Tuesday, September 24, 2019


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On Culture Night Dublin City explodes. This year, on 20/9/2019, there were well over 200 venues in the city alone hosting events. The mere thought of it would exhaust you.

So, this year, I decided to go for just one event - a French language walking tour of French/Irish links with Sylvie Kleinman.

The tour was scheduled to start at 6.30pm, and as you can see above I turned up on the early side. As a result I have three events to report on. But I won't allow myself to be distracted and will start with Sylvie's tour.

Sylvie is currently a research fellow at TCD, and her interests tend to centre on 1798 and the Napoleonic era. That is fortunate for me as it adds a dimension to my own interest in the period.

My interest comes from having lived in Ballybrack for some twenty years where I developed an interest in the local history. A significant part of this history involves a fear of a French seaborne invasion in the period 1795-1815.

My interest is directed towards the British side of the conflict, involving the construction of the Martello Towers and efforts to overthrow the French government of the day, including using the services of expat French Royalists and the Chouan rebels in north-west France.

Sylvie, on the other hand, has tended to concentrate on the French government side of the conflict and their use of the rebel United Irishmen to subvert the British state by the backdoor.

So our interests are complementary.

It was no surprise then that we started outside Dublin Castle.

In the upper courtyard we had much of the background to the core period explained with all the while the emphasis on the French connection. We had French spies, French soldiers, and United Irishmen traveling back and forth to France.

And the all pervasive influence of the French Revolution making the British administration very nervous. It was not only the challenge to the general power structure and the monarchy but the idea of secularisation embraced by the new French régime.

Secularisation did not mean the end of religion but its separation from the functioning of the state. Certain events aside, the French state tolerated many, if not all, religions but in their place.

There had been The Terror, which scared the shit out of everybody. But this had only lasted for a limited period and there were many positive lessons to be learned from the follow up to the Revolution.

The Castle evoked the memory of Wolfe Tone, who had met with and lobbied Napoleon but who ended up incarcerated and dying here, and of General Humbert and his officers who had been detained here. Many of today's buildings are different from those of that time and have different uses today but Sylvie pointed out the various locations to us.

And in more modern times the visit of Charles de Gaulle to Ireland in 1969. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of that visit. We all remember him in Kerry, but Sylvie pointed out that Jack Lynch entertained him in the Castle. On that occasion five silk replica flags of the Irish Brigades, which France had presented to Ireland a decade earlier, were brought in for de Gaulle to admire.

Sylvie reminded us that less than two years before the visit, de Gaulle had vetoed the UK's application to join the Common Market. At that point I was provoked into interjecting that he had been dead right. I think Sylvie was a little taken aback by this sudden voice from the crowd but I did not detect any serious challenge from the assembly.

We took off through Temple Bar, heading for Trinity College, stopping on the way to dwell on the fencing school where the United Irishmen used to meet and noting the pathetic plaque on the wall of the building where the Society of the United Irishmen of Dublin was founded in 1791. Then it had been the Eagle Tavern of which nothing now remains.

Outside the Mansion House, site of the jumbo meeting of the First Dáil, Sylvie reminded us of more modern French connections.

The Dáil's declaration had been translated into very good French with an eye to international publicity and the post-war Paris Conference where the Irish hoped to get a hearing. She pointed out that Irish "delegate" Seán T O'Kelly's wife, seen by his side in an iconic photo in a Paris street, was actually an assistant professor of modern languages at the National University.

Shannon, Sylvie & Brian

We then checked out the Huguenot Cemetery (1693) at the north-west corner of Stephen's Green where Sylvie filled in yet more Dublin French connections, pointing out also that the site was outside what were then city limits.

I drew attention to the unusual spelling over the entrance (Hughenot) but by that time I think I'd shot my bolt and the party moved across the road to its final site, the statue of Wolfe Tone described by Sylvie as "moche".

I wanted to take the photo above because, along with Sylvie's most entertaining and educational tour, both Shannon and Brian made an enormous contribution to the success of the tour.

Shannon flew the flag as we moved from one spot to another and you could spot her a mile away. Brian came up in the rear corralling potential strays and making sure, at the various stops, that we all stayed out of the way of passing cars attempting to navigate the narrow side streets.

Without this pair, Sylvie's audience would have halved by the end of the tour.

Merci Sylvie.

Let's now go back in time, not too far, to me arriving in the area at 5 o'clock. I was both hungry and thirsty, having been solidly on the go from 11am.

I was sitting in a little Italian café with a Cappuccino and a wee chicken pie when there was a loud knock on the window beside me.

It was Donal Fallon, turning up early for his own walking tour - A Musical History of Dublin, starting shortly. So I decided to join his tour for a while and then cut across to Sylvie.

Now, Donal is what the French would call an "animateur" in the sense of "élément dynamique". He has a great love of, and enthusiasm for, his subject. On this occasion he had brought a piece of paper from which to read some quotations at appropriate moments, but also, I suspect, to stop him losing the run of himself.

He gave his audience a brief introduction to the subject and sketched out his intended route.

And then we were off to Fishamble Street for the first ever performance of Handel's Messiah in the Great Music Hall, which alas is no more.

On the night, in February 1742, there was such a crowd to be packed into the Hall that gentlemen were asked to leave their swords at home and ladies not to wear hoops.

Then on to the site of the Project Theatre which played such a part in the cultural revival of Temple Bar. Donal was all the while filling in the wider background to individual aspects of the tour and, at this point, I was glad to see the Pike Theatre getting a mention.

On then to Rory Gallagher Corner at Meeting House Square where Donal's enthusiasm knew no bounds. Rory was the greatest. Even Jimmy Hendricks thought so.

Donal reminded us that Rory was one of the few musicians who played in Northern Ireland during the height of The Troubles when other artists shunned the North.

As we moved along to the next venue I told Donal that I too had performed in Belfast, in the Ardoyne, at the height of the troubles. Nóra and myself had traveled north with Donnchadh Ó Dúlaing's "toy train" to entertain the children of internees. Many southern performers had signed up for the trip but precious few of them turned up at Amiens Street Station (now Connolly) on the day.

I literally brought the house down, tripping over a Christmas tree as I went on stage, bringing down the tree, lights and all. The kids loved it.

I then went on to tell them they could clap along, and before I had a chance to play the first chord there burst out a thunderous wave of stamping feet that it took the stewards minutes to quieten down. Clearly I had a lot to learn about Northern audiences, particularly when it came to the children of internees.

Next stop was the site of the Hirschfeld Centre, described as "Ireland's First Gay Social and Community Space". Set up in 1979, it lasted until it was burned down in 1987. It should be remembered that this period pre-dated the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland in 1993.

The plaque above was unveiled just last June (2019) to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the centre.

So what was all this queer stuff doing in what was supposed to be a music tour?

Well, the centre had a first class disco called Flikkers, and Donal quoted David Norris bemoaning the fact, or maybe boasting, that all these heterosexuals used to come and crowd out the place "just for the music".

This is where I left Donal to head off for Sylvie's tour.

I said I had three events to report on and this is the third.

When myself and Donal emerged from the café, we were immediately confronted with this street performance of Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

The script calls for two actors but there were briefly three as a passing pedestrian decided to engage with the performers. Pure Dublin.

The guys were great though I couldn't find this street performance in the programme.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of the performance.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Kate Manning & Cormac O'Malley
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Readers of this blog will know of my recent interest in Helen Hooker O'Malley, wife of Ernie O'Malley. Both NLI and the Gallery of Photography have recent exhibitions of her photographs and the Dublin City Libraries & Archive had a recent exhibition of her theatre sets.

Now I'm moving on to Ernie himself. By a great stroke of fortune, Diarmuid Peavoy, a former classsmate of mine and friend of the O'Malley family, is out of town and could not attend this event. He generously suggested to the organisers that they invite me in his place. Thanks Diarmuid - had a ball.

The occasion was the formal launch by Ernie's son Cormac of the papers of Frances-Mary Blake. And who was she? The text below from her obituary in An Phoblacht should tell you all you need to know for the moment.
A researcher and writer on the Irish Civil War, she was a member of the Troops Out Movement, a supporter of Irish political prisoners and their families, and an activist on human rights and justice generally

In the mid-1970s, she sorted and catalogued one of the largest collections of historical documents of the Civil War period for the Archives Department of University College Dublin. Following her work on the papers of IRA officer Ernie O’Malley, she edited his best-selling book on the Civil War, ‘The Singing Flame’. Frances also worked on and wrote the introduction for ‘Raids and Rallies’, another book extracted from O’Malley’s papers about the Tan War. Later she wrote ‘The Irish Civil War – and what it still means for the Irish people’, which outlined her own views of that period.
Cormac was also launching some additional Ernie O'Malley papers previously presented to the archive.

The event was introduced by Kate who is Principal Archivist at UCD Archives.

John is the UCD librarian. In expressing the Library's gratitude for the later material he reminded us that Cormac had given Ernie's papers to the Library way back in 1974.

These contained 53 notebooks which are manuscript transcripts (in Ernie's own atrocious handwriting) of interviews with some 400 former participants in the War of Independence and the Civil War. Some 160 of these were people who also made official witness statements but the balance consisted of those who were not prepared to give statements to the Bureau of Military History at the time, but who trusted O'Malley.

The notebooks have been available to researchers but the handwriting has been a dreadful impediment to making sense of them.

The good news is that they are to be digitised and transcribed, the first results to appear in 2022. Up to now the only online aid has been a list of interviewees and their locations.

This will be my third encounter with Cormac in a matter of months. I mentioned the first two occasions above and these dealt with his mother Helen Hooker O'Malley.

I had been unaware of Ernie's interviews until very recently and I wondered if by any chance the rabid Republican Medlars might have been involved. Kate told me about the list at this event and I see the Medlars were not interviewed. However, they may have been mentioned by others, as was the case in the official witness statements. So I'm looking forward to the 2022 digitisation results if I'm still around by then.

Cormac was hugely entertaining about Frances-Mary Blake, whom he knew well. She was, in effect, Ernie's biographer. She knew Ernie well and had done a massive amount of research, including I think Cormac said over 100 interviews. No doubt the book was forming in her head but she never got round to writing it. So the papers, presented to the archive by her estate in 2010, and now being launched by Cormac, will prove invaluable.

Cormac has been very generous with material. He recently loaned Helen's theatre papers to Dublin City Archive where they have been digitised and catalogued. I have it from a reliable source that Dublin City Librarian, Margaret Owens, is very enthusiastic about having an exhibition of the theatrical aspect of Helen's life.

Cormac told us how he had suggested a number of counterfactuals about Ernie's life to Frances-Mary. What if Ernie had not escaped when he did and had been tried and hanged? What if he had escaped when he didn't? What would he have gone on to do?

Apparently Frances-Mary wrote three of these up into brilliant stories, her knowing Ernie so well, and Cormac is hoping that some day they'll be published.

I mentioned the (decoding and) digitisation of the notebooks. This is to be undertaken by Anne along with Eve Morrison.

Anne is a wonderful historian, with an open mind and full of curiosity. I was enthralled by her follow up of Michael Collins's squad through the newly released Military Pensions Records at the recent full day session in Cathal Brugha Barracks.

Eve has a long history dealing with the notebooks and the two of them should make a great team.

To quote Kate:
The work is being facilitated by a piece of software called @Transkribus but it couldn't happen without the skills of Anne Dolan and Eve Morrison and their knowledge of the O'Malley papers and notebooks.

The project has just begun and we envisage the first publications appearing in 2022, both online and in print.

Sarah Poutch

Kate and archivist Sarah Poutch have already catalogued both collections of papers which are being formally launched at this event.

Enough of the business. I had some very interesting conversations with people I had previously met and with some completely new people.

Étáin O'Malley

Étáin is Cormac's sister and I had met her at the earlier events. I met her husband, Bud Root-Michels, for the first time at this event. He has a long and varied career both as a fine artist and, would you believe, a sometime political cartoonist. I didn't realise the last bit when I was talking to him or the conversation might have gone down a different track. Perhaps we'll meet again sometime.

Rory O'Hanlon & Joe Lee

I have met Rory now in a few places but it was my first time meeting Joe face to face. I had long ago attended his launching a book by Cormac Ó Gráda but I had never spoken to him. It was a reference to that launch that prompted me to point out a similarity between Cormac and Anne. And this provoked him in turn to tell me a family/academic secret which I have now put under seal for 70 years.

Cécile Gordon

Apart from her Military Pensions work, which she enjoys enormously, Cécile is no mean athlete and she gave me some lessons in the technical aspects of her latest bout.

So just to finish up, I didn't have the time or the inclination then to check out some of the displays in the room but I nicked the two below from the UCD Archives Twitter stream.

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It doesn't take long to spot the significance of this plan of the Four Courts with the words Records and Munitions side by side.

I had never heard of this Alfred Cope fellow before. This goes a bit further than Shemus's cartoon of Wilson but there you are.

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.