Thursday, March 25, 2021


I was never one for poetry but when I was in school the teacher caught me doing what I thought was a frivolous translation of a French poem. To my surprise he thought it was very good and told me to keep at it.

Now I know that doesn't make me a poet but I just wanted to set the context.

I have dabbled in Limericks and, in my own view, some of them were of a higher standard than what passes for poetry in some quarters, but I am not going to insist on it.

It has, in any event, now become irrelevant as I have just become a published poet.

Admittedly it is only one line, and the "poem" in which it occurs is not the best, despite some very good individual lines. But my one line has been published by no less a group than Poetry Ireland.

The project is called the Poemathon with Older People, and it is designed to capture the thoughts and imaginings of older people right now in society.

You can read about it on their website where there is a link to the full poem (pdf). My line is the second line on page 19.

The line reads: "Another grey hair shed in the departure lounge"

I suppose if I have any claim on poetry it is as a translator. I have published four of my translations on my website.

The first is the poem Aistear (Journey) by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. This came out of a request from my cousin Carmel to translate the poem. She had been given an alternative translation and wanted to compare the two. I was never told where I came in that league.

Next is the poem Fornocht do Chonac Thú by Pádraig Mac Piarais. I came across the original in school and I think it is the nearest thing I'll ever see to a perfect poem. Pearse himself has translated it but more by way of a line by line guide than a poem itself. So I couldn't resist the temptation to have a go at it. It would probably take a Heaney or more to do a proper job on it, as I consider it untranslateable at the end of the day, so I had to take a few liberties with it to try and get the meaning and feel of the poem across.

Then there was Mo Bheirt ar Altram by Aodh Ó Domhnaill, a beautiful tribute by him to his two adopted children. Sinéad Ní Uallacháin gave a beautiful reading of this poem at Aodh's funeral and his French nieces had asked me to translate it for them as their Irish is understandably not up to the task.

And, finally, another of Aodh's poems Nóirín, a charming celebration of the innocence of his then four year old daughter, Nóirín.

I have written some songs, but I'm not sure that they would class as poetry, more likely versification.

The first, written in 1963, has de Gaulle taking a poke at the British, a theme today once more brexiting into topicality. The second is a sort of comic version of an EU Chef de Cabinet written shortly after we joined the EEC. And the third is a day in the life of a conscientious civil servant. All three are in French.

The only one I have "recorded" so far is the Chef de Cabinet. I don't think I'd be wise to apply for a job in Brussels anytime soon!

Monday, March 15, 2021


The BBC are scheduled to broadcast a programme tonight on the sexual abuse of children and the financial sector in Jersey (CI). I am well familiar with the scene in Jersey and I must say I am surprised that it is the BBC that is airing this programme.

The BBC does not have a good record in this area either in Jersey or in Great Britain, so I will be very interested to see how comprehensively it covers the Jersey situation which has ramifications in all directions. Unfortunately I don't have piped TV and am geo-blocked from watching it on my computer, so I will be relying on the testimony of those whose opinions I trust to fill me in here.

Meanwhile I thought I'd do a sort of a check list of what I would expect to be covered in an objective and trustworthy programme.

From the blurb, it seems the programme is anchored around the efforts of two bloggers to hold the Jersey establishment to account, particularly after most, if not all, of the significant channels of official opposition and investigation had been neutered.

The two bloggers concerned, Neil McMurray and Rico Sorda are simply civilians without any connection to official Jersey or to the "accredited" media. They started blogging on the subject of child abuse in reaction to what was going on on the island and which was not being dealt with. In fact most of it was subject to cover up by the establishment and their minions.

Neil and Rico exposed a lot of stuff to the extent that they were trusted by victims/survivors to the point that material was being leaked to them rather than to the captured media where such material, instead of being published, would be consigned to the waste basket. They have both suffered personally for the stands they have taken, perhaps Rico the more so.

So full credit to them. But there are a host of other characters who have also challenged the establishment but who have been taken out of play by various underhand methods.

I should start with Stuart Syvret. Stuart was the Health Minister early on in the current century. He was receiving complaints from victims and decided to investigate for himself. He has by now a weath of stories of abuse, most of them, I suspect unpublished. At the time he was also blogging on what was going on.

He was sacked, imprisoned at various times on fairly flimsy excuses, and had his blog taken down by Blogger/Google as a result of a disgraceful legal sleight of hand by the administration. He continues to blog via comments on, for example, Neil's blog and, though on the shrill side of late, his content is always to the point. He has been the cause of some landmark legal contortions in the Jersey "justice" system as the establishment have attempted, and succeeded in locking him up regardless of his human rights.

At the same time as Stuart was doing his investigation, the police were doing theirs, oblivious of what Stuart was at. Two policemen in particular deserve great credit for what they did but both suffered for it.

Police Chief, Graham Power, was suspended on the basis of trumped up and wilfully misinterpreted evidence, and he was held in suspension for as long as possible. Suspension, as opposed to sacking, was the chosen option as it did not need the approval of Parliament and he would be still within the polic force and denied all opportunity to put his case in public.

The second policeman (to quote Myles na gCopaleen), was Lenny Harper who had made a lot of enemies when he arrived on the island and confiscated some of their bazookas. Lenny was straight and to the point.

He became senior investigating officer in the police abuse investigation (Operation Rectangle) and suffered and unremitting stream of abuse and obstruction in his efforts to get to the bottom of it. Lenny had retired to Scotland in the latter stages of the investigation and to give you an idea of how much he trusted the administration, he refused to come back to the island to testify at the later "Independent" Jersey "Care" Inquiry as he was convinced that the administration would find some spurious grounds for locking him up.

He did testify and his testimony like that of his Police Chief are more than worth a read. Unfortunately they are no longer online.

That beings me neatly to the administration and their attempts to keep the whole scandal under wraps. They had a plan to sack the Health Minister (Stuart Syvret) in which they attempted to involve the Police Chief and one of his officers. The two officers concerned held their ground.

Anyway, here we have two Home Affairs ministers, Andrew Lewis and Ian le Marquand. Two gobshites if ever there was one. Andrew Lewis, a weak man, was installed in the job to sack the Police Chief and he followed his script, even though it was clear he was not on top of his brief, and subsequently perjured himself over the whole affair. His successor, Ian le Marquand, who gave a good impression of appearing thick, and in my opinion was, got the job of keeping the Police Chief in suspension ad infinitum, while others were being dealt with. And we'll come to those in a minute.

A name you may not hear in the programme is Simon Bellwood one of the first whistleblowers who was hounded out of his job, and maybe off the island for all I know.

Trevor Pitman and his wife Shona Pitman were, at various times, Deputies in the States of Jersey (ie members of parliament). Both did sterling work on behalf of their constituents and were highly respected by those who mattered.

In my view, not shared by everybody, they were set up. The Jersey Evening Post, the island's only newspaper, published a cartoon which inter alia suggested that they were in politics for the money when it was clear to anybody who took the trouble to find out they were not. Trevor, perhaps unwisely as this was Jersey, decided to sue. They then lost what ought to have been an open and shut case and were subsequently bankrupted by the "justice" system.

Bob Hill, a former MET officer, ran a fantastic blog. He championed the cause of HG, an abused woman, gave evidence to the "Care" Inquiry, but sadly suffered a severe stroke and is now out of action.

Philip Sinel a Jersey commercial (non-criminal) lawyer has been the only Jersey lawyer to stand up to the establishment. His evidence to the Inquiry is stunning reading, but can no longer be accessed on line since all the evidence, transcripts and documentation, from the Inquiry has been taken offline.

I would comment here that when it was up online I made extensive use of some evidence in my blogposts. Philip's views and some submissions can still be read on Neil's blog. In one of his cases (fraud) Philip got the run around from the Jersey authorities and had to go to an American court to get justice for his client. Needless to say the authorities in Jersey are out to get him.

Leah McGrath Goodman is a reputable financial journalist and her initial interesst in the island was financial. However, when she got to know about the abuse she campaigned on behalf of the abused and exposed malpractice.

She contemplated writing a book but she diverted her energies into making a film/programme on the island. That, or some form of it, is what will be aired tonight. While intimately involved in the research and filming of the programme, she has not been involved in its sale to the BBC, and did not agree with this. It will be interesting to see how much credit she gets in tonight's programme from the BBC or whether the programme covers the full range of her concerns.

Deputy Mike Higgins is the current thorn in the side of the authorities and he has brought many cases to the floor of the parliament chamber in addition to all of those he has pursued outside of it. The authorities have so far failed to silence him despite attempting to bankrupt him through purposely withholding promised financial support for the air show which he has promoted over the years.

I couldn't leave out Emma Martins, daughter of the finctional "Jersey" Detective Bergerac. She conspired to get Stuarts blog taken down via a show trial where she had trawled the streets to find people prepared to testify against him. Reminded me of Christ and the invitations to the wedding feast in the gospels.

Anyway she managed to assemble a motley crew of the usual suspects, including those rightly denounced by Stuart on his blog, and the job was oxo. The names of Stuart's accusers were not allowed to be published but they eventually appeared in an early day motion (EDM) in the Westminster House of Commons.

She also unsuccessfully attempted to scuttle the publication of the final report of the "Care" Inquiry.

And as for her daddy, John Nettles, the detective in the BBC Bergerac series shot on the island, the BBC crew were shooting the series with the police headquarters based in the infamous home of abuse, Haut de la Garenne, while there were still children on the premises. When this was revealed in more recent times the BBC pulled the rerun of the series in the face of hostile public reaction.

I'll only make one further point about the inquiry. Through careless redaction it actually revealed the name of John Averty whom it had been valliantly trying to protect. John had been accused of the rape of an adult woman.

He was deeply involved with the Jersey Evening Post and was also a part of the Jersey Financial Regulator. He was interviewed by the police as a suspect under caution but that is the last that was heard of it.

I can't leave the subject without drawing attention to the number of strokes connected to the Jersey Inquiry: the person originally picked to chair the inquiry, the publicity officer on the inquiry, one of the witnesses subsequent to him testifying, and one of the witnesses prior to her testifying. All just coincidence I'm sure.

So there are a lot of angles which should be covered by the programme and the above are only a selection of the most obvious.

I look forward to hearing the reports.

Saturday, February 06, 2021


Feeding Seagulls

In the 1950s I was at primary school in Coláiste Mhuire in Parnell Square. My father worked for CIE in Broadstone, a relatively short distance up the road. Andy Kildea, a classmate who lived locally, used to give me a crossbar up to Broadstone at lunchtime where I dined with my father and some of his colleagues.

One day he told me the story about the birds. Apparently some of the youths in the Broadstone area used to feed the birds, seagulls I think, and shortly after the birds took to the air they exploded, just like planes shot down in a dog fight in World War Two.

For a young lad this was an exciting story, only much later to be thought of as cruel and disgusting. I never gave much thought to whether it was true or not. It did seem a bit far fetched.

Until, years later, I discovered carbide. Now, carbide was a chalk like substance that was freely available as it was used to power lamps, including bicycle lamps. My friend Tom Ferris's father had one.

The carbide was in a chamber in the lamp. A little water was added which produced an inflamable gas which was fed to a nozzle and lit. This produced a very strong white light.

And then there was the the carbide bomb.

The bomb made a lot of noise but I don't think it was ever used in any serious demolition work. What we used to do was take a coffee tin and puncture a small hole in the base. We then inserted the carbide and spat on it. The tin lid was put back firmly in place and a respectable interval left before lighting a match at the hole.

A loud bang followed and the tin lid was blown a fair distance down the road.

So what has this got to do with the birds. Well, I am now convinced that the youths put ground carbide into the birds' food and when this then mixed with their digestive juices the gas was produced with the inevitable result – the birds burst in mid air.

Children, as we know, can be very cruel.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021


Suspsended Jersey Police Chief Graham Power
Click on any image for a larger version

We see a lot of "redaction" about these days. Perversly, and in a limited way, this may be a good thing. Requests for information from the powers that be were often met in the past with a blank refusal.

Today we have "Freedom of Information" legislation which generally applies to public institutions and which obliges them to provide the citizen with any requested records unless this can be shown to be inappropriate according to a number of strictly defined criteria.

So, in many cases, rather than attempting to justify not providing any of the material requested, resort is had to coughing up a "redacted" version.

I know about all this stuff as I operated the Freedom of Information Act in the Irish Finance Ministry insofar as it applied to my work area.

The term "redacted" was not around in my youth. It simply means "edited". But it sounds sort of authoritative and maybe even respectable. When I was young I had a hankering after journalism and had I followed this up I would have been subject to the "Redacteur en Chef" as the French call him. To me he would have been my editor in chief.

Now, before we go any further I have to introduce you to another term, "jigsaw identification". This applies to a situation where you may have avoided actually naming someone or redacted their name, but the person can nevertheless be identified from various bits of other information which you have neglected to redact but when drawn together can clearly point at that person's identity.

Initial version: Power's published evidence

My example, above, is from a large document published at the time by the "Independent Jersey Care Inquiry". The Inquiry used to publish all the evidence submitted to it in real time. This is an extract from that of the suspended Chief of Police, Graham Power.

I don't want to expand on it here, but Graham was one of the good guys and he was suspended by Jersay's powers that be in their attempt to shut down the earlier police inquiry into child abuse which was a serious embarrassment to them. Just for the record, they succeeded.

In his evidence, Power referred to a well known and powerful member of the Jersey establishment who had been scheduled to be interviewed by the police as a suspect and under caution, in respect of the serial abuse of adult females.

The "Independent" Inquiry, which was tight with the Jersey powers that be, realised they were heading into dangerous territory and decided to redact the person's name. The system was to black out the name and substitute a number, in this case 737. This subsitution would be consistent, always 737, anywhere in the documentation where that name was redacted.

In addition to the name, the Inquiry also redacted information which, in its view, could potentially lead to jigsaw identification. I won't go into it in detail here but the Inquiry, being from outside the island, inadvertently left enough information unredacted for anyone familiar with the Jersey scene to identify the suspect. In this regard I would mention that there is only one daily newspaper in Jersey.

The suspect had one other mention in the document but this was in connection with another issue and was left unredacted.

Lesson #101-1: Know your audience.

Needless to say, once the redacted document was published, speculation on the identity of the redacted person was rife and if became clear to the Inquiry that they had not done a thorough enough job to fool the locals. So they withdrew the document and issued a further redacted version.

Power's evidence, further redactions (yellow highlights)

The new version dealt with the problem of jigsaw identification, but after the horse had already bolted. The relevant additional redaction was to cut out reference to the newspaper, which I have pointed out was a dead jigsaw givaway.

However this time round, the eagle eyed redacteur en chef spotted a reference to the suspect on another page and promptly, and unthinkingly, redacted this. And that was their fatal mistake. The newly redacted reference was to Person 737 but the context was slightly different and, most importantly, it had not been redacted in the previous version where the person was clearly named.

By now associating the previouly published name with a 737 redaction the inquiry was effectively certifying the identity of this person.

Lesson #101 - 2: You only get one shot at this. Do it properly the first time round.

So why am I bothering to raise this sort of stuff now? My example relates to the past in a far away land.

Well, just the other day, Craig Murray was himself on trial, yes trial, for contempt of court in his reporting of the earlier trial of former Scottish First Minisster, Alex Salmond. This was despite the measures he took to avoid jigsaw identification of Salmond's accusers who had the benefit of anonymity.

In passing, the bulk of the Scottish main stream media were clearly in contempt of court by stridently and pruriently amplifying the accusations in a way that in the normal course would have prejudiced Salmond's jury trial. Fortunately the jury nonetheless acquitted Salmond.

As well as defending himself from the accusation of jigsaw identification, Murray also pointed to the contrasting treatment of himself and the main stream media, making the point, with which I strongly agree, that his trial was political, and like that of Julian Assange, was designed to put the fear of God into any potential dissidents, seriously curtail free speech and, paradoxically, freedom of the press.

Lesson #101 - final: Pay attention.

Monday, February 01, 2021


Varian Linear Accelerator

Following a brush with this impressive linear accelerator, I have been assured that I am now as radioactive as the cockpit of the Enola Gay.

Cockpit of the Enola Gay

The Enola Gay was the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.

Oddly enough I have actually been in the cockpit of the Enola Gay which is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

Saturday, January 23, 2021


Doug and Sylvia
at an appropriate location in happier days
Click on any image for a larger version

My acquaintance with Doug dates from after the inauguration of restored Martello Tower No.7 in Killiney in 2008. Initially, I had no idea of the huge amount of research he, and his wife Sylvia, had put into unearthing vast quantities of documentation in the British National Archives at Kew and in many other archives. They also visited many relevant sites in Britain and were responsible for involving Paul Kerrigan and Martin Bibbings in the project. Without their work, there would have been no project.

 I had discovered Major Le Comte de La Chaussée and his survey of Killiney Bay which set the scene for the later building of the Martello Towers in that bay, but it was Doug who set me on the path filling out La Chaussée's role in British attempts to subvert post-revolutionary France and restore the French monarchy. And it was Doug who found La Chaussée's maps which I had been looking for for thirty years. 

And then there was the EU backed Europa Nostra heritage competition which Bill Clements suggested the Tower might enter. The questionnaire was comprehensive and demanding and required input in narrowly specified terms. It took Doug and me, acting as good cop bad cop, to beat Niall over the head to squeeze the information out of him in an acceptable form. The problem was that the way the restoration was done didn't quite fit the required format and Niall had to be "encouraged" to make some rough estimates. The fact that the Tower was shortlisted and got a special mention from the jury is in no small part due to Doug's insistence and cajoling.

  Most recently, despite being very ill Doug agreed to do a commentary for the online Bloomsday 2020 presentation (16 June) at the Tower on the saga of his and Sylvia's research. In the event he was too ill to present it himself and I read his script into the record. I was very pleased to have been able to honour his and Sylvia's research and it now stands as a tribute to Doug. You can access that particular item in the Bloomsday presentation below or just read the text.

Presentation of Doug and Sylvia's research in the 
Bloomsday 2020 event at the Tower

I was thrilled when Doug himself and Sylvia turned up at our Bloomsday Zoom session at midday. This turned into a great conversation though we only had less than a dozen people at it. I'm sort of half sorry I didn't record it, but it was intended as a free flowing conversation and that's what it turned out to be.

Myself & Doug - Xmas 2016
Royal Marine Hotel, Dún Laoghaire

I will always remember Doug as a gentleman, an Englishman with a wry sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, a natural co-conspirator.

Doug on a lovely birthday few days
in Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

You can read Sylvia's beautiful eulogy of Doug, delivered at his cremation on 1 September 2020, here. There's a lot in it about Doug that I didn't know and I'm very impressed. Clearly, as well as everything else, a very modest man.

You can see Doug's death notice and, if you wish, leave a message of condolence, here.

May he rest in peace.

The Magnificent Martello Tower
No.7 Killiney Bay

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


Neil McMurray - Voice for Children

I have just had privilege of interviewing Neil McMurray, one of the hero Jersey bloggers who were blogging for Jersey, as he puts it, and against child abuse and corruption which were rampant on the island. The bloggers effectively functioned as the fourth estate on the island when the main stream media just refused to even pretend to hold the powers that be to account.

The local media (BBC, ITV, Jersey Evening Post) have long lost the trust of the people in their failure to confront the horrendous scandal of institutional child abuse on the island. Instead the people turned to the bloggers. When there was something to be leaked, it was to the bloggers that it was leaked as people knew that the material would otherwise be consigned to the MSM dustbin.

Suspended Police Chief Graham Power
and Children's Home Haut de la Garenne

In this interview Neil gives a concrete example of this in relation to the disgraceful and illegal suspension of the Police Chief in the Establishment's effort to contain the cover up.

The police investigation did not suit the powers that be and they made sure to wind it up at the first opportunity, by suspending the Police Chief and replacing him and the Senior Investigating Officer with more compliant individuals. To this day there are people out there who should have been locked up, to say the least, years ago.

I asked Neil why he prints anonymous comments and got a serious answer. You can see above the annotated bullet that was sent to Trevor Pitman, parliamentarian and blogger, in an attempt to shut him down. The Jersey State later did just that in one of the most devious operations I have seen on the island.

And discover the relevance of my remark that if Jesus came to Jersey he'd end up in Southhampton in his pyjamas.

So lots of exciting, if despicable, things to talk about. Enjoy.

For those not fully up to speed on the Jersey situation or those needing some introduction to the subject matter of the interview, I thought it worthwhile to include some links below. These generally refer to individual matters mentioned in the course of the interview.

Neil's Blog "Voice for Children"

Advocate Philip Sinel's submission to the Carswell REVIEW on governance..

Bloggers, and State Media evidence to the Care Inquiry: TRANSCRIPTS.

Transcripts of the secret States Debate with the "damning" report that Andrew Lewis did(n't) see.

Also mentioned in the video was the interim defence case of the former Chief Police Officer Graham Power QPM that has been buried by the State Media.

Bloggers being EXCLUDED, from media room at care Inquiry.

Discredited, and disgraced, ITV/CTV was not EXCLUDED.

This is a LINK to an exclusive interview with former Deputy Shona Pitman, whom I have referred to in my comment below @21 January 2021 at 19:45

This is a general link to Neil's blog which will bring up his latest post and allow you to explore the blog.

My blog "Introducing Jersey"

This post will give you a sense of the background as I set it out in November 2012.

This post refers to the German occupation of the Channel islands (2940-45) and the position of individual bloggers as of 2016.

This is the story of the lady known as HG and the churchwarden, referred to in the interview.

This is the story of the Police Chief and his suspension. It draws on, and links to, the transcript of his oral hearing and his written submission of evidence. These documents are no longer available.

My criticism and expectations of the report of the Care Inquiry.

The contents of the Care Inquiry Report and more.

The chief troll referred to in the interview and his comments.

Criticism of the Inquiry's website, the taking down of material, the partial restoration of the site in low security mode and confined to official documents such as the report but leaving the oral hearings transcripts and evidence submitted still offline.

One law for them & another for us - or - A Jersey Cow Ate my Homework.

This is a general link to my "Introducing Jersey" blog, which will bring up the latest post and allow you to explore the blog.

Sunday, January 03, 2021


Albert Folens in class

I have been thinking a lot about Albert Folens lately.

He was my first French teacher in Coláiste Mhuire in the 1950s

I didn't know then that he was actually Flemish and had worked for the Germans during WWII. Mind you, it didn't freak me out in the least when I found out. There is an honourable tradition in this country of seeking the aid of England's enemies in the national cause, Roger Casement being the most prominent example which springs to mind in this decade of commemorations. Folens's actions were undertaken in the interest of his native Flanders.

Folens was badly treated by the Belgian state, which was on an orgy of revenge after the war.

He had the good luck to be taken in by the Christian Brothers here and he taught me French. He was an excellent French teacher.

He was also very entrepreneurial and set up his own publishing company which brought us many precious school texts and filled some of the disgraceful gaps in the provision of these texts.

After his death (2003) he was traduced, in an RTÉ series Hidden Nazis (2007), and he would have been all the more so but for the intervention of the courts. This was a shameful episode in the history of the national broadcaster which today is sadly forgotten.

We are often treated to counterfactuals in history - the what if? For example, what if the Third Reich had occupied Britain. Would nobody have collaborated with the invaders? How would we remember that period today in the pantheon of empire?

Well, we actually have a good example, Jersey in the Channel Islands. On Britain's doorstep, a crown dependency directly subject to the English monarch, it was occupied from 1940 until the liberation in 1945.

The islanders were left to their own devices by the British and had to live as best they could under Nazi rule. That is a long, and in parts a deeply shameful, story but it is not for today.

One of the most controversial aspects of collaboration was the authorities drawing up a list of Jewish residents for the Germans, resulting in deportations to concentration camps and deaths.

So, after the war, did the British have their own mini-Nuremberg to deal with this? Not a bit of it, they knighted the island's bailiff, Alexander Coutanche, and tried desperately to forget the whole thing.

Ireland was nominally neutral during the WWII. There was a strong element of pro-German feeling among the population but we were never put to the ultimate test.

Anyway, I was just thinking of how unjustly Albert Folens had been treated and that there are likely no memorials or tributes anywhere to this Flemish patriot.

And here we are, trying to come to terms with one of the most difficult decades in our history, to the point even of commemorating the enemy.

Just sayin'.

You can check out my 2007 post on the RTÉ saga here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


There once was a little girl who had a pet black kitten. The kitten was the joy of the little girl's life. One day the kitten strayed and was seen no more. The little girl was heartbroken.

Although time passed, the little girl never forgot her kitten. So, some years later, when she was walking with her father in another neighbourhood, she was overjoyed when she came across her kitten in a garden on the side of the road.

The kitten appeared pleased to see her and her father knocked on the door of the house to see who was in. He explained to the lady who anwered the door that the kitten, now grown into a cat, belonged to his daughter and that she had been heartbroken when the kitten had strayed.

But the lady's reaction was firm. This was her cat. It had always been her cat. She had no intention of parting with it. And would the father and the little girl please go away.

How do I know this story? Well, I heard it from the father when I came across him and his daughter in the street on one of their regular visits to the scene to see if the cat was around and if so to give the little girl the opportunity to say hello to it, albeit only out in the street.

I was back in the area today myself and had a short conversation with the cat (above).

If only cats could talk.

My heart bleeds for the little girl.

But who said that life was fair.

Monday, December 28, 2020


Brendan, from his book Roots & Routes

I only got to know Brendan after his retirement from the EU Commission. He was living in Brussels then, but subsequently returned to Ireland and we met up a fair few times since.

He participated in a small email group of friends and former colleagues (of mine and his) and we still had some projects outstanding at the time of his unexpected death yesterday.


The Dublin part of Brendan's career involved the Institute of Public Administration and the IDA. He then moved on to the EU Commission where he was intimately involved in the initiation of many projects which today have become the staple diet of the EU.

Erasmus was one such. It is ironic that he leaves us just as the UK is pulling out of this fabulously successful programme which has given so many opportunities to so many young people across the EU and beyond.

I have only one memory of Brendan during his career in Dublin. Sir William Armstrong, then UK Cabinet Secretary had come to town, at the invitation of the IPA, to lecture us on some aspect of civil service efficiency. Government Departments were under instructions to turn out in force and fill the RDS Hall for the occasion.

The event was hijacked at the very beginning by a group of protesters who invaded the stage and pointed out that Sir William represented the régime which was responsible for multiple miscarriages of justice involving Irish people in the UK. They conjured up a graphic image of the victims being held in cells the size of filing cabinets.

Brendan, who was MC, attempted to defuse the situation by quietly talking to the protestors and trying to get them to disperse peacefully. What he said to them one can only guess but he was immediately and loudly proclaimed from the stage: 'WE HAVE A FRIEND". I think that was Máirín de Búrca, if my memory serves me.

I think he must have suppressed the memory of this trauma as he had no recollection of it when I mentioned it to him decades later.

I filled in the missing pieces of Brendan's life by reading his book, Roots & Routes, in which he describes his childhood and his career in the IPA/IDA and the EU Commission, including a period as EU Representative in Idi Amin's Uganda.

His recounting of his involvement with the Irish institutions which set the scene for Irish development and the Celtic Tiger that followed, is fascinating. The founding fathers (and brothers, uncles and all) come vividly to life in his cameos. This was the "can do" generation.

His understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the European project is a reminder of what this thing was about in the first place, of the wisdom and dedication of its founders, of its wellsprings on a ravaged continent, and of the great idealism and hope for the future that it inspired at the time.

Brendan was involved in the development of various European Community policies and he shares with us the vital role played in their success by both strong leadership and dedicated teams. He gets across the raw excitement that predated the bloating of the bureaucracy and the blurring of the edges.

His descriptions of his favourite travels would give you itchy feet, all the more so when you see the the tremendously powerful photographs from his own camera.

His appendix on development and aid should be obligatory reading for anyone connected with this field, and, in particular, for politicians and commentators who often set such store by illusory quantitative targets.

It's all delivered in an intimate style topped by occasional flourishes of literary elegance which make you smile.


His childhood stories resonated with me. We are, after all, both Dubliners and from the same generation.

In the 1950s British sweets were a luxury, probably as much due to their scarcity value as anything else. A visit to the UK always ended with a ritual purchase of the unavailable at home, such as Spangles. Brendan mentions a visit to Northern Ireland in the 1950s when he couldn't buy the sweets because post-war rationing was still in force there and he didn't have a ration book. Well, maybe nobody told him where to get one.

My family visited the North in the 1950s and we were directed to the coupon distribution centre to pick up our ration entitlement. Having used this up during the first week of a fortnight's stay, we went back for the second week's coupons only to find that we had already consumed our two week allocation. An early onset of Lent followed.

Brendan very wisely defines the difference between clothes and presents. As a child I sold raffle tickets for the Franciscans in Cork and, as was usual in these matters, there was always a draw for the promoters. I won six dozen of stout.

However, as there was a rail strike on at the time and the stout could not be got to Dublin the Franciscans sent a cheque. That was fine by me. I know where the stout would have gone. I had the cheque spent in my head long before it arrived only to find, when it did, that my mother requisitioned it to buy me clothes. Much needed I'm sure they were. Presents they were not.

He reminds us of the time milk was delivered via the tilley out of the churn, only to be replaced by the new fangled bottled milk. He mentions the extra drop out of the tilley to make sure you weren't being short changed. This was the first time I heard tell of a baker's dozen of milk. I wonder does he remember the cutting-edge-of-technology foil-milk-bottle-top opener distributed for free by Hughes Bros. Round piece of plastic with a bump in the middle. Worked a dream.

While we're still on the milk, he mentions the transition from horse drawn to motorised delivery. He doesn't, however, mention one of the downsides to this bit of technological progress. No more manure. I remember well, when we were living with my Southside granny, following the horse drawn carts down our road with a bucket and spade gathering manure for the back garden. Maybe they didn't do that on the Northside!

Joshing aside, this is a fascinating book. Apart from the purely personal stuff, Brendan has recorded his experiences in the early days of Irish economic development through his work in the private and public sectors, both in Ireland and abroad. His time in Uganda, representing the EU Commission during Idi Amin's reign, gave him a deep understanding of, and a no-nonsense approach to development.

As EU Representative in Idi Amin's Uganda, Brendan was in constant danger himself at the whim of this dictator and he was very often assailed by the sound of the torture of others. It left its mark.

He was an inveterate traveler and the book contains wonderful cameos of his favourite places along with some beautiful, and very professional, photos from his own camera.

Significantly, the book is published by Liffey Press, a Northside publishing house, then headquartered in Raheny, Dublin 5. Sadly, or happily, the book is completely sold out. Not even the publisher has a copy, but you can get it in the Dublin public library system.

I mention the Northside as Brendan was a proud Northsider, but I'm sad to say that when he returned from Brussels he settled on the other side.

The Oratory

Shortly after his return to Dublin, Brendan introduced me to the Dominican Peace Oratory in Dún Laoghaire.

I lived in Ballybrack for twenty years and misspent a significant part of my youth in Dún Laoghaire, but the Bamboo crowd had never heard of the oratory and I was unaware of its existence. For the benefit of foreigners, I should explain that the Bamboo Café, near the People's Park, was where a coterie of young people hung out. While the crowd I hung around with tended to be international, I'm sure there must have been a Dominican girl among them. If there was, she never mentioned the Oratory.

Felix Larkin, Sighle Bhreathnach-Lynch, & Brendan
at the launch of Divine Illuminations in the Lexicon

Over the last few years, Brendan has done much to publicise the Oratory's existence and he has got himself an entry in the bibliography of a beautiful anniversary book published by New Island Books. This refers to the excellent piece he wrote on it, a version of which you can read here.

Since then we had a few other projects on the long finger and I hope to complete these in his memory at a later stage.

Brendan was a friend and a gentleman, a man of great learning and wide interests. He was generous with his time and with his bespoke gifts. He will be missed.

May he rest in peace.

The death notice & arrangements can be found here.

The Funeral Mass

The mass was celebrated in Kimmage Manor church. This campus was the HQ of the Holy Ghost Fathers, now the Spiritans, in my day.

Brendan's nephew, Daniel, gave a family perspective on Brendan.

Tom Arnold gave a moving eulogy, recapping Brendan's career and character.

The offerings, or whatever they're called in this context, were most interesting.

The photo album was a tribute to Brendan's photography, the quality of which I can testify to myself.

The article was a tribute to his writing, which I can also testify to.

The hat signified his travels, which were worldwide.

And I'll leave the bottle of wine and the box of chocolates to your own imagination.

You can check out a video of the funeral mass here.

You can hear Tom Arnold's moving eulogy here

Thursday, December 10, 2020


Rector Federica Mogherini

I have been aware of Federica Mogherini for some time now. She was a regular performer at the EU Commission's daily press conference when she was High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and a Vice-President of the European Commission during the Juncker mandate.

I have never seen her lost for words and she was always on top of her brief. Significantly she was always open to questions and gave straight answers. A very impressive performer.

Neverthelesss I was very surprised to see her taking over from Jörg Monar as Rector of the College of Europe. Efforts to find a replacement for Monar were not initially successful; applicants apparently didn't come up to scratch. And then, out of nowhere Federica appears on the scene. From her remarks at last night's reunion of Irish alumni of the College, I take it she was head hunted.

I have seen her perform as Rector on a number of occasions recently and I have to say I am reassured that the College is in good hands.

At last night's reunion, her enthusiasm for the job was palpable and her competence is not in doubt. So, a bright future for the college seems in prospect.

Anna Sochańska - Ambassador of Poland to Ireland

The Zoom reunion also had the benefit of the presence of two ambassadors to Ireland.

Anna Sochańska is the Polish ambassador and an alumna (ancienne) of the College. She studied mainly at the Natolin campus in Warsaw during the troubled times at the beginning of the 1990s when Central and Eastern Europe and the former members of the Soviet Union were adjusting to post-Berlin-wall Europe.

She told us that she found the experience transformative and I can well believe that from my own experience in a much smaller College at the end of the 1960s.

Pierre-Emmanuel de Bauw
Ambassador of Belgium to Ireland

The second ambassador was the Belgian ambassador, Pierre-Emmanuel de Bauw, who, though not himself an alumnus of the College, was clearly engaged with the European project. His sister had been through the College and his father had worked at the Commission from the outset.

The Belgian embassy has a particular responsibilisty vis à vis the College given the latters location in Bruges. I've been to the embassy a few times in relation to the College starting with my discovery that the ambassador in the latter half of the noughties was Pol Carreweyn who had been with me in the College at the end of the 1960s.

Irene Fuentes McDonnell
Current student at the Natolin campus

We heard from a current Irish student at the Natolin campus who was very enthusiastic about it and who reassured prospective applicants that, even in this time of Covid, there were exciting times to be had on campus.

Cormac Little
Chair, Irish branch, College of Europe Alumni Association

Cormac Little, who has organised occasions like this in the past when they were physically possible, gave us some background on the Alumni Association and welcomed suggestions on how the Association might help people in the future.

We also had a contribution from the head of the Irish selection panel for the College (Prof Emeritus Dermot Keogh?) and, from the strict requirements he outlined, I don't know if I'd have passed muster myself. My selection was a lot more informal, though I can boast of having been interviewed at the time in three languages. I recently blogged my year here.

Noelle O'Connell
CEO Irish European Movement

Full marks to Noelle O'Connell who moderated the session and dealt with the Q&As at the end. I ventured a question on the following lines:
Is the student body composed exclusively of Europhiles? Are Eurosceptics weeded out during the selection process? Are there opposing views on the EU sincerely held among the student body?.Some of the marketing suggests that the College is a sort of minor seminary for going on to work in the European institutions.
The response from the Rector was more or less as expected: the College valued diversity and students had their own ideas on and criticism of the European project, but the College did have an obligation to contribute to the project and this is in its founding documents.

Fair enough, but I wonder if the odd Eurosceptic might make a worthwhile contribution by keeping others on their toes and, God forbid, by succumbing to the lure of the project in the longer run. There are no more enthusiastic proponents of a cause than converts to it.

I do accept, however, that this would be a high risk strategy and that such a selection would likely involve denying a place to a committed student.

Finally, congratulations to all for a very stimulating and successful event.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


Let me start with the cover, a joy and a sadness. The joy to see the real Maurice there as I knew him. The sadness that he is now gone from us.

This is a beautiful book - the cover, the content, and the handling of it.

It falls neatly into two parts. The first covers Maurice's youth and education. The second deals with his career in the Public Service. So it's two for the price of one really.

The first part is a window on rural Ireland, very personal, written in an economic style with not a redundant word.

Moyvane, where Maurice was born, comes alive. A small country village where life was hard and the world was full of characters. We all know at least some of these people and we can vividly see their stories play out. But if you read it too fast you will still miss so much of the subtlety of Maurice's pen.

Let me take an example from his section on daily life and the virtual absence of timekeeping.
The only regular time signal came with the angelus bell which rang about noon and again at six in the evening.

I don't want to fall into the trap of Joycean exegesis but that little "about" and its contrast with the precise time later is surely significant.

Again when it comes to Maurice going for the priesthood.
We all went forward with the best of intentions and some with our parent's vocations and we gave little thought to the matter otherwise.

There is a whole chapter sitting inside the phrase "our parent's vocations".

Don't get the idea from these two quotes that Maurice was a serious boy above playing the odd prank.

I love his story about subverting the national metereological records. Even in the village of Moyvane there was a requirement to contribute to the collection of national statistics. Like the later electronic voting machines, some of the collection procedures were eminently hackable.
One of these chores was to give regular readings on rainfall to the Metereological Office. There was a special container in the back garden of the garda station to record rainfall and as youngsters we sometimes added liquid to the contents of the container which leads me to suspect that the rainfall statistics for Moyvane might well have been considerably overstated.

This beats boxing the fox but you never get to see, or eat, the results in this particular escapade.

Maurice's account of village life has all the elements and style of the Seanachaí garnished with a gentle literary breeze from the nearby cultural hotbed of Listowel, a mere half an hour's cycle down the road.


Maurice's experience of the education system was fairly typical of its day. There was an emphasis on book learning and an environment which endorsed corporal punishment. He makes a point of saying, however, that even with corporal punishment, it was not administered out of malice but to ensure high level performance. Education was very much seen as the ladder out of poverty.

St. Brendan's in Killarney was a class of a minor seminary, which meant it groomed young lads for the priesthood. So it was no surprise that Maurice then went on to Maynooth. He only stuck that a while and decided the priesthood wasn't for him. Don't forget that this was in the pre-Vatican II era and, as he says, "it seemed as though the rules and procedures of the Catholic Faith had not changed for a thousand years".

This was also the era of the "spoiled priest" and it was not easy thing to leave a seminary. Maurice decided to do what was right for him and he admits to harbouring a sense of guilt afterwards. I don't think he was looking forward to his meeting with the local Parish Priest who had sent for him. However, much to his surprise, Father Dan complimented him on his courage and suggested that Maurice might now be mature enough to share a drink with him.

Public Service

Having left the seminary it appeared he was destined for a career in teaching. He taught in Joey's in Fairview and in Plás Mhuire in Granby Row, just around the corner from my own school, Coláiste Mhuire in Parnell Square. We had some pupils from Plás join us for the Leaving Cert in Coláiste. This was followed by a year teaching in Switzerland and a stint at Sanford Park before he entered the Civil Service.

Maurice has a particular observation on the Christian Brothers, which I share but when I raise the matter nobody else seems aware of it. The brothers were not priests and did not wear the full Roman collar, just a thinner version. Some of them were quite sensitive about this and I remember our own class brother giving us a long talk on how they were in no way inferior to the priests except in their inability to say mass and hear confessions. They viewed their vocation as on a par with that of the priest and certainly their achievement in educating the youth of the country stood them in good stead in this argument. Nevertheless the sensitivity persisted.

And so on to the Civil Service where I worked with Maurice and admired him very much. He was a dynamo and demanding. He was loyal to his staff and they to him.

My direct knowledge of Maurice comes from the later stage of his career in the Department of Finance. I didn't know him hardly at all in my early days in the Department though he had a room just down the corridor. Then he went to the Department of the Public Service and later to the Department of Economic Planning and Development, where I was myself, but I had no real contact with him there.

My main contact with Maurice in the Department of Finance was during the last decade of the twentieth century.

It involved negotiations in the first half of 1990 in agreeing and setting up the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). These took place in Paris and were very intense. Ireland had the EU Presidency at that stage and we spent a lot of time negotiating, once till 2am and after the interpreters had left at midnight.

Then there was the EU Investment Services Directive and the legislation coming from that. I was also involved with him during his period on the board of the European Investment Bank (EIB) which was on my desk.

I think I got to know him reasonably well over that period and his account in this book fills in some of the gaps.

I will confine myself to some anecdotes about my own dealings with Maurice.

Launch of the EBRD negotiations in the Kléber Conference Centre, Paris, on 15 January 1990.
[l-r] Seán Connolly: Finance Ministry Principal at Irish Permanent Representation in Brussels. Pól Ó Duibhir: EIB/EBRD Desk in Finance Ministry, Dublin. Jim Flavin: Foreign Affairs Ministry, Dublin. Maurice O'Connell: Second Secretary General, Finance Ministry, Dublin. Dieter Hartwich: Secretary General, European Investment Bank.

I noticed during the EBRD negotiations in Paris that Maurice needed to take on fuel in the middle of the day or his battery would start running down well before tea time. This may reflect his origins in more ways than one. In a working rural community, dinner was in the middle of the day, unlike in today's eating out culture. But there's more to this in Maurice's case. He records (p59) that the sparse diet in St. Brendan's College has left him with "an abiding memory of hunger". So, stocking up in the middle of the day now was not just to keep the machine functioning at full belt, it was also to soothe the psyche in the process.

Maurice also had a great opportunistic streak in him. I'll give two examples.

During the EBRD negotiations the not insignificant matter of sorting out the constituencies (groupings) on the board of directors came up. Maurice was out of his seat like a flash to buttonhole the Danish delegate, with whom he sat on the EIB board, and do a quick deal with him that was so favourable to us that Danish HQ later tried to unravel it, without success I might add.

The second concerned Charles de Gaulle, the airport not the man. There we were rushing for the plane back to Dublin when the lady at the check-in desk, not from Aer Lingus but from the airport administration ADF, objected to our documentation. Apparently the name on my passport and that on my ticket didn't match. This we needed like a hole in the head. Maurice, rather ungallantly, snatched the papers from the lady's hand, shouting "that's his name in Irish" as we rushed past her towards the boarding area. It was only later that we discovered that I had handed her my passport and Jim Flavin's ticket - a confusion from the handing back of passports and tickets on the inward bound trip.

Maurice was fiercely loyal to his staff. I once made a serious gaffe in correspondence with the Attorney General's Office. It arose out of a sloppy cut and paste on my part. But Matt Russell, the head of the office, threw a hissy fit and insisted on an formal apology. Maurice was incensed as this could have been quietly rectified but Matt, as was his wont, chose the path of confrontation. I was clearly in the wrong and it took me all of my persuasive powers to persuade Maurice not to die in the ditch over this one.

Maurice was on the board of the EIB in Luxembourg, so once a month he'd travel out there. There was, however, one big problem with this arrangement. The Secretary General of the Department, Seán Cromien, had a habit of calling Maurice down in the early afternoon, just as Maurice was trying to leave to get his flight, to discuss something in a submission that Maurice would have sent down earlier in the day. When Seán Cromien called he was to be obeyed and the mere matter of an EIB board meeting did not cut any ice with him. I know, from personal experience, that Seán just considered such trips a perk which had no place interfering with the real work of the Department.

So tension would start to rise on departure days - would Maurice get away in time or not? Well, not one to leave things to fate to decide, Maurice had his own little strategem to get his way here. During the earlier part of the day, instead of sending submissions down to Seán he would pile them up on his desk and only transfer the pile to his out tray on his way out the door. They would then be collected well after his departure. And I had strict instructions that if Seán rang looking for him I was to say I hadn't a clue where he might be. This worked very well. I think I had to lie under orders only the once. Hello Nuremburg.

When discussing Budgetary preparations in the Department of Finance which involved long hours and frantic activity once a year, Maurice makes reference to the Department's wine cellar (p91). Now that was a new one on me. I know the EIB had a very fine wine cellar and I know this from personal experience. But that was a Bank and this was the Civil Service. Perhaps he was just being facetious. Or, the thought struck me, maybe Ruarí Quinn installed more than a coffe dock in Government buildings known only to the few. I remember the coffee dock. I was thrown out of my room to make way for it at the time.

When Maurice entered the civil service he was supposed to be heading for the Department of Education but never got there (p69). Education's loss was Finance's gain.

To my recollection the allocation of AOs to Departments was very much a random affair, and this was true even within the Department itself. I remember when Eithne Ingoldsby and Deirdre Carroll joined the Department. Eithne had an economics background and Deirdre's was sociology. So they assigned Eithne to social policy and Deirdre to banking. That may have briefly deprived the Department of some modern skills but against that, this was general administration and to advance up the ladder you had to have a broad range of experience.

Maurice ended up as Governor of the Central Bank. I think he was a serious cultural shock to some of the senior staff there. In my experience the Bank was unbelievably hierarchical. When the Department was to meet them, they always insisted on knowing precisely who was coming to the meeting so that they could match up the grade profiles on both sides.

Anyway, I gather when Maurice arrived there he would phone up any relevant person within the Bank regardless of their grade. That can be a shock. I know. Martin O'Donoghue did the same in the Department of Economic Planning and Development.

I know the incidents I recounted above are not in the book, but seeing as how you are going to buy and read the book I thought I'd give you some additional material on Maurice's character.

Anyway, to get back to the book itself. It is a little gem which I enjoyed reading. Even if you have never heard of Maurice O'Connell you will enjoy sharing his youth in Moyvane, his education from primary school through to Maynooth and back, and his public service career from the 1960s to his retirement from the Central Bank in 2002.

He wrote this memoir in 2010 and Felix Larkin, who spent most of his career working with Maurice, has added a fine Afterword commenting on Maurice's life and character. Felix tells us that Maurice was his mentor in the public service. What more could you ask.

John Bruton has written the Foreword and his high opinion of Maurice shows through.

The book is published by Fr Anthony Gaughan, a close fried of Maurice. He deserves great credit for a very fine book which will keep Maurice's memory alive for many years to come.

You can get a copy of the book from Kenny's bookshop in Galway, or, I'm told also directly from Fr. Gaughan.

I have a review in the March 2021 issue of The FURROW, reproduced here by courtesy of the Editor.

Saturday, November 21, 2020


Mai Medlar & her brother Paddy

Today is the hundreth anniversary of the birth of my godmother, Mai Medlar, on Usher's Island in the city of Dublin. Mai was my mother's first cousin.

Other people may remember the day for other reasons and rightly so. But for me it is Mai's day. She always revelled in telling people that she was born on Bloody Sunday. So today she takes pride of place.

Sadly she died on 21 January 2011, on which day I honoured her in a blog post.

I gave the eulogy at her funeral and was proud to do so.

But there's more to Bloody Sunday and the Medlar family. Mai's uncle Larry was at Croke Park on the day and we are fortunate to have his own story in an interview he did with his son in law David on his 90th birthday in 1978.

As well as the tragedy that afternoon, Larry's story also contains a "funny incident", probably the only funny story to come out of the massacre.

Larry has a feast of other stories from the same interview which you might like to listen to here. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 29, 2020


Rector Mogherini

Click on any image for a larger version

I was aware of Federica Mogherini from seeing her on the stand at EU Commission press conferences. She impressed me with her openess and command of her brief.

My interest heightened when I read that she was to be appointed as Rector of the College of Europe in succession to Rector Monar who was retiring. He had been relatively low profile in the public sphere but, observing him at online term openings and closings, I was impressed.

There had apparently been a call for applications for Rector some while back and it appears that none of the applicants was found suitable, so another round was called for.

Then, out of the blue, Mogherini's name surfaced. She was reaching the end of her term as as a Vice President of the EU Commission and EU High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy. She was reported as having spoken to EU Commission President von der Leyen on the matter and this gave rise to all sorts of rumours. In fact, she was just clearing with von der Leyen that it would be appropriate for her to take up the post should she be offered it. The Commission has rules regarding the appropriateness of former Commissioners taking on particular jobs.

Offered it she was, and take it she did, in September last.

There are societies in the College as there are in the universities, though there was no such thing there in my day. The Society for Aspiring Diplomats invited Mogherini to be interviewed on Women in Diplomacy, and that took place this morning.

While not revealing any state secrets, she was very open and up front personal and it was a fascinating session. She recounted anecdotes from her days as Italy's youngest woman foreign minister and her time as High Representative. She included also good advice for women aspiring to careers in diplomacy or positions in leadership

Much of what she said resonated with me, a mere man. You can view the session at this link.

The interview was ably carried out by aspiring diplomat Hannah Brandt, a student at the College and a member (I think Chair) of the above mentioned society.

The focus of the session was on Mogherini's experience as a woman professional but clearly there are reams of interesting and more general material hopefully still to come.

Here's to what I hope turns into a series: #Diplomacy101.

Hannah Brandt

I can't go without congratulating Hannah on her performance and complimenting the team on a well produced and fascinating session.

Saturday, October 24, 2020


Click on any image for a larger version

Last evening I went to a Boston College webinar (above). They were kind enough to let me in before it started. So I was there when the crisis struck. The speaker for the night had locked himself out on the three connectable devices in his house. There was no way he could now get into the webinar.

What to do? Would the event have to be abandoned? There was a suggestion that we go from webinar mode to normal Zoom meeting mode and discuss the subject among ourselves.

And that's the way it was looking when Michael Cronin at the Dublin end (fourth from the left in the top row above) realised that he was in contact with the speaker, James O'Halloran, on his phone and that he could sort of patch that sound into the meeting. It would be analogue, but no matter. And Michael had James's Powerpoint anyway.

So we had the full webinar with James speaking and Michael manipulating the images.

I love it when man (in this case) outfoxes the machine. Well done all.

And here's another one.

This is set in the library in Raheny,

The talk was to be on the Jacob's archive and it relied absolutely on the images.

With a few minutes to go, the speaker arrives with his Mac which is duly plugged into the projector. Image appears on the screen. But wait, it's upside down. Is there a cyber doctor in the house? Many from the audience volunteered but to no avail.

So we were scuppered, or so we thought. Then someone had a bright idea on how to overcome the machine's stubborness.

One of the attendees sat in the front row with the projector upside down on their lap.

Job OXO.

Another occasion I attended turned up a similar problem.

It was Sr. Margaret MacCurtain's 90th birthday and the hosts had organised a video of Michael D wishing Margaret a Happy Birthday. The projector was rigged up (above) and the Presidential video was on standby.

But, alas, the room was so crowded that there was a heavy crush of bodies between the projector and the far wall.

No problem. Our sound/vision man, Cody Sanders, simply lifted the projector shoulder high and held it there for the duration of Michael D's greeting.

My final version of man versus the machine is of a different order. And it's not a man this time, it's a woman. And thank God for that or I'd be ostracised by the sisters for a complete lack of gender balance. Bad enough as it is.

I was in Hickey's to buy three little tubs of those dyes you put in the washing machine. Found them without any bother and brought them to the counter.

"I'm afraid I can only sell you one of these" said the assisstant.

"Why is that?" sez I.

"Well, the machine thinks we've only the one and it refuses to register the other two"

And so the lady supervisor is summonded, thinks for a minute, and with her magic key confidently overrides the damn machine.

Full marks.

Maybe you've come across stuff like this yourself. If so feel free to comment.

Friday, October 23, 2020


Me with three of my four lads and two cousins.

Many years ago I was an au pair boy (moniteur) with a French family in St. Brévin l'Océan, in Loire Atlantique, in France.

I was looking after four young lads and was supposed to teach them sailing, tennis and English. We were in the grandma's villa while the parents had taken off for their holidays in Nice or St. Tropez or somewhere.

Well, the sailing didn't work out because I managed to persuade them that the weather was not suitable, for all of six weeks and this in the middle of Summer.

The tennis didn't work out after I trounced the eldest fellow on the court.

And none of them wanted to learn English. That had been Maman's idea.

So my job turned out to be simply to keep them occupied during the day.

There was at least one cinema there which we frequented after I had been introduced by the eldest lad to a novel way of selecting the films.

The Catholic church had a notice in the porch recommending those films which it considered suitable for people to go to during the month. At the bottom of the notice there were other films under the heading "Déconseillés". These were to be avoided because of smut or a danger to the faith or whatever. Very helpful was the church, and we made sure to eat the forbidden fruit. No flies on these lads.

My French was Leaving Cert, from the time when we didn't have any orals, so it was esssentially written French. I was a bit of a curiosity as I spoke written French, most unusual, unless you are de Gaulle. The granny of course was thrilled with it and encouraged the lads, who spoke slang and stuff, to emulate me. "Écoutez Paul" she would say. This was really ironic as I was breaking my back trying to emulate the lads and their easy and sloppy spoken French. But there you are. Probably my only time in this life serving as a role model.

I did, however, get into trouble, sort of, in the cinema one evening when my aural French reflexes, which were a bit on the slow side anyway, let me down.

The five of us had gone to the cinema. It must have been my first time, and we were shown to our seats by a young lady with a torch - much as used to be the case in Dublin then. As I was about to sit down she addressed me quizzically "Monsieur, le pourboire?"

Now I didn't immediately absorb the meaning of this, having just been startled by a foreign language in a strange land. "The what?" I thought to myself, and out the thought came in a single French interrogative. "Pourquoi?" sez I, meaning what are you asking me for?

Well, she put on her sniffiest expression, threw her head back, looked at me with pure contempt flavoured with outrage, and stalked off.

It was only a few moments later, when, with a little help from the eldest lad, my brain caught up with my tongue and I realised that not only had I asked her, as I thought "for what?" but I had actually said "why?". No wonder the lady was insulted, I'm sure nobody ever spoke to her like that before. The French know the score. But I had questiioned why shouild I give her a tip? What had she done for me? And if she had, she clearly hadn't done it well enough.

I think I was lucky not to get slapped in the face and all of us be thrown out of the cinema.

I think this is known as the direct method in language teaching circles. And it works. I did not make the same mistake twice.

That was 57 years ago, and today my spoken French is not perfect, but it's not bad. And this is, in part at least, due to the righteous indignation of a French cinema usherette.