Sunday, June 18, 2017


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It's that time of the year again and on last Friday (16/6/2017) Dublin erupted into a thousand Bloomsday events. But none were as special as that held at the Martello Tower on Killiney Hill Road. No, this is not "Joyce's Tower" albeit in sight of the same snot green sea.

This is the magnificent restoration of Martello Tower No.7. Dublin South, by Niall O'Donoghue, a feat recognised as special by the Europa Nostra jury in 2014.

Sandycove is welcome to its annual splash, initiated by Myles na gCopaleen and a few others in 1954. Commemoration of James Joyce on Bloomsday there has now become a habit. But this is only the second Bloomsday commemoration at the Killiney Tower. It was initiated by the late David Hedigan in 2014 and it is a most exclusive affair - invitation only.

As you can see above, this year's celebration was novel in its conception. Felix M Larkin was giving us a miscellany of thoughts on Joyce with particular reference to the Freeman's Journal in Ulysses. Darren Mooney was recreating the drawing room atmosphere which is the background to some of Joyce's work, not forgetting that Joyce himself was no mean tenor and had written a series of love songs under the title Chamber Music.

Felix M Larkin

Felix, who is a former director of the prestigious Parnell Summer School, kicked off by reminding us of Joyce's attitude to Parnell. He puts Joyce firmly the Irish constitutional tradition and makes it clear he rejected any form of militant republicanism and narrow cultural nationalism.

I am a desperate one for connections, however tenuous. Felix tells us that Joyce's republican character, Michael Davin, in the Portrait of the Artist is based on George Clancy, who went on to become Sinn Féin mayor of Limerick and was murdered by crown forces on 6 March 1921, shortly after his election as mayor.

And the connection? Niall O'Donoghue's grandfather had been with Clancy just before his murder and you can read that true story here.

Felix goes on to illustrate the extent to which Ulysses is rooted in actuality by considering the opening sequence of the ‘Aeolus’ episode which is set in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper in North Prince’s street, Dublin – beside the GPO. But in setting the scene, and remembering that Felix is himself a historian, he reminds us, bluntly it has to be said, that the historian should be a kind of ‘bullshit detector’, with zero tolerance – and that is the spirit in which Joyce approaches his material.

It is at this point that Felix really gets into his stride. He is the historian of the Freeman's Journal and it is a recurring theme in his writings. Woe betide the audience that lets its mind wander and its attention flag at this point.

Preparations have been made to ensure strict attention and wakefulness and if the smaller cannon proves an insufficient threat to the inattentive ...

... then the eighteen pounder on the crown of the tower can be readied in forty-five minutes, somewhat along the lines of Saddam Hussein's rockets as recounted in the Dodgy Dossier. Just for the avoidance of doubt among the uninitiated, that work of fiction was not from the pen of Mr. Joyce.

But if Joyce sets the Aeolus chapter of Ulysses in the offices of the Freeman's Journal it is not out of respect for that newspaper. In fact Joyce held the Freeman and its staff in some disdain. Moreover, he seems to have held most, if not all, journalists in the same disdain, describing them as as ‘weathercocks’ – he writes: ‘One story good till you hear the next’.

We are told that Joyce’s final sneer at the Freeman in Ulysses occurs in the ‘Circe’ episode, set in Dublin’s nighttown: the title of the newspaper and that of its weekly compendium edition, the Weekly Freeman, are transmogrified into the ‘Freeman’s Urinal and Weekly Arsewiper’.

I have to interject here for the benefit of my younger readers who may be familiar with toilet tissue or even toilet rolls for doing the needful. These are a product of what to me is the modern age. They were preceded by medicated toilet paper whose properties led more to the spreading than the absorption of the remnants of No.2.

But before all that it was the practice, at least among the working classes, to cut the previous day's newspaper into small squares, pierce one corner, thread them with twine, and hang them on the lavatory wall. So many a paper in my day would have qualified for the title arsewiper not out of disrespet but out of necessity.

In our house that honour went to the Irish Press.

In his peroration Felix points out that Mr Bloom did not carry Joyce's disdain for the Freeman to its logical conclusion. When he visits the privy behind his home in Eccles Street, he did not use the Freeman to wipe himself clean but instead relied on the popular English magazine, Titbits.

Now there were some knowing giggles among the audience at this last bit. But this reveals a certain temporal problem in the cursory reading of Joyce.

In my day, Titbits was a soft porn magazine, a sort of titillator. In Joyce's time it presented a diverse range of tit-bits of information in an easy-to-read format. It didn't get its first pin-up until 1939.

If you're interested in the serious scholarly version of all this you can read Felix's full paper which he has generously put up on his website.

Darren Mooney

Now it's on to the second phase of the day's event, the music.

Joyce himself was musical. He had a fine tenor voice and, from memory, I think he won a few Feis prizes. There was also music around him. Moore's melodies, for example, were popular at social functions of the day. So Moore's melodies from tenor Darren Mooney were entirely appropriate to this particular commemoration.

Darren is from just down the road in Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow - somewhat beyond the range of the tower's cannon, but never mind. He charmed the audience so there will be no firing today. A singer whose abode is very much in range of the cannon is Bono, but that's for another day.

Darren's performance led us very nicely into that aspect of Joyce's life that we hear so little of. In fact Moore's melodies had gone somewhat out of vogue in the face of the great trad musical revival of the 1970s.

But, as Darren reminded us, they were the pop songs of their day. And they have some beautiful melodies along with decent lyrics. Even if the melodies were stolen, or recycled, Moore must be given credit for spreading them around and keeping them alive.

Darren had put together a nice selection and there was something very appealing in listening to a tenor out in the open and without electronic amplification half way up Killiney Hill.

If you're curious you can hear Darren sing Mio Caro Ben on his website. Not a Mooree's melody but one with strong Irish connections if its claimed authorship is to be believed.

Jillian Saunders

A special mention for Jill.

There are two sorts of accompanists: true accompanists and soloists. Too many of the latter try to pass themselves off as also the former. but you cannot be both at the same time.

Not so Jill - a discreet empathic accompanist and a wonderful complement to the singer's performance. A great pleasure.

We ended up with an unexpected sing along version of Molly Malone when, ignoring the day's script and presumably somewhat over-enthused by the occasion, a Molly presented herself from among the audience and Darren was suitably gallant in his response.

Photo: Maeve Breen

An unexpected duet from Patricia Dolan and Darren Mooney to tie up the musical phase in style.

Susan Hedigan

In the course of his performance as a wandering minstrel among the audience, Darren presented Susan with a bloom. This was Susan's birthday and the first time she had been back at the tower since her late husband's great performance here on Bloomsday 2014.

Ingrid & Rob Goodbody, Niall O'Donoghue

Niall had a bad fall a short while before and he was not completely recovered. He is one of those people who does not understand the word convalescence and, despite the possibility of having broken, or at least seriously damaged, some ribs he was out on site at 4am lugging stuff around.

But enough is enough and he was running out of steam. So he deputed Rob Goodbody to convey his appreciation to the participants and to thank the audience for coming, not to mention the caterers, whose catering we were about to sample. Some individuals had actually brought food to share, including lavender biscuits and succulent blueberry muffins.

Maghera Point from the Tower on the Day

I then laid aside the camera and proceeded to wind up the formal presentations by outlining the strong French connections between Killiney and France, carefully avoiding mentioning my own experience as an au pair boy.

The towers were built in 1804/5 to repel an expected French seaborne invasion. Thy owed much of their actual positioning in the Bay to the French Major La Chaussée who surveyed its military vulnerability in 1797. In the event, Napoleon never turned up, though the French appeared briefly elsewhere on the island.

Maghera Point, above, was the largest of the nine defensive emplacements in the Bay. It consisted of a tower and two batteries. It eventually fell victim to coastal erosion but was by then well beyond its use by date. Unlike Ozymandias, whose bits are still being discovered, it is gone forever.

You can also see in the picture where Edward Ball, having murdered his mother with a hatchet in Booterstown. dumped her body in the sea. But that too is a story for another day.

Back to La Chaussée, who went on to better things and became a financial intermediary between the British Government and the French Royalist rebels attempting to restore the monarchy and get rid of Napoleon. La Chaussée was involved in financing an unsuccessful attempt on Napoleon's life by the rebels, for which the perpetrators where duly executed.

So in this way, Killiney had connections with the highest level of the Government of France in the Napoleonic era.

Philippe Milloux

And there's more.

In attendance on the day was Philippe Milloux, Director of the Dublin Alliance Française. I didn't know it when I spoke, but the previous evening Philippe had been knighted by the French Government and was now a Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite.

Short of an appearance of the full complement of the Knights of the Round Table, what more could be wished for to nicely cap the day.

Mark and Diana Richardson had earlier arrived in true vintage style in their 1918 Model T Ford. They were great to let guests have their photos taken in this precious relic of a bygone era. Lovely people.

After the refreshments and loads of chat, time came for us all to wend our weary way homeward. But for some the day was not yet over and Mark and Diana were leaving to participate in the rival ceremonials in Sandycove.

A real Model T Ford, in any colour you like as long as it's black, but complete with hooter.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


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When I heard the news I baked a cake for Theresa and Arlene but it appears I was a bit previous. Arlene is not yet ready to go to the altar in advance of a satisfactory pre-nup despite Theresa's ardent desire for a quickie consummation.

The image is not making any one point but many. There were four layers to the construction of the image, each with its own area of contemplation.

The top layer is, of course, the icing. The optics are for mutually tolerant harmony, sanctified in this case not by the church but by the UK electorate.

The next layer is Theresa whose combination of greed and incompetence has got her into a jam where the only way out is a shotgun wedding with whoever will have her.

The penultimate layer is Arlene who is being a bit coy about the proposal of marriage and wonders if they can just get into bed together on a less formal basis.

The final layer is Ashers, who have asked me to say, for the avoidance of doubt, they did not bake this particular cake.

I'm sure, if you contemplate it long enough, you will see many more dimensions in this image beyond the two obvious ones.

By the way, I brought along a wedding present but I can't decide which of them to give it to.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


Imelda May 1974

There is an exhibition in Collins Barracks, now part of the national Museum of Ireland, which is well worth a visit. I'll venture it has something for everyone and the closer you are to being a photographer the more you will appreciate it.

Gemma Tipton sums it up in the Irish Times:
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and Kim Haughton’s project Portrait of a Century is genius in both its simplicity and impact. The Irish photographer and documentary maker has photographed 100 people, one born in each year since the [1916 Rising]. The result is a compelling exhibition and book that, quite literally, shows the changing face of Ireland. Haughton’s own career as a press photographer had already taken her to Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique and the Congo, and more recently to New York on a three-year contract as an associate photographer at the United Nations.
I had been meaning to check it out for some time. The idea intrigued me and it was clear from the previews that this was no mere mechanical exercise. The exhibition continues till the end of 2017.

In this post I am just commenting on some of the photos that caught my eye for one reason or another in a fairly rapid tour around the exhibition. I'm sure if I had more time I would have dwelt on others also. There is a book on the exhibition which I'm sure adds some more depth to individual photos but it's €45 and I'm not in the market just at the moment.

I started with Imelda May, above, as I am a fan, not so much of all her music, but because of where she came from and her dogged slog before she hit her wider fame. She is no flash in the pan. She has a lovely voice and her more recent style in music is more to my taste. I would love to hear her sing Irish ballads, particularly the more challenging ones like She Moves Through The Fair.

My people, on the Ma's side, are from Dublin's Liberties (just about) and I worked with her uncle.

T K Whitaker 1916

T K Whitaker is the earliest born of the subjects. Sadly he died just one month after his hundredth birthday in January last. He was an icon for public servants, and civil servants in particular.

He was my boss's boss's boss's boss when I entered the civil service in the year following Admiral Nelson's demise. He was Chairman of the National Industrial Economic Council when I was on the Secretariat and you'd learn a lot from just watching him operate. The Official Secrets Act, which I habitually ignore at this stage, warns me to be careful here. So in deference to Dr. Whitaker I will say no more, for now.

J P Dunleavy 1926

J P Dunleav may have written many wonderful books. But for me he is always The Gingerman. I have been caught in strange places laughing aloud as I read it. It was sort of like Woody Allen's film All you ever wanted to know about Sex. Sort of vicarious, like.

It was banned in Ireland and I would have included it in my banned book import certificate except that I had already read it by then.

Rowan Gillespie 1953

I only heard of Rowan Gillespie late in life, and that was because I was curious about the elphin figure perched delicately on the pediment of a building in Mount Street Crescent just beside the Pepper Pot Church.

Then I realised he had done the Famine Memorial on Custom House Dock. And he was responsible for Jersey Girl flying free in St. Helier. If you look on his website under public sculptures you'll probably recognise a few from having passed them by in your travels.

Máire Mhac an tSaoi 1922

Máire Mhac an tSaoi will be familiar to those of us with connections with the Irish language. She will also be familiar to others as the widow of Conor Cruise O'Brien. And to some very few others as having been a diplomat in her own right. And going even further back, as the daughter of Seán McEntee.

Panti Bliss 1968

To me, Panti Bliss is part of a new world I haven't quite fully got used to yet. The casual acceptance and unremarkability of homosexuality and same sex marriage is great but it is so far removed from what I was raised on that it is more a question of conscious acceptance than unremarkability on my part.

Shane MacGowan 1957

I love Shane MacGowan's New York song with Kirsty McColl, but looking at him spoils it for me. This portrait is unusual. I didn't recognise him but then my visual is seriously out of date. Perhaps this photo is reflecting the inner man rather than just his appearance, if that's not too strange a thing to say of a photograph.

Ruth Negga 1982

I had never heard of Ruth Negga until recently when she was mentioned in connection with the Oscars, or suchlike. I liked the photo.

Denis O'Brien 1958

Denis O'Brien I had heard of but had better just leave it at that.

Finally I noticed that Pádraig Ó hUiginn didn't figure, but he won't be too upset as he's already got his marble gong from Denis.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Dublin Historical Record - current cover
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The Dublin Historical Record is published by the Old Dublin Society (ODS). It publishes articles and other pieces on the history of Dublin and has been on the go now for nearly eighty years, 79 to be precise. It is published twice yearly and the 2017 Spring/Summer issue was launched last evening in the Oak Room of Dublin's Mansion House by the Deputy Lord Mayor.

Bernadine Ruddy
President Old Dublin Society Council

Bernadine Ruddy who presides over the ODS Council welcomed all present, including many of the contributors to the current issue. She thanked the Deputy Lord Mayor for the mayoralty's generosity in making the magnificent Oak Room in the city's Mansion House available for the occasion. She reminded the audience of the importance of the work of the ODS and of the Record's contribution to the discovery and logging of the city's history.

Séamas Ó Maitiú
Editor Dublin Historical Record

In introducing the current issue, Séamas Ó Maitiú, made particular reference to the journal's cover. For many years, if not from the beginning of time, this had consisted of a detail from John Speed's map of Dublin, though some concession was made to change by varying the background colour from time to time.

DHR cover, December 1977

When checking out my bookshelf to find an older issue to illustrate the earlier cover, I came across the issue for December 1977. A few things struck me. The journal was apparently published quarterly then and the price, 50p, was on the cover. I also noticed that Earnán de Blaghd was a member of the Council.

As it happened, this issue contained an article by yours truly on the History of Ballybrack in the Nineteenth Century. I must have been fierce energetic and academical in them days; the seven page article has almost four pages of footnotes, well endnotes actually.

Anyway, back to Séamas, who, in recent years started taking liberties with the cover, culminating in today's illustration of Howth harbour from an old postcard. This has great resonances for me as I lived the first four years of my life on the seafront there in The Gem. I'm looking forward to reading the article on Howth's marine past by Kevin Rickard.

In passing, Séamas told us that, in the evolving story of the cover during his editorship, the first and only person ever featured there was Brian Boru (courtesy of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle).

Another article I'm looking forward to is Cathy Scuffil's All Quiet on the Southern Front where she examines Dublin's South Circular Road, from every conceivable angle, on the eve of WWI. Cathy's master's thesis on this subject has already been published by Four Courts Press and I gather she is soon to embark on further academic research, the results of which I await with interest as I think my grand uncle may figure in it.

Rebecca Moynihan
Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin

So let us pass on to the Deputy Lord Mayor who actually launched the journal. It has been a significant feature of the Dublin mayoralty in recent years that the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor have not only turned up at city related events but they have also made the Oak Room available for significant Dublin related occasions, this being on of them.

Rebecca Moynihan has been an enthusiastic participant in all of this, as was the previous Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh. They have both shown great enthusiasm for the city's history and community development, and unlike some of our national Ministers, didn't really need a script at all, such was their enthusiasm for, and professional approach to, the subject.

Peter Geraghty
Winner of the Society Medal for 2016

Peter Geraghty was presented with the Society Medal for his article entitled Dublin's first automobiles - early steam carriage trials on the streets of Dublin, which appeared in last year's Spring/Summer issue of the Record. Peter was thrilled to be honoured for what he described as a labour of love.

Cathy Scuffil & Henry Fairbrother

Séamas networking

Outgoing Deputy Lord Mayor - only days left

Monday, June 05, 2017


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At last, the catalogue for The Foggy Dew is available. Regular readers will know that this exhibition blew my mind when I first saw it at the beginning of 2016.

The catalogue is quite an ingenious production. As well as including shots of the exhibition it gives us an insight into its assembly, somewhat on the lines of those additional features that come on film DVDs. There is also an essay by Ciaran O'Neill, Ussher Lecturer in History at TCD, setting out some of the background.

The exhibition itself ran from 15 January to 21 February 2016 in the RHA. It then went on to the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle, and the Ballina Arts Centre, Co. Mayo from 16 July to 21 August 2016. I would like to thank the artist and author for permission to use the material below.

Extract from Mick O'Dea's copybook 1970/71

Mick O'Dea is from Ennis, Co. Clare, and his views of 1916 were formed by his environment and particularly the hubris of the national celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966.

Fortunately he has kept some of his school copybooks from the period and the catalogue gives us some very interesting illustrations from these.

The format of the catalogue is itself reminiscent of one of those special hard cover copy books we had in school, more often than not for science subjects.

Finishing off Britannia

The shot of Mick putting the finishing touches to Britannia gives a good idea of the scale of the project and the materials used in the three dimensional elements of the exhibition. The crudity and anonymity of cardboard was cleverly crafted and, when combined with some excellent bespoke lighting, really hit you for six.

British troops awaiting capitation.

The use of bodies suspended in the air and simulating the after effects of explosions capped the whole thing with a sense of movement.

Daniel O'Connell and friend

Ciaran's essay is great background to both the artist and the events he portrays.

I have two (small) bones to pick with him, however.

My experience of birds on O'Connell's head has been of seagulls and not pigeons and I suspect that the image here is closer to one of the former. I can't speak for what they do in Ennis and, anyway, I don't think my sight would stretch to the elevation down there.

The scene well in advance of the 1916/1966 parade.

Ciaran says that the 1966 celebration parade "marched past the stump of Nelson's column". A very poetic evocation of independence gazing down on shattered empire. Except he does an injustice to both the Defence Forces and the Corpo. There was no stump by then. The scene was as if Nelson had never been there - gone, obliterated.

While Britannia's Huns
with their long range guns
sailed in through the foggy dew.

I'll leave you with this powerful image of Britannia and, hopefully the words of that powerful song ringing in your ears