When I went away on holidays in September, the Angelus changed. Before I left, the 60 seconds before the Six One news had been populated by slightly odd-looking characters staring blankly into the middle distance, as though they had recently been lobotomised by the Lord. On my return, these disturbing images had been replaced by nicely put together vignettes of Irish life: the young girl feeding swans with her grandparents; the street artist plying his trade. Only the bong remained the same: the Angelus bells continued to toll as they have done since RTé first broadcast.
Perhaps as a result of the change, the periodic debate as to whether the Angelus has any place in a modern society has reared its ugly head again. If the Angelus has changed, I'm afraid the arguments about its relevance haven't. The abolitionists argue that in a secularised, multi-cultural, tolerant world, handing over two minutes every day at 12pm and 6pm to celebrate one of Roman Catholicism's most cherished stories is an outrage. Where is the respect for the Jews and the Muslims?, some people ask. Why not a minute for the atheists?, others wonder, unbelievably.
On the pro-Angelus side, the arguments are just as predictable. Ireland is still a Catholic country, say the Angelas and Peters and Johns who want to keep the bells pealing. Despite the recent scandals in the church, most people still believe in God, still profess themselves to be Catholic: getting rid of the Angelus would be a form of unjustified political correctness, an insult to the beliefs and desires and traditions of the majority. And, in any case, where are all these Muslims and Jews who want to see Sharon Ní Bheoláin and Bryan Dobson a minute earlier every day? If they exist, they've been keeping very quiet.
I must confess that I side with these people, although not from a belief in the rights of majorities, still less from a religious point of view. In truth, religion has been so stripped from the new Angelus that it now plays the same role as Mario Rosenstock did in Glenroe – minor though not unimportant. Whatever the abolitionists say, the Angelus has been radically redesigned to take into account their reservations. Though the bells still toll, and their meaning is obvious, the Angelus – taken as a complete package – reflects Ireland and the people who live here more accurately and faithfully than it has ever done before.
These changes started some years ago, around the time that the Angelus proved it wasn't rude to stare. As well as the farmer who would break off from feeding his sheep to have a good squint at the sky, or the schoolteacher who would interrupt the eight times tables to peer expectantly out the window, we had images of immigrants in exactly the same kind of poses.
To go directly from the severely holy images of stained glass which had previously accompanied the ringing of the bells to this optimistic, inclusive depiction of the new Ireland was a brave move, I always thought, especially when the waves of immigration that accompanied the economic boom were making many people uncomfortable, and when there were some – TDs, columnists, populists of all sorts – who sought to exploit this discomfort for their own ends. The Angelus made its point quietly but effectively – immigration is a fact of Irish life, and immigrants are now a part of the fabric of our society.
That message continues with this new Angelus, which reminds us that no matter how horrendous our problems, no matter how much our country has been ruined by the people who run it, no matter how pessimistic the outlook might be, Ireland is a community of individuals, of all ages, occupations, nationalities, shapes and sizes, with lives to lead and live, unmolested by the official narrative of doom and gloom. They are people who, despite all the difficulties, have the capacity to take pleasure in the simplest things – whether a job well done, an outing with their grandchildren, a well-drawn picture. They are the people who will ultimately get the country off its knees again.
What better time to broadcast that message of hope than six o'clock, just before our daily reminder of how we have been so badly let down by our bankers, our builders, our politicians and our bishops? Rather than trumpet a triumphalist Catholicism all over the airwaves, the Angelus these days offers us a reminder of our ordinary, unsung greatness and our resilience. Why would you want to put an end to that?
about face: the double standards in tigergate
According to what seem to be reliable sources, the reason we haven't seen Tiger Woods in public since his recent disgrace is because he is recovering from reconstructive surgery on his face. The injuries were inflicted on the night he crashed his car outside his Florida home last month, when he was assaulted by his wife Elin Nordegren, who used a golf club to do the damage. The irony of all that aside, is there not a huge double standard in operation here? Had Woods smashed Nordegren's face in, whatever the supposed provocation, he would have immediately been arrested and condemned around the world. And rightly so. But we are asked to sympathise with Nordegren, and even respect her, for what she has gone through and how she fought back. Most peculiar.