Monday, August 29, 2016


With all the 1916 commemorations going on this year and all the talk of the path to sovereignty, or whatever you want to call it, I was reminded of a line from the protest song EEC:
Déanfaimís dearmad ar Pearse agus Connolly
The song was written by Aodh Ó Domhnaill and sung by Na hUaisle.

In the course of the referendum campaign on Ireland joining the EEC in 1972 it blared from loudspeakers on top of the vans of those campaigning against our joining the Common Market and it opened many a protest meeting around the country.

It is a good song and has worn well through the years. It has a particular resonance in more recent times as the EU has lost its way and the arrogance of its élites becomes more insufferable by the day.

The song opens by pointing out that we really had no choice in the matter as we always follow the Brits. Ag sodar i ndiaidh na nUasal is a familiar version in Irish of this process. And here we are with the Brits supposed now to be pulling out and what are we going to do?

The chorus mentions Sicco Mansholt, who was the Agriculture Commissioner of the day, running the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which was the only actual policy the EEC had been able to cobble together in its 14 year existence up to then. Needless to say this policy appeared very attractive to Irish farmers as a way of escaping from England's Cheap Food Policy which had been limiting the expansion of Irish agriculture and denying a fair return to its producers for decades. In fact the then Irish Foreign Minister, Paddy Hillery, was campaigning for a YES vote on the basis of The CAP and the Long Runs the latter being the expected opportunities for Irish manufacturing in niche corners of the enormous EEC market.

The song goes on to take a poke at our TDs (parliamentarians) who are portrayed as already addicted to dinners of frogs and spaghetti, and who now speak Irish with a French accent. The farmers will be leaving the land for jobs in industry when full employment kicks in, by which time the Germans will have bought up all the land. Let's forget about Pearse and Connolly and all this national sovereignty lark and sell our souls for the thirty pieces of silver on offer. Sure aren't we all Europeans now.

Well I'll leave you to figure out for yourself how prophetic or otherwise the song is proving. You can hear the original below.

EEC sung by Na hUaisle

Saturday, August 27, 2016


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Photo: Clara Rose Thornton

I have to jump straight in here with a declaration of interest. I was at the above event with one job only, to take photographs, and that's me at the window. But, really, you can't be at something like this and just let it go over your head.

A really great evening all round, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Workman's Club: The Vintage Room

The location was the Vintage Room in the Workman's Club on Wellington Quay, right next door to Bono's Hotel.

Well, vintage was the polite version, as you can see above. Now I know we are in the WORKMAN'S Club and the male of the species is not always the tidiest or most house proud, but this was male vintage with a vengeance.

I am tempted to say "you're in your granny's" but there is no room like this in your granny's.

And then there are the posters. Male to the core, though not a Pirelli calendar in sight, which was probably just as well.

So now we've set the context of a vintage male environment for this event which is all about female empowerment in one way or another. All the makings of an interesting evening.

Maria Ortega Garcia

The occasion is Maria's brainchild. She told us how she had become aware over the years of the absence of opportunities for women to share their personal experiences, be they of discrimination or empowerment, and this evening's event was one such sharing opportunity. Each of the participants, including the hosts and presenters, would hopefully take away inspiration from the experience of others, and an integral part of the event was the networking and chat that came before and after the presentations.

By the time the presentations themselves were to start, about three quarters of an hour into the event, the volume of chatter was reminiscent of that in a pub much later into the night. Clearly people were networking like mad and enjoying it.

Clara Rose Thornton

Clara Rose was the MC (note the gender neutral acronym) for the night and she also had her own contribution to make by way of explaining her background and sharing some of her very assertive poetry. She made it clear that, as both a woman and a person of colour, she had many walls to climb in empowering herself and it is clear that she surmounted them all so far.

A major theme with her was how women are defined by reference to men and most often in some second class or dependent role.

She made a great job of introducing the presenters, most of whom already had a public/online profile of one sort or another. But Clara Rose really gave them something to live up to in her introductions.

Fiona O'Meara

Fiona's theme was success and the enormous gap between what the world in general sees as success and what this means in terms of personal empowerment and serenity.

She is also talking from the perspective of having overcome an illness which had her bed-bound for years. Something like that puts proper order on your priorities but it can also dent your confidence in recovery. Enough to say she is now a Toastmaster and public speaking teacher.

Wendy Stephens

Wendy found inspiration looking back over some of her old diaries and she gave us some very impassioned poetry to prove she has something to say about women's empowerment.

Caroline Ryan

As soon as Caroline mentioned her humble Ballybrack origins she had me. She had me again when she mentioned DCU which I always figured a great university. The fact that her academic career is based on feminism and pornography was insignificant compared with the first two mentions above :)

As an aside, I should explain the lighting. As the evening wore on and the light faded I had to resort exclusively to using flash. However, I couldn't resist at least one shot in natural (electric coloured) light to give you a better idea of what the audience really saw between the flashes.

Caroline Ryan

While her pornography research is in an academic context she is approaching it bottom up so to speak rather than the usual top down approach adopted by most academics. And she has a speaker slot lined up at the prestigious Catalyst Con conference in LA next month.

Vanessa Marsh

Vanessa's preferred medium of expression is fine art and she has some stuff hanging in prestigious places as well as copies in many homes around the country. An NCAD graduate of 20 years, she has only more recently found her métier in art as self expression.

Shawna Scott

Shawna is a ticket and a very successful ticket. She has what she describes as a small business, Sex Siopa. This shop sells sex toys but confines itself to those which are safe to enter the human body. I'm not by any means a specialist in these matters, not knowing one end of a dildo from another, but you can educate yourself on her very natty website.

I was interested to see that she had already got herself into a dispute with my favourite porn magazine which implied she was selling unproven material. Hopefully they'll make it up to her and give her proper exposure in their (hopefully) second issue.

She had an interesting point to make about the difference between trading and manufacturing. Running a shop would remind you of the cows - you're never off duty. So she is hoping to switch to her own manufacturing and move down the country to preserve her quality of life. This link will give you a good idea of where she's at.

Lisa de Jong

Lisa is a teacher, poet and facilitator of women’s circles, which focus on the energies of the menstrual cycle. This evening she read us some of her poetry.

In contrast to some of the other presentations hers had a gentleness and sense of vulnerability about it.

Shirley Graham

Shirley's interest is in creating a space for women to find their true selves. She got into this area through her own personal quest and then being asked by others to facilitate them in their journey.

Julie Le Carer

Julie traveled over from Brussels for this session. She is a healer, performer and intuitive artist and her presentation was by way of a performance, well, three mini-performances.

She demonstrated some intuitive body dance movements designed to unite body and soul and in one section relaxed those of the audience who were paying attention into somnolence with the aid of soft words and a little tinkle thing. It was at that point that I figured flashing the camera would have been totally out of place and disruptive so I can't actually prove that this bit took place.

Maria takes a bow

Full marks to Maria for organising this inspirational evening. Feminist it may have been but it was all positive stuff and I didn't feel the least out of place as one of only two males in attendance.


The two hosts and the presenters winding up a very successful and enjoyable night.

Check out the event at the
Awakened Creatress Website

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


As soon as I saw the two co-producers, Rachel Lysaght and Lindsay Campbell, doing their own postering I knew we were in for an intimate hands on experience.

Cinema 2 in the Lighthouse complex

I had never been to the Lighthouse cinema in Smithfield before and I was pleasantly surprised at how spacious and modernistic the complex turned out to be. I'm obviously way behind the times and was thinking in terms of some pokey arty place.

The occasion was a pre-screening of the film documentary Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village. This is the story of Knock as it is and as told by those most closely associated with it. These included descendants of those who claimed to have seen the apparition, the Parish Priest, pilgrims and handmaidens.

It started with the descendants reading from the witness statements of their forebears. This gave the story a great sense of intimacy and conviction from the word go.

You could immediately imagine the scene as reported by the witnesses, free of modern interpretation, but still subject to the intermediation of the church authorities of their day.

The only thing that remained the same as it had been when I used to frequent Knock in the 1950s was the blessing of the holy water in its water tank. Then it was a relatively small operation but it is now on an industrial scale feeding many outlets in the grounds.

One of the participants referred to a rumour that Knock water was not blessed and assured us it was. The thought would never have occurred to me. But for the avoidance of doubt we were shown the Parish Priest doing the needful in the attic of the Basilica (above).

The current PP, Father Richard Gibbons, has only been there since 2012, but to listen to him you'd think he'd been there all his life. By all accounts he is a doer and has done loads since his appointment, including a major revamp of the Basilica and attracting two USA pilgrimages complete with their Cardinals, Timothy Dolan from New York and Seán Patrick O'Malley from Boston.

Whatever about O'Malley, who is a Capuchin Friar, Timothy Dolan has all the false bonhomie of a sleazeball. That said, if he brings business to Knock who am I to poop the party.

The film shows him as Grand Marshall of New York's St. Patrick's day parade where he pitches himself somewhere between pope and emperor.

Apart from the massive built complex, which almost reduces the original church to insignificance, the big change from my day is the onset of large scale theatre and pageantry. This struck me very much in the sequence showing the recent unveiling of the huge apparition mosaic in the basilica - a mix of religious ceremony with a flock of bishops in top gear and a very theatrical procession of those representing the lay people who actually saw the apparition.

A High Mass was the pinnacle of clerical theatre in my day.

But it is in the more personal and intimate moments that this film excells. It does not interpose commentary but lets those concerned speak for themselves. Of course that only works with the help of some skilful editing and this is evident throughout the film. Production, direction and editing are unobtrusive and very effective and you come away with the feeling that you have shared moments of intimacy with the participants.

Some of the descendants have a range of shops which compete with one another in selling religious goods. The man in the picture above gave us a bit of the old time religion which reminded me of the more outrageous pamphlets in the Veritas range of old - The Devil at Dances and What is Hell and the like. In the case above it was Purgatory which was being threatened on us but there was also a place for Hell in the learned theological discourse.

Each Hail Mary bead on the rosary around his neck had a mini reproduction embryo inside. This was not only to counter repeal of the eighth amendment but also seemed to have a particular role in promoting fertility. Amazing stuff.

As against that Pio Flatley, above, was a rock of sense and realised that people, and that included Knock, had to move with the times.

I enjoyed this film immensely, for the memories of Knock it brought back, for its revealing of today's Knock in all its complexity and for its excellent production values.

I said all that to Rachel Lysaght, above, after the showing and I think she was pleased at the general audience reaction.

If you get the chance do go and see this well crafted film. It will provoke, entertain and inform you. And, who knows, it might even get you down to Knock at some stage.

Monday, August 22, 2016


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This is a marvelously provocative book.

I have already done a post on its launch in the appropriate surroundings of Glasnevin cemetery and I have left a review on Amazon. These two links should give you an idea of what the book is about. What I am doing here is responding to its personal provocation. I have said that the book had my head spinning and that is due to the flood of personal associations it provoked as I was reading through it.

My purpose here is to share some of these associations. I hope that when you read the book it will provoke as many, although clearly entirely different, associations for you.

The Editors

First let me introduce the editors. The book grew out of a conference on the subject held in the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum a while back. The conference proved so popular and stimulating that a book was clearly the next step.

The book contains not only contributions from the conference, but also some subsequent gap fillers and an overview by the editors. The editors are therefore also contributors not just with the overview but also with a fascinating piece in an appendix looking at the company records of Nichols undertakers who have been in business in Dublin for over 200 years.

Their mini-bio material below is taken from the Four Courts Press website, and while it is convenient for reproduction here, it understates who they are and what they've done.

Lisa Marie Griffith is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin where she completed a PhD on 18th-century Dublin merchants. She is the author of Stones of Dublin: A history of Dublin in Ten Buildings and has published a number of articles on Dublin history. She is co-editor, with Ruth McManus, of Leaders of the City: Dublin’s first citizens, 1500–1950 (2013).

Ciarán Wallace lectures in Irish history and Irish studies at DCU, Mater Dei campus. His latest publication was Thomas Fitzpatrick and ‘The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly’, 1905–1915 (2015).

See you in due course

Before we get down to the business, the Glasnevin Museum offers this thought as you enter its underground vault. "As you are now so once were we". A clear warning not to lose the run of yourself in this life.

Burying & digging up again

The vault museum has this depiction of a pair of grave diggers. Appropriate enough in a location where many are buried by the day.

However, it's adjoining depiction is, thank the Lord, not so routine. A bodysnatcher at work. These guys did a roaring trade when there was a shortage of bodies for the medical schools. Some graves attempted to deny them access by putting heavy railings around the grave or a heavy slab on top of it. Glasnevin cemetery actually has a series of watchtowers around its perimeter to defend itself against this practise, now happily out of date.

I have been following up my own family history and have a cousin an undertaker in East Limerick. I think I might have upset him, or others in the company, when I insisted on reminding them that he was going around burying people and I was following him around digging them up again.

History of Undertakers

I have undertakers on both sides of my family so I was particularly interested in the appendix tracing the evolution of Nichols undertakers.

On my mother's side, and in Dublin, I had PJ Medlar who married my granny's sister Tess. He had a business for around thirty years (c. 1912 - 1942) mainly located in James's Street but with on/off branches elsewhere in the city.

The book refers to Nichols relocating bodies from some graveyards around town as the sites were put to alternative uses. I'm sure they did a fine job.

Not so Fanagans, for whom Medlar was an agent as you can see in the photo above. They relocated bodies from St. Peter's graveyard in Aungier St. to St. Luke's in the Coombe and the bones were bagged holus bolus. It didn't help that Luke's vault was subsequently vandalised which only aggravated an already confused situation.

Freeman's Journal 31 October 1924

There is a mention in the book of (occupied) coffins being stacked up in undertakers' premises during the 1918-19 Spanish Flu epidemic. People were dying at twice the normal rate and the undertakers and cemeteries couldn't keep up with the increased flow of bodies.

That reminded me of the undertakers' normal pride in their work, which you can imply from the ad above disclaiming any responsibility for the quality of coffins used by the army when the Free State finally released the bodies of 77 executees to their families after the end of the Civil War. Medlar clearly got his share of the ensuing funerals.

It also reminded me of another occasion on which coffins were stacked up. This was during the Artic Winter of 1946-7 when the ground was frozen too hard to dig graves. This, surprisingly, is not mentioned in the book.

The book reminds us that new cemeteries on the outskirts of the city gave rise to the need for transport. This was initially horse drawn until finally overtaken by motorised transport. That the undertakers' carriages could be used outside a strictly funereal environment is shown by the Medlar landau above containing the whole family plus one. This dates from 1925.

And if you're in the transport business why not go the whole hog.

Before I leave Medlar you might be interested in hearing this account of an out of town funeral which didn't go quite according to plan. The storyteller is PJ Medlar's brother Larry, who sometimes gave a dig out with funerals. The piece was recorded by his son in law Dave on Larry's 90th birthday (12th of March 1978). Larry died on the Feast of the Assumption in 1986 aged 98.

My father's people are from Cappanahanagh townland in Murroe parish in East Limerick on the Tipperary border. John has his undertaking business in nearby Newport, but also in Cappamore and Castleconnell. I accompanied him to the funeral parlour above while he put the final touches to the coffined body of an old lady before her relatives came for the viewing.

Death Notice

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If you're used to gravestones telling a story, check out the death notice above. These can also tell a lot. This one is for my uncle Paddy who drowned in the river Suck in Ballinasloe. The notice tell us he merited a High Mass in Ballyhaunis and that he was the brother of Willie. So far so good. Willie was the local and county secretary of the INTO and his mention would have identified Paddy to a wider audience. You might think from the phrasing and content of the notice that Paddy's parents were dead at that stage.

But they were very much alive. So why were they not mentioned in the death notice. Check out the year. We have just got our independence and the Civil War is about to begin. Violence is once again stalking the land and old grudges are being settled. Paddy's father, my grandfather, was at the time a retired RIC man and such people were being taken out and shot in both Ballyhaunis and Ballinasloe at that very time. So no mention in the death notice. That's my guess anyway.

Infant & Unmarked Graves

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The book refers to a number of things which come together in my great grandfather's and great grandmother's grave above. Most graves in 1861 went unmarked, unless you were somebody. Glasnevin was part of the garden cemetery movement, and infant mortality was high.

The grave above is in The Garden, the earliest part of Glasnevin cemetery. It is unmarked and it contains the remains of three infants: one died at birth in 1861 (Joseph) and the others at just over a year old in 1865 (William) and 1873 (John). William died of infant cholera and John of "inflammation from teething". I gather that teething was a sort of catch-all cause when they really didn't know what was going on.

Their father died in 1875 of septicemia. He was a carpenter and I don't know whether he died from a burst appendix or a rusty nail. The point is that there was no cure around in those days.

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This is another unmarked grave. This time in St. Paul's, Glasnevin. Bridget and Julia were my granny's sisters, successively married to Nicholas P Fleming. He and Bridget had three children. When Bridget died he had her sister, Julia, in to mind the children and subsequently married her. When she died he went on to marry and have more children with another Julia.

And that's how cousin Gerry is probably the only Parish Priest to have had four grannies and appeared on the internet in a skirt (above).

Died abroad and State Funerals

You don't have to die in Dublin to be featured in the book. Burial will do the job. The photo above is of the coffin of Lt. Kevin Gleeson, leader of the Irish soldiers on UN duty in the Congo who were killed in the "Niemba Ambush" in 1961. I was at that funeral and am proud to have this photo of mine in the book.

I was also at the funeral of Roger Casement in 1965 (above) though that photo is not in the book..

I was not at O'Donovan Rossa's funeral (in 1915). This is mentioned in the book but there is no photo included of this either.

The Hereafter - Power of the Church

Clearly all the churches were involved in death in one way or another. After the Reformation and up to Catholic Emancipation Catholics were buried in Protestant graveyards and the priest was not supposed to be allowed say prayers over the grave. That was to do with the body.

However the church's influence over the soul was another matter and the afterlife was liberally invoked in your lifetime to scare the shit out of you and thereby consolidate the power of church and clergy.

The above example is from cousin Peggy's will, made in 1938 as she lay dying of TB. Look at the fortune put aside for masses of every description. These guys have a lot to answer for.

And let me remind you of the Parish Priest's Horse. Relations on the other side of the family had let the PP graze his horse in their field. Came the day when the field had to be sold and the PP told he could no longer graze his horse there. He did not take it well, but what could he do. Well he did. When the old mother was dying he refused to come out to give her the Last Sacraments and an order priest had to be pressed into service. Wouldn't get away with that today, DG.

Mount Jerome

If Glasnevin was the "Catholic" cemetery then Mount Jerome was the "Protestant" one. While this was generally true, both were in fact non-denominational, and are very much so today.

When my godmother died, in 2011, the plan was to bury her with her husband's people as you might expect. I had already sussed out this grave in the course of my family history pursuit and it was FULL. Made for four with four already in it. I had a plan B where she could be buried with her parents as there were only three in that grave. However, no doubt with the agreement of the current occupants, they squeezed her in with hubby (above).

I was at another funeral there recently when I felt a presence behind me, looking over my shoulder, as it were. When I turned round it was revealed as Oscar's daddy (above). Highly appropriate as we were burying my old English teacher. He would have enjoyed that one.

My final Mount Jerome story concerns Eibhlín Bhreathnach. I had been to her funeral there some years ago and thought, while I was there again, I'd pay my respects. Nobody could find the grave, not even the man in the office. Finally he thought to ask "was it a burial or a cremation?" Dammit, it was a cremation and I had been there. Serious disconnect.


Goldenbridge, beside Richmond Barracks, was the first of the Glasnevin Trust cemeteries and it has been closed for many years. Plans are now afoot to open it up both as a garden cemetery and a resource for historians and genealogists.

Stories from Stone

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This is great grandfather Christopher Burgess's grave in Glasnevin and it tells an interesting story. His son in law, Andy Duffy, who predeceased his wife Elisabeth, is buried in the family grave. That is unusual in my book. It can only be explained by Chritopher "adopting" his son in law in place of his own two sons, one of whom got a girl pregnant, married her an went to Canada, and the other, the heir apparent, went and joined the British Army just as Christopher was about to retire and was disinherited as a result.

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I've already referred to exhumations and reburials by Nichols and Fanagans, well I've done one of my own in Glasnevin, albeit in cyberspace.

When I went up to check out great uncle John's grave, the nice lady in the office gave me a list of burials in the grave. When I got to the tombstone I noticed that Sarah (Sadie) while on the tombstone was not on the list. On my way out I drew the lady's attention to this and she undertook to effect a cyber transfer for Sadie from wherever she was currently cyber-resting to her rightful cyber-resting-place.

How many Angels

The previous "missing person" recollection reminded me of the Angels' Plots. There are now two of these and the photo shows the older one. When I was up there one day I thought to enquire after an angel who had been miscarried in one of Dublin's maternity hospitals. The mother had been assured that the "baby" would be buried in the Angels' Plot but I could find no record in the appropriate plot ledger. I hope there is an innocent explanation for this and that it is not indicative of a wider problem.

Irish language

There are a number of subjects not dealt with in the book which might be worth following up at a later stage if they have not been dealt with elsewhere. One of these is the Irish language. There are Irish language tombstones in Glasnevin but a systematic study would be interesting.

The picture above is from Knockananna in Co. Wicklow but I thought the impression it gives of a native Irish speaker as a rare bird or endangered species was amusing, if not sad in its own way.

Anyway, that's all, probably enough for now. and maybe too much. But the above are some of the thoughts provoked by my reading of this wonderful book.

May you enjoy yours.