I have made well known my aversion to today’s celebration or at least as it is celebrated here in North America. However in honour of Ireland – and not the person (real or fictitious) who destroyed the old ways – I wanted to post my favourite “Irish” song. One that I’ve posted before but that I rejoice in every time I hear it. The harmonies in it are truly amazing and the song itself is a slightly melancholy but still joyous recollection of simple things.
Éire go Brách – Ireland until the end of Time
March 17 is Submarine Day – I’m not sure if it’s the sandwich or the boat!
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.
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.
It seemed as we walked around the town we were constantly running into Joycean references – if not a statue or citation then a place or event mentioned in one of his books. Such was the case on our first full day in town. We had gone across the river to the Southside for a visit to Trinity Collage including the Book of Kells and the magnificent library. After being caught in the what was to be the first of many showers over the next two weeks we decided that a lunch of some sort was in order. Serendipity had us turning off Grafton Street with its smart shops and on to Duke St and gazing at the menu in front of a fine looking pub. Of course had I ever read Leo Bloom’s odyssey the name Davy Byrnes would have meant something. As it was the place just looked inviting and the neatly-attired white haired gentleman who stood in the door way was welcoming and led us to a little table at one side of a pleasantly eclectic room.
The menu was fairly traditional and again if we knew our Joyce the Gorgonzola sandwich would have been the obvious choice but we settled for some lovely starters and then two big bowls of Irish stew* with glasses of burgundy (well at least we got that right) to compliment them. And of course such a comfort meal on a rainy day deserved a comfort sweet to end it – apple tart with cream. As our meal progressed the room began to fill with both regulars and tourists including a lovely group of Australians who engaged us in conversation that add to the already congenial atmosphere. It was only looking outside and seeing the rain had stopped (for a while) and the knowledge that there was city to see out there that budged us from our comfortable little corner. We left agreeing with Mr. Bloom that indeed it was a “Moral pub.”
*My friend Michelle, rather tartly I might add, suggested that if it was “stew” and I was in “Ireland” then of course it would be “Irish stew” – hmmm I knew her when things were not always so literally taken.
A thinly disguised Joyce in the person of Stephan Dedalus ironically refers to it as “my green” but then so do most Dubliners; and St Stephen’s Green has been “theirs” except for one brief period since 1664. In that year the Dublin City Council set aside the swampy pasture as a public park in which citizens could “take the open aire”, and then designated the surrounding acreage for residential development. The area was enclosed by a wall and each tenant (the lots were leasehold) was required to plant six sycamore trees near the wall to ensure privacy. It soon became both a fashionable area in which to live and to be seen promenading on one of the pathways which bore such wonderful names as Beaux, French, and Monk’s Walks. By the early 1800s the Green had fallen into a state of decay and the tenants took over ownership and it became open to key holders only. It was to remain a private park until the generosity of one man made it once again available to the people of Dublin.
Sir Arthur Guinness (Baron Ardilaun) had grown up on the Green and in 1877, in an act of philanthropy typical of the man, purchased it from the leaseholders. He set about having it landscaped and returning it to the people of his beloved Dublin. He had a private members bill passed through Parliament that gave the care of the Green to the Commissioners of Public Works. St Stephen’s Green reopened to the public on July 27, 1880 and has been at their (and thankfully our) disposal since. Sir Arthur and his brother Edward and their fine beverage are apotheosized** in Ulysses and though I have yet to try a Guinness I’ve been assured it is indeed a fine “ebon ale”.
As well as it’s appearance in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, an incident at St Stephen’s during a low point in Joyce ‘s life inspired a passage in the Circe episode of Ulysses. Stephen Dedalus has words with Private Carr, a British soldier, and is punch by the enraged man. Bloom tends to Dedalus and eventually takes him home to Eccles Street to tend to his wounds. In 1904 Joyce had taken to “the drink” and at one point in June of that year had collapsed dead drunk at a rehearsal of the National Theatre Society. Several nights later (June 22) he was out with Vincent Cosgrave, an old university friend, and started chatting with a young woman on the Green. He hadn’t realized that she was accompanied and when her gentleman friend appeared he took exception to Joyce’s attentions and roughed him up. Cosgrave gave no assistance but Joyce was dusted off and taken home by Alfred Hunter, a casual acquaintance of his father. It was rumoured that Hunter was a Jew who had converted to Christianity and that his wife was unfaithful; he would serve as one of the models for Leopold Bloom. On June 23 Joyce wrote to his friend Constantine Curran describing his injuries as a black eye, sprained wrist and ankle, and cut on his chin and hand. He signed the letter ‘Stephen Daedalus’.
**Terence O’Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.
Perhaps the strangest piece of Joycean ephemera we happened upon was in the 12th century crypt of Christ Church Cathedral. The recently restored undercroft holds many of the church treasures liturgical and secular but perhaps the strangest is its Cat and Rat. Or at least the mummified remains of its cat and rat.
According to the story – and the Irish do love stories – at some point in the mid-1800s the cathedral cat chased a rat into the pipe organ and they both became stuck. Over time their remains became mummified and during work on the organ “Tom and Jerry” were discovered and their tale (tails???) immortalized by Joyce in Finnegan’s Wakewhere he tells us that someone is: as as stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ.
And on that rather macabre note our unintentional pilgrimage ended. However I must note that both the visits to the shrines and my own curiosity has caused me to drop into one of our local used book sellers; there I picked up a copy of the master of the oblique phrase’s magnum opus this past week. It appears there are many words between “Stately, plump Buck Milligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” and “yes I said yes I will Yes.” Wish me luck!
On this day in 1929: The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council overrules the Supreme Court of Canada in Edwards v. Canada when it declares that women are considered “Persons” under Canadian law.
As I mentioned last week the good folk at Belmond made sure that every evening after the splendid dinners created by Chef Alan Woods and his crew we were entertained with some of the best entertainers in Ireland.
At our overnight stop in Athlone a Celtic harpist from France joined us in the Observation car and gave a concert of traditional airs, jigs and waltzes. She also chatted about her recent visit to Quebec and also the complexities of her instrument – particularly the tuning and bridge pins that allow the harpist to give a remarkable colour and variety to the music.
The last evening Michael Banahan and Anthony McDermott (The Baileys) along with a young lady, whose name I unfortunately didn’t get but who knew how to pluck a mean banjo, gave an impromptu Irish equivalent of a “jam session” for a few of us die-hards who weren’t afraid to stay up late.
Though Pete St. John’s lament for a Dublin long gone wasn’t amongst the numbers it is included on the CD that they very kindly presented to us. I thought I’d give you a taste of the sound of these two old friends who are very much a part of the traditional music scene in Ireland.
On this day in 1810: First Oktoberfest: The Bavarian royalty invites the citizens of Munich to join the celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
Though his success, and failure, was in England and he died in France Oscar Wilde was very much a son of Ireland. Like his fellow ex-pat Samuel Beckett, Wilde’s early schooling was in Enniskillen at the prestigious Portora Royal School. A first honours student it was expected that he would continue his education at Trinity College Dublin – and possibly for the only time in his life he met the expectations of convention. In 1871 he headed off to Botany Bay. Botany Bay? Hold on a minute!, says faithful reader; you said he was going to school in Dublin? Botany Bay isn’t in Dublin it’s in Australia! Well done faithful reader, well done. And you are correct: THAT Botany Bay is but this one isn’t. And it has nothing to do with the Antipodes and though its most famous resident (the one in question in fact) was to be imprisoned, little to do with convicts. It appears that the residence square at Trinity was named for the herb garden that once occupied the area which now houses a tennis court. And it was in this square that Wilde took up quarters with his brother Willie during his student years – at number 18 Botany Bay.
However a more fanciful explanation of the name and Wilde’s time there was provided by our charming scholar guide Robert on our recent tour of the glorious campus. According to his version the square was so named because it was as far away from the Masters’ chambers and the eagle eye of the proctors as its namesake in the Antipodes. As Robert would have it Botany Bay was a place where noise and riotous carryings-on were less likely to disturb those more dedicated to academia than bacchanalia. Given Wilde’s companions, his membership in the University Philosophical Society, his work with his tutor on a book on Greek society and his academic record – ending in a scholarship at Magdelan College, Oxford – it would seem he dedicated little time to bad behaviour or sophomoric high jinks.
Given that the Wildes had a home in Merrion Square it is little wonder that a statue as colourful as the man himself has been placed in a corner of the park on the Square facing his former home. Erected in 1997 it was commissioned by the Guinness Ireland Group and is the work of English artist Danny Osborne, who resides and works in Iqaluit and Cork.. Rather than the traditional bronze Osborne created the piece of several types of semi-precious stone: Wilde’s smoking jacket is made from nephrite jade, sourced in Canada. The collar is carved from thulite, a rare stone from central Norway. The trousers are of larvikite, another stone from Norway, and the shoes from black granite from India. The head and hands are sculpted from Guatemalan jade. The whole sits on a 35-tonne boulder of white quartz from the Wicklow mountains.
The flamboyance of the central figure makes it easy to overlook the two other components of the monument. Flanking the “semi-recumbent” figure of the 40 year-old Oscar are two stone pillars topped with bronze statues: one of Wilde’s pregnant wife Constance and the other the torso of Dionysus. The pillars inscribed with quotations from Wilde in the handwriting of famous Irish personalities, and topped with bronze statues.
In this video sculptor Osborne talks about the monument and its explains it’s creation and the intended meaning.
And being Dublin the statue was quickly given not one but several nicknames: The Queer with the Leer, The Fag on the Crag and The Cock on the Rock. A left click on the lounging Wilde below will take you to a close up of the expression on his face. Though it could be considered a leer, Osborne meant it to show the two sides of the writer’s personality.
But Dublin is not the only place in Ireland where Wilde is commemorated. In 2004 the Estonian city of Tartu gifted Galway with a copy of a bronze by Tiiu Kirsipuu. It sits at the top of the city’s high street near Eyre Square and rather whimsically recreates (?) a conversation in 1892 that never took place between Wilde and Estonian author Eduard Wilde (Vilde). Though contemporaries the two men never did meet except here on William Street in Galway and just outside the Wilde Irish Pub in Tartu.
The plaques at the writers’ feet bear the following quotes*:
*A left click with enlarge the quotations for ease of reading.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown