Friday, October 12, 2018


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Another scoop for the Patrick Finn Lecture Series in St. Mary's, Haddington Road.

At the risk of boring everyone to tears, I have to again draw attention to this series which has given us very high standard lectures over the past few years. And this is true whether you approach them from a Roman Catholic standpoint, as probably most do, or from a purely secular point of view, as I do myself.

Felix Larkin and Heather Jones

Tonight's lecture was no exception. The lecturer was Heather Jones, Professor of Modern and Contemporary European History at University College London. She is "a specialist in First World War studies and well known for her writings and occasional appearances on television programmes about the War". I learned from her that she is also very much a radio person and that by me is to her eternal credit.

Felix Larkin, who was in charge for the night, gave her a great introduction,

while she patiently waited to take the floor in this magnificent building. I gathered afterwards that she was suitably impressed by its magnificence and I can confirm that she did it justice with her lecture.

Her thesis was that World War One changed the pre-existing norms of war and she chose three areas in which to illustrate this.

First, Prisoners of War and how they were treated. The allies put their German POWs to work at the front instead of simply holding them in camps. The infuriated Germans went one better in their retaliation. They not only kept allied POWs at the eastern and western fronts but worked them hard and used them to deter allied artillery.

On top of that they got them to write home and explain that this treatment was in retaliation for how their own POWs were being treated by the allies. This led to pressure on the allied civil authorities to see that the practice was discontinued and the Germans then responded in kind.

Heather pointed out that not only can norms be transgressed but transgressions can, on occasions, be pulled back.

Second, the use of chemical weapons. This was the first war in which chemical weapons were used on an industrial scale. In fact everything about this war seems to have been on an industrial scale, including the casualties.

Heather pointed out that there were norms in relation to the use of chemicals, particularly in projectiles. Hence the use of canisters to get round this. She pointed out that actual deaths from gassing were "relatively modest" but many more were affected, some for life. And the use of gas horrified the civilian population, particularly after the war was over. This led to great efforts to get chemicals banned altogether. However, as we will see, developments on the third front tended to blunt this somewhat in the subsequent war.

Third, blockades. Heather's point here was that the blockades effectively opened the gates for the targeting of civilians in wartime.

The scale of these operations in WWI meant that whole populations were targeted. Attempts could be made, and were, to justify the scale and extent of the blockades.

With the introduction of conscription, every male of conscriptable age was a potential combatant, and the age range was continuously extended as supplies of manpower ran out.

Then there was the whole industrial scale thing. Anything feeding the "war industries" was a legitimate target for blockading and collateral damage to the "civilian" population was inevitably widespread.

And against all this background, why not specifically target the civilian population as well. And we all know where that led in WWII.

The above will hopefully give you an idea of what the lecture was about but it is only a crude teaser for a wide-ranging and nuanced presentation. I hope the lecture gets into print/online and we can all read and reflect on it at our leisure.

On to the Q&A and the second treat of the night. The questions were short and to the point, provoking extensive and nuanced answers, which when you added them all up, were the equivalent of a follow up lecture.

Themes picked up ranged from how deserters were dealt with, through Irish republican prisoners in Frongoch, to sure hadn't we always got blockades in history, so what's new here?

We were treated to the distinction between insurgents and traitors (hint: a foreign hostile state). We touched on the demands of internees for political status. We nuanced shell-shock into PTSD. And we reflected on going in tough to shorten the war and save more lives in the long run.

As you will gather, a very animated Q&A. And, having mentioned animation, I have to confess to having more photos of Heather in full flight but I can't use them. The are blurred. Not from bad focus but from not being able to capture Heather's animation in the available lighting. The consolation prize was Heather's enthusiasm for her subject and the reflections this provoked among the attendance.

At the end of the day, this lecture is an evergreen. It is dealing with ethics which are still relevant today both in theatres of "war" and outside of them.

I have to confess that my mind wandered from time to time, not from boredom, but from resonances of WWII, Vietnam and Iraq.

In this case, my not paying proper attention in class was actually a compliment to teacher.

Heather and Felix - again

A great night. Thank you Heather.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


109. Burst Seed Head
- Jane Murtagh
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There I was on my way to the vet and parking my car in the Botanical car park when the memory struck. Had someone not said to me recently that there was an exhibition in the Botanical Gardens that I should see?

I had strayed once before from the car park and came across this wonderful sculpture in the gardens. So I thought, why not stray again. I'm not often up this way and at least I'll be able to check out what it was I was supposed to see.

At the reception in the visitor centre I learned that it was a sculpture exhibition, that some of it was upstairs, the smaller pieces, while the rest was scattered around the grounds. So I decided to settle for the smaller pieces.

Now I'm not an arty type. I went to the RHA Annual Exhibition in recent times, out of an interest in the artist Gordon Brewester who had exhibited there in 1916 and 1917. I just wanted to get a feel for the thing. Well, I can tell you I wouldn't let 90% of it in my front door and I'd have to think about the rest of it.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see so many items at the Botanical which took my fancy or made me smile, and I thought I'd share a few of them with you.

The Bursting Seed above is a beautiful piece.

Mind you, you wouldn't know from the catalogue (€3) where it is reproduced on its side.

41. Present Day Ruins
- Sophie Kate Curran

This piece has the delicacy of coral. A lovely piece of work.

Mind you, it is hard to match it up with the catalogue where only a small portion is shown and only a small portion of that is in focus. Totally misses out on the delicacy of the original.

20. Recollections
- Stuart Cairns

I'm not sure what it was that attracted me to this piece - the texture and subtle colours and the separateness of the individual items. It has a wistful serenity about it.

141. Relic Bowl 2
- Vicky Sutherland

This is a very delicate piece of porcelain portraying fallen leaves and even a tooth. It is delicate, charming and light. If you look at it long enough it will also make you smile.

132. The Phoenix
- Frederic Ruckenbrod

My photo does not do justice to this wonderful bird. It was the first thing that struck me when I entered the gallery. I think I accidentally came in the back door.

105. A Bird in The Hand
- Helen Merrigan-Colfer

I don't know why this one struck me. It has a sort of perverse charm about it. Not beautiful but striking and the texture is interesting.

A Dress for Flying
- Helen Merrigan-Colfer

I had to smile at this one. It reminded me, vaguely, of Marilyn Monroe's skirt scene on the subway grating in The Seven Year Itch. Whatever about that scene, there could be only one outcome for this lady if the balloons did what balloons do.

24. Brigid and The Dagda
- Barra Cassidy

This is the god Dagda of the Tuatha de Danann with his daughter Brigid. A bit clunky maybe but striking. The catalogue illustration is hardly there at at all.

87. Teddy Fusilier
- Charlie Mahon

I think this is my Rocky Horror Show moment. A most unsettling piece.

You know when your nightmares become plastic, things are out of kilter and you're borne along by a group of lunatics you've nothing in common with. Well, combine that with some of your granny's ceramic cats off the mantlepiece, and you'll get a vague idea of where I'm coming from.

12. Inflection 1 2018
13. Inflection 2 2018
14. Elements 2018
- Anne Butler

I'd have taken a different photo if I'd realised these were three separate items. It was the sort of map projection, Einstein time-warp quality of them combined with a certain lightness which attracted me.

42. Duilleoga
- Cliodna Cussen

I had a good look at this because of the sculptor. Initially unremarkable it grows on you.

There is no picture in catalogue.

122. Rolling Waves
- John Quinn

I had to smile at this. Loved it. Don't ask me why.

112. Nunataq II
- Helen O'Connell

This is Carrara marble and that's what attracted me to this one. I'd never actually noticed the marble in the foyer of the EBRD in London, but it was Jacques Attali's replacement of the original Travertine marble with Carrara marble which played a part in his downfall.

So now I've both seen and taken note of Carrara marble. You're not allowed touch the exhibits!

Nunataq is a glacial area in Greenland. However, when my friend Vivion first saw this picture he thought of a broken heart. Perhaps an inspiration to the artist for a further work in this beautiful material.

Again, no picture in the catalogue.

You might like to follow up on this stuff at Sculpture in Context whose show it is.

Grey Squirrel and Bird
- observed

This pair paid absolutely no attention to me as I passed them on the way out.

Sunday, October 07, 2018


Bare set.
Waiting for Godot.
And by Godot does he come with a vengeance.

Is it a play?
A horror story?
A protest march?
Or what?

It is very difficult to categorise this performance. If you're here you're probably a protagonist. You probably know what it's all about.

For some, this will be their silent scream - a gut wrenching encounter with their, hopefully already conquered, demons. But we know they are never fully conquered, just held at bay, and that's why they must be treated with the respect and resolve they deserve.

So maybe this is a good place to encounter them. You can feel the support all around you, and the fear, and the anger.

Thirty public beds for a whole nation.

You want help to get clean?
But NOW !
Join the queue.
Your call will be answered in rotation.

Eva Jane Gaffney
reading from Rachael's book onstage

The thread that holds it together is Rachael's story - her horror story. Rock bottom isn't in it. She slid down the slippery slope, into the black hole, and bounced along the bottom for fourteen years of deteriorating physical and moral health. She abused her fragile and depleted physique to the point where her arms were almost about to be amputated.

That's what effectively catapulted her into recovery via the limelight. She got clean, again, but this time for real. Recovery was years longer. But now she's back and determined to stay there. She is bringing her experience to bear on the next generation coming up. First through the schools. Then the organisations helping addicts. And now with a new version of this performance, first conceived in the early days of recovery and now resurrected with added punch and point.

Grace Dyas

Rachael's story accounts for a significant part of the performance, but there is a wider context of widespread poverty and a disgraceful lack of response by the State. There is the accompanying drug problem, initially tolerated by the authorities as long as it remained confined to the inner city. But it took hold there and spread and by that stage it was effectively a major criminal project. The State's belated answer was to transfer the addicts to permanent authorised addiction and rely on the criminal "justice" system to stamp out the rest. Some hope.

Grace Dyas was brought up in Rialto with people shooting up virtually on her doorstep and needles everywhere. This is the land of Dolphin House and Fatima Mansions. She was outraged by what was going on around her and decided to write a play. As you will have gathered it turned into much more and she teamed up with Rachael. But that was nearly ten years ago and, if anything, the problem has got worse.

Clearly the response to the drug problem is not working and that has sparked off the current performance which is accompanied by a campaign to decriminalise addiction and treat it as a health problem, a disease and not a crime. The campaign, including an ongoing petition, is aiming to achieve this by 2020. Why 2020? Grace, rightly, says that you need a target to aim at.

The play itself is rough stuff and literally no punches are pulled. If you can sit it out unaffected then there is something wrong with you.

Lloyd Cooney's commentary on the world around him is vicious in its intensity. A no holds barred revelation of the devastation of the drug scene and anger at what is not being done about it.

Thirty public beds for the nation at large.

Eva Jane Gaffney's performance is electric as she evokes the most lurid passages from Rachael's book.

And don't think this is just people standing around bellyaching. Much of the commentary is acted out on stage.

One of the more affecting sequences is a simulated sex scene. The girl has no money and needs a fix. Her supplier will settle for sex. This is acted out onstage and repeated again and again, and again, speeding up until it becomes completely mechanical and devoid of emotion, except for the shame. A very disturbing sequence.

As an aside, I can't help, at this remove, feeling a wave of pity for Alan Simpson with his Rose Tattoo and the frenchie that wasn't - way back then in 1957. Then it led to Simpson's ruin. Today's action would have blown John Charles's head off.


For much of the play, Tony May Junior was sort of the stooge, the less intelligent and slowest member of the three onstage. He was the guy who simulated the shooting up. It was him who carried the props (walls, a mattress, a fridge, etc. - and Eva) on and off stage as the set changed or things were nicked and disposed of and nicked again.

But his was a subtly balanced performance as he had to maintain his credibility with the audience for his final reflective monologue which carried the only real glimmer of hope out of all this mess.

This was a magnificent cast assembled by Grace and Rachael and the total impact was greater than the sum of the parts.

When the play finished there was an invitation to stay on for a discussion. Despite the lateness of the hour I figure about 10% stayed on for an interesting, and sometimes emotional, session. It was a bit difficult to come down to earth from the impact of the performance but it worked.

There was a sort of a panel, who made introductory remarks:

Anthony Flynn
CEO Innercity Helping Homelessness

Seán Dyas (Grace's Dad)
Supporting the Campaign

Anna Quigley
Working Group for Decriminalisation

Anna made the point that Portugal halved its rate of addiction through decriminalising it. But she emphasised that this had been combined with other supportive policies including measures to alleviate poverty. However it was not all plain sailing. Former dealers are now replaced by Silicon Valley suits.

As Anthony reminded us, nobody sets out to get addicted. Their first time taking drugs may be a choice, whether to kill the pain or from peer pressure. And maybe even the second or third time, but then the choice is over and you're in the trap. The rest is not about choice, it's about survival. I'm reminded of the old adage about drink.
The man takes a drink,
the drink takes a drink,
the drink takes the man.
A young lady in the audience shared her distress over an alcoholic parent, something she clearly found difficult to speak about. She then stunned us all by revealing she was homeless.

It was things like this which made you realise that you were not just at a play. You were participating in real life drama.

Some further reflections

This is a performance that doesn't die with the final curtain. Funny enough there's no curtain anyway. It lives on in your head and bursts out in flashbacks for weeks afterwards. And sometimes you ask yourself, what was THAT about?

For example, just after the performance started, Lloyd asked/told us to stand and sing the national anthem, preferably as Gaeilge, which we all did with gusto. Then we all sat down and the performance continued and we got caught up with whatever was going on onstage.

But what was THAT about. It only strikes you later. Did I do that? What did it mean?

I think it was meant to plant that question. And the rest of the performance counterpointed those brave words and brought you to the realisation, even weeks later, that they were only words, against which actions spoke louder.

Next time I end up singing the national anthem the imagery in my head will be a bit different. It will recap on what I saw and heard during the performance, and this, I'm sure, was the intention. Powerful stuff.

This is Rachael's gut wrenching book which I have referred to elsewhere. I thought the title was neatly ambiguous, a bit like the Players Please slogan of old.

And just in case you didn't fully get the message from the cover, this is Rachael in her kitchen with the amputation threatened arms.

Monument to the Innercity Drug Dead Youth
Buckingham St

I vividly remember a tour of Monto during heritage week many years ago when, after the tour, Terry Fagan took us to the intersection at Buckingham Street and showed us the monument you see above.

It is to those young people who died from drugs in the north inner city. The metal flame is cast from a collection of their communion and confirmation medals. Gut wrenching.

He then told us how one day he came home to find his son had hanged himself. He immediately cut him down and managed to revive him. The young man subsequently became a social worker. So there is hope somewhere out there.

You can check out the monument yourself on Google Street View.

Rachael Keogh
Now dying for others to survive

Thirty public beds for the nation at large.

Unless, as Rachael tweeted recently, you have €17k to nab one of those private beds.

I vividly remember my shock when I discovered, in the course of my work, how the State's anti-drug programme worked. I had assumed that phase one was to substitute methadone for heroin, in order to get the addict out of the criminal domain, and that phase two was to gradually reduce the methadone until the addict was clean. And all the while offering such support as was needed for the addict to get behind their addiction and sort out their head or heart or whatever.

What I discovered was that, for most addicts, there was no phase two. They were just parked permanently on methadone and the underlying cause of their addiction was left untouched.

I just couldn't believe it. But, on reflection, and as I remarked at the post-performance discussion, this was the State just buying its way out of a problem which it hadn't the political will to solve.

Which brings me back to class.

Rachael has described the State's policy, or rather the lack of it, and the resultant plague as class genocide.
"This is class genocide
An economic massacre
We are the ones with the targets on our backs"
Now I know some of my readers will have instantly turned off at the word genocide. The word itself is capable of starting wars at the international level, and yes, it does have a precise meaning when used precisely. Its use in this context is an attempt to draw attention to the scale of the ravages caused by drugs particularly among the young "working class".

Go stand in front of Terry's monument and think of the virtual wipe-out of a young inner city generation and come up with a better word.

Rachael with the seat reserved for a Politician
Photo: Grace Dyas

I really love this. Politicians were invited to come and see HEROIN. In fact, the "management" even reserved them a seat. And, particularly if they didn't avail of the invitation, their named empty seat was already photographed for the record.

Let's have a go at the Northside/Southside thing while we're at it. I once met a man who took offence at my asking if he was Northside. Turned out he was Southside, but just barely. Almost on the bank of the Liffey he was.

Well we're having none of that here. Rachael is Northside, Ballymun, and spent much of her bad times in the towers. Grace is from Rialto/Dolphins Barn and I've already mentioned Dolphin House and Fatima Mansions, both estates known for dealing and rampant drug use.

Dolphin House is in the middle of a makeover but I assume it will keep the name. Fatima Mansions was demolished and it's replacement christened Herberton from up the posher end of Rialto. But they reckoned without the LUAS where the stop remains as FATIMA. I love it.

Some pics I got from Rachael around the Ballymun performance

Community Policing

The Truth on the Wall

A Happy & Determined Crew

Dean Scurry - a great support

Kitty Holland's piece in the Irish Times on the play is worth a read. You can also listen to Grace and Rachael on the Irish Times Women's Podcast.

Photo: Anna Quigley

Finally, I just couldn't leave without getting a photo with these two remarkable women.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018


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For a brief moment I thought the French had finally decided to attack and here they were coming over the wall onto the battery plain of Martello Tower No.7 which had been specifically built to ward them off.

When the moment had passed I realised that it was the group from the Military History Society of Ireland (MHSI) who had quietly invaded the site while Niall and I were inside the gunner's cottage sipping tea.

The fear of the French was real, but many moons ago. The towers were built in a hurry to deter them, or deal with them if they ever came. Mind you, they had come some years earlier to limited success in the West. They briefly occupied Mayo, set up an Irish Republic, and routed the British at Castlebar. But then it all fell apart and the British slaughtered the Irish, including prisoners of war, and it was all over. But we have not forgotten and, were it not for the damage it will inflict on us, we would be having a severe bout of schadenfreude at their current brexit shambles.

But back to the French who were expected back, and so the Towers were built. But the French never did come back and the towers were never to see any action. Nevertheless this tower has what I think must be the unique distinction of having fired on a French frigate.

My connection with the MHSI goes back to 1975 when they published my essay on La Chaussée's report in the Irish Sword. Then my cousin met a man at a MHSI meeting who later provided information on my uncle's death in WWI. And finally I have attended some of their talks in Wellington Barracks (now Griffith College) in recent times.

And, as it turned out at the tower, I knew some of the visitors from other encounters but had never associated them with the MHSI. Life is full of surprises.

When they arrived at the tower the group were in the middle of a very busy day. Their programme on The Defences of Dublin - 18th and 19th Century included the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park, the Pigeon House, Dun Laoghaire Pier, and the Martello Tower.

Harman Murtagh, Niall O'Donoghue and Pat McCarthy

Harman Murtagh had been my editor for the Sword essay in 1975. He also turned out to be a friend of Niall's from Athlone, whom he hadn't seen in fifty years. I had come across Pat at recent MHSI meetings in Wellington Barracks (now Griffith College) and at the launch of his book The Redmonds and Waterford in the RIA.

Niall is patiently and authoritatively explaining the restoration of the tower and also some of the fascinating engineering aspects of the original.

Pat is quietly subjecting all this to critical analysis, as any good historian must.

Niall tells the story of the multiple doors and points out the insignificant pelmet over one of the openings.

No question but the audience is hanging on his every word.

Then there is the glacis (steep bank) and the 230 x 20 ton truckloads of rubbish which had to be removed from the site, including from where the group are now standing.

Then there was the detective work involved in figuring out how the artillery room's slated roof could be supported without resorting to internal pillars. And the heritage conundrum where windows which had replaced the original musket loops were now impeding the latter's restoration as the later windows had acquired their own heritage status along the way.

Then it was in to the artillery room to see a video of the casting of the cannon.

Niall proudly displayed his Gunner's Certificate which entitled him to fire the cannon.

Following an arduous climb up the narrow spiral staircase the group emerged onto the crown of the tower.

One member of the group looked anxious to go straight into battle.

But first you have to point the canon in the general direction of the enemy.

And then adjust the rather crude mechanism to get the elevation for the range.

At the time of its construction this tower could command a view of the other eight defensive positions (towers and batteries) in the bay. This is no longer the case as some have disappeared and others are obscured by the more recent trees.

No, that building you see next door is not Bono's house. It is the "curse of NAMA" which has been known to emit toxic fumes. Mind you, Bono's house and those of The Edge and of Enya are in easy range of the cannon.

On behalf of the group, Kenneth Ferguson presented Niall with copies of the Irish Sword which contained articles relevant to the tower. I noticed that the red one is from 1975 and contains my La Chaussée essay.

You can follow up on the tower at this dedicated website, and this article will give you some background to the items covered during the group's visit.