Monday, August 13, 2012

Souperism


In Quinn's pub there is a photograph of Ventry village as it was a century ago. The road is unpaved and there is a single donkey cart instead of a fleet of tourist automobiles whizzing by, but otherwise the place looks remarkably like the village of today. Same pub. Same post office/shop. A century ago, there were three blacksmiths, a shoemaker, a tailor, a dressmaker, a carpenter, a cooper, fishermen and farmers living and working in this tiny enclave of houses. Today's replacements for the products of their labor -– the shoes, the clothing, the automobiles, the food -- as likely as not come from China or Detroit.

In my photo above, you see part of the "Colony," a string of tiny cottages stretching away from the village green, built by Protestant missionaries in the mid-19th century to house locals who converted to the Protestant faith (most now have porches and extensions on the back with indoor plumbing, etc.). The village became a lively outpost for Protestant proselytizing, supported by Lord Ventry, who owned most of the land hereabouts. The idea was to bring the light of the True Gospel to the poor deluded Catholics living in dark servitude to Rome, the Whore of Babylon.

More than a cozy stone-built cottage awaited those who converted. Food too. The rent of a generous plot of ground to till. A place in the Protestant schoolhouse for your children. And, according to the missionaries, a fair crack at Heaven. Trade your faith for a bowl of soup; that was the deal. "Soupers," they were called, those who abandoned Rome.

With the passage of time, the Famine, and emigration, the Catholic Church rebounded. There remain a few Protestant families in the village, but by the beginning of the 20th century most folks were at least nominally Catholic. The Protestant church was leveled to the ground in the 1960s.

By the time we arrived here in the early 1970s, and built our cottage on the hill above the village, Ventry was sending out its own Catholic missionaries to convert the heathens. I remember a donation box on the bar in Quinn's, from one Catholic missionary society or the other, pleading: "Support the missions in Los Angeles." Thus does the wheel turn and Truth marches on.