At some point in the not too distant future, there will be a day when more than half of my life will have been spent in the ministry of the Church of Ireland. I love the Church of Ireland with all its eccentricities and contradictions and stubbornness. I love the tiny communities in rural Ireland who have held on through the history of this state; long after their demise was expected, still baking and flower arranging and cutting the graveyard grass and singing, especially still singing. Singing is what Irish Protestants have done well, making a noise far greater than their numbers would ever suggest.
Kevin Myers, writing in the Irish Times in 2004, presented a humorous caricature of the vocal capacity of small numbers of Irish Protestants:
Irish Protestants are cut from robuster vocal cloth. Go sleuthing down the humbler byways of the main street of any Midland town, and you might find a little Methodist or Wesleyan or even Baptist chapel – though if it is Sunday and a service is being held, you will not need any particular detective powers. The vocal din will be overpowering; the roar will sound like a Saturn launch, where God has placed his hand on the nose-cone to prevent take-off.
You would accordingly assume that the Reformation proved strangely popular in this part of the world – and with cotton-wool wads crammed down your ears, you tentatively push open the chapel door, expecting to see a teeming throng of lusty non-conformists, their muscular throats flexing like the biceps of Olympian weight-lifters. Inside, however, there are just Gladys Babcock and her sister Mabel, plus their cousin Primrose, visiting from Bournemouth. Prim is sign-singing the hymns – she lost her vocal chords to a V1 in 1944 – but jolly stirring her signs are too. The entire service is given a perfectly splendid accompaniment by 87-year-old Ermintrude Blenkinsop on the harmonium, which she is playing with her chin after breaking both hands in a fall.
Perhaps Myers was being cruel, but perhaps there was a little kernel of truth in his comments; Protestants have made more noise than their numbers would suggest, both musically and in many other ways.
As one who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, I would never have been much use to Ermintrude Blenkinsop’s Church of Ireland cousin, who would somewhere be struggling with a three manual pipe organ, but perhaps noise can be metaphorical as well as aural.
Alexa.com have a system of ranking websites, Google at No 1 and so on, the workings of which seem a greater mystery than medieval religious doctrine. (To access the figures, you need to add the Alexa toolbar to your browser). The ranking of this blog this morning was 197,035, and, as Flann O’Brien would say, the gross and net result of it is that it is ranked a full hundred thousand places higher than the blog of the religious correspondent of the London Times, which this morning was ranked at 302,232; and 115,000 places above one of our well-known economists and writers.
Of course, in true Protestant tradition, this must be due to a tiny number of people somehow creating a lot of noise. All the same, I feel that, although not singing, I can hold my head up in that classic Church of Ireland congregation of six older ladies and a dog.