Wednesday, April 16, 2014

1014 - 2014

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The title of tonight's (14/4/2014) talk was "That Field of Glory - Historical and Antiquarian Perspectives of the Battle of Clontarf".

Pete St John

But before the talk, we heard the newly composed "March for Brian Boru" by Pete St. John. We had been promised this two talks ago, but for one reason or another it didn't materialise. So tonight was the night and we were treated to a stirring march and ballad, introduced by the composer in person.

Colm Lennon

The talk turned out to be very interesting and neatly complemented those that went before it.

Colm Lennon looked at how the Battle of Clontarf, and the events around it, had been portrayed down the years. Previous talks had made us aware that the actual site of the battle had been disputed and that the details with which we were all familiar came from a piece of propaganda put out by Brian's descendants some hundred years after the actual event itself.

However the whole thing got a lot trickier when you added in other sources including those from the Vikings themselves. You began to wonder about the scale of the battle and it's significance and even who had actually won it. Dublin, for example, which was supposed to have been the prize, remained under Viking rule for many years later. So while it may not have been an outright victory for Brian's side, it did seem to stem the tide of Viking conquest, particularly when viewed against the background of what was happening in Britain at the time.

Reference was made to the many artistic representations of the personalities involved and of the battle itself. One member of the audience commented on the presence of Spanish Galleons in the bay in the Frazer picture.

And then there was Brian's Well on Castle Avenue, very convenient, and the bones dug up at Conquer Hill which turned out to be those of animals. So, at the end of the day, the conclusion was, if we can't say just where the battle actually occurred, we might as well settle for Clontarf, even if this location was first mentioned only in much later sources.

Chairs of Clontarf and Raheny Societies & Speaker.

A fascinating aspect of the talk was tracing how the various "nationalist" movements, starting as early as the Norman "invasion", adopted interpretations of the battle, and of the forces involved, to suit their own needs. So, over the years, the tale has been hijacked, evolving from a piece of family PR to the holy legend I learned in school, where St. Brian Boru defeated the Danes who had shamelessly raped our women and plundered our monasteries. The complexity of the real story is only now emerging into public consciousness and it is staggering to those of us brought up on the simplistic version. Had I had any inkling of all this stuff, I might not have given up history after the Inter Cert.

Collette Gill, Pete St John, Colm Lennon,
Kay Lonergan & Douglas Appleyard

I suppose this is an appropriate place to refer to a few wider matters.

There are whacks of things related to Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf going on all over the place this year and particularly over the Easter Weekend. The Battle of Clontarf Festival is on in St. Anne's Park, Raheny, on 19/20 April, and promises to be the mother of a jamboree, including a massive re-enactment of the battle.

TCD have just launched a new website which must be one of the best there is anywhere. It combines authoritative material with beautiful presentation along with links to sources and to a hugely entertaining and innovative use of Twitter, which brings you, day by day, through the run up to the battle and the battle itself as seen through the eyes of the characters involved.

Colm Lennon has a book coming out, which not only deals with these aspects of Clontarf, but also examines the wider evolution of the area.

Link to other 1014 related posts, including two other talks in the series.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Where is it ? No. 24

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Where is it ? No. 23

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where is it ? No. 22

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Where is it ? No. 21

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Well, that lasted a good 5 minutes.

Felix Larkin got it right again. It's the decoration in the bottom of the pool in the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square, Dublin 1.

Congratulations Felix, keep this up and you're barred :)


Where is it ? No. 20

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Where is it ? No. 19

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Abraham Feldman

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This is Abraham Feldman. He is Jewish and lived in Dublin, but you won't find him listed among the prominent members of the Dublin Jewish Community. He is not mentioned in Asher Benson's book, for example.

Yet he practiced his trade for 50 years in the city centre, in constant contact with the widest and most varied public imaginable. His output can be seen in hundreds, if not thousands of Dublin homes. But while people remember him, he remains anonymous.

In 1885 his parents had fled the Ukraine to escape the persecution of Jews then severe in that part of Europe.

He started with a box camera in the 1930s and, as you can see, later graduated to 35mm.

and eventually to Polaroid.

Now you get it.

He was Arthur Fields, the man on the bridge.

In a career stretching from the 1930s to the 1980s he is reputed to have taken almost 200,000 photographs.

But no negatives survive, and, of course, it's the people in the photos or their descendants who have the prints.

This inspired El Zorrero Films, who are making a film about Arthur, to attempt to compile an archive of his work, and of that of some of the other street photographers who plied their trade in the O'Connell St. area during that period.

So they have put out a call to the public to send in, or bring in, any street photographs they may have, along with as much information as they have about them. The intention is to include as many as possible of these in the archive as a tribute to Arthur and his colleagues.

I have sent in three photographs. The one above is of myself and my sister taken (I think) on O'Connell Bridge, or if not, at the Pillar, around 1950.

The second one is of the mother (Ellen) and daughter (Mai) of Alderman Patrick Medlar. This was taken in 1939/40 somewhere around the Carlton Cinema. Ellen was to die, aged 79, at her brother's funeral the following year, and Mai died, aged 90, in 2011.

The third is of my mother and myself taken in February 1945 on the west side of O'Connell Bridge, looking towards the GPO.

Scanning and storytelling in Raheny library

For those who were not in a position to scan photos themselves, the project has been going round some of Dublin's public libraries over the last weeks and scanning photos which people have been asked to bring along.

These are not just static photos as the project is also recording much of what is known about the subjects - background stories.

They were in Raheny on Monday (7/4/2014) and had their busiest day ever. People were queueing up right through the day and over 300 photos were scanned. Over 2,000 photos have been collected so far.

The last library scan day is on Saturday (12/4/2014) in the Central Library (Ilac Centre) between 10am and 5pm.

You can get more information about the project on this website and about Abraham Feldman, aka Arthur Fields, here.

Update - 12 April 2014

I'm including two additional photos below which have also been submitted. The first is of some members of my school class, snapped outside Clery's in 1956/7. Ronan Murphy had a copy which he passed on to me and which I sent in. The second is of my cousin, Gerry Fleming, which he had the nerve to send in himself.

Coláiste Mhuire pupils who performed in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Feis in the Gate Theatre. Snapped at corner of Clery's on way to post-Feis treat. L-R (front row) Brian Ó Loinsigh, Cormac Ó Gráda, Colm Ó Muircheartaigh; (back row) Gearóid Ó Caomhánaigh, Seán Ó Catháin, Rónán Ó Murchú, Concubhar Bushe, Alan Diúic, Éamonn Ó hAirís. And Br. C. R. Ó Maitiú.

Brian Ó Loinsigh is the writer Brian Lynch and Alan Diúic is former Finance Minister Alan Dukes.

Links to the photos as they appear on Man On Bridge.

Mai & Granny 1939
Me & Mam 1945
Me & Martina 1950
Gerry 1950
Daltaí 1956

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Return Visit

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As a suitably attired Micheal D is set to pay the Queen a visit, some few reflections are in order.

This will be the first official visit of an Irish president to the British monarch.

It is in return for the Queen's visit to Ireland in 2011.

That visit was a major success, and, leaving aside the Queen's few words of Gaeilge, which probably meant no more than did her son's use of Welsh at his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969, the highlight for me was her laying of a wreath in the memorial gardens in Parnell Square. This was a British monarch honouring those who gave their lives opposing her predecessors. Surely a significant moment.

At that time Sinn Féin refused to participate, but now Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister in the NI administration, will accept an invitation to attend a banquet in Windsor Castle. Sure to be another significant moment.

Michael D is not the first President of Ireland to visit Britain while in office. That honour goes to Mary Robinson in the spring of 1991. Her visit was not an official one and was not to the British monarch. She had been invited by Jacques Attali to attend the inauguration of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) as she had been one of the adjudicators in the competition for a bank logo.

That turned out to be her first trip outside the country since her election as president and it was conceded in the teeth of serious opposition by Government (who have the last say in these matters).

Charlie Haughey, then Taoiseach, was appalled at her election as president, and even more appalled by her promise to turn the office into a more significant one that theretofore. As a result he opposed almost anything she wanted to do, and the idea of letting her loose on the British "mainland", where she might get up to God knows what sort of mischief, was just an "appalling vista".

However he couldn't keep her bottled up for ever, so he reluctantly agreed to let her attend the inauguration, knowing that she also intended to address the Irish immigrant community in London. For safety's sake he sent a plane load of officials along to keep an eye on her (relatively speaking, that is).

Anyway, she got away with it, and continued to raise the profile of her office over the remainder of her tenure. (Though the height of that office so far must be the then President Patrick Hillery's refusal, in 1982, to accede to Charlie Haughey's request to block Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald's resignation and so indirectly install Haughey as Taoiseach.)

I was not involved directly in Mary Robinson's visit, except for getting her bounced off a lunch list which Attali had drawn up. He had a fixation on dealing with Heads of State where possible. The lunch, which was entertained by Rostropovich in person, was billed as a working lunch for EBRD Governors and as she was not in that category I had to make sure that it was Albert Reynolds, then Irish governor, who was invited.

Amazing the things you do for your country.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

1014 Exhibition

People must surely be aware by now that this year celebrates the millennium of the Battle of Clontarf. They may not be aware that the battle took place at dawn on 23 April 1014 but those involved in the commemorations are very aware of this. It is now the deadline for all sorts of things, from the inauguration of the Millenium Trail to the republication of The Meadow of the Bull.

You get a great flavour of all this frenetic activity and enthusiasm when visiting the Historical and Community Exhibition in St. Anthony's old church on the Clontarf Road. If you haven't yet been, it's now too late to go as the exhibition finished this evening (30/3/2014).

Never mind, though, I'll give you a wee flavour of it.

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I was met by this friendly Viking and his daughter on my way in. He was displaying a range of Viking objects, mostly military, and he is a reminder that Clontarf will witness the mother of re-enactments in St. Anne's Park on 19-20 April 2014. It is billed as the "Biggest Living History Re-enactment ever held in Ireland, with hundreds of re-enactors, village, crafts, skills and weapons, story telling, falconry, archery, coin striking, food and music". How they had time for all this stuff in 1014 between chopping each other's heads off is beyond me, but, no doubt, all will be revealed on the day.

The helmet on the left is of a type worn by the Vikings at the time of Clontarf while the one on the right is a later model.

We have some stamps due out (in time for the 23rd ??) but the Manx have beaten us to it. Just as well they were less on the ball when it came to the actual battle.

The guy above is Brodir (or Broder or whatever) the hate figure from school who actually killed our beloved Brian Boru.

And in case you thought I was joking about the up close ferocity of the battle, check out this one. It is much easier to interpret than the 19th century Frazer painting at any rate.

We were also treated to a collection of relevant maps from Leslie Brown. I had seen Leslie's work before, at a maritime seminar in Pearse St. and it is very wide ranging. His son is the historian who is preoccupied with the content of the maps while he, himself, is an engineer and looks after the presentation aspects.

There were also books and stuff directly related to the Battle and clearly one child was already putting in some practice for the big occasion.

The East Wall History Group. Don't forget that in 1014 Clontarf was a fairly large amorphous area outside the city. East Wall was certainly part of it, but, by some accounts, it stretches to Glasnevin. My grandfather, who lived in Glasnevein was baptised in St. John's church at the bottom of Vernon Avenue, then his parents' parish church.

Eventually, as it was getting late, I thought I should scarper. Nothing to do, of course, with the formerly friendly Viking, now dressed for battle, advancing towards me with one of those things you chop people's heads off with.

(Click on the 1014 tag below to see other posts related to Brian Boru)

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Where is it ? No. 18

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Family History Day 2014

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The Dublin City Library and Archive organises a Family History Day in March and a Local History Day in October every year. The day consists of a number of 45 minute presentations on relevant but not necessarily related topics.

Today (28/3/2014) saw the Local History Day. The conference room was full and the programme packed with goodies.

However, before launching into the talks, it was Máire Kennedy's sad duty to call for a minute of silence for Shane Mac Thomáis who died tragically at the end of last week. You can see a tribute to Shane here.

The programme kicked off with Conor Dodd taking us through the available military records, with particular emphasis on WWI, the centenary commemoration of which starts this year. Conor has been a long time at this and seemed to know the UK National Archive in Kew like the back of his hand.

He was followed by his father, Liam, who took us through the Irish Lights records. Liam has spend some 30 odd years in the service and not only is he familiar with what is available, he was responsible himself for destroying a fair bit of what is not available, and while he now bemoans the destruction of many records including those he destroyed himself, he has a clear conscience as he acted under orders and the objective at the time was simply to free up precious space.

Ricky Shannon took us through her vast family of tanners, many of whom lived in the James's St./Mount Brown area. She told of a small planned family reunion which quickly expanded to take 100 people but which nevetheless proved a great success.

The afternoon kicked off with Jacinta Prunty illustrating the usefulness of maps to the family historian. She showed how many maps have unexpected quantities of genealogical information and made the point that one always needs to walk the walk, even if it is only on paper. The physical/geographical element provided by maps is a vital element in getting the sense of a place and these are becoming increasingly available including in the series of town atlases which is being added to all the time.

Jacinta continues to field questions at the end of a very lively Q&A, while Máire manages the digital transition to the next session.

Padraic Kennedy gave us a whistlestop tour through the Irish military archives of which he is Director. These archives have a vast amount of material which is being steadily digitised. While it is necessary to make an appointment to visit the archives, you get the royal treatment as soon as you go through the door. I can testify to that from my own experience.

And finally we get to Rosie Hackett. Rosie has got the latest bridge over the Liffey named after her following a very intensive online campaign conducted mainly by three young ladies whose enthusiasm for the task sometimes led to supporters of the Rosie campaign rewriting of history on the fly.

Never mind. James Curry demolished the myth and revealed behind it a very worthy and fascinating lady who well deserves to have the bridge named after her. He helped prepare a pamphlet showing the real Rosie Hackett and this will be launched by Dublin City Council on 9 May next.

Meanwhile there will be some tidying up of the records to be done, not least replacing the photo of Lady Gregory on Rosie's current Wikipedia page with one of the real Rosie. The page is here and hopefully by the time you get round to looking it up it will have been straightened out.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Proxy Bishop Bob

Bob Key, Church of England Dean of Jersey (CI)

I have just heard the Dean being interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey and a more sickening piece of effrontery you could not imagine. He was oozing complacency and triumphalism which must surely have made every one listening, bar his own claque in the Jersey civil and church power structure, throw up.

The background is briefly that a vulnerable young lady was abused by one of the Dean's Churchwardens and when she complained she was the one held up to odium and ridicule. Needless to say she did not react well to this and as a result, and with the connivance of the Dean, she was locked up in a cell for two weeks and then deported penniless from the island, in the night attire in which she had been arrested.

As far as the Dean was concerned, the matter had now been swept under the carpet and he and his buddies could continue "moving into the future".

Unfortunately for him the carpet was not up to the job and the whole matter resurfaced in recent times. The Dean's Bishop commissioned an inquiry, with which the Dean refused to cooperate, and which found his behaviour unacceptable. The Bishop promptly suspended the Dean but subsequently found he had not the power to do so (Jersey is a funny place) and had to withdraw the suspension. The Dean and his civil cohorts immediately trumpeted this as the Dean being "cleared", which it wasn't and the whole matter moved on, beyond the victim, who had been living homeless on the streets of the mainland, and into a fully blown civil and ecclesiastical constitutional crisis.

As relations between Jersey CofE and its parent diocese had totally broken down, the Archbishop of Canterbury (CofE's No.1 man) moved Jersey from the jurisdiction of Winchester to that of Canterbury itself, but effectively under Bishop Trevor Wilmott, a friend of the Dean, if we are to believe the story.

It was the signing of an agreement between Jersey, Winchester and Canterbury, the other day, which gave rise to the BBC interview referred to above.

In the interview the Dean claimed he had been "cleared" of any misbehaviour or whatever, and he gave out about the Korris report which criticised him, and which he had not been shown in advance of publication, though he had refused to cooperate in the drawing up of the report itself. He said he can't wait for publication of the Steel report, also commissioned by Winchester to look into the complaint, after all the work that went into it, including a gruelling 8 hour interview with himself. It should be pointed out here that Dame Heather Steel, the author of this report has strong Jersey establishment connections, offered herself to do the job, and did not interview either the young lady or the churchwarden. A former MET policeman and former Jersey parliament member, who was intermediating for the young lady and had a substantial meeting with Dame Heather, found her extremely prejudiced against the young lady. So it is no wonder the Dean, and his Jersey civil cohorts, can't wait for this report to hit the presses.

The man is a smoothie weirdo. Jesus would have a fit. I already have.


I have previously posted about the young lady and if you have a strong stomach you can read her blog where she is slowly finding a voice to pitch against the official trumpets.

You can listen to the Dean here.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Holy Running Water

I noticed this Holy Running Water at St. Catherine's in Meath St. recently and it has been intriguing me ever since.

I assume it is not meant to be permanently running as it is here. At least that is what the presence of the tap suggests.

So let us assume for the moment that it is not running, but only turned on at discrete intervals as needed. Where is it coming from? I assume it is ultimately from the mains, probably with the intervention of a special tank as, otherwise, all water used in the church would be holy water. I am also assuming that the tank is blessed at discrete intervals, so we have from time to time a tank full of holy water.

Now lets run the water permanently. My first thoughts were that the tank would become depleted and the supply dry up. That has clearly not happened here. So my next assumption was that it is continuously refilled from the mains, in which case, would the original holy water eventually turn into ordinary tap water, to the detriment of those attempting to use it for holy purposes?

But then it finally struck me. Holy water has homeopathic qualities. No matter how much it is diluted it remains holy water. So the supply needs only to be blessed once at source and Bob's your uncle.

Glad I figured that one out.

Next question. Where does the "waste" holy water go. There is a "wastepipe" leading from the bowl, but I never thought to check where it went.

Just as well it's not the Real Presence we're dealing with here instead of just Holy Water.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gandon's Glory

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James Gandon (1742-1823) went to a lot of trouble completing the designs for the Dublin Custom House and then having it constructed.

It is a fine building and came to symbolise a lot of what Dublin was and is, despite: its destruction by the IRA in 1921; its subsequent restorations; the building of the loop line bridge, which obscures its view from the west, and the erection of the Liberty Hall "skyscraper", both of which spoil what would otherwise be a wonderful Liffey streetscape.

Well the vandals are at it again, albeit temporarily and in the name of St. Patrick.

Custom House Quay, or at least that part of it between the building and the river, is playing host to a set of garish and loud volume "amusements" to celebrate the something-or-other anniversary of the conversion of the Irish heathens to Christianity - otherwise known as St. Patrick's Day.

Well it used to be a day. Now it varies from a whole week to a mere weekend depending on the calendar and the coffers.

And my, is it FUN?

More fun, I'm sure, than living with the lion and the unicorn under the British crown in times of yore!

The blue "spire" on the left is a modern version of the chairoplane of old.

Not only are you subjected to the traditional centrifugal force, but you are elevated half way to Heaven in the process, and you can get a magnificant view of Dublin by day or night, if you have the nerve to open your eyes.

I read that, when he came to Dublin to do the Custom House, Gandon was secreted away by John Beresford in his house on what is now Railway Street and which was formerly part of the red light district known as Monto.

I think, at this stage and to restore a bit of sanity, we need a bar or two from the Dubliners on that subject.

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