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Tag: Dublin

Swift: The Brexit Letters

Wednesday, 29 November, 2017 0 Comments

Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the extraordinary satirist Jonathan Swift and the same day marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the great poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. On Monday, we had a joke by Swift; yesterday, a poem by Kavanagh and today we’re back to Swift with political writing that’s still relevant. We’re talking Drapier’s Letters, the first of which was titled To the Shop-Keepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common-People of Ireland.

Background: Drapier’s Letters is the title of seven pamphlets written between 1724 and 1725 by Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. His aim was to provoke public opinion in Ireland against the imposition of privately minted copper coinage he believed to be of sub-standard quality. William Wood was granted letters patent to mint the coins, but Swift knew that the licensing was secured by a bribe of £10,000 to the Duchess of Kendal, mistress of King George I. Since this was a very politically sensitive subject, Swift wrote under the pseudonym M. B. Drapier, to protect himself from royal retribution.

Although the letters were condemned by the Irish government of the day, they inspired popular sentiment against Wood and this led to a nationwide boycott, which forced the patent to be withdrawn. Swift was treated as a hero for his defiance of British control over the Irish nation and many historians regard Drapier as a key figure in the creation of a “more universal Irish community”. Along with Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, Drapier’s Letters are an essential component of Swift’s political writings.

If the Dean were with us today, what would he write about Brexit? And how would he represent Ireland in the negotiations that are so critical for the future of the islands he loved? Certainly, he would be much more eloquent than Phil Hogan, the Irish apparatchik in Brussels, and he would have choice words for the Lilliputians now governing Ireland with a dysfunctional coalition government. More than likely, however, Swift would have been roundly attacked by these Yahoos because, as he once said, “When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”


Kavanagh poem: the cancer ward

Tuesday, 28 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we’ll celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and on the same day we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. Yesterday, we had a joke by Swift; today, we have a poem by Kavanagh and it is read here by the great man himself.

Background: In March 1955, Kavanagh underwent surgery for lung cancer at the Rialto Hospital in Dublin. As the weather improved, he spent much of his time convalescing on the banks of the Grand Canal and composing verse.

The Hospital

A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row
Plain concrete, wash basins — an art lover’s woe,
Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored.
But nothing whatever is by love debarred,
The common and banal her heat can know.
The corridor led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.

This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge,
The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry,
The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap.
Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge;
For we must record love’s mystery without claptrap,
Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)


Dollyer

Wednesday, 29 March, 2017 0 Comments

Dollymount, known as “Dollyer” to Dubliners, is an area on the north coast of Dublin Bay. A wooden bridge from Clontarf links to Bull Island and the adjoining 5-kilometres long stretch of sandy beach and dunes is called Dollymount Strand.

Dollyer

Note: “Dollymount House” was listed in the Dublin Directory up to 1836, and in 1838 Dollymount appeared for the first time as that of a district, under the heading of “Green Lanes, Dollymount.” It is said locally that the name was used by a member of the Vernon family as a compliment to his wife, Dorothy, or Dolly Vernon.


Pints

Monday, 27 March, 2017 0 Comments

Guinness is a dark beer made using roasted, unmalted barley, hops, water and yeast. But it’s more than just a dark beer. It’s porter. The term was first recorded in the 18th century and is thought to have come from the popularity of dark beer with street and river porters around London who laboured hard for their livings. They were fond of the strongest or “stoutest” dark beer and the breweries soon began marketing “Stout Porter” to this thirsty market segment. Travellers in need of stout porter and sustenance are well cared for at The Yacht Bar on Clontarf Road in Dublin.

Pints


Beautiful Lofty Balscadden

Sunday, 19 March, 2017 0 Comments

In his poem Beautiful Lofty Things, W.B. Yeats mentions meeting his beautiful muse Maud Gonne at the Howth train station in Dublin. Yeats lived at Balscadden House on Howth Head for three years and the final line of Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, which is quoted on the wall plaque that commemorates his residency, is a reference to Maud Gonne: “I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

Balscadden House is in a beautiful lofty place and we plan to walk there next weekend.

Beautiful Lofty Things

O’Leary’s noble head;
My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd:
‘This Land of Saints,’ and then as the applause died out,
‘Of plaster Saints’; his beautiful mischievous head thrown back.
Standish O’Grady supporting himself between the tables
Speaking to a drunken audience high nonsensical words;
Augusta Gregory seated at her great ormolu table,
Her eightieth winter approaching: ‘Yesterday he threatened my life.
I told him that nightly from six to seven I sat at this table,
The blinds drawn up’; Maud Gonne at Howth station waiting a train,
Pallas Athene in that straight back and arrogant head:
All the Olympians; a thing never known again.

W.B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Balscadden House

Howth Head


Brexit: What would St. Patrick do?

Wednesday, 15 March, 2017 0 Comments

St. Patrick Background: St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain. Where exactly is a matter of debate. Claims have been made for England, Scotland and Wales as his birthplace. According to the Confession of St. Patrick, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates at the age of 16, enslaved and then held captive in Ireland for six years. Good Christian that he was, he forgave his captors and the Irish in general. He then set about converting them and his success rate was a remarkable 99.9%, it is said.

What Patrick could not do, however, was help the Irish to understand that they needed to stay on good terms with their neighbours in Britain. The Irish of the fifth century saw the “big island” as place to plunder or to dispose of their excess people and problems and little has changed since.

Foreground: The Republic of Ireland joined the European Economic Community in 1973 on the same day as the United Kingdom and this was no coincidence. Dublin depended greatly on food exports to the UK and being outside the EEC zone would have meant tariffs and quotas affecting its most important market. It was a pragmatic decision, therefore, but there was an element of romance as well in that many in the Irish establishment hoped that the deal would weaken the Anglo-Irish relationship in favour of Europe. And it all turned out for the best in the end. Ireland got lots of lovely subsidies from Brussels, local politicians upgraded to luxury junkets, inward investment from the USA flowed like champagne at Cheltenham and the benefits of Britain were untouched. Note: Irish citizens living in the UK are treated as British citizens in all but name.

St. Patrick But all this changed, utterly, with the Brexit vote. The cat is now among the doves, as peace-loving Patrick might have said. Once Article 50 is triggered by the UK government, Ireland will have to face the fact that it depends on the US and UK consumer so much that almost two-thirds of it goods and services will go to markets outside the remaining EU 27 members. Paddy is now confronted with the conundrum that while he’s commercially and culturally part of the Anglosphere, he’s told by his elites that he should feel closer to Brussels than Boston and it’s giving him headaches. Then, there are the bills.

In 2014, Ireland became a net contributor to the EU. Dublin paid €1.69 billion to Brussels and got €1.52 in return. After the UK leaves and the EU needs to pay those bills, Ireland will be expected to put more in the pot. Then there’s last year’s EU decision against Dublin’s cosy tax arrangement with Apple that could cost €13 billion. If all those giant US companies in Ireland are no longer able to dodge tax and if their companions in London are no longer able to ship their UK turnover across the Irish Sea to be taxed at a much lower Irish rate, the luck of the Irish might run out. But there’s more.

Much of Ireland’s exports are transported through British ports on the west coast, then across the mighty motorways that Paddy helped build before leaving British ports on the south and east coasts for EU destinations. When the UK is outside the Single Market and Customs Union there will be serious administrative and financial challenges to getting goods to their EU markets without quicker and cheaper alternative routes. And the combination of being outside the Schengen Agreement and the Common Travel Agreement means that the Britain’s borders will begin at Ireland’s ports and airports.

Tricky.

People scoffed recently when Lord Kilclooney wrote in the Belfast News Letter that Ireland needs to consider its positon in the EU, but his advice should not be dismissed so lightly. He concluded: “The two alternatives are for the Republic to get special status within the EU or for the Republic to exit the EU the same day as the UK — that would mean there would be no problems at the border and would eliminate the damage now being caused to the Southern Irish economy.”

Paddy doesn’t want to hear this, of course, but Saint Patrick would whisper in his ear what Louis MacNeice once said: “World is suddener than we fancy it.”

St. Patrick


The acme of extravagance in Wicklow

Tuesday, 31 January, 2017 0 Comments
The acme of extravagance in Wicklow

As we read here yesterday, Luggala, the exquisite 18th-century Irish house located on 5,000 mountainous acres in County Wicklow, is now for sale and the lot can be yours for $29 million says Sotheby’s International Realty. Luggala played a decisive role in the fortunes of the Cockburn family in the mid-1950s as the late journalist 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 Hollywood 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.”

Tomorrow, here, Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Jennifer Jones and Robert Morley join the party as it moves from Luggala to Cork.

Luggala


Cronin and Kavanagh in a bar

Sunday, 8 January, 2017 0 Comments

The Irish writer Anthony Cronin, who was born on 28 December 1923 and who died on 27 December 2016, recalled arriving arrived into McDaid’s pub in Dublin one Sunday morning in the late 1950s to find the poet Patrick Kavanagh with the day’s newspapers strewn around him. This impelled Cronin to remark that the News of the World was running extracts from an autobiography of the retired English jockey Tommy Weston.

“He must be broke,” Cronin said.

“Any man at all that’s writing anything whatever is broke. Don’t you know that by now?” was Kavanagh’s answer.


HI+AI

Sunday, 16 October, 2016 0 Comments

“An axe or a hammer is a passive extension of a hand, but a drone forms a distributed intelligence along with its operator, and is closer to a dog or horse than a device.” So says Bryan Johnson, founder and CEO of Kernel, which aims to develop biomedically engineered devices linked our central nervous system to restore and enhance human cognitive, motor and sensory abilities. In a word: neuroprosthetics.

“The combination of human and artificial intelligence will define humanity’s future” declares Johnson an article for TechCrunch that examines the interplay of artificial intelligence (AI) and human intelligence (HI). He argues that humanity has arrived at the border of intelligence enhancement, “which could be the most consequential technological development of our time, and in history.” Once we head into new country, the result could be people who need never need worry about forgetfulness again, or suffer the degradations of ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. Johnson is very much on the side of the Valley evangelists, but he feels obliged to add what has become the mandatory cautionary note:

“It is certainly true that with every new technology we create, new risks emerge that need thoughtful consideration and wise action. Medical advances that saved lives also made germ warfare possible; chemical engineering led to fertilizers and increased food production but also to chemical warfare. Nuclear fission created a new source of energy but also led to nuclear bombs.”

Despite mankind’s inherent wickedness, Bryan Johnson does not fear the future and warns against using “a fear-based narrative” as the main structure for discussing HI+AI. This would limit the imagination and curiosity that are at the core of being human.

“The basis of optimism is sheer terror,” said Oscar Wilde, who was born on this day in 1864 at 21 Westland Row in Dublin.


When Bob Dylan dreamed of St. Augustine

Thursday, 13 October, 2016 0 Comments

On 16 June 2011, Bob Dylan began a European tour in Cork, the southern capital of Ireland. The set opened with Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking and closed with Forever Young, but what made the evening particularly interesting was a song not heard all that often: I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, from the 1967 album John Wesley Harding. Oddly enough, the last time he had played it before that was in Dublin, in 2005.

“I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold.”

In the song, Dylan is addressed in his dreams by St. Augustine of Hippo, the bishop-philosopher who held the episcopal seat in Hippo Regius, a Roman port in northern Africa. He died in 430 A.D. when the city was overrun by Vandals. Dylanologist Tim Riley wrote that Bob uses St. Augustine’s “symbolic stature to signify anyone who has been put to death by a mob,” and his vision of the saint reveals “how it feels to be the target of mob psychology, and how confusing it is to identify with the throng’s impulses to smother what it loves too much or destroy what it can’t understand”. The opening lyrics and melody are based on the old union song I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.


When Dublin had buses

Sunday, 25 September, 2016 0 Comments

The capital of Ireland is being subjected to a ransom, er, strike by drivers employed by Dublin Bus. The five unions representing the drivers are seeking a whopping 15% pay increase over the next three years along with a 6% rise they say they were due to get under an agreement in 2009, but which was deferred. They have rejected a recommended 8.25% increase over the next three years. Meanwhile, the helpless commuters are being exposed to further misery and humiliation by one of Europe’s truly sub-standard public transport services.

In the 1970s, when Dublin was considerably less prosperous than it is today, the city had buses and their erratic presence was captured by John Wilfrid Hinde, an English photographer, whose nostalgic postcards of Ireland have acquired cult status.

Dublin buses in the 1970s

Dublin buses in the 1970s

Dublin buses in the 1970s