Saturday, March 17, 2018


Statue de Louis Pasteur, cour de la Sorbonne
pendant les événements de mai 1968
Photo: Philippe Gras
Click on any image for a larger version

When I saw the notice in the Alliance Française newsletter for this Oratorical Jousting final (16/3/2018) I made up my mind there and then to go along. It was actually the final round in an interschools debating contest in the French language. More than 30 schools in the Leinster area had participated and the final was between Coláiste Íosagáin and Loreto on the Green. Two girls' schools, as it turned out.

I arrived a little early and decided to have a coffee in the Alliance café, La Cocotte. However the café was just closing when I arrived but they let me look around the current exhibition of photos by the late Philippe Gras. And what did I see among them but the one at the top of this post. The theme is freedom of expression and the photo was taken during the 1968 student uprising in Paris.

So what, you might say? But bear with me. The subject of the night's debate upstairs in the new mediathèque was LA LIBERTÉ D'EXPRESSION N'EST NI POSSIBLE NI SOUHAITABLE - freedom of expression is neither possible nor desirable. How apt, though I don't recall any of the contestants mentioning 1968. Both the French Revolution (1789) and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) got a few airings in the course of the night.

I had gone along with the intention of taking a few photos and doing a blog post if the night proved interesting. However I gathered the organisers were "wary of social media" which was a bit of a surprise, so I just determined to sit and listen and think.

The night did turn out to be very interesting so I decided to write it up anyway. I'm sure there will be plenty of photos on the Alliance site from the official photographer in due course.

I found the format of the debate intriguing.

I had taken part in the Gael Linn interschools debates in Irish in the 1960s. In those debates you only got the subject twenty minutes in advance. This was way before the internet so you had to rely on your wits and what was already in your head. You had three minutes to present your case. The teams as such did not take sides for or against the motion, that was left to the individuals themselves. Individuals' marks were then combined to give a team total.

In the French case, the subject is known well in advance though I'm not sure when sides are allocated. In any event there is plenty of time for preparation, deciding tactics, and deciding which points would be made by which team member. Don't forget that in this case a coherent case has to be made by the team as a whole.

An interesting variation in the French case is that for a specified period within the three minutes the speaker can be challenged by a member of the opposing team and there follows a spontaneous, and lively, debate between the two contestants until the adjudicator feels that that the point has been exhausted or the exchanges have gone on long enough. This is a interesting variation as, given that the main contributions have been prepared and well rehearsed in advance, it allows the contestants' spontaneous mastery of the language to be put to the test. It also tests their resilience under fire.

Handout: teams on the night & best speakers from previous rounds.
Click image for a larger version

My impression was that the teams were very well matched. Well they would be, wouldn't they. having come through a fair few rounds in this knockout competition

I thought Loreto were more at home in their French though I thought they had the harder side of the argument to defend - promoting untrammeled free speech (and yes Charlie Hebdo got a mention). They were sort of caught in a bind as the opposing team in their opening shot had defined free speech as unlimited freedom of expression and had gone on to argue for reasonable restraints. This put Loreto in the position of arguing in favour of being allowed "to shout fire in a cinema" as it were. Assuming I understood correctly what was going on.

Coláiste Íosagáin had, for their part, defined themselves into a defensible middle ground. I also felt that they had marshalled and structured their arguments better as a team.

If I had one general remark to make it would be that the contestants spoke a little too fast. I know, from my own experience, that you tend to do that when you are nervous and the native French do speak at a rate of knots. Nevertheless.

The advice we were given at the time by the adjudicator was: If you don't feel your speaking too slow, then you're speaking too fast. I'm sure many public speakers, at least the more thoughtful among them, would identify with that. Though when you observe this for a while it becomes second nature.

I'd say the jury found it a very close call in the end as the standard was high all round.

French Ambassador Stéphane Crouzat with Team Íosagáin

Coláiste Íosagáin emerged the winner. Bravo.

I don't know the marking system and, unlike in my case, the jury didn't give any analysis of how they arrived at their decision. I must keep an eye out for this contest next year and maybe talk to a few people in advance.

Below is Sadhbh Ní Ghráda from the winning team. Her father was a classmate of mine in the middle of the last century.

Sadhbh Ní Ghráda with parents Cormac & Máire

The debates have their own website where you can link to the rules and other background material.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


The name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland.
And so it was with great pleasure that I learned of the outcome of our persistence in joining the Common Market under our proper name IRELAND. We had been called many things in our day and Ireland was only one of them.

I was very conscious of this little victory, particularly in my dealings with the EEC, and it always gave me a lift to see Ireland, tout court, on our country nameplate at meetings.

I eventually got the opportunity to make my own contribution during the negotiations setting up the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in 1990.

We had been specified among the signatories in the draft agreement as Republic of Ireland. I explained that that was the soccer team and the entry was quickly changed. The hard lifting had already been done by those before me.

However, something came up in conversation recently that pulled me up short. The 1948 Republic of Ireland Act seemed to have a different story:

It is hereby declared that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland.
So was Republic of Ireland kosher all along and did I not have a leg to stand on, other than precedent and a bit of brass neck.

And what is the difference between Ireland being the name of the State and Republic of Ireland being its legally mandated description. The 1948 act says shall and not may.

This was really very confusing so I threw the problem at some of my learned friends. No, not lawyers, just learned.

Felix Larkin, drawing on his nuanced understanding of our nation's modern history and his intimate involvement with the postal service, came up with an explanation which at least exposed the underlying motivation for the "change".
Can I add another layer of confusion? Commemorative stamps issued in 1949 and 1950 carried the legend "Poblacht na hÉireann" and, with one exception, they also carried the legend "Republic of Ireland". Before 1949 it was "Éire", as it has been since 1952 (no commemorative stamp was issued in 1951). I assume this was simply the First Inter-party Government trying to rub Dev's nose in it - in other words, that they had secured the Republic in the 1948 Act, and he hadn't.

That all made perfect sense, up to a point. They couldn't change the name without a constitutional referendum so they tried a bit of sleight of hand with a piece of legislation.

The idea of description was introduced, so our name was still Ireland but you now had to refer to, or call?, us Republic of Ireland.

As Felix said, we were briefly described on our stamps as Republic of Ireland, but we soon returned to Ireland in English, though the stamps only use the Irish language version Éire.

However, we are apparently still operating under confusing and opposing legal/constitutional instructions. I wonder will we have to wait till 2048 for it to be sorted out.

When I say we I'm using it as a sort of royal plural denoting the nation. I won't be around then but some of yous might.

Just in case I've inadvertently added to your confusion, you might like to recap with this extract from Wikipedia which I subsequently came across.

On stamps, the name of the state has always been written in Irish and rarely also written in English. The overprints were stamped first Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann ("Provisional Government of Ireland") and later Saorstát Éireann ("Irish Free State"). Subsequent stamps nearly all used the name Éire ("Ireland"), even though this was not the name of the state until the 1937 Constitution took effect. The exceptions were issued in 1949 and 1950, and used POBLAĊT NA hÉIREANN or Poblacht na h-Éireann ("Republic of Ireland"). This phrase is the official description of the state specified in the Republic of Ireland Act, which came into force in April 1949; the state's name was not changed by the Act. Fianna Fáil defeated the outgoing government in the 1951 election and abandoned the use of the description, reverting to the name on stamps and elsewhere. Originally, Éire was written in Gaelic type; from 1952 to 1979, many stamps had the name of the state in Roman type, usually in all caps, and often written EIRE rather than ÉIRE, omitting the síneadh fada accent over the initial 'E'. In 1981 the Department of Posts and Telegraphs recommended the inclusion of the word "Ireland" along with "Éire" on stamps but the Department of the Taoiseach vetoed the idea on the basis it could cause "constitutional and political repercussions" and that "the change could be unwelcome."

Monday, February 19, 2018


General election September 1927
Link to cartoon in NLI collection
Click on any image for a larger version

General election September 1927
Link to cartoon in NLI collection

General election September 1927
Link to cartoon in NLI collection.

All three cartoons above relate to the general election of 15 September 1927. They are all by Gordon Brewster in whom I have an interest.

They appear in Mel Farrell's new book "Party Politics in a New Democracy - The Irish Free State, 1922-37" and they were the initial cause of my interest in this book, which was launched in the RIA on 8/2/2018.

The 1927 election was extremely important in the evolution of the Irish parliament into the two party system which has persisted up to the present day, more or less.

We have had coalition governments but they have been effectively dominated by one of the two major parties, Fine Gael (formerly Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil. The year 1927 saw the anti-Treaty party abandon its policy of abstention and take its seats in the Dáil. It went on to oust the Cumann na nGaedheal government in the subsequent election in 1932.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins, former political editor of the Irish Times, was the guest speaker and the big name draw. Stephen gave some background to the Irish political party system, and recounted how he, like Mel, became fascinated by it He has spent much of his life to date writing about it and his columns are well respected. He is also related to Mel so his contribution was a mix of the professional and the personal.

Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses

A most interesting speaker was Mel's professor and supervisor in this endeavour. Filipe's interests include Portugese and Spanish history, decolonisation, and the First World War. He recently (2009) published a biography of Salazar.

His approach to Mel's work was to see it in the broader European context. Ireland was a new state which bucked the European trend towards fascism, establishing and maintaining a robust democratic political party system.

Mel's approach, on the other hand, was very much to concentrate on the purely domestic aspects of the evolution of political parties in the Free State.

In the event, the tension between these two approaches has produced a work that synthesises them and firmly sets the development of the Irish Free State in its European context. In doing so, it underlines the tremendous work done by the political leadership during this period.

Mel Farrell

When it came to Mel's own innings he recounted his fascination with party politics from an early age and he thanked so many people that my head was starting to spin. It subsequently spun a bit more when I read the acknowledgements in the book itself - a tribute to the thoroughness of Mel's research and to his modesty in his wide crediting of its fruits.

I was very pleased to see him acknowledging Lynne Pentlow, Gordon Brewster's grand-daughter for the use of the cartoons. In fact, I was very pleased to see the well chosen cartoons in the book.

After his sudden death in 1946, and given that his wife and children subsequently lived in England, Brewster had slipped from the Irish consciousness. It is good to see increasing recognition of his work in recent times.

I am only at an early stage in reading the book but I can already see that it is authoritative and very tightly written.

The Longford Contingent

There was a strong showing from Longford at the launch and the event merited a significant report in the local paper. The Longford connection also gave me the opportunity to tell my police cell story to an appreciative audience in the conversations that followed the official launch.

Mel with his parents Anne and Paddy

As I was ostentatiously sporting my camera I was pressed into service for some group photos. This one of Mel's parents, Anne and Paddy, made it to the current issue of the Longford Leader.

Anna Duignan

Mel had a special word of thanks to Anna Duignan, for her unfailing support, for her remarkable reserves of patience, and for her understanding of his desire to finish the book. Now that that is out of the way I think they'll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Me with Joe MacAnthony
Photo: Anne Harris (thanks)
Click on any image for a larger version

Another book launch but a very special one as it turned out. The launch was in the RIA on 14/2/2018. The book was the second edition, seventeen years after the first, of Irish Media - A Critical History.

A second edition because:
Since the first publication of this book in 2001, the pace of change has accelerated dramatically, and has made the publication of a second revised edition particularly timely. The switch from analogue to digital, the growth of social media, the new dominance of mobile, the increasing dominance of aggregators like Google and Facebook, and accelerated patterns of mergers and acquisitions following the 2008 economic crash have all impacted drastically on the media landscape and have raised questions about the future to which few, if any, analysts or media managers have yet managed to construct answers.

The earlier edition was written by John Horgan alone. In this edition he partners with Roddy Flynn. Going on their individual remarks at the launch they seem to have been the dream team for this book.

John is emeritus professor at the School of Communications in DCU. He was the first press ombudsman in Ireland and prior to that had a distinguished career in journalism and politics. Roddy is a lecturer at the School of Communications in DCU, where he is chair of film and television studies. He has written extensively on Irish screen policy, with a particular focus on media ownership and media regulation.

Kevin Rafter

Kevin Rafter is the current head of the School of Communications in DCU, John's old job. He outlined the contribution the School is making to current Irish journalism.

I would add that DCU has so far been a great success as a new university, outclassing its "betters" in many fields. I would hold up their linguistic research and technological application in the Irish language as one of the other interesting areas into which they have ventured.

It was once described to my son, who had a very successful and happy innings there, as "The Nerds University". Those so describing it were attending a southside university from which he had fled so that he could actually get a bit of work done. All kinds.

John Horgan

John gave us many stories and themes from the book. One of these was the story, way back, of Joe MacAnthony and his exposé of the corruption inside the Irish Sweepstakes. He paid dearly for that and has been one of my heroes since. And John said he was there with us in the audience.

I immediately resolved to have my photo taken with him and later press ganged Anne Harris, whom I had just met, to do the needful. Thank you Anne. Eternally grateful. You can see the result at the head of this post.

John made a very optimistic and encouraging point - the legacy media were fighting back and now looked like they were actually coming back. Perhaps in not quite the same form but nevertheless. Their decline had bottomed out and they were on the rise. This was down to two factors. The proliferation of "fake news" and undisciplined and shoddy reporting had led to a desire for solid authoritative copy. At the same time the legacy media were developing business models which would be sustainable in the cyber age.

There would clearly be exceptions but the overall vibe was positive.

Roddy Flynn

There were two new aspects to this book over its predecessor: the period covered was extended back way beyond the establishment of the Free State, to the seventeenth century in fact; and the range of coverage was extended to include online media.

I think Roddy covered the latter extension but it was clear from his respect for John, which John had reciprocated earlier, that this was really a joint and largely seamless effort.

Joe Duffy

In launching the book, Joe Duffy made a number of significant points about media in general and in paticular about the interplay between the State and the broadcaster, an area John had touched on earlier. Joe's career in broadcasting goes back a long way and he has always been involved in bringing the show to the people and the people to the show.

Many of my own colleagues in the civil service saw him simply as a stirrer-upper to be avoided at all costs. I did not share that view. It was clear to me that he was giving a voice to the voiceless and if that required a bit of showmanship from time to time so be it.

It did not surprise me, when I read his autobiography, that he had come from a modest background, or that he had been a probation officer. He has a quality which is rare enough among broadcasters: he actually listens and he is not afraid of on-air silences. These attributes, aside from serving a higher purpose, go a long way towards making for great radio.

Joe MacAnthony

I mentioned Joe MacAnthony already. Best to expand that reference by again quoting from the book. But first to set the context. There was speculation at the time that the ailing Independent Newspaper Group might be bought by the McGrath family whose wealth was based largely on a Goverment franchise to run the Irish Hospitals' Sweepstakes:
On 21 January 1973, however, this possibility evaporated in the wake of the publication in the Sunday Independent of that date of one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism that had ever appeared in an Irish newspaper up to that time and indeed for many years afterwards. This was an exposé by the journalist Joe MacAnthony of the activities by McGrath's sweepstakes company, many of them illegal, in the foreign jurisdictions in which sweepstakes' tickets were sold.

The article, which ran to some 8,000 words and over three pages of the paper, had been planned originally as a two-part series. `The editor of the paper, however, realised that if the first half was published that the second half, in all probability, would never see the light of day; accordingly he decided to run it all in one article. The McGraths were incensed and withdrew all their lucrative advertising from the group for some weeks.

MacAnthony resigned not long afterwards, after it had been made clear to him by a regretful O'Brien that his career within the organization had effectively reached a full stop, at least in terms of promotion.
Joe MacAnthony also investigated Ray Burke for planning abuse but the establishment closed ranks and it was some quarter of a century later before MacAnthony was vindicated. Meanwhile he had emigrated to Canada where he had a very successful career as an investigative journalist.

Anne Harris

And that brings me neatly to Anne Harris, who took the photo of me and Joe at the launch. It is not the act for which she will be most famous. That must surely be in her standing by her criticism of Denis O'Brien after he acquired a major interest in her newspaper. She is no longer its editor.

It's quite amazing the people you meet on these occasions. I spoke to a man I didn't know who was standing alone at the time. It turned out to be an interesting encounter. He is currently the editor of Books Ireland but in an earlier existence he founded the Newry and Mourne Museum, now in its thirtieth year and in a much expanded form. I happen to be a great fan of the museum and was fascinated to meet its founder.

The museum is currently on the site of Bagnal's Castle. For many years the location of the castle was unknownn. This man, Tony Canavan, worked out where it was and brought his discovery to Heritage HQ in Belfast but they dismissed it. He was later vindicated when the ruins of the castle were discovered when the Victoria Bakery which had been covering them up was being renovated.

Tony also turned out to be a brother in law of Brian Goggin, with whom I had previously been corresponding in the course of my family history research.

And my interest in all of this?

Well, once upon a time, I was a newspaper proprietor and editor myself.

Monday, February 05, 2018


Click on any image for a larger version

Aodh Ó Domhnaill died suddenly on 24 January 2018 at his home in Baile Eaglaise in Corca Dhuibhne. He was waked there over the weekend and this was followed by a funeral service and cremation at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

I will comment on his life and work another time. For now I will just address the funeral service. Meanwhile a very fine appreciation appeared in the Irish language online newspaper

Click on image for a larger version

Above is the day's running order as Aodh himself might have put it. I will just comment on each item briefly.

The ceremony opened with Colm Mac Séalaigh singing one of Aodh's compositions from way back entitled 1984. An inspired choice, it was written for Na hUaisle, Aodh's protest folk group, and was way ahead of its time in the context of Irish language protest songs. It draws attention to the despoiliation of the environment and though it has many great lines, my favourite is:
Ag casachtach le sláinte i mbaile na gcasán
That grenade has a lot of shrapnel in it. But then Aodh was a wordsmith and he always packed a fair bit of punch into a few words.

You can read the words below as you listen to a version from Tŷ Bach, recorded in Belfast in 1974.

Press play below and click on image above for a larger version

1984 - from Tŷ Bach's vinyl LP Téanam Ort

An tAthair Ó Cochláin conducted the service in mellow Gaeilge na Mumhan and paid tribute to Aodh mar is dual.

Máire Breathnach played a plaintif melody on the fiddle which she had composed in memory of her late father Walter. Lovely tone and beautifully played.

Sinéad Ní Uallacháin, who, as a member of Aisteoirí Bulfin, had interpreted Aodh's dramatic writings on stage, read a poem Aodh wrote about this two children, Mo Bheirt ar Altram. This was published in his third volume of poetry Is Araile in 1993. It is on a familiar theme of children not being the property of their parents but just on loan to them for the duration. It had a particular poigancy in the circumstances. Sinéad rendered it beautifully.

It clearly had an emotional impact on the congregation, even on those ar bheagán Gaeilge. Aodh's French nieces missed it entirely and asked me if I would do a translation. The poem is untranslatable. It has an innovative use of words, some I suspect composed by the poet himself, and there are many with multiple meanings, as befits a poem. You can read the original here and, if that still leaves you guessing, get a sense of the content from my rough translation.

Bríd Ní Ghruagáin, who I had never heard sing before, gave us a rendering of An Fhuiseog Sa Spéir which would have done the Lark itself proud.

Niall gave a very emotional, evocative and loving eulogy of his father in which he strongly reciprocated the emotions expressed by his father in the poem above.

The ceremony concluded with a rendering by Neilligh Mulligan of Mo Ghile Mear on the uileann pipes. This was most fitting as Neilligh is a fine piper and the song could be seen as a lament for an absent hero. Neilligh followed it with a lively dance tune as family and mourners filed out of the chapel.

The family wanted to end on an upbeat note and I will do the same with the picture of Aodh below.


Thursday, January 25, 2018


Click on image for a larger version

There I was on the footpath outside the Dáil on the Merrion St. side, holding a camera through the railings to get a better angle on the transported English Queen's consort, when I saw a Garda approaching fast on my port side.

Best to take the bull by the horns I thought. "That's a fine statue" sez I, and this being Ireland, that's how I ended up in a half hour's conversation with senior Garda Chris Burdock.

Then it was time for him to go as his relief arrived. And at that precise moment we were interrupted by a passing Enda Kenny who, half addressing Chris while looking at me, made a remark that I took to have something to do with football. I still don't know whether he was telling me to be careful with this man as he was a footballing hero in his day or commiserating with me on the ongoing curse on the Mayo team. Enda is a big supporter, him being from Castlebar and all that.

Anyway, by that time my conversation with Chris had covered the transporting of the English Queen to the colony, the burning of the British Embassy in 1972 at which both of us had been present, his ancestor's escapades in the War of Independence and the Civil War, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and, of course, the best chips in town.

His ancestors were also Pakenhams (yes them ones) and I took great pleasure in explaining to him how I took issue with Pakenham's Year of the French, when it came his evaluation of the Sheares brothers's recruitment of the double agent, Captain Armstrong, in 1798.

He countered with how his relationship to the Pakenhams facilitated his skipping the queue outside St. Paul's in London and ending up getting him the VIP treatment inside.

Before we parted, I pointed out to him the lady breastfeeding above the Attorney General's Office. This arose out of another aspect of our conversation, and he was interested to be made aware that we had been in there at the very beginning of the twentieth century, a whole hundred years before the current controversy erupted into the public sphere.

We could still be there were it not for his relief turning up on time and Enda rudely interrupting us. Kinda broke the spell.

However, we agreed to pick up on the conversation again, next time we meet.

I love this city.

Link to an earlier post

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Fr Frank Fahey delivers the Eulogy
Click on any image for a larger version

Frank Purcell, who was married to my cousin Colette, died on Friday 19 January 2018 aged 91 years.

I can do no better than let his cousin, Fr. Frank Fahey speak of him in the eulogy delivered at Frank's funeral mass in St. Patrick's, Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, on 22 January 2018, below

Fr Frank Fahey: Eulogy for Frank Purcell, RIP

This was followed by the Prayers of the Faithful.

Prayers of the Faithful

Frank Purcell RIP
Original photo: Susan Moran

Some photos from happier times.

Fr. Brendan's 60th Jubilee
Front row l-r: Frank, Colette, Brendan, Carmel
Back row l-r: Tommy, Lynne, Michael, Gretta
Photo: Susan Moran

Frank, Colette, Brendan
Photo (& those below): Lynne Price

Frank, Brendan,Colette

Colette, Brendan, Frank

Fr. Frank Fahey, Frank, Fr. Brendan, Carmel, Colette

Frank & Colette

Not forgetting that 24 January 2018 is
Fr. Brendan Fahey's second anniversary

Sunday, January 07, 2018


Click on any image for a larger version

Broadly speaking, this exhibition in the Science Gallery, in Pearse Street, explores artistic, conceptual, or fictional responses to the end of the world or its threat.

Some exhibits mock efforts to prevent Armageddon while others post unworkable ways of surviving it. It is all meant to provoke the visitor into thinking about the environment, be it biological or political.

Below are just a few of the items that appealed to me.

This is the Doomsday clock which marks how near we are to the end of the world.

It was started after WWII and is adjusted backwards or forwards according as threats increase or recede.

It is currently three minutes short of midnight which is when the whole place goes up. Mind you, as it's an analogue twelve hour clock, you could be forgiven for thinking it was nearly high noon, if nobody told you otherwise.

This, believe it or not is a modern Noah's Ark.

The little ball in the glass case on the left contains the biological base from which new life could evolve. It is shot into space in the satellite on the right and comes back down again when earth's environment has recovered sufficiently to support new life.

This one is simply to help you survive air pollution.

The left element goes on your back and you fit the mask on the right over your nose and mouth.

The plant on your back is supposed to make the oxygen for you to breath.

The impracticality of this is that you'd probably need half a forest on your back to make any difference.

This one has sort of given up the ghost and is just documenting the demise of species as they exit stage left.

The idea is to have a drawing dating from the time they expired, cut them out of the picture like this ...

... or like this, and then ...

... burn (cremate) the cut-out image and store it in one of the urns above.

And finally the bees.

We know they are dying off due to pesticides and whatever. When they're all gone we'll die because there will be nothing left to pollinate the plants and they'll die out.

Well, this guy here is not going to go without a fight and he has hocked up this gadget to do the pollination and save the world.

I don't think Grace, my host(ess), also in the picture, is all that impressed.

But she did let me in on the secret that this exhibit is really a criticism of short term engineering solutions designed to mitigate the effects of disasters instead of finding their root causes and dealing with them.

Grace is in final year science in TCD and is just one of the many students who put in time explaining the exhibits to visitors. She enjoys this as it keeps her mentally on her toes and introduces her to other people's perspectives. And, at the end of the day, she enjoys meeting people.

You can visit the whole thing on line through the link below. Much better to drop in, if you're around, and take the tour with one of the many students on duty there. The live interaction is much more fun.

Link to the exhibition on line

Saturday, January 06, 2018


Click on any image for a larger version

Dublin City Library & Archive have done it again.

A very interesting and thought-provoking exhibition on the Suffragist movement. The movement had an initial success when women were given the vote in parliamentary elections in Britain and Ireland in February 1918. The voting age for men was 21 with no property qualification. For women it was 30 with a property qualification. Equal access to the vote for women and men was achieved in the UK in 1928. It had already been the case in the Free State from the beginning.

I'll just hit a few spots below but, if you get a chance, do drop in and have a look.

But first, a more general observation. This exhibition clearly demonstrates the relevance of cartoons to the developments of the day. It is great that there has been a revival of interest in the role of the cartoonist in recent times. Felix Larkin led the way with his politically perceptive book on Ernest Forbes Terror and Discord: The Shemus Cartoons in the Freeman's Journal 1920-1924. The collection is available online from the National Library of Ireland. This was followed by James Curry's book Artist of the Revolution: The Cartoons of Ernest Kavanagh (1884 - 1916), Kavanagh (EK) was the cartoonist for Larkin's Irish Worker until his unfortunate death in 1916. Then we had both James's and Ciarán Wallace's beautiful book The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly. The Lepracaun contained mainly the cartoons of its founder and editor Thomas Fitzpatrick, but it also featured those of Frank Reynolds (S.H.Y.). And finally, there is Gordon Brewster, in whom I have taken an interest, a collection of originals of some 500 of whose cartoons have become accessible online from the National Library of Ireland, and whom I have recently publicised in a talk, also available online. Felix has a post in the now sadly inactive blog Pues Occurrences which mentions a number of other works on cartoons.

So you won't be surprised to see the works of at least three of the cartoonists mentioned above figuring in this exhibition. If a picture is worth a thousand words, most cartoons are probably worth much more.

The Suffragettes were generally depicted in the public media of their day as a crowd of violent harridans, and the illustration above and the two below certainly attempt to give this impression. Mind you, I'm not saying they weren't above the odd bit of violence (unlike the men?).

This history is in a glass case at the exhibition so I didn't get a chance to leaf through it. I'm sure its content is adequately reflected in the exhibition panels.

This is the verse on the cover of the pamphlet.

And this version of "the storming of the Bastille" by the knitters brigade has a certain air of spontaneity about it.

This development in 1911 when John Redmond's party in Westminster abandoned the women in favour of Home Rule really got them going. I can do no better than to quote from James and Ciaran's book here:
In January of 1911 the unpredictable nature of electoral politics left the Irish Parliamentary Party holding the balance of power in Westminister. At last, or so it seemed, Redmond's moment had come. In this particularly sharp cartoon Fitz plays on a famous advertisement for Sunlight Soap drawing the Liberal Prime Minister Asquith as a traffic policeman holding back two great forces in British Politics, the House of Lords and the Women's Suffrage campaign, to allow a delightfully prim John Redmond to carry his Home Rule parcel safely across. The label 'Soft Soap' on both the parcel and the cartoon shows that the Irish public were not fully convinced.

As a special favour to my readers I am reproducing the original ad above. This is not in the exhibition but is in the book. Gordon Brewster took similar liberties with one of his political cartoons but in that case it was Pears and not Sunlight soap.

In another of Fitz's cartoons featured in the exhibition poor Tom Kettle comes in for a hard time. Here he is, a year before the Redmond cartoon, promising the female population the vote.

I have to confess that this cartoon reminded me of Brexit, at least insofar as the twin promises of the vote for women and Home Rule proved incompatible and in making his choice Redmond opted for Home Rule first. The cartoon is based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience. You can see the full cartoon here.

I just couldn't resist this photo from the exhibition of Constance Markievicz as Joan of Arc. Call me cruel if you will.

This cartoon from the pen of Grace Gifford poses the question less asked, if ever. Indeed, why would men ask it. Her point i'm sure. Grace was an artist and cartoonist in her own right but she is probably better known to the public today for her marriage to Joseph Mary Plunkett in Kilmainham jail the night before his execution in May 1916.

A few small quibbles. I was not gone on the green and orange colour scheme. I thought it took from the impact of the content. There is an ongoing problem with the high large windows. They are not always suitable as a light source and they can make it difficult to view the exhibits, particularly against the light. I had some niggles on the Irish. "Sufragóir" is neither the singular nor the plural genitive, and I don't think you can use "um" when there is a sense of purpose involved. I have seen the meaning translated as "about" rather than "for" and I think that is a good guide for its use.

Small things truly. That said, this is another great exhibition in the series commemorating the Ireland of one hundred years ago. And it is a worthy contribution to ensuring that women getting the vote, albeit on a restricted basis, will not be overshadowed by either the ending of WWI or the UK General Election of 1918.

Kim Bielenberg has a very good piece in the Indo