Wednesday, December 12, 2018


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History might as well be water, chastising this shore;
for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice.
Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.
The quote above is from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, written especially for Pages of the Sea, which was read by individuals, families and communities on the day.

As Danny Boyle, who conceived this idea, said, it's hard to be original with commemorati"ons year after year. But he has come up with this brilliant idea.

At low tide, on armistice day, portraits of a number of WWI casualties are drawn in the sand at a number of carefully selected beaches. People come and pay their respects and, as the tide comes in, the sea claims the images.

At a more personal level, there are stencils which people can use to draw generic outlines in the sand and dedicate them to family members killed in the war or whom so ever. These are then also claimed by the sea.

I'd like to comment on three of the former type and one of the latter.

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was a war poet and he embarked for France at Folkestone. He was killed in the last week of the war in 1918. His poetry dwelt on the horror and savagery of war, much of it expressed in jarring para-rhyme.

I was introduced to Owen's poetry in school, in the late 1950s/early 1960s by an inspirational English teacher, Michael Judge.

Hedd Wyn (Ellis Evans)

I have long had an interest in Welsh poet Hedd Wyn (Ellis Evans) from Trawsfynydd. His story is embedded in Welsh Wales martyrology. He was posthumously awarded the Bardic Chair at the Birkenhead Eisteddfod having lost his life in Flanders between the submission of his winning poem and the proclamation of the winner at the Eisteddfod. On that occasion the Chair was draped in black.

Robert Taylor

My connection here is with a distant cousin-by-marriage, Patrick Joseph Daly, who went down with the HMS Tipperary in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The fleet set out from its Scapa Flow base in Orkney. Robert Taylor was born in Orkney. There is another non-family connection with Robert who fought at Paschendale and was killed at Poelcapelle near Ypres, not far from where Hedd Wyn had fallen earlier that year (1917). However the connection I have in mind arises from him being buried in nearby Poperinge which has strong connections with Dún Laoghaire, as I have myself.

Theophilius Jones

This one is a little trickier.

Who the hell is Theophilius Jones and what is the Redcar connection?

Well, Theo is believed to have been the first military casualty on British soil from enemy fire during the First World War. But that is entirely irrelevant to my story.

Redcar is a beach in North Yorkshire and the nearest I've been to it is Durham, in the mid 1970s, when a policeman in a Panda car caught me shinning down the Castle drainpipe in the middle of the night. That too is irrelevant to my story.

Leigh Brewster lives in the Redcar area and he is a grand-nephew of Richard Gardiner Brewster whom he was commemorating on the beach. That is very relevant to my story.

Richard died in France on 21 March 1918.He was the brother of Gordon Brewster, the artist and cartoonist, who died in my mothers shop on 16 June 1946. Leigh is Gordon's grandson.

So now that's all sorted and clear as a bell.

This photo and those below are from Leigh Brewster

This is Leigh roughing up the exposed sand within the stencil, creating a generic image which will be part of Richard's memorial.

The finished memorial to Richard Gardiner Brewster is now ready to be claimed by the sea. Note the poppy.

This is Leigh's 4 year old granddaughter, Lizzie Rose Brewster, also doing one of the stencils for other family members lost during the war. Her figure was the last one stencilled on the beach.

Lizzie is Gordon's great-great-grand-daughter. Isn't that something.

There are many layers to this project, one of which is well illustrated above.

The stencil here is clearly of a female. It is a generic female/nurse and it is designed to honour the many women who were involved in WWI and their civilian sisters. A fitting stencil for Lizzie's memorial though, on the specifics, this one in the sand is for two of Lizzie's male ancestors.

The inscription on the left reads "Ernest Williams 1915" and is to Leigh's wife Angela's great uncle, killed in 1915. The inscription on the right reads "Stanley Wheeler 1918" a great uncle of Leigh's, killed in 1918. So the net, even within this one family, is spread wide and the engagement has come down through many generations.

The female stencil is also being used by some to remember civilians who died during the conflict.

Even "the unknown soldier" is not forgotten. As Leigh describes it:
One of the aspects that was particularly evocative was this. As you approached the beach, the organisers handed out a random photo of someone killed during the war. There was a poem on the back. A number of people then did a stencil and placed the photo with that stencil.

In effect, remembering the sacrifice of someone they had no connection with.
Leigh also referred me to this account of the raid in which Theophilius lost his life. It also helps an understanding of why this particular location was chosen for participation in the project.

All those personal memorials. I had known about Pages of the Sea and the big facial images but had not copped the personal dimension. When Leigh told me about Richard's memorial, that and the rest of those you see above had already been claimed by the sea.

Full marks to Danny Boyle for a brilliantly thought-through project.

Monday, December 10, 2018


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It's more a question of Irish archives in City Hall alongside the Gate.

Archives: the launch of the 2018 Journal of the Irish Society for Archives.

Gate: an exhibition from the archives of the Gate Theatre.

In fact these blend harmoniously as the current journal is dedicated to The Gate Theatre at 90.

Raymond Refaussé

Raymond is Chair of the Irish Sociey for Archives (ISA) and he welcomed us to this event which was the launch of the Society's journal for 2018.

This year's journal has a graphic upgrade and appears in full colour thanks to sponsorship by Dublin City Council's Centenary of Commemorations.

Nial Ring

Dublin's current Lord Mayor, Nial Ring, launched the publication, though, as he commented, there is no specific protocol for the actual act of launching. Not like with a ship.

Anyway when he got to that point at the end of his speech he just declared it launched. I've done this myself and it's a funny feeling. Nothing happens, no trumpets, no thunder and lightening. The launched publication looks no different from the unlaunched one. A bit like transubstantiation and thank God we all understand that even if we don't fully subscribe to it.

Anyway Nial stressed the importance of archives and of respecting the past. He got a round of applause and "hear hears" when he underlined the necessity of ensuring the teaching of history in the schools. It's part of what we are.

I'm sure he won't mind me saying this - you might as well be listening to Bertie, the voice that is. However, where Bertie tended to talk in rambling riddles, Nial was a model of clarity.

Elizabeth McEvoy

Elizabeth is one of the two co-editors of the journal and in a substantial speech she went into the history of the Gate Theatre includingg the tremendous contribution of Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards to Dublin theatre in general.

I'm not going to labour this one but who did I find myself sitting beside but Sabina Higgins, who, thankfully, is still Ireland's First Lady. This sort of completed a mystical circle as the last time the Gate and the Presidency came into my life together was when a quartet of us pupils from Coláiste Mhuire played the presidential salute to welcome Dev and Sinéad to the opening of Féile Drámaíochta na Scol in the Gate around 1960.

That's Pamela McDermott (on the right) who took my photo with Sabina (centre) at the Photo-Detectives exhibition in Temple Bar last year. What goes around comes around.

And that's the pair of them with what I'll bet is the youngest version of Micheál you've ever seen.

Elizabeth with my favourite archivist, Ellen Murphy. Ellen has just moved from Dublin City Archive to the Registry of Deeds. While it's a step up for her she'll be missed at the archive where she has been doing trojan work for yonks. Anyway, congratulations Ellen.

Susan Hood who is the other co-editor of the journal. Susan took over as Librarian and Archivist at the Representative Church Body (RCB) Library from Raymond Refaussé when he retired in 2016. Belated congratulations to Susan.

Mary Clarke, Dublin City Archivist, has just spotted me taking a sneaky photo.

Brian Donnelly, from the National Archives, is Vice-Chair of the ISA. I must remember to approach him sometime to see if I can get full access to my grand aunt's records from Grangegorman and Portrane.

Raymond shares a joke with Nial.

But Nial still can't find his name in the journal.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch copies of the journal, that big pile in the middle, are being snapped up.

City Hall, at the moment, is also entertaining passer by with its winter lights.

Snippets from the Exhibition

Clytemnestra from Agamemnon - Micheál's design

Micheál & Lady Friend

Our Lady of Connemara

Do drop in to City Hall and check out the exhibition and get yourself a copy of the journal which describes the many locations and content of the theatre's archive.

Sunday, December 09, 2018


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I am calling these Winter Lights because that's what it says on the can. I would have no problem calling them Christmas lights if that's what they were but I don't see why I should be forced to do so.

There are others around the city but these are the only ones I've passed by so far. If I pass by more I will add them in.


How can this not remind us of the burning of the Custom House on 25 May 1921?



I hesitate to combine the university and snowflakes in the one shot. It reminds me of the current intolerance and illiberality sweeping through university campuses with its no platforming and safe spaces.

A university is supposed to be a place of learning (active verb) and not a soviet style brainwshing centre.




The above book was launched on Tuesday (4/12/2018) in the "new" Irish Times office in Tara Street in town.

Mark O'Brien, Leo Varadkar, Joe Breen
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Joe Breen was researching the Sunday Review, published by the Irish Times from 1957 to 1963, when he realised that the Sunday papers as a category had been under-researched so he teamed up with Mark O'Brien and between them they have come up with this book, of which they are both editors and part contributors.

The contents sound pretty comprehensive.
This book includes chapters on the Sunday Freeman, 1913–16 (Felix M. Larkin); Sunday Independent, 1905–84 (Mark O’Brien); Sunday Press (Ray Burke); Sunday Review (Joe Breen); Sunday World (Siún Ní Dhuinn & Regina Uí Chollatáin); Sunday Journal (Mary Muldowney); Sunday Tribune (Pat Brennan & Brian Trench); Sunday Independent, 1984–2012 (Kevin Rafter); Sunday Business Post, 1989–2001 (Ed Mulhall); and Sunday Times (Michael Foley).

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched the book.

I'm not sure how he was chosen other than to raise the profile of the launch and of the book itself. Perhaps it was his preoccupation with communications as evidenced in his short lived Spin Unit or maybe he's just a good launcher

He took the opportunity to tell us that the Government has an enormous responsibility to protect the free press and democracy. I hope his conviction lasts and that he will welcome the press speaking truth to power even if it ends up having a crack at himself and his Government.

He mentioned Charlie Hebdo and brought to my mind the Je suis Charlie march in Paris of Heads of State and Government (HOSG) which included some of the most repressive leaders on the planet.

He also referred to what he termed the best historical slogan of a Sunday Paper: the Sunday World's "Are you getting it every Sunday?".

Oops, did I really say that?

Of course, he said, the Sunday World would not have gotten away with such a slogan in today's PC world.

My own favourite, which is not accompanied by a wink-wink is that of the now defunct Scéala Éireann: The Truth in the News. But that wasn't a Sunday Paper so he didn't need to cite it. Anyway, what would he be doing bringing Dev into the conversation and praising the Opposition when it was his night.

While stressing that journalists had a crucial role in scrutinising claims, whether they came from institutions or individuals, it was also up to the media to cover personal stories responsibly,
By their nature personal stories are compelling, and they help bring focus on issues and that’s why they need to be reported. But by their nature any story that is personal or emotive is subjective, and it is the journalist’s job to inject objectivity into it, so the public get the full story and not just one side of that story.

It was a polished performance, giving rise to whispers of "Patrick Geoghegan" circulating among the cognoscenti.

Anyway the book got launched which is what most of us were there for, and if you want to see what the Taoiseach really said check it out.

Mark thanked Leo for doing the needful, launching the book into the deep.

And he thanked everyone else for coming along

But seriously, though, this was a huge collaborative effort, and he was grateful to all who participated in it one way or another. Special mention was made of Four Courts Press who actually got it onto the streets (as they say in the newspaper business).


In the beginning was the word, and then came the pictures.

I have never been at anything with as many photographers present. A murmuration comes to mind but that would be a gross exaggeration. Nevertheless there was enough of them for me to notice.

I managed to get in this shot of three of them which I have christened THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI.

But variety has its limits, and for this guy, it looks like it's all over. Every angle covered, terabytes notched up for processing, creativity spent.

Any chance Leo would do a handstand? Or Joe or Mark do some more speechifying in semaphore?

Not worth the wait. The editor only wants one shot for page three. Time to pack up and find the next gig.

Meanwhile the action goes on.


Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

Felix, is that Latin? Where are you from?

No, I mean where are you really from?

The cat that got the cream.

Out & About

I knew almost nobody at the do despite my own close connections with the business.

I was, myself, a class of a newspaper proprietor, editor and contributor in a past life, though admittedly on an ultra modest scale and long, long ago.

I have actually written for the Irish Times and ROSC (now defunct, I think).

I was even a sub-editor with the Welsh Nation, Plaid Cymru's English language newspaper, which incidentally seems to have packed up in 1978. That lasted for about ten minutes on the Eisteddfod field. But I did succeed in composing one headline to fill a specific place on the page, all under the expert tutelage of Clive Betts.

My close connection with Sunday papers over much of the 1950s and 1960s was through my mother's shop in Ballybrack (Killiney Bay) where we not only sold the Irish Sundays but much of the English filth which is recalled in more general histories of Sunday papers at large.

There was always a frisson of a Sunday morning as we waited to see how many and which of the English Sundays made it past the Customs and into the waiting vans of Dixons distributors. Purely incidentally, the man at Dixons was a Mr. Shakespeare. You couldn't make it up.

Then, of course there is blogging, a modern form of citizens' "newspapers" and I have been known to write the odd blog post on a Sunday, as I am doing at this very moment.

Anyway, as I said, I knew hardly anybody at the event, so I'll just throw in the photos below and you can see who you might recognise.

And we mustn't forget that the publishers need to sell their books to keep the flow coming.

There is a really amazing number of "serious" books being published in Ireland at the moment with Four Courts Press to the fore, if you'll pardon the weak golfing pun.

You can read the Irish Times report on the event for yourself.

There is also a short background piece by the book's editors in the Irish Times.