Tag: Ireland

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


Shamrock of stone

Friday, 17 March, 2017 0 Comments

When the British poet and war-time diplomat Sir John Betjeman visited the west of Ireland in the 1940s, he stayed with Lord Hemphill and his beautiful American wife Emily. She had met her titled husband while riding in the Borghese Gardens in Rome in 1926 and they married a year later in New York. The couple then moved to Tulira Castle, the Victorian bastion built in Galway by Edward Martyn and immortalized in George Moore’s Hail and Farewell. By the time Betjeman arrived, however, Emily was involved in a passionate affair with Ion Villiers-Stuart, as she revealed to him when they cycled through the primeval-looking landscape of The Burren. That day’s events led to one of Betjeman’s finest poems, Ireland with Emily. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Ireland with Emily

Bells are booming down the bohreens,
White the mist along the grass,
Now the Julias, Maeves and Maureens
Move between the fields to Mass.
Twisted trees of small green apple
Guard the decent whitewashed chapel,
Gilded gates and doorway grained,
Pointed windows richly stained
With many-coloured Munich glass.

See the black-shawled congregations
On the broidered vestment gaze
Murmer past the painted stations
As Thy Sacred Heart displays
Lush Kildare of scented meadows,
Roscommon, thin in ash-tree shadows,
And Westmeath the lake-reflected,
Spreading Leix the hill-protected,
Kneeling all in silver haze?

In yews and woodbine, walls and guelder,
Nettle-deep the faithful rest,
Winding leagues of flowering elder,
Sycamore with ivy dressed,
Ruins in demesnes deserted,
Bog-surrounded bramble-skirted —
Townlands rich or townlands mean as
These, oh, counties of them screen us
In the Kingdom of the West.

Stony seaboard, far and foreign,
Stony hills poured over space,
Stony outcrop of the Burren,
Stones in every fertile place,
Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.

Has it held, the warm June weather?
Draining shallow sea-pools dry,
When we bicycled together
Down the bohreens fuchsia-high.
Till there rose, abrupt and lonely,
A ruined abbey, chancel only,
Lichen-crusted, time-befriended,
Soared the arches, splayed and splendid,
Romanesque against the sky.

There in pinnacled protection,
One extinguished family waits
A Church of Ireland resurrection
By the broken, rusty gates.
Sheepswool, straw and droppings cover,
Graves of spinster, rake and lover,
Whose fantastic mausoleum,
Sings its own seablown Te Deum,
In and out the slipping slates.

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

The Building, Ballylanders, Limerick, Ireland


The dark wine of Patrick’s country

Thursday, 16 March, 2017 0 Comments

“I’ve a thirst on me I wouldn’t sell for half a crown.
– Give it a name, citizen, says Joe.
– Wine of the country, says he.
– What’s yours? says Joe.
– Ditto MacAnaspey, says I.
– Three pints, Terry, says Joe.”

The Guinness stout that nourished those Dublin characters in the “Cyclops” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses has been sold in Africa since 1827. Today, 40 percent of worldwide Guinness volume is brewed in Africa and the continent’s biggest markets are Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, Uganda and Namibia. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinness is produced by the Bralima brewery in Kisangani.

Talking of the Congo, the Sapeurs (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes) are a group of tastemakers and elegant people who turn the art of dressing into a cultural statement. When these men go out on the town, the streets of Brazzaville are their fashion runway. Afterwards, they enjoy a bottle or two of the wine of the country.


St Patricius joins the menology

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 0 Comments

“These saints did their service in the Western countries. St Patricius, the enlightener of Ireland who is more commonly known as St Patrick is one of them.” So spoke Dr Vladimir Legoida, head of communications for the Russian Orthodox synod, on Friday in Moscow. The occasion was the decision by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to enlarge its menology with the names of some 15 saints, “who bore with witness of Christian faith in the West European and Central European lands before the split of the united Christian Church in 1054” in what became known as the Great Schism.

St Patricius

Dr Legoida told Pravmir that there was evidence Patricius had been venerated by the Russian Orthodox faithful. Critically, given Russian sensitivities, a key question was the role the saints might have played in polemics between Catholics and the Orthodox. “We took account the immaculateness of devotion of each saint, the circumstances in which their worship took shape, and the absence of the saints’ names in the polemic works on struggle against the Eastern Christian Church or its rite,” Dr Legoida said.

When it came to engaging in polemics or ridding Ireland of its snakes, St Patricius decided to concentrate on removing the reptiles. And, lo, his chosen land has been blessed since. “Russians to invade Trump’s luxury Irish golf resort” crowed the Sunday Business Post at the weekend, adding that “Up to 100 wealthy Russians will visit Doonbeg, Co Clare, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.” What a saint!


Monday in Maria Edgeworth’s Ireland

Monday, 13 March, 2017 0 Comments

This is the week of Saint Patrick and in the run up to his big day on Friday we’re devoting our posts to matters Irish. To kick off, we’ve got an excerpt from Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849). It was published in 1800 and is regarded as the first Anglo-Irish novel.

Castle Rackrent satirises Anglo-Irish landlords and their mismanagement of their estates. The main characters are the spendthrift Sir Patrick O’Shaughlin, the litigious Sir Murtagh Rackrent, the cruel husband and gambling absentee Sir Kit Rackrent and the generous but improvident Sir Condy Rackrent. The novel is narrated by their steward, the sly Thady Quirk. For Maria Edgeworth, who was born in Oxfordshire and educated in London, the native Irish were a tempestuous people and her observations about their attitudes to notions of authority and time ring true today:

“Thady begins his memoirs of the Rackrent Family by dating MONDAY MORNING, because no great undertaking can be auspiciously commenced in Ireland on any morning but MONDAY MORNING. ‘Oh, please God we live till Monday morning, we’ll set the slater to mend the roof of the house. On Monday morning we’ll fall to, and cut the turf. On Monday morning we’ll see and begin mowing. On Monday morning, please your honour, we’ll begin and dig the potatoes,’ etc.

All the intermediate days, between the making of such speeches and the ensuing Monday, are wasted: and when Monday morning comes, it is ten to one that the business is deferred to THE NEXT Monday morning. The Editor knew a gentleman, who, to counteract this prejudice, made his workmen and labourers begin all new pieces of work upon a Saturday.”

Edgeworthstown House


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