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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, October 16, 2008
    The angels were with us
    There always have to be 'others' for us to punish. The beneficent owners of the Vulcan Works foundry created a tidy village for their workers as they set about building locomotives for the world's earliest steam railways during the 1830's-1870's. This notice on a gable end on Derby Row makes it clear that there would be no benevolence for people seeking their employment any other ways in Vulcan Village. Stopping off there on our way to Manchester today we made sure we laid off ballad singing.

    Vulcan is the god of fire. Represented here on another gable end wearing an outfit which would not impress Health and Safety officers in any contemporary foundry, his presence alerted us to the complex forces at work even in the most idyllic settings. Benevolence, brutality and brimstone.

    We were headed towards more 'others', and more complexities, on a trail between two north Manchester cemeteries which bear witness to the deaths and remembrance of three men who Irish Republicans call The Manchester Martyrs (previously blogged about here).

    Others have other names for them, of course. Or would rather they had no names. Hence the tension even in the clear autumn air as we stood in Blackley Cemetery adjusting our shadows so as to keep the sun shining on the tiny stone marked only with its plot number, 'C.2711', the current resting place of William Allen, Michael Larkin, and William O'Brien, Irish nationalists who were hanged on November 23, 1867 for killing a policeman during a prison escape, and whose bodies were until recently buried in quicklime in Strangeways Prison.

    In the intervening years Republicans built a memorial to these men, in St Joseph's Cemetery a couple of miles away in Moston, and that was our final destination today. In a vast expanse of elaborate stones laid by generations of Irish and Italian Mancunian Catholics since 1875, and in the generous autumn sun, the 20 ft high Celtic cross stood proud today. But on closer inspection it is a wrecked work. The monument's portraits of Allen, Larkin and O'Brien are still there, the Irish tower, the Irish harp and the figure of Erin, armed with sword and shield. But they are weathered. Symbols of Unity, Justice, Literature, and Art and figures of the Irish wolfhound - they have gone. And the whole piece bears the scars and cracks of hammerings by those who would prosecute the Memorial's presence in the city with the utmost rigour of a natural law which must ensure that 'others' are punished.

    Despite these sober thoughts we felt that the angels were with us on our journey today. Guiding us: so that in the massive Blackley Cemetery we found C.2711 with ease; so that Dave's chance conversation with a passer-by outside the Charlestown Hotel (great ale but foodless) led us to the Thatched House, where the staff served us food with a smile and which turned out to be just across the road from St Joseph's Cemetery. And on the way we passed through a park which is becoming a little iconic for me: Boggart Hole Clough. Those mischievous sprites generously left us to enjoy the rare and precious Manchester autumn sun as we trailed through the Clough's deep golden hollows following a path named Angel Hill.

    Pics from my Flickr photoset, Blackley/Moston Irish cemeteries walk