Tuesday, June 27, 2017


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This is the old variable height gasometer viewed from South Lotts Road. Over a period of about twenty years I passed it in the train, going to and from school and then work. Some days it was high with lots of gas. Other days it was low with less.

It was not clear what would happen to it once it became obsolete. Would it vanish like the gasometer on the Gas Company's land on the South Quays?

But then, the most amazing thing happened. It was converted into apartments and those of us who remembered it could still rejoice in its nostalgic outline.

My son told me I could take a short cut around it between South Lotts Road and the Dart station at Barrow Street and when I found myself in the area the other day, that's exactly what I did.

I had never seen it up close before and it turned out to be a very impressive and imposing structure.

Both a new experience and a trip down memory lane all at once.

But then I started to get a little uneasy. Something was amiss. It took me a while to identify the cause of my unease. I had just passed by the gasometer when I noticed a small red spot appearing on the underside of the peak of the baseball cap I was wearing.

I thought at first it might have been something reflecting in my glasses, but no. It was definitely a spot of light and it moved around on the underside of the peak. When I stopped moving it went away and when I started up again it reappeared.

I looked left and then right, but it was still there. I just couldn't figure it out. I hoped it was some sort of motion detector and not a local sniper taking aim. It defied all logic and, for the life of me, I couldn't pin down it's source. All a bit scary.

And then my eye caught another red spot of light - the source. I had a laser pointer in the inside pocket of my jacket and a heavy camera strap over my shoulder. When I moved, the pressure of the strap turned on the pointer.

What a relief. I felt as foolish as someone who thought they were being followed and it turned out to be by their own shadow.

I took a last lingering look back as I headed for Barrow Street station with my adrenaline count slowly returning to normal.


The Rope of Life - South Docks Dublin
Photo by Larry O'Toole
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There's no end to what goes on in the Donaghmede Shopping Centre. Regular readers will know that I follow Michael Edwards's annual photo competition, and it is while I was up there yesterday checking that out that I noticed another exhibition.

This is an art exhibition staged by the Coolock Library Art Group. The Group normally meets in the Coolock library and they were offered this exhibition space by Donaghmede Shopping Centre. This was initially for the month of June but Peter Coyne, in the picture above, tells me that the offer has now been extended till the end of July. So you've plenty of time to go and have a look.

I'm told all of the paintings are for sale. There must be close on a hundred paintings on display at present and I've just included a few below that took my fancy.

Ballet Dancer by Margaret Hollywood €75 ono

Ballet Dancer by Margaret Hollywood €180

Genoese Tower Corsica by Gwen O'Byrne €60

Dún Laoghaire by Peter Coyne

Bather by Peter Coyne

Monday, June 26, 2017


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Time flies and it's that time of year again. In fact I nearly missed the first act but just caught it in time.

Michael Edwards's Photo Competition is off again and the first club has already been exhibiting during the month of June. Full marks to Michael and Dermot for taking on the burden of another year's competition and to Donaghmede Shopping Centre for donating the exhibition space.

The theme this year is OUR TOWN and the idea is to illustrate what makes where we are from special. I think expectations are for the positive rather than the negative


As usual, I intend dropping in each month and, without prejudice to what the judge may eventually decide, bring you a few photos from the current club which appealed to me for one reason or another.

The shot above is of the remains of the old Roman Catholic church and graveyard in the centre of Raheny village. It is taken from an unusual angle and the mixture of flash and natural lighting gives it an eerie air.

You might think the choice of subject here a bit pedestrian but just try and imagine Raheny without Macari's chipper.

The clouds and the cyclists give context and interest to a piece of street sculpture that often looks bereft just sitting there in an open space.

The iconic Dublin chimneys set the context and the Bull Wall, now more frequently referred to as the wooden bridge, reassures us that we are on the Northside. The reflection of the golden clouds in the foreground warms it up nicely.

Again the chimneys with some very nice light and shade.

Finally, the end of the line as old meets new in Howth.

The timetable for the competition is shown below. As I understand it entries for the public, as distinct from the club, section need to be in by early October.

Club Date
Raheny 3rd June
St. Benedict’s 1st July
Howth 29th July
Sutton 26th August
Swords Viewfinders 23rd Sept
Club Finalists on Display
& Public Entrants
21st October
Winners' Presentation
and Reception
9th November


Saturday, June 24, 2017


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What must surely be the definitive book on the Custom House Raid of 25 May 1921 has just been published. The author is Liz Gillis, a well respected historian of the revolutionary period. Her previous book, Women of the Irish Revolution, reflected her interest in the role and relative neglect of women of this period in the history books.

She has now turned her attention to the Custom House Raid. Well, not really. She has been researching this subject, along with Micheál Ó Doibhilín, for some years now and the book is the culmination of that research, for now at least.

It is a great read and unputdownable once you start. The style is in true storytelling mode and very engaging and it is all backed up by meticulous research incorporating the most recently available sources.

I was at the launch the other evening in Beggars Bush Barracks, former Headquarters of the hated Auxiliaries. Fitting.

The Publisher

The proceedings commenced with a word (or two) from the publisher.

Micheál Ó Doibhilín runs Kilmainham Tales and he has published a good few quality books around the general theme of Ireland's resistance to British occupation. Liz has published a few books in the same vein through her normal publisher, Mercier Press.

This is the first time that Micheál has published Liz and I'd say both of them are thrilled with the result.

I know Micheál since my schooldays when he was already an independent minded young man and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid bore the scars to prove it. But that's a story for another day.

My acquaintance with Liz dates from more recent times. I think I met her first when she gave a talk, with Micheál, on the Custom House Raid to the Howth Peninsula Heritage Society. It was a fascinating and provocative talk on a subject about which I knew nothing then. But my interest was stimulated and later intensified by a discovery in the course of my pursuing my own family history.

Mícheál started Kilmainham Tales some years ago to publish his own book on Anne Devlin. He also felt, through his work in Kilmainham Gaol, that there was a need for small, informative introductions to aspects of Irish history, a history that is often complex and difficult to grasp.

To date he has published a series of books, and also articles on his website, taking a fresh look at Irish history and telling it in an interesting, innovative and accessible way. He also wanted to stimulate fresh research and unearth new information.

He has certainly got all that, and more besides, from this wonderful book.

The Launcher

Éamon Ó Cuív

Who better to launch the book than the grandson of the man who argued strongly for a big push to strike at the British and at the same time achieve a major propaganda victory to consolidate international support for Irish independence. Eamon de Valera had just come back from a tour of America convinced that the IRA needed a major strike.

Dick McKee had long been advocating a strike on the Custom House, but that had been turned down twice in favour of other actions. Now it resurfaced as one of two possible locations, the other being Beggars Bush Barracks, headquarters of the hated Auxiliaries. The Barracks was eventually considered too well defended and attention switched to the undefended Custom House.

The symbolism here was important. The Custom House was not only the repository of records, such as tax returns and wills, it was the centre of the British administration and particularly that concerning Local Government.

Since the 1918 General Election and the establishment of a separate Irish parliament (Dáil on the run), and the January 1920 local authority elections in particular, a majority of local councils had sworn allegiance to the underground Dáil and a fully operational alternative system of local government and justice had been set up. This was accepted by the majority of the population but was obviously bitterly opposed by the authorities.

So a strike on the Custom House would serve both the propaganda need for a major coup and also strike at the heart of the British administration. It would show that, despite all the savagery of the reprisals of the preceding two years, the IRA was still very much in the game. At the same time it would contribute to their efforts to make Ireland ungovernable for the British.

Éamon reminded us of one of the reasons why the War of Independence had been so successful up to this point. Earlier revolutions had been riddled with British spies and basically fizzled out before they got properly started.

This time it was different. Michael Collins was in charge of intelligence and, as Éamon put it, our spies were better than their spies. And, of course, Collins also took the opportunity to take out their spies, the most dramatic example of this being his Squad's assassination of British Intelligence officers on 21 November 1920, the original Bloody Sunday.

Collins wasn't the only one who knew what he was at. Éamon was lavish in his praise of Liz as a true historian in contrast to some of the more lazy variety around the place. Liz went to the primary sources, where available, and she was meticulous both in her research and in her conclusions.

That didn't in the least interfere with her style of presentation which was clear, economic and engaging. He said he had learned a lot from the book and that it had clarified the great success of the Custom House Raid by putting it firmly in context.

The Author

The book having been launched we finally got to hear from the author. Liz is brimming over with enthusiasm and jizz and a keenly developed sense of humour. And we got a taste of all of this as she gave us some background to the book and her own enthusiasm for it.

She not only painstakingly trawled the latest written sources, as a perusal of the endnotes will confirm, but accumulated a vast amount of oral history, speaking to relatives of those who took part in the raid. This may, to some extent, explain the immediacy and readability of the book.

Her hope is to have transformed what was generally considered a failure by later generations into the the pivotal success that it really was, and so do justice to those who conceived, planned and participated in it.

Having now read the book, I have no doubt about her complete success on this score.

Eating her Words

Not everybody noticed the clunky volume on the table as they arrived. I certainly didn't and had to have it pointed out to me.

Thankfully, a paperback version soon appeared to keep it company and this was accompanied by the offer of a serious discount on the normal selling price for those who had made the effort to turn up on this fine summers evening.

I've heard of people having to eat their words but have never seen it so graphically executed. There was no hardback. It was a cake, a magnificent creation by Micheál's daughter Aisling Whelan.

And just like the communion service, in its original conception, we all partook of Liz's project. That's my slice you see, full of lush and biscuity things, and soon demolished.

The Long Road to City Hall

Photo: Micheál Ó Doibhilín

I can't let pass Liz's recent marriage to James Crowe in the magnificent setting of City Hall.

Kilmainham Tales commented:
This was the final event in a 23-year courtship, proving that Liz, who is renowned for the depth of her research and attention to detail in her books, applies the same attention to choosing her life partner!

Photo: Micheál Ó Doibhilín

As if that location, with all its resonances of living history, wasn't enough the couple walked straight into an ambush in Parliament Street en route to the reception.

The Audience

Three generations

The Sales Team

My Interest

I mentioned above that, at one point in following up my family history, my interest in the Custom House Raid intensified.

Peggy Medlar was a cousin of the husband of my grand aunt. She was from a staunchly Republican Kilkenny family, and in February 1923 she was arrested at her home in Adelaide Road by Free State Forces.


Among the items they confiscated from her was this photo of a young man. It carried the inscription Do Chara, Stiofán Ó Raghallaigh (Banba).

With a pen name like that he was clearly a writer in Irish and most likely a member of Conradh na Gaeilge. For a good while I got nowhere in trying to find out more about him. But then one day it all fell into place.

I read at ainm.ie that he was one of the five volunteers who lost their lives in the raid on the Custom House. And I now read in Liz's book that he, and his brother who also lost his life, were likely deputed to collect the money, stamps and money orders, from the building's Post Office before it was set on fire.

As Crown Forces turned up a little sooner than expected, well over 100 volunteers were trapped in the building and faced with a choice between (i) trying to leave quietly amid the genuine employees leaving under police supervision, (ii) just making a run for it and hoping for the best, or (iii) come out shooting. Stiofán (Stephen O'Reilly) apparently opted for (iii) and that was the end of him.

The book's Foreword opens with the comment:
The Custom House, as one visitor remarked, must be one of the few buildings in the world with a "monument to the guys who burned it out front".
And a fine monument it is, from Breton sculptor Yann Goulet.

Stephen is specifically mentioned on the plinth.

Peggy's cousin, husband of my grand aunt, was actually on Dublin City Council between 1920 and 1924, and in following up his story I had become aware of the fight to the death between the Council and the British Local Government Board. The stories are legion but the matter was resolved when the Treaty was signed in December 1921.

A final and purely chance connection came about when I was on holidays in Knockananna in County Wicklow and happened on this most unusual grave stone in the local graveyard. It turned out to be that of Tom Keogh/Kehoe who was a member of Collins's Squad and who took part in the Custom House Raid. He survived that only to be killed the following year in the Civil War.

Buy and read the book.

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.