Sunday, September 22, 2013

Wait ‘til You See This!

Colm, John, & Ronan
By the time most folks read this, the Irish team of archaeologists will be flying back home to Belfast.  A number of people have mentioned that they were disappointed that there wasn’t a dig this summer.  The project is not done and has entered its second phase.  Every working minute of this past week, the three archaeologists; Colm Donnelly, Ronan McHugh, and John Meneely have been on task.  Just a minute!  John made note that he was not an archaeologist, but a geologist.  I mentioned that in fear he reads this entry.  When I say they worked, I mean it, they worked  to the point of exhaustion.  To say the least they were completely nackered (Irish for super tired).

For the past week Ronan has been inventorying the artifacts from the past 3 years, all 1300+ of them.  Each and every one counted and prepped for analysis.   Each bone, shell, nail, or clay marble tells just a bit of the story of those who settled this place over 175 years ago.  What were their homes like?  What did they eat?  How did they spend their time?  It’s our own version of CSI. 

One of John's images from!/1manscan
Meanwhile Colm and John spent their time at the church.  John uses a camera that creates a 3D laser scan.  The science completely evades me.  John tried to explain using simple words for me but I just nodded my head trying not to look daft (Irish for foolish).  To get a clear picture at what he does you have to visit his Facebook page:!/1manscan .  These are not pictures, they are real scans done with a camera that uses a spiraling mirror that sends out light to an area and retrieves the data.  It does this using billions (yup, I said billions) of points of info and then John painstakingly puts it altogether into…..   I can’t describe it!  On day 2 John let me see what only 10% of the information he had collected the previous day could do.  There, on the computer monitor, was perfect image of the church, so I thought.  Then John could zoom on any given stone on any side of the church.  He could turn the church to any angle desired with a click of the mouse.  He could measure each stone, down to the grout lines.  And that was just a small piece of day 1.  When completed the viewer will be able to go up the stairs of the church, enter the main aisle, see a close-up of the altar, even the tabernacle.  Then you could take a walk around and view each window and look up to see the murals.  If you’re not tired yet you can go downstairs to see the original 1854 altar and then climb the tower to the bells and even dare to walk along the catwalk.  You can do all this from your living room chair.  This technology is the same type used on monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, and now St. Pat’s.  All because of Queen’s Uni. in Belfast and UMass Lowell, and of course Colm, Hugh, and, John.  This info is using the latest digital technology and isn’t just a toy.  Decades from now, when we’re not here, there still will be a permanent record of St. Patrick Church.

So what was Colm up to during all this time?  He spent his time carrying a wee (Irish for small) notebook.  The next part of the project is the publication of a book detailing the story of the church and surrounding grounds.  I have been a member of St Pat’s since birth.  I have spent part of my life in that building I know every nook and cranny.  That is I thought I knew until Colm came along.  He announced certain additions were added to the church.  I told him know.  He proved me wrong.  He showed me where windows once were, that I never saw before.  All this time he peppered me with questions.  When was…..?  Who made?  What color?  I knew so few.  How I wish I had listened with a better ear to the stories that my Dad told.  How he would sneak a cigarette up in the choir loft during Mass.  How the lower church looked when prepared for Christmas overflow crowds.  How the church that could hold 2000 people would be filled to overflowing for 5 solid nights with men for the parish mission.  Women went during the daytime.  I wish I listened more to Arthur Cryan’s stories, and Mr. Heafey’s, and John Donahue’s.  And of course Jack Flood could spin a tale or two.  Thirty years ago I listened to older gentlemen talking about life at St. Pat’s, now someone is asking me the questions.  Where did the time go?  It amazes me that it has taken an archaeologist from Ireland to see the value of what was done in this sacred space.  He is giving life to their shadows, acknowledging their works and labors. 

When the Irish first arrived they built their shanties on this spot, raised their children, worked their untold hours, and recited their Paters and Aves.  This is where they raised their children and from here they buried their dead.  The edifice we see today was raised in 1854, in a period of anti-Catholic bigotry.  Yet, when completed, the church was probably the tallest building in the area, its grandeur in stark contrast to the living conditions of the Paddy Camps.  Its steeple stood out across the city.  They built it as a sign of their faith in their church and their new homeland.

Angels from Queenship of Mary
window, St Patrick Church
So to Colm, John, & Ronan- slán abhaile

PS- John’s last name is Meneely.  He is related to the same family that forged the bells that are in our tower today?  Coincidence you think?  I say nay, just part of some of the strange happenings that have gone on during this endeavor.

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