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Tag: Ireland

The aqueous Hannigan Undertow

Saturday, 4 February, 2017 0 Comments

The word “undertow” is used usually when talking about the rip current that drags unwary swimmers away to their doom. More generally, undertow describes an underlying emotion that leaves a particular impression. Example: “There’s a dark undertow of rage in the tweets of those in denial about the recent election result.”

Genesis recorded a song titled Undertow as did Kim Carnes, Leonard Cohen, Suzanne Vega, Pet Shop Boys and R.E.M. Now comes Irish singer Lisa Hannigan with her own aqueous Undertow from her recent album, At Swim. On Monday night, Lisa Hannigan will play the Festival Antigel in Geneva.


When the Cockburns went to Luggala

Monday, 30 January, 2017 0 Comments

“Hidden inside a secluded Irish valley lies Luggala, an exquisite 18th-century house at the centre of an estate comprising of some 5,000 acres.” And for $29,952,931 this can be yours say Sotheby’s International Realty, who don’t spare the adjectives in their blurb: “Luggala is that special brand of eighteenth-century gothick that rejoices in little battlements, crochets, trefoil and quatrefoil windows and ogee mantelpieces, Indeed, quite like the gothick of pastrycooks and Rockingham china.” Good ones those: gothick, crochets, trefoil, ogee.

Anyway, Luggala, with its 27 bedrooms and 18 full baths featured in the hilariously readable Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era by the late Alexander Cockburn. In the chapter titled “Beat the Devil”, he recalls how his father, Claud, author of the novel Beat the Devil, retreated to Luggala to escape his creditors:

Beat the Devil was published at the beginning of the fifties, in England by Boardman and in the US by Lippincott. Both are now defunct, at least as houses publishing trade books. The advance against royalties provided by Boardman was, to my mother’s recollection, somewhere between £200 and £300, and the sum of the American rights was $750. This sort of money, though not as paltry as it now appears, did not long stay the bailiffs and things were looking bad as we went off to stay, for the Dublin Horse Show week, with Oonagh Oranmore at Luggala, her house in the Wicklow mountains.”

Tomorrow, here, how the Hollywood director John Huston, a frequent guest at Luggala, made a dramatic entrance and saved the Cockburns from poverty.

Luggala


The green solution

Thursday, 12 January, 2017 0 Comments

When the leaders of the Irish Free State started to shape their post-colonial nation, they began by changing place names. Kingstown reverted to its old Gaelic name of Dún Laoghaire, Queenstown became Cobh and Maryborough became Portlaoise.

In February 1922, the Provisional Government issued “Public Notice Number 4” which stipulated that “Irish be taught or used as a medium of instruction for not less than one hour each day” and schools were urged to make “the necessary arrangements to ensure the directive was carried out.” As a result of this revolutionary zeal, the Post Office was renamed Oifig an Phoist and it invented new Irish words like “Telefon”. Other changes were more cosmetic and involved painting red post boxes green.

Post box


The dreary quarrels of Northern Ireland re-emerge

Wednesday, 11 January, 2017 0 Comments

In a time of global turbulence, when we should be focused on issues that will affect stability and prosperity, Northern Ireland threatens to divert attention with a crisis fueled by, well, fuel, and headlined “Cash for Ash”. The bizarre Renewable Heat Incentive scandal is exposing the old tribal antagonisms and the brittle peace is endangered. Nothing new, however. Let us pause for a moment and go back a century to Winston Churchill describing the aftermath of World War I:

“The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous change in the deluge of the world. But as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world.”

High Dive The integrity of that quarrel is central to the latest novel by Jonathan Lee. High Dive centres on an event that took place at the Grand Hotel in Brighton on 12 October 1984. Then, the Provisional IRA terrorists group attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, who were staying at the hotel for the Conservative Party conference. Although Mrs Thatcher narrowly escaped injury, five people were killed including a Conservative MP, and 31 were injured, by the long-delay time bomb planted in the hotel by the IRA.

Jonathan Lee’s book doesn’t offer an analysis of violent Irish republicanism or Tory party politics, but it excels in describing the particulars of the English hospitality trade. Lee, like so many members of the writing class, harbours some sympathy for the “rebels”, but the reader should be aware that the characters in his novel are no idealists. More than three decades after the Brighton bombing, the antagonists of Northern Ireland have turned their dreary, squalid feud into an industry that supplies their claques with cash from ash and other combustibles. The integrity of their quarrel is endless.


Meditations on meat

Friday, 30 December, 2016 0 Comments

“How good it is, when you have roast meat or suchlike foods before you, to impress on your mind that this is the dead body of a fish, this the dead body of a bird or pig.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

301216bull

Image: Sean Fitzgerald’s butcher shop, Main Street, Ballylanders, Co. Limerick, Ireland.


The past of William Trevor

Tuesday, 22 November, 2016 0 Comments

For William Trevor, who died yesterday, there was just one tense: the past. The present, he believed, was too instantaneous to describe, while the future was unknowable. It was the past, and only the past that could be assessed and reviewed and put in perspective.

“A person’s life isn’t orderly …it runs about all over the place, in and out through time. The present’s hardly there; the future doesn’t exist. Only love matters in the bits and pieces of a person’s life.” — William Trevor

William Trevor


Allingham: The fullness and emptiness of writing

Friday, 18 November, 2016 0 Comments

Many an eerie Hallowe’en night is still graced with a reading of The Fairies by William Allingham, which begins:

“Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men.”

William Allingham, who died on this day in 1889, was an Irish poet and chronicler best known for his Diary, in which he recorded his encounters with Tennyson, Carlyle and other 19th-century writers. For Allingham, the act of writing was double edged.

Writing

“A man who keeps a diary, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful — then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fullness than of emptiness.”

William Allingham (1824 – 1889)


Parr near and far in Ireland

Saturday, 8 October, 2016 0 Comments

The great British photographer Martin Parr lived in Ireland, in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, between 1981 and 1983. So Near and So Far is the title of an exhibition of his pictures from the region that runs until Tuesday at the Roscommon Arts Centre. The images are included in Parr’s book A Fair Day: Photographs from the West Coast of Ireland.

Parr in Ireland


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


The Pattern Day

Monday, 15 August, 2016 0 Comments

In 1810, the Irish antiquary Thomas Crofton-Croker recorded that up to 15,000 people had attended the “pattern” of St. Declan in Ardmore in Waterford. The event is held annually on the 24th of July and central to the occasion is a visit to St. Declan’s Well. In her thesis submitted in 1988 to the Free University of Amsterdam for a master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology, Siobhán Lincoln noted that, “Various cures have been attributed to it, and the Saint is reputed to have quenched his thirst there en route to Cashel.”

Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island 1,600 years ago. Christianity then assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “pattern day” (from the pronunciation of pátrún or patron). The “pattern day”, in other words, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. The wells are too small for bathing in and, anyway, the water is cold so bottles are filled with the “miraculous” liquid, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals” or as “the dramatisation and sacralisation of rural Ireland’s own social structure”. This tradition of religious practice and the carnivalesque will be continued in Ballylanders today, the Feast of the Assumption. Our thoughts are with all those doing the “rounds of the Well.”

The rounds of the Well


On The Birthday Of Synge

Saturday, 16 April, 2016 0 Comments

The playwright and poet John Millington Synge was born on this day in 1871. A key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, he is best known for his play The Playboy of the Western World, which caused riots in Dublin during its opening run at the Abbey. Although he came from a privileged Anglo-Irish background, Synge’s writings are mainly concerned with the Catholic culture of rural Ireland and with the earthy spiritualism of its world view. Synge developed Hodgkin’s disease, which was then untreatable, and he died shortly before his 38th birthday.

On A Birthday

Friend of Ronsard, Nashe, and Beaumont,
Lark of Ulster, Meath, and Thomond,
Heard from Smyrna and Sahara
To the surf of Connemara,
Lark of April, June, and May,
Sing loudly this my Lady-day.

John Millington Synge (16 April 1871 — 24 March 1909)

The Playboy of the Western World