Echoes of the past
“What we do now, echoes in eternity”
These are the words of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher Emperor of Rome, which Ridley Scott emphasised by having Russel Crowe’s character quote it in his film “Gladiator”.
I’ve been struck by how true this is many times before, mostly when some archaeologists discover the impression of a single moment in time, a throwaway, everyday act by an individual in the distant past who probably never thought about it again, that somehow left an imprint that we can still see centuries later. A great example was the woman who used her face cream in a temple in Roman London close to 2000 year ago and the gesture was preserved (along with her fingerprints) in the tin which was discovered back in 2003.
Last night I learnt another one. I was invited to speak at Ballyclare Library. The topic was Medieval Antrim and the Scottish Invasion of 1315 AD, the historical events behind my novels Lions of the Grail and The Waste Land, and a topic I've blogged about here before. I was delighted with the crowd that turned up and thank everyone for listening. After relating how Edward Bruce (brother of Robert) and his army had passed by Ballyclare both on their way to burn the manor and motte at Doagh and on the way to the battle of Connor, one local man fixed me with a inquisitive glare and said “Have you not heard of Bruce Lee?” - well that’s what I heard anyway.
As a fan of “Enter the Dragon” I replied that of course I had. I was highly confused then when he followed up with “Sure that’s where he camped.”
“Who?” I asked, prompting a look that suggested he thought I was simple minded.
“Edward Bruce. He camped out in the field there on the way to Doagh.” He explained.
Further discussion revealed that it was not Bruce Lee he was talking about but Bruslee, a hamlet a few miles up the road from where we were standing, and the location of one of the council recycling centres. The “Brus” referring to Edward Bruce, and “lee” being the medieval term for meadow or field (aka a “lea”). It’s impressive to think that seven hundred years ago Edward Bruce and his army perhaps spent one night encamped there seven hundred years ago and the event has been preserved in the name of the place ever since. Its also very interesting that the spelling of “Brus” matches the medieval spelling of the Bruce name - for example the epic biographical poem about King Robert Bruce written in 1373 by John Barbour is titled “The Brus”.
The other interesting thing is that the English (or perhaps Scots) name has survived since medieval times, including the couple of centuries after the dissolution of the Anglo-Norman Earldom of Ulster when the land was largely reclaimed by the Gaelic speaking Irish.
Whatever the reasons, I wonder what a man as proud as Edward Bruce would have made of one of the very few memorials to him in Ulster now being the name of a recycling centre?