Thursday, June 06, 2019


Original jpg from Carl Byrne @artisan photographic
Uploaded to post at 1/8 original size
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The title of this post is a Greek word with connotations of home or belonging and this was the theme of an exhibition by this year's seven graduates in the Dublin DIT (now relabeled TU) BA class this year.

The exhibition is in the Gallery of Photography in Meeting House Square in Dublin's Temple Bar.

This is Contemporary Photography (eg photography with a current point of reference in society or the life of the photographer) and it reminded me very much of a Carlow IT graduate exhibition I saw in Wexford some years ago.

The photography themes ranged wide: drugs, Brexit, homelessness, social regeneration, environment, neighbourhood and flight. There were booklets on display which I understand described the projects in greater detail than could be got across in an exhibition space. Unfortunately I didn't realise at the time what they were and didn't check them out.

So my remarks here apply simply to the exhibition as such. I would hold, however, that an ability to get one's point across via some quality photography should be an indication of the quality of the project itself and its relevance to a degree in photography.

Original jpg from Carl Byrne @artisan photographic
Uploaded to post at 1/8 original size

On that score, the project that appealed to me most was the drugs project from which you can see two illustrations above. It combined social relevance with extensive research and was illustrated through a series of well thought out photographs with a novel presentation of textual content.

The theme was the decriminalisation of cannabis use.

A project close to my heart was the regeneration of inner city flats complexes. The examples chosen were Dolphin House, Theresa's Gardens and Dominick Street. The project itself is quite complex and clearly relevant but it is difficult to convey this in a limited exhibition space.

The complexities, or even the simplicity, of Brexit is difficult to convey in pictures. This was a four year course and in the last two of these the nature and understanding of Brexit has been evolving on the public stage. Though I'd have to say that I see this evolution as a gradual clarification of what I understood it to be from the beginning. But we'll park that. This is not my show.

The visual material here attempts to illustrate Brexit through a series of dystopian scenes in the south-east of Ireland and England. I take the point but it is very difficult to get this across visually and I could envisage an alternative set of photos myself.

This is a comment purely relating to the exhibition itself. I did not get to read the full project.

I've reproduced two of the individual Brexit photos above.

This project involved moving to a new neighbourhood and across a state border, as I recollect it. It does illustrate how difficult this can be to get across simply in a series of images and the impact of this project is likely better captured in the text than in the photos.

The homelessness project was innovative and included distributing disposable cameras to those lodged in social accommodation for them to record the appalling conditions in which they were living. It sounds like a great project but again the visual representation had its problems.

I'll leave the individual projects there, but stress again that I was only going on what I saw and cannot comment on the quality of the full projects. But I would also stress that conveying the projects visually in a confined space is also a challenge appropriate to any aspiring photographer.

Ann Curran

Ann, who is in charge of the degree course at TU, introduced the exhibition and she seemed happy with this year's crop of graduates.

Alexa Simonics

Alexa, who is one of the graduates/exhibitors, also commented on the exhibition. I gather she had a central role in its organisation.

Shane Lynam

Shane, himself a photographer of some years standing, formally launched the exhibition and gave words of encouragement and advice to the graduates for cutting out a career in the highly competitive field of photography.

He mentioned a point dear to my own heart. Now that everyone has a camera, even an always-with-you one in your phone, the field has got a bit crowded.

My own feeling is that this has led to less appreciation of good photographs and when I see upside down and sideways photos uploaded to the internet my heart bleeds for talented and conscientious photographers. (My own photo-background)

Above are just a few "audience" shots and I won't identify the people as I only know who some of them are.

Before I finish, I'd like to compliment Tanya Kiang on this wonderful space in the centre of the city. It has an excellent bookshop, a digital studio, and puts on highly relevant and exciting exhibitions in the course of the year.

The Gallery of Photography's next exhibition will be in partnership with the National Library of Ireland, whose photo department is just across the square. I am looking forward immensely to this upcoming exhibition of photos of Irish life from a collection which has not been seen before and which has involved a high degree of collaboration not only between these two entities but with the family of the photographer concerned. Stay tuned.

And finally, raising my eyes, and camera, to the gallery above us, I realise we're all on show here on the night. All the world's a stage ...

Sunday, June 02, 2019


Séamas Ó Maoileoin
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I thought I came across Séamas for the first time in Lyn Ebenezer's book on Frongoch and I included the story of the translation of Séamas's letters in my post on the camp. I have reproduced that extract below.

For example, letters were censored both on the way in and on the way out. However, correspondence in the Irish language posed an additional problem for the authorities as it had first to be translated.

Séamus Ó Maoileoin was getting letters in Irish from his very republican mother. The relevant officer did not know of the mother's leanings and assumed "She is probably urging you to obediently beg for forgiveness for your crimes and to promise to be true to your King from now on and to return to Ireland". Ó Maoileoin comments "He didn't know my dear mother. He was loath to keep my mother's letter from me. He himself had a mother. But rules were rules and he had no translator."

Ó Maoileoin jokingly volunteered to translate the letter himself. To his surprise, the officer agreed, and Ó Maoileoin translated it honestly. Every time he came across a doubtful sentence he pointed it out and the officer would then snip the offending phrase off with a pair of scissors. He ended up with a pocketful of snippets. This was to happen to every subsequent letter Ó Maoileaoin received or sent, and on his release, the officer returned to him all the snippets he had removed. On the envelope containing the offending snippets he had written, "Clippings from the letters of a she-wolf".

I thought it a wonderful story.

Now I have a Moylan loosely connected to my family and I recently met a descendant and relations of Michael Mallin who was executed in 1916. I began to wonder if Séamas of the letters was related to either of these.

So I went to DIB na Gaeilge,, to check him out. He's not.

But some other interesting connections turned up. My Séamas was the father of Brighid who was married to Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh who, with his wife, ran the Irish language publishers Sáirséal agus Dill, which publishers published some of my school books, including Albert Folens's Nuachúrsa Fraincíse. I met Brighid once.

What's more, Séamas's wife Bríd Bhreathnach was the daughter of Hubert Breathnach from Rosmuc, just around the corner from Turlough in Connemara where my own great-grandmother hails from. Hubert taught there until he fell out with the Parish Priest.

I never met Máirtín Ó Cadhain, but I did hear him once, at a protest meeting in Abbey Street, offer a disgusting version of Brian Lenihan Senior's name in Irish. Anyway, that's neither here nor there. Máirtín gave the oration at Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh's grave and Seán's son Cian gave the oration at Máirtín's grave.

But there's more. Séamas wrote an autobiography in Irish, B'fhiú an Braon Fola (The Drop of Blood was well shed), That's where he recounts the original story of the letters and I came across a copy in the house. It was published by none other than Sáirséal agus Dill and that's where I nicked Séamas's photo above.

You can read Séamas's original Irish version of the letters story below.

Leagan Gaeilge
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What a small interconnected world we live in.

Saturday, June 01, 2019


Billy White's winning photo in 2015
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This year's Michael Edwards Photo Competition has just kicked off with the revelation of this year's theme: ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE.

Now this should give everyone loads of scope for exercising a bit of imagination, not to mention keeping their eyes open between now and September when entries are expected to be in.

This year's competition is not confined to camera clubs, individuals are welcome to enter.

All prints, whether from clubs or individuals, should be a minimum of 16"x12" and mounted.

I don't know who the adjudicator will be but it would be nice if whoever it is gave some idea, in advance of entries being submitted, of how they view the theme and what they will be looking for. Adjudicators always have preferences and sometimes quite firm views on what is and what is not allowable.

One adjudicator more or less ruled out any photoshopping, but we only learned this in the course of the adjucation. Another adjudicator insisted in there being a person in the photo; the theme that year was ARTISAN. Again this only came out during the adjudication.

Anyway, don't let any of this discourage you from thinking of entering. I always point to Billy White's winning photo above when I'm encouraging people to enter.

Now, Billy is a first class photographer, but that shot could have been taken with a box Brownie in the distant past. What makes it a great photo is seizing the moment. There will be only one crashing wave like this which startles the young lad and leaves the dog completely unconcerned.

You could have many moments like this between now and September. Seize them and enter the photo.

Michael Edwards Photography
is in the Donaghmede Shopping Centre.

And in case you want to deepen your understanding of the theme, here it is in context.

Friday, May 31, 2019


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The Director welcomed everybody to the event, including those sitting in the reserved seats in the first two rows. It seems like this was a big occasion.

Dominique A, singer, composer and author, is clearly big on the scene at home in France.

I had met Loïc once before when, funny enough he was interviewing a French author Philippe Djian who had just written a dirty book which was in for some prize or other.

Tonight he was interviewing Dominique whom AMOPA (see below) had invited over specifically for this occasion.

Just like the last time I noticed that at least one other event was slipped into the trip.

Loïc has just finished a term as President of the newly formed AMOPA and is now the Honorary Consul for France in Ireland's mid-west.

He introduced Dominique, listing some of his many achievements, and then got down to business as in the first shot above.

Dominique did the interview seated as in the first shot above, but given the lighting problems for photos (see below) I'm using some post-interview shots here.

My own impression, from the few tracks played, was of something in the style of Leonard Cohen with perhaps a bit more melody and a trademark of stopping mid-phrase.

Dominique is a flag bearer for a particular style of song for almost a generation at this stage. I gather he experiments with form but we only heard a few tracks in broadly similar style.

The idea seems to have been to veer away from what were seen as "talkies" (chansons à texte) with the likes of Brel and Brassens and go for more melody. The nuances here, I must confess, are a bit beyond me. It would probably take a lavishly illustrated talk on its own to get to the bottom of this.

What I could appreciate is that Dominique has a lovely voice and he sings true.

Dominique is clearly accepted as an exponent of French culture abroad. In 2007 the Alliance invited him to perform in Argentina and here he is tonight.

In fact, only a short while ago in 2016, he was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Despite this not being quite at the top of the heap of French honours and even though Chevalier is the lowest of the three grades of the award, you can see below that it has gone to some heavy hitters. And they're just the ones whose names I recognised.
L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres est une décoration honorifique française qui, gérée par le ministère de la Culture, récompense « les personnes qui se sont distinguées par leur création dans le domaine artistique ou littéraire ou par la contribution qu'elles ont apportée au rayonnement des arts et des lettres en France et dans le monde.

Jane Birkin
Dirk Bogarde
Carla Bruni Sarkozy
Tim Burton
Jim Carrey
Jackie Chan
Jacques Chirac
George Clooney
J. M. Coetzee
Céline Dion
Declan Donnellan
René Goscinny (Astérix)
Jean-Claude Juncker
Jude Law
Kylie Minogue
Jean Quatremer
Uma Thurman

Jean Quatremer is an interesting entry on the list. I'm not sure why he's still there as he has returned his honour. It was awarded without notice or consent (went to the wrong address) and he did not think it appropriate for an independent journalist to accept honours from a governement. I gather he may reconsider the matter when he retires. Perhaps that's why he's still on the list (pending!).

He is the journalist who recently exposed the Selmayrgate scandal at the heart of the EU Commission.

Quatremer has figured prominently in my Twitter timeline


AMOPA is an association of those who have been awarded the Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French government. It's a sort of knighthood awarded for a significant contribution to French language and culture.

The Association in its own words:
L’AMOPA Irlande est la section irlandaise de l’Association des Membres de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, association française reconnue d’utilité publique. L’une des principales missions de l’AMOPA Irlande, association caritative, est d’organiser ou de soutenir des projets éducatifs ou culturels à destination de la jeunesse afin de promouvoir la langue et la culture françaises en République d’Irlande.

My cousin Michael is a recipient but I don't think he has yet paid his subscription to the Association.

My Légion d'Honneur

I am still waiting for my Légion d'Honneur for my work in the establishment of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, La BERD. Michael Somers has got his but his support staff have been forgotten.

I wondered though might I qualify for one of the palmy ones. They are, after all, two rungs down from the Légion d'Honneur and a Chévalier there is a whole nine steps down from the top if you count the internal ranks.

So I decided to try and make a list in support of my sterling contribution to French literature and culture over the years. It turned out not to be all that convincing.

I have supported French tourism by issuing day passes to tourists from Jersey CI to St. Malo.

I don't have a general in the family but I have given one-to-one tutoring to four grandsons of a French general.

I took two orals in French rather than English in the College of Europe to spare the egos of two francophones.

I brought a busload of students from Bruges to Lille in 1968 to the Assises Nationales of the Gaullist party.

I translated French documents for work when we had just joined the EEC and the Commission's translation unit wasn't yet up to speed with English. [Unfortunately this appears to be the wrong way round for the present purpose.]

I have written three original songs in French on de Gaulle, the EEC and the Civil Service, none of which have yet been performed before the general public.

I have also suffered the outrageous slings and arrows of former President Mitterand's long time economic advisor and éminence grise, Jacques Attali. Died for my country there I did.

I came to the posthumous defence of my first French teacher when he was traduced in a TV documentary by two Irish journalists. [Don't think that will help though as he was Flemish and opposed the frenchification of his native Flanders.]

I have given a talk in French in the Alliance, in the bicentenary year of Waterloo, on the Defence of Killiney Bay in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, with paticular reference to the Martello Towers. [Oops, the Martellos were to shoot at the French rather than at their enemies.]

I have had a cartoon of myself done in the Place du Tertre in Paris and also in the Alliance.

I have pointed out to the French Embassy (twice) that they were flying the European flag upside down. [Don't suppose that will endear me to them though.]


I have attended a number of events in the Alliance in recent years. The most striking change over that period is the switch from La Cocotte to the new Médiathèque. The café was awkward. People had to be thrown out coming up to tea time to facilitate preparations for an event. There was some noisy machinery at what became the bottom of the room - fridges I think.

The Médiathèque is a bespoke environment and, as it houses the library, it is always quiet.

I had not noticed at previous functions, but there were a few drawback's to Dominique's event. I think what brought one of them out was the double focus on both the participants in the interview and the screen behind. The screen called for dim room lighting while the interview called for the reverse to be able to see, and photograph, the participants. Everyone, including the Alliance itself, is taking photos at these event for spreading on social media, and it would be in the Alliance's interest to facilitate this. I imagine installing a few spots to illuminate the podium without obscuring the screen should do the trick.

That's the lighting. On sound it would be better to wire up the participants so that a sound check at the beginning could achieve the best in clarity. It would also mean that the participants would not have to constantly worry about how they held the mics. The clarity would be more important to me than to many others. I struggled to follow the French on the night.

Given that the only microphones were those of the participants, questions could only be accepted from the first two rows if the rest of the audience were to be able to hear them. A roving radio mic would improve matters enormously.

Just some thoughts for another occasion.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


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If there were two key words that came out of the launch of Seamus Mallon's memoir at the Irish Architectural Archive (23/5/19) they were integrity and interdependence.

The latter was well captured in the Irish language saying Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. In the course of his passionate address Seamus offered this saying as a guiding light in any consideration of the future in store for Northern Ireland. Or as he put it in the form of a brutally challenging question Are we going to do to them what they did to us?.

The theme is further rammed home in the title of his memoir A Shared Home Place. This is the calibre of the man we are dealing with here. Always constructive but with an eye on the longer term.

And the second key word integrity was much bandied about on the night, but nobody challenged the fact that Seamus Mallon personified it.

But I'm probably getting ahead of myself here.

Tim O'Connor

Tim was the first speaker. He is a diplomat much of whose career was taken up with Northern Ireland. He spoke of working with Seamus and of the work relationship developing into a friendship. This allowed him to slip in a reference to bunkers. Not just a golfing term but a politico/military one as Tim had been involved in the bunker in Belfast's Maryfield which had been the secretariat to the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council in the period 1985 to 1998.

The term bunker will give you an idea of the environment in which the secretariat operated. A bit like the space station - careful preparations were needed before stepping outside.

He referred to how huge an undertaking it is to write and publish a book like this. Many a one has proclaimed their intention to produce such a book only to fall at the first fence.

Someone else mentioned that it was Tim who suggested that Andy Pollak should help Seamus with the book, and what we heard was that were it not for Andy's slave driving, among other things, there would have been no book.

Tim testified to Seamus's integrity and Seamus picked Brian to launch his book.

Now, Brian has had his share of criticism for both his actions and inaction in public life, but it is clear from Seamus that he acted with integrity and skill relating to Northern Ireland in the period following the adoption of the Good Friday Agreement when aspects of its implementation had gone into foot-dragging slow motion.

Brian was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2004 and Taoiseach from 2008 to 2011, though I'm sure he had more than Northern Ireland on his mind during the latter period.

I have to say that Brian amazed me by knowing my name. I am retired now some 13 years and I had very little contact with him when he was Minister for Finance. This memory for names seems to come naturally, or maybe of necessity, to politicians. I suggested to him that he must have a memory chip embedded in his head. He muttered something back which sounded like a mnemonic which I didn't quite catch.

He never gives up, and he's still at it. Telling it like it is, was, and hopefully never shall be, amen.

He recounted how, during the Good Friday negotiations, he asked Tony Blair why, given that the SDLP was the largest nationalist party, he was negotiating behind their backs with the smaller nationalist party (Sinn Féin).

Seamus describes Blair's reply as breathtaking and a seminal moment: "The trouble with you fellows, Seamus, is that you have no guns".

Indeed it was. The attitude it revealed as underpinning the Good Friday Agreement has led us to where we are today.

Seamus is, of course, hoping and working for a united Ireland. And the Good Friday Agreement contains a provision for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to call a border poll if they judge the time right. And at this present time we are at the tipping point of the Catholics outbreeding the Protestants, so is this the time?

Seamus's test goes beyond mere demographics. His question is "are we ready for a united Ireland?". For example, does the South know what it's getting into? Are we going to attempt to replace one reluctant/resistant minority (Catholics in NI) with another (Northern Protestants in a united Ireland)? Important as the demographics may be, reconciliation and mutual respect are more important as a foundation for unity.

The test relates to the timing, but Seamus gave us a quote on the inevitability of a united Ireland:
In this island we cannot always live separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the border to be there for all time. The change will not come in my time but it will come.
And another one on its desirability:
There is no one in the world who will be more pleased to see an absolute unity in Ireland than I would.
He then took us by surprise, as I'm sure he regularly did his Unionist friends, by pointing out that the first quote was from Northern Ireland's first Prime Minister, James Craig, and the second from the notorious Edward Carson.

However, the Shinners, as he pointed out, want an early border poll for party interest above that of country. For this reason, he said, they must be stopped.

As for Blair and his guns, if you check out my encounter with John Hume below, you'll see that the SDLP, or at least some of them, did have guns, but, presumably they weren't using them to shoot the right people.

Seamus is known for his alleged description of the Good Friday Agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners, and there is a lot of truth in that. That doesn't mean he regards the Agreement as the be all and end all. I think he sees it as a stepping stone along the way, though it may not be his ideal stepping stone given his exchange with Blair above.

Seamus would like to develop the Agreement which has its flaws as the current political paralysis in the North illustrates. This, of course, unlike a hard Brexit is a question of building on the Agreement rather than betraying it.

Such was the passion in Seamus's speech that you could hear a pin drop.

I was pleased to meet Seamus whom I had not met before.

I had met John Hume once way back. At that time the UK Treasury had introduced a piece of legislation formalising the annual determination of monies for Northern Ireland. I was dealing with this area in the Department of Finance at the time and Michael Lillis from Department of Foreign Affairs asked for my opinion on how the new legislation might affect the flow of funds to Northern Ireland. I said it would make no difference.

Now Foreign Affairs were liaising closely with the SDLP at the time and I was asked if I would brief John Hume on the matter. I said this wasn't really necessary in the circumstances. They could just tell John it would make no difference. That wasn't acceptable and I was press ganged into accompanying Michael to meet John.

We duly reached the appointed location and were admitted following a special knock on the door. I was invited to sit in a soft chair facing John who was sitting on a sofa. I was introduced, much to my embarrassment, as some sort of financial expert in these matters and invited to brief John. So I just simply said that the whole thing made no difference whatsoever. They would still just have to lobby Whitehall for the dosh as they had been doing up to then.

Now, as we know, John Hume did not like guns, but Northern security insisted that he carry one, and it was only as I was speaking to him I noticed he had removed the gun from his person and laid it, still in its transparent wrapping, on the couch, pointing straight at me.

I'm glad to say that this is as near as I came to being a target in my dealings with Northern Ireland over the years.

Liz O'Donnell and Seamus Mallon

I also met Liz for the first time. She had been on the Irish team negotiating the Good Friday Agreement and, if I'm not mistaken, is in one of the photos in Seamus's book.

I was once close to becoming collateral damage in a political scrap between herself and Charlie McCreevy.

I gave her my view of the PD supporters at that time: one half admired Dessie and the other half fancied Liz. To the best of my recollection I had a foot in both camps myself.

Doireann Ní Bhrian and Esther McCarthy

She hadn't known it until I told her. Doireann is my sometime therapist.

Every time I travel on the LUAS and hear her announcing the stops and where to shop, my blood pressure eases, as does my pulse, and I luxuriate in the glorious intonation of Gaeilge Chorca Dhuibhne transported a million miles from the dystopian land of Myles's Corca Dorcha.

And it's not just me. Doireann told me how an autistic child became entranced with her voice which always calmed him down when he heard it. She ended up recording his favourite story for him.

As for Esther, I have almost fond memories of her chasing me round the block over some overdue Freedom of Information reply, or am I just imagining it? Sounds good at this remove and she takes a compliment well.

As mentioned above, Andy was chosen to help Seamus with the book. He was eminently qualified to do so, with a strong journalistic background and involvement in Northern and cross-border affairs.

He is married to Doireann and both their children were at the launch: Sorcha who is a journalist and author herself, and Grainne, who is an executive and production assistant at the Gate. I will include a picture in response to overwhelming demand if it materialises.

Rory was a border TD which meant he had a good appreciation of what went on in the North. He has been Minister for Health, and for Environment, and Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) in the Dáil. Ardal O'Hanlon is a son.

Wally Kirwan

Wally was one of my earliest bosses in the Department of Finance. He was a marathon worker. At the time we were an AP/AO unit sitting across the table from each other.

I remember one occasion when Wally wrote a medium term economic model for the economy, virtually non-stop off the top of his head. I was almost afraid to take a break to the loo, such was Wally's dynamic pace.

His output was prodigious and the rise of Maurice Doyle to Secretary of the Department was not unrelated to Wally's supporting work, particularly in relation to Maurice's participation in the OECD's Working Party Two. This Working Party was the principal focus for economic work in the Organisation and performance there could make or break reputations.

Wally was seen by some as being prolix. This was a Civil Service curse word at the time and one of the criteria it was fatal to score highly on in your evaluation form. It means going on at length but it also suggests low grade content.

Now this never applied to Wally. His briefs were thick, but if you took the trouble to read them you would then know what you were talking about. Needless to say this didn't suit everyone at the time. At a later stage in my career we were down to one page briefing notes for the Minister.

Wally went from the Department of Finance to Taoiseach's where he worked on Northern Ireland matters. His nationalist sentiments, though they never interfered with the professionalism of his work, were sometimes not appreciated particularly in periods of Blueshirt government. The paranoia of some of the politicos at the time is well illustrated by my run in with John Kelly.

Robert Schmuhl & Felix Larkin

Felix is a former colleague, friend, and mentor. He turns up at a lot of the things I do and many more that I don't. Felix sees himself primarily as a historian, I think, and his output is top class. His particular interest includes the Freeman's Journal and everywhere that leads him.

Bob is Retired Professor of American Studies and Head of the School of Journalism at Notre Dame University in Indiana. He is a regular contributor to “Morning Ireland” on RTÉ1.

The Offaly Camp

The father in law of the man in the pink shirt next to Brian Cowen is a cousin of Seamus's and the man himself is from Offaly. So he has two separate feet firmly in tonight's event.

We had a very productive discussion on how to crash events. In fact, I was going to crash this one but lost my nerve and wangled an invite earlier in the day

XX, Nora Owen & Bill Nolan

One of the problems at these functions is that you think you recognise faces but you haven't the faintest idea who they are. That applies to the man on the left. Answers welcome on the back of a postcard or in the comments below. I didn't know the man on the right but he's wearing a badge that tells me he's Bill from Foreign Affairs.

And all this is irrelevant as I took the photo of Nora Owen who was Minister for Justice in the critical period 1994 to 1997. One minute we have a Cease Fire (1994) and the next we don't (1996) and then, just after you go, we have the Good Friday Agreement (1998).

I remember vividly the night the Cease Fire broke down at Canary Wharf. But that's another story.

Nora is a grandniece of Michael Collins.

Tom Arnold & Tim

This is what Professor Jim Phelan said about Tom on Bloomsday 2010:
Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Scientiae; idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.

And that was only one of the honours Tom picked up in a long career as economist and leader of projects, both national and international.

Tom was chair of the Constitutional Convention in 2012. The Convention membership included four members of the Northern Ireland Assembly of which Martin McGuinness was one.

Tom had a plan to smuggle me in to the launch, but, as I said above, I lost my nerve and sought an invite.

Austin was one of the people who sparked off the civil rights movement in the North when he squatted in a house in Dungannon which had been allocated by the local council to a Protestant unmarried mother, daughter of a local politician, over the heads of what he considered more deserving cases.

Housing discrimination was endemic in Northern Ireland and it was a similar incident which catapulted Seamus himself into politics.

Austin spent many years as a member of the Stormont paliament and subsequently moved south serving as a TD for many further years. Fine Gael put him up as a presidential candidate in 1990 but he did not succeed in stopping Mary Robinson's gallop.

I also met Colm Larkin for the first time though I felt I sort of knew him through my friend Cathal Cavanagh with whom he is friendly.

Conor has strong Northern connections having been born in Belfast and graduating from Queen's. He may be more recognised by the general public for his reporting from New York during and after 9/11 and also from Moscow.

Everytime I see the title of his latest book The Shoemaker and his Daughter I jump. I have a talk on one side of my family which I had called The Shoemaker's Daughters. And there the similarity ends.

I wasn't talking to Conor but I did meet him once about twenty years ago when he was advising my Minister that China was the coming thing and Ireland should be pulling out all the stops to develop markets there.

I gathered there were also people there who I would have captured on film except I didn't even see them. I had placed myself up front to take photos and wasn't always conscious of who was behind me.

One of these was David Andrews. David had been Minister for Foreign Affairs at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

He had been my local TD in the 1960s and was instrumental in getting me a certificate to import four banned books on the eve of the reformation of the State's book censorship regime in 1967. You can read the correspondence here.

I saw Noel Dorr in the distance but didn't catch him.

I gathered Seán Donlon was there too but I didn't even catch sight of him. Seán spent some time on the board of the EBRD where I had been many years earlier, but that too is another story.

I also missed seeing Daithí Ó Ceallaigh and I don't know was Michael Lillis there at all.

Before I leave Seamus, I think it is important to say that, at the outset, he said he regretted that John Hume could not be there. John, as the world knows, is not well.

The two men have had their differences and strikingly so. Seamus said that John was a loner and it is clear that Seamus felt that Sinn Féin/IRA had too many concessions embedded in the Good Friday Agreement.

But he acknowledged John's place in the Nationalist Pantheon and made a point of doing so.

So, to sum up, I enjoyed the night immensely. Seamus was full of sensible passion and it was great to meet him after my being involved on and off in Northern affairs down through the years. I also enjoyed meeting old friends and maybe making one or two new ones.

I bought Seamus's book and look forward to reading it. I've only got as far as reading the introduction by Andy Pollak and this promises a lot.

Finally, thanks to Lilliput Press for inviting me after I had the cheek to ask.

Sunday, May 19, 2019


Click any image for a larger version

This is the Roman Catholic church of St. John the Baptist in Clontarf. In 1870 my grandfather was baptised here. But tonight (18/5/2019) it is the venue for a different kind of celebration. Mae'r Cymry en dod. The Pembroke and District Male Voice Choir are giving a recital.

The choir was formed in Pembroke in 1952 in the tradition of Welsh male voice choirs. It might have become a mixed voice choir in the 1960s as numbers fell below sustainable levels. But thanks to a mighty recruitment drive and a series of sterling performances its future as a male voice choir was secured.

Phil Lloyd

Phil was our MC for the night. He is the choir's secretary and, it seems, general manager. He put in an entertaining and witty performance as MC, not to mention his contribution as general organiser and second tenor in the singing.

Christine Lloyd

Chris is the choir's musical director, which means that, as well as organising the music and conducting rehearsals, she conducts the choir at performances, as is evident from the above photo.

Now one of my unfulfilled ambitions in life, since I saw Leslie Phillips in the film Raising the Wind, has been to conduct an orchestra, however briefly, with the aim of finding out, once and for all, who is really in charge, the conductor or the orchestra.

So I always pay particular attention to the conductor at these events. Well, Chris, as you will see below, is a very expressive conductor, but I did not discern any hint of conflict here. Choir and conductor were as one. The performance was very controlled: sweet in the softer moments and no shouting in the fortes.

Sweet in the softer moments

No shouting in the fortes

Isn't that something. You can almost hear the music.

Chris had originally been the choir's accompanist but she took over as musical director and conductor from her father, who was a founder member and original conductor of the choir.

Then her daughter, Jenny, also in the photo above, took over from her.

Jenny Griffiths (née Lloyd)

Now, I don't have a shot of the full choir, so you'll have to see it in bits. That's because I took a seat up front to get some good photos, but I think I over did it, and even with my relatively wide angle lens I couldn't get them all in.

So here's another bit. And now I think you've more or less seen them all.

As to the choir itself, it was an impressive performance over a relatively wide range of music from the traditional welsh hymns, through negro and South African spirituals to quality modern pop/ballad.

My long held view is that the most suitable repertoire for a Welsh male voice choir is the hymns. I'd listen to them all night. I know there is a challenge in concert/classical pieces and you won't win a prize at an Eisteddfod with just a bunch of hymns. Nevertheless.

The choir sang two traditional hymns, one in Welsh (Rachie, or I bob un) and the other in English (Cwm Rhondda). These were the only two numbers I could join in with, and it may have been that which got me the coveted prize of a choir tie, which you can see (part of) at the bottom of this post. Thank you Phil.

For one of the later numbers, Phil invited any choristers in the audience to come up and sing with them. I thought that a nice gesture. I'm sure there were many choristers in the audience. In fact Phil had mentioned them earlier on. But he only got one taker. I was tempted, but knew damn well that I'd forgotten the words of almost everything since my Dublin Welsh days. So I stayed where I was. That way only the choir knew I was joining in and I don't have to face any locals over the next few weeks.

Alyson Griffiths

Alyson is both flautist and soprano and she performs solos in the choir's programme. We didn't hear her sing but she plays a mean flute and gave us a beautiful rendering of Pie Jesu as well as some other numbers.

The church acoustic was well suited to the mellow tones of the flute.

Bryan Hoey

So, how did this particular choir end up coming to Clontarf?

Well, the connection is Bryan Hoey. Bryan is a local, but in a previous life he joined the choir in Pembroke Dock and has sung solo with them on a number of occasions including as recently as July 2018.

Bryan is described on the choir's website as a renowned Irish tenor. Not being familiar with his name I googled him. Renowned he is and much in demand as a tenor and compere.

Among his contributions on the night was Jerusalem with its traditional gusto and then a switch to Percy French and the West Clare Railway, where he invited the audience to join in the chorus, which we duly did.

I don't know if he was being serious or not, but he assured us that the choir would be back. He told us that he was one of its Vice Presidents and the tradition had been established that the choir was obliged to sing at the funeral of a Vice President.

I should remark, in passing, that his was not the full choir. It is not a youth choir, and not all members were up to traveling. Nevertheless the sound was solid.

In case you're curious, I gather there are only two Welsh speakers in the choir, soon to be only one. I suppose this is not surprising as Pembrokeshire is not the most Welsh-Welsh of counties, though I was at a National Eisteddfod in Hwllffordd (Haverford West) many moons ago and Dilwyn Miles, a late noted Eisteddfod personality, originated from there.

That tie (detail)

The choir had brought a stack of their CDs over with them. Such was the enthusiasm of the audience that they sold out in a flash at the exorbitant price of €5 each. The choir now travels on, CD-less, to their next venue in Belfast.

Their website is worth a visit. Content and structure are excellent though it could do with a slight cosmetic make-over.

Verdict: a marvelous night's entertainment. Llongyfarchiadau i chi gyd.