Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Hedge School onstage [l-r]: Tommy Graham, Dennis Kennedy,
Donal Fallon, Fergus Whelan, Carole Holohan.
Click on any image for a larger version

I had never been to a Hedge School. Far from it: Belgrove, St. Louis Rathmines, Coláiste Mhuire. But interestingly enough, the one thing that was never questioned in any of these places, certainly not in my classes, was adherence to the physical force tradition.This was the womb of 1966, the long gestation (1950-63) of the triumphalism that was to burst onto the scene in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the 1916 Rising.

There was, of course, an ironic undercurrent to all this as we modernised like mad during the 1960s and threw out babies, embryos and old farts along with the kitchen sink (or trough as we used to call it) and the old wooden pub interiors.

In ways, the coming of the plastic era was a fitting background to the last unquestioning celebration of the Rising. Then came Frs. Shaw and Martin putting their heads above the parapet with some deeper moral questions, and the likes of Ruth Dudley Edwards, arch-revisionist, daring to write anything other than an unqualified panegyrical biography of Pádraig Pearse, dear saint of our isle.

Then the troubles in the North called us all out. We suddenly started to listen to the words of the rebel songs we had been gaily singing for years, not excluding the national anthem itself, and some of us turned down the volume quite a bit.

Tommy Graham

Now, this may seem a long and wandering introduction to a simple post on a simple event, a hedge school on Nelson's Pillar in the National Library last evening (14/3/2016), but believe you me, muted as it may have been, all this stuff surfaced there. A great vindication of Tommy Graham who has been running these themed hedge schools with high class participation for a good while now.

The format is simple. Assemble a panel of good and controversial speakers. Take them through the subject in a structured Q&A sort of way. If they start a fight let them at it. Then bring in some audience participation to pour petrol or water on the flames, as the case may be. And QED, you have a hedge school, where everyone, including the Master, learns a little.

A thoroughly enjoyable and educational event for all concerned. And it would want to have been. I forewent (if I may be allowed the lapse into pedantry) an event across the road in Dawson Street to be there. Kevin Myers was putting Ruth Dudley Edwards through her paces on her new book, Seven Lives, assessing the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation.

I know, not exactly the Battle of the Boyne, but nevertheless.

Dennis Kennedy

Of all the panellists, Dennis Kennedy, was probably the most controversial, particularly against the background of the 1916 celebrations outside the front door. Dennis, like fellow panellist Donal Fallon, has written a book on The Pillar (Dublin's Fallen Hero, 2013) but I think these two would be coming at it from slightly different angles, to say the least. Dennis would be seen by many as simply a Northern Unionist, though he would see himself in somewhat broader and more complex terms.

Dennis has a long background in journalism, north and south and elsewhere, he has been the head of the EU Commission's Northern Ireland office and an academic in QUB.

He was the only panel member to be interrupted by a shout of "rubbish" from a member of an otherwise civilised audience.

I got the impression he was a bit nostalgic after the Pillar, although not necessarily entirely happy at its precise location. One of the basic questions he raised was how we should deal with memorials from history which were often judged not relevant to the present day or incompatible with the current ethos. Nelson was a case in point, but there were, of course, others.

[l-r] Fergus Whelan, Carole Holohan

Fergus Whelan is an author and trade unionist of long standing and as well as contributing to the history and lore of The Pillar he gave us fine renderings of two of the well known ballads about Nelson (after the fall, I'm not sure if there were any before it).

Carole Holohan, historian of the 1960s, gave us all a fright when she mentioned those who were injured on the night of the first Nelson explosion. I had understood that nobody had been injured and that the only person in the vicinity when the explosion occurred at 1.32am was a passing taxi driver whose taxi was struck by falling masonry but who escaped injury himself.

Turned out Carole was only teasing us and the injuries she referred to did occur on the night, but at Dublin Airport in the crush of fans welcoming Dickie Rock home after his coming fourth in the Eurovision song contest with "Come back to stay".

Carole also filled in some of the background to the newly emerging economic progress of the 1960s.

Donal Fallon

Donal Fallon had the look of a man who'd been bowled a googly, but, at the end of the day, he's well able to bat them.

He regaled us with examples of other monuments which had been gotten rid of through force of arms and even of previous attempts on the boul Nelson, including one vetoed by the British Army during the Rising. He tempted fate by quoting one of the ruder lines from an already rude ballad about General Gough's statue, but he got away with it.

He was asked an apparently innocent question from the audience about the relative damage done by the original Pillar explosion and the subsequent army one. He disposed of that one quickly enough but you still had a feeling that the more entertaining urban myth had taken such deep roots in Dubliners' subconscious that it would never be scotched were the Pope himself to denounce it.

The Morning After

In the end, a great night was had by all and, for those who would prefer a more balanced and comprehensive account of the proceedings,the podcast is now available here.

I have link to a whack of Nelson stuff here.

1 comment:

nick said...

Thanks for posting this review Pól. I would say this but I also enjoyed the evening. God bless your powers of recall

Nick Maxwell