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


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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.


Sunday, July 19, 2020


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The Book

This book was a long time in the making, but well worth the wait

I knew for a long time that it was coming and was very curious to read about the Roman Catholic Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) character. Where I come from we are convinced that these guys are all Protestants, and black Protestants at that. The mere idea of an RC RUC man blows the mind. And for my ilk, they are the enemy. Probably not quite as bad as the B-Specials but an armed and violent force of occupation. The fact that they are all natives of Northern Ireland does not diminish this perception one whit.

And so it's no surprise to find the opening scenes in the book portraying Sergeant John Oliver Macken as a sort of recreational punchbag for the rest of his (Protestant) colleagues.

Following a bit of a disaster, not of his making, he is demoted to Constable and banished to Blackwatertown in the styx. Needless to say, there would be no book if Blackwatertown remained a backwater town, so he hasn't even checked in to his new assignment when the action hots up and the book turns into a page turner.

The narrative is compelling with its twists and turns. I was so immersed in the story that I nearly missed getting the dinner. Fortunately the story finished just in time and dinner was eventually served.

The book is set around 1957 when the IRA border campaign was sporadic and confined to blowing up the odd customs post along the border. Nothing to what went before and what was yet to come. Nevertheless, Blackwatertown has its share of serious, and not so serious, shoot outs in the course of the book.

We get a flavour of Northern Ireland electoral politics of the Caligula's Horse variety. There's at least one love interest. The Blessed Virgin is ever present in the most unexpected places via the Miraculous Medal and the Sacred Heart plays his usual role, which I had come to know in in the course of my own Catholic upbringing, as "the silent listener at every conversation". In this story it's his life rather than just his heart that he takes in his hand.

For those not familiar with Northern Ireland at that time, it may be all too easy to ignore the mutual hatred/distrust between Protestants and Catholics. Protestants were the overlords and Catholics the untermenschen. When pushed to the limits, every, but every, political issue boiled down to the "constitutional question" - resisting Britain's occupation of Northern Ireland on the one side and suppressing the subversive Taigs on the other.

So what may appear as banter to the outsider has really the most vicious of undertones and it is well to remember this when reading the book. The way Macken keeps his cool in the face of this shite testifies to a high degree of self discipline.

We even enounter the view that "the only good Fenian is a dead Fenian", but instead of letting Macken rise to this taunt the author treats us to an episode of pure Puckoon. For me this was one of the high moments of the book. An ingenious moment of comic relief in a story that was getting darker and darker.

I'm not going to tell you any more about the story as that would ruin it. The twists and turns of the plot make the book unputdownable and you're taken through the full gamut of human emotions from livid to laughter and through the tears of the valley along the way - all the more so to the extent that you appreciate the ever present sectarian background in which all of this is playing out.

I should add here, by way of background, that this is not a religious war that's going on here. It is more a colonial one about power and property. As John White, my politics tutor, once pointed out, the "coincidence of cleavages" in any society can lead to extreme conflict. This is a war between native and settler taking the form of a conflict between Catholic and Protestant. The settlement, by the way, was supposed to have been settled some four hundred years ago.

The author captures this neatly in the local bigwig's election address at the "hustings":
To those who say we cannot stand against the Pope and his legions, I say no surrender. And today we have a new cry to throw in the face of those who would try to bring down Ulster: Remember Blackwatertown!
At the risk of descending into Joycean exegesis here, I hear the echo of the well known cry "Cuimhnigh ar Luimneach agus feall na Sasanach" (Remember Limerick and English betrayal) though on this occasion it's more like the Battle of the Boyne than the Treaty of Limerick, both part of the same four hundred year old campaign but from opposite sides.

I'll leave the story there though I could go on and on and spoil the whole thing for you. You are going to buy the book, aren't you? I really enjoyed my read though it brought me to tears in places. While the dinner was cooking I tweeted;
Just finished reading Blackwatertown. Stunning in more ways than one. A bit shattered, just like after reading Dostoevsky. Though this powerful narrative has a welcome undercurrent of Spike Milligan running through it to keep you sane.

The Author

So who is this Paul Waters, the fella that wrote the book.

Well, I have to declare an interest here.

Paul's current day job is producer on BBC Radio Five Live, but I came across him when he was actively blogging way back. And the name of his blog? You guessed it - Blackwatertown. It was and remains a great blog and I always looked forward to a new posting. He ran a very interesting series once, inviting people to relate how they were disappointed when they actually met one of their heroes in person.

I ended up doing a guest post on one of my heroes, George Morrison, who fully lived up to my expectations when I met him.

My recollection is also that Paul gave me a prize in a blog competition he ran but, of course, that has in no way influenced my commentary on this book.

Well done Paul. When is the next one?

Friday, July 17, 2020


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The Lone Ranger (aka Taoiseach Mícheál) comes to town.

A Welcoming Committee of one.

He lets the mask slip for the viewers at home.

Finally into the saloon.

Where's the boss.

A few words with Madame.

Job OXO & time for refreshments at the bar.

Madame poses with just a few of the girls saved by the Lone Ranger.

Only one question remains.

Where is Tonto?

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 06, 2020


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What in God's name is this all about? So someone wrote a book about a bank that was set up thirty years ago just as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union was breaking up.

This Bank helped turn Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from a centralised command economy into a model of capitalism, some might say helping to make a crowd of oligarchs rich beyond belief and failing to use its vast financial resources to bring democracy, human rights and the rule of law to the most recalcitrant of the newly emerging states.

Well that's not how the book tells it and its not how I see it, though there was clearly some element of truth in all the above at the time..

Let me take you on a little journey through my involvement with the bank in question and then we'll have a look at the book.

Me and the EBRD

In 1989 I was on the European Investment Bank (EIB) desk in the Irish Department (Ministry) of Finance when Jacques Attali and François Mitterand decided to set up a bank to help in the transition of Central/Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from centrally planned economies to the capitalist model.

Attali and Mitterand were socialists.

The immediate background was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the break up of the Soviet Union. A few of the most westward of the states under the influence of the Soviets were already some way along the path of transition but they were the exception.

There was in existence an African Developent Bank and an Asian Development Bank along the model of the World Bank, but there was nothing in place to assist the transition in this part of Europe and the Soviet Union.

The EIB was dipping its toes into Poland and Hungary but lacked the scale and focus for such a role. So the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was conceived in late 1989 and was up and running for business at the beginning of 1991.

Ireland's role in this piece of history ended up on my desk as I was dealing with EIB and a major role was foreseen for the EU (then the EEC) in the creation and running of this new Bank.

I mention my desk as the locus, but, of course I was not running the Department and had my own bosses between me and the Minister. Just to get the Dramatis Personae out of the way, my immediate boss was Maurice O'Connell and his boss was Michael Somers who reported directly not just to Minister Albert Reynolds, but to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charlie Haughey, who was, or thought he was, a special buddy of Mitterand.

While I'm at my desk, I should really record here the great support I got from Brigid McManus in my section. She was on top of this brief from the outset and it's no surprise that she went on subsequently to take charge of the national budget and ended her career as Secretary General of the Department (Ministry) of Education.

Albert Reynolds only became involved when the Agreement setting up the bank was to be signed. He was technically the responsible minister and Finance Ministers were to constitute the Board of Governors of the new bank.

In fact, Albert signed the Agreement twice, I think the only person with that distinction.

He signed on behalf of Ireland and then on behalf of the EEC (above), because of our holding the rotating Presidency of the Community in the first half of 1990 and because the Community itself was a shareholder in the Bank.

This was how the bulk of my problems over that period originated. Had we participated in the negotiations setting up the Bank as just Ireland then the operation would not have been so high profile for us. As Presidency, however, we were responsible for convening the EEC caucus within the wider prospsective membership and we were also caught up in giving Attali EEC cover for some of his manoeuvering during the negotiations.

I learned in school that the sacrament of Confirmation leaves a permanent séaladh nó marc spioradálta (a seal or spiritual mark ) on your soul, a bit like a branding iron, and by God the EBRD negotiations and what followed certainly did that to me.

I have set out my involvement and perceptions of what was going on in a memoir which arose years later out of an invitation to contribute an interview to the EBRD's in-house magazine BLUEPRINT.

In the course of this I made the acquaintance of a famous author and former Reuters correspondent who, way back when the EBRD was gestating in Paris, was reporting the saga from the Russian end in Moscow. There is no shortage of interconnections in this world of ours. I have yet to meet Vanora in person.

The Book

The history of the EBRD certainly warrants being written up. I suppose this is the time for a first version while some of those intimately involved in the negotiations and in the subsequent development of the Bank on the ground are still alive, if only just.

It will be time enough later, maybe much later, to recap with the perspective of history when the countries of operation of the Bank have settled in, both economically and politically. We are still probably too close to the Bank's beginnings and the still unfolding process to be objective in our analysis. This book will, however, provide a core record for the next round.

The present edition is being undertaken in two parts, roughly splitting the thirty year period of the Bank's existence in half. Volume One is written by Andrew Kilpatrick who formerly worked in the Economist's Department in the Bank, so he is to that extent an insider.

The online version has just been published and the hardback is due later in the month.

So what is my reaction to this text?

I should clarify that my own involvement with the Bank is limited to its gestation and the first decade of its existence. I was involved in the negotiations in the first half of 1990 in Paris (Kléber) and in the post-signature conferences and operation of the Shadow Board between mid 1990 and the launch of the Bank in London in Spring 1991. I was then on the Bank's Board as an Alternate Director for a year. I was even, for a very very brief period, a Director's Assistant to facilitate a "marketing" trip to Lithuania.

All the while from the Bank's conception in 1989 up to my change of section in the Ministry in 2000, I was on the EBRD desk in the home administration.

On the whole, the book is a worthy production and it does make an overwhelming case for the creation of the new institution. It illustrates particularly well how the existence of the Bank, its operations and its advocacy brought a badly needed transition impact mentality into the transition process.

This required a mental adjustment on the part of all concerned from simply seeing a product, like a new factory which would bring a direct and immediate financial return, to a process, which would help the transition of a whole region, and give rise to greater returns in the longer run.

Looking at how transition impact was developed and systematically stitched into project evaluation, I am reminded of the EU/NI Peace Programme with which I was also involved and which was ultimately as concerned with process as it was with product.

I do remember the excitement of the early days of the Bank and I don't think the book adequately reflects this. It does mention the new institution avoiding legacy issues in the long established IFIs and grafting on best practice from both the public and private sector where this was available.

All this is true and it was done and done well. But there was a buzz which the book doesn't pick up on. I know it's a history and not a Mills and Boon, but nevertheless.

I note that there are sixteen references to Attali's own volumes Verbatim I - III. I trust that these have been subject to appropriate corroboration.

I am mindful of the fact that in one of those volumes Attali was very dismissive of the Irish EEC Presidency at the time. This was most ungallant of him when a major fault, if there was one, was the Presidency deferring to Attali at almost every turn during the negotiations, exceptionally so.

Attali's criticism reminded me of a certain EEC official who was entrusted with checking out how the Irish authorities spent EEC Regional Fund monies. During his inspection visit, hosted by the Irish authorities, he insisted on the most expensive wines at the meals.

On his return to Brussels he then criticised the authorities for their profligacy and said he would be very wary of giving them funding under any programmes for which he had responsibility.

I'll carry on from here by picking out a few particular items that struck me along the way.

The Logo

Onward and upward to the Rorschach Test that is the Bank's logo. The design was put out to competition at the outset and the text on p61 tells us:
The competition was won by a New Zealand designer, Bret de Their, whose symbol of two interlocking white flamingo like shapes against a blue background, one reflected by the other, symbolises the EBRD’s role in bringing together West and East.
I find this most strange as the brief for the logo specifically excluded a bird theme. This arose in part because Attali did not want a series of entries suggesting that a BERD (the French language acronym for the Bank) never, or barely, or always flew on one wing.

The logo, whatever the intention of its author, won on the basis of its simplicity, being two interlocking rings set against a globe - most fitting for the task facing the Bank. If Bret really intended two birds then he pulled a double stroke on Attali.

Since writing the above I have come across a Bank publication celebrating the Bank's first ten years which contains the following on the logo:
Mr Thier designed the symbol to evoke strength and unity:
"The symbol represents the linking of central, eastern and western Europe in mutual cooperation, as an integral part of the global community."
It is a symbol of environmental awareness:
"The interlocking rings also symbolise the balance in Nature and the partnership we all have in that harmony for the survival of Planet Earth."
Where the flamingoes came from is anyone's guess. Perhaps an overfertile imagination saw the birds locked in mutual embrace à la soixante neuf.

While we're on the logo you might be interested in Attali's preoccupation with always going for the top man (or woman in this case) for another notch on his gun.

Mary Robinson, the newly elected President of Ireland who had been on the logo adjudication panel, was inappropriately invited to what was described as a Governors' working lunch during the inauguration. You can read about it here.

The IRA Bomb

The IRA bombing of the Baltic Exchange in the City of London in 1992 is referred to as follows:
As the Annual Meeting in Budapest was underway, an event near the EBRD’s London headquarters was recorded in history for very different reasons. On 10 April, the day after the re-election of Major’s Conservative Party in UK parliamentary elections, the Provisional IRA detonated a massive (one tonne) car bomb, which largely destroyed the Baltic Exchange at St Mary Axe in the heart of the City. Three lives were lost and 91 people were injured. The force of the blast was so great that the EBRD’s offices in Leadenhall Street were also affected with the windows blown out (no Bank staff were injured). As the East recovered from decades under communism, this was a reminder that the West had its own battles to fight
My own recollection is that one Bank employee was slightly injured, but no doubt many others would have been had they not already decamped to Budapest. I have recalled in my memoir how the attack embarrassed me on my way to the AGM but also how I did learn a lesson from it.

Pierre and Sylvia

The first mention of Pierre Pissaloux, who ultimately became Attali's Chef de Cabinet, comes on p47, and here the author, in a footnote, takes the opportunity to inform us that both Pierre and Attali are pieds noirs, Pierre having been born in Tunis and Attali in Algiers.

I'm not sure why this gratuitous information is provided here unless it is (i) to underline the close connection between Pierre and Jacques during the Bank negotiations. The interests of the French Treasury, where Pierre worked in the Conference Secretariat, and those of Attali did not always coincide and Pierre meticulously kept Attali up to speed at all stages of the negotiations; or (ii) to annoy Attali, who boasted of being a member of two minorities - he was an intellectual and a Jew - but divil a mention of pied noir. Neither Attali nor Pissaloux would have appreciated such a reference back then. I can personally testify to that.

The book also tells us, in relation to Attali's recruitment of Pierre to be his Chef de Cabinet, that
He had wanted Anne Le Lorier, an official from the Trésor who had acted as secretary to the preparatory conferences, but she turned him down.
It seems strange to me to see Anne described in such distant and scanty terms. She was a dynamo at the core of the very high pressured negotiations in Paris.

I am not in the least surprised to see that at her retirement in 2018 she was First Deputy Governor of the French Central Bank and had picked up Commandeur de l'ordre national du Mérite and Officier de la Légion d'honneur awards along the way, and no one more deserving. She certainly ably defended the interest of France during the negotiations against serious odds, some of them from within. But then, you can't win 'em all.

Sylvia Jay who is mentioned in the same paragraph was acknowledged as Nigel Wicks's spy in Attali's cabinet in the run up to the launch of the Bank, or, as the author puts it,
Jay served as the main link on the political mandate and with the British authorities
While Pierre went on to a career in MENA banking, Sylvia's subsequent career went in a different direction.
After becoming director-general of the Food and Drink Federation of the UK, Lady Jay became chairman of L’Oreal UK, a director of Lazard Group and held director positions at Alcatel-Lucent and Saint-Gobain. She is currently High Sheriff of Oxford.
That's a hoot. My head is spinning with thoughts of Robin Hood, who in his day ran a sort of quasi banking operation and the big bad Sheriff of Nottingham.

Maybe she'll kill me but I couldn't resist this pic of Sylvia (Lady Jay of Ewelm, CBE, Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur) in her gear as High Sheriff. It turns out she was High Sheriff of Oxfordshire (not Oxford) and is no longer in this position as it only lasts for a year and her term ended in April 2020.

But I have to pause here and say that Sylvia was a lady even before she was a Lady.

Click on the image for a readable version

And she wrote me a lovely letter when I left the Board. Hi Sylvia !

A New Brush

When Jacques Attali left (to put it mildly), another Jacques, de Laroisière, was brought in to clear up the mess. I was thrilled to learn that one of his first acts was to fire the French chef - Vous êtes términé as Donald Trump would say.

No disrespect to the chef, but the Bank's gourmet restaurant was a symbol in the wrong cultural context. It gave out the wrong signals in more ways than one.

De Laroisière's meeting with all the staff, is reported as follows
His opening salvo was along the following lines: “To those of you in this room who believe that the issues of this Bank are limited to its marble, let me tell you they aren’t. There are three main issues confronting the organisation: a lack of strategy; resources out of control; a terrible public image”.
However the footnote relating to this quote goes out of its way to protect the anonymity of the source. I'm not sure what signal that gives out at this remove from the event of nearly thirty years ago.

The Nuclear Dilemma

The book gives a fair amount of space to the nuclear issue and in particular the controversial K2R4 plants in Ukraine. The call initially was for the Bank to support the completion of these Russian VVER plants on the basis that this would facilitate the Ukrainian authorities shutting down the remaining operating plant at Chernobyl.

I have related in my memoir what was going on at home in Ireland at the time and that is only the tip of the iceberg.

I have not related how, at the Nice EU Summit in 2000 the then French President, Jacques Chirac, lied to our Taoiseach about the line up at the Board for this project in an attempt to get Ireland to agree to the French line.

What he said flatly contradicted what I had laid out in my briefing for the Taoiseach, whose Department were on to me hot foot. I had to get our Director at the EBRD out of a Board meeting to confirm that my briefing was still correct and that the French President was trying it on.

There was never a lack of excitement, and its concomitant nervous exhaustion, where the EBRD was concerned.

The K2R4 affair was like a running sore at the Bank and I don't think the trauma is adequately reflected in the book, but then I suppose it was in part my trauma and I may be overhyping its significance. At the end of the day I think the Russians financed the completion of the plants but EBRD then financed further security upgrades.

There were many aspects of EBRD that entered my bones and this was only one of them.

One of my directors also got under my skin and, with this little verse in the first official lanaguage, I killed two birds with the one stone.


There are very few direct references to Gazprom in the book, which surprised me as this crowd were all over the place. They even had me running round in circles.

At one stage they were trying to take over the energy market in Hungary. So what has that got to do with me? Well, they were doing it through a range of companies acting at their behest. One of these was an Irish registered company, which provoked me at the time to chase up the impenetrable beneficial ownership market.

I found that there were firms in centre city Dublin offering to set up companies whose beneficial ownership would be impenetrable. This was marketed as preserving business confidentiality but of course it would also invovle the Revenue Commissionsers going up a cul-de-sac and ultimately banging their collective head off a stone wall.

But back to Hungary. The Irish registered company concerned was, to the best of my recollection, taking shares in companies involved in the Hungarian energy market. EBRD had been involved in supporting this market at that point and this is how I was made aware of the activities of the Irish registered company.

In fact, this problem escalated to the point that the Hungarian Finance Minister wrote to his Irish counterpart complaining about the Irish registered company.

However, it was not a straightforward matter as I think I remember that, at that point, the Hungarian market (or stock exchange?) was only in the early stages of ramping up its own regulatory function. Anyway, more excitement.

North Macedonia

While it was in some measure peripheral, the nomenclature problem of the new Macedonian state, which had formerly been part of Yugoslavia, took up some energy at the Bank's end and it did underscore some of the psyschological elements involved in the process of breakup and transition.

I have outlined this problem and Ireland's involvement in my memoir and I note that the matter has now been resolved, hopefully permanently. Feelings ran very high on this for years and the Bank was caught between a rock (Greece) and a hard place (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - FYROM).

I would have expected a little more treatment of this in the book. I'm sure it has resonances for many countries. It certainly did for us Irish and, of course, FYROM was in our constituency at the Board of Directors.

Islam Karimov

I was glad to see Clare Short's blast at the EBRD's annual meeting in Tashkent given a substantial mention. Craig Murray, then UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, was involved in this and more power to him.

At this time Uzbekistan's President, Islam Karimov, was facilitating extraordinary rendition by the CIA and MI6. The authorities were also busy convicting local innocents to give the impression of active Islamic terrorist cells operating in the country. They were equally torturing their own, including by boiling them alive.

How could EBRD deal with this character? I'm afraid supping with the devil came with the territory and I trust the Bank had by then acquired a suitably long spoon.

Clare's blast was magnificent and the pity was that she resigned immediately on her return home. This was over Tony Blair's support for the war in Iraq.

The Photos

The photos at the end of the book are a strange collection in my book, well their book.

Launch of the negotiation process in the
Kléber Conference Centre on 15 January 1990.

[l-r] Jacques Attali: chair of the negotiations and first President of the Bank. Resigned prematurely in 1993 after adverse press publicity. Roland Dumas: French Foreign Minister, subsequently spent some time in jail. François Mitterand: French President and sponsor of the negotiations, involved in his own share of controversies. Pierre Bérégovoy: French Economy Minister, subsequently committed suicide. Michael Somers: Head of Irish delegation and EU Presidency, subsequently awarded the Légion d'Honneur by the French Government.

This photo, taken by the official photographer at the opening session of the negotiations, would have seemed an obvious choice for inclusion. But it's not there. Perhaps it was considered with hindsight as leaning too far in the direction of a mug-shot line up.

There is a photo of Attali with a French businessman. I've no idea what the rationale is for its inclusion unless it was the businessman choosing the photos.

First meeting of the EBRD Board of Directors
elects the Board of Directors and approves
the Bank’s resolutions (May 1991) © EBRD

The first board of Directors is included but with a caption which suggests that the Board had just elected itself. Bit of a chicken and egg there. In fact, article 24.2.(vi) of the agreement establishing the Bank makes it clear that it is the Governors who elect the Directors.

However, for those of you curious to have a closer look at all these people, you can click on the image for a larger version and right click on the result for a menu (view image) and click on the result to give you a slightly larger one again. To come back to this text you need to hit the back button on the browser. This works with Firefox on a Mac. You may encounter bespoke peculiarities and in that case you're on your own!

This is a detail and that's me with my head just below the logo. So I got myself into the book by hook or by crook.

Then there is a photo of a letter from Attali to Margaret Thatcher simply captioned: Letter from Jacques Attali to the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher about the choice of London as the headquarters of the EBRD (23 May 1990) © EBRD.

It sounds like a positive letter but it is in fact telling the UK PM that no way is Attali going to accept locating in Canary Wharf. The context is explained in the text on p61 but reproduction of the letter on its own is misleading and it is not referenced from the text.

The irony is that now, 30 years later, and at the tail end of the Bank reversinsg Attali's initial extravagence, the Bank is finally to move to Canary Wharf in 2022.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020


This post is intended to complement the online video event for Bloomsday 2020 at the Martello Tower (No.7) Killiney.

If you have not yet done so, and would like to do so at this point, you can watch the video on Youtube now and come back here later. The video is an hour long but there is a series of links underneath it which allow you to view individual items.

Going online

The firsts challenge was to figure out how to handle this years Bloomsday given the covid restrictions. Clearly we could not have the usual physical gathering at the Tower. So, we'd either have to abandon the event this year or go online in some form or other.

I had been at a few online live Zoom events, and though some of these clearly reflected the problems involved, this was our first option. We would attempt to replicate as closely as possible the normal yearly event but live online with Zoom. However, once we started to consider this in detail the difficulties became clear.

If we were to do it live, then all the participants would have to be got together at the same time and this could be a problem. Then there was the periodic unreliability of broadband connections, so we couldn't rely on them on the day. And for the musical items, particularly Truly Divine's contribution where there was more than one person involved, bringing Eamonn and Truly together in Zoom added a problem of time lags and overall quality.

So we decided to do a recorded event but to keep it under wraps until Leopold Bloom was out of bed and preparing Molly's breakfast at 8am on Bloomsday. We could then supplement it with a Zoomchat at midday which did not involve any of the difficulties associated with performance items.

Recordings of the two musical items, Truly and Kieran, were supplied directly and the rest pre-recorded via Zoom. I think this worked well for the event and there was a lively and erudite discussion at the midday live chat on Zoom, though, in the event, there was only about eight of us turned up - very select it was.

Planning the content

Cartoon (detail) from Thomas Fitzpatrick's Lepracaun

Once we had decided to have the online event we had to consider the programme. As it was to be an online event the attendance would not be physically present at the Tower but the potential audience would be much wider than usual.

So I thought it might be an idea to take the Tower itself as a theme and drag Joyce in by the scruff of the neck wherever possible. In this way we would not only be doing our duty to Joyce but also introducing the magnificent piece of restoration work, which is the Tower, to a wider audience.

As the programme evolved, we had Niall, who restored the Tower, describing the restoration. Doug and Sylvia Rogers, who had performed an amazing feat of archival research. mainly in the UK PRO but also on site in other locations, agreed to document their own odyssey. I took advantage of online to introduce the Tower's website, which had started from modesst beginnings but was now a treasure trove of history and various ephemera.

So, where is poor old James Joyce in all of this? Well, we were privileged to have access to Felix Larkin who is an old hand at this game, and he gave us a run down on the Gray family, neatly bridging their local connections and their relevance to Ulysses, albeit through the back door. His item attracted much favourable attention at the end of the day.

Then, through a last minute stroke of luck, we were offered a fine piece by Brendan Fleming, from across the water in Buckingham University. I won't spoil it here but I'll be telling that story below.

And the music, there had to be music. Kieran Cummins had played the harp for us at a previous Bloomsday event, on which occasion he also sang to his own guitar accompaniment and played the fiddle. This year he turned up with a tape of the fiddle from Bantry Bay, a location which has strong resonances with the French and the Martello Towers, whatever about Joyce.

And Truly Divine, who is just that, was left to her own devices. She turned up with two perfectly chosen songs beautifully performed and so stitched Joyce firmly back into the fabric of the event.

I have an interest in the artist and cartoonist, Gordon Brewster, and he had mocked Gogarty, who you will remember is the model for Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, in one of his cartoons where he takes a poke at the worthies of his day. Joyce himself has a fierce go at Gogarty via Mulligan in the opening chapter of Ulysses at the Martello Tower. So I figured I'd add my voice with a ditty I had written and delivered to a physical audience at last year's Bloomsday event at the Tower.

The Video

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Overall, I think the programme worked well, at least from our point of view. Analysis of the viewing figures on Youtube after the event suggested that whacks of people had checked in looking for pure Joyce and promptly checked out again when they encountered all this Martello stuff. We have close on 800 views, but sadly only about 10% stayed the course to the end. Still, for an hour long video an audience of 80 is not bad. It would equate to the usual attendance at the physical event.

Individual contributions


I'm not going to go over the ground that Niall covered in his contribution. Rather I would like to look in some depth at two major problems he encounstered in the course of his restoration of the Tower. Both of these involved the lean-to guardroom on the seaward side of the tower. The guardroom is part of the original structure and was built at the same time as the tower.

First you have to understand the condition of the site when Niall acquired it. Anything that was wreckable was wrecked. There had been fires on the site and wanton destruction while it was in the possession of the local authority - initially the Killiney and Ballybrack UDC from 1909 and subsequently the Dún Laoghaire local authority from 1930.

There were no plans available anywhere to show how the buildings on the Martello sites had been constructed, so, much depended on visual inspection, some earlier photos (mainly from Paul Kerrigan and Pól Ó Duibhir) and bits and pieces of material salvaged from the site.

Suspending the roof

The first problem was how to suspend the roof of the guardroom. This had been a heavy slated roof, initially built to withstand the bouncing of a cannon ball on it, and possibly any shock waves transmitted from the firing of the cannon on the roof of the tower.

The view of the engineer was that it would require pillars along the centre of the guardroom to reinforce and take the weight of the roof. This would have been an unsatisfactory and awkward solution. Fortunately Niall's curiosity led him to wonder about the odd inverted V shape at the top of the interior of the flanking wall (above).

Here was the solution, staring him in the face. The centre of the roof was supported by a supplementary set of rafters coming up from further down the tower wall.

Finding this piece of curved wood with nail holes in it then showed the frequency of the main rafters.

This discovery was then translated into the support system you see here.

A closer look.

When it was all covered in, this is what it looked like from the inside.

The next problem was the actual construction of the roof. An earlier photo, long predating Niall's acquisition of the property, showed, under a gap in the slates, that the planks beneath them had been laid in a herringbone formation. This proved to be a way of avoiding having to try and bend the planks to the curve of the roof. [I'm not sure how this works mechanically but I hope to find out.]

So a herringbone pattern it was. And that sorted the roof.


The next problem was restoring the musket loops where some of these had been broken out to insert windows.

You can see this clearly in Paul Kerrigan's drawing from when he surveyed the site at the beginning of the restoration. Loops numbered 3, 4, 5, & 6 had been converted by the local authority into windows.

As part of this serious restoration of the site to how it was originally constructed, these would have to be built back up into musket loops to conform with numbers 1 & 2.

The reality on the ground was much rougher than the neat drawing. So there was a lot of work to be done.

An earlier photo gives you a view of the windows.

Niall here shows the outline of a window using one of the wooden-framed windows salvaged on the site.

All straightforward enough you might think. But the problem here turned out to be of human making. Dúchas was now insisting that the windows be retained as they themselves had acquired some sort of heritage value along the way. Niall correctly saw the absurdity of this and after six months of attrition, Dúchas were roundly beaten into submission.

These were just two of the problems that arose, and were solved, in the course of the restoration.


You have been so patient in staying with me this far that it's only fair that I bring you some light relief at this point.

In the course of a large local authority sewerage scheme, in the mid 1950s, the need arose to find somewhere to store the required explosives. Three towers were considered, Sandycove (No.11), Bartra (No.10) and Killiney (No.7). The first two were rejected due to their proximity to housing and No.7 was chosen.

Anyone who knows this site will know that it is surrounded by housing, but no matter. It was the most unobtrusively accessible of the three sites. It was already subject to the coming and going of local authority lorries. The solution was simply not to inform the neighbours of what was planned. Those with a direct interest in the site were informed, but no one else.

I have reproduced above the application from the firm of Reed & Mallik for a permit, which was granted, to store one thousand pounds of gelignite and detonators in the tower. The cost of the permit, 1/- (one shilling).


Doug and Sylvia live in London. Sylvia is Niall's sister. They took on the task of researching the background to the Tower mainly in the UK Public Records Office in Kew. They also combed a number of other institutions which Doug mentioned in his contribution. And they visited a number of restored sites.

This saga started as a search for the plans for the construction of the Martello towers and such other buildings as were on the site of No.7. They never found any such plans but they discovered a wealth of information along the way. And this was not simply about No.7. When the military did reports, these covered the whole network of towers and batteries around Dublin Bay. So the information unearthed by Doug and Sylvia fed into the history of other elements of the network.

It should be recorded here that Niall made all these findings, and such information as he had from the site, freely available to researchers. This, in no small measure, contributed to the book "The Martello Towers of Dublin" eventually published by the local authorities concerned.

A rare photo of Paul Kerrigan (left) and Doug at the Eastbourne Redoubt.

I should mention here in passing that the Eastbourne Martello has bsen restored in more recent times and there have been exchanges on Twitter between the two towers. The Eastbourne tower has christened itself The Wish Tower and it is open to visitors.

In the course of their researches, Doug and Sylvia came up with a set of maps drawn by the French Major Le Comte de la Chaussée who surveyed Killiney Bay for the British in 1797. I had discovered the Major's report in the 1970s but as this was either a draft or a family copy the maps were not with it. I had been looking for them for the following thirty years and voilà here they were.

Map detail - Killiney Hill and the King's Highway

They added enormous value to La Chaussée's report and were a thing of beauty in themselves. Incidentally, the map shows how few substantial houses there were in the area at the time. This is confirmed in a later diocesan map from 1810.

I should probably explain that we know more now about La Chaussée than is indicated in Doug's report. In the course of further research in preparation for my talk to the Alliance Française in 2015, the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, I discovered that he came from a noble French family of at least 200 years standing and that he married a descendant of the French king, Jean le bon, some 14 generations down the line. In the course of my research the Bibliothèque Nationale de France commended me on my "very useful clarification of a period in the history of franco-irish relations". Kudos all round.

But that's all for another day.

Doug was involved in more than simple documentary research. He discovered Martin Bibbings who organised the casting of the cannon and the manufacture of the traversing carriage. The still above from a video of the casting shows Doug and Sylvia observing the process.

I should mention that in the formulation of our entry for the Europa Nostra competition, which Doug mentions in his contribution, the pair of us had to put on a good cop / bad cop act to extract the relevant information, in a form required by the sponsors of the competition, out of Niall. Blood from a stone. Still, it paid off.


I mentioned Kieran's many talents earlier. So I didn't know what he was going to turn up with for this venture. He's living in Kilkenny, but he turned up from Bantry Bay, playing a tune of the same name.

Now Bantry has some significance in this exercise. As soon as La Chaussée had finished his survey of Killiney Bay, off with him to Bantry to do the same thing down there. And, of course, Bantry was where the French came in 1796 but turned about and went home due to the Irish weather at the time.


Brendan was a recent discovery, at least as far as we were concerned. It happened like this.

There was Niall pottering around on the site with the gates wide open when this passing lady wandered in. They got talking and Niall mentioned Bloomsday at which point Nada, who is Lebanese and lives in Shankill, mentioned that she had a friend who was a Joyce scholar and who might be interested in contributing to the event.

Enter Brendan, from the University of Buckingham, and we ended up with a most erudite contribution covering Joyce's use of language around the Martello towers and the subtleties underlying it. An early punch line revealed that the name of the Martellos was all a big mistake. Tune in to the event for follow up.

The double edged Corsican sword - source of the original Martello and birth place of Napoléon against whom the towers were to serve as a defence.

The Tower's Website

I took the opportunity of being online to take viewers on a brief teaser tour of the Tower's website. The site started off as a simple page on my own website and over time has evolved into a site of its own.

Truly Divine

I "discovered" Truly Divine in the Leeson Inn in 2016. I had gone along to a Bloomsday event there with the intention of taking Senan Molony to task for his treatent of my first French teacher, Albert Folens. However, the occasion did not prove suitable. But when I heard Truly perform at the beginning of the night, I knew I was in for a treat. And so it was, truly memorable. Senan will keep for another time.

So we invited Truly along to the 2018 Bloomsday event at the Tower where she charmed all present and now, in 2020 online, we asked her if she would take part. We left it up to herself what she would do and she came up trumps with two well chosen songs.

The first, with both words and melody by Joyce, was "Bid Adieu to Girlish Days" from Joyce's "Chamber Music" collection of love poems. I was familiar with this one as I had used it as an example in a talk on translating Joyce the previous year at the Tower. The second song "Just a Song at Twilight" is one that was on Molly Bloom's programme for her planned concert tour. Both were beautifully sung and Truly was accompanied by Eamonn Moran on the guitar.


Felix Larkin is no stranger to the Tower or to Joyce. At an earlier Bloomsday he gave us a talk on the Aeolus Episode in Ulysses, which, you will remember, is set in the premises of the Freeman's Journal in Prince's Street. Straight Joyce stuff.

This year Felix adopted a more subtle approach bringing us the Gray family, their history in Killiney and further afield, and their proprietorshop of the Freeman's Journal. An erudite and fascinating contribution which did not confine itself to Dublin but ranged from Australia to my father's own county, Mayo.

As Felix pointed out, Sir John Gray tends to be forgotten despite his major contribution to the city of Dublin. He does have a (hopefully) perpetual monument at the intersection of Abbey Street and O'Connell Street in the Capital. The photo above is an unusual close-up view of this taken from the upper deck of a passing bus.


Finally, and in conclusion !, I know that Joyce took a fierce poke at the pompous poet Oliver St. John Gogarty in Ulysses and the artist and cartoonist Gordon Brewster made a skit of him in one of his cartoons of Dublin worthies. So I thought I'd add my own voice and delivered a wee ditty which encompassed Gogarty (Buck Mulligan), Joyce (Stephen Dedalus), the Joyce Tower, and a goose.

And even more finally, I'd like to thank all those who participated in this venture. They are all mentioned above bar the National Library from whom I nicked the Brewster Cartoon and a Lawrence Photo. Thanks NLI. I'd also like to add Donal for his technical advice and direct assistance without which there would have been no video.

I have just changed from a Windows PC to a Mac and it's all new to me. I ended up a wandering soul in technoland until Donal, who is a longstanding Mac user and a techie to boot, rescued me and in the process reduced 3 Gigabytes to 300 Megabytes and reassured me that I could throw any Zoombomber, who might happen along to screw up our Zoomchat, to the sharks in the nearby snot-green sea

The Final Product

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