Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Cousin Victor

My (2nd) cousin Victor died yesterday morning (January 11, 2017) at the respectable age of 92. To me, he was an intelligent, kind, and funny man, who was very welcoming when I first visited Ireland and when I later moved here.

During his career, Victor was a man of some influence in Ireland and Northern Ireland. I don’t have all the details, but here’s what was on Wikipedia:
The Very Reverend Victor Gilbert Benjamin Griffin (Dean Griffin), (born 24 May 1924, Carnew, County Wicklow), died January 11, 2017, Limavady, Northern Ireland) was a Church of Ireland (Anglican) priest, theologian and author.
Victor was educated at Kilkenny College and Trinity College, Dublin, where he was elected a scholar and awarded the Luce, Bernard, Wray, and Macren prizes for philosophy and metaphysical studies.
He was ordained in 1948. He held curacies at St Augustine's in Derry then at Christ Church, in the same city. He became Rector of Christ Church in 1957, serving until 1969. He was also Prebendery of Howth in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin (1962-1968) then Dean from 1969 until 1991.
As the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, he met with people like former Irish President Mary Robinson, someone I admire. His autobiography is a bit of a who’s who of Irish politics and church, and he had surprisingly liberal views on some topics.

Photo: Mrs. Jane Ewart-Biggs, widow of the British Ambassador Christopher Ewart-Biggs, with her children and Dean Victor Griffin and on right Assistant Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty at the Funeral Service held in St. Patrick's Cathedral for the ambassador, circa 1976. From Getty Images

Victor was a great storyteller, whether he was relating some interesting facts or spinning a tale. When my brother David and I visited Ireland in June 2000, Victor gave us a private tour around St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Marsh’s Library (oldest library in Ireland). He told us his wife Daphne was so popular that when people came to visit, they came to see her, not him. Sadly, Daphne died just two years before we visited Ireland, so I didn’t get to meet her. She was my dad’s cousin and the link to some of our family in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Photo: From left, the Very Reverend Victor Stacey (Dean of St Patrick’s), Canon Paul Willoughby, the Very Reverend Victor Griffin (former Dean of St Patrick’s) and Canon Bob Reed (Precentor of St Patrick’s) in 2014. From Church of Ireland Diocese of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross

Victor had strong views on many topics, but he very much believed in a pluralistic society, so he annoyed both Catholics and Protestants in equal measure. I found this Irish Times article that explains a bit more:

Photo: Victor Griffin in 2013 (see link to Irish Times article above)

When I moved to Ireland in 2005, Victor was the only family member I knew. Though he lived in Limavady, he went down to Dublin regularly. I made two trips to his home. The first time was not long after I moved to Ireland. His housekeeper left a nice lunch for us, and after a very pleasant afternoon together, I had to catch the bus back to Belfast. Victor kept offering me all kinds of food, biscuits, crackers, a tin of ham, to take with me. The second time was with my American cousin Victoria in May 2009. I’ve met a few other cousins since my first visit to Ireland, and it’s nice to have a bit of family “nearby”.

Photo: Cousins Victoria, Victor, and Colleen in Limavady in 2009

Victor was the author of several books and pamphlets including:
  • Anglican and Irish: What We Believe
  • Mark of Protest
  • Enough Religion to Make Us Hate
  • A short catechism of basic Church teaching (2007)


He lived in retirement in Limavady, County Derry, Northern Ireland until his death in 2017.

Random fact: Limavady is most famous for the tune "Londonderry Air" collected by Jane Ross in the mid-19th century from a local fiddle player. The tune was later (ca. 1913) used for the song "Danny Boy". Between the 12th and 17th centuries, the area was ruled by the O'Cahan clan. "Danny Boy" is taken from a melody composed by O'Cahan bard Rory Dall O'Cahan. The original version concerns the passing of the Chief Cooey-na-Gall whose death brought an end to a long line of O'Cahan chiefs in Northern Ireland.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas)

In Ireland, Nollaig Bheag takes place on January 6 and signals the end of Christmas and a break from the hard labor of the season for Irish women. I didn’t know this but in the old Julian calendar Christmas day used to be celebrated on the 6th of January until they switched to the Gregorian calendar.
“Little Christmas is also called Women's Christmas (Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women's Little Christmas. The tradition, still very strong in Cork and Kerry, is so called because of the Irish men taking on all the household duties for the day. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers.”
Little Christmas is the one day of the year where the Irish mammies get to put their feet up and the men folk do all the chores and cooking? Hah! I'd like to see that!! Irish mammies rule, that's for sure.
For the less cynical, here is a lovely blog post of one Irishwoman’s memories of this tradition:
My female friends and I do celebrate this day, either at someone's house or at a restaurant or bar. As a modern tradition, it's great fun to have a girls' night to dress up, eat, laugh, and socialize. No boys aloud, though we sometimes break that rule. Of course, you can do this any day of the year these days, but Women's Christmas is still something special in Ireland.
(I originally wrote this for an internal work blog about living in Ireland, so apologies for not crediting the quote and photo.)