Monday, April 17, 2017

Typocast 3

It is reported that Northern Ireland Unionists are put out at the prominence given to Martin McGuinness's leadership of the IRA on his tombstone.

But there is more significance to this.

Sinn Féin's politicisation of the Irish language in the North needs no recapping. The Good Friday Agreement envisaged a Language Act which the Unionists are still resisting and one can understand why. The Irish language in the North has been used in a most cynical way as a stick to beat them with. Nevertheless, as it is in the Agreement it should be implemented.

Sinn Féin's cynicism here is clear from a most cursory glance at one of their own emanations: the tweets of their leader Gerry Adams. Bugger a bit of attention has he paid over the years to getting his gratuitous use of Irish right. He is, in fact, a most serious dis-respecter of the language he is so happy to use to beat up the opposition.

I have had occasion to draw attention to this in the past. It is nothing new.

I can see four typos on the above gravestone - three in Irish and one in English. I found two of them myself and was so upset that I didn't notice the other two until my friend, Vivion Mulcahy, pointed them out to me. Vivion is a man who holds that, if you are going to do something, you should at least try and do it properly.

How these mistakes ended up on a gravestone, that one imagines was intended to be iconic and a place of future pilgrimage, is totally beyond me.

Unless, of course, the use of the language is really just a token and a silver bullet, and its purely provocative use rather than its content is what really counts.

A corrected version of the tombstone is shown below. Sinn Féin, and American papers, please copy.

Related posts: Typocast, Typocast 2.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Philippe Milloux
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I first enountered Philippe when he politely asked me to leave the Alliance Française café, La Cocotte, one evening in October 2012.

I had been having a quiet cup of coffee with little else on my mind when I had noticed people scurrying hither and tither under the direction of a smartly dressed gentleman with the air of a stage director.

It was only a few minutes later that I was politely asked to leave. I then found out that all the scurrying was in preparation for a public interview to be held in the café within the hour. The "stage director" turned out to be the actual Director of the Alliance, the interviewer was to be Loïc Guyon, Chairman of ADEFFI, and the interviewee none other than Philippe Djian.

This was a bit of a coup for the Alliance. Philippe Djan is a famous, insightful, and somewhat steamy, writer who apparently pulls no punches. So after allowing myself to be evacuated I immediately signed up at reception to attend the event.

There must have been something inspirational about that night because, come the bicentnary of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015, I decided to offer to do my Martello Towers gig, but in French this time, at the Alliance. I assume Philippe didn't bat an eyelid when he got the proposal, though it was later in the process that I had direct contact with him on the matter.

I must have spent about six months translating and adapting my talk for a francophone audience. The proposed format for the evening chopped and changed as the net was cast far and wide to match me up with a suitable counterpart to deliver a Café Historique.

In the event a compatible partner could not be found and I went solo, but with Niall O'Donoghue bringing along the magnificent model of his wonderfully restored Martello Tower to further thrill the audience during the interval.

It must have been a success because, at the end, Philippe asked me if I had any more of them. Alas not. This was a serious once in a lifetime job.

And then there were the exhibitions. This one was recapping on some French history through various advertising posters. The one above appealed to me particularly for its time anomaly and, anyway, I have a particular interest in typewriters and all things to do with printing.

Philippe declared himself particularly happy to welcome the exhibition, Drawing Freely, which drew on the work of some 50 cartoonists from around the world setting out their approach to free expression in a variety of domains.

His choice of Seamus Dooly, Secretary of the Irish NUJ, to launch the exhibition was inspired. Seamus had been on the #Charlie march in Paris and pulled no punches on what he thought of some of the participants and their activities on their own home fronts.

The photo above shows Philippe with Seamus (centre) and John Horgan, former Press Ombudsman.

The Emerging Photographers exhibition (and competition) was a serious contribution by the Alliance to encouraging young photographer graduates. There were three exhibitors, who happened all to be girls (young women to you), and the standard of their projects was high.

Kathleen Shields, from NUIM, has written a very interesting book on French attitudes to the English language in France. The Irish launch took place in the newly refurbished médiatheque and was picked up by the publishers in their blog.

Theo Dorgan, Jean-Philippe Imbert, Olivier Litvine

And, finally for now, an interview with Olivier Litvine on his recent translation of James Joyce's Chamber Music and the Irish launch of the book. This turned into a lively discussion on the pros and cons of translation and was a great night.

The events above chronicle my involvement with the Alliance Française in Dublin over recent times and I have listed them as an illustration of my encounters with the Director, Philippe Milloux, and his work.

By definition, they are only a small, and not necessarily representative, sample of what the Alliance does. They do, however, give some indication of the scope and quality of Philippe's tenure, which is unfortunately coming to an end this summer.

Philippe's background is in education, he started out as a teacher, but he has spent many years now as Director of various Alliance Française implantations around the world, starting with Pondichéry, in India, where Olivier Litvine, mentioned above, is the current Director.

When he took up his present post, Philippe gave a long interview to Eléonore Nicolas which you can hear here - in fast French.

Unfortunately Philippe can not apply for another stint as Director of the Dublin Alliance. Them's the rules, but I must say also the Alliance's loss.

Wishing Philippe all the best in his next incarnation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Kildare Street Troubadour
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Another good evening for the Alliance Française and for Director, Philippe Milloux, to add to his record in this, his final year there.

This time round it was a poetry reading, but with a difference. James Joyce had written a set of love poems, entitled Chamber Music, while he was still in Dublin and had some aspirations to becoming a poet rather than a novelist. They are short and simple but with resonances and allusions.

They are also untranslatable, as is the case with most good poetry. That is to say that you can never fully reproduce the original in another language. The most you can do is convey the sentiment and the flavour but in what is essentially a new form. If you are lucky you may also be able to render the rhythm or rhyme and preserve much of the range of ambiguity.

Well, Olivier Litvine, currently Director of the Alliance Française in Pondichéry in India, has just attempted some of this in bringing us a French language version of these poems, entitled Musique de Chambre.

Theo Dorgan, Jean-Philippe Imbert, Olivier Litvine

The evening's format was simple. Essentially Olivier read a French version of a poem and Irish poet Theo Dorgan then read Joyce's original version. This all took place against a background crafted by Jean-Philippe Imbert, from DCU, who took on the role of animateur

Noel O'Grady

We didn't hear any of the Joyce poems set to music in either language but, in a marvellously controlled tenor rendering of There's no Place like Home, Noel O'Grady set the musical ambiance of the time within which the poems were written.

Then Jean-Philippe kicked off with an animated introduction which, following a quick poll of the audience, swayed effortlessly between English and French.

It wasn't long before we got to the first reading and though I had some difficulty following it on the spot - my French is not that good and I'm not a poetry buff - I have since read over both the original English and the French versions of many of the poems and Olivier seems to have made a very good fist of it.

He mentioned two aspects of these particular poems which posed a problem for the translator.

Joyce tended from time to time to use old forms like "thee" and "thou" which are not readily carried over fully into a translation. So he opted to just ignore this particular conceit.

A more difficult one is when Joyce invents words. You are never sure of the range of ambiguity in them precisely because they are new and are meant to be a bit of a shock to the system.

I thought I had come across one in these lines and wondered how Olivier would deal with it.
And softly to undo the snood
That is the sign of maidenhood.
Olivier's version
Avant de doucement défaire cette résille
Symbole de ta virginité.
I had to look up "résille" never having had the pleasure of meeting it in French. It turned out to be a "hairnet" and I thought Olivier had caught something there - gossamer, maidenhood and all that. I was convinced that Joyce had made up "snood" though, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out the connotations. Then I looked it up and it turned out to be an actual word denoting a coarse kind of hairnet that hung down over the back of the neck. It definitely fell short of the gossamer evoked by Olivier's simple choice of words.

But the next one is made up.
How sweet to lie there,
Sweet to kiss,
When the great pine forest
Enaisled is!
So is this an island, isolation made by water, like Yeats's Lake Isle, or is it a church aisle flanked by pine trees?
Comme il est doux de s'allonger
Doux de s'embrasser
La où la grande forêt de pin
Fait un lit clos!
And the bed aside, has Olivier evoked "behind closed doors" and "fate" with resonances of Sartre's "Huit Clos"? Who knows? And that's the fun of it.

Theo gave us a very robust reading of the originals. He even wondered at one stage whether Joyce was parodying himself, consciously or unconsciously, but he concluded that, in this case, the poem had actually been rescued by its French translation anyway.

His commentary on Joyce throughout the readings was most illuminating. I think he was a bit taken aback when I described it as provocative, but I meant it as a compliment and, in fact, I was referring to the whole evening, which I found very stimulating.

Having consulted his script, Jean-Philippe figured we had come to the stage where some audience participation might be a good idea.

So I jumped in as suggested that it might be a good thing that Joyce was not with us this evening as the poet himself is not the best translator of his own work. I cited Pearse's poem Fornocht do chonac thú where the poet himself has given us a woeful English translation of a beautiful, and perfect, poem in Irish. The panel seemed to go along with me on that one. You can follow up my angle here.

Jean-Philippe wondered whether a poet could reasonably claim to translate from a language of which he had no understanding whatever. Apparently this is not quite as uncommon as you might think and it takes place through an intermediary who explains the bones of the original.

The audience, including myself, were inclined pour scorn on any such venture until Theo piped up and recounted how he had got stuck once with translating a poem from Slovenian, a language of which he knew absolutely nothing. The result has been hailed as one of the best translations of a poem from Slovenian to English. You'll have to get him to tell the story if you come across him. It's a good one and I'm not going to spoil it here.

If you haven't picked up the flavour of this vibrant and provocative evening the remaining photos below may help.

Une très belle soirée, or as we'd say, "a good time was had by all".

Friday, April 07, 2017


I lived in Smokey Hollow but I didn't know Bob Quinn.

He lived on the other side of The Circle and he was older than me. So our two worlds never met. But we were both living in the same world and his book is replete with the resonances of my youth.

The description of Orwell Gardens on the book's dust jacket is accurate, though I had never heard it referred to as Smokey Hollow.
Smokey Hollow was the nickname given to a settlement of 'utility' houses plonked in the otherwise demure neighbourhood of Rathgar, Dublin.
However, it goes on to say:
In this ghetto on the banks of the river Dodder Bob Quinn spent his formative years from 1939 to 1953.
While contact between the Gardens' inhabitants and the surrounding poshies was indeed virtually non-existent in my day, I think the word ghetto, with all its modern connotations, is a bit strong.

The book is billed to contain much fiction and fantasy. I suspect that is just the author covering himself. The whole thing rang very true to me and the only bit of fantasy I could identify was the siting of Killiney Beach and the Dalkey tunnel on the Harcourt Street line.

My photos from 2006 unless otherwise stated
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Today's Orwell Gardens, while it might fall well short of the property values on nearby Orwell Park, has poshed up somewhat, or as I would put it gentrified. No doubt its favourable location has contributed in no small measure to this.

Lynch's garage/shed, No.4

I should probably start with what was for me the scariest place in the whole Gardens - Lynch's garage/shed. Bob has an account of the plays David Lynch used to put on there for, and by, the local kids. Lots of sheets and ghosts and external childish pranks.

By the time I was going there David, or one of the family, had acquired an epidiascope, with which you could project paper drawings straight onto the screen. So drawings were done and stories told. The one I remember is The Hand, about a corpse's amputated hand that went around choking people. Scared me for weeks it did.

The bottom of the Gardens
Harrington's, No.56, is fourth from left

Bob gives us a fair idea of the spread of occupations represented by the families living in the Gardens. I wouldn't remember these except for our immediate next door neighbours on either side, who between them represented the teaching profession, the insurance sector and the Irish language movement.

I only lived there from age six to ten, and would have been less aware than Bob of people's occupations. One thing I was aware of was religion and there was a fair sprinkling of Protestants among the Gardens' Catholics. It didn't follow though that I was fully aware of the implications of the religious divide.

I remember one day in particular, 6 February 1952, when our nun told the class the great news. The King of England was dead. She announced it like it was a blow struck for Irish freedom.

I couldn't wait to share the good news and when I was walking down home from the No.15 bus stop with Eileen Harrington, I shared with her the joy in my heart.

"Have you heard the great news", says I, "the King of England is dead".

I'll never forget till the day I die her downcast reply, "Oh, he's the head of our church". Ouch.

The Dodder "waterfall"

Then there was the river. The Dodder was the defining geographical feature of the Gardens, besides, of course, them being down in a hollow. The combination meant occasional flooding and the bottom of the Gardens was the worst hit. Bob recounts a flooding in his time, but I don't remember one in mine. I have been told, though, that there have been a few since I left.

The river meant fish. I'm sure it was trout and eels for the older ones, but for my age group it was pinkeens. We trapped them with the conventional lobster pot design, but in our case it was a broken off neck of a milk bottle, inserted upside down into a jam jar, and held in place with a piece of string. A few small pieces of white bread made it look inviting. You just left it in the water and when you came back you had a crop of pinkeens.

The river had the potential to cut us off from a choice of buses, or at least force us to go round the long way to reach the No.14 at the Dartry Dye Works. This led to the creation of stepping stones for crossing the river. These had to be regularly maintained with rocks and sods of earth, and you had to sort of jump from one to the other. Needless to say "falling in" became unpassremarkable and part of the local culture. In the case of the younger generation it was often a case of being pushed in.

When I went back in 2006 it was to see a spanking new bridge across the river and a wall along the bank to stop the flooding.

The Circle

In our time The Circle was an open space where you could play rounders or cricket or anything else that took your fancy. Now it is more like Sherwood Forest.

Bob's book is replete with items and expressions that bring me back.

Swopping comics, nancyballs, handkerchief parachutes. Homemade carts - these were made of wood and had ballbearing wheels and the slope down into the hollow gave them the required momentum. If you were really lucky you could substitute pram or go-car wheels and some even managed to fit a real car steering wheel instead of just the bit of string on its own.

Boxing the Fox, which I only took up at a later stage in another place. Mickey Dazzler to describe a lad with a corpo haircut. I remember being very shocked the first time I heard my mother use the term. I think the mickey bit must have passed her by. SAG on the back of an envelope to ensure its safe delivery. The host at communion sticking to the roof of your mouth and you not allowed to touch it with your fingers.

Toilet paper - small squares of cut newspaper punched and held together with a piece of string. Turkey's or chicken's legs which moved when you pulled a sinew. Party cars driving people to the polls.

Horse dung for manure for the back garden. Bob's family had the dustman with his horse and cart collect it and bring it into the back. We used to be out with bucket and spade collecting it ourselves when the horse drawn milk or coal carts were in the area. I remember when, much to our disappointment, Merville Dairies introduced electric carts or the first time.

Orwell Walk

There were at least two Jews in the Gardens. Nick Harris was from Little Jerusalem and then lived along the river bank, which was then just part of the Gardens but has now been elevated to Orwell Walk. And there was the lady who got beaten up by the atheist, and whose son's birthday party Bob and his siblings subsequently attended on the South Circular Road.

I never got as far as baptising Jews in the school lavatory. I went to a convent and, as far as I know, there were no Jews in my school.

I was tickled, though, by the references to non-sexual gender curiosity.
When Maisie McGee offered to swop a glimpse of her bum for a look at Damo Scully's weewee man, it caused a sensation. The story spread like wildfire but she wouldn't repeat the offer to the many other potential takers. Who cares, they said. She's only a big lump anyway.
Now, that I can believe. But don't ask me any more or I'll have to plead the fifth.

The Kiosk

Although it's not actually in the Gardens, many of us spent a lot of time at the Kiosk. It is beside the 47A bus stop and at the entrance to the park. It is still operational though it was shuttered on the day I took the photo. My abiding memory is of anxiously waiting one afternoon for the arrival of the first edition of the Evening Press with the colour comic strip of Ivanhoe on the back page.

Bob's house, No. 67
Photo: Google Street View 2014

I thought I should show you Bob's house seeing as how I took the liberty of putting my granny's house, which is mentioned in the book, on my version of the cover at the head of this post.

My thanks to Hilary McDonagh (No.25) for drawing my attention to Bob's book.

The book is published by O'Brien press and you can order a copy from there. I have just received mine in the post.

You might also be interested in a slide show recording a visit to the Gardens in 2006.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


I was very much looking forward to this event. Catriona Crowe is a legend in her own time and Myles Dungan is a consummate broadcaster.

Catriona is appropriately billed under the title Archivist and Activist and I cannot think of a better billing. She has devoted herself to "preserving and providing access" to a host of both old and newly emerging archive material, and if it comes to a choice between the terms in that description, while she clearly sees the need to preserve, without which you've nothing to share, she happily describes herself as an access junkie.

I have experienced Myles as an interviewer. He does his homework, but unlike a certain other well known broadcaster, he doesn't show it off to the detriment of the interviewee. He uses it to nudge you in the right direction from time to time in a non-intrusive way. I suspected, however, that Catriona wouldn't need too much nudging.

Roisin Higgins did the introductions in the course of which she gave us some background to the Irish Association of Professional Historians who are co-sponsoring the event along with the National Library of Ireland.


Before we launch into the subject matter, Myles has to make contact with the NLI's recently installed radio mic system, normally a task for a studio crew. Catriona had already pushed her own button and was able to guide the veteran broadcaster onto the airwaves.

The first thing we learned, when it all got underway, was that Catriona was a rebellious, albeit a thinking, child. While this may have caused her some bad moments in her schooldays and when she eventually got a job, these two qualities have stood her well in later life.

She has fought hard for her archives, pushing and conspiring with her funders as appropriate. That she got such cooperation in her conspiracies along the way is testimony to her own obvious dedication to her cause and her ability to persuade others to support her.

Gordon Brewster's family in the 1911 Census

Catriona is a great advocate of public service, both in the giving and in the using. The project for which she will be most remembered is surely the magnificent digitisation of the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.

She recounted the fascinating story of her cooperation with the Canadian census from which the Irish took their template, her conspiring with the dreaded Irish Department of Finance, both for hosting and technical structure, and her hiring the cheapest tender which turned out to be a magnificent Polish tech team. Thrilling stuff all round.

But the point to come out of it was that if the whole operation had been contracted out, rather than run within the public sector itself, we would have nothing approaching the quality product we have today.

The dedication of the public servants, here and abroad, who completely bought into the project, combined with an outside team whose objective was to provide a quality service rather than just milk the system, produced a magnificent product and all within a very tight budget.

The big problem confronting the National Archives is a lack of space. This is a dynamic institution in the sense that every passing year adds mightily to the store of documents which should be handed over to it and which need to be safely stored, catalogued and made accessible to the public.

Currently the Archive is having to refuse documents from State departments and it doesn't have a conference or exhibition space, not to mind adequate staff.

Catriona recalled a momentary aberration by the Department of Finance, late in the last century, when, out of the blue, they authorised the hiring of five archivists, including Catriona herself. This seems to have become a frozen moment in time as far as the Department is concerned and the Archive is now considered looked after in perpetuity.

The other thing Catriona will be remembered for is the Adoption Contact Register.

This all started when she came in contact with an Irish lady who had been adopted by an American family way back. The lady was perfectly happy with her adoptive parents but a lingering question of identity led her to try and seek out her birth mother.

Catriona poked around in the archive and came up with a Department of Foreign Affairs file reference. When the files were dug out of a big uncatalogued pile, they revealed lists of thousands of American adoptions with information linking birth mothers to adoptive families.

Clearly this information could not just be released but Catriona felt that people should know of its existence. The files were closed to the public and she felt that this would have to be made clear to avoid an army of birth mothers freaking out at the thought of a corresponding army of adopted children turning up on their doorsteps.

The Department (Tánaiste) put out a press release but omitted to say the files were closed. Joe Duffy, then a researcher, got Catriona onto the Gay Byrne show where she quickly reassured the birth mothers of Ireland. This launched Catriona into the world of public speaking and, as Myles wryly observed, she hasn't shut up since.

The current mother and baby home scandal along with the assertion by the religious orders that they have more than adequately discharged their obligations towards redress, brings into sharp focus the records still largely held by these congregations. Catriona is vehement that these records, along with those of HSE, for example, should be handed over to the Archive.

You would never think, from her continuing passionate advocacy, that Catriona has just recently retired from the Archive. But when you're taught history by Robin Dudley Edwards and T Desmond Williams, and women's history by Sr. Ben, it clearly becomes part of your DNA.

So The Powers That Be can brace themselves. They are far from having heard the last from Catriona Crowe.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017


I have to say this for my local library, there's never a dull moment. If it's not a traveling exhibition, it's a talk. And last night's talk was very interesting. Content apart, it proved one of my basic convictions. If you have a good story, and visuals are not absolutely necessary, you can hold an audience without a trace of Powerpoint, no problem.

Brian Hanley was talking about the IRA in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This was just before my time, me being one of the last of the war babies. But many of the names resonated from my youth - George Plant, Seán Hayes, Seán Russell and more. So it was a riveting talk.

The centrepiece was Dev the juggler. He had come to power in 1932 and was then trying to establish his party as the constitutional rulers of a partioned State, whose establishment he had fought a bitter civil war to prevent.

He had to deal with former IRA colleagues, and new recruits, who saw him as betraying the cause and who were themselves now intent on bringing down the State of which he was leader.

Then came the Emergency (World War Two) in which he needed to stay neutral while the IRA, emulating their 1916 predecessors, were breaking their necks trying to muster assistance from Herr Hitler for their subversive endeavours.

Talk about interesting times. Well, probably fortunately for Dev, the IRA, despite their numbers, were in a bit of a mess. Nevertheless they posed a real threat and Dev responded to their killing of State forces in kind. He was now faced with carrying out executions, just as the Free State had earlier exacted retribution on his own Irregulars.

This was all mighty stuff. And in the middle of it, bringing with him a bit of local colour was the IRA Chief of Staff, Seán Russell.

Seán Russell 23 March 2007

Seán was such a local hero that he merited a statue in Fairview Park. Not everyone was happy, however and in the late noughties he got his head blown off.

23 March 2007

Ironically, the inscription on the plinth used the word "Ceann" (head) rather than the more modern version "Ceannaire" giving you a strange feeling when reading about the now headless leader.

28 May 2009

The statue was eventually replaced and is still there today. Mind you it would remind you very much of a later IRA Chief of Staff, Seán McBride, who, like Martin McGuinness, went on to become a famous peace warrior.

Anyway all of Brian's stories are too long to recount here and if you want more you should read his book on the documentary history of the IRA.

Monday, April 03, 2017


My 700th blog post on this blog


I have referred many times to the sterling (if you'll pardon the adjective in the times that are in it) work done by Michal Edwards Photography in organising photo exhibitions and competitions in the Donaghmede Shopping Center. The Centre gives Michael the use of currently vacant premises. His activities attract extra customers to the Centre and at the same time there is one less obviously vacant space to take from the overall impression of activity.

While we're waiting for the first club's exhibition in this year's competition in June, Michael is not letting the grass grow under his feet and he is currently hosting an exhibition by the Sutton Camera Club.

The theme is "Red and Blue" and some entries have been quite clever in how they include the two colours.

Now, I don't know if you notice anything odd about any of these shots. Take for example the Poolbeg Lighthouse. There are all sorts of funny lighting effects there and none of them the photographer's fault.

The problem lies in the combination of glass and lighting. Mounted but unframed photos are not a problem as they won't have glass in front of the photo to relflect the surroundings. And if you do have glass you need to be very sure of having a bespoke exhibition space with the lighting adjusted each time to the specific exhibits. This will probably also involve excluding all external light.

The shot above is an original take. I had to take it on my knees and at a side angle in order to get rid of reflections in the glass. The other shots were also taken at odd angles for the same reason. And as you'll see I was only partially successful in avoiding reflections.

Malahide Camera Club Exhibition

I encountered the same problem at the recent exhibition by the Malahide Camera Club which was held in that village's parish hall. That was an even greater problem as you can see from the streaks of very bright sunlight which, if they didn't directly fall on a picture, were invariably reflected in the glass anyway. I didn't even try to capture any of them and as a result didn't do a blog post, though there was some really beautiful work on display.

Don't let anything I've said above put you off going to see some good photography but perhaps the organisers/clubs might cut the glass in future unless they have specifically managed to overcome this particular problem.