not a member? click here to sign up
Pope, John & Paul
The hitherto undisclosed links between 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' and Our Lady Of Fatima. Plus: Why the current impasse in the Peace Process reveals the fatal flaw in the Good Friday Agreement.
Eamonn McCann, 28 Feb 2005
Do you think 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' could be about Our Lady of Fatima?
The thought popped into my head of its own volition as I listened on February 13th to news of the death of Sister Lucy, eldest of the three Fatima visionaries, who had just passed away at the Carmelite convent at Coimbra in Portugal, aged 97.
It was on May 13th 1917 that the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to Lucia Dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marta. As Lucy was to recall later, the BVM lit on an oak tree, smiling brightly. (Jacinta and Francisco died in the influenza pandemic of 1919 and 1920. They were beatified by John Paul in 2000.)
Just five appearances later, the Fatima BVM had outgrown the small oak grove venue. Now 70,000 assembled in a vast amphitheatre to witness the phenomenon. The official Fatima website records that “even anti-clerical newspapers remarked on the amazing scenes...Witnesses testified to a 15-minute spectacle of the sun spinning, stars dancing in the sky, bright lights, rainbow colours."
Members of the Beatles would have been aware growing up in a city infused with Catholic culture of Lucy as the last surviving witness to this dazzling ethereal display. Only Ringo came from a non-Catholic background. In 1969, Paul McCartney, Irish-Catholic on both sides, was to write:
“When I find myself in times of trouble,
Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.”
Which surely resonates with Mary speaking of the Annunciation to the angel Gabriel in the gospel of Luke: “Let it be done unto me according to thy word.”
'Let it Be' was the title track of both the Beatles’ 1970 album and of their last movie.
Catholic influence permeates other elements of the band’s oeuvre. “Lady Madonna, children at your feet...,” “Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no-one will hear...”
A threadbare basis for positing a link between “Lucy...” and Our Lady of Fatima? Well, consider this.
May 13th 1917. Date of the BVM’s first Fatima appearance.
May 13th 1970. Date of the release of the movie, Let It Be.
Coincidence? Probably. We are all rationalists now.
Still, I note that the Rector of the Fatima Sanctuary, Monsignor Luciano Guerra, has been taking flak from traditionalists for having allowed Hindu and Bhuddist pilgrims to chant at the shrine last year. “They have made this sacred place the forum for their idolatry,” rages Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X and close confidante of John Paul. “They have promoted the falsehood that all religions are born from the common humanity we all possess. This is the influence of a popular culture which places the conglomeration of false religions on the same level as the One True Church. It makes of Our Blessed Lady a garish and fantastical being.”
"Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies,
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high...
Lucy in the sky with diamonds. The girl with the sun in her eyes. She‘s gone.
We may all have very different analyses of the January 30th election in Iraq, but share in a hope that the suffering of its people will soon somehow ease. Hence the widespread dismay at the clear indication on February 14th that Iraq’s agony is far from over. “I’m not worried about Iraq,” wrote Mark Steyn in the Irish Times. “As they demonstrated on January 30th, they’ll be just fine.”
Drat. Damn. Fuck.
“But this ambiguity has now come into sharp focus.”
That’s the way advocates of the Belfast Agreement – still 90 percent plus, I’d say, of the media commentariat – are now compelled to express themselves.
It has been necessary until now to fudge the issue of IRA outlawry so as to provide the Peace Process with momentum, runs the argument. But the murder of Bert McCartney and the big Belfast bank job were crimes too far. Weasel words will no longer work. Criminality must end. Clarity is all.
Welcome to the real world, is what I say. Rather than, I told you so. Although I did.
“Ambiguity” is inadequate, anyway. “Glaringly obvious contradiction,” more like. The Agreement, and the Peace Process of which it is the prime expression, was designedly constructed along the main and least stable fault-line in Irish politics. Hence the tremors which recurrently, unnervingly, shudder the system.
Rewind one more time to the defining moment of the IRA ceasefire in August 1994, when Gerry Adams took the salute at a Sinn Fein victory parade down the Falls, envisioned as the home stretch along the high road to the Republic. Then zap forward to the Loyalist ceasefires of six weeks later, celebrated on the Shankill as making the road to the Republic impassable.
Pause at the “Good Friday Referendum” of 1998, and the only occasion when Yes campaign leaders David Trimble and John Hume appeared publicly together, at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, having agreed in advance that neither would disrupt the proceedings by uttering a word: if either had explained even briefly why he was urging a Yes vote, he’d have had to rubbish the argument of the other. A pop celebrity was hired as a diversionary stooge to hold the mute pair’s arms aloft.
Every journalist present knew of but kept mum about the zip-mouth accord.
Some of the same people are now knowingly explaining that ill-advised ambiguity has undermined the Agreement.
The Belfast Agreement is the badly-written, shallow-minded result of unfocused, incompetently-conducted negotiations. Talks chairman George Mitchell’s book Making Peace (Random House, 1999) conveys the mind-numbing banality of the entire business. The atmosphere in which the text was then “put to the people” was as conducive to rational discussion as the wilful hysteria which followed the drink-drive death of Diana Spencer.
The problem the Agreement purported to grapple with wasn’t imperialism, capitalism or any other ism except sectarianism. But it wasn’t a grapple. It was in fact an embrace. The Agreement endorsed, sanctified, proclaimed it as right and proper that people in the North should identify themselves in politics solely by reference to the religious community which they’d happened to be born into. No other basis for political allegiance was deemed possible or desirable. Anti-sectarianism was contemptuously consigned to the margins. Hence the rigid requirement that all entering the Assembly sign in as Nationalist or Unionist or accept second-class voting status as mere “others.”
Nationalist leaders urged Catholics to believe that the Agreement would usher them into the Republic which it was assumed all of their faith longed for. Pro-Agreement Unionists urged Protestants to take the same text as assurance they‘d never have to forswear the blue skies of British Ulster for the grey misht of an all-Ireland Republic.
It is this huge, obvious dishonesty at the heart of the Agreement which has resulted repeatedly in deadlock and disagreement as to what’s required and from whom. The Agreement is not a solution, but a reformulation of the problem.
As I continue modestly to murmur to myself of a morning, it can’t have been difficult to work all this out at the time.