Yes I know all this Irish stuff – but it will pass, as the actress said of her kidney stone!  But damn it my people (well okay my mother’s people but let’s not press the point) are pretty damned funny when they want to be – intentional or otherwise.

Dave Allen intended to be funny and for years made good on that intention on  British TV.  He was amongst the most controversial – and popular –  of entertainers in the later part of the 20th century for his laid-back observations on the political scene and things religious.

And speaking of the later did you hear the one about the nun and the…   wait I’ll let Dave tell it:


On this day in 1992:  The Toronto Blue Jays become the first Major League Baseball team based outside the United States to win the World Series.

Last week I posted Pete St. John’s haunting ode to a Dublin long disappeared and this past week, in one of those strange little quirks of serendipity,  I came across a postcard set of scenes from what certainly qualifies as Dublin in the “ould times”.

Uncle John, who lived in Belfast, was my mother’s older brother and the two of them corresponded regularly:  he was an entertaining writer  and a letter from him would arrive almost every second week containing news, anecdotes and family stories.  Often he would enclose snap shots, newspaper clippings of births and deaths, and every December a one pound note for my birthday.  One Christmas there was even a 45 rpm recording he had made of greetings for the holidays – how I wish I had it now but it had long since disappeared from my mother’s treasures.

But for some reason my mother kept that little accordion postcard set he sent from Dublin while on vacation there in August of 1945.  The scenes are from the Lawrence Series – 12 of the 40,000 odd photographs of Ireland produced by William Melville Lawrence in his studio on Sackville (O’Connell) Street between 1880 and 1914.  Lawrence was not a photographer himself but an entrepreneur who employed a staff of colourists, printers and photographers.   Lawrence’s chief photographer was Dubliner Robert French who travelled the country (North and South) capturing places, people and events until his death in 1917.  The entire glass plate collection is held in the National Library of Ireland and over 19,000 photographs have been scanned and are available on their Online Catalogue.

The little booklet was mailed on August 14, 1945 a few months after the Second World War had ended in Europe.  According to the postmark it arrived at the Brown’s Line Postal Outlet in our small community seventeen days later and my mother was able to share in his travels.

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Given that rationing – which would have included petrol – was still in effect when my mother and I made our journey to Belfast in 1949 it would be interesting to know how he got from Belfast to Dublin that August of 1945.  Motor car?  Bus? Train?  And what were conditions like in Dublin at that time?  Though Ireland had remained neutral during the war and been a popular R&R stop for the military austerity and rationing was still pretty much the norm. Were conditions so much better in Dublin that someone from Belfast would take a “vacation” there?   In his brief message he assures my mother that he “will write when I get home” and  I’m sure the promised letter which followed would have told her all about that trip.  I only wish I had those letters now but sadly, like that little 45, they have long since disappeared.  All that remains are these “snaps” of Dublin in the “rare ould times”.

On this day in 1812:  Claude François de Malet, a French general, begins a conspiracy to overthrow Napoleon Bonaparte, claiming that the Emperor died in Russia and that he is now the commandant of Paris.

*to snicker, laugh behind your hand


On this day in 1784:  Russia founds a colony on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

… It’s Lunacy!

As difficult as it is to believe it’s been over five years since we left Italy and there are times when I still miss that wonderful country.  Chiefly I miss my beloved friends there, but also the cuisine, the culture, the climate, the chaos, and the confusion.  Yes I honestly sometimes miss those last two defining characteristics of that mad beautiful country. What I do not miss is the sheer lunacy of bureaucratic moves such as this:

Some one painted this little scene on a wall just off Borgo Pio near the Vatican.  I don’t know about you but I find it charming and also telling – Peace has won the day in the game of Xs and Os played by the Bishop of Rome.  And frankly I can almost see this happening – spying Swiss Guard and all.


However someone at the Vatican or  Roma Capitale (or both) thought otherwise and within a matter of a day or two sent out a crew to remove the “offending” art.


Would that they were so quick in rid the glorious buildings and monuments of the mindless graffiti that covers so many structures in the city.


As one Roman friend said when they saw this:  Perhaps they should send these guys to do something useful like pick up the garbage that litters the streets – or maybe fill in a few potholes – or even clean the gutters so that street won’t flood during winter rains.


Many thanks to my friend Robert, a long time resident of the Eternal (and eternally surprising and maddening) City for posting this originally on Facebook.

On this day in 1813: The Battle of Leipzig concludes, giving Napoleon Bonaparte one of his worst defeats.

Back in July my friend Richard posted a sublime recording of Victoria de los Angeles and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau,two of the great classical vocalists of the late 20th century, accompanied by the legendary Gerald Moore in a lovely duet by Johann Christian Bach.  As Richard’s suggestions often do it sent me running to find the complete recital recording.  And as predicted all 15 pieces are a delight.

walisische_lieder_465Amongst the little duets they perform are a number of folk songs from Ireland and Wales arranged by Joseph Haydn and Ludwig von Beethoven.  Folk songs? Haydn? Beethoven?  Yes and to that you can add the likes of  Ignaz Pleyel, Leopold Koželuch, Johan Nepomuk Hummel, and Carl Maria von Weber amongst Continental composers and in the United Kingdom Henry Rawlings Bishop; all who put their musical talent to work on traditional folk melodies at the behest of George Thomson.  Over almost 50 years (1793-1841) all these gentlemen were commissioned by this remarkable Scotsman to set the folk songs of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales in tasteful arrangements for voice, piano, violin and cello.  He published six volumes of Scottish songs, two of Welsh songs and two of Irish songs as well as several volumes of  songs from all three traditions.

Haydn arranged some 40 pieces for Thomson’s publications including this lovely setting of a familiar Welsh melody.

These types of commissions were not uncommon – previously William Napier had published 100 arrangements from Haydn of various Scottish airs.  Between 1809 and 1819 Beethoven composed over 179 arrangements of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Continental folk songs, the bulk of them for Thomson.    Over the past twenty years these arrangements have become widely recorded and entered the recital repertoire of a goodly number of performers.  Listening to this lovely performance it is not difficult to see the appeal to performer and audience alike.

And I dedicate this to Richard who has done so much to expand my musical knowledge – thank you sir.

On this day in 1649: New Ross town, County Wexford, Ireland, surrenders to Oliver Cromwell.


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