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Ireland

Dolores O’Riordan (1971 – 2018)

Tuesday, 16 January, 2018 0 Comments

The last time I saw the late Dolores O’Riordan was on Friday, 6 June 2003 in the Olympiastadion in Munich. Her group, The Cranberries, were the support band for The Rolling Stones during their LICKS tour.

Can there be a more thankless music job than supporting the Stones? The masses flock to their concerts for the thrill of escaping the present for the past and it was the task of The Cranberries that warm June evening to “warm up” the crowd with a 45-minute set of songs, some of which were intended for a 2004 follow-up to the band’s fifth album, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, issued in 2001. Little did we know that the material would never be released. In September 2003, The Cranberries went into hiatus and they didn’t enter a recording studio again until 2011. Now, some seven years later, aged 46, Dolores O’Riordan is dead. RIP.

Dolores O'Riordan


The game of cards and the call of duty

Saturday, 13 January, 2018 0 Comments

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor began his career with a book of stories called Guests of the Nation (1931) and the title story begins:

“At dusk the big Englishman, Belcher, would shift his long legs out of the ashes and say, ‘Well, chums, what about it?’ and Noble and myself would say ‘All right, chum’ (for we had picked up some of their curious expressions), and the little Englishman, Hawkins, would light the lamp and bring out the cards. Sometimes Jeremiah Donovan would come up and supervise the game, and get excited over Hawkins’ cards, which he always played badly, and shout at him, as if he was one of our own, ‘Ah, you divil, why didn’t you play the tray?'”

Belcher and Hawkins are two English prisoners taken during the Irish War of Independence, being guarded by three Republican militants, to use today’s PC term, and they have all become friends. Then, news comes that some Irish prisoners have been shot by the English and orders arrive for the Republicans to shoot Belcher and Hawkins in reprisal. No one can quite believe it. None of the Republicans seem to understand what they are doing and none of their victims can comprehend what is being done to them. Belcher asks for a handkerchief to tie around his eyes as his own is too small. His captors help him tie it.

“You understand that we’re only doing our duty?” said Donovan.
Belcher’s head was raised like a blind man’s, so that you could only see his chin and the top of his nose in the lantern-light.
“I never could make out what duty was myself,” he said. “I think you’re all good lads, if that’s what you mean, I’m not complaining.”

The card players of Galbally


A line for the reposing

Thursday, 11 January, 2018 0 Comments

Bereavement announcements are succinct: “The death has occurred of Lucy KINSELLA. Reposing this evening at her residence, Upper Street, Brunnbur, from 4 pm to 8 pm. Funeral arriving at St. Donough’s Church, Creagh, Saturday morning at 10.15 am for 11.00 am Mass. Burial afterwards in adjoining cemetery. May she rest in peace.”

Despite the freezing January fog, friends and neighbours stand patiently in line, often for more than an hour, speaking softly about the weather, shuffling and waiting for the few moments when they repeat incantations like, “Sorry for your troubles,” when shaking hands with the immediate family of the deceased. Enduring the conditions while “paying one’s respects” is a regular ritual and it bonds communities depleted by their loss. The scenes are guaranteed to be repeated.

The line for the reposing


The Signposts of Happiness

Wednesday, 27 December, 2017 0 Comments

“We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.” — Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

Home signposts


Good people all, this Christmas time

Tuesday, 26 December, 2017 0 Comments

William Grattan Flood was the musical director at St. Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, at the end of the 19th century. He transcribed this traditional song from a local singer and it was published in the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 as “The Wexford Carol”. The performance here by Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma is sublime.

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born


Home for Christmas

Friday, 22 December, 2017 0 Comments

Mademoiselle was an American women’s magazine first published in 1935. It was popular and profitable for six decades but changing tastes and the arrival of new media platforms led to a decline in readership and a loss of advertising revenue. The November 2001 issue was the final one. Fashion was the primary focus but Mademoiselle was also known for publishing stories by authors such as Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, Jane Smiley, Paul Bowles, Barbara Kingsolver and Alice Munro.

In 1955, Mademoiselle published “Home for Christmas” by Elizabeth Bowen. The theme is the returns and reunions that are hallmarks of the season but there’s another current running through the piece and it’s manifest in the final brace of sentences: “Dearer than memory, brighter than expectation is the ever returning now of Christmas. Why else, each time we greet its return, should happiness ring out in us like a peal of bells?” In this way, Bowen lets us know that the spiritual and Christian aspects of Christmas are central to its meaning. The opening of the story is magical:

“This is meeting-again time. Home is the magnet. The winter land roars and hums with the eager speed of return journeys. The dark is noisy and bright with late-night arrivals — doors thrown open, running shadows on snow, open arms, kisses, voices and laughter, laughter at everything and nothing. Inarticulate, giddying and confused are those original minutes of being back again. The very familiarity of everything acts like a shock. Contentment has to be drawn in slowly, steadingingly, in deep breaths — there is so much of it. We rely on home not to change, and it does not, wherefore we give thanks. Again Christmas: abiding point of return. Set apart from its mystery, mood and magic, the season seems in a way to stand outside time. All that is dear, that is lasting, renews its hold on us: we are home again.”

Bowen's Court

What a perfect phrase: “Christmas: abiding point of return.” Tomorrow, here, the Christmas toast at Bowen’s Court.


Bowen’s Court: the presence of an absence

Thursday, 21 December, 2017 0 Comments

When she was doing her MA in “Irish Writing and Film”, Jane Farrell created a blog called Ireland — Text and Screen. One of her most popular posts was about Elizabeth Bowen and her home, Bowen’s Court, and the reason for writing it was: “My mother’s homeplace is a few short miles from this location, and my grandmother met the lady herself, so from a young age I was always keen to learn more about this site. Besides that layer of interest, I am also an avid Bowen reader.”

Geographical note: To put things in local, north Cork perspective, the Bowens lived near Kildorrery and the Farrells near Doneraile.

Jane Farrell’s blog post of 16 October 2014 was titled “What remains of Bowen’s Court?” and it contains numerous valuable insights:

“Bowen had a great fear that the house would burn down (a trope in her fiction) but its tragic fate was no less devastating. The house which once embodied so many memories for Bowen (and transferred to us as her readers) is now obsolete and nothing remains except a gate and a field. However, the land will always bear the weight of its important inheritance and I find it difficult to envision what could ever take its place.”

Equally valuable are the comments the blog post attracted. Here’s one dated 9 November 2015 by Anne Bowen:

“I too am a Bowen. My father, originally from Co. Cork, told me of the connection with Bowenscourt and the branch of the family that moved to Limerick before moving back to Cork. For years I hoped to find a piece of the silverware emblazoned with the hawk. Or indeed any item connected with Bowenscourt. I have visited the site often and the Bowen graves in Farahy Church. Am wondering where the family portraits are now. I see some of the family characteristics in my own family… red hair, nervous disposition, clumsiness etc all very interesting.”

Jane Farrell concluded her post about Bowen’s Court with an evocative observation that sums up the meaning of its loss, “…in spite of the glaring absence of the house, it still maintains a presence.”

Bowen's Court

Tomorrow, here, Elizabeth Bowen on what she called the “abiding point of return”. For her that meant, home and Christmas.


A portrait of Elizabeth Bowen

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017 0 Comments

Our Christmas meditations are inspired this year by the work of Elizabeth Bowen, the great Anglo-Irish writer, who died in 1973. But who was Elizabeth Bowen?

The Irish artist Patrick Hennessy captured a crucial aspect of her identity in 1957 with his portrait of the writer standing at the head of the staircase in her family home, Bowen’s Court, in north county Cork. Her ancestors had built the house in Cromwellian times and her novel The Last September, set during the Irish War of Independence records the fears, dilemmas and decline of her class — the Anglo-Irish. She sold Bowen’s Court in 1959, and was broken-hearted when it was promptly demolished by the new, local, philistine owner.

Patrick Hennessy uses aspects of surrealism and magic realism in his portrait of Elizabeth Bowen to create an image of a great woman at home in her great house.

Elizabeth Bowen

“The happy passive nature, locked up with itself like a mirror in an airy room, reflects what goes on but demands not to be approached. A pact with life, a pact of immunity, appears to exist. But this pact is not respected for ever — a street accident, an overheard quarrel, a certain note in a voice, a face coming too close, a tree being blown down, someone’s unjust fate.” — Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart

Tomorrow, coming home to Bowen’s Court for Christmas.


Colm and Tadhg and Turlough

Sunday, 17 December, 2017 0 Comments

Back at the beginning of this month, the Irish uilleann pipes were honoured as an important and unique cultural heritage symbol by UNESCO, the controversial UN organization that was founded in 1945. The move was a “valuable recognition of the skills, imagination, creativity and importance of those who make, restore and play na píobaí uilleann,” said President Michael D. Higgins. One of those who plays them increasingly well is a young lad from County Carlow, Colm Broderick, and here he’s accompanied on the organ by Tadhg Griffen as they play O’Carolan’s Concerto, which was composed by the 18th century harper, Turlough O’Carolan.


Swift and Kavanagh: United by a common language

Friday, 1 December, 2017 0 Comments

“The Fame our Writers is usually confined to these two Islands, and it is hard it should be limited in Time, as much as Place, by the perpetual Variations of our Speech.” So wrote Jonathan Swift in 1712. He was concerned about the state of the English language so he penned a public letter to Robert Harley, leader of the government, proposing the appointment of a group of experts to advise on English usage. His model was the Académie Française, which had been supervising French since 1634.

A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue advocated that “some Method should be thought of for ascertaining and fixing our Language for ever,” and this should be done, argued Swift, “by rejecting ‘very defective’ grammatical forms and restoring some antiquated words ‘on account of their Energy and Sound.'” Like all such proposal down through the long history of English, it came to nothing, and no official overseer of the language exists.

Swift’s advocacy of “proper” English reminds us that Ireland, despite its relatively small population, has produced some of the most gifted writers of the language. Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett are up there with Swift, and Bram Stoker and C.S. Lewis can be added to the list, if one is feeling expansionary. The poet Patrick Kavanagh belongs in this pantheon, too, because his language a mix of of Swift’s classicism and the Hiberno-English that was used by all those who tilled the “stony grey soil of Monaghan.” In 1948, in Poetry in Ireland To-day, he noted:

“Having written all this another question arises in my mind — the question as to whether it will be necessary to our native identity to carry on an artificial ‘Celtic Mode or ‘Note’ — now that the Gaelic language is dead. To carry on such an artificial language would be to be false if it did not arise naturally from life. It is not, as I have said before, language that denotes a man’s spiritual identity.”

And with that, we end our celebration of the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. Our posts this week have paid tribute to these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. To recap: On Monday, we had a joke by Swift; Tuesday, a poem by Kavanagh; Wednesday, we looked at Swift’s Drapier’s Letters, and yesterday we had Kavanagh’s take on the entire Irish literary racket.

“Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style,” said Jonathan Swift and Patrick Kavanagh followed his advice. Long may the two of them be remembered.

A Proposal by Swift


Kavanagh: The Irish writing racket

Thursday, 30 November, 2017 0 Comments

Today, we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of that great satirist Jonathan Swift and today also marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the superb poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week have commemorated these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. To recap: On Monday, we had a joke by Swift; Tuesday, a poem by Kavanagh and yesterday we looked at Swift’s Drapier’s Letters, which still resonate in the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland that’s now being overshadowed by Brexit.

Swift and Kavanagh were Irish and both were men of letters, and it’s those two factors that have made them memorable and lucrative, despite the passage of time. The act of remembering them has many facets. There’s a Dean Swift bar in London, there’s a Patrick Kavanagh pub in Birmingham, there’s a guide to Dublin’s Literary Pubs and Emerald Isle Gifts does a steady trade with its “Famous Irish Writers” poster that includes Kavanagh and Swift, along with Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce.

Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce… They’re a blessing for the pub trade, they’re a boon for Irish tourism, they’re meat and potatoes for academia and they’re dead. Patrick Kavanagh couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of a country that forced its best writers into exile and then profited from the legacies and he took to the pages of Envoy in 1950 to condemn the racket.

Who Killed James Joyce?

Who killed James Joyce?
I, said the commentator,
I killed James Joyce
For my graduation.

What weapon was used
To slay mighty Ulysses?
The weapon that was used
Was a Harvard thesis.

How did you bury Joyce?
In a broadcast Symposium.
That’s how we buried Joyce
To a tuneful encomium.

Who carried the coffin out?
Six Dublin codgers
Led into Langham Place
By W. R. Rodgers.

Who said the burial prayers? –
Please do not hurt me –
Joyce was no Protestant,
Surely not Bertie?

Who killed Finnegan?
I, said a Yale-man,
I was the man who made
The corpse for the wake man.

And did you get high marks,
The Ph.D.?
I got the B.Litt.
And my master’s degree.

Did you get money
For your Joycean knowledge?
I got a scholarship
To Trinity College.

I made the pilgrimage
In the Bloomsday swelter
From the Martello Tower
To the cabby’s shelter.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)