Wednesday, April 27, 2016


I have been buying Supervalu's brand of FAIRTRADE tea for a good while now. The fairtrade bit means that the product has been produced and traded to standards set by the Fairtrade organisation which, in turn, means that producers are adequately rewarded for their labour and the traders don't get up to any funny business.

I had been looking for a box for at least a week in my local Supervalu store but there was no sign of it. In one way I wasn't too surprised as they are always running out of things and the first to disappear is usually their own brand.

Anyway, I finally mentioned this to the staff and it sort of rang a bell. Apparently there had been some talk of re-branding and that it would be temporarily unavailable. They do this with things from time to time and it is both annoying and confusing.

Next thing one of the staff spotted the above box on the shelf. Lo and behold, the rebranded version under our very noses.

The style has been kept but the word "fairtrade" is now relegated to a subtitle and the product is now marketed under "Reserve Brand".

Apart from feeling a bit of a fool for not spotting it, I have been mulling over the change and wondering about the logic behind it.

I haven't quite finished my mulling and comments would be welcome below after you've had a think about it.

To facilitate the comparison I have reproduced the two versions together below. You will notice that the 80 bags are now packed into a very slightly smaller space.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Where is it ? No. 45


As nobody has had a go at this I'm just giving the solution.

It is in Merrion Street Lower and is part of the Mont Clare Hotel. The connection is with Oscar Wilde. It is just across the road from Oscar's statue in Merrion Square Park and from his father's house. It is also not far from the house where he was born on Westland Row.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Baldoyle Public Library
Click on any image for a larger version

This is the Baldoyle public library, a most odd looking building at the junction of The Mall and Station Road.

It took me three tries to get in. First I arrived just in time for early closing at 5pm on a Wednesday. Then I arrived at midday on a Thursday to find that was the morning half day and it didn't open till 1.15pm, which was when I finally got inside.

I mention this not to be in the least critical of the staff of whom there are now apparently too few. As a result, what were normal library opening hours have been cut back by Fingal County Council due to staff (and presumably funds) shortages.

All that said, I should have read the notice of opening hours on the door properly the first time round.

Howth Photographic Club - Spring Exhibition 2016

Anyway, I promised a friend I'd drop in to check out the Howth Photographic Club's Spring Exhibition. The theme was the 1916 Rising and the competition which produced the exhibition was judged by Anthony Scullion.

The photographs were all high quality reproductions and there was much juxtapositioning of past and present. Some reminded me of the title of Michael Edwards's current competition 2016 remembering 1916 but, having now been exhibited here, they would not qualify to enter that competition.

I always like a litle twist or quirk in a photo and two in particular caught my fancy: The Greening of Empire from Barry Crowley and Images of Leaders from Thomas Byrne. You can see these below along with their descriptive text.

The Greening of Empire
Letters describing the events of 1916 would have been posted
in this unique "Ashworth Box", now in Collins (formerly Royal)
Barracks. The original "Imperial" red was re-painted "Rebublican"
greeen by the new Irish Free State, but the Crown remains.

Images of Leaders
Images of leaders of the 1916 Rising used as a
backdrop to a local politician's election poster in 2016

You can check out the full set here on the Club's excellent website.

Where is it ? No. 44


This was admittedly a bit of a tricky one, even for fairly seasoned Dubliners. It is one of the figures inside the monument to members of the Irish defence forces who have died in the service of the State and it is situated on the west side of Merrion Square.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Where is it ? No. 43


I only noticed this one myself the other day and I have been passing it regularly since the mid 1960s. In fact, I worked under it for a number of years.

It is above the north block of Government Buildings on Upper Merrion Street. This was the location of the original, pre-independence, Department of Agriculture.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Frongoch Internment Camp by Robert Ballagh
Click on any image for a larger version

You may have seen the above illustration of a concentration camp in the centre of Dublin city and wondered what on earth it had to do with the 1916 Rising.

SIPTU 1916 Wrap on Liberty Hall

It is one of a number of panels on a 1916 wrap currently adorning Liberty Hall, Dublin's first skyscraper, built on the site of an older and lower Liberty Hall which was once the HQ of Jim Larkin's union and of the Irish Citizen Army mobilised by James Connolly in the 1916 Rising.

The top panel shows a wounded James Connolly being executed by a British firing squad after the Rising. This event was known by every Irish schoolchild from time immemorial but the role of Frongoch has only become more widely known as this year's 1916 commemorations have taken off.

Frongoch Camp & historic environs
Click on map for a larger version

Frongoch is located to the east of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales and it is close to two other important Welsh sites which will be referredd to in this post: Tryweryn and Trawsfynydd.

Frongoch Camp

But first the concentration camp at Frongoch where a large group of Irishmen were interned immediately following the 1916 Rising. Not all of them had taken part in the Rising but they were interned anyway. The internees included many names which resonate today such as Michael Collins and two future Lord Mayors of Cork, Thomás McCurtin and Terence McSwiney.

German prisoners in the camp

At the beginning of WWI the abandoned Frongoch distillery was turned into a German POW camp. When the Irish internees arrived after the 1916 Rising the Germans were shipped off elsewhere.

Internees being searched in the South Camp's main compound

Frongoch Camp, and the internment which gave rise to its occupation by Irishmen, was very much a British own goal, just like the executions which followed the 1916 Rising. Like the Curragh Camp at a later period, it was a university of revolution. There were classes in everything, including the new style of guerilla warfare which subsequently became the core tactic of the War of Independence. While many of the internees had not participated in the 1916 Rising, or were not actively involved in the revolutionary movement, a lot of their number were either politicised or reinforced in their politics in the Camp.

The internees were not supposed to have prisoner of war status but they were very much organised on military lines. Discipline was strict and loyalty almost absolute. This was very much brought out when their captors were trying to isolate those internees who had previously lived in England with a view to conscripting them into the British Army. The internees refused absolutely to cooperate, to the point of refusing to identify themselves to their captors.

One of the great advantages the Camp conferred on the revolutionary movement was the bringing together in one place of activists and potential leaders from all over Ireland. This would have been almost impossible for the movement itself to have organised at home.

While conditions were tough and very insanitary, and the internees had a hard time of it from some of their captors, there were some benign and even humorous encounters between internee and captor.

Some camp officers & wives. Officer Bevan sitting on the ground
is the censor referred to in the text below

For example, letters were censored both on the way in and on the way out. However, correspondence in the Irish language posed an additional problem for the authorities as it had first to be translated.

Seamus Ó Maoileoin was getting letters in Irish from his very republican mother. The relevant officer did not know of the mother's leanings and assumed "She is probably urging you to obediently beg for forgiveness for your crimes and to promise to be true to your King from now on and to return to Ireland". Ó Maoileoin comments "He didn't know my dear mother. He was loath to keep my mother's letter from me. He himself had a mother. But rules were rules and he had no translator."

Ó Maoileoin jokingly volunteered to translate the letter himself. To his surprise, the officer agreed, and Ó Maoileoin translated it honestly. Every time he came across a doubtful sentence he pointed it out and the officer would then snip the offending phrase off with a pair of scissors. He ended up with a pocketful of snippets. This was to happen to every subsequent letter Ó Maoileaoin received or sent, and on his release, the officer returned to him all the snippets he had removed. On the envelope containing the offending snippets he had written, "Clippings from the letters of a she-wolf".
[Incident recounted in Lyn Ebenezer's book - see below]

Waste not, want not

When the military were finished with the camp, the huts were sold off.

Former Frongoch hut in someone's garden

It reminded me of the old trams being sold off, many of which also ended up in people's gardens.

Tryweryn District School

The site is not exactly abandoned today with Tryweryn District School on the site of the old distillery and south camp.

Ye Olde Frongoch Shoppe

And, of course, the inevitable wee shop.


Capel Celyn village

We should not lose site of the later "imperial" significance of the area, when the nearby Tryweryn river was dammed in the early 1960s to make a reservoir to supply water to the English city of Liverpool. In the course of this a local Welshspeaking community at Capel Celyn was expelled from the valley and its village inundated.

"Capel Celyn rising again"
Graffiti painted on remains of village when revealed by severe drought.

Dafydd Iwan included a verse on this in his powerful protest song "Daw, fe ddaw yr awr" (I remember the time). The general gist of it is that the protest was too late and ineffective:

Wyt ti'n cofio Cwm Tryweryn pan agorwyd argae'r trais,
A dialedd hwyr y Cymry yn boddi geiriau'r Sais
Wyt ti'n cofio - Rhy hwyr, Gymro !
Daw fe ddaw yr awr yn ôl i mi.

"Remember Tryweryn"

This piece of social and cultural vandalism became a rallying cry for the language movement with the slogan "Cofiwch Dryweryn" (Remember Treweryn), much on the lines of "Cuimhnigh ar Luimneach agus feall na Sasanach" (Remember Limerick and English Perfidy) in Ireland over two hundred years earlier.


Hedd Wyn's statue in Trawsfynydd

But long before this the conflict between Welsh Wales and the wider British interest was starkly illustrated in 1917. The nearby village of Trawsfynydd became famous for the posthumous award of the Eisteddfod Bardic Chair to Hedd Wyn who was from there and had fallen in Flanders between the submission of his winning poem and the award of the Chair. The Chair was draped in black on the Eisteddfod stage. That Eisteddfod, one of the few ever held outside Wales itself, took place in Birkenhead, sister city of Liverpool.

Bilingual plaques with differing dates

The bilingual plaques in front of the statue give slightly differing accounts of the poet's final moments.

Lyn Ebenezer

Lyn Ebenezer

Lyn Ebenezer has written a great book on Frongoch. Lyn gives credit to Seán O'Mahony who had written an earlier book on the Camp and without which Lyn says his own book would not have been written. The originality of Lyn's book is that it looks at the Camp from a Welsh perspective and Seán credits him with filling a void he did not deal with in his own book.

The book is a fascinating read. It is written in an easy journalistic, almost gossipy, style which engages the reader. This is not surprising as Lyn Ebenezer is a fine journalist of long standing. He also has a deep understanding of Welsh Wales, being a Welsh speaker himself, having been very active in the Welsh language movement and having revealed a well developed sense of humour in his invovlement with some of Y Lolfa's more marginal publications in the distant past. He also very much empathises with the Irish republican tradition.

I had been familiar with the term Frongoch to the extent that I knew it was a prison camp in Wales where Irish rebels were interned after the 1916 Rising. But this book was a revelation and cast a whole new light on the place.

I owe Lyn for what I have learned about the camp. The pictures of the camp and of Capel Celyn are nicked from his book, but I'm sure he won't mind. So when you've finished reading this post, if you have retained the slightest interest in the subject matter do get a copy of Lyn's book. It's on Amazon where I have reviewed it and from which review I have reproduced much of the material above..

Saturday, April 02, 2016


Roger Casement

There is no question but that Roger Casement collaborated with the Germans during WWI. In fact, he was attempting to assist the German war effort by supporting a rising in Ireland which would divert British troops from the Western Front to deal with it. The rising would be against the legitimate authority of his own state, the United Kingdom, when that state was officially at war with Germany.

Casement was not a member of the Nazi Party (which, of course had not yet been formed) and he was not a war criminal, though his prospective actions could not be guaranteed not to kill some of his fellow countrymen or a wider group of his state's armed forces, not to mention possible collateral civilian deaths.

Albert Folens

Albert Folens collaborated with the Germans during WWII. He was not a member of the Nazi Party and he even refused to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler. He enlisted as a soldier in the Flemish cause but was invalided out and then worked as a translator in SS HQ in Brussels during the rest of the war.

He was included in an RTÉ programmme "Ireland's Nazis" almost ten years ago now and is invariably included in references to Ireland's Nazis to this day, such was the influence of the programme.

The two Irish journalists involved in the programme were Cathal O'Shannon and Senan Molony. Cathal O'Shannon is now dead so we could say what we like about him, but we won't. RTÉ has just stated, for the record, that "Senan Molony is an informed journalist and author of the highest integrity".

So that's it then. Roger Casement was a Nazi, by virtue of his collaboration alone.

Presumably now that this has been established he will be exorcised from any future national commemorations or celebrations and his body returned to its natural home in Germany.

Casement's body on its way back to Germany

Folen's widow's statement at the time the programme was made (2007) can be read here

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


The Ballroom, Iveagh House

The question is posed. Was the 1916 Rising a Glorious Thing or an Altruistic Evil?

Certainly this talk had to be a glorious thing or the speaker was a goner.

He was challenging the very basis of the Rising in the middle of its centenary commemoration. He was doing it in Iveagh House, headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs, in the heart of the current administration, so to speak. And the whole thing was being run by the national broadcasting station, RTÉ.

Niall Burgess

The Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Niall Burgess, introduced the event. He took the opportunity to give us a potted history of this magnificent building mentioning some of the historic meetings and talks which had taken place there.

I had attended many meetings there myself in my day but, fortunately perhaps, none of these got a mention.

The three feathers of the Prince of Wales

Niall explained that the ballroom in which we were sitting had been specially built for an expected visit by the Prince of Wales and he drew our attention to the Prince's three feathers above the shamrocks on the ironwork on the balcony.

Unfortunately the Prince didn't turn up. A bit like Napoleon in Bruges, or more prosaically, Hopalong Cassidy in Butlins.

Felix Larkin

And so over to Felix. The talk had been billed as discussing the democratic and moral credentials of the Easter Rising, issues which the independent Irish state has tended to ignore in its official commemorations and celebrations of 1916 – and which even historians have been reluctant to address.

Felix launched straight into an introduction to the term "altruistic evil" a term introduced by Jonathan Sacks, the former British chief rabbi, by which he means evil committed in a sacred cause, in the name of high ideals.

The ground had to some extent been covered in 1966 by Frs Martin and Shaw when they discussed the moral justification for the rising.

You can get the gist of Fr. Martin's criticism in a piece Felix wrote in the Irish Times in January, and the talk ran along these lines and more.

It is worth mentioning that Fr Shaw's very detailed criticism of Pearse in particular was deemed inappropriate for publication in the Jesuit magazine Studies in that anniversary year and did not appear until 1972.

But in this, the centenary year, Felix held his ground and held it well. He relenlessly pursued the logic to its ultimate conclusion, disposing of the retrospective validation of the Rising by the 1918 election along the way.

Clearly Felix's view of the Rising was indeed that it was an "altruistic evil".

Ingrid Miley

Then it was into a fairly lively Q&A guided by the host, Ingrid Miley from RTÉ.

One questioner raised the very fundamental issue of whether it was appropriate for historians to take a moral stance, and his question was given a round of applause which showed that some of the audience thought he had a point. In reply, however, Felix argued that when one is asked to commemorate or celebrate a historical event, you have to ask whether one approves of it or not. I don't have any problems with historians taking a moral stance as long as their history is good and the stance is their own and seen to be so.

I'm afraid I got a bit carried away myself and made three comments in one intervention. I said I was tickled how Felix managed to drag the Red Indians into a talk on 1916. I also suggested that if we were to commemorate anybody it should have been the British military command who turned the Rising into a relative success. And finally I noted that despite extensive quoting of Pearse's poems there had been virtually no mention of his beautiful poem "Fornocht do chonac thú", which I had learned in school and which set out his apartness and blood sacrifice very succinctly. This I felt reflected the status of the Irish language today and would have been a disappointment to Pearse.

Overall the balance in this session was hostile to Felix's thesis but he weathered the storm and I expect that the thesis will gain more traction as historians continue to probe the real history of the period.

Friday, March 25, 2016


I thought I'd have a look at the Dublin Corporation Dangerous Buildings Section file to get a little more insight into the the damage done by Óglaigh na hÉireann in their blowing up of Nelson's Pillar.

You could be forgiven for thinking I was referring to the original explosion when a dissident IRA group blew Nelson off his pedestal in the middle of the night on 8 March 1966.

But that's not the case. My main interest is in the damage caused a week later when the Irish Army (a branch of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces to you) blew up what remained of the column.

My objective was to check out the compensation claims for damage to private property resulting from the second explosion as part of my campaign to kill the urban myth that the IRA explosion was so clean it did no damage at all (apart from to the Pillar) and the army's explosion was so dirty and incompetent that it broke every window in O'Connell Street.


But before I come back to my main objective, I would like to share with you some attempts that were made to purchase Nelson's decapitated head from Dublin Corporation.

The first of these was from a firm in based in Bradford, Arndale Developments Ltd., who were looking for a piece of authentic sculpture for a commercial development in the town of Nelson in Lancashire. What they had in mind was a worthwhile bust or statue.

They were clearly wide awake and quick off the mark. Two days after the first explosion, on 10 March, they wrote to the Dublin City Manager asking if they could have the head.

They must have been the first of many to get the reply that the head was not the property of the Corpo and they should take the matter up with the trustees who owned it. Which they said they would do.

Only two days later, on 12 March 1966, the Corpo received a telegram from Paul Kelly in London offering £50 for the head.

Much later in September 1966, the editor of Trinity News at TCD, Seán A Walmsley, was looking for the head for permanent display in the College. Some people might feel that this would be a fitting resting place for Nelson, even if it was only his head.

But what really took my fancy, as far as attempted purchase goes, is from 2 October 1966, when a request was dispatched from Washington DC, in the following terms:
A chara

I wish to purchase the head of Nelson's Pillar. I will pay a dollar (which you will find enclosed). Please send the head COD (Collect on Delivery) to the address below.

Thank you.

Go raibh míle
maith agat

Mr. Valentine Matelis
2009 Evansdale Drive
Hyattsville Rd 20783

The Irish bits, which I have italicised were in a relatively old form of the cló gaelach (Celtic script).

Now, when you've stopped smiling, you may begin to feel the tone of the letter a little peremptory and condescending. You may be a little less surprised when you know that Mr. Matelis was a former Grand Knight (1957-8) in the Knights of Columbus.

One wonders if there had been any backchannels involved here. However I suspect that is unlikely as it would then have been known that the Corpo were not in a position to dispose of the head.

And in case you end up confusing Mr Matelis with the Supreme Knight, I should point out that there could be around 14,000 Grand Knights in this organisation of 1.8 million members.

Loan / Rent

Purchase was not the only avenue pursued in the interest of possession of the head. It was nicked from a Corpo stores building in Ardee St. between 3pm on the 16th and 8.30am on the 18th of March 1966.

This was the work of a bunch of students from the National College of Art and Design, where certain student body funds needed topping up. The students then hired out the head to anyone willing to pay a reasonable price. I came across them in the course of a fashion shoot on Killiney beach and they were at great pains to preserve their anonymity, at least as far as the car registration was concerned.

The results of this fashion shoot appeared in the Evening Press on 2 April 1966. And this is only one of the head's public appearances while "on leave" from the Corpo.

It was returned to the Corpo on 6 September 1966 with Principal Officer V O'Brien reporting to Principal Officer F Feeley that he took possession of the head at 1pm on that day.


And now back to my main preoccupation, the claims to the Corpo for compensation for damages to private property.

At a City Council meeting on 7 November 1966, Matthew Macken, City Manager, said that in relation to the first blast, 36 claims had been received for malicious damage, totalling £18,864 19s 3d, and that 33 claims for damage to property totalling £4,180-9-10 had been received after the Army demolition. As the latter claim included a claim for damage to scaffolding used during the operation, of £1,000, and as this was part of the operation itself, claims from third parties not involved in the operation would reduce to about £3,000 or about a sixth of those from the first explosion. So I think that effectively demolishes the urban myth once and for all.

But my interest goes further and I had a look at a breakdown of those claims resulting from the second explosion which had been received by 10 August 1966. While 35 claims were expected at that stage, it appears 33 finally materialised by November.

In August concrete claims amounting to about £3,000 had been received but as this included the scaffolding, we are talking about some £2,000 in 20 other claims. Of these 13 appeared reasonable to the Corpo while they recommended very significant reductions in the remainder.

In terms of the size of individual claims, the largest by far was from Worths at £400, followed by both Madame Nora's and Slowey's at £250 each. Next came the Northern Bank (+ Canadian Embassy) at £160 and Burton's at £127. The smallest came from Aer Lingus (£2) and the Pillar House Jewelers (£4).

Worth's claim was considered wildly excessive and the Corpo estimated £131 to be a reasonable claim instead of the £400 sought.

McDowell's put in for £60 and that was considered reasonable.

Other Expenses

The Corpo also had a lot of other expenses for preparations in the run up to the army explosion, repairs to infrastructural damage such as gas mains, subsequently destroying the base and, of course, removing tons of rubble. All in all these came to around £6,000.

But, at the end of the day, comparison of the relative damage done to private property by the two explosions offers the best and most straightforward yardstick for debunking the urban myth on its own terms.

Beyond the call of duty

Coming back to the head to round off this post. Were it not for the initiative of a Corpo worker in going beyond the call of duty, and indeed his own authority, in stopping a private individual from removing the head before the Corpo took it into safekeeping at 4am on the morning of 8 March 1966, we would not have the pleasure of viewing it at the Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse St. today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Click on any image for a larger version

As we know, Nelson's Pillar was subject to two explosions in March 1966. The first took care of Nelson, the viewing platform and about a third of the column directly below it.

My purpose in the present post is simply to draw attention to some side aspects of these events including the damage done and not done by the army in the second explosion.

First the precise time of the first explosion. You can see from the photo above that this was at 1.32am (on 8 March).

Second, for those who may not have been paying attention at the time, the force of the first explosion went upwards taking Nelson and his plinth with it. However on the way down, the plinth crashed into the remainder of the column and lodged there. I've put this photo in so you can have a better look. Click on the photo for a larger version.

And finally, before we come to the second explosion, and out of pure nostalgia, I've included a photo of an old style bin lorry, which I'm sure very few of my readers will remember.

And now to business. The army did a lovely job blowing up the remainder of the column as you can see from this photo.

What we sometimes forget is the amount of scaffolding that went up before the army explosion. It went right up to the top of the remainder of the column. And of course it was inevitably collateral damage in the event.

Now, nobody ever claimed that the army didn't break windows. It would have been a miracle if they hadn't. The urban myth was that the first explosion didn't break any windows and the army broke every one in O'Connell St.

You can see some of the collateral damage done by the first explosion in this post. Note Burton's men's clothes shop, for example, in that post.

Well they got another belt from the army (above)

And the army took out at least one of The Happy Ring House's windows. But clearly not all. And they didn't stop the clock, unlike the original explosion, as shown above. The army explosion was at 3am on 15 March.

And, if you draw back, you'll see that most of the windows on the higher floors were undamaged.

And if you look further up the street you'll see that the vast majority of the windows have escaped.

One of the exceptions to this is Worth's, the jewellers. If we look back to the other side of O'Connell St, Worth's have had a lot of window damage. However this is nothing new and had been specifically mentioned at the time by the expert civilian observer of the army blast.

This is probably the appropriate point to recall that compensation claims for damage done in the first explosion were over four times those for the army job, and the latter may have included the scaffolding above, making the comparison even more favourable to the army.

The glazier's truck is fairly snappily on the scene, but only in the immediate area of the pillar.

The job of the wrecker's ball is made slightly easier as the base is not solid. The narrow internal stairway went from ground level right up to the viewing platform.

This is what I call a motion still, if you let your imagination free you'll see what I mean.

You can access a whack of my Nelson material from here.

So, as the fiftieth anniversary of Nelson's ascent, and subsequent and immediate descent, draws to a close, we say bye bye Nelson.

I don't expect to be around for the centenary.