Thursday, February 11, 2016


City Crest in the Mansion House pediment

That makes it twice in the one week, as I set out for an event in the Oak Room in Dublin's Mansion House, official residence of Sinn Féin Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh.

The occasion was the launch of a book on the paving and lighting of Dublin at the end of the 18th Century. How obscure can you get, you may be thinking. Not at all, say I, because this was a period which had a vision of shaping Dublin, which was very successful and which we have in many ways been undermining ever since.

Anyway, in the context of the paving, I was to hear the Lord Mayor advise us to look down when we're out and about in town. Of course, with the lighting bit you'd be more inclined to look up, which is just what I did as I approached the Mansion House.

Otherwise I could have missed the beautifully illuminated city crest in the pediment at the top of the façade (see, I'm learning). I have to take it that the choice of colour is on purpose.

Mary Clarke, Críona Ní Dhálaigh & Finnian Ó Cionnaith

The ubiquitous City Archivist, Mary Clarke, kicked off the function. I use the term ubiquitous in its most constructive sense.

Mary Clark - Dublin City Archivist

The Dublin City Archive has been steadfastly feeding many voracious research projects in recent years and Mary's presence at so many functions is testimony not only to the success of the projects but to her own, and the archive's, efforts to share this rich resource.

Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh

Bean a' Tí then set about launching the book. This is where she told us to make sure to look down beneath our feet and appreciate what remains of the Wicklow paving stones which sparkle in the sunlight. Some of them are still living on as kerb edgings.

And where have all the cobblestones gone? Well, the City gave a load of them to Trinity for use in the quad and Críona was very careful, in advertising this, to include a female health warning - high heels and cobblestones just don't mix.

She told us that when high heeled girls/ladies/women come across the street from the restaurants to have a sit down on the steps of the Mansion House they always take their high heels off as the front space here is also cobbled.

Kieran Feighan - Vice President, Engineers Ireland

With the book launched, guest speaker, Kieran Feighan, Vice President, Engineers Ireland, seamlessly took up the theme.

He reminded us that there was a gap of some 200 years between, on the one hand, the period of The Paving Board with the emergence of that planned Dublin, with all its work for engineers and architects, and, on the other hand, more recent times which saw a burgeoning of new architecture and other major projects in the city. Very little had happened on that front during that two centuries' gap.

He also reminded us of Dublin's importance as a European city of stature, along with London and Paris. Dublin was one of the principal cities of Europe at that time in terms of its population.

I think I heard him mentioning brown envelopes in relation to the earlier period, but I am told my hearing is no longer the best and I do get distracted very easily these days.

Finnian Ó Cionnaith - author

We then finally got to the author himself, who gave us some idea of the contents of his book.

He stressed that the story was told in large measure through anecdotes, which is the way to do it in my view, and it was also significant that the story is told through the life, times and work of surveyor Thomas Owen, who, while he may not have been the most important man in the world of his day, was involved in a vast range of what went on in terms of city development.

Mary Clarke had earlier told us that. quite apart from its excellent research, the book was a most enjoyable and informative read.

And it all sounded quite exciting as Finnian told it. No shortage of modern parallels either. All this development was to be paid for by taxes on property owners, so there was great pressure on Owen and the Board when it came to resourcing their projects.


No launch would be complete without a raft of signings and Finnian proved he was up to signing on the fly, so to speak.

Four Courts Press

And, of course, the book itself was on sale at a knockdown introductory price of €20 for the hardcopy.

I can't leave this post without, once more, praising Four Courts Press which has, over many decades, published consistently high quality, well illustrated, academic books.

They are continuing the great work of their late dedicated founder Michael Adams (1937–2009), in whose memory a mass is to be held in Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Merrion Road,on Saturday, 13 February 2016, at 10.00 a.m.

Frank McNally has a nice piece in his Irishman's Diary in the Irish Times of 12/2/2016 (for as long as it remains accessible).

Monday, February 08, 2016


Roger Casement
Photo: NLI Ref.: link
Click any image for a larger version

So this year, as part of the ongoing centenary commemorations, we will be commemorating Roger Casement.

And what did Roger Casement do in 1916?

When Ireland, as part of the UK, was at war with Germany, he conspired with the Germans to overthrow British rule in Ireland.

In other words, he enlisted German help to "free Ireland".

Casement's funeral passing the GPO in 1965

So, in 1965, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of 1916, he got an Irish State Funeral.

1916 Casement Commemorative Stamp 2016

And in 2016 he gets his own 1916 postage stamp.

The late Albert Folens

This is Albert Folens.

And what did he do?

During WWII he collaborated with the Germans to "free Flanders", his native country, from the brutal cultural, linguistic and administrative oppression of the Belgian state.

And what was his reward?

Senan Molony

He was labelled a war criminal and included in a 2007 RTÉ TV programme entitled "Hidden Nazis".

The programme, insofar as Folens was involved, was a collaboration between Senan Molony and Cathal O'Shannon. The former I had never heard of and the latter I had some respect for up to that point.

The late Cathal O'Shannon

Both men should have been ashamed of themselves for making such a serious accusation on such flimsy evidence.

They both owe an apology to Folens's widow and family for the hurt and damage caused.

Unfortunately Mrs. Folens is now dead, as is Cathal O'Shannon.

So all that can now reasonably be done is for Senan Molony to apologise to the Folens family. Whether they might accept such an apology or not is entirely a matter for them.

And, incidentally, I didn't see any of our stout citizens, who are now consumed with patriotic fervour commemorating Casement, ooming out at the time in defence of Albert Folens.

I think I was a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

You can get a blow by blow account of the whole disgraceful episode here.


Rockettes/Royalettes - Phyllis Conroy/Medlar on right.
Click any image for a larger version

There I was blogging away when the invitation from Conor Doyle dropped into my mailbox. The Theatre Royal Concert at the Mansion House, no less. So, when the day came, I polished my shoes (once a year), exchanged the pullover for a jacket (very occasionally), didn't bother with a tie (never these days), and set out for the Lord Mayor's official residence.

What, I wondered, was a Theatre Royal Concert? I was familiar with Conor's wonderful illustrated talk on the Theatre Royal. I'd been at it twice: once in City Hall and again in the Mansion House. The second time was with the husband of one of the Royalettes and the daughter of another, both these people being related to me on the mothers side.

Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh welcomes the audience

But a concert? And introduced by no less a person than the Lord Mayor herself?

This certainly looked promising.

A musical evening

Well, it turned out to be an updated version of the talk interspersed with live music appropriate to the occasion.

Gerry Noonan (baritone)

Gerry has a fine rich voice which he projected without the aid of any of these new fangled microphones and the like.

Dara MacMahon (mezzo-soprano)

And Dara likewise. They sounded great, both individually and in duet. Lovely blend.

Pauline Cooper

And Pauline, standing in for Tommy Dando and Peggy Dell among others.

Judy Garland

Conor had no shortage of stories, particularly about visiting international stars. Take Judy Garland who packed out the place for a week, and then sang from a side window in Poolbeg Street to the crowd who hadn't been able to get in.

Danny Kaye & Copenhagen

And Danny Kaye who not only packed out the place for a week, but broke all the rules by singing songs from his forthcoming film which hadn't yet been released. And he sang on into the night after the orchestra, who were only paid up to the official closing time, had long gone home. A great favourite with the Dublin taxi drivers he was.

Packed house

The audience was predominantly female and elderly. I could probably risk the term oulwans, being an oulfella myself at this stage. Many of them had been to performances in the Royal before it closed in 1962.

They sang along with a gusto that belied their age. And I wasn't exactly quiet myself.

The Damper Song

But when it got to the Damper Song they just lost it. Jumping up and down and making spiral staircase motions with their arms. It was nothing short of magnificent and the official performers rose to the occasion in great style. Even Conor forgot about the dicky bow and joined in.

Rathgar song/monologue

Then we had Jimmy O'Dea's Rathgar song delivered as a monologue. Now this can be a tricky one, particularly if you do it in Rathgar.

The refrain paints Rathgar as a posh refuge from the vulgar masses that inhabit the rest of the city. But there is a little something here that you shouldn't miss. Within Rathgar itself, even in those days, there were serious social distinctions. We lived for a time with my granny in Orwell Gardens, Rathgar. Now that's the other side of the fence from Orwell Road in Rawthgore. So you'll see where I'm coming from.

And I'm now living down the road from Killester, which is mentioned in the song as a sort of Molly Malone territory where they wouldn't know a pig's knuckle from a crubeen.

"Biddy Mulligan"

And as for Jimmy O'Dea himself. Not only was he one of the great theatre characters of his day, he was Conor's godfather, in the religious sense, that is.

Jimmy's best known character was Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe and the audience again rose to the occasion and the room resonated to the chorus of this signature tune.

A Josef Locke song - Goodbye!

And Josef Locke with his military type choruses.

He had a reputation as a ladies man and was a friend of CJH, as I remember.

Conor, under Jimmy's watchful eye

Conor clicked his way through a profusion of photos, movie clips and theatre programmes. All under the watchful eye of his godfather.

I can't not mention the Roman Catholic Church before we finish. It wasn't just the cinema and the dirty books that incurred their wrath.

Jack Doyle when he finished boxing became a singer but the Church objected to him appearing on stage in the Royal because he was living with a divorced woman. He left her and married the film star Movita in Westland Row Church (where I was baptised). They were then allowed appear on the Royal. Unfortunately the marriage did not last; they divorced and she then married Marlon Brando. Movita died only last year (12/2/2015) aged 98. Jack had died, a pauper, in 1978.

A mellow duet

As we drifted towards the end of the night, the singing took on a mellow tone ...

Conor joins in the singing

... and even Conor himself was infected and promptly launched his singing career in these magnificent surroundings.

Team Royal

The team, including the Lord Mayor, got standing ovations and rapturous rounds of applause and shoutings.

Conor and Jimmy

And then it was all over, and there was a quiet moment of reflection, with godfather and godson.

Jimmy O'Dea

This fine bust was commissioned by Jimmy O'Dea himself in response to one put up by that theatrical Mícheál Mac Liammóir. Jimmy made sure his pedestal was a few inches higher than Mícheál's. The busts were originally in the Gaiety.

The likeness to Jimmy is striking. You'd be waiting for it to open its mouth.

Jimmy and Fans

And before Conor puts Jimmy's head in a bag and heads off home with it, a short pause for a photo with some if its fans. The lady in the middle is the sister of a Royalette now living in San Francisco. So there.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Gordon Brewster and the General Election

Click on any image for a larger version

One of the first things that struck me going through the collection of Gordon Brewster's cartoons in the National Libarary of Ireland was how perceptive and relevant so many of them are right down to today.

Maybe it's just that human nature and the striving after power don't change over time or maybe the whole thing goes in cycles, and, if that's the case, here we go again.

The cartoons date from the period 1922-1932, but I'd just like to set those that dealt with general elections in that period in the context of the forthcoming general election and see how well they fit.

Starting with the first one above. The majority government party will rely on its seamanship to pilot the ship of state through the election. (We have kept the economy afloat and turned it round and need to continue on our present course.)

The present government is aiming to come back in its current composition. There are many forces to be pacified to ensure a combined majority not least its current baby partner.

And the current watchword is stability, or to put it more pedantically, ordered government.

But you can't just sit around and hope to win. You have to drum up the support and make lots and lots of noise. Out with the Tannoy on the canvass; talk down your opponents on radio and television. And so on.

But how to plan strategically for a desired outcome when candidates are presenting in the widest range of parties in a long time and the uncertaintly is aggravated by an increasing number of independents.

The main parties are vying with one another in giving away smarties, or, putting it more crudely, promising the world and his wife in exchange for votes. Or, putting this simple fraud in more contemporary neutrally mind boggling terms - inflating the fiscal space.

The poor voter is trying to make sense of conflicting and elusive promises while the aspiring politicians try to keep one step ahead of the posse.

Some cloak their empty promises in elaborate artistic and glossy presentations (eg Cumann na nGaedheal's successor's Long Term Economic Plan [PDF 2MB])

While others just go for a crude brute force attack on the voter, plastering any and every surface that will accept a lick of paste or a thumbtack with simple repetive one liners.

And what is the poor voter to think? Who will honour their promises on the day of reckoning after the election is over?

And what can a deceived electorate do when promises are broken? There will be no aunt sally till the next election and by that time all will be forgotten or forgiven.

And, just in case you thought this was an Irish problem, Brewster reminds us that the same cycle plays out across the water.

Thanks to the National Library of Ireland for permission to reproduce the cartoons.

No cartoons were harmed in the making of this post.
All of the above cartoons were related directly to
various general elections in the period 1922-32.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Welcome to St. Thomas & St. George Parish Church

This is how the occasion was announced to the press:
"The Irish Society for Archives in conjunction with An Post will host a novel seminar Hidden Pages From the 1916 Rising, at which five archival curators will engage with the public to explore some of the little-known archival sources about this momentous event."
If anything it was an understatement. There were fascinating presentations of new archives, and old ones put to new use, in the exploration of what really happened in 1916.

The venue itself was a piece of history. Its location, structure and financing owed everything to the revolutionary period.
"The Church of St George and St Thomas, Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin (located alongside the Gresham Hotel) was rebuilt in the 1930s following the destruction of an older church (originally located in Marlborough Street) during the Revolutionary period in 1922."
I had been in this most unusual church once before. Originally St. Thomas's, it inherited the parish of St. George from Hardwicke Place when that church ceased to have a religious function and the two parishes were amalgamated. My interest was in St. George's where Richard Brewster, a parishioner who died in WWI was commemorated. While some of the relevant plaques still remain in the old St. George's building, one has transferred to St. Thomas's. You can read all about this here.

Rector Revd Obinna Ulogwara

The Rector, Revd Obinna Ulogwara, made us all very welcome. And with nothing short of an Irish sense of humour told us which two exits to use in case of an emergency. Use of the third exit could lead to us being run over by a bus.

Dr. Raymond Refaussé

Raymond Refaussé, Librarian and Archivist at the Representative Church Body (RCB) and a man with archives in his blood, introduced the occasion and gave us some idea what was in store for us.

Patsy McGarry

Our MC for the night was Patsy McGarry, more usually the religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, but currently engaged in resisting an attempted landgrab by Co. Westmeath of a not insubstantial chunk of Co. Roscommon, his home county.

Patsy guided us smoothly and entertainingly through the evening's speakers.

Colm O'Riordan

Our first stop was the Irish Architectural Archive in Merrion Square. I've been in there and they have whacks of very interesting stuff on the built environment. Colm took us through some of the structures relevant to the 1916 Rising, not forgetting the GPO and the RHA HQ in Lower Abbey Street. Both these buildings were destroyed in the rising, making for two out of three hits on the works of Francis Johnston in the city centre. The third strike on his city center work had to wait for the 50th anniversary of the Rising - Nelson's Pillar.

I was particularly interested in the enormous bakery that was destroyed at the bottom of O'Connell Street. It had been a most out of place building. Its successor became the central cinema with its controversial canopy defying city ordinances, though Colm didn't mention this particular mortal sin by Councillor O'Farrell.

Colm told us how, in the reconstruction of O'Connell St., the Corporation for the first time insisted on controlling the façades of the new buildings. This led to some serious rows but the Corpo held their ground. If this "enlightened" approach had continued into independence we might have been spared some of the abominations that were permitted in the name of progress in the latter half of the 20th century.

Ellen Murphy

Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist at Dublin City Library and Archives, revealed ‘Reactions to the Easter Rising in the Monica Roberts Collection at Dublin City Library and Archive’ under the heading: "It was grand to see our Tommies".

This archive is a collection of correspondence between Monica Roberts and the troops at the front in WWI along with a short diary of Monica's own contemporaneous reactions to the Rising. The tone is British and Unionist and the sentence quoted above was her reaction to the arrival in the city of British army reinforcements.

Gráinne Doran

Wexford County Archivist, Gráinne Doran took us to one of the other parts of the country outside Dublin where there was significant action during the Rising. Her current project is ‘The collective effort of the men and women in County Wexford, Easter 1916’, and it is concentrated on the action in Enniscorthy. There is an emphasis on oral history as well as the usual written and visual sources. She will be covering not just the activity in Co. Wexford itself but also action by Wexford people in the capital.

Pádraig Allen

Pádraig Allen took us through the emergency medical response to the Rising, as revealed through the newly discovered archives of St John Ambulance Ireland. These are full of fascinating stuff. They are particularly relevant in the context of redressing the current gender imbalance in the reporting of the Rising.The medical response was an area in which women distinguished themselves at all levels.

Pádraig wore the 1916 John's Ambulance uniform which he had specially made for this centenary year.

Stephen Ferguson

Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary at An Post, was talking about ‘The staff of the GPO during Easter Week, 1916". In fact he gave us a thrilling sequence of stories on how the Rebels neutralised the city's communications hub and on the ingenuity of some of the staff in re-establishing alternative communications routings.

He also drew our attention to the current importance of the central Post Office archive in London, given the destruction of so much material in the GPO.

There was a very lively and lengthy Q&A at the end where the questions and answers competed with a host of new stories recounted by members of the audience.

The Irish Society for Archives and An Post are to be commended for sponsoring a great evening. And particular thanks are due to Dr. Susan Hood, Assistant Librarian and Archivist at the RCB, for a flawless piece of organisation.