We numbered 60 people at our last réunion. Early comers were treated to a selection of French songs performed by Ruari Gallagher. Ruari hails from Belfast and has spent the past few years in the south of France. His vocals and guitar accompaniment went down well and we hope to invite him back soon for one of our Extra! events.
The Dark Horse Coffee Shop was soon packed and Philip McGrory got the technology going for his talk on the Paris Catacombs. He began by taking us through the early history of the site as one of Paris's main limestone quarries. He explained that in 1780, the main cemetery of the city, the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents near Les Halles was forced to close due to its dire threat to public health. The decision was taken to remove remains of those buried there to the disused quarry site and to establish an Ossuary. Remains from other cemeteries were added with the result that skulls and longbones of around 6,000,000 people are preserved there.
Using pictures and web sources, Philip escorted us on a virtual tour. We visited the Workshop and saw how quarrymen cut through the stone to leave pillars of rock standing to support the ceiling. We stopped at the Quarrymen's footbath, a spring where workers drew water for mixing cement; We moved into the Ossuary, marked by a sign over the doorway instructing, " Arrête c'est ici l'empire de la mort". We stopped at the Sepulchral Lamp one of the oldest structures in the catacombs. Quarrymen lit fires in the lamp to create draughts and currents of air. He brought us to Gilbert's Tomb, a piece of reinforcement work designed to look like a stone sarcophagus. And of course we viewed those skulls and longbones. Philip had sourced the biblical origins of the text on the picture above and, thinking about it, we spared thoughts for people now long gone. Finally, we exited to a quiet Parisian street which showed little awareness of what lay beneath.
A show of hands revealed others had also been and all commented on the respectful silence of the place, several metres below the metro and the nearby Place Denfert Rochereau.
Our evening came to a close with several people saying they had not known that the catacombs existed. They mentioned that they would be paying their own visit the next time they were in Paris.
Thanks Philip for a thoroughly researched, fascinating and respectful tour.
Fifty people, one of our largest attendances in recent years, listened attentively as Dr Eamon PHOENIX provided an illustrated talk on French Influences on Ireland in the 18th century. Eamon had previously addressed the cercle at our annual dinner a few years ago, so in a way it was like resuming an old conversation.
This time though, his historical anecdotes recalling stories and events that took place in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter over two centuries ago seemed to many of us in the Dark Horse Coffee Shop, perhaps a prison in those days, very close indeed.
Eamon's already extensive talk was supplemented by a range of responses to questions from his audience. He spoke of more recent examples of French influences particularly in relation to Northern Ireland and although members could have listened all night, reluctantly we had to bring the evening to a close.
Were you there? What do you think? Did you ask a question? Please share your views on the blog.