Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Shepherd House, Inveresk, Edinburgh
Click on any image for a larger version

Lord and Lady Fraser, Charles and Ann to you, live in Shepherd House in the picturesque village of Inveresk just outside Edinburgh.

The house is situated on one acre and for the last fifty years or more that acre has been growing in maturity. And growing is the right word. It has been reared, so to speak, to its present state through years of experience, constant refinement and even drastic makeovers when the results of immature choices began to block further progress.

Today it is a single living organism renewing itself with the passage of the seasons acquiring new and disposing of old body parts in a way we could only envy. Of necessity it maintains the gift of eternal youth.

There is an amazing combination of features, animate and inanimate, packed into this one acre. A single visit is just a teaser and an invitation to follow the garden through the seasons as the different plants assert themselves, and through the years as its structure evolves under the steady hands and green fingers of its lord and lady.

Our Guide

So let's get on with it and make the acquaintance of our guide waiting for visitors outside the dovecot at the gate.

Charles has been rearing these white pigeons, or doves, from way back. They had to move out of their original "house" when the dovecot and stables were converted into a cottage for human habitation but they seem to have settled into their present location and calling as gatekeepers and guides.

This is a view of the "backbone" of the garden, looking away from the house and towards the source of the watercourse which runs almost the entire length of the garden. This feature was inspired by one in a garden in India where Ann spent her early years.

And you won't fail to notice the young lady at the end of the watercourse, washing her hair in wild abandon.

The source of the watercourse, at the far end of the garden, brings many a classical feature to mind. Mr. Lutyens would be pleased.

Charles built the shellhouse which celebrates both the couple's enduring partnership and the location of the house and garden.

The inside walls are lined with local shells in pleasing artistic formations. Predominant among these are the mussel shells.

Inveresk is in the outer ring of the town of Musselburgh, which, in turn is a suburb of Edinburgh.

Combining and arranging the inside and outside of the mussel shells makes for a very delicate formation.

The stained glass windows at either end of the shellhouse not only let in the light but they also set off the pastel shades of the shells with a discrete burst of primary colours.

One of the early criticisms of the garden was that there were too many trees and so they had to go. This one "survived", however, as a tree-sculptured tulip.

When I first saw this I thought it was a maze, but it proved to have both too many exits and none. I gather the word is topiary, ornamental hedging, and this is a combination of boxes.

This is Dollina, who undergoes a regular clipping/shearing like any other respectable sheep. What, you may ask, is she doing in this setup? Well, it's not as way out as it seems at first sight, as Dolly, the first ever cloned sheep, first saw the light of day just down the road in Roslyn.

Follow me

Our guide is now urging us on to check out some of the individual blooms.

While our guide may know the names and history of the wide variety of plants, including what is edible and what is not, I don't, so I am just going to include what I found either aesthetically pleasing or unusual.

If you want to pursue this in a more learned and systematic manner you can always buy the excellent book on the garden, which Charles and Ann have self-published and which sells for £35. You can contact Ann to arrange purchase.

Our guide is joined by a junior trainee for the rest of the tour.

Where would you be without the old potting shed?

Incidentally, I notice some of the stone around here has a pinky tinge. Reminds me of farmhouses in Jersey.

This is the golden goose, appropriately flying above the coop of the Silkie Banthams. These hens appear to be very shy, however, and anytime I approach, they scuttle back into their henhouse.

For instance, this one thinks it's pulling a fast one by scuttling back into the henhouse as I come within photo range.

For once, that didn't work and I subsequently got this shot through the window.

This very impressive sundial is above the back door of the house. I wondered if it was an antique but became a little dubious when I saw it was presented to Charles by United Biscuits.

A free one with every packet of Hob Nobs or Cream Crackers?

But, seriously, it was presented to Charles, in MCMXCVI - a whole score of years ago, on his retirement from the non-executive Vice-Chairmanship of United Biscuits (Holdings). By profession a lawyer, he has held many major business positions in the course of his career.

As well as being the creative force behind the garden, Ann is also a serious botanical artist and illustrator and you can check out the catalogue for her upcoming London exhibition (10 to 20 May 2016) here.

And finally, it's goodbye from our guide who hopes we enjoyed the visit.

Garden Website

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


I have been buying Supervalu's brand of FAIRTRADE tea for a good while now. The fairtrade bit means that the product has been produced and traded to standards set by the Fairtrade organisation which, in turn, means that producers are adequately rewarded for their labour and the traders don't get up to any funny business.

I had been looking for a box for at least a week in my local Supervalu store but there was no sign of it. In one way I wasn't too surprised as they are always running out of things and the first to disappear is usually their own brand.

Anyway, I finally mentioned this to the staff and it sort of rang a bell. Apparently there had been some talk of re-branding and that it would be temporarily unavailable. They do this with things from time to time and it is both annoying and confusing.

Next thing one of the staff spotted the above box on the shelf. Lo and behold, the rebranded version under our very noses.

The style has been kept but the word "fairtrade" is now relegated to a subtitle and the product is now marketed under "Reserve Brand".

Apart from feeling a bit of a fool for not spotting it, I have been mulling over the change and wondering about the logic behind it.

I haven't quite finished my mulling and comments would be welcome below after you've had a think about it.

To facilitate the comparison I have reproduced the two versions together below. You will notice that the 80 bags are now packed into a very slightly smaller space.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Where is it ? No. 45


As nobody has had a go at this I'm just giving the solution.

It is in Merrion Street Lower and is part of the Mont Clare Hotel. The connection is with Oscar Wilde. It is just across the road from Oscar's statue in Merrion Square Park and from his father's house. It is also not far from the house where he was born on Westland Row.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Baldoyle Public Library
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This is the Baldoyle public library, a most odd looking building at the junction of The Mall and Station Road.

It took me three tries to get in. First I arrived just in time for early closing at 5pm on a Wednesday. Then I arrived at midday on a Thursday to find that was the morning half day and it didn't open till 1.15pm, which was when I finally got inside.

I mention this not to be in the least critical of the staff of whom there are now apparently too few. As a result, what were normal library opening hours have been cut back by Fingal County Council due to staff (and presumably funds) shortages.

All that said, I should have read the notice of opening hours on the door properly the first time round.

Howth Photographic Club - Spring Exhibition 2016

Anyway, I promised a friend I'd drop in to check out the Howth Photographic Club's Spring Exhibition. The theme was the 1916 Rising and the competition which produced the exhibition was judged by Anthony Scullion.

The photographs were all high quality reproductions and there was much juxtapositioning of past and present. Some reminded me of the title of Michael Edwards's current competition 2016 remembering 1916 but, having now been exhibited here, they would not qualify to enter that competition.

I always like a litle twist or quirk in a photo and two in particular caught my fancy: The Greening of Empire from Barry Crowley and Images of Leaders from Thomas Byrne. You can see these below along with their descriptive text.

The Greening of Empire
Letters describing the events of 1916 would have been posted
in this unique "Ashworth Box", now in Collins (formerly Royal)
Barracks. The original "Imperial" red was re-painted "Rebublican"
greeen by the new Irish Free State, but the Crown remains.

Images of Leaders
Images of leaders of the 1916 Rising used as a
backdrop to a local politician's election poster in 2016

You can check out the full set here on the Club's excellent website.

Where is it ? No. 44


This was admittedly a bit of a tricky one, even for fairly seasoned Dubliners. It is one of the figures inside the monument to members of the Irish defence forces who have died in the service of the State and it is situated on the west side of Merrion Square.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Where is it ? No. 43


I only noticed this one myself the other day and I have been passing it regularly since the mid 1960s. In fact, I worked under it for a number of years.

It is above the north block of Government Buildings on Upper Merrion Street. This was the location of the original, pre-independence, Department of Agriculture.

To see all the quiz items click on the "Where?" tag below.

To see all the unsolved quiz items click on the "unsolved" tag below.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Frongoch Internment Camp by Robert Ballagh
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You may have seen the above illustration of a concentration camp in the centre of Dublin city and wondered what on earth it had to do with the 1916 Rising.

SIPTU 1916 Wrap on Liberty Hall

It is one of a number of panels on a 1916 wrap currently adorning Liberty Hall, Dublin's first skyscraper, built on the site of an older and lower Liberty Hall which was once the HQ of Jim Larkin's union and of the Irish Citizen Army mobilised by James Connolly in the 1916 Rising.

The top panel shows a wounded James Connolly being executed by a British firing squad after the Rising. This event was known by every Irish schoolchild from time immemorial but the role of Frongoch has only become more widely known as this year's 1916 commemorations have taken off.

Frongoch Camp & historic environs
Click on map for a larger version

Frongoch is located to the east of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales and it is close to two other important Welsh sites which will be referredd to in this post: Tryweryn and Trawsfynydd.

Frongoch Camp

But first the concentration camp at Frongoch where a large group of Irishmen were interned immediately following the 1916 Rising. Not all of them had taken part in the Rising but they were interned anyway. The internees included many names which resonate today such as Michael Collins and two future Lord Mayors of Cork, Thomás McCurtin and Terence McSwiney.

German prisoners in the camp

At the beginning of WWI the abandoned Frongoch distillery was turned into a German POW camp. When the Irish internees arrived after the 1916 Rising the Germans were shipped off elsewhere.

Internees being searched in the South Camp's main compound

Frongoch Camp, and the internment which gave rise to its occupation by Irishmen, was very much a British own goal, just like the executions which followed the 1916 Rising. Like the Curragh Camp at a later period, it was a university of revolution. There were classes in everything, including the new style of guerilla warfare which subsequently became the core tactic of the War of Independence. While many of the internees had not participated in the 1916 Rising, or were not actively involved in the revolutionary movement, a lot of their number were either politicised or reinforced in their politics in the Camp.

The internees were not supposed to have prisoner of war status but they were very much organised on military lines. Discipline was strict and loyalty almost absolute. This was very much brought out when their captors were trying to isolate those internees who had previously lived in England with a view to conscripting them into the British Army. The internees refused absolutely to cooperate, to the point of refusing to identify themselves to their captors.

One of the great advantages the Camp conferred on the revolutionary movement was the bringing together in one place of activists and potential leaders from all over Ireland. This would have been almost impossible for the movement itself to have organised at home.

While conditions were tough and very insanitary, and the internees had a hard time of it from some of their captors, there were some benign and even humorous encounters between internee and captor.

Some camp officers & wives. Officer Bevan sitting on the ground
is the censor referred to in the text below

For example, letters were censored both on the way in and on the way out. However, correspondence in the Irish language posed an additional problem for the authorities as it had first to be translated.

Seamus Ó Maoileoin was getting letters in Irish from his very republican mother. The relevant officer did not know of the mother's leanings and assumed "She is probably urging you to obediently beg for forgiveness for your crimes and to promise to be true to your King from now on and to return to Ireland". Ó Maoileoin comments "He didn't know my dear mother. He was loath to keep my mother's letter from me. He himself had a mother. But rules were rules and he had no translator."

Ó Maoileoin jokingly volunteered to translate the letter himself. To his surprise, the officer agreed, and Ó Maoileoin translated it honestly. Every time he came across a doubtful sentence he pointed it out and the officer would then snip the offending phrase off with a pair of scissors. He ended up with a pocketful of snippets. This was to happen to every subsequent letter Ó Maoileaoin received or sent, and on his release, the officer returned to him all the snippets he had removed. On the envelope containing the offending snippets he had written, "Clippings from the letters of a she-wolf".
[Incident recounted in Lyn Ebenezer's book - see below]

Waste not, want not

When the military were finished with the camp, the huts were sold off.

Former Frongoch hut in someone's garden

It reminded me of the old trams being sold off, many of which also ended up in people's gardens.

Tryweryn District School

The site is not exactly abandoned today with Tryweryn District School on the site of the old distillery and south camp.

Ye Olde Frongoch Shoppe

And, of course, the inevitable wee shop.


Capel Celyn village

We should not lose site of the later "imperial" significance of the area, when the nearby Tryweryn river was dammed in the early 1960s to make a reservoir to supply water to the English city of Liverpool. In the course of this a local Welshspeaking community at Capel Celyn was expelled from the valley and its village inundated.

"Capel Celyn rising again"
Graffiti painted on remains of village when revealed by severe drought.

Dafydd Iwan included a verse on this in his powerful protest song "Daw, fe ddaw yr awr" (I remember the time). The general gist of it is that the protest was too late and ineffective:

Wyt ti'n cofio Cwm Tryweryn pan agorwyd argae'r trais,
A dialedd hwyr y Cymry yn boddi geiriau'r Sais
Wyt ti'n cofio - Rhy hwyr, Gymro !
Daw fe ddaw yr awr yn ôl i mi.

"Remember Tryweryn"

This piece of social and cultural vandalism became a rallying cry for the language movement with the slogan "Cofiwch Dryweryn" (Remember Treweryn), much on the lines of "Cuimhnigh ar Luimneach agus feall na Sasanach" (Remember Limerick and English Perfidy) in Ireland over two hundred years earlier.


Hedd Wyn's statue in Trawsfynydd

But long before this the conflict between Welsh Wales and the wider British interest was starkly illustrated in 1917. The nearby village of Trawsfynydd became famous for the posthumous award of the Eisteddfod Bardic Chair to Hedd Wyn who was from there and had fallen in Flanders between the submission of his winning poem and the award of the Chair. The Chair was draped in black on the Eisteddfod stage. That Eisteddfod, one of the few ever held outside Wales itself, took place in Birkenhead, sister city of Liverpool.

Bilingual plaques with differing dates

The bilingual plaques in front of the statue give slightly differing accounts of the poet's final moments.

Lyn Ebenezer

Lyn Ebenezer

Lyn Ebenezer has written a great book on Frongoch. Lyn gives credit to Seán O'Mahony who had written an earlier book on the Camp and without which Lyn says his own book would not have been written. The originality of Lyn's book is that it looks at the Camp from a Welsh perspective and Seán credits him with filling a void he did not deal with in his own book.

The book is a fascinating read. It is written in an easy journalistic, almost gossipy, style which engages the reader. This is not surprising as Lyn Ebenezer is a fine journalist of long standing. He also has a deep understanding of Welsh Wales, being a Welsh speaker himself, having been very active in the Welsh language movement and having revealed a well developed sense of humour in his invovlement with some of Y Lolfa's more marginal publications in the distant past. He also very much empathises with the Irish republican tradition.

I had been familiar with the term Frongoch to the extent that I knew it was a prison camp in Wales where Irish rebels were interned after the 1916 Rising. But this book was a revelation and cast a whole new light on the place.

I owe Lyn for what I have learned about the camp. The pictures of the camp and of Capel Celyn are nicked from his book, but I'm sure he won't mind. So when you've finished reading this post, if you have retained the slightest interest in the subject matter do get a copy of Lyn's book. It's on Amazon where I have reviewed it and from which review I have reproduced much of the material above..