Saturday, July 09, 2022


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There are things happening in the woods around Gorey, Co. Wexford.

Coillte employees and volunteers are maintaining walks. Schoolchildren are pinning fairy doors on tree trunks and creating models of their villages using painted stones.

So a walk in the woods is turning into a very interesting adventure indeed.

The latest innovation I have come across is a series of boulders in Ballyfad Wood which commemorate the history of the wood. A sort of alternative stations of the cross.

I have reproduced these below so that you too can make the journey and maybe some day turn up in person and admire this display.

So let's follow the trail from here.

We start with the Penal Laws, designed to put the native Irish in their place and keep them there. These laws were very oppressive and were only gradually relaxed over a long period.

An raibh tú ar an gCarraig ... I've never actually seen one but I was aware of the Mass Rock where the priest had to say mass in secret in some secluded spot while some of those in attendance kept a watchful eye for any approaching soldiers.

This stone commemorates those times and happens to be situated near a mass path which led to one such mass site.

This one commemorates the 1798 Rebellion of the United Irishmen, many of whom took refuge in the wood. Wexford is saturated with memorials to 1798, the Rebellion having been particularly active in this county.

An Gorta Mór. The great Irish famine which changed the face of the country forever. It also led to the demise of the Irish language and gave us the huge diaspora we have today.

Later in the nineteenth century came the Land War. The stone refers to evictions in the area and to the participation of the Royal Irish Constabulary (police) in these. This causes some unease to myself who had a number of family members in the force.

A stone listing some of the current biodiversity in the wood.

And finally a listing of the types of trees.

Full marks to all those involved in this great project and to those who keep these and other woods in good condition for the enjoyment of the general public.

Wednesday, July 06, 2022


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I have tweeted almost daily about my morning walks, titling the tweets "MENTAL HEALTH WALK" because in addition to the actual physical exercise the walk frees up my brain to start the day.

One of the sights I see every morning on my walk is Dublin Canvas. This is a scheme promoted by the local authority which gets people to paint the otherwise grey traffic light control boxes. There's one at every set of traffic lights and these are now slowly becoming pieces of local art.

So I'm going to take you on a tour of those I encounter on my morning walk.

The squirrel above is the latest to be completed. I came across Susan just as she was putting the finishing touches to it. She told me the template had originally been designed with a location a little closer to St. Annes Park, which is full of squirrels, in mind but this box at the junction of Foxfield Rd and Howth Rd became available.

Well, on my way back to my house which is nearby, what did I see but this. A wee squirrel sitting up in the middle of the road. Now I know it is a grey and not a red squirrel, but the latter have more or less been driven out by the former over the last few years. In any event, Susan needn't have worried about the location of the box for her squirrel.

This is an unimpeded view of the finished box.

The next box is at the local library and is also by Susan. It had originally shown the Raheny millennium clock painted by Michael Gaffney. While admiring the rabbit I was originally put out at the disappearance of Michael's work which had strong connection with the site, but I learned that the local authority considers these works temporary. They are expected to last a minimum of a year after which they can come up for renewal. I know a few in town that have been there for years, so I don't know how this rotation is managed.

This is outside the RC church of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace, and it has a very specific reference to nearby St. Anne's Park.

This one is down in the centre of the village.

Situated at the junction of Main Street and Watermill Road, this is located close to where the lollipop lady lets the school kids cross the road. It is not far from the national schools and Manor House girls' secondary.

This is at the other end of Watermill Road, close to the sea and the Tree of Wildlife.

Finally, a virgin box at Blackbanks. It looks a pretty cool grey which makes me think this may be an undercoat for something to come. If it does I'll include it here.

Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Thursday, June 16, 2022


It has been the custom for some years now to celebrate Bloomsday at the Killiney Martello Tower on Killiney Hill Road.

In 2020 and 2021 this was a purely online affaire due to the pandemic, and sadly in 2022, due to the death of Niall O'Donoghue who owned and restored the tower, it will have to be online again. Niall had been thinking of having an in-person event, but that was not to be.

I had been involved in these events and I didn't want to see Bloomsday 2022 pass without some acknowledgement, so I have recorded (or podcasted as it might be described today) a version of a talk I gave in the Tower on Bloomsday 2019 on the translation of Joyce's "Chamber Music" into French.

You might think music does not require translating, but this is a series of love poems Joyce wrote and only one of which he actually put to music himself, though others have stepped up to fill the gap in the meantime.


Photo: Pat Mortimer

For the hard of hearing, or those who don't like the sound of my voice, the original text of the talk can be found here.

And if you want to study the text of the poems and of the two translations, you can get them in full here.

Niall in the Gunner's Cottage in 2015
recording a tribute to David Hedigan

Niall died during one of his favourite activities, swimming in Killiney Bay, on 8 May 2022. A funeral service was held in Ballybrack RC church on 13 May 2022 and you can find a recording of it here.

[The original recording seems to have vanished from the parish website so I am linking here to an upload on my youtube channel.]

The service consisted of a number of eulogies and some excellent music. The actual religious element was briefly present at the end.

I have known Niall for over a decade and the eulogies, apart from my own, were a revelation to me. Had I known earlier as much as I learned during that service, I would have been so in awe of Niall that I probably would not have been able to collaborate with him as I did.

I have combined the text of the eulogies into a single document which you can get here.

Other links

Earlier Bloomsdays at the Tower.

Bloomsday 2014

Bloomsday 2016

Bloomsday 2017

Bloomsday 2018

Bloomsday 2019

Bloomsday 2020

The Making of Bloomsday 2020

Bloomsday 2021

For the 2020 Bloomsday video celebration, singer Truly Divine was commissioned by Niall to record two songs of her choice. She chose one from Chamber Music, Bid Adieu, as I mentioned above the only one Joyce himself put to music. If you have not already heard this rendering in the 2020 video above, you can listen to it here.

On this Bloomsday, I am launching on my Youtube channel a talk on the artist and cartoonist Gordon Brewster (1889-1946). Gordon's only connection with both myself and James Joyce is that he died in my mother's shop in Howth on Bloomsday respectively. He did, of course, have a fascination with Martello Towers which probably earns him a bonus point in this context.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

My part in its downfall ...

(with apologies to Spike Milligan RIP)

Wilton Park, February 1996
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As this conference took place under Chatham House rules, I am not allowed to tell you who said what. For once this is very convenient as I can't remember a single word of who said what at this remove.

I have also been told that I can't tell you who was there, but that's me in the third row from the front with the photographer's flash reflecting in my glasses.

I can tell you that there are seven people who were there who aren't there.

So thanks to Chatham House I am able to present you with a mystery that not even Monsieur Poirot could solve.

However, I'll put you partly out of your misery by filling in a little of the background.

The theme of the conferene at this UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (as it was then) Centre was:
Their Future in a Changing Europe

and everybody almost who was anybody in this area was there, government officials, press correspondents, university reasearchers, representatives of important institutes, and a whack more.

There was even one member of the Irish Seanad (Senate), whom I cannot name, but who was actually a neighbour of mine some years earlier. I'm not sure we were both living in the same place at the same time then, but if we were she was on my paper run. A most civilised lady.

Anyway, we were not long arrived at the conference centre on the first night when reality struck a deadly blow.

This was 1996 and the IRA ceasefire had been in force since 1994, at which time all sorts of momentum had picked up for cooperation between the two camps within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South, and between Ireland and the UK (which we used to call England).

The bolt from the blue that night was the breaking of the IRA ceasefire with a massive bomb in London's Canary Wharf (or close by).

The attendance was stunned when this came across on the television. Even an on-screen Gerry Adams looked a bit put out.

There was an immediate, and slightly undignified, rush for the door by a small but select number of very senior government officials from both sides of the Irish sea. Ministers to be briefed etc.

The reason I was there was that I was about to inherit the EU Northern Ireland Peace Programme and the EU Irish INTERREG programmes in the Irish Department (Ministry) of Finance.

And what a start that was, with lots more excitement to follow over the following five years until I was unceremoniously plucked from this area of work to man the blade of one of the Department's financial axes as it fell on the "outside" Departments allocated to my benign control.


Sunday, April 17, 2022


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While on a visit to Gorey, I was told that there was a Harry Clarke window in the Protestant Cathedral in the town.

I was aware of Harry Clarke and his extraordinary Geneva window, a work of absolute beauty. So I paid a visit to the church in Gorey.

Imagine my surprise when I saw that the window had the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) crest (above) worked into it. Now, I have RIC in my family history, too many of them maybe, so I was immediately intrigued by the window and wondered about its background.

The dedication was to the memory of Percival Lea-Wilson who had been an RIC District Inspector in the town and who had been shot there in June 1920 by members of Michael Collins's squad.

Now, at that time there were RIC members being shot all over the place, so what had this guy done that merited the squad being sent to liquidate him.

Well, it appeared that after the leaders surrendered in the Easter Rising, they and others, were herded into the garden of the Rotunda Hospital and, on the orders of Lea-Wilson, made to lie on the ground for 12 hours, soiling themselves in the process. And Tom Clarke, the ageing leader of the Rising, was ordered by Lea-Wilson to be stripped naked and beaten.

This led to Michael Collins vowing revenge which he finally got in 1920 in Gorey town.

Lea-Wilson's widow commissioned the stained glass window in memory of her husband and the theme of choice was St Stephen the first Christian martyr.

Click on the image for a larger version

This is the full window. The two insets are the RIC crest and the Wilson family crest. Ironically, the motto on the family crest is facta non verba, deeds not words, which ironically could be applied both to the treatment of Tom Clarke by Lea-Wilson and the subsequent treatment of Lea-Wilson by Collins. No messing.

Incidentally, it was Lea-Wilson's widow who ended up, in the 1930s, donating a painting, which has only lately been discovered to be an original Caravaggio, to the Jesuits. The Jesuits have now loaned it indefinitely to the National Gallery of Ireland.

You can view a good video on Percival Lea-Wilson here and commentary on the stained glass window here.

You can also check out my own RIC connections here. I haven't yet delved into the full implications of all of these particular connections.

You can follow up on the RIC generally here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Gorey стоє з україною

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And this is no exaggeration.

When I was in Gorey just a few weeks ago but after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was not a single sign of support for Ukraine to be seen.

Today, they are all over the place, ubiquitous but not universal. They are there in sufficient number, though, to warrant the slogan reproduced at the top of this post. It is taken from a shop window and is not the only one on display. The alternative is the Ukrainian flag and support is not always lacking a sense of humour or ingenuity. However the wee piece of humour I noticed may just have been inadvertent.

The pictures below are taken in just one street, well two actually, Main and Esmonde Street. The latter is a continuation of the former. So all one street for my purpose. I think I have managed to record every premises in the street indicating support for Ukraine. You can see these below. I think they must account for about three quarters of all the shops in the street.

Redmond's had two roundels and a bespoke display in the window. Strong sentiments.

I spoke to the lady behind the counter who was very engaged with the Ukranian situation. She told me there was a Polish girl down the road whose family in Poland had taken in two Ukranian refugee families. So there is a serious connection between Gorey and Ukraine which may, at least in part, explain the profusion of signs of support in the town.

This one brings me down a rabbit hole but I'll be back to the sequence asap.

Spotted in the window of the shop above along with the Gorey backs Ukraine roundel. I have posted on this product a fair while ago so look if you will and we'll pass on.

This is particularly clever.

This was the only shop displaying a notice of what the Ukranians needed.

Click on image for a larger version

As well as listing items, the notice offers to deliver to Ukraine any items received.

Even the little people have been conscripted into the cause, perhaps inadvertently.

Equally, here, I couldn't make up my mind whether this was a subtle display of support buried in what amounts to an advertisement or an opportunity for such foregone. The absence of a roundel or flag makes me suspect the latter.

You be the judge.

Finally, the only premises I could find last time round that bore any resemblance to the Ukrainian colours has not signed up when push came to shove.

I missed this one on my last two trips. Difficult to see in some lights but a serious effort at window painting.