The ‘De Finibus Project’ is an ongoing study in the Department of Early and Medieval Irish at University College Cork. It was established to investigate reports on the after-life, visions of heaven and hell and to make such material accessible to a wider audience. While such matters are universal, the College recognizes that us Irish, in particular, seem to have enjoyed a long and ongoing fascination with the Afterlife. Visions of heaven and hell are among the most ancient texts preserved in medieval Irish manuscripts.
According to the academics, contrary to what we might imagine, greater secularisation in a society generally results in an increase in speculation about life after death. In the late nineteenth century, increased worldliness gave rise to the spiritualist movement which interested WB Yeats so much. And in our contemporary culture, recent movie releases such as ‘The Lovely Bones’ with its strange fluorescent Afterlife demonstrate that, although we are not sure what role God may play in it, a lot of us still believe that we go to another place after we die.
On the level of popular culture, the recounting of near-death experiences is as popular as ever. The common feature of both these anecdotal individual experiences of the next life, however brief, and images of the Afterlife in contemporary literature and film is that they are all universally positive. Why, ask the professors in UCC, does nobody report having witnessed the fires of hell anymore?
What happened to hell? Is everyone so good now that we are all destined for heaven? Or do we no longer believe in punishment and judgement other than in this life? And what happened to purgatory?
Of course, our friends on Leeside haven’t discovered the answers yet but, when they do, I’ll be the first to bring them to you. In the meantime, isn’t it about time that the ghosts who haunt the Quay in Waterford manifested themselves again. They usually appear around this time of year but, so far, they’ve kept themselves to themselves.