Daphne D.C. Pochin Mould
I DO NOT REALLY REMEMBER WHEN
I DID NOT WANT TO write. I remember composing stories and poems
before I learned to write, and dictating them to members of the
family who wrote them down for me. None of these early efforts,
which so far as I remember were often about fantastic animals,
have, fortunately for me, survived!
My background is English, but
I have been so long out of the country, out of contact with its
thought and way of life, that going back there in recent years,
I found I passed readily enough for a born Irishwoman! Actually,
I was born in the very heart of the "Englishry," in
the south country, in Salisbury with its ancient Cathedral, whose
spire is the landmark seen from all the rolling downs round about.
Stonehenge was not far off, and when I was very small, I tried
out my climbing instincts on its stones,-to be immediately hauled
o~ by an irate official!
I was born in 1920-oddly enough
in view of later events on November 15th-the feast day of the
great Dominican, St. Albert, teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, and
patron of scientists. With the urge to write, I also had an urge
to study science, especially the natural sciences. I used to
go out in the country and identify the plants and trees, watch
the birds, go quietly through the English woods so that the red
squirrels came playing past me, unnoticed. I looked at the rocks
too and found fossils in the English chalk pits which pit my
"calf country" with white scars.
Science for me meant the discovery
of truth, reality, the nature of being, finding out what things
were, what life was about.
My family were Anglican-the
Church of England in its "High Church" department.
I was brought up to be an Anglican too, but I doubt that I ever
really believed. I had a phase of belief around the time I was
confirmed and given a course of instruction in church doctrine,
but my scientific studies made me question the foundations of
such teaching. Could the existence of God be proved ? If it could
not, then all religious belief was false, a myth, something to
attack in the name of truth. Accordingly, I deliberately abandoned
my Church of England allegiance, and determined to devote myself
to an agnostic attack upon religion in the name of truth. Leaving
England for Scotland in 1939 was the time of my final break with
the Church of England, and my coming into a country of the Presbyterian
Faith probably hastened this step.
Scotland has always fascinated
me, even before I knew the clear, bright skies over her winter
snowfields, or felt the rasp of rock under nailed boots. That
country had had my loyalty in my childhood, never England; the
glamour of Prince Charles, of Scottish history in general, of
the pipes and the tartan, the mountain streams, the heather,
the silent blue waters of the lakes, the magic of her islands,
held me enchanted from the very time that I heard first of their
existence. So to Scotland I came in the first months of the Second
World War, to Edinburgh, where I began my University B.Sc. degree
with the wail of sirens and the crackle of machine gun fire as
the first air raids took place on the Forth Bridge.
Four years in wartime Edinburgh
saw me with my degree with first class honours in geology-the
science of rocks. I got a research fellowship too, and permission
to start work on it from the Ministry of Labour-for work was
still under war controls then-and went up into the Highlands
to do research on the granite of Foyers, beside Loch Ness. Study
of this hitherto unmapped bit of country-some one hundred square
miles of it-gained me the Ph.D. from Edinburgh in 1946. It also
crystallized my ideas about my writing-to begin with something
Scottish, something Highlandj and to live in the Highlands.
So I came to live in Fort Augustus-also
on Loch Ness (but I never saw the Loch Ness Monster), and beside
the Benedictine Abbey of Fort Augustus. I intended to begin my
writing about Scottish history, topography, and the like, and
attack religion when it came into my story, eventually working
up to an all-out attack.
My first book was the Roads
from the Isles, published by Oliver & Boyd of Edinburgh.
It was the story of some of the old cross-country tracks of the
West Highlands, along which in the old days the black cattle
of the Hebridean islands and of the Scottish mountains, used
to be driven in great herds to the markets in the South, where
numbers were bought by drovers from England. Naturally, the next
move for me was to the islands themselves, and I wrote a book
about the Outer Hebrides (West over Sea). But some of those Outer
Islands are wholly Catholic, and here I came up against Catholic
life and thought for the first time. In this country too I came
up against the old churches and monastic ruins originally founded
by the Celtic Saints, by- men like St. Columba of Ireland. My
first two books told the history of some of these churches and
their founders, but from a neutral point of view. Now I intended
to write about the Inner Isles-including Iona of St. Columba-and
to "show-up" the Saints and the Church for what I thought
they really were.
But' to attack the Church meant
finding out just what was to be attacked. I already knew some
of the Benedictines at Fort Augustus and from one of them sought
information. He calmly presented me with St. Thomas Aquinas'
proofs for demonstrating the existence of God, together with
the whole set-up of Catholic philosophy That reason could enter
into religion was a completely new idea to me. I fought hard
against accepting any such possibility, but after a year of struggle
and argument was received into the Catholic Church on November
11, 1950- St. Martin's day, the patron saint of the English~-parish
in which I had been born in Salisbury! So the book that had intended
to attack the Church, Scotland of the Saints, was, when it appeared,
the very opposite, a Catholic book, with the Church's imprimatur.
Ireland lay across the narrow
seas from Scotland, another Gaelic and Celtic country. To follow
to Ireland the Celtic Saints that I had studied in Scotland seemed
the obvious road, to Columba and Iona I really owed my conversion.
So when the lease on the Fort Augustus house was up, came a move
to Ireland in the autumn of 1951, and more books about the Celtic
Saints, a companion to the first Batsford one, Scotland of the
Saints, namely, Ireland of the Saints, and a study of the pilgrimages
still made in Ireland to the old monastic sites of the Irish
saints, Irish Pilgrimage, and finally, a deeper study of the
thought and prayer and spirituality of the Celtic saints,-not
as something remote from us, but as something to make use of
today, the answer to our present problems. This last, The Celtic
Saints: Our Heritage (Macmillan), came out in September, 1956.
And because I had learned to love the hills and to climb in Scotland,
I scrambled on the Irish mountains too, and wrote (in 1955) The
Mountains of Ireland, the first full-length book ever to be written
on the Irish hills.
Perhaps it was not strange
that my early desire for truth brought me, now within the Church,
to the Dominican Order, whose motto is Veritas, Truth. In 1952,
in Galway's Claddagh, I was received into the Third Order of
St. Dominic. I think I first came to the Dominicans through St.
Thomas Aquinas, but an intense devotion to St. Dominic himself
followed becoming a Tertiary.
At the end of 1955, the Irish
Dominican Fathers asked me to write the history of the Irish
Dominicans. Not since the Latin of De Burgo in the 1760's, had
a history of the Order in Ireland been attempted. It is a fascinating
story, of 700 years of Dominican and Irish and Catholic history,
of the gracious medieval priories whose ruins still dot the countryside,
of the long persecutions and the Penal laws, and finally of recovery
and restoration. Nearly a hundred Irish Dominicans who died for
the Faith are included in the official process for the beatification
of the Irish martyrs. I followed their tracks, saw the places
where they had died, the chalice belonging to Father Thaddeus
Moriarty hanged in Killarney in 1653 and other precious relics
still in Dominican possession. I looked at the Dominican Archives,
at the faded pages of the account books kept by the friars in
the days of the Penal laws in the eighteenth century; the regular
tips they gave "ye Mayor's sergeants" (the police of
that day) in Galway, so if there was a search for friars they
would get warning; the food they ate, the different things that
made up their small income, daily expenses-tinning a leaky kettle,
buying a sieve, all these things are entered in these books.
I went, too, up and down the country to the old sites where the
friars had lived in cabins in Penal days, as near as they could
to their old ruined medieval foundations, and asked the Irish
people for the traditional stories of the friars.
Many of these still survive, though the older people who had
the full tradition, are mostly dead. My book, The Irish Dominicans,
was published in the spring of 1957 by Dominican Publications,
So - I seem to have come full
circle, from the first desire to write and to know Truth, to
be writing about the way the Truth was defended in Ireland, of
the way the Catholic Church survived attack after attack, and
of the Dominican Order's part in that survival and in the eternal
defense of Truth.