Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Pro-Rogues Gallery

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Black Rod approaches the Commons Chamber. The cry is "close the doors". Black Rod knocks three times on the door.

The doors are opened. Black Rod enters the Chamber.

She summons the Commons to the House of Lords for the Prorogation

Black Rod has to wait impassively while the Speaker criticises this Prorogation as an "executive fiat" but says he will cooperate. He understands the position of those who prefer to remain where they are.

The Speaker leaves the House with Black Rod and the Mace

The party are followed by (virtually) all the Tories while the Opposition remains in place.

Arriving at the Lords, it is clear that scarcely any of the Lords have turned up. The people in the foreground are the Commons MPs.

So that's likely less than half the Commons and scarcely a Lord in sight.

Meanwhile there's some act to be assented to and this wigged figure responds to another wigged figure's request with the exclamation LA REINE LE VEULT (It is so wished by the Queen).

Then there is some repetitive cap doffing by the two male Commissioners. The lady Commissioner reads the Queen's (closing) speech which outlines at length the achievements of the current parliamentary session. She then effects the prorogation.

The Speaker returns to the Commons to wind up the proceedings and is received with rapturous applause by those who have remained in the chamber.

A queue then forms as each member individually takes leave of the Speaker. There will be more sitting days between the Queen's (opening) speech on 14 October and the Speaker's retirement on 31 October, but this has been an emotional day and night.

To sum up, we know that the Prime Minister lied to the Queen when seeking the Prorogation. The Queen must have known he was lying but she still acceded to his request. Shameful.

This is the background to many seeing this Prorogation as a fraud and refusing to have anything to do with it.

It is all really amazing stuff.

Some of the frippery described above just might be acceptable as an adjunct to virtue but when it papers over fraud it is not.

I was going to include this piece in my Brexit Musings post but I thought it had a stand alone quality about it and so I've kept it separate.

Monday, September 09, 2019


A relation was traveling to the £sterling area (Norn Iron) for the day. I remembered I had some £ somewhere and fished it out. One of two £5 had Churchill on it. Now Bojo de Piffle has been practicing his Churchill pout over the last few days and it struck me to do a mash up with Bojo on the note.

So, first to scan the note with my excellent Epson scanner.

Epson Scanner Warning
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But, wow, this came up on my screen, so that was that.

Screen Grab

I then found an image online, took a screen grab, and loaded it into Photoshop.

Photoshop Warning

And, wow, I got this.

And this was a screen grab without any identifying information that it was a banknote.

So I went back to the Bank of England's Flickr account and downloaded the image from there via the conventional Flick download command.

Photoshop took the result without protest but it now had blue gridlines which I thought would stymie me. To my surprise they vanished when I saved down the file.

This is the final result. Not all that elegant but my grey, and other, cells were in a mush by this stage.

I was quite staggered at what appeared to be built into the scanner and Photoshop software.

I suppose, as someone who was once responsible for my administration's anti money laundering programme (not the same as forgery - I know), I should be thrilled at all this security.

I suspect, though, that it only deters some very low level forgers and that the big guys could get round it in the blink of an eye.

Anyway, I've now not only copied the note but defaced it - two crimes for the price of one.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019


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This was my second visit to Richmond Barracks (aka Keogh Square & St. Michael's Estate). My first visit, in 2015, was to an open day where information, stories, and documentation was being collected from the public as part of the restoration project. This was not held in the barracks itself but in St. Michael's Community Centre in the barracks' grounds.

My interest in the barracks is twofold. In 1916-18, in the wake of a major crisis in his life, my grandfather, Patrick Mortimer, worked as a canteen assistant at the barracks. This came to an end when he was fished out of the Liffey at Eden Quay on 11 June 1918. The coroner's verdict was death by asphyxiation from drowning.

The second connection relates to my great grandfather, Christopher Burgess, Patrick's father in law, who was a master bootmaker in James's St. He had a contract to supply boots to the British Army and used periodically come up to the barracks to be paid. Now, the British Army had a reputation as slow payers, so I don't know how he came out financially from these transactions. I do understand that he was well entertained and sent home in a cab somewhat the worse for wear.

So I was very pleased yesterday to be able to visit the restored part of the barracks which remains. The building to the left in the photo above is where the 1916 prisoners were "triaged" and to the right of this is the officers' mess where my grandfather might just have worked, at least part of the time.


The restoration of the few buildings that remain has been done with great flair. For example, these transparencies on one of the outward facing windows give an immediate impression of what it must have been like to look through it in the days when the barracks was operational.

The gymnasium can now double as an exhibition space and a lecture theatre, which brings me to the purpose of my visit.

Peadar's talk

Readers of this blog will know that Peadar Slattery has just published a brilliant book on Social Life in Pre-Reformation Dublin, 1450-1540. You don't have to take my word for this, check out the launch.

Peadar is giving a series of talks on his book, the most recent of which was in Richmond Barracks yesterday (2/8/2019). That's why I was there, but, incidentally, I took the opportunity to check out the restoration.

In his book, Peadar deals with the Dublin food supply in the period. His slide is of a specially commissioned drawing of an impression of an urban granary off Church St., based on archeological evidence.

Among a plethora of interesting subjects, he covered the use of coins - always a tricky issue.

Keogh Square

When the Irish State took possession of the barracks in 1922, it continued to be used as a military barracks for two or three years. It was rechristened Keogh Barracks in honour of Tom Keogh (many spellings) who fell in the Civil War fighting on the State's side.

It was subsequently used for council housing. Keogh Square got a reputation for being a tough area and the estate was demolished in 1970. It was replaced by St. Michael's estate which in turn is now scheduled for further regeneration.

The current museum has a reconstruction of a sitting room (above), a kitchen and a soldier's room from the Keogh Square days.

This, on the wall of the sitting room will no doubt spark many memories.

To note in the kitchen, the picture of Pope Paul VI on the wall.

The soldier's room.


The Christian Brothers had a boys' school in some of the buildings from 1929 to 2006. One of these rooms is now preserved in the officers' mess building.

There's even one of those things you stick your head through, though this seems to have gone co-ed in the meantime.


There are transparencies of people up on many of the internal and external window panes and I wondered what that was all about. I recognised Francis Ledwidge above, but apart from a few in uniform of one sort or another, the rest look like ordinary people.

I gather they are more or less random from photo archives associated with the barracks. The identities of some are known but not of others.

So the idea is that, on visiting the barracks, if you have had any associations with it, including in its civilian uses, you never know who you might see and be able to identify.

The Toilet

This notice in the toilet really took my fancy - historic drains.

It reminded me of the lady who was supposed to have shouted: Help, Help, my son, the engineer is drowning. Fit for a tombstone that one.

The Mess/Cafeteria

Another good use of photos in the corridor window at the cafeteria, British soldiers in the mess. Check out the Lemons' sweet boxes. They were very popular as late as my day.

I'm told some of the old barracks tables are still in use here, though not necessarily originals from the mess itself.

In spite of what I said above I cannot see my grandfather being let within an ass's roar of the officers' mess, much less my great grandfather being entertained there. However, as the alternative cafeteria is no longer there I think I am within my rights to claim this lovely lady as effectively my grandfather's ultimate successor.

Monday, August 26, 2019


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[This section deals with the launch.
I deal more directly with the book itself below].

In his opening words, I think Professor Colm Lennon said it all:
It’s a great honour to have been invited to speak on the occasion of the launch of Peadar Slattery’s Social Life in pre-Reformation Dublin, 1450-1540.

Many years ago I published a book on Dublin in the Reformation period. As I read Peadar’s work, how I wished that it had been available back then, as an invaluable guide to the political, socio-economic and cultural life of late medieval Dublin (that I and others have tried so painfully and inadequately to recreate).

Well, to be fair, there was much more to say, and I won't repeat it all, but it was very positive and coming from Colm was indeed a tribute to Peadar's work. Colm outlined some of the contents, including new material, in the book, but I'll leave you to discover these in the book itself.

I'll just take a few comments which particularly resonated with me.

On the use of sources:
Peadar’s book is based on a range of records that he has mined with great perspicacity – wills, customs and franchise rolls, and official documents of various kinds, for example, – showing what can be done with carefully selected, if limited resources for medieval Ireland.

On standards to which we still aspire in many respects today:
In the sphere of economic life, Peader Slattery has shown that the principle underpinning the regulation of the market and the supply of food and other commodities was based on the maintenance of fair prices and the prevention of profiteering from the sale of produce to which value had not been added in the form of domestic labour.

On identity:
Overall, then, this book not only tells us a huge amount about the formation of a confident, outward-looking urban community of Dublin in the late middle ages, but also raises for modern city-dwellers issues to do with civic responsibility and identity.

It is a tribute to Peadar Slattery’s work that the relevance of the historic to the present is asserted through a myriad of examples and cases.

I urge all here to buy this book and to read it with a view to understanding not just the pre-Reformation city of Dublin but also the timeless urban community values that can and should animate our city in the present day.

You heard the man.

In the course of his reply, Peadar recounted the saga of the book. And particularly the shock at being advised, very late in the day, to extend the period covered up to the Reformation. Medication proved more a hindrance than a help and he just put the head down and got on with it.

By the night, he was able to report this development in a more detached manner:
From the start I had worked with a closing year of 1500, but that year did not make much sense. I wondered should I conclude in 1509, the close of Henry VII's reign. But it was not going to be that easy. In early 2018, both Dr Lennon and Dr Clarke independently suggested that I should continue working out to the 1530s and the early years of the Reformation. A concluding year of 1540 was settled on.
He thanked a number of people for varying degrees of help in the writing of the book and in bringing it to fruition. Some of these were present and it must have given them great satisfaction to see the quality of the final product with which they were involved.

Peadar had to pause briefly to collect himself when acknowledging the help of Jane Laughton. Unexpected, but no surprise when you read what he says in the acknowledgements section of the book.
Dr Jane Laughton helped open up a new vista on Dublin-Chester trade in the 1470s, sharing with me her detailed notes on trading between the two cities. Sadly, Jane died in 2017; she thoroughly enjoyed a renewed interest in Chester-Dublin studies. She was scholarly and yet immensely generous with her time and knowledge. I am especially grateful to Jane and her family.
This is a very engaging entry on many fronts. It is a terribly sad personal reference at one level, but at another it is testimony to all that is best in the academic tradition - a huge tribute to Jane, and also implicitly to Peadar in whom she placed her trust and who has given us a memorial to her nobility in her last days.

I don't want to overplay this as Peadar has nearly three pages of acknowledgements to people for solid help received in the gestation of this work. But I was touched and encouraged by this reference to Jane. The alligators in the academic swamp are many and voracious.

I get a mention myself in the acknowledgements (thanks Peadar) but was, understandably not alluded to on the night.

So Peadar is now officially a celebrity with an enthusiastic fan following.

You can read Colm's full remarks here and Peadar's full reply here. I'd like to thank both Colm and Peadar for these texts and permission to publish them. They were a great contribution to the night and are well worthy of wider circulation.

Peadar has a short summary piece in the Irish Times.


The usual signing orgy begins

Terry Clarke - neighbour

Alan Fletcher

In his acknowledgements, Peadar thanks Professor Fletcher for advice on late medieval drama.

Peter Costello

Peter is currently books editor at the Irish Catholic, a title that gives no indication of his vast literary career to date. He was described by the American critic Robert Hogan as “a contemporary embodiment” of the “tradition in Irish literature of the independent scholar, who has an erudition embarrassing to the professional academic”

Alan O'Neill & Noel Rock

Alan is a teacher in St. Aidan's. Noel is a TD and former pupil of Peadars.

David Fegan & Tommy Ellis
David was Professor of Astrophysics in UCD and you'll just have to ask Peadar how he fits into the late medieval period. Tommy is related to Peadar.

Leo "George" Devitt

Leo is Raheny's colourful photographer. He had presented Peadar with an illustrated album of the proceedings almost before the ink was dry.

Unlike myself he is nimble on his feet, or whatever.

Eoin Bairéad

Eoin is an IT consultant and latterly also a local history guide. I keep running into him at these types of function.


Peter Walsh, Howard Clarke

Peter is an urban historian and former curator of the Guinness Museum. Had I known on the night who he was I'd have thanked him personally for a photo of the "Medlar Bridge" he gave me way back through Mary Clarke.

In the acknowledgements, Peadar records his immeasurable debt of gratitude to Professor Clarke and in his remarks on the evening:
Professor Howard Clarke has been very generous with his time, advice and guidance over a number of years and made a most significant contribution to the final shape of this volume.

Ray Gillespie, Brenday Twomey, Peter Walsh

Ray is Professor of History in Maynooth University and was a colleague in the Department of Finance in the last century.

Brendan Twomey is a retired banker and was awarded a PhD by TCD for a thesis on personal financial management in early 18th century Dublin. The centrepiece of his research was the complex financial affairs of Jonathan Swift. I keep running into Brendan on occasions like these.

Brendan Twomey, Colm Lennon

Aisling Brennan

Aisling is a history teacher in St. Aidan's.

Alan O'Neill, Howard Clarke


Anthony Tierney - Four Courts Press

For the record, I should state that, despite Peadar's generosity on the night, nobody was observed on this occasion in a "state of inarticulate inebriation", to quote a former boss of mine about a prominent academic at the close of such an occasion.


There can be no doubting that this is a magnificent work. It fills a gap in research and publication that has deterred many a worthy scholar. Its value lies in giving us a whole picture of the period and bringing it vividly to life for the reader, whether academic or lay.

Peadar has assiduously assembled existing research on the period, directly analysed contemporary records, done his own field work with new discoveries, relentlessly pursued every opportunity to illustrate his material, and finally written it into this wonderful volume. Particular thanks should go to Four Courts Press who have long been champions in publishing such ventures and whose quality standards have been maintained down the years.

A quick reading of the acknowledgements, a ten page bibliography and thirty pages of footnotes will give a a good idea of the breadth and depth of Peadar's journey.

Colm has been very positive in this comments on the book's content and style. I have already linked to his full comments above. In reading these, you can take it that I agree with him entirely.

I will therefore just make a few remarks on things that particularly struck me in reading the book, which I had just finished on the morning of the launch.

When I started into this book, I expected to find a somewhat chaotic Dublin. You know, earlier is primitive, later is more civilised. The idea that the world in general and humanity in particular is on an eternal trajectory of self-improvement/progress. It's the way I was brought up.

So it was a big suprise to discover how regulated the city was in both the areas of commerce and justice. Of course this only applied to those who were entitled to be there. Instant justice dispensed on the spot in the Pie Powder Courts was a discovery. Pie Powder coming from the French pieds poudrés, dusty feet, just in off the street.

It was a very English city and not only had the dispossessed Irish outside to be kept at bay, but, in varying degrees, those Irish within the city were expelled (at various times).

Colm has already commented on the use of sources. I love to see information squeezed out of sources which think they are telling you something else. I'd cite here the examination of wills to identify customers of a business and to show the geographical spread of the business, and its scale. Peadar has specially commissioned maps of the results to illustrate the points more clearly. I've come across nice twists like this before with Cormac Ó Gráda and Anne Dolan, and I love it.

Peadar has gone out of his way to take photos himself to illustrate things more clearly. A good example is the photos of the three Howth Bells (don't mention the metal typo) followed by those of local churches illustrating one, two and two varieties of three bell, belfries.

He got access to, and photographed, a unique Liffey slip-way and he also commissioned the beautiful drawing of the Church St. barn.

I'm mentioning these features to make the point that this book is not just an academic desk job, brilliant and all as that is. Peadar has gone out and done his own field work (literally).

I love this one. Following the fiasco of the crowning of the boy king in Dublin, Henry VII, in 1488, sent Sir Richard Edgecombe to bring the rebel earls into line. He eventually got the earl of Kildare to swear the oath of loyalty to the King not on the bible, but on the consecrated host.
Edgecombe did not trust the Great Earl and when it came to swearing on the Eucharistic host in public at the monastery of St. Thomas the Martyr, Edgecombe ensured that his own chaplain should consecrate the same host on which the earl and lords should be sworn.
I think even Dev would have had a job getting round that one.

At a certain point the clergy were seen to be falling behind in their teaching and preaching the core values of the faith. These values were to be found in the aptly named work Ignorantia sacerdotum first promulgated by the Lambeth Council in 1281.

Peadar also alludes to the church peddling (my word, not his) indulgences. These were used to reinforce clerical power and as a source of income. One Papal Nuncio in Ireland even had an income related price list.

Shades of the original version of Planned Giving introduced into the Dublin diocese by John Charles in the 1960s. This version was quickly abandoned following strong protests from the faithful.

Lest anyone doubt my locus standi in these matters I must declare that I was a Latin intoning pre-Vatican II altarboy and my mother sold masses.

Peadar, as befits a teacher, takes the Reformation censors to task for their sloppy work. They were supposed to erase the word Pope from holy manuscripts, as Henry VIII was now head of the English church, and also all references to Thomas à Beckett, whom Henry hated, from anywhere such a reference occurred. While he illustrates their adherence to their instructions in a full colour plate, Peadar draws attention to their actual omissions in the text. Today these fudgings and erasures would be called redactions, and I've seen a fair few botched jobs on this front myself in recent times. But that's another story.

The symbiosis of church and state comes across very strongly. Colm has drawn attention to the citizens' participation in many cross cutting communities. Excommunication could have life consequences as well as those in the afterlife.

Colm mentioned a sense of civic solidarity which made me think of the ambiguity of the Dublin City motto Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas, essentially: obedient citizens are a city's joy. However it is not clear how this obedience is to be achieved. You could beat them into submission or look to their needs. Peadar deals with both aspects in the book.

Just on a piece of housekeeping, I have avoided using the term emeritus for retired academics. I'm sure it has its use on formal academic occasions but these guys don't descend into a well of ignorance and irrelevance just because they retire.

I could go on about this provocative book but I'd better stop.