Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 1:26-38) transports me to Ireland’s North Dublin Street Primary School in the early 1960s, where Sister Peig Cunningham from Donegal is using a creative method to teach biblical stories to the children of her class. She has procured a tape recorder, and after teaching a story to the children, she tells them a motivational fib – that if they are able to re-tell the story, they might get on the radio. They eagerly tell the stories into the machine, and the tapes eventually get stored in a closet. Fast forward 30 years, and a priest, Father Brian D’Arcy, discovers the tapes while doing some spring cleaning. He does some inquiry, tracks down Peig Cunningham, learns the story of the tapes, and gets permission to make copies. Long story short, the fib she told her students turned out to be true, as the stories became the hit of the Irish airwaves. Listening to the thick brogue and colloquialisms of the 1960s Dublin kids is quite entertaining.
Here’s an excerpt, from a child named Rita who told the story of today’s annunciation passage in Luke 1 (click on link for the YouTube version): This day God called one of his most important angels over, and his name was angel Gabriel, and he said, “Come here angel Gabriel, I want you to go down to the world to a girl named Mary, and speak nice to her, because I want her to be me mother,” and he went down and he dissipated in the room, and he said, “Hey full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and she got a bit afraid, and he said, “Don’t be afraid Mary, I’ve great news from God. God sent me down to see would you be his mother.” And she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” And that meant that she’d do anything God asked her to do. And when he was going out, and he was at the step, and he thought another bit of a message, and he went back in and he said, “I’ve more news for you, Mary, your cousin Saint Elizabeth is getting a new baby boy from God,” and the lady was delighted, because Saint Elizabeth hadn’t got a boy or a girl or a young one around her.
The story doesn’t end with the recordings getting airtime on Irish radio (it had become quite the phenomenon, with the CD going double platinum). Sometime in the late 90s, animator Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag Films was driving cross country and heard one of the recordings for the first time. He was so enamoured that he went to EMI, which had rights to the recordings, and got the go ahead to do some short animations of the stories. A couple of years later, when Brown Bag Films producer Darragh O’Connell got the call from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that the first of these, Give Up Yer Aul Sins, had been nominated for an Oscar in 2001, he was sure it was a crank call from some practical joker. What are the odds that an old forgotten tape of a bunch of inner-city Dublin school kids telling the gospel story in their own words would 40 years later capture the hearts of the Academy and be Oscar material? Given the stories the kids were telling, maybe it wasn’t such a long shot. After all, what were the odds of an unknown peasant girl in a remote corner of the Roman empire getting a visit from angel Gabriel, telling her that God had chosen her to be his mother? As those Dublin children were prone to say on occasion, Holy shockin’ saint!
What about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.