Friday, January 15, 2016


Avondale House c.1973
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I have fond memories of Avondale and the French Connection.

That was one of two locations where we had French weekends in the 1970s and The French Connection - Ireland and France was also the theme of last year's Parnell Summer School which was held there.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Avondale was the residence of Charles Stewart Parnell a giant of Irish constitutional politics. It is now owned by the State and managed by Coillte, the state forestry company.

The French Weekends

The French residential weekends were run by the French section of the Civil Service Training Unit. They were designed to improve/polish the French of those civil servants who already had a good grasp of the language and whose jobs would benefit from them having greater proficiency.

I was in Avondale just after we had entered The Common Market (now the EU) and, as it happened in those early days of membership, the European Commission was not sufficiently staffed up to be able to produce credible translations of economic documents into English.

They were producing transliterations from the French and you would have needed to have fairly good French in the first place to be able to understand them. An example was "conjunctural policy" which meant absolutely nothing to us. It was transliterated from the French "politique conjoncturelle" which actually meant what we referred to as "short-term economic policy".

Luke Leonard

I was up throughout one of the nights as my room had been invaded by a horde of flying creatures who were walking all over the ceiling and periodically dropping onto the bed.

I took advantage of my insomnia to re-translate a French document into proper English and suggested to my then boss, Luke Leonard, that he use this as a reference at an upcoming meeting, quoting mine rather than the Commission's translation, as appropriate. I thought it a great idea but he funked it.

Adèle McAvock

Anyway, the weekends were run by Madame McAvock, whose polished French language and attitudes disguised her humble Mayo origins. She may have been a good administrator in the sense of ensuring adequate funding for her unit but she did have some failings in the pedagogical area.

For instance, she allowed the then Minister for Labour (Michael O'Leary) to come on one of the weekends when his French was not up to it and he continually held the classes back as she slowed to accommodate his lack of understanding and proficiency. I told her so to her face and she was not at all pleased.

Equally, at the civil service French soirées, she none too subtly herded all the good French speakers into the VIP circle, leaving the rest of us plebs to cope as best we could.

Extract from The d'Antin Manuscripts

It gave me great pleasure to succeed in getting her to read out loud an extract (above) from the d'Antin Manuscripts in her best French accent.

It took some moments afterwards for the penny to drop.

You can read an annotated version here.

Enough of my bitching.

The Parnell Summer School

The annual Parnell Summer School is a great event. It takes place during the summer in Avondale and, while named after the politician, its scope is wide and its quality high.

Coincidentally, in 2015, the theme was The French Connection - Ireland and France where the links between Ireland and France were put under the microscope. A vast canvas stretched from the Wild Geese to Charlie Hebdo. You can check out the full programme here.

Felix Larkin

I have to declare an interest here. Felix Larkin, Academic Director of the Parnell Summer School 2013-2015, is a former colleague and a friend and mentor. His term as Academic Director has been a magnificent success. Tá sin ráite agus mise i mo thost.

The National Disgrace

Felix has been very active in drawing attention to the neglect by the state of some of our most important archival institutions, in particular the National Library of Ireland with which he has close associations.

On finishing his term as Academic Director of the Parnell Summer School he has drawn attention to the state of Avondale itself. Below is a letter from him published in the Irish Times on 18 August 2015 after the conclusion of the that year's summer school.

Sir, – We have just concluded the 25th annual Parnell Summer School in the beautiful setting of the Avondale demesne, the ancestral home of Charles Stewart Parnell.

As outgoing academic director of the summer school, I would like to acknowledge the support Coillte has given the summer school over many years. Coillte owns Avondale House and Forest Park, and has responsibility for its maintenance.

I must also, however, highlight the need for serious investment in the house and in the infrastructure around it in order to guarantee its survival as a significant tourist attraction in Co Wicklow and as a memorial to one of Ireland’s greatest nationalist leaders, whose appeal stretched across the political spectrum from strict constitutionalists to the Fenians whom he brought in from the cold in the New Departure of 1879.

Regular participants in the summer school have noted with alarm the deterioration in the state of the house and its surroundings in recent years, and it is a matter which requires urgent attention before it is too late. – Yours, etc,


Well said, and it needed saying, particularly when the government and Sinn Féin are trying to outdo each other in the 1916 commemoration stakes, including the preservation of the built environment in Moore Street.

It is shaping up to be a year when constitutional nationalists will be pushed to one side in the scramble for faux legitimacy.

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