Sunday, April 21, 2019


Click on any image for a larger version

This is Mícheál Mac Donncha's mayoral crest on the wall of the Oak Room in Dublin's Mansion House. Mícheál was Lord Mayor in 2017/18 and not being of the nobility got to compose his own crest. The elements he has picked are interesting: the gold fáinne reflecting proficiency in the Irish language, the seven stars representing the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation (and incidentally the plough), the ship evoking his Howth maritime origins, and his motto meaning equality.

Mary Clarke

The occasion was the launch of Mícheál's book, TEACH AN ARDMHÉARA agus RÉABHLÓID NA hÉIREANN - 1912-1923. The book is published by Dublin City Council and it fell to Mary, the Dublin City Archivist, to start the proceedings and introduce our host, the Lord Mayor.

Nial Ring

Nial is the current Lord Mayor, as you may have guessed from the photo, and he is both a serious man and a bit of a ticket. Never short of a story, I think I recounted elsewhere how he brought King Billy to meet the Pope.

Well, tonight he was in his element launching Mícheál's book about the house he himself was currently living in until next June, and its role during the revolutionary period.

Mícheál Mac Donncha

Mícheál then took the floor in this historic setting and recalled how he became fascinated by the Mansion House while he was living there. Its connection with the revolutionary period was already known but was usually mentioned incidentally in other contexts. So he not only decided to bring all this together in one place but he supplemented it with his own further research into history.

He revealed that, out of deference to the second national official language, and no doubt to garner a wider readership, he had included an upside down English language version at the back of the book. This also allowed him to double the number of unique photos which are different in each version. I did notice, however, that Thomas Ashe's funeral managed a double exposure, but no matter.

And Mary was in for a surprise. He had written a little bilingual poem about Horatio Nelson's head which now reposes in Mary's reading room. In gratitude for all her help, he presented her with a framed copy which included a photo of himself with the bould Admiral. The verse is dedicated to Mary.

It would be an understatement to say Mary was thrilled, as well she might be.

If you click on the image above, you'll get a just about readable version.

Ahmad Abdelrazek

In welcoming the attendance, Mícheál made particular mention of the Palestinian Ambassador, and this evoked a clearly spontaneous and heartfelt round of applause (Bibi please note).

Caoimhín Ó Caoláin

I gather Gerry Adams was there but he had gone by the time I was alerted to his presence. Caoimhín will have to do as the next best thing. I did notice Aonghus Ó Snodaigh earlier though.

Las Fallon

I made sure to get this photo so I could give it to Las afterwards. Las knows everything there is to know about the Dublin Fire Brigade, in which he served for years and on which he has published widely.

Mícheál Ó Doibhilín & Las Fallon

I was in school with Mícheál and he has since gone on to better things. He is currently the publisher of Kilmainham Tales, commissioned books which attempt to make sense of some aspects of Irish history but in an easily understandable idiom. His titles also include new scholarship on neglected topics.

Mícheál gave his name to Dublin's hottest curry but, sadly, since the Taj Mahal closed, you have to go to Cork to savour it.

James Connolly Heron and Lorcan Collins

James is a great-grandson of James Connolly. His grandmother was Ina Connolly, James Connolly’s daughter, who married Archie Heron.

Lorcan is an author and in the run up to the 1916 centenary he initiated a series of biographies of those leaders executed by the British. His latest book on the IRA guerrilla campaign during the War of Independence is on the way.

l-r: Caitríona, Liah, Deirdre, Úna, Rita

This is the Michael Mallin group. Michael was Commander in Stephen's Green in 1916 and was execcuted by the British along with the signatories.

Caitríona is a grand niece of Agnes Hickey, Michael Mallin’s wife. Liah's mother, Déirdre Warren, is a granddaughter of Bart Mallin, Michael Mallin’s brother. Úna is a granddaughter of Michael Mallin. Rita is the wife of Seán Tapley whose grandmother was Mary Mallin, sister of Michael Mallin.

This is Úna speaking at an exhibition at Emmet Hall, one of Michael Mallin's old family homes.

Myself and Dónal Donnelly

Dónal is one of the few men to have escaped from Crumlin Road Prison, long considered the Alcatraz of the North. That was in 1960. He has written a book about it and I have a copy which I am only dying to read. There are still two copies left in Easons in the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre and the distributor has only one copy left. I was tempted to buy them up to sell at a profit but thought that mightn't be fair to Dónal's fans.

We had a great chat and swopped some stories on the North. I subsequently found out that Colm Mac Séalaí had taught two of Dónal's children. Small world.

Incidentally, Caitríona in the previous picture is married to Dónal, and vice versa.

Anthony Tierney

Anthony is with Four Courts Press who are distributing the book which is published by Dublin City Council. The copies you see here are just hours off the presses. Yes, I checked and the ink is dry.

Hodges Figgis

Full marks to Hodges Figgis for a perceptive display of Mícheál's book, with every second copy upside down.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Sitting on the hedge - the panel
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Tommy Graham, editor of History Ireland, has been organising Hedge Schools from a good while back. The term originates with informal schools set up for Catholics in penal times. Some of these provided a first class education.

I am not aware of the religious, or otherwise, convictions of the audience on this occasion (9/4/2019) in the National Library of Ireland, but they were a lively lot.

This Hedge School was about censorship and was structured around Edna O'Brien's trilogy Country Girls which was banned in Ireland in the 1960s and which is currently the choice for Dublin City Council's One City One Book initiative.

First to introduce the panel, right to left in this case.

Donal Fallon

Donal is a history gruaduate, best known as a co-author of the fabulous Dublin blog Come Here to Me!. He has recently finished a stint as a Historian in Residence at Dublin City Library and Archive.

Mary Kenny

Mary need no introduction to my generation, having been to the forefront of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1960s. Her Wiki page tells me she is currently an "author, broadcaster, playwright and journalist" but also points out that "She has modified the radical ideas of her past, but not rejected feminist principles".

Mary, of course, was on the Contraceptive Train to Belfast when a number of prominent women went up there to buy The Pill and bring it back to town in a glare of publicity. I think I remember her saying recently that they did not succeed in getting the pills and came back with a stock of Aspirin substitutes which they passed off and which fooled the cameras, and the Customs Officers. I'm sure that story must be in print somewhere.

It reminded me of The Rose Tattoo and the non-existent frenchie, but that's another story.

Tommy Graham

Tommy is, as always, tonight's MC, or as the French would put it "animateur".

Angela Nagle

I had not come across Angela before. She has a PhD from DCU where her thesis was on 'An investigation into contemporary online anti-feminist movements' and she published a well received book in 2017 entitled Kill All Normies

You can get a flavour of her writing and current preoccupation from this piece from Atlantic in December 2017.

Niall Meehan

Niall is Head of Journalism at Griffith College.

I'm not going to report the various contributions in detail as you can hear the full podcast here. I'll just give a flavour of the contributions below.

Tommy had Mary kick start the evening with a censorship timeline from the foundation of the state to the present day, well, the 1960s when she was most active and the traditional system began to crumble at the edges or shake at the foundations, have it as you will.

She evinced great admiration for Edna O'Brien who she felt broke the old mold. I have not read Country Girls but Mary quotes Edna describing her father as a drunken brute, so I can accept the trilogy as mold-breaking in more ways than one. Of course it was Edna O'Brien's fame, or to put it another way, access to foreign outlets, that brought the thing to a head. Many before her had the potential to crack the mold but they lacked the hammer of exposure.

Mary also mentioned the Lady Chatterley trial in 1960 which gave a wider public access to this literary work. The hard-cover version had not been banned in the UK but its price kept it out of the paws of the proletariat. When Penguin Books published an unexpurgated paperback version all hell broke loose and they were prosecuted. Fortunately the prosecution lost the case and the paperback became widely available.

Of course the publicity had a perverse effect and a work written to extol the beauty and joys of sex was then being bought for the "dirty bits". I have to admit that this was true in my case but it turned out to be a very disappointing and potentially embarrassing purchase (see below).

Mary also mentioned that very few books were banned on the initiative of the Censorship Board itself. They mostly resulted from complaints by the (predominantly Catholic) laity.

The title of this Hedge School is Censorship in Ireland - Then and Now. We've heard a lot about THEN and are in serious danger of forgetting about the NOW. It's not always called censorship, more likely trolling or no platforming but we are every bit as much in favour of censorship now as people then and this is Angela's area - anti-feminism, the rise of the alt-right and so on.

But, as Angela pointed out, there are things going on that we don't notice and take for granted. She reminds us that the Amazon monopoly is a huge censor and that we rely on one monopoly search engine online, Google. And how do Twitter and Facebook assess tweets, posts and comments as fit for posting.

Conformity is now managed by social media platforms. Censorship no longer has to mean State censorship. And I know, myself, from comments I see and complaints about others, that these screening processes can be both arbitrary and biased.

And the alternative? The chaos of the internet - very destabilising and terrifying.

Much food for thought here.

Edna O'Brien thrived because there were alternative media by then for her to get exposure and attitudes were changing.

In preparation for the session, Niall had trawled through the Irish Newspaper Archive online to gauge public reaction to Edna O'Brien at the time of the publication of Country Girls. The archive covers both national and provincial papers with the exception of the Irish Times which has its own separate archive.

Niall found that there was virtually no hostility among the public generally to Edna O'Brien.

In earlier times, people's careers were blighted by censorship & they were embittered - he mentioned Patrick Kavanagh & Flann O'Brien.

In assessing the role of the Church in relation to censorship and such matters, you need to be aware that the Church had a system of control, often exercised through the laity, while they sat back and let it take its course. This system started to break down in the 1960s.

Donal was anxious to raise the question of political censorship, particularly as we are aware of sex based censorship and often boast how it was not political. But what about Section 31 which Donal saw as in a world class of its own.

He also drew attention to how their books being censored affected different authors. For Edna O'Brien it was almost a badge of honour, while John McGahern was devasted when The Dark was banned.

Donal is curating an exhibition on censorship at Dublin City Library and Archive in Pearse Street. It is provocatively titled: Evil Literature: Banned Books in Our Collection. It runs till end-May 2019 and is well worth a visit.

So it's onward and upward to the Q&A.

I kicked off the Q&A by reading out my certificate (above).

I also recounted my purchase of Lady Chatterley in Jersey in 1961, how it had been taken from me at Dún Laoghaire on my return and how I went through a period of utter panic when I thought I might end up the centrepiece of an Irish trial in the matter.

I referred to informal systems of censorship in the Dublin diocese and in UCD and to the book-burning of Seán Fagan's book in more recent times. However I also evoked changing times with the survival of multiple copies of the book in the public library system. The symbiosis of Church and State had surely exploded.

You can listen to the full podcast (including the Q&A) at the bottom of this page.

My contribution is at 49:18.

This is my third Hedge School. I have reported on my two previous attendances on Nelson's Pillar and The Somme.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Sarah Cecilia Harrison
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So, who was Sarah Cecilia Harrison?

Never heard of her, so I clearly had no interest in her.

She was the subject of a recent (9/4/2019) talk in City Hall as part of the current series on women and the revolutionary period.

So why was I there? I'll let you in on a secret. I had come with the sole purpose of meeting the speaker, Margarita Cappock, to thank her personally for finding for me what appears to be the only extant example of Gordon Brewster's fine art. Margarita ran it down in the store in the Municipal, now the Hugh Lane, Art Gallery.

Seán Mac Caoilte

I had arrived early, as is my wont when I can, so I went in for another look around the wonderful exhibition on The Story of the Capital, where a week earlier I discovered a cartoon of George Belton which I had not seen before.

This time my eye caught the legend on a picture of Seán Mac Caoilte painted by none other than the subject of today's talk Sarah Cecilia Harrison.

Margarita Cappock

Nearly time for the talk, so I collared Margarita, thanked her profusely for the Brewster picture, and told her it was the only example that had come to light. I also mentioned Brewster's estranged wife, Biddy, who had a bonfire in the back garden of any work she could find of his following his sudden death in 1946.

I then decided to stay to hear more about the Harrison lady.

And what a character she turned out to be.

She was the foremost portrait painter of her day and did many famous people. She was a huge supporter of Hugh Lane, and more, as she claimed that he had intended marrying her on his return from America but, of course, he went down with the Lusitania in 1915. Cecilia didn't paint for five years after Hugh Lane's death.

As far as Lane's pictures were concerned, she disputed both the will, leaving them to England, and the controversial codicil, leaving them to Ireland, and she maintained that there had been another will which had been suppressed.

She was a suffragette (non-militant) and supported the allotments movement. She even got elected to Dublin City Council in 1911/12 but was subsequently suspended, possibly due to her moving out of the electoral area she represented.

In her later years she fell out with everyone and was knownn to one member of the family as "mad aunt Cecilia".


Mary Clarke

I'm glad I stayed to hear about Cecilia and full marks to City Archivist Mary Clarke for organising this series of talks. Another feather in her cap which surely one day will take to the air under its own steam (to mix a metaphor or whatever).

Friday, April 05, 2019


Seán Ó Faoláin
at the class 50th anniversary dinner in 2013.
Click on any image for a larger version.

Sadly, John is no longer with us. He will be missed.

Although living in Adelaide, Australia, his presence was always with us. He was the catalyst for our, more or less annual, class reunions in recent years.

He was planning to come over this June again despite his mounting health problems. Indeed, in the last few years he has braved these and insisted in turning up at the reunions, even regaling us last time with an account of a car crash down the country during that visit home.

John lived just down the road from the Coláiste in Parnell Square in the Galway Arms Hotel. The advertisement above is from our school concert/pageant programme in 1963. You can check out the centrepiece of that programme where you will see John testing the waters as a stage manager, a career he decided not to follow up on!


To say that John enlivened our class reunions would be a serious understatement. He put us on steroids either for or against whatever, often outrageous, often sensible, line he was advancing with his total conviction, bordering on Papal infallibility.


It was this same confidence and perceptiveness which enabled him to build up the mega-business which goes by the deceptively modest title of Hyppo Envelopes.

Sa chlós

There are those among the Iarscoláirí who knew John much better than I did. Some of them have already expressed their appreciation and recounted yarns in private correspondence in recent days. If they were willing, I would be glad to receive such sentiments as comments to this brief blog post. [The blog is moderated so they would not appear immediately.]

John from the 1963 class photo

Even as we all get older and some of us, me included, change shape, we still see each other as we were in Coláiste, defying the evidence of our eyes.

I'm sure we are all united today in expressing our sympathy with Pat and the family.


For those without Gaeilge, just to clarify that the clós was the schoolyard at the top of which were the toilets, in front of which that photo is taken. After we left, it became the location for the Halla (hall) which, at the time, was a cutting edge building, now due to be demolished as the whole school site is to be developed as the Central City Library. This will depend on very substantial funding becoming available.

The school concert programme is, of course, in Irish, but the critical entry in this context is the Bainisteoirí Stáitse (Stage Managers) at the bottom where John's name is second on the list. One iarscoláire (past pupil) who is himself in that list has made the unkind remark that the stage manager category was a catch all honour for those "who can't sing or dance".

I have photos from some of our class reunions on my Coláiste website but am including some direct links here for convenience.

2006  2010  2013  2014

Seán's avatar on Facebook

Not forgetting Seán's universal passport referred to by An Ruiséalach in the comment below. This guy was acquired in Ennis at the Fleá Ceoil.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019


(Click on any image for a larger version)
Launch of the EBRD negotiation process in the
Kléber Conference Centre on 15 January 1990.

[l-r] Seán Connolly: D/Finance Principal at Irish Permanent Representation in Brussels. Pól Ó Duibhir: EIB/EBRD Desk in D/Finance. Jim Flavin: D/Foreign Affairs. Maurice O'Connell: Second Secretary General, D/Finance. Dieter Hartwich: Secretary General, European Investment Bank.

Maurice was my boss for a part of my career (well technically my boss's boss's boss, but that's a story for another day).

To quote a colleague, Maurice was "a very decent, honourable man who never sought favours or publicity." I found him great to work for. He was very demanding and did not suffer fools gladly. But he was straight and up front and worked himself assiduously at all hours of the day and night in the service of the State. He was frequently multi-tasking. I remember him writing a Ministerial speech in the course of an unrelated meeting.

He was particularly skilled at briefing (or to put it less politely, directing) Ministers. That sometimes had its drawbacks. I remember Bertie once saying on radio, in the middle of a currency crisis, that he was just doing what Maurice told him.

And then there was the time when Maurice told it like it was but in referring however obliquely to the "safety valve of emigration" sparked off a major political row.

Anyway, I'd just like to make a few comments below to give a flavour of the man as I saw him.

Our most intensive professional relationship was during the few months at the beginning of 1990 when the establishment of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was being negotiated. This was essentially a French project, in part carried over from the 1989 French EU Presidency but also to be one of François Mitterand's Grands Oeuvres, a sort of enduring monument to Mitterand's Presidency of the French Republic.

However, this negotiation took place during the Irish EU Presidency so we had quite a central role in the process. Michael Somers was our negotiating plenipotentiary but when it came to the subset of EU caucus meetings Michael was sometimes just the chair and Maurice the national delegate.

The photo above is of the lunch break at our first formal negotiating session in the Kléber Conference Centre in the centre of Paris. I subsequently learned that this had been Gestapo HQ during the WWII occupation.

Anyway, this was where I realised that Maurice ran on a fuel called food. He threw himself so enthusiastically into everything he did that by midday he was running out of steam and spent energy had to be replenished with vital packing. Depending on the day's schedule, this could also recur around tea-time.

Maurice, Jim Flavin (D/Foreign Affairs) and myself did a bit of travelling together to Paris and back during the EBRD negotiations. We needed a team as the negotiations sometimes broke up in to subgroups which had to be serviced by national reps or chaired by the EU Presidency. Seán Connolly (Irish Permanent Representation) was also involved in this but didn't travel with us as he was based in Brussels.

The airport in Paris (de Gaulle) was often a rush for a plane home. The Aer Lingus check-in was usually manned by ADP staff (French)

Anyway, this one day when we were charging for the plane, I was challenged by the ADP lady who said my passport and ticket did not match. This was the last thing we needed - delay. Maurice cut straight across her. "That's his name in Irish" and almost grabbed the papers out of her hand. Now Maurice can be very persuasive, particularly when he's in a hurry, and even this French lady buckled under the onslaught and handed me back my ticket and passport.

It was only later, when we were actually boarding the plane that we discovered that I had Jim's ticket and he mine. We must have just pocketed the tickets without looking at them when they were handed back to us in a bundle on the way over.

So much for ADP and French airport security. But surely an illustration of the force of Maurice's personality when motivated.

I nearly didn't meet Mikhail Gorbachev, and it would have all been Maurice's fault.

It happened like this. We had just returned to Dublin after a few day-long sessions in Paris. Jacques Attali, the EBRD project's head bottle washer, then suddenly decided he had to meet Gorbachev in Moscow for some reason or other.

Moreover, he clearly wanted EU Presidency cover and issued an instruction to my boss's boss's boss that he was to accompany him to Moscow. This involved leaving Dublin more or less straight away for Paris and turning up at a military airport on the outskirts of the city at midnight to fly to Moscow.

As it turned out Michael Somers absolutely refused to go. This refusal was clearly in breach of his brief from Charlie Haughey which, I suspect, was to facilitate Attali in every way possible. Charlie and François were very close. At least that was Charlie's perception of the relationship.

So the buck (poisoned chalice) passed to Maurice. Now, Maurice was as fed up with Attali as were the rest of us, and there eventually comes a limit to everyone's brief and the tolerance attached thereto. So, Maurice refused to go.

And the buck passed to me. Fortied by the breaking dam, I too refused to go.

So Attali went alone and, as far as I know, didn't actually succeed in meeting Gorbachev.

And that's how I nearly didn't meet Gorbachev as a result of Maurice finally running out of patience with Attali. For the record, I should just mention that there was absolute astonishment, and I suspect a wee trace of glee, at the French Treasury when I reported back these unanticipated refusals.

Maurice was also Ireland's Director on the Board of the European Investment Bank, and this involved monthly trips to Luxembourg. His boss, Seán Cromien, was not amused by these absences during which he could not call on Maurice.

So, to ensure he escaped safely to the airport, Maurice developed a stall, stack and send technique. On an EIB departure day he would not put any of his normal communications to Seán in his out-tray (stall), rather he would accumulate them on his desk in a separate pile (stack) and then as he was charging out the door would tip them all into his out-tray (send) and if Seán came back with queries he just wasn't around. That way he couldn't be delayed and miss his flight. If Seán then enquired about Maurice's whereabouts we all pleaded the fifth.

As both men are now no longer with us and hopefully reposing in Valhalla, I'll leave it to them to sort out this revelation between them.

Eventually Maurice went as Governor to the Central Bank from 1994 to 2002.

It just now struck me to wonder if he ever got the chance to sign the Irish banknotes before the Euro did away with that for us.

After some intensive googling I managed to come up with the image below. Not the best quality image but the message is clear. That series was issued between 1994 and 2000 so it's possible his signature appears on a few other denominations also.

The last of the big signatories. A fitting end to a sterling (oops) public service career.

Maurice O'Connell, 1936-2019



Cliceáil le híomhá níos mó a fháil

Tá Pádraig molta agus mise i mo thost.

Séard atá sa téacs ar an leac mharmair thuas ná:
This building is dedicated to
public civil servant whose sole purpose was
the advancement of Ireland and who did so
with patriotism passion and compassion

Tá cúlra an scéil seo le fáil anseo

Cuma anois air go bhfuil an leac i seilbh "global French fund CNP Assurance" ó 2016 i leith.

When Pádraig got his marble gong
I wondered would it stay there long.
When I went back again today
I found that it had gone away.

Ach tá an t-áiléar tiomnaithe dó fós le feiceáil san RHA áfach.

Deirtear linn sa fógra báis gur éag sé ar "3 Aibreán 2019, go ríméadach, lán brí agus scéalaíochta ar uair a bháis" agus tá teacht ar an tuairisc seo ar an socraid san Irish Independent.


Uasdátú: 19 Aibreán 2019

Dúradh liom le déanaí go raibh dealbh Phádraig le feiceáil ins an áiléar céanna. Ní fhaca mé ann é agus mé féin san áit - munarb é seo é thíos:

Rud nach dócha. Caithfidh mé cuairt eile thabhairt ar an áit.