Friday, November 17, 2017


Click on any image for a larger version

A last minute review of the winners in the Michael Edwards photo competition. I have reported on the various phases of this year's competition including on the line-up for the final.

The moment of truth arrived on 16 November as the prizewinners and overall winners were selected from among some fifty images from clubs and eleven from individuals.

Dermot Edwards

Dermot Edwards, who with his father Michael, runs the photographic shop (I nearly said Photoshop) in the Donaghmede Shopping Centre, looks a happy man.

In kicking off the final adjudication he thanked all who had been involved in supporting the competition during the year through sponsorship or simply by entering photos. Even this blog got a mention.

Eamon O'Daly

Eamon O'Daly, from The Outdoor Studio and Skerries Photography, was this year's adjudicator for the final.

Before getting down to the business of the evening he outlined his general approach to the adjudication.

Unlike Ray McManus, two years ago, who treated us to a diatribe against the use of Photoshop, Eamon had a more sensible approach. Post-processing was acceptable as long as it was simply enhancing the qualities of the original photograph and not creating a new artistic production.

He also mentioned the inadvisability of using glass frames when you don't know the precise lighting conditions under which your work will be displayed. It is important to avoid reflections which interfere with how people actually see your work.

I've been making this point myself till I'm blue in the face but nobody seems to be paying any attention.

He also made clear, in the context of this year's theme of OUR TOWN, that he preferred the location to be identifiable in the photo itself and, as our world was all about people, he would like to see people included in the photos. His choices very much reflected these considerations.

There was some muttering in the audience that it would have been good to know all this in advance. As it is, the existing rules are few and very general in nature. I know Dermot feels that this is to encourage the widest possible entry and while I have some sympathy with that point of view I think a little more specificity would be no harm. I'll leave it at that for now.

Overall winner in the Clubs category

As is customary, the results were announced in reverse order with the overall winners revealed at the end. As I'm not going to cover all the twenty or so prizewinners I'm doing it the other way round.

Top prize in the clubs category went to Dermot O'Flaherty from the Swords Viewfinders. This was for a black and white study of Bewley's Café in Grafton Street. A fine piece of work which, incidentally, took in both of the adjudicator's principal criteria. Personally, I'm always thrilled to see black and white holding its own.

As well as a fine trophy, courtesy of Dublin City Council, Dermot got a special gift from Michael. The Minox camera was standard spy equipment during WWII and the Cold War. Michael told Dermot he could use it but better not to.

My mother had a Minox but it was mainly me that used it. I must fish out the negs one of these days.

Dermot said that the photo had been inspired by one taken by a lady who was currently not well, so it was nice to see her inspiration get some recognition in the circumstances.

Winner in the Individual Category

The winner in the individual category was Vivion Mulcahy, a Northsider currently resident in Luxembourg which is where the winning photo was taken.

As Vivion is currently in Luxembourg his prize was accepted by his friend and photo-colleague, Barry Crowley from the Howth Club.

From the contented look on Barry's face you'd think it was him what took it.

The photo is a night shot of the River Alzette as it flows through the old low city (“Grund”) of Luxembourg.

It is a very crafted shot and worth your while to study it closely. I have seen other shots of this scene but not as subtle as this one.

The entire Grund is a UNESCO Heritage Site and so is protected from indiscriminate development. It is a warren of steep and narrow cobbled streets and includes a number of small restaurants and bars. In days gone by the lepers of Luxembourg were segregated in the Grund. Thankfully leprosy is no longer endemic in Luxembourg.

The best way to get there is via a lift which descends from the upper city (“Ville haute”) through hundreds of feet of solid rock and from which you emerge into a rock tunnel lined with artworks. From there it is a short walk to where the photo was taken.

The river is usually placid, but not always - as this photo of a riverside house graphically illustrates. The river's current level is some 12 feet below its flood level in 1756 (marked by the plaque at the top left of the photo). And this before climate change.

Other prizewinners

Just a quick take on a few other winning shots.

Another shot from Dermot O'Flaherty, this time a moment seized in St. Stephen's Green.

And yet another from Dermot, this time a night shot at the Spire in O'Connell St.

Michael wonders who took this one of fishermen on Howth pier.

And it's Pat Carey from the local St. Benedict's club and last year's winner. Another shot with strong people interest.

And yet another one from Pat. This time its buskers on the Clontarf prom with the two iconic chimneys in the background. The adjudicator particularly commented on this one as fulfilling both his main criteria with the people interest here being very strong. An unkind member of the audience drew attention to the smoke emanating from the chimneys.

Despite the intense individual rivalry in this competition there is a sense of club solidarity at the end of the day. Here the Sutton club pose for a family photo with their prize-winning photographer.

And I can't finish without mentioning Raheny. That club didn't get any prizes this year but I thought I'd show you Billy White's entry. Billy won the competition two years ago. I caught him sneaking out with his entry, as I did myself a few minutes later.

As the captions this year were restricted to "single word locations" I have taken the liberty of explaining the rationale behind my own entries here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Pearse Square
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It's that time of year again, the climax of Michael Edwards photo exhibition/competition has come and gone.

The theme this year was OUR TOWN and the idea was to illustrate what makes where we are from special. I think expectations were for the positive rather than the negative. The individual category was there again this year and I put in five entries. As far as the judges are concerned the entries are anonymous and you are only allowed a short title for each photo indicating where it has been taken. So no commentary then.

Well, as I did last year, and now that the competition is over and anonymity is no longer required, I thought I'd just explain my photos a bit and say why I took them in the first place and why I picked these particular ones to enter.

Pearse Square, above, was originally Queen Square and it was renamed along with the street in 1921. This was on the eve of formal independence and was done by a City Council that had been long at loggerheads with the Imperial British Authorities.

The old sign is still there on the corner building and it has been left to deteriorate over the years. Understandable I suppose. However the newer sign is one of those cheapo versions and it too has deteriorated. I was very surprised it was not replaced by a more worthy version in the run up to the 1916 commemorations. Even the Padraig Pearse pub around the corner got a whole new frontage for the occasion and I entered a photo of that for last years competition.

I entered this one this year as typical not only of my beloved town but also of the country at large. Lots of lip service but very little action.

Macken Street

My town had its share of bombs during the troubles and thankfully that is now all behind us, pace Brexit. However this Continuity IRA sign appeared in recent times in Macken Street and there is no sign of anyone doing anything about it. I suppose it's as well to be reminded from time to time that peace is hard won and needs constant nurturing.

I entered this as a reminder of what may be simmering just below the surface.


Enough of the rough stuff. A neighbour called me one day recently to have a look in her back garden. To her surprise, earlier in the day this duck with is clatter of ducklings paraded out from the garden bushes.

There are no ducks on our estate though there is a bird sanctuary down in Dollymount where both native ducks and passing flocks can be seen. It was presumably one of these that found itself pregnant and diverted to the nearest friendly and semi-concealed welcoming space.

My neighbour put out some water and the ducklings all took a bath, from which they can be seen above returning to the comfort and concealment of the bushes..

The duck people came later to take them away and look after them until they were able to go on their way.

I entered this to show that there can be some very pleasant and unexpected aspects to living in the suburbs.

Raheny Village

This one doesn't really need any explanation in a world of increasing surveillance. Nice of them to warn us. Pity the cameras were not suitably trained when the public defibrillator was stolen from round the corner not all that long ago. Hopefully the replacement is now under as much surveillance as I am myself.

I entered this one to reassure myself that, in my town, someone up there is watching over me.

Nassau Street

And, finally, this caught my eye on my way home from Culture Night.

Dublin Canvas has been doing a great job around the city getting the grey traffic light control boxes tarted up. This one looked particularly appropriate on a rubbish collection evening.

I entered this one to show that at least one, and possibly two, citizens have retained a sense of humour despite the current onslaught on our environment from fly-tipping and careless disposal of rubbish. The plastic bag tax was a start but we still have a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Image from Military Archives Pensions Files
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The Council of National Cultural Institutions (CNCI) organised a symposium entitled Digitisation Case Studies in the National Gallery of Ireland on 9 November 2017. I think it was primarily intended for digitisation managers and archivists and the presentations were quite detailed as a result.

Nevertheless I came away with a host of impressions which I will attempt to share below.

John McDonough, National Archives of Ireland

The seminar was introduced by John McDonough, Director of the National Archives of Ireland. Though his institution didn't have a presentation as such he stressed the importance of archives and in particular the current extensive digitisation programme of the National Archives.

I don't know if they will ever best their digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 censuses. That was an amazing project which opened up huge avenues of research. I have made extensive use of it myself and have referred to the project in a blog post on Catríona Crowe who must take the credit for it.

Jenny Doyle, National Library of Ireland

Jenny Doyle, who is Digitisation Programme Manager at the National Library, filled us in on the digitisation of the Decade of Commemoration. We're only nearly half way through this decade at the moment, having covered the 1913 Lockout, the outbreak of WWI in 1914 and the 1916 Rising. We are now into Phase 3 of the project, dealing with the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Clearly material must be catalogued before it is digitised and so far some 16% of what has been catalogued has been digitised. This includes some 105K items and 601K images. I'm not quite sure what this means exactly and one of the issues raised during the morning was how digitised material should be counted. Different institutions adopt different practices and some of them, no doubt, do themselves down in the process.

For many of us the question Why Digitise may be redundant. We know the advantages. But it is no harm to recap some of them here from Jenny's list and we will be coming back to them in detail later.
• Reduces Damage
• Security
• Saves Space
• Meets user needs
• Improves or enhances access
• A step towards digital preservation
Jenny then gave us details on the workflows and staffing involved in the project. What I took from this is that it is very labour intensive, despite a certain degree of automation, and that it needs to be adequately resourced.

Ines Byrne, National Library of Scotland

Ines Byrne is the Digital Transition Manager in the National Library of Scotland. That library's digitisation programme has a lot of elements in common with NLI's programme. But Ines highlighted a number of specific points of interest.

She stressed that the fundamental purpose of digitisation in her case was to provide access to useful collection materials. This involved prioritising and this in itself was tricky.

She added in two subsidiary effects of the programme, supporting innovation and driving economic development.

She touched on the approaches needed in the light of the varying rights attaching to material.

She distinguished between bespoke material which needed particular individual attention and that which could be more or less mass processed.

She outlined some of the cost elements involved and the various funding options available, some of which then fed back into the choice of priorities. The process was a balance between desire and pragmatism.

Cécile Gordon, Military Archives

Cécile is the Military Service Pensions Project Manager at the Military Archives. This was both an innovative and very sensitive project. It involved releasing files on people who applied for pensions in relation to military service in the cause between 1916 and 1923.

Applicants could be those who served, or if deceased, surviving relations who could show that they were dependent on them during the period in question. Some 85,000 people applied of which 18,000 were successful.

The full collection consists of 250,000 files of which 20,000 are currently online, so the project seems to be still ongoing. Cécile stressed the degree of planning and preparation that went into the project and said that this is the stage where most projects fail.

Processing the pensions presented particular issues of security and confidentiality and so had all to be done on site.

Final presentation of the results included grouping of related files which was an enormous boon to researchers.

I have made slight use of the pensions data so far in looking at the files related to the O'Reilly brothers who were killed in the 1921 raid on the Custom House. Stephen O'Reilly was a friend of Peggy Medlar, a cousin of mine who was a renowned Irish dancing teacher in Dublin and who came from a militant republican family in Kilkenny.

Cécile gave us a great run down on the digitising of this most interesting material.

Audrey Drohan, UCD

Audrey is Senior Library Assistant on Digital Initiatives at UCD and she gave us an overview of this vast area. We're talking of some 80 collections with 5 million file assets, whatever that last one means. Anyway they're obviously very big numbers.

The UCD digital library hosts a vast range of esoteric material from the historical to the newly created. It has a range of collaborators across the nation, mostly in the research area and it offers digitisation advice to other institutions. It is hard to describe the scope and content of this area and you'd best go and check out the website.

Órna Roche, UCD

Órna is the Metadata Librarian at UCD Digital and she brought us through the more technical aspects of the digitisation process.

She showed us the various layers intervening between the viewable objects and the actual stored data. She brought us through the various processes involved in getting the originals into the system. This is where I learned a new word "ingesting", new to me at least in the digital context. And while I'm at it I also learned a new term "born digital". This refers to data originally created in digital form.

I am not familiar with the Mirador IIIF Image Viewer but Órna drew our attention to a recent upgrade and when I very briefly looked it up on the site it appeared to be just magic. I'll have to try it out in the context of my family and local history researches.

Heather Stanley, PRONI

The final presentation of the day was from the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). In case you're wondering what they have to do with anything, remember that this island was under a single administration prior to 1922. I tend to forget this myself when following up my local and family history. Not all records pertaining to the South are held here. There is a vast amount of island-wide material stored in the North.

In the first part of this presentation Heather Stanley, Head of Preservation and Collections Management at PRONI, took us through some recent projects. These included church records, glass plate negatives, photographs and prison registers.

I am always relieved to see glass plate negatives digitised (or even photographed). This dates from my own experience in the National Library in the 1970s when I was consulting the Lawrence Collection. I was handed piles of original glass plates to look at. I still shudder at the memory.

Joy Carey, PRONI

Joy Carey is Digitisation Manager at PRONI and she took us through some of the more technical aspects of their digitisation programme.

She took us through one example of a photo album containing 99 photos. This was to be catalogued and digitised and made accessible to the public. Because PRONI use a three-layered system, for security and preservation, this involved generating 297 digital (tiff/jpeg) images. The first layer was of master copies (tiff), the second of restored copies (tiff), and the third for public access (jpeg).

And I can't resist mentioning this one. Digitisation in the right hands can involve not only preservation of existing resources but their restoration.

The photo on the left is from a Gransha Hospital Case Book and you can see how faded it is. This would not be an exceptional case. Depending on the processes used at the time many photos have seriously deteriorated. One of the great benefits of digitisation is that it allows very sophisticated manipulation of the digital image as the final product on the right shows.

Finally a few general remarks arising out of the morning's session.

The digitisation undertaken by these institutions in recent times has been nothing short of amazing. It is a resource-intensive exercise and has been undertaken in a time of financial stringency. The enthusiasm for their work, which came across clearly in the presentations, must surely be a major factor in this conjuring trick.

I have made considerable use of the National Library's resources over the years and I'm well used to the hardcopy slog, even when the material is catalogued and well indexed. I have written about some of this here.

Today it is a different matter. Digitisation means I can access this material from home. I don't need to take copious notes or put in for photocopies. I can call up the originals at any time.

Most importantly, digitisation is a quantum leap for the consumer. Now you can do comprehensive searches, find what you want or satisfy yourself that it is not there. For example in the 1901 census (from the National Archives who were not presenting today) I could determine that my grandfather was NOT in the returns. (He was a commercial traveler and probably fell through a crack on the night.)

Also, digital searching enabled me to discover that Major LaChaussée, who surveyed my then local area, Killiney Bay, for the British in 1797 was later financing French royalist rebels in their unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Napoleon in 1804.

Of those institutions presenting today I have used both hardcopy and digital resources in the National Library, the National Archives (census/wills), and the Military Archives (Free State administrative files, witness statements, pensions).

The question of resources is a difficult one. This is true for the institutions generally but may be a particular issue post digitisation, if there is such a state possible.

For example there was a lot of funding sloshing around for projects connected with 1916 given that event's high political profile. Some of this may continue for other digitisation projects within the Decade of Commemoration. But there may be a danger that once this period has passed people will feel that the institutions have now been automated and can continue to operate on scant resources. I just mention it as something to watch out for. I had such an experience in the State department I worked for many moons ago.

A participant from the University of Limerick made an important point during the Q&A. The context was the need for standardisation and interoperability between the institutions and with the wide world outside.

The different institutions and their projects have different needs and these often give rise to bespoke solutions. The participant made the point that such bespoke solutions may be very convenient in the short term but in the longer term and with evolving technologies these could end up isolating material from the mainstream and limiting public access.

I remember the same, or an analogous, problem in the early days of computerisation in the State department in which I worked. People were developing their own bespoke solutions, often outside the network and on their own PCs. These were then left behind, so to speak, when the networks were upgraded. In fact some of them only came to light years later, if at all.

So my strong feeling is for standardised and joined up action. I know from listening to the presentations that this feeling is shared across the institutions. Nevertheless it is clear that some bespoke solutions were adopted in some cases and it is important to remain aware of the dangers.

Events like today's are making a serious contribution to this awareness.

My final remark is to note that, apart from John's introduction, all the presentations were made by women. Make of that what you will.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


View of Mahera Point and Bray Head from Corbawn Lane

Click on any image for a larger version.

This would have been Vera Ball's last view of this earth had it been daylight and had she still been alive. But it was the dead of night and she was very dead - bloodied and hacked to death by her son Edward.

This is where Edward brought the body to dispose of it once and for all in the sea. Hopefully to be swept away and never found. Or was that just a bonus? Had he any real thought-out plan or was he just in a panic?

Certainly the murder itself was not part of a plan. TG4 were right to include it in their latest episode of the series RACHT. Niall Ó Donaill translates the term as: Pent-up, violent, emotion; paroxysm, fit; outburst. And it was all of these things.

The pent-up bit may go back as far as the split up between Edward's parents. The Daddy was a prominent and successful doctor on the Dublin scene and the mother came with wads of cash.

While I have been warned never to make value judgments in these matters without having the full facts, and even then, my firm conviction is that the mother was not only unstable but a bitch. The pent-up was kept alive by her constant denigration of her son including in front of his friends.

I gather from Dr. Pauline Prior, through the TG4 programme, that matricides tend to live at home and be financially dependent on the Mammy. That would fit.

The Daddy appeared not to want Edward around the place and the Mammy was fed up supporting him and wanted him out. He was not earning his keep.

In fact he appears to have not been earning at all but at the same time hanging around with a group of rich young folk. He had artistic pretensions and considered himself an actor. This view was not shared by others.

So all in all, he appears to have been under a lot of pressure both psychological and financial.

23 St Helen's Road

Anyway, one night in February 1936 when he was 19 years of age the dam burst and he hacked the Mammy to death in her home at 23 St. Helen's Road in Booterstown.

The pent-up bit had developed a head of steam going back years and the hacking was both violent and prolonged. The pathologist was later to remark that there was no blood on the ceiling. That will give you the idea.

The police soon came acalling as the Mammy's bloodied car was found abandoned near the end of Corbawn Lane in Shankill, near Bray.

Near the end of Corbawn Lane where the car got stuck

Initially Edward said his mother had gone to stay with friends and he didn't know where she was. The police were not convinced and when they eventually broke into her locked bedroom they found the scene described by the pathologist. They also traced a suitcase Edward had left with a friend for safekeeping. When it was opened it contained bloodstained towels and suchlike.

So, Edward changed his story. The Mammy was depressed and she had commited suicide by slitting her throat with a razor blade. Edward had disposed of the body to save the family name. Remember, at that time, suicide was both a crime and a mortal sin.

The pathologist disposed of that one in jig time - too much blood. Then they found the bloodstained hatchet and the game was up.

Judge Deale includes the trial in his book

Edward was tried for murder with the whole country looking on. Initially the legal team pleaded not guilty but with the strength of the evidence against him beginning to dawn on them they opted for an insanity plea. Now if anyone was insane, it was the Mammy, but Edward was sufficiently eccentric to give the plea some credibility particularly when accompanied by medical testimony, no doubt facilitated by his father.

In the end he was found guilty but insane and locked up in Dundrum Criminal Lunatic Asylum for fourteen years. When he was released he inherited the Mammy's money and spent the rest of his life touring the world, on and off.

Now if he had been found just guilty and compos mentis, he would not have inherited the Mammy's money. In fact he would probably not have been around to even think about it.

In the programme, Dennis Kennedy, a former journalist with an interest in the story and a man sane enough to have headed up the Belfast EU Office in his day, was quite clear that he thought Edward was not mad and should have been found guilty, tout court.

Dr. Pauline Prior, a historian, in the same programme felt that his detention in Dundrum for fourteen years suggested there was something seriously wrong with him.

I'm with Dennis on this one.

Richard Cobb

When Edward had been packed off to school in England, no doubt to get him out of everybody's hair, he befriended a boy called Richard Cobb. Richard later became a well known writer, though I'd never heard of him. Anyway, that's neither here nor there; the point of introducing Richard is that he devoted a whole volume of his autobiography to his time with Edward, both in school and visiting Edward and his mother in Booterstown, and much later when he met Edward after his release from Dundrum.

At the time of the trial Richard was afraid that the Irish police might think he had been Edward's accomplice in the murder and he contrived to get a medical opinion that he was traumatised by what had happened and so could not travel to Dublin. And to be sure to be sure, he went and stayed in Belgium for a while, which country did not have an extradition treaty with Ireland at the time.

All pretty exciting stuff. But the conclusions I draw from Richard's accounts are that (i) Edward was not mad, (ii) the Mammy was a complete bitch, and (iii) there is a possibility that Edward was homosexual, whether he realised it or not. And I should say that this last element arose not from Edward's friendship with Richard, who was not homosexual, but from an event which Richard experienced in Dublin while Edward was in Dundrum.

My Name is Norval

While we're on the subject of books, the thought occurred to me that this whole story would make a great novel. It had so many elements that you could play with and, being fiction, you could give them the full blast.

Imagine my disappointment when I learned, from a talk by Dennis Kennedy, that the novel had already been written and by a neighbour from up the road in Ballybrack, Terence de Vere White.

And before we leave the world of books, Ray Kavanagh, in his biography of Mamie Cadden, reports that Mamie attempted to give Edward an alibi for the night in question as she was convinced that it was the Daddy what done it. Friends like that you don't need.

The Clincher

A bloodstained hatchet

As I mentioned above, finding the bloodstained hatchet was the clincher. Richard reports that Edward later told him of his surprise at the blood on the hatchet as he had washed it with boiling water.

When Edward had mentioned this to the detective at the time he was told that was a big mistake. Apparently you wash off blood with cold water, boiling water simply congeals it on the object.

The Car

A lock of the type on Vera Ball's Austin car.

We've seen that the car got stuck just short of the end of Corbawn Lane.

In his witness statement, Detective Garda Bernard Walsh, from Bray Garda station, recounts how it took six policemen to move the car back from the barrier.

A real key

The next requirement was to get the car back to town. This was likely to call for a tow truck as the key was missing and the car could not be started without it.

Or could it?

Garda Walsh to the rescue. He recounted how he started the engine with a Petersen pipe cleaner. That really blew my mind.

I had heard of all kinds of electrical improvisations in my day, including the dangerous one of using silver paper from a cigarette packet as a fuse. But a pipe cleaner? All they were good for was making little stick men.

But having researched the lock and key above ....

The pipe cleaner/tool

... and realising that the pipe cleaner referred to was a tool and not a fuzzy piece of string, I got the message that the flat end would probably start or open anything in the times that were in it.

The Television Programme

I forget how I first got involved in the television programme but my first physical contact was with the Director and Researcher in the National Archives in Bishop Street.

Neepa Sodhi and Sian Nic an Bheatha had come down from Belfast to go through the Garda notebooks and the witness statements related to the case.

Newspaper reports were not sufficient in themselves, particularly when it was possible to consult the original sources. This was a very laborious process but it impressed on me how professionally the team were approaching the project.

This impression was reinforced when I ended up filming with Neepa (Director), Chris (Camera) and Michael (Sound) in Corbawn Lane and in the public library in Tallaght. Real professionals, perfectionists, and working smoothly as a team.

While I'm at it I might as well pass out a few other compliments. I gathered in the course of my contacts with the team that TG4 insist on high standards, not just in the presentation of the final product but in what lies behind it, including the quality of the research. And clearly Paper Owl, the production company based in Belfast, are well up to the challenge.

I'm really grateful to them all. I learned a lot in the process and enjoyed the whole adventure immensely.

Me and Edward

40 Upper Fitzwilliam St

So what's my interest in Edward. Well I first heard about the case when I was living in Ballybrack and Corbawn Lane is just down the road, after a fashion. I was also researching my local history and this one was too good to miss.

But it was only when I started following up my family history that I realised that Edward and I had been born in the same house, he in 1916 and me in 1944.

This was 40 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, then a nursing home run by the Misses Foody and now an English language school. Shucks, we might even have been born in the same bed.

And it was only recently I learned that my Uncle Pat played cricket with the Dundrum inmates way back then. So who knows.


The sea shore at the bottom of Corbawn Lane

So we'll finish where we started, at the bottom of Corbawn Lane.

Be careful if you're ever walking the shore below the cliffs at Shankill. You never know what might fall on you.

You can watch TG4's RACHT here. It's the episode broadcast on 9 November 2017

You can read Dennis Kennedy's talk here.