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Ireland

If on a summer’s night in Bansha a traveller

Wednesday, 27 June, 2018

Classical reference in the title to If on a winter’s night a traveller (Italian: Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore), a 1979 novel by Italo Calvino. The narrative is about a reader trying to read a book called If on a winter’s night a traveller.

Bansha (Irish: An Bháinseach, meaning “a grassy place”) is a village in County Tipperary strategically located on the eastern approaches to the Glen of Aherlow and the Galtee Mountains. There’s a neighbouring castle and one pub, the excellent Nellie’s.

Bansha


The Galtees and the Irish apostrophe

Sunday, 10 June, 2018

Today’s climb of the Galtees, the Munster mountain range that encompasses Tipperary and Limerick, is in aid of the Mercy University Hospital Foundation, which does good work for the people of Cork and neighbouring places.

The Galtees

Punctuation note: When referring to the Galtees, there is no need for an apostrophe. In Ireland, though, the fact that the apostrophe is seldom used to form a plural noun in English, is ignored, generally, and the general punctuation rule that the possessive of a singular noun is formed by adding an apostrophe and s, whether the singular noun ends in s or not, is applied arbitrarily.


Modern Ireland

Sunday, 27 May, 2018

Seen at the fortnightly car booth sale in Castletownroche, County Cork.


Seán Sa Cheo

Saturday, 26 May, 2018

The translation of the Gaelic Seán Sa Cheo means “John in the Fog” and it’s the title of a famous reel. The John here is John O’Rourke and, along with Tom Breen, he summited Galtymore today. Despite the fog, the hikers returned safely to base.

Seán Sa Cheo


Effin (good) cheese

Thursday, 24 May, 2018

Effin is a townland in County Limerick named after Saint Eimhin, a sixth-century cleric. Effin borders on the townlands of Garrynancoonagh North to the south, Garrynderk North to the west, Ballyshonikin to the east, Gortnacrank to the east and Tobernea West to the east.

In 2011, the people of Effin were told by Facebook that they could not register their townland as “Effin” because this word was deemed to be “offensive”. The conflict led The Guardian to headline the story as “Effin woman launches online fight for Facebook recognition.” In the end, Anne Marie Kennedy won.

Effin Irish Cheddar, by the way, is a creamy pleasure made from Golden Vale milk.

Effin cheddar


Hurling: Letter from Ireland (1937)

Sunday, 20 May, 2018

For some people in the Northern Hemisphere, summer begins with the start of the Munster Hurling Senior Championship. It’s a cultural thing that has its roots in an agrarian society driven by grass growth and the arrival of better weather. Today, the festival opens at 2 pm with Limerick vs. Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds.

The connection between Munster hurling and Graham Greene would not be known to most attending today’s game, but the great English novelist was the editor of Night and Day, described as a British rival to the New Yorker, in the 1930s and during its brief life he published a piece titled Letter from Ireland by Elizabeth Bowen, the doyenne of Anglo-Irish writing. Snippet:

“Cork left Cork for Killarney when the All Ireland Hurley Finals were played there. Tipperary won. This was a great day for the whole of the South of Ireland; special trains were run and the roads for a hundred miles round streamed with cars and bicycles, most of them flying flags. The Tipperary contingent passed my way. Those who unluckily could not get to Killarney stood on banks for hours to watch the traffic. This is, in the literal sense, a very quiet country: the Troubles and civil war were fought out in an almost unbroken hush, punctuated by a few explosions or shots. Voices are seldom raised, and you can (so to speak) hear a dog bark or a milk-cart rattle or a funeral bell toll two counties away. But these great Sundays of sport galvanise everything; from the moment you wake you know that something is going on.

Hurley is the fastest game, short of ice hockey, that I have ever watched. It is a sort of high-speed overhead hockey, played with sticks with flat wooden blades, and it looks even more dangerous that it apparently is. Though a game that would melt you in the Antarctic, it is, for some reason, played only in summer.”

There are gems of appraisal and style in everything that Elizabeth Bowen wrote. Her observation that “the Troubles and civil war were fought out in an almost unbroken hush,” is revealing, given that her Letter from Ireland was published just 14 years after the conflict ended, and “Cork left Cork for Killarney” is delightful. Today, some 80 years later, Tipperary will leave Tipperary for Limerick.

Limerick vs. Tipperary


Synge Prelude

Saturday, 24 March, 2018 0 Comments

On this day in 1909, the playwright, poet and collector of folklore John Millington Synge died. He was just 37 years old. Synge was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, and it was in thanks to the Abbey Theatre that he entered history. The occasion was the 1907 Abbey premiere of his wonderful play, The Playboy of the Western World, and the surrounding events exposed the sordid absurdity that has powered so much of Irish nationalism.

One source of audience hostility to the play was that the plot combined an idealization of parricide with an unhappy ending, but what triggered the violence was Christy Mahon’s comment about “a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself.” The very mention of an undergarment led The Freeman’s Journal of Monday, 28 January 1907 to condemn the play as an “unmitigated, protracted libel upon Irish peasant men and worse still upon peasant girlhood.” Rioting ensued and the police had to enforce security during each performance, making nightly arrests of outraged nationalists filled with hatred of an artistic expression that did not reflect their chosen insanity.

The Playboy of the Western World has survived time and terror and Synge’s poetry remains true to the landscape that gave him so much happiness during his short life.

Prelude

Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon’s delight.

I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors, and fens.

John Millington Synge (1871 – 1909)

Wicklow


Patrician peak

Saturday, 17 March, 2018 0 Comments

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!)

The holiest mountain in Ireland is Croagh Patrick, five miles from the town of Westport and overlooking island-dotted Clew Bay. According to local belief, Saint Patrick fasted for forty days and nights on the summit during Lent in the year 441 AD, and on the last Sunday in July every year (“Reek Sunday”), pilgrims from near and far climb the mountain in honour of Saint Patrick.

In 1972, the great Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka climbed Croagh Patrick and captured the quintessence of rural Irish Catholicism in one iconic image. The kneeling pilgrims pictured are, from left to right, Sean Pheat Mannion, Paddy Kenny and Martin Mannion from Connemara. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

Croagh Patrick


Memento mori

Friday, 16 March, 2018 0 Comments

The 8th of October 1982 was a Friday and it didn’t rain in north County Dublin. In the wider world, it was the day when Poland banned the Solidarity trade union and the musical Cats opened on Broadway, but it was also the day when Séamus Ennis, the legendary piper and music collector, was buried in Naul. One person, and only one person, could have played the obligatory lament at the graveside and the honour went to Liam O’Flynn, who had studied and lived with the master himself, and who best embodied that tradition to which Ennis had devoted his life.

Today, the lament will be played for Liam O’Flynn and all the grace and gravitas that marked a career and a life that gave so much joy to so many people will fulfill the inexorable mortal destiny of “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” RIP.

Liam O'Flynn lament


Garech Browne (1939 – 2018)

Monday, 12 March, 2018 0 Comments

Garech Browne, the Guinness scion who died in London on Saturday, was one of the most important patrons of traditional and modern Irish art. His spectrum of taste can be summed up in his friendships, which ranged from the piper Paddy Moloney to the painter Francis Bacon. And in the middle of this charmed world stood Luggala, the exquisite 18th-century house located on 5,000 mountainous acres in County Wicklow, which acted as a magnet for the local and the global, from Dublin poets and East Clare fiddle players to Hollywood film directors.

Luggala played a decisive role in the fortunes of the Cockburn family in the mid-1950s as Alexander Cockburn recounted in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. His father, Claud, author of the novel Beat the Devil, had found temporary refuge from his creditors at the estate and then John Huston arrived:

“Quite apart from the simple comfort of not having water on the floor, and bailiffs at the gate, Luggala was a wonderful place to go in the mid-1950s. Writers and artists from Dublin, London Paris and New York drank and sang through the long hectic meals with a similarly dissolute throng of politicians and members-in-good-standing of the café society of the time. And during this particular Horse Show week Luggala was further dignified by the presence of the film director John Huston and his wife of those years, Ricky. My father was a friend of Huston — from his stint in New York in the late 1920s perhaps, or maybe from Spanish Civil War days — and quite apart from the pleasure of reunion there was Beat the Devil, ready and waiting to be converted into a film by the director of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

My father spoke urgently to Huston of the virtues of Beat the Devil, but he found he had given, beneath fulsome dedications, his last two copies to our hostess and to a fellow guest, Terry Gilmartin. These copies were snatched back and thrown into Huston’s departing taxi. A week later, Huston was in Dublin again, shouting the novel’s praises. He and Humphrey Bogart had just completed The African Queen and were awaiting the outcome of that enormous gamble. I can remember Huston calling Bogart in Hollywood and reading substantial portions of the novel to him down the phone — a deed which stayed with me for years as the acme of extravagance.”

Note: Garech Browne’s father was Dominick Browne, the Fourth Lord Oranmore and husband of Oonagh Guinness, daughter of Honorable Arthur Ernest Guinness, the second son of the first Lord Iveagh. Dominick Browne had the rare distinction of sitting in the House of Lords for 72 years until his death at age 100 in August 2002, without ever having spoken in debate. May they all Rest in Peace.

Luggala


Dublin Airport locked in frost

Saturday, 3 March, 2018 0 Comments

This is from Audenesque (in memory of Joseph Brodsky) by Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate in Literature. The great airport “unlocking” may take place later today.

“Repetition, too, of cold
In the poet and the world,
Dublin Airport locked in frost,
Rigor mortis in your breast.
Ice no axe or book will break,
No Horatian ode unlock”

Dublin Airport