Monday, February 08, 2016


Roger Casement
Photo: NLI Ref.: link
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So this year, as part of the ongoing centenary commemorations, we will be commemorating Roger Casement.

And what did Roger Casement do in 1916?

When Ireland, as part of the UK, was at war with Germany, he conspired with the Germans to overthrow British rule in Ireland. In other words, he enlisted German help to "free Ireland".

Casement's funeral passing the GPO in 1965

So, in 1965, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of 1916, he got an Irish State Funeral.

1916 Casement Commemorative Stamp 2016

And in 2016 he gets his own 1916 postage stamp.

The late Albert Folens

This is Albert Folens.

And what did he do?

During WWII he collaborated with the Germans to "free Flanders", his native country, from the brutal cultural, linguistic and administrative oppression of the Belgian state.

And what was his reward?

Senan Molony

He was labelled a war criminal and included in a 2007 RTÉ TV programme entitled "Hidden Nazis".

The programme, insofar as Folens was involved, was a collaboration between Senan Molony and Cathal O'Shannon. The former I had never heard of and the latter I had some respect for up to that point.

The late Cathal O'Shannon

Both men should have been ashamed of themselves for making such a serious accusation on such flimsy evidence.

They both owe an apology to Folens's widow and family for the hurt and damage caused.

Unfortunately Mrs. Folens is now dead, as is Cathal O'Shannon.

So all that can now reasonably be done is for Senan Molony to apologise to the Folens family. Whether they might accept such an apology or not is entirely a matter for them.

You can get a blow by blow account of the whole disgraceful episode here.


Rockettes/Royalettes - Phyllis Conroy/Medlar on right.
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There I was blogging away when the invitation from Conor Doyle dropped into my mailbox. The Theatre Royal Concert at the Mansion House, no less. So, when the day came, I polished my shoes (once a year), exchanged the pullover for a jacket (very occasionally), didn't bother with a tie (never these days), and set out for the Lord Mayor's official residence.

What, I wondered, was a Theatre Royal Concert? I was familiar with Conor's wonderful illustrated talk on the Theatre Royal. I'd been at it twice: once in City Hall and again in the Mansion House. The second time was with the husband of one of the Royalettes and the daughter of another, both these people being related to me on the mothers side.

Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh welcomes audience

But a concert? And introduced by no less a person than the Lord Mayor herself?

This certainly looked promising.

A musical evening

Well, it turned out to be an updated version of the talk interspersed with live music appropriate to the occasion.

Gerry Noonan (baritone)

Gerry has a fine rich voice which he projected without the aid of any of these new fangled microphones and the like.

Dara MacMahon (mezzo-soprano)

And Dara likewise. They sounded great, both individually and in duet. Lovely blend.

Pauline Cooper

And Pauline, standing in for Tommy Dando and Peggy Dell among others.

Judy Garland

Conor had no shortage of stories, particularly about visiting international stars. Take Judy Garland who packed out the place for a week, and then sang from a side window in Poolbeg Street to the crowd who hadn't been able to get in.

Danny Kaye & Copenhagen

And Danny Kaye who not only packed out the place for a week, but broke all the rules by singing songs from his forthcoming film which hadn't yet been released. And he sang on into the night after the orchestra, who were only paid up to the official closing time, had long gone home. A great favourite with the Dublin taxi drivers he was.

Packed house

The audience was predominantly female and elderly. I could probably risk the term oulwans, being an oulfella myself at this stage. Many of them had been to performances in the Royal before it closed in 1962.

They sang along with a gusto that belied their age. And I wasn't exactly quiet myself.

The Damper Song

But when it got to the Damper Song they just lost it. Jumping up and down and making spiral staircase motions with their arms. It was nothing short of magnificent and the official performers rose to the occasion in great style. Even Conor forgot about the dicky bow and joined in.

Rathgar song/monologue

Then we had Jimmy O'Dea's Rathgar song delivered as a monologue. Now this can be a tricky one, particularly if you do it in Rathgar.

The refrain paints Rathgar as a posh refuge from the vulgar masses that inhabit the rest of the city. But there is a little something here that you shouldn't miss. Within Rathgar itself, even in those days, there were serious social distinctions. We lived for a time with my granny in Orwell Gardens, Rathgar. Now that's the other side of the fence from Orwell Road in Rawthgore. So you'll see where I'm coming from.

And I'm now living down the road from Killester, which is mentioned in the song as a sort of Molly Malone territory where they wouldn't know a pig's knuckle from a crubeen.

"Biddy Mulligan"

And how could we leave out Jimmy O'Dea. Not only was he one of the great theatre characters of his day, he was Conors godfather, in the religious sense, that is.

Jimmy's best known character was Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe and the audience again rose to the occasion and the room resonated to the chorus of this signature tune.

A Josef Locke song - Goodbye!

And Josef Locke with his military type choruses.

He had a reputation as a ladies man and was a friend of CJH, as I remember.

Conor, under Jimmy's watchful eye

Conor clicked his way through a profusion of photos, movie clips and theatre programmes. All under the watchful eye of his godfather.

I can't not mention the Roman Catholic Church before we finish. It wasn't just the cinema and the dirty books that incurred their wrath.

Jack Doyle when he finished boxing became a singer but the Church objected to him appearing on stage in the Royal because he was living with a divorced woman. He left her and married the film star Movita in Westland Row Church (where I was baptised). They were then allowed appear on the Royal. Unfortunately the marriage did not last; they divorced and she then married Marlon Brando. Movita died only last year (12/2/2015) aged 98. Jack had died, a pauper, in 1978.

A mellow duet

As we drifted towards the end of the night, the singing took on a mellow tone ...

Conor joins in the singing

... and even Conor himself was infected and promptly launched his singing career in these magnificent surroundings.

Team Royal

The team, including the Lord Mayor, got standing ovations and rapturous rounds of applause and shoutings.

Conor and Jimmy

And then it was all over, and there was a quiet moment of reflection, with godfather and godson.

Jimmy O'Dea

This fine bust was commissioned by Jimmy O'Dea himself in response to one put up by that theatrical Mícheál Mac Liammóir. Jimmy made sure his pedestal was a few inches higher than Mícheál's. The busts were originally in the Gaiety.

The likeness to Jimmy is striking. You'd be waiting for it to open its mouth.

Jimmy and Fans

And before Conor puts Jimmy's head in a bag and heads off home with it, a short pause for a photo with some if its fans. The lady in the middle is the sister of a Royalette now living in San Francisco. So there.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Gordon Brewster and the General Election

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One of the first things that struck me going through the collection of Gordon Brewster's cartoons in the National Libarary of Ireland was how perceptive and relevant so many of them are right down to today.

Maybe it's just that human nature and the striving after power don't change over time or maybe the whole thing goes in cycles, and, if that's the case, here we go again.

The cartoons date from the period 1922-1932, but I'd just like to set those that dealt with general elections in that period in the context of the forthcoming general election and see how well they fit.

Starting with the first one above. The majority government party will rely on its seamanship to pilot the ship of state through the election. (We have kept the economy afloat and turned it round and need to continue on our present course.)

The present government is aiming to come back in its current composition. There are many forces to be pacified to ensure a combined majority not least its current baby partner.

And the current watchword is stability, or to put it more pedantically, ordered government.

But you can't just sit around and hope to win. You have to drum up the support and make lots and lots of noise. Out with the Tannoy on the canvass; talk down your opponents on radio and television. And so on.

But how to plan strategically for a desired outcome when candidates are presenting in the widest range of parties in a long time and the uncertaintly is aggravated by an increasing number of independents.

The main parties are vying with one another in giving away smarties, or, putting it more crudely, promising the world and his wife in exchange for votes. Or, putting this simple fraud in more contemporary neutrally mind boggling terms - inflating the fiscal space.

The poor voter is trying to make sense of conflicting and elusive promises while the aspiring politicians try to keep one step ahead of the posse.

Some cloak their empty promises in elaborate artistic and glossy presentations (eg Cumann na nGaedhal's successor's Long Term Economic Plan [PDF 2MB])

While others just go for a crude brute force attack on the voter, plastering any and every surface that will accept a lick of paste or a thumbtack with simple repetive one liners.

And what is the poor voter to think? Who will honour their promises on the day of reckoning after the election is over?

And what can a deceived electorate do when promises are broken? There will be no aunt sally till the next election and by that time all will be forgotten or forgiven.

And, just in case you thought this was an Irish problem, Brewster reminds us that the same cycle plays out across the water.

Thanks to the National Library of Ireland for permission to reproduce the cartoons.

No cartoons were harmed in the making of this post.
All of the above cartoons were related directly to
various general elections in the period 1922-32.

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Welcome to St. Thomas & St. George Parish Church

This is how the occasion was announced to the press:
"The Irish Society for Archives in conjunction with An Post will host a novel seminar Hidden Pages From the 1916 Rising, at which five archival curators will engage with the public to explore some of the little-known archival sources about this momentous event."
If anything it was an understatement. There were fascinating presentations of new archives, and old ones put to new use, in the exploration of what really happened in 1916.

The venue itself was a piece of history. Its location, structure and financing owed everything to the revolutionary period.
"The Church of St George and St Thomas, Cathal Brugha Street, Dublin (located alongside the Gresham Hotel) was rebuilt in the 1930s following the destruction of an older church (originally located in Marlborough Street) during the Revolutionary period in 1922."
I had been in this most unusual church once before. Originally St. Thomas's, it inherited the parish of St. George from Hardwicke Place when that church ceased to have a religious function and the two parishes were amalgamated. My interest was in St. George's where Richard Brewster, a parishioner who died in WWI was commemorated. While some of the relevant plaques still remain in the old St. George's building, one has transferred to St. Thomas's. You can read all about this here.

Rector Revd Obinna Ulogwara

The Rector, Revd Obinna Ulogwara, made us all very welcome. And with nothing short of an Irish sense of humour told us which two exits to use in case of an emergency. Use of the third exit could lead to us being run over by a bus.

Dr. Raymond Refaussé

Raymond Refaussé, Librarian and Archivist at the Representative Church Body (RCB) and a man with archives in his blood, introduced the occasion and gave us some idea what was in store for us.

Patsy McGarry

Our MC for the night was Patsy McGarry, more usually the religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, but currently engaged in resisting an attempted landgrab by Co. Westmeath of a not insubstantial chunk of Co. Roscommon, his home county.

Patsy guided us smoothly and entertainingly through the evening's speakers.

Colm O'Riordan

Our first stop was the Irish Architectural Archive in Merrion Square. I've been in there and they have whacks of very interesting stuff on the built environment. Colm took us through some of the structures relevant to the 1916 Rising, not forgetting the GPO and the RHA HQ in Lower Abbey Street. Both these buildings were destroyed in the rising, making for two out of three hits on the works of Francis Johnston in the city centre. The third strike on his city center work had to wait for the 50th anniversary of the Rising - Nelson's Pillar.

I was particularly interested in the enormous bakery that was destroyed at the bottom of O'Connell Street. It had been a most out of place building. Its successor became the central cinema with its controversial canopy defying city ordinances, though Colm didn't mention this particular mortal sin by Councillor O'Farrell.

Colm told us how, in the reconstruction of O'Connell St., the Corporation for the first time insisted on controlling the façades of the new buildings. This led to some serious rows but the Corpo held their ground. If this "enlightened" approach had continued into independence we might have been spared some of the abominations that were permitted in the name of progress in the latter half of the 20th century.

Ellen Murphy

Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist at Dublin City Library and Archives, revealed ‘Reactions to the Easter Rising in the Monica Roberts Collection at Dublin City Library and Archive’ under the heading: "It was grand to see our Tommies".

This archive is a collection of correspondence between Monica Roberts and the troops at the front in WWI along with a short diary of Monica's own contemporaneous reactions to the Rising. The tone is British and Unionist and the sentence quoted above was her reaction to the arrival in the city of British army reinforcements.

Gráinne Doran

Wexford County Archivist, Gráinne Doran took us to one of the other part of the country outside Dublin where there was significant action during the Rising. Her current project is ‘The collective effort of the men and women in County Wexford, Easter 1916’, and it is concentrated on the action in Enniscorthy. There is an emphasis on oral history as well as the usual written and visual sources. She will be covering not just the activity in Co. Wexford itself but also action by Wexford people in the capital.

Pádraig Allen

Pádraig Allen took us through the emergency medical response to the Rising, as revealed through the newly discovered archives of St John Ambulance Ireland. These are full of fascinating stuff. It is particularly relevant in the context of redressing the current gender imbalance in the reporting of the Rising.The medical response was an area in which women distinguished themselves at all levels.

Pádraig wore the 1916 John's Ambulance uniform which he had specially made for this centenary year.

Stephen Ferguson

Stephen Ferguson, Assistant Secretary at An Post, was talking about ‘The staff of the GPO during Easter Week, 1916". In fact he gave us a thrilling sequence of stories on how the Rebels neutralised the city's communications hub and on the ingenuity of some of the staff in re-establishing alternative communications routings.

He also drew our attention to the current importance of the central Post Office archive in London, given the destruction of so much material in the GPO.

There was a very lively and lengthy Q&A at the end where the questions and answers competed with a host of new stories recounted by members of the audience.

The Irish Society for Archives and An Post are to be commended for sponsoring a great evening. And particular thanks are due to Dr. Susan Hood, Assistant Librarian and Archivist at the RCB, for a flawless piece of organisation.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Brendan Fahey RIP

Fr. Brendan 1968

If you needed to describe Fr. Brendan Fahey in a short phrase, this would be "a gentle soul".

He was a member of the Columban Order, a band of tough, dedicated missionary priests. I am particularly aware of their work in the Philippines. They have championed civil rights in dictatorships and defended the environment against capitalist onslaughts. And some have paid a high price.

I think Brendan's work was less turbulent in the parishes he ministered to in Japan. He became fluent in Japanese and fell in love with the culture there. He fully appreciated the contradiction in that culture which can involve the coexistence of extreme delicacy on the one hand and serious savagery on the other. This latter trait is, of course, not limited to the Japanese. We are all human at the end of the day.

Ordination card from Fr. Brendan to my granny

Brendan was ordained in 1953 and spent most of his early ministry in Japan. I think he was heartbroken when he had to leave there. He had a varied career from then on but I have a feeling that some of his happiest times later in his ministry were when he was Parish Priest in the Welsh town of Denbigh.

Myself & Fr. Brendan at the Catholic Stand on the field
of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, in Denbigh, 2001

When we went to the National Eisteddfod there in 2001 he sorted out accommodation for us with one of the families in the parish and we had a lively dinner one evening in the parochial house.

This was a historic Eisteddfod where a woman won the Bardic Chair for the first time ever.

Brendan had the responsibility, and pleasure I think, of organising a Catholic stand on the Eisteddfod field. He told me afterwards that the bishop, who visited the stand, was most pleased.

Fr. Brendan celebrating the 60th anniversary of his ordination,
with sisters, Carmel (left) and Colette (right, 2013)

It was only recently that he celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination, which celebration he shared with a number of other priests and which was attended by his two living siblings.

Symbols of where Brendan made a difference

Among the objects presented at the funeral mass were these, representing those areas of the world where Brendan had made a significant difference. I was very pleased to see Wales represented separately despite its being already implicitly included in the UK flag. Brendan would have appreciated the down-to-earthness of the Welsh object concerned.

Lynne and Brendan at Old Head, Co. Mayo

It was great to meet Lynne again after all thes years but it was a bit overwhelming on such a sad occasion. Lynne and Brendan were wonderful best friends for the last seventeen years and the picture above is of happier times at Old Head. I had not seen Lynne since the Denbigh Eisteddfod in 2001.

Ned Crosby, Brendan and a touch of Wales, Bara Brith

While we're in the West, it is meet and just to mention Fr. Ned Crosby, Brendan's and my cousin. The picture was taken in Co. Clare, where they are breaking bara brith together. It was Ned's poem, Plough, that was read at both Brendan's 60th anniversary and at the funeral. The poem is reproduced in a comment below.

My cousins will never forgive me if I don't mention that Brendan was also a keen sportsman. He played for the Roscommon Minor Football Team in 1947 and he was also an excellent golfer.

Sweet Pea from the Columban Garden

He was also a keen gardener during his "retirement" in Dalgan Park. So much so that some of his colleagues imagine him with a bunch of sweet pea at the Pearly Gates to welcome their, hopefully not too imminent, arrival there.

You can read the biographical note from the funeral mass booklet here.

His brother, Ciaran, was also a priest. He ministered in the USA and died in 1995.

Brendan died at 11:45 pm on 24/1/2016 and was buried in the Order's cemetery in Dalgan Park on 27/1/2016.

Brendan as depicted on his funeral mass booklet

This is how most of us will remember Brendan.

May he rest in peace.