Saturday, October 22, 2016


Flags of the 36th (Ulster) & 16th (Irish) Divisions
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There were great hopes during WWI that Northern and Southern Irish fighting side by side on the Somme would forge a reconciliation between the two parts of the country. But it was not to be. The problem was too intractable. Soldiers returned home to man their respective northern and southern trenches and we are still dealing with the problem today.

That brief moment of hope is captured in the flags of the 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions flying side by side in the Dublin City Archive where an exhibition, Dublin Stories: Remembering the Somme, was launched yesterday (21/10/2016). The emphasis here is not on the grand campaign, rather it tells the personal stories of some of the participants and it is all the more striking for this.

Overview of the Exhibition

It replaces the previous exhibition which recalled 1916 and it is this nationalist thread of our history which has taken precedence ever since, almost totally eclipsing our participation in WWI and the obscenity which was the Somme.

This eclipse is not fully reproduced in the new exhibition which retains an image of the GPO and a model of Nelson's Pillar originally constructed for the 1916 exhibition.

Brendan Teeling

The ceremonials were kicked off by Brendan Teeling, Assistant City Librarian, who welcomed a varied and overflowing audience to the Archive's conference and exhibition centre.

Margaret Hayes

First up was City Librarian, Margaret Hayes who spoke on the significance of this exhibition in the context of the 1916 commemorations. She told us that this building now houses the archives of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association (RDFA) from which the material for the exhibition had been drawn.

Brian Moroney

Brian Moroney from the RDFA, as well as giving us some of his own background, made two points which particularly resonated with me: almost every family in the country has some connection, however tenuous, with WWI; and, we should not confine our memories of events like the Somme just to the Irish regiments which took part as there were countless numbers of Irishmen serving in other regiments.

I was glad he made the latter point as my uncle John, who died on the Somme, was actually serving in the Civil Service Rifles because he had been working in the British Civil Service in London. He had joined this volunteer territorial regiment and ended up on the Western Front from the early days of the war.

Brendan Carr

Brendan Carr, who was introduced as Dublin's First Citizen, him being the current Lord Mayor, commended Dublin City Library and Archive for what he called "this thought-provoking exhibition which personalises the loss and hardship endured by Irishmen and their families".

A timely reminder that the suffering was not confined to the war front alone and that those left behind at home also had a hard time of it, particularly where loved ones either died or returned from the conflict injured. No doubt anyone who took part in that war in the trenches returned home a different person from when they set out on the great adventure.

Declan Kettle

Declan Kettle, a grand nephew of Tom Kettle who died on the Somme, read the poet's poem to his daughter. No matter how many times I hear its final lines, which must surely have attained the status of cliché in recent years, I find them a powerful vindication of the enduring humanity and idealism of those mired in this awful conflict.
Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

The audience's attention was then diverted to the door where the long awaited arrivals finally turned up. The Newtownabbey Youth Theatre Group, having overcome the obstacle that is Dublin traffic, were now here to perform an extract from their film, The Rose and the Fusilier, which is being screened in Dublin today.

The film shows the tragic thread of warfare for one Dublin family, the Naylors, whose story unfolded in both France and Ireland during Easter 1916.

The film is produced by NACN Theatre Company, a cross-community youth theatre group from Newtownabbey, Co Antrim and is supported by Dublin City Council’s Commemoration Programme. The Lord Mayor is hosting the group in Dublin over the weekend.

Noelle Mitchell and Ellen Murphy

So much for the preliminaries. Now it's time to have a look at this much praised exhibition. But first a word of congratulations to the two ladies from the Archive who are responsible for staging it, Ellen and Noelle.

Anyway, there I am in the middle of the crowd who are delicately striking a balance between drinking their coffee, nibbling their fingerfood and absorbing the personal stories of Somme soldiers on the display panels, when I spot a neighbour on the other side of the room. This is a lady I frequently chat with in the street or in the local Supervalu store in Raheny. "What" I ask her "are you doing here?".

Muriel Burke

Well, it turns out that she is one of two "celebrities" at the exhibition, the other being Declan Kettle. Both are listed in the advance press notice as being available for interview, so I decided to interview her.

She is the daughter of Richard Burke, who is one of those whose story has been chosen for the exhibition. What she told me about him is best encapsulated in the text prepared for the exhibition.

Richard Edward Burke from Dingle, County Kerry, had an excellent education and a good job in the National Bank, College Green when he applied to join the Army in 1914. Richard was in Dublin during the Easter Rising, in 1916, attached to the 3rd Royal Irish Regiment.

Later that year Richard was sent to the Western Front and at the age of 24 was awarded a bravery certificate for his actions at Ginchy. It was reported in the press at the time that ‘Capt. Burke distinguished himself on the 9th Sept. at Ginchy, being the only officer left out of his company’(14 Nov 1916). He later won a Military Cross in 1917 for continuing to lead his men despite being wounded in battle at Wijtschate.

After the war, Richard became a co-ordinator of the Soldiers and Sailors Land Trust which was set-up to provide housing for ex-servicemen. During the 1920s and 1930s the Trust provided over 4,000 houses throughout Ireland.

That's me

Muriel remembers visiting the Islandbridge memorial with her family in 1956 when the place was still a wreck. And sure enough there is a photo in the exhibitiion in which she points herself out.

At the National War Memorial, Islandbridge, 1956

That's her on the extreme left with her father, Richard, in the middle and her mother on the extreme right.

Soldiers' & Sailors' Land Trust map of Killester scheme

One of her father's Soldiers' and Sailors' Land Trust maps shows the "suburb of Killester" where the Trust constructed many houses for veterans. The diagonal parallels across the map are the Great Northern train line, just blow which is the Howth Road just north of Killester village. The bottom left quadrant shows the location of the newly constructed veterans' houses.

Captured GPO flag at the Parnell Monument, May 1916

Richard was active in Dublin during the Rising and is said to be one of those seated in this iconic photo of officers with the captured GPO flag, taken in front of the Parnell monument.

And this is Richard as he appears in the exhibition.

All of the above are nicely brought together in a single panel telling Richard's story.

There is also a glass case at the door which gives some idea of the stress and tragedy of that time, containing a letter Richard wrote, in his official capacity at the front, informing a parent of the death of their son. The lad was killed in action on 9 September 1916, on the same day as, and close to where, Tom Kettle had died.

I also spoke to Declan Kettle, who recalled his grand uncle's horror at the wartime atrocities he saw while in Belgium purchasing guns for the Volunteers. This motivated him to join up. He spoke passionately at recruitment meetings throughout the country. Before returning to the front at his own request and to his death on 9 September 1916.

There is much more in this exhibition that I will have to come back and check out,
including other people's stories, archive recordings and artifacts.

The exhibition also includes guided tours by expert members from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association and if you're in town between now and the end of the year you'd be well advised to book yourself in on one of these.

The Association has taken on itself a much wider role in relation to WWI than simply documenting the Dublin Fusiliers Regiment. It has been actively involved in promoting remembrance of all aspects of WWI.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Silly Old Vampire
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Clontarf is well known to be the home of Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula. But there is much more to Dublin 3 than this horrific tale, soon to be celebrated in this year's Bram Stoker Festival.

You may not be familiar with it, but Nolan's of Clontarf is an excellent supermarket. It has great variety and quality of produce, constant attention to detail by an extensive and friendly staff and reasonable prices. What more can I say?

A lot, it appears.

As Halloween approaches some very weird characters have been turning up in the store. While they are mostly congregating around the vegetable area they are also popping up in other areas.

So what's afoot?

Wise looking Old Gentleman

Let's ask this wise looking old gentleman, shall we?

It appears we have just arrived in time for a spooks' wedding.

The Bride

The Groom

The Witnesses

The Celebrant

Granny and the Fruits of Love

Leftovers at knockdown prices

The Complete Web of Intrigue

You can see all these characters in Nolan's up to the end of the month.

So when your doing your shopping, have a word with some of them and weave your own Halloween story when you get home.

Everyone can be a Bram Stoker. Let no one tell you otherwise.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Kenneth Clarke
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I tuned in to one of my favourite broadcasters this morning and there he was, chatting away to Kenneth Clarke, who has just published a memoir called Kind of Blue. The title is presumably aimed at telling us he is not "true blue", coming as he did from working class origins and leaning towards the left within the conservative party. No doubt he also wished to distance himself from Red Ken (Livingstone).

As Seán O'Rourke encouraged Ken in his very perceptive and amusing recollections, I was reminded of my own encounter with him in the latter half of 1996.

Ireland held the rotating EU Presidency at the time. Clarke was the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) and Ruairí Quinn held the corresponding position in the Irish Government.

Ruairí Quinn

It was on the day of an ECOFIN Council meeting and Ruairí, as President (chairman) of the Council, was hearing "confessions" in the run up to the meeting. That is a term used to describe the process whereby supplicant ministers have individual meetings with the chairman in an effort to bend his ear towards the views they will be advancing during the meeting itself.

I was in on the meeting as one of the items on the agenda was European Investment Bank projects in developing countries and I was on the EIB desk in Dublin.

This was a period when Margaret Thatcher's push for privatisation and entrepreneurship still suffused the UK administration, though she had gone by then and John Major was Prime Minister.

Normally, if the EIB was lending at effectively subsidised rates of interest or to high risk ventures where it was not appropriate for it to lean on its own capital, there would be an EU subsidy to cover the discretionary excess. In keeping the excessive risk off the EIB's own books, the Bank would be able to continue to borrow at competitive rates in international financial markets and pass the benefit on to its normal clients. It also reduced the risk of markets losing confidence in the Bank and possibly ultimately refusing to lend to it. Unlike the World Bank or the EBRD, the EIB could lend up to two and a half times its own capital and so was much more exposed to market perceptions than these other institutions, which were effectively 100% guaranteed by their member states.

Nigel Wicks

Clarke, no doubt under some political pressure, but also advised by the Treasury in the person of Nigel Wicks, was pushing for EIB to take far more risks in third countries than I considered prudent. I had been dealing with the EIB for a decade at that stage and was acutely aware of its potential financial vulnerability. This seemed to have escaped Clarke who, no doubt, was pushing an ideological line and also contemplating savings on the EU budget to which the UK was a net contributor.

I intervened and explained the EIB's leverage to Clarke and pointed out that one had to be very careful how far one pushed the risk-taking as it could ultimately backfire on the institution.

I think Ruairí Quinn was a wee bit taken aback at my intervention but he had seen it once before on a different occasion and he figured I knew what I was at. I got the impression that Clarke was also a bit surprised but seemed to be taking some of it in at least. I suspect that Nigel Wicks was not at all amused as I figure I was advising his minister along lines directly opposed to what he probably had.

As it was clear that there was going to be some pressure on EIB to up the ante anyway, I have no idea whether my intervention made the slightest bit of difference to the outcome. It did, however, mean that I didn't forget Ken Clarke in a hurry.

Don't think I got a mention in his book though.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Never heard of it, but it is really there.

A small oldy worldy bookshop looking out at the Ha'penny Bridge from the north bank of the Liffey.

I had arrived early and was browsing around when I came across this title. Really bring you back (if you were an old man entering his anecdotage). So I put it aside to purchase.

Then I came across this one, which had the same effect on me, and I put that one aside too.

I then paid my €1.50 for these two nostalgic postcards and secreted them inside my jacket.

But I wasn't here to browse. I had come with a purpose: to attend the launch (13/10/2016) of a magnificent new book on the Ha'penny Bridge, whose bicentenary Dublin had celebrated on 19 May last.

The place quickly filled up to overflowing and I scanned the faces for any I might know. I saw only two, which will give you an idea of my literary credentials: Mary Clarke and Eoin Bairéad. I subsequently ran into the City Librarian, Margaret Hayes, and much later, the Beresford descendant, whom I had met at the bicentennial celebration and who was now back with her children for the book launch.

The function was organised by Mary Clarke, City Archivist, not surprising as the book is published by Dublin City Council - Dublin City Library and Archive (though Four Courts Press appear to be in there somewhere). Mary was also MC for the evening.

The night kicked off with a ballad from Tony Fitzpatrick.

Eamon Hunt

This was directly followed by another ballad, Dublin Jack of all Trades.

Seán Ó Hearcáin

And the performance then morphed into a sweet version of the Last Rose of Summer.

Declan Collinge gave us his translation of Faoileán Drochmhúinte by Máirtín Ó Direáin where the poet execrates a seagull who has just dropped its load on him. This catastrophe happens by the Liffey and the poet contrasts the vulgar seagull with the noble swan which would never even think of doing such a thing.

The book was then formally launched by Michael Phillips, former City Engineer. Michael clearly had a great love for his subject and his support in bringing the book to fruition has been acknowledged by its author, Michael English.

It was then Michael English's turn to respond and he thanked a load of people for their help and cooperation along the way. The list was as varied as the content of the book itself.

When I was speaking to him afterwards he mentioned that he thought the bridge's bicentenary would have given rise to a clatter of books on the subject, but nothing appeared. So I figure this is now the definitive work.

Book chapters cover:
  • An introduction from Michael Phillips giving an engineer's perspective of the bridge
  • Coalbrookdale, in England, where the bridge was designed and cast.
  • Distinctly pedestrian: the history of the bridge
  • The bridge under threat from a proposal to replace it with an art gallery for the Hugh Lane collection. There was a design Sir Edwin Lutyens all ready to go.
  • A new lease of life for the bridge with its 2001 restoration.
  • The pint of plain: the story of Guinness and the export of stout passing under the brige in the barges. The pint and the bridge - two icons of Dublin.
  • Cultural awareness reviews the role of the bridge and its connections with various cultural events during its history.
  • Marking the millennium: the Millennium Bridge design inspired by The Ha'penny Bridge.
  • Night into day into night captures various views of the bridge at different times of the day and year. These are largly Michael English's own photos.

And I have to include this cartoon from Gordon Brewster at the height of the controversy over the location of the proposed Municipal Art Gallery to house the Lane pictures. He sarcastically remarks that this location would mean the gallery not obstructing any view of the city. Fortunately the gallery eventually ended up in Lord Charlemont's house in Parnell Square where it will now form the linchpin of the new cultural quarter on the northside.

Whatever about Brewster's drawing ability, this one shows up his shortcomings as an engineer (it would fall down), and a people manager (it would take all day to get people up and down the Pillar's 168 steps). But then that is surely part of the point of this cartoon.

As an aside, it is great to see Brewester's cartoons getting an airing. After almost seven decades in hibernation, they have recently featured in Michael Laffan's Judging WT Cosrave and in the Revolutionary Papers and now another one turns up in The Ha'penny Bridge. And you can now view the full collection of nearly 500 cartoons online.

The book is available from all good bookshops and from Four Courts Press

Saturday, October 08, 2016


Tim Carey
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Apparently nobody had ever done it before. A diary type history of Dublin city since Independence.

The Eureka moment was when Tim Carey found himself telling a pair of tourists, who were departing Merrion Row for Co. Clare, that they were heading for the "real Ireland". He didn't really believe that himself but it was the sort of thing people said and he found himself saying it.

That got him thinking about the place of Dublin in the real Ireland and this eventually led to him writing "Dublin since 1922", a book about the modern city which would capture its evolution as a capital, its increasing importance, its characteristics and the traits that define it.

And here we were, in the magnificent surroundings of Dublin's City Hall, on the floor of what had been the old stock exchange, but tonight people were trading compliments instead of stocks and shares.

The book is beautifully produced and well worthy of the exalted surroundings of its launch. I clearly haven't had time to read it but have dipped in and it is a great read. Based mainly on published sources and presented in diary format with a whack of relevant illustrations, it will not only introduce the stranger to the modern capital but will evoke nostalgia in the native reader.

My first reaction looking at some of it was "Jesus, was that so long ago? It feels like just yesterday". And I have enough years behind me to react in this way to roughly three quarters of the book, if you start with my birth, which incidentally doesn't appear to have made it into the final text. I nearly had a photo in the book but that is another story.

Ciara Considine

For me, Hachette was a French publishing house that did dictionaries and other Frenchy stuff. But there is now Hachette Ireland and the company, in one form or another, has been around since 2002. Their list of authors is extensive and you will recognise many of them.

The launch was introduced by Ciara Considine, the book's editor at Hachette. From all the compliments bandied about on the night, there seems to be wide recognition of a job well done.

She first introduced Dublin's current Lord Mayor, Labour Councillor Brendan Carr, who is, of course, our landlord for the night.

Brendan Carr

Brendan entertained us with slices of Dublin life and was enthusiastic in his praise of Tim's book which he was launching.

Joseph O'Connor

The guest speaker was Joseph O'Connor, and if you don't know who he is try here, and pick up when you come back half an hour later. Joseph had missed an occasion in Limerick to be here and this alone merited a round of applause from the audience. He entertained us with a witty and literary speech which everyone afterwards said they hoped would be published.

Tim Carey

Tim himself then took the floor, addressing an audience that included many of his own family. He spoke along the lines of the introductory paragraphs to this post and thanked the many people who had laboured hard to produce the final product.

Tim is the heritage officer with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and he has been very proactive in this role both promoting and facilitating a wide range of heritage projects in the county.

Tim Carey

After the launch he was running the risk of repetitive strain injury as he signed copies of the book for an ever growing queue of people. Much, I am sure, to the frustration of those towards the end of the queue he was not only signing the books but was chatting at length to the supplicants.

It's one thing to get the author to sign your copy of the book, but the real aficionados then seek out the guest speaker as well. I have a copy of Tim's "Hanged for Murder" signed by the State Pathologist, and of "Grave Matters" (not Tim's) signed by the recently retired Dublin Coroner.

Joseph O'Connor

So I made straight for Joseph O'Connor. At first, he modestly claimed he had nothing to do with the book, but he mellowed when I suggested that his guest speech was an integral part of the process.

I then probably (mildly) embarrassed him by reminding him that he had introduced me to the biggest Mickey in the world in "The Secret World of the Irish Male" and that I still smiled every time I thought of it. [In fact, I have just now reread that piece from the book and still find it convulsive.]

He muttered that this thing was still following him around the place. Perhaps if I had given more thought to his prodigious literary output, to which I have linked above, I would not have alluded to this trivial matter.

I think all may have been forgiven, however, when it turned out that we were both Ballybrackers of a sort.

He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick (since 2014) and he seems to be enjoying this enormously.

On this positive and happy note we parted.

De Buke