May 4, 2013
Back again: Frank Martin, Sister Fidelma and me
Today is the first Saturday in May. Five years ago, on the first Saturday in May, my father in law, Frank Martin, died. I am thinking of him today as I arrive in Belfast for the fourth time in two years. With everything that I have experienced and learned about Ireland these past two years, I often wonder what Frank would have made of my adventures. And here I am, arriving again to co-lead a group of people in an exploration of the peace and reconciliation process as it is lived out at the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. The trip is a program out of Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia, who has a long history with the Corrymeela Centre.
Frank Martin was raised by his Irish speaking grandmother in Halifax when his mother, widowed with three young sons, had to work outside the home to support the family. He finally made it to Ireland once, a number of years back when he went on a tour hosted by Tommy Makem. It was a lifelong dream of his, and the highlight was when he found his great- grandmother’s birth certificate in the parish records in the village of Lisdorgan.
Frank also introduced me to Sister Fidelma. Sister Fidelma is the heroine of a series of mystery novels and short stories written by Peter Tremayne. Set in 7th Century Ireland, Fidelma is all at the same time a lawyer, or dalaigh, who administers the ancient laws of Ireland, a member of a Celtic religious order, and sister to the High King. She is very often seconded to travel around the country, and sometimes beyond, to solve murders, usually in the company of her partner and eventual husband, Brother Eadulf, a Saxon.
I have learned a lot about Ireland from reading the Sister Fidelma mysteries. The stories interweave historical information and political intrigue, issues of class and hierarchy, and offer insights into the struggles between the Celtic and Roman church at the time. After reading several books a few years back, I was hopelessly hooked on Sister Fidelma.
There are twenty three Sister Fidelma novels, and I was delighted to see that there have been a few more written since I read the last one in 2011. I downloaded one onto my kindle this week. I’ve also discovered that there is an International Sister Fidelma Society, (http://www.sisterfidelma.com), with all kinds of fun facts, discussion groups, and information about the locations of some of the books. I imagine them all getting together, like at Star Trek conventions, in period costume, wild flowing red hair and long capes.
Sometimes I even imagine myself as Sister Fidelma ... riding around the countryside on horseback with long red hair and enormous cape flying behind me, fighting for justice, challenging the hierarchy of the church in all its silliness. Very wise and insightful, yet sometimes hotheaded and quick to anger. Uncovering the truth slowly and methodically.
Well, that’s the world I will escape to in all my spare time this week, which won’t be much. This Peace and Reconciliation Pilgrimage to Corrymeela will be jam packed for seven days beginning tomorrow at 4 pm when the rest of the group arrives. Nine others will join Trish Betts and I, who traveled together last night and arrived at Farset this afternoon. They know me here now ... I am greeted with a “Hi Martha” when I walk in the door.
I’m sad that I never got to talk to Frank about my Irish adventures, and to listen more closely to the many stories he told. But I am grateful that I think of him every time I come to this beautiful land, and every time I read a new Sister Fidelma mystery.
Below you will see two church ladies getting ready to enjoy a pint at the Voodoo pub near City Centre tonight. Enough said. Even Sister Fidelma enjoyed a draught of ale or some mulled wine now and then.