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.

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

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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.

Monday, October 19, 2020


Click on image for a larger version

I caught sight the other day of an old Irish currency note online and there it was, My old boss's boss's boss's signature, bold as you like. It brought me back to when I was in the Department.

One day, early in the day, my boss asked me to get the "ESRI papers" for the signatory. The signatory had gone off somewhere after making the request and would not be back till later in the day. I was responsible for the ESRI vote (grant) and therefor the come-to person for anything to do with that institution in relation to its organisation and spending.

"The ESRI papers" sez I "What are they"

The reply "I don't know just get them"

"But I have no idea what he wants"

"Just get them"

Now, the ESRI papers could have referred to a multitude of things.

It might, at the extreme, refer to all the reports the ESRI had ever published. It might mean the discussion papers they prepared for their lunchtime seminars, or even the technical reports behind the published reports. Then again it might mean the papers relating to their annual grant.

I have to say I was a bit mystified by the request but not at all surprised at my boss passing its down the line. He was not going to be found wanting when the signatory returned.

So I gambled and did nothing until the signatory returned and persuaded my boss to ask him what exactly he was looking for. And what did that turn out to be?


And there you have it. The things I put up with for Ireland.

An earlier boss had his own ingenious way of dealing with the vacuity of the signatory.

When he was called in to be given jobs he noted them down as they were specified. He then drew up a summary list which he showed to the signatory to check that this was what he wanted.

This was a wise precaution as the signatory often did not know what he wanted, but he thought it good practice to keep the staff busy and in awe of his vast intellect. Of course, sometimes not only did he not know what he wanted but he was certainly not going to remember what he had asked for when the day of reckoning came along.

Off my boss went and did up what he thought might be appropriate and eventually brought these papers in to the signatory.

The coup de grace was that they were accompanied by the original list which he had shown the signatory and each item was very visibly ticked off.

Go figure.

A genius.

I learned a lot in my early years in the civil service. Survival can be a complicated matter and its means not always immediately obvious.

Oh yes, and that last boss gave me the bulletproof formula for survival when things went pear shaped:


See, it's not all that complicated in the end.

I should probably record, for the sake of completeness, that the second signatory above once tackled me on why we were giving money to the ESRI just so that they could criticise the Government. I don't remember my reply offhand but i'm sure it was firmly polite. After all, I was authorising the money and he was, at that stage, my boss's boss's boss.

PS: I have to say here that despite all of the above, and indeed because of some of it, I think I made a reasonable contribuion to the State at the end of the day.

Sunday, September 27, 2020


Click on any image for a larger version

One of the characteristics of Brewster's cartoons that fascinates and amuses me is his attention to detail. It is not always needed to the degree he puts it into the cartoons, but there is some little obsession of the perfectionist there, or is he sometime making a particular comment or having a little joke?

This post could end up a mile long, but I am confining myself to just a few examples. I think you'll get the message.

There is a huge amount of detail in the flu virus above, although, to be fair, it takes up a significant portion of the overall picture, below.

This is clearly a coal mine, but as you'll see below it is only an insignificant portion of the full cartoon.

The cartoon refers to the UK 1926 miners strike.

This is one of my favourite details. Is that a smirk or just plain rapture on the fiddler's face?

Maybe why I like it so much is that I used to play in a pit orchestra and compared to being onstage it was always great fun.

I can't leave this one without pointing out that the context is the Imperial Economic Conference of 1932, a meeting at Ottawa intended to devise new arrangements for intra-imperial trade; Britain was keen to keep or gain privileged access to empire markets, but it was reluctant to meet the desire of empire countries. Anyone for Brexit?

Incidentally it was the last Imperial Conference that any Irish government participated in. Our rep was Seán T O'Kelly, described in the attendance list as Vice President (which he was of the Executive Council at the time).

This detail is quite a significant proportion of the full cartoon, but what catches my attention here is that the people are representations of real personalities of the day. I'm not great at identifying them but I think I see Yeats, Lennox Robinson, and one, if not two, of the Sheils brothers

You might be tempted to comment here that this is a rather sloppy image of the Kaiser, but when you see it is just a small picture on the wall in the full cartoon, you might change your mind.

Note the detail in the mirror.

I am not concerned here with the content of this cartoon which is a turf war between the Corpo and the Port Authority on who is responsible for safety on Dollymount strand.

Rather, my attention was drawn to the Martello Tower (No.1 Dublin North) towards the top left of the picture.


Here you can see it in a little more detail. And would you not be glad to put that on your wall as it is. And, just in passing, it is no accident that it is there. Brewster knew his Martello Towers well.

Saturday, September 26, 2020


Gordon Brewster, artist and cartoonist, was born on this day in 1899 at 15 Dolier Street in a building that was later to become part of the offices of the Irish Times.

He was trained as an artist at the Metropolitan and he exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916 and 1917. He kept up his painting throughout his life but I have only been able to come up with one example of his fine art.

We are unfortunate to have been deprived of the bulk of his work through fire: first in the destruction of the Royal Hibernian Academy during the 1916 Rising and then through the destruction of what remained after his death by his estranged wife in a bonefire in the back garden of The Grove, where he lived in Sutton.

He died suddenly on Bloomsday, 16 June 1946, in the Gem, my mother's shop, in Howth.

Gordon at his cartoon workdesk at the Indo

Fortunately his day job turned out to be chief cartoonist for Independent Newspapers and he has left us a collection of some 500 of his original cartoons which have been acquired by the National Library of Ireland and have now been digitised.

I have to record here my appreciation of the library staff, specifically Honora Faul who was responsible for the collection and who gave me access to it pre-digitisation, and Carol Maddock who invited me to do a post on them for the library's own blog.

In acknowledging Gordon's birthday, I thought I'd assemble a series of links to posts I have done on some of the themes that run through the cartoon collection. The collection, between 1922 and 1932, covers only a portion of his cartoon output and the themes reflect this.

Despite the limited period represented in the collection, much of his work remains timeless, and I am currently enjoying playing SNAP on Twitter: when a cartoon by someone else appears I dredge up a Brewster cartoon in response.

I hope you will take time to peruse some of these posts and come to the same conclusion as myself that we are dealing here with a serious artist whose output is informed and nuanced, but not lacking in fun.


Gordon Brewster - Timeless

Gordon Brewster and the Flu

Gordon Brewster and the 1916 Rising

Gordon Brewster and Censorship

Gordon Brewster and Northern Ireland

Gordon Brewster and Sport

Gordon Brewster and The Grove

Gordon Brewster and Our Oil

Gordon Brewster and the General Election

Gordon Brewster and Gender Equality

Gordon Brewster and the Man on the Bridge

Gordon Brewster and his Martellos

Gordon Brewster and Detail

Gordon Brewster on the Radio

Gordon with children Dolores & Richard c.1939

Sunday, September 13, 2020


I have always been amazed by the Counter State during the Irish War of Independence. The rebels set up a whole alternative state machinery which ran very efficiently under the noses of the British occupying forces.

The various aspects of this counter state gradually got the support of the people and, after the 1920 local elections, of the country's local authorities.

It was a cat and mouse game for those running it. The British had enormous advantages: a large trained military force, a paramilitary police force, control of the country's financial system, and so on.

It was not plain sailing for the rebels. They suffered loads of setbacks but persisted in the face of adversity. There were confiscations, deaths, and many close shaves. But the system kept working, defying the logic of the times.

The only restraint on the British was their international reputation. That was all that held them back from unleashing the full forces at their disposal. After all they couldn't be seen to be like the Germans when turning up at the Paris post-WWI peace conference. And they couldn't afford to alienate the USA which was very tuned in to what was going on in Ireland through its large Irish immigrant population. And after the savage British reaction to the 1916 rebellion, the British press was keeping its eyes peeled for any further savagery on the part of the administration. The rebels fully exploited these constraints

One of the most daring and amazingly successful acts of the counter state was the launch of the Dáil loan. This was promoted both and home and abroad in the United States. It brought in loads of cash and this was the cash that was moved around the country and hidden in plain sight in various accounts in the conventional banking system.

This is the crowdfunding referred to in the title of this admirable book which documents the trials and travails of the loan. It is a fascinating story and one which, although known in part, has not been documented in its entirety and put across in a book as riveting and entertaining as this. The author, Pat O'Sullivan Greene, has been following this up for a while now and he had access, inter alia, to the papers of Daithí Ó Donnchadha, who was secretary to the loan trustees and whom the author describes as Michael Collins's right hand man in financial matters.

The author gives us a glimpse of Daithí in his man about town disguise:
In his early forties, he had been appointed secretary to the trustees of the loan. In this role, he would become the chief launderer of the proceeds of the loan, often carrying thousands of pounds on his person from the clearing houses around the city.

Working closely with Michael Collins, he put systems and processes in place to record, control and safeguard the proceeds of the loan. Bank accounts were opened using fictitious names, or the names of ‘trusted friends’. He was responsible for recording the amounts subscribed and the issue of official receipts.


The British eventually decided to pull out all the stops and attack the loan through the various accounts in which it was stashed. Alan Bell, head of British Intelligence in the city, became the Grand Inquisitor, as he serially summonned various relevant bank managers and grilled them under oath. The bankers were put to the pin of their collective collar to avoid revealing all and Collins realised that the funds were under real threat at this point. So he had Bell shot and that dealt with that for the moment.

After Independence the small matter of repaying the loan arose. When the loan was launched, probably few of the contributors ever expected to see their money back but now an independent Irish Government moved to repay the loan. The Free States Courts in 1925 released relevant funds to the Free State Government, which would then go on to repay the domestic element of the loan.

However, complications arose at the United States end where the de Valera faction claimed ownership of the funds. I'll let John Horgan take up the story from here:
De Valera was not slow to turn his new power and position to advantage in other ways, and now moved to put the final piece in place in a complicated jigsaw begun several years earlier. In 1919—21, Irish emigrants in the United States had subscribed funds for bonds to be redeemed by an independent Irish government. A large amount of money was collected and lodged in a US bank, but, after the Civil War, a dispute arose between de Valera (who had been involved in the fundraising) and the Free State government as to who owned the money. In 1927, the US supreme court decided that it belonged to neither, and ordered that the money be returned to the original subscribers.

In 1930, de Valera wrote to those subscribers, asking them to transfer their right to be reimbursed to him, so that he could launch a national Irish newspaper. Many did so. Now in government, he moved financial legislation to repay all the American lenders — those who had transferred their rights to him as well as those who had not — with a premium, effectively returning $1.25 for every dollar they had lent. The funds for this operation came from the Irish exchequer, which his party now controlled. Despite parliamentary accusations that de Valera was ‘looting the public purse for a party organ (DD, 5 July 1933), the measure was passed: £1.5 million was paid to the bondholders, £100,000 of which found its way directly back to the Irish Press on the basis of the transfers signed three years earlier.


[Some of us will remember another £100,000 which split the Fianna Fáil party in 1970, but that is, of course, another story entirely.]

In the course of the War of Independence the Sinn Féin Bank had been replaced by the Land Bank which was then the bank of the revolution. After independence the Bank of Ireland became the Government's Banker and swallowed up the Land Bank in 1926 as depicted in Gordon Brewster's cartoon, above.

Meanwhile, with the Exchequer repaying the Dáil Bond Loan it had its own need of cash, and in 1927 it launched its own loan. Brewster's take on this is shown above.

Personal resonances:

The book evoked a number of personal resonances for me.

Uimhir 6

Number 6 Harcourt Street was the headquarters of the Sinn Féin Bank. It is now the site of the headquarters of Conradh na Gaeilge, the Irish language bookshop, and An Club. I spent a fair whack of time in the last of these, where the pint was cheap and, as long as you spoke only in Irish, you would not be thrown out until the early hours of the morning or when the cloud of cigarette smoke descended sufficiently low from the ceiling to threaten your senses.

Uncle Mick

My family tell me that my uncle used to be a runner for the other Mick (Collins) in London. I have no way of verifying this. The uncle did work in London around that time until the granny sent the eldest brother over to bring him home lest he be conscripted into WWI.

This is the uncle I had understood to have fought with Dev in Bolands Mills (Bakery) and whose record of this I couldn't trace. I found out later that he had actually been a flour salesman for the bakery. I wasn't entirely surprised as I never remember him expresssing any nationalist sentiments in the time I knew him.

Daithí Ó Donnchadha

I never knew Daithí, but I have had a lot of contact with his grandson, Niall, who has restored a Martello Tower in Killiney

Cathal Brugha Barracks

I spent a whole day, a while back, at an event in the barracks dealing with the Birth of the Counter State. It was a fantastic day and I learned a lot. You might like to click on the link above and check it out.

The Book

Just to remind you that we have been talking about Pat O'Sullivan Greene's book Crowdfunding the Revolution. A great read and another contribution to the Decade of Centenaries.

Monday, August 10, 2020



 Let me explain this as briefly as possible. 

I put up a review of a book on 

I already have 83 reviews on this site.

Subsequently, a relation put up her review of the same book, in the course of which she replicated two sentences from my review. My review was long and hers short. I gave a 5 star rating and she gave a 4 star rating.

My review suddenly disappeared, and on querying this with Amazon my attention was drawn to their [bot?] having found similar material in the reviews and that two [even independent] reviews of the same product are not permitted from the same household. 

And, moreover, when you get taken down they will not put you up again regardless. 


This did not stop them taking two payments from the same household for two separate copies of the book.

Clearly,  guidelines, which attempt to stop manufacturers or retailers spamming the reviews, which may be appropriate in the case of other products, are not suitable in the case of books. 

Two people from the same household who have separately bought a book and are expressing their own opinions, even where the odd sentence is the same, should not be stopped from posting their separate reviews. 

 Also there was clearly no case of spamming here as these were the only two reviews to have appeared at that time. 

A human idiot could have seen all of this but apparently the human idiots are not allowed any discretion when it comes to the guidelines, so we're sadly in the hands of the bots/algorithms. Seems to be the way the world is going generally.

So when you get botted by one of these multinationals, and despite the sheer stupidity of some of their guidelines, you are done for without the opportunity to effectively appeal this unreasonable behaviour.


My review


This is a good, provocative and wise book and well worth a read.

It is designed to give learners of a foreign language the confidence to do so and progress beyond mere fluency. It emphasises that language is for communication but that it also carries in itself the resonances of generations past and the personality of the speaker. That's why learning a language must, of necessity, be an exploration of self.

Now all that may sound a little concentrated but if you read the book, you'll see where it is all coming from.

I'm coming from having, Irish, reasonably good French, and a smattering of Welsh, and I remember well my own learning experience and can identify with the book's advice.

The French seldom refer to the French language on its own. The term they use is “langue et civilisation française”. The civilisation bit shows that they consider that their language incorporates their view of their history,  of the world at large and their own particular character. This is the sort of thing Maria gets across in her book. You need to go with the full flow of the language you are learning and not end up with mere transliteration.

She points out that you should learn the language with your whole being and not just your brain. You have to soak it up and let it stew. Give your body & your subconscious the space to absorb it and come back later. This resonated with me.

There are lots of terms and concepts in the book which I found to be very true, though they could be challenging.

The idea of what you are learning of the target language being a thread to be part of the ultimate weave, rather than a finished cloak that you cover yourself with, should be an encouragement to learners. It is an exciting idea and goes well with the advice that confidence in the new language does not require perfection. It's more important to jump in the deep end and communicate as best you can. Learning is an evolving process and mistakes can be overcome by seeing them as signposts on the way to improvement. The important thing is to go with the flow of the moment.

There is lots and lots more in this book and it has all come out of Maria's own life experiences as a student, teacher and human being.

Learning a language can be a journey in self-knowledge and development and if you want to see how, read the book.

 The book page on Amazon

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


This could be the start of a whole new career for me as a interviewer. And it has been provoked by Paul Waters' new book Blackwatertown. I have blogged on the book here and reproduced some of my own marketing efforts here.

Now there is a further treat in store. Paul has kindly agreed to give me a whack of his time to interview him about the book, and, of course, himself.

Paul covers a lot of ground, from his origins in Northern Ireland's Belfast to his current freelancing from his pad in Buckinghamshire. He gives away a few secrets about what is real and what is purely his own imagination. He recounts how he came to understand and like his characters as they developed in the course of his writing the book. He reveals how he got an endorsement from Frederick Forsyth, author of Day of the Jackal, and many other established authors. He explains the nature of his unconventional publisher Unbound.

And finally some good news for fans of John Oliver (Jolly) Macken. But my lips are sealed. Check out the interview.

If, like myself, you're in your anecdotage, your sight is failing and if you just can't stand the sight of either of us, here's a podcast of the interview which you can listen to with your eyes closed.

You can buy the book at Paul's website and also see there a whack of bookshops on these islands where the book will be on the shelves, if not already there. It can also be got from the publisher's website, and in extremis from Amazon.

Thank you Paul for a most interesting and evocative interview and the more so for giving us this unputdownable adventure story set in Northern Ireland during the IRA border campaign at the end of the 1950s.

Saturday, July 25, 2020


Click on any image for a larger version

These people have been caught displaying a copy of the book in Photoshop. Some more hypothetical than others.

The book in good company on selected bookshelves.