more than liked of it”, Wellington personally rode forward and reformed the line with the French just 20 yards away. Wellington’s horse, Copenhagen, carried him more than sixteen hours at the Battle of Waterloo, and his rider was showing no signs of wearying. He ordered them to fire, and the hail of bullets pushed the enemy back once again. Soon, the Highlanders drummed enough courage to give them chase. Some of the wounded Frenchmen lying prostrate feared the British would kill them where they lay and opened their knapsacks to the Highlanders in exchange for their lives. But the Highlanders were not interested in killing or plundering wounded, but only chasing the enemy. In spite of their bold offensive, the 79th was eventually driven back to its position by French firepower.

    At 3 p.m., the Earl of Uxbridge, commander of the allied cavalry, ordered three horse regiments to charge to French in hopes of relieving the hard-pressed British infantry. Among the horse regiments was the Union Brigade under the command of Sir William Ponsonby, so named because it included English, Scottish, and Irish troops, serving in the 1st Royal Dragoons, 2nd Royal North British (Scots Greys), and the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, respectively. The Scots Greys took the lead, riding between the beleaguered Highland soldiers who cheered them on with a rousing chorus of “Alba Gu Bra! Scotland Forever!”

    Lady Elizabeth Butler would later depict the charge as a pulse-pounding gallop in her famous painting Scotland for Ever!, but the wet ground and casualties littering the battlefield would have made it impossible for the Scots Greys to have rushed forward in a mad dash. In fact, some enthusiastic Highland infantrymen were noted for being able to cling onto the stirrups and run alongside the horses as they briskly trotted forward to meet the enemy. But even though there was no dramatic headlong charge, the efforts of the cavalry successfully blunted the main thrust of Napoleon’s infantry, with 2000 Frenchmen being killed and two of their prized eagle standards being captured. On the downside for the British, Sir William Ponsonby was shot dead during the attack. 

    Now it was Napoleon’s turn to unleash his horsepower. Marshal Ney led his lavishly dressed Cuirassiers, hussars, and lancers in a charge to smash the British infantry resistance and regain the ground lost to the Union Brigade. The redcoats and Highlanders were ordered to form British Squares, with the soldiers of each first line going down on one knee with their bayonets upturned as a porcupine-like defense mechanism. When the French cavalry finally reached them after charging uphill across the muddy terrain, they were raked by British musket balls and unable to penetrate the protective bayonet barrier. Eventually, after slashing and smashing at the squares as best they could with little success and exhausting their horses, the French retreated. Even so, the fighting continued sporadically into the evening, and a strong wind blew the gunpowder smoke into the British soldiers’ faces so they could not even see where the enemy was.

    The next day, Napoleon launched a last-ditch effort to break the British lines. He sent out his elite Old Guard, hardened veterans and the most loyal of the Imperial troops. However, even these warriors were unable to dislodge the tenacious British and Allied soldiers who refused to be pushed back even though their energy was almost spent and many of them were raw recruits. When the Old Guard was forced to withdraw, Napoleon began to realize that his lucky star had finally been snuffed out. At long last, the Prussians appeared on the scene, and a relieved Wellington ordered his Highlanders forward in a final charge, shouting “In for penny, in for a pound!”

    The fighting continued until dusk, when Private Vallance was struck in the face with a musket ball. It tore through his cheek and right eye, leaving him half-blind in a state of total shock. He collapsed on the ground among the dead and dying and remained that way throughout the long night. The victors of the battle were too exhausted to properly take care of the wounded, and Vallance had to endure the horror of watching a friend and fellow soldier die slowly beside him, begging for Vallance to shoot him and end the pain, which Vallance could not bring himself to do. Prussian soldiers also came to plunder the wounded, stabbing helpless Frenchmen in a show of petty vengeance.

    As the sun rose the next morning, Vallance managed to stand up and get some water for himself and the wounded nearby who had survived the night. Soon after, field parties finally began to come forward to assist the wounded of both sides that were treated by British and Belgian doctors at a field hospital at Mont St. Jean farm and later transferred to hospitals in Brussels. Vallance eventually made it back to Dundee where his severe wound healed slowly but surely. By 1816, he was honorably discharged from the army and received a pension of ninepence a day.

     In total, 2,000 British soldiers were killed and 7,000 wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. Throughout his life, Wellington would be haunted by his greatest and bloodiest victory and go silent every time Waterloo was mentioned. “It has been too much to see such brave men, so equally matched, cutting each other to pieces as they did,” he confessed to a mortally wounded friend just before the friend died.

    “It is a bad thing to be always fighting,” he reiterated later on. “It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched at the moment of victory. Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.”

Scotland Forever!

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Scottish Independence Referendum...

is in its final stretch, and I’ve noticed recently that there has been something of a downswing in the mood among in the Unionist Camp, with people vocally blurting, “I don’t know what will happen now! I don’t know what will happen now!” Of course, we never did have a crystal ball to show the outcome beforehand anyway, but up until recently, quite a few of unionists had been hoping for and predicting a grand-crash-victory in favor of the Union, with the Nationalist number pounded down to the bare minimum so they could never rise from the ashes to haunt us again. But then their came the “big bad boost” for the Nats over the last week, with the pollsters scurrying to update information, and often conflicting each other in the process. Panda Bear Salmond’s theatrics on TV in front of a stacked audience didn’t help things much either. 

    Okay, so the chance of winning an overwhelming victory is pretty much sunk at this point. The Nats have done well, admirably well from an unbiased standpoint. Of course, most of this success is thanks to melodramatics and blatant manipulation of the facts, but they have inspired almost half of the Scottish people with a dream and a sense of community feeling. Sadly, Better Together chose not to appeal to the romantic side of human nature in addition to the practical side, and have suffered for it. As a romanticist by nature, I know how that sort of approach just fails to cut the mustard.

    But all this aside – there is presently no cause for despair. Most of the polls still show "No" as being roughly ahead by 4 - 6 points, even with the “disastrous debate” impact. We may not be able to win in an overwhelming tidal wave, but we still can win, even if it be a typical status quo 1-2% minimum victory. What we have to make sure of is that we make good use of this advantage, hold the line at all costs, and get every single vote possible from the “don’t know” camp. This can be done by grassroots Unionists getting out there and being passionate about it, as long as they don’t abandon ship in these last few weeks and let the Nats yell them down and scare them off. As for Mr. Darling, Better Together, Mr. Cameron, and the British Political Parties – I’m not going to criticize them too harshly, since I do believe their hearts are in the right place. But the average people are going to have to make up for where they lack.

   What disturbs me most is that some Unionists have concluded that a small victory would be something of a disgrace, and would be just about as bad as a defeat. I totally disagree. On September 19, NO ONE is going to care by what percentage the victory was won by. Yes, it will no doubt mean that the hoard of would-be-Wallaces will reemerge in 10 or 15 years, clambering for independence all over again so they can be bigger fishes in a smaller pond. Yes, a political survival in September is not going to guarantee a revival of Britishness nation-wide. But if anything, it is a gamble for time to change things around us for the better. Besides, even if I felt certain that The UK was doomed to fall in 15 years, in 10 years, in 5 years – I would still consider gaining that extra time well worth the fight.

    I’m not going to pretend I know how all this is going to turn out in the end, because I don’t. But there is one thing I am sure about: this cause is worth fighting for, once, twice, a hundred times. It’s not just about keeping a small island unified under one government. It transcends the British people themselves. What we are fighting for is what Britain represents to the world: Hard-won Liberty and the Rule of Law; Unity that respects Diversity; Steadiness in the face of Irrationality; Willingness to Keep Faith with History; Continuity to counter Unthinking Change; a Strong Foundation on which Great Structures can be built. For all her past sins and present failings (or perhaps because of them), the world needs her. She represents us all. 

    But there is a fear I have. The fear is that the Unionists themselves will be their own worst enemy through a vice that goes beyond simple complacency: it is Pride. Perhaps this has been the most deadly chink in British armor from the beginning of their torrid history. The realization that there is no landslide victory in sight and that almost half the Scottish people are in favor of splitting the union has wounded British pride. In some quarters, I think the attitude is that if we can’t have it all, we won’t have it at all. This is when the reigns can begin to slacken. This is when the space for the nationalists to squeeze through to victory can start to open.

    But it must not be so.

    Besides, whatever happened to British claims that they did best when up against a wall? Wellington commented after Waterloo, with his typical frankness, that the battle for Europe was “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” Throughout British history, it has been a refrain that those crafty islanders had a canny way of rebounding on a knife’s edge of victory and defeat. I know, it is part of a mythology, romance for the simple-minded and all that. But look at where ignoring romance has gotten “Better Together”! If the British people could just believe in themselves enough, and perhaps take courage from the old stories which show that heroes fight and God is still alive, I wonder what victories could be won.

   So we must not mope in corners or demand all or nothing. We must not think too far ahead or bite our nails about the return of the Nats a decade or so hence. We must not lament about when we did or failed to do over the course of long, drawn-out, altogether taxing “neverendum”. We must hold fast to what we know to be true, and fight for what we love, as individuals as well as members of a common cause. Let us look ahead, to the final stretch of this race, instead of peering back over our shoulders. As a certain famous cigar-smoking Brit said in another moment of crisis: “This is not the end, not even be the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.”

    There is one more analogy I have to make. In The Lord of the Rings, individual actions affecting the bigger picture is beautifully portrayed by the British Catholic author. It is a matter of Providence working through broken vessels who answer the call to duty in the hour of darkness, whether it be by defeating a monster thought indestructible or sparing a creature whose fate would save the world. It is also a matter of "fighting the long defeat", even when all seems hopeless, realizing that the striving for right in and of itself is of worth, aside from the outcome. My point is: never despair of making a difference, no matter how inadequate or alone you feel at times. And for a touch of whimsy (and since ranting Nats often have a certain ork-ish resemblance…), enjoy the following from King Aragorn: 

   “Hold your ground! Hold your ground! Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!”

The Battle is Upon Us

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Debut in Dixie....

was a memorable experience, filled with all sorts of funny and exciting anecdotes.     As OU’s American Correspondent, I have been asked to give an overview of my journey to South Carolina as the Representative of the State of Maryland for The Sons of the American Revolution Historical Orations Contest. Of course, I will make a point of highlighting aspects of the trip dealing with national unity, Anglo-American history, and the lessons of the past we should all learn from as cultural cousins who have always shared a very special and unique relationship.

    The Nationals were being held in Greenville, South Carolina, this year, which is strategically located close by two Revolutionary War Battlefields, Cowpens and King’s Mountain. My father and I took a 10 hour car trip there, and I must say the journey further impressed upon me how many different nuances there are in the fabric of American geography and demographics. It’s almost as if we have several different countries spread across/stuffed into one. The best word I can use to describe the visual and cultural feel of The Virginias and The Carolinas is Celtic.

    In contrast to the pleasant yet comparatively plain farm country of Penn-Mar, the trek south was marked by epic rivers and mountain ranges that seemed to have come over straight from Scotland with the Scots-Irish settlers who made them home. Of course, the accents start changing as well, hand-me-downs from the Ulster settlers whose distinct lilt and dialect did much to shape the drawl of the American Deep South over centuries of transformation. The haunting folk ballads of The British Isles experienced the same metamorphosis among these mountain strongholds and, distinctly mixed with traditional African tunes, gave rise to the Appalachian, Bluegrass, Gospel, and Country genres.  

    This area of America also makes up The Bible Belt, another legacy of the stubborn Covenanters who defied King Charles at Greyfriars and the brazen Apprentice Boys who slammed the gates in King James’ face at Londonderry. Their insistence on low-church practices and antipathy to hierarchy of any form make them perfect revolutionaries and religious individualists. Picking up local stations on our car radio as we wended our way through the mountains of North Carolina, I could not help but chuckle as several Reverend Mac-somethings came on the air, preaching their weekly sermons in deliciously thick drawls with gospel music to accompany them. 

    The food took an interesting turn in the south as well. Small town diners were plentiful, with huge signs along the highway reading: “Bo Jangles Waffle House”, etc. When we crossed over into South Carolina, we were hailed by a gigantic monumentalized peach on a pedestal. And things just got peachier from there on out. There were peach stores, peach farms, peach restaurants, peach BBQ pits, peach parks, etc. For all those under the false impression that George produces the most fuzzy delights, the record actually belong to South Carolina, as the locals earnestly informed us! At the reception in Greenville, I also had the opportunity of eating an innocent looking hamburger-like entity, that hitherto will always be referred to as “that evil sandwich”! Er…fried onion peach jam pulled pork anyone? ;-)

    Greenville itself has a touristy feel to it, a different sort of city from what I’ve been used to in my journeys north to visit family in New Jersey/New York. There were lots of little shops and restaurants and strolling areas for meandering pedestrians. Under different circumstances, I might have liked the place as a vacation spot. But I’m afraid the pressure was on for me as my state’s representative in the upcoming contest. The rules designated that each contestant should give a 6 minute oration on a person, event, document, or ideal associated with the American Revolution and apply it to today. I chose to tell the story of British General Thomas Gage, his American wife, Margaret, and the forgotten connections and divided loyalties that make the revolution more akin to a civil war.

    There was also the issue of trying to make the subject relevant to “today.” Of the method being presented in this contest, I tended to be quite uncomfortable. The Whig Interpretation of History makes the case that historians must be very cautious in the way they try to connect the past and present in a pre-packaged format, making all that has gone before only of value if it applies to the modern. But in trying to force a direct analogy with present-day issues, we often create a false sense of historicity and lose track of the more subtle lessons that good stories always leave with the reader or listener. Hence, I decided to use the ending of my speech to encourage my modern audience to remember those who had gone before and learn the lessons from the past and show compassion for both sides and pray for their souls. But I did not attempt to make a modern-day equivalent illustration.

    My competitors represented a variety of states across the union including Virginia, Ohio, Louisiana, California, and Florida. South Carolina also had a representative. Overall, they were quite a talented bunch, with polished oratorical skills and descriptive writing styles. But I did notice that the presentations generally leaned more towards a political bend than a historical one, even though this was supposed to be a historical orations contest. Also, a few impassioned rants against King George and British Tyranny seemed to be an accepted method of appealing to the judges, all descendents of revolutionaries! One particular contestant made a shockingly broad statement about our forbearers: “The Americans believed in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the British did not.”

    My brain began to vibrate with the name “John Locke! John Locke!” Yes, him and a slew of other Brits who sought out and defined the meaning of liberty that the American Revolutionaries used as stepping stones in their own expansion of the word. And had he forgotten Pitt, Fox, Burke and the others who were against taxation without representation? Furthermore, even for those who believed that Parliament had the right to tax the colonies directly, can it truly be said that they embraced “death, tyranny, and pursuit of unhappiness”?

    No, surely. Many of them were well-meaning, hard-working individuals who simply saw the situation in another light. Touching back to my point about making broad comparisons between the past and the present, it was common in the 18th century for colonies to be largely unrepresented in the mother countries. Even Northern England was unrepresented in Parliament at that time. Trying to force our own opinions on the way things should be into the past simply creates a false picture.

To be continued....

Greenville, South Carolina

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Divine Time"...

is a song/story written by my father, Bruce Robert B, beginning with an actual dream he had about St. Philomena before he had ever heard of her. Since today is the feast of St. Philomena (Santa Filomena, in Itlaliano!), and this week marks 20 years since the events depicted in the song occurred, I thought it "timely" to post the lyrics/narrations text below, as well as the link to our musical recording of the song from 2007:

"Divine Time"

In Your Divine Time, Lord, in Your Divine Time,
One chime at a time, in Your Divine Time

Thy Will be done on earth as in Heaven

The following testimony tells of the Providential Care of The Blessed Trinity. It is a hopeful message for those devout souls who have prayed through the intercession of the Angels and of the Saints for God's miraculous intervention, trusting their loved ones to His Mercy as He interweaves His Heavenly Guides as threads of hope within the tapestry of our lives in His Divine Time. 

In Mother Mary's month 
We honor Joseph too
On that first of May
Patron of worker's day
And Head of our Homes

I had a dream that night 
A distant, lucid view
A scene beyond belief
Of one entombed beneath
Engraved stones

A sweet serenity
Was flowing through the breeze
I didn't see her face
Wasn't e'er a trace
To explain her

It seemed I knew the name
Of she who once was there
Before her soul took flight
Into Heaven's light

Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord

   We were inspired to trace the life of this 13-year-old, 3rd century martyr whose relics were discovered in the catacombs of Rome in 1802 with tiles inscribed "Pax Tecum, Filomena". Enshrined in Our Lady of Grace Church in Mugnano, many were favored by miracles, declaring her "The Wonder Worker of the 19th Century", and through private revelation, she revealed her story. 

I was a princess
With my family
Went to visit Rome
Far away from home
We were Grecian

An evil emperor
Wished to marry me
Possessed with envious pride
I vowed to be Christ's bride
Not Diocletian's

For thirty-seven days
Imprisoned, tortured too
Then Our Lady came
Three days more of pain
And sacrifice

The arrows turned around
Anchors ropes unbound
Though they beheaded me
God saved my purity
To Paradise

Santa Filomena, ora pro nobis! 

    She was proclaimed Patroness of the Living Rosary and the Children of Mary. St. John Vianney made her known throughout Europe. In America, we had litanies, novenas, and processions in her honor, and we believe she did intercede. After five years of Holy Matrimony, my wife was with child. We went in thanksgiving to her shrine. Blessed with her relic, my bride broke into a fever. Anticipating the baby's early arrival, we were rushed through the feast day celebration by the shrine's maestro, Nello, to Avellino's hospital at the foot of the Mount of the Virgin. 

There is a sacred place
In old world Italy
High up near the clouds
Where the faithful crowds
Ascend and pray

This ancient pilgrimage
To Monte Virgine
From the valley goes
Through Avellino's
Village Archway

On our Queen's vigil
In St. Anne's Hospital,
An answered novena
Our beloved Bambina
Sunday was born

We heard the chapel bells
Echo in the eve
While processing priests
Rang in the August Feast
Of Assumption morn

Ave Maria, Gratia Plena!

     She was born 3 months early, and we were told that she didn't survive. As we offered her to God and named her Filomena Marie, the breath of life appeared. The nurses called her "Piccola". Our little doll graced us for just 15 days before ascending to Paradiso. She rests in a white mausoleum in Mugnano in the Provence of Avellino. Fr. Giovanni and the parishioners of the Sanctuario beseeched their miraculous saint for another blessing. After 40 days in the country of the Eternal City, we returned to America and our home in Maryland where we soon conceived our lovely Avellina Marie. 

Blessed be the Holy Trinity!
You've come into our lives with your charity!
The first fruit of our new family tree
This precious gift you have given 
We offer to thee

Through the anointed hands of Padre Giuseppi
Baptized into heaven was she,
Santa Filomena Marie
As we lift up our voices to Thee
With Avellina Marie

In Your Divine Time, Lord, in Your Divine Time,
One chime at a time, in Your Divine Time

In Your Divine Time, Lord, in Your Divine Time,
One chime at a time, in Your Divine Time

Msgr. Giovanni Braschi celebrates mass at the reliquary of St. Filomena 

The Sanctuario of Santa Filomena would deeply appreciate any donations to propagate
the devotion of St. Philomena and maintain her Shrine in the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace,
Mugnano del Cardinale, Avellino, Italy.

The donation page is here:

In thanksgiving for the kindness, hospitality, and prayers of Msgr. Giovanni, the Shrine Staff, and the good people of Mugnano, proceeds from "Divine Time" online track will be contributed to their worthy cause.

St. Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Announcing an Epic Literary Launch!!!

As most of you know, I have been involved in an online magazine for Catholic homeschoolers and homeschool graduates hitherto known as Expressions. It was run off a private blog, combining the talents of aspiring young authors and guest writers from different backgrounds across the globe who brought to the table a diversity of styles and subject matters covering genres including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, fanfiction, how-to's, etc. Since the majority of our staff are keen fans of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, that always featured heavily in the topic selection as well! 
   Now, we have changed our title to:

 The Fellowship of the King: 
Literary Expressions of Catholic Homeschoolers and Homeschool Graduates

   Not only that, but for the first time, we have decided to put the best of our works PUBLIC on a brand new site, featuring the writings of 22 authors (13 staff, 9 guest)! Please feel free to check it out here:

   We hope you enjoy our artistic efforts! We are currently in the process of doing a major overhaul of all our past stuff, asking everyone what they want out, revising, rearranging, reorganizing...well you get the picture! As the process continues, we are aiming to put out a little bit at a time in a fairly steady flow of material. Once we finish with that, we'll start posting new works as well, and go back to a more chronological method. There's bound to be a little bit of something for everyone: History, Fantasy, Theology, Philosophy, Tolkien, Entertainment, Politics, Current Events, More Tolkien, Fun Facts, Arts n' Crafts, etc. etc!

   Since we are new to the wide world of the public blogosphere, we would be most appreciative if you would consider signing up as followers to our blog, reading and commenting, and spreading the word about us! For those involved in homeschooling co-ops and church programs, please do forward this on to your groups! If you are a Catholic homeschooler or homeschool graduate who loves to write, please get in touch with me through this blog about possibly joining the staff. If you are not Catholic or homeschooled (or one but not the other) and would still be interested in writing for us in a guest capacity, feel free to get in touch as well! 

Our Literary Launch is underway!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

King's Mountain, South Carolina. July 21, 2014

I see where you fell, Ferguson. They tell me you were struck by a dozen bullets and dragged down this hill with your leg caught in the stirrup. Easily said. Did you know what was happening then, or was it all a blur? Did you see your life flash before you, as the trees looming heavily faded away? 

Ferguson, did you ever resign to your defeat and death? Did you ever know what hit you, in the cloud of searing smoke that blinded your eyes like your pride? What do you think of it all now? Are you sorry for those who fought under you, your young Tory Troopers? Do you pity Virginia Sal, who shared your bed and your flaming hair? Did you ever really love her, or was she just for pleasure to pass the time?

Do the scenes of your final hours play over and over again for you? Are you swinging your sword again, blowing your silver whistle, riding high? Do you know how it all ends? Does it tear your heart like the bullets? Or is it hate that keeps you from sadness? Have you forgiven those whom you fought, and those who killed and mutilated you? Are you lying in heaven or hell tonight, or are you some ghost betwixt or between, or locked in a cell of purging fire? Did you ever make your peace with God?

Ferguson, what if we had met before the war, at some gala in Edinburgh or exhibition in London? Would I have enjoyed your company? Would I have had the opportunity of hearing you play the fiddle, or test your skill at arms? I wonder, would we have written letters back and forth? Would I have commented how fine your script was before the bullet smashed your right arm? Would we have fought the battle of wits I have fought with other young men? Would I have been charmed?

What if we had met during the war? What if my family had been rebels? Would you have burned us out, razing the house and barns, and turned my green valley to brown? Would my father have been killed in your Egg Harbor attack, when your troops bayoneted sleeping men? Would my glistening tears have fallen on the scorched ground like sparks, blazing with hatred for you? Would I have rejoiced on the day of your death? Or would I have found it in my heart to forgive you?

What if I had been a Tory, who saw you as the savior of of a harried people? Would have followed your band your King and Country? Would I have been on the mountainside on the last long night? Would I have sung you that final song, or plaited your long red hair? Would I have unbound your tattered plaid, and wrapped you in rawhide? Would I have been among the women who buried their men in shallow graves, and wailed as the crows cawed?

Can you feel the rocks being thrown on your grave for shaking a fist at the King of Heaven and losing your bet to the Rebels of Hell? Do you laugh as the stones pile up, or do they fuel your anger...or cause fresh pain? What about your monument, with the lion and the unicorn? Surely that makes you happy. Take it, Ferguson, as a sign we wish you well. Your old enemies still dread your fierceness, the tip of your bayonet, the flame of your torch. But you spared Washington on a point of a huntsman’s honor. And you said you didn’t regret it.

Do you miss the misty moors where you hunted in "The Land of Cakes"? Do you yearn for the voice of the fiddle? Do you long for the feel of the sword and the rifle in your hand? Do you miss the grand parties where you were the toast of the table, and the beautiful ladies you wooed? Can you feel the rain seeping through ground, like the tears your mother shed for her “Gentle Pattie”? Do you miss her, and the family you loved so well? Do the bones of Sal, mingled with your own, keep you company? Or are you lonely now with nothing but your fame and infamy to comfort you in a strange land?

 I’ll toss a stone on your grave, Ferguson, like all the others do. Then I’ll mutter a prayer under my breath and sing you a song from your home. Did you ever learn Gaelic on your Highland estate? Whether you did or not, it is the language of the lament, and you loved fine music. Mostly Scots fought up here, fought against each other for differing ideals, drawn together by a single destiny. Surely it would be fitting to sing in the old tongue, would it not? I hope you’ll take it as a sign of friendship from me. In some ways, we were not so very different, you and I. The artist in us is the same, and the necessity of drawing courage from defeat. Perhaps we might see each other someday?

I wonder, has anyone thought to say a prayer or sing a song here, or have they just gawked at the rock-pile and told the old story, that you were struck by a dozen bullets and dragged down this hill with your leg caught in the stirrup…? 

Major Patrick Ferguson, British Officer, RIP

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ireland, the Fractured Emerald....

is a source of endless political controversy. My opinions on nationalism in Scotland and Ireland differ to some extent. For the former, quite obviously, my belief is that the movement is generally self-serving rubbish generated for nothing and based on nothing except erratic emotions and blatant power plays. While I still don’t necessarily agree with the latter, and heartily denounce terrorism on both sides, I can better understand Irish nationalist ideology and have some sympathy for the desire to bring about a United Ireland, just as I sympathize with the concept of retaining a United Britain.

    The British establishment, with its protectionist governments, religious prejudices, and cultural biases has had a history of being deplorable to the Irish people, lending fuel to the fire in a violent cycle of tribal sectarianism that still lingers on in the Emerald Isle. While the bulk of the Scottish people did indeed adopt a strong sense of Britishness during the 18th century, the Anglo-Irish Ascendency could easily claim Britishness while the common Irish people continued to be scorned as barbarians and second-class citizens.

    In spite of such obstacles put up by the ruling regime, most of the Irish continued to cling to their Catholic Faith and Gaelic culture. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Protestant governments stopped just short of genocide to make them abandon their identity, they just held fast to it all the more. “No Surrender” was the Catholic maxim as much it was the battle-cry of the Protestant settlers. Cromwell, who was instrumental in wiping out or selling off almost one half of the Irish Catholic population, made a snarky comment him being unable to get the people to “let go of their beads.”

    That having been said, there was any number of times in history when relations between Ireland and the rest of The British Isles might have taken a turn for the better. Had Mary I succeeded in turning England Catholic again and cementing papal support for her claim to Ireland, the lack of religious animosity would have softened the blow of conquest. Had the King James II managed to secure lasting religious toleration for both Catholics and Dissenters, it would have been more natural for his three kingdoms to draw together. The main moment of decision was in 1801 when King George had the opportunity to embrace Catholic Emancipation and refused to do so. And the Potato Famine is a subject far too broad to cover in depth here, but suffice to say, the British government cared more about not offending the Anglo-Irish land-owners than giving proper aid to the starving Irish populace.

    All these things are tragedies, since the union of Britain and Ireland could have been a great success story beneficial to The British Isles as a whole. As ever, I believe they would have been “better together” in the long run. But things happening as they did, it is little wonder that the Irish people became more and more disenchanted with monarchial government, which they saw as representative of their woes, and wanted to get themselves out from under the British establishment. To do so, Republican activists often exaggerated past sufferings to make the “Sassenachs” guilty for everything, including unavoidable social and economic changes. Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish cultural achievements became purposely disconnected with the “real” Ireland, and anything good that developed during the time when Ireland was in the union was overlooked.

    Thankfully, historical and cultural studies in Ireland are gradually embracing a broader, multi-faceted approach. Emerging on a world stage, she is beginning to view things through an international lens, as is highlighted in the excellent documentary series The Irish Empire. While Northern Ireland still has its troubles, the goal of creating a peaceful settlement is still being pursued with a reasonable amount of success, and The United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland have made closer moves towards friendship than ever before, with an excellent example set by Her Majesty, The Queen.

    But even with all this (or perhaps because of all this), I wonder if having Ireland divided is really a tenable position. It’s not just a matter of geography, after all, but contains manifold psychological factors on both sides. I have quite a few Ulstermen for friends, some of whom have done so much to support me in my unionist efforts. They rightly dread they would lose that very important aspect of their identity and economic security should a reunification of the island ever take place. On the other hand, I cannot help but sympathize with those who have always seen Ireland as a single nation and would like to see it reunified once again. It’s a form of “unionism” when you get down to it.

    I personally would be more than pleased to see the day that all of The British Isles were reunited into a single entity, but I highly doubt that is one the horizon. I do wonder if a compromise might ever be agreed upon if push comes to shove regarding reunification, something to the effect of Ireland, north and south, being reunited as a separate entity, but then becoming a commonwealth realm with the British Monarch as Head of State. Ireland would be equal to The United Kingdom of Great Britain under the title of The Kingdom of Ireland. And she could finally update her mediocre flag. The harp and the crown on a green field, please? And maybe the cross of St. Patrick in the corner? And maybe they could also settle on a decent national anthem with enough punch to be inspirational, but not so much as to start radicals to rioting again.

    For this to be even vaguely workable in a broader context, I would advocate stronger ties being generated in The Commonwealth and the restoration of the title “British Commonwealth”, so that Britishness can clearly transcend The United Kingdom itself. Some have suggested the production of a single currency and interchangeable citizenship within The Commonwealth. While this may be virtually unworkable in reality, I think that theoretically it would serve to build a stronger sense of unity among them. All these ideas are a bit outside-the-box, but I believe in thinking outside the box. It is only when inexperienced people stop trying to present new solutions to old problems that things become hopeless. To hold to the “No Surrender” tradition that Irishman of all backgrounds have passed down, we must never let that happen.

(This article also appeared on "Open Unionism":

Kingdom of Ireland 2
An Independent Kingdom of Ireland...?