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Tag: Ireland

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


Páraic and Pearse

Wednesday, 11 April, 2018 0 Comments

No. This is not a post about the Good Friday Agreement, or about the Irish nationalist who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. It’s about Páraic McGloughlin, a professional visual artist living in Sligo, in the West of Ireland, and his professionally musical brother Pearse McGloughlin. Their video mixes sounds with satellite images of the Earth to create something, well, different.


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


Snow was general all over Ireland

Wednesday, 28 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
The Dead, James Joyce

Snow in Ireland


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


New Year’s reading: Brexit

Tuesday, 2 January, 2018 0 Comments

We’re spending some time this week with the books that were the presents of Christmas past. Yesterday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from the famously generous Noel Donnelly, and today’s it the turn of Five Escape Brexit Island, which was put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by that well-travelled editor, Ian McMaster.

The former bookseller Bruno Vincent has a very nice little earner going now with the “Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups” series and popular titles include, Five Go Gluten Free, Five Get on the Property Ladder and Five Get Beach Body Ready. Older readers might recall that the “original” Enid Blyton was a phenomenally successful writer of children’s books and the characters of Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog became household names in post-War II Britain. In the new, “Grown-Ups” series, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy confront such challenges as getting a good gluten-free cream tea and escaping beastly Brexit for the safety of mainland Europe. We join them, and a fellow refugee, Wally, on their make-shift raft off the coast of Dorset:

‘It is a treacherous business, trying to negotiate the high seas in nothing but a humble craft, and, at last, I understand why discipline had to be right in the old British navy. All it takes is for one person to despair and it spreads to all the others.

‘The poor, benighted, weak-spirited folk with whom I share my craft are sure to crack under the pressure any moment. I can feel the madness spreading among my crew, here on the MSS Gillian Anderson, and am watching these feeble creatures for any signs of murderous intent.’

‘Julian, would you mind not saying all that shit out loud?’ asked George. ‘It’s not really helpful.’

‘My pencil’s broken, hasn’t it?’ So I’m trying to memorize the captain’s log.’

‘Just think it then. If you must,’ said George.

‘And we’d rather you didn’t think it, either,’ said Anne.

‘Also, we didn’t agree to the ship being called the HMS Gillian Anderson,’ said Dick.

‘It’s a perfectly reasonable name. She was born in London and is one of our greatest exports. And, after Brexit, strong exports are exactly what we will need. What would you rather call it?

‘Just the Raft,’ said George. ‘Stop worrying about it.’

‘Nobody suggest the Theresa May — even in jest,’ Julian said. ‘One use of the phrase ‘strong and stable’ and we’ll be under the waves in seconds.’ Seeing Wally’s confusion, Julian explained that Theresa may was the prime minister.

‘There’s a WOMAN prime minister?’ Wally screamed.

‘You’ve got a lot to catch up on, mate,’ said Julian.

Dick squinted against the sun. ‘It’s very odd. We haven’t seen land for hours, but we keep being dragged on this current that moves like lightening. We could be hundreds of miles from where we started by now.’

‘Shut up,’ said George. ‘At some point in the next twenty-four hours, we’re obviously going to get run down by a bloody ferry, if we don’t actually sink first.’

‘What if we drift to Ireland?’ asked Dick. ‘That would be good; the Guinness is better over there, and we can fix ourselves up with EU passports — Grandad was born in Dublin, you know. Think how useful that would be.’

And on and on and on and on until the inevitable end: ‘Woof!’ said Timmy.

Five Escape Brexit Island


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.


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)


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.”


Swift joke: Bankers and lawyers in hell

Monday, 27 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we 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. Therefore, the daily posts this week will commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. First up is Swift, the most influential political commentator of his time, in both England and Ireland. His writings include some of the greatest works of satire in the English language and his poems and pamphlets display an extraordinary versatility in a range of genres. But before we examine his legacy, let’s have one of his jokes.

Swift told the one about a friend of a friend, a struggling writer, who had six brothers — three of them bankers and three of them lawyers. They prospered, but the writer didn’t and he died young and in reduced circumstances. Still, he was a decent man and had never harmed a fly so the expectation was that he’d go straight to Heaven. Imagine, then, his shock upon arriving in Hell. It was, however, a clerical error and once the Satanists discovered the mistake, they transferred him right up to Heaven.

“What was it like in Hell?” asked the curious Saint Peter.

“Oh, it was just like being at home,” answered the writer. “You couldn’t get near the fire for bankers and lawyers.”