When you’re away from home for any length of time, small things that you wouldn’t normally pay any attention to, can sometimes catch you by surprise.
There was an Irish guy living close to my apartment. He had previously served with the United Nations in Cyprus and liked the country so much he bought a place there. We bumped into each other one day and he told me to call up to his apartment for a coffee whenever I was free.
A few weeks later, I took him up on his offer and duly arrived at his front door. It was 8pm on the button. The reason I know that for certain is because Cyprus is two hours ahead of Ireland and as I went through the door, the Angelus was ringing out from the TV in his living room.
It caught me off guard because it was the last thing I expected to hear in that part of the world.
I only had Euronews on my telly and everything else was in Greek, so I rarely turned it on. So, to suddenly come face to face with Ann Doyle reading the news was a real treat. It was something familiar and it got me thinking about the Angelus.
For some people, particularly those of a religious bent, the bells ringing out the Angelus is part of their daily routine. It brings a degree of comfort to their day’s proceedings and that’s important.
I imagine there are still many families who take time out during the Angelus to say a prayer and there is nothing wrong with that either. But not everyone does it.
When I was working in Dublin, I shared digs with five other guys. The landlady, Molly was her name, and her husband were religious country people and if we were ever having dinner at six o’clock in the evening, the knives and forks were put on the side of the plate as soon as the Angelus started, and nobody moved until it was over. Well, that part isn’t strictly true.
I grew up in a house that didn’t observe the call to prayer. It just wasn’t something we did but I understood that many other families enjoyed that time and fair play to them. Each to his own.
So, when I witnessed this for the first time in the digs, I was a little surprised, but it didn’t bother me. I chewed away quietly while they did their thing. I figured as long as they had their eyes closed, they wouldn’t notice. I got away with it for a while too, but I was eventually rumbled.
You see, I was born in Leicester in England. Molly established that, and she also discovered that my mother was a Carson and my father’s name was Reginald. Armed with that information, plus the fact that I wasn’t saying the Angelus, there was only one conclusion she could come to: she promptly decided that I was a Protestant.
She never discussed it with me, but she did talk about it with the other lads who, of course, were more than happy to fan the flames. One guy in particular went to great lengths to strengthen her belief and reinforced it at every opportunity that presented itself. Sean Healy was the main protagonist.
Sean is from Listowel in Kerry and was working in the bank in Dublin at the time. His father was a garda who served in Listowel, so we had something in common, but any hope of loyalty because of that association was totally misplaced on my part.
Dinner was usually around 6pm so there was a regular pause for the Angelus. As soon as it was over, Sean would begin questioning me about the traditions observed by Protestants and why we didn’t say the Angelus. It was always in a loud voice to eliminate any possibility that Molly might miss something. “What do ye do in your religion? Do ye believe in God at all? Do ye ever say prayers?”
Poor Molly and Jack were probably wishing he’d shut up and leave me alone.
This went on for a few years and there was no point in trying to defend myself because Molly’s mind was made up. I was a cast iron Protestant. I hadn’t the heart to tell her the truth and if I did, she probably wouldn’t have believed me anyway.
Her sister also lived in the house and she died during my time there. A few days after the funeral, Sean came to me and I knew he was up to something. He told me that Molly thought it was very decent of me to attend the funeral and she was even more impressed that I entered a Catholic church. I’m pretty certain who started that particular conversation and I doubt it was Molly, but there was no going back after that.
The Angelus has no religious significance for me, but I understand the importance of the moment for others. There are some who couldn’t care less whether the bells chime or not, and that’s fair enough too.
For a minority, though, the sound of the Angelus is enough to fill them with rage. They see it as offensive and outdated, and have even campaigned for its abolishment.
Whatever you think about the Angelus, it’s fair to say it can certainly be divisive.
For me, the bells are a reminder of the happy times I spent in Dublin and the gang saying their prayers around the dinner table.
And I still have no idea what the Protestants do.