Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ba, c'est un Irlandais!

Well, I’m heading out of the country again. If I said that twenty years ago, you would have the impression that I was a successful businessman with a mythical travelling lifestyle. Nowadays, it can cost as much to go to Warsaw from Dublin as it does to Limerick.

I’m not going for a short break, or a holiday, or even a wedding. I will be embracing one of the oldest and strongest Irish traditions. After rebelling, the favourite activity of the Irish is leaving the country. And that’s usually the chronological order it takes as well. I’m going to France. But don’t worry, it’s just for the winter season.

Oh, the histories I could tell you of Irishmen going to Gaul/France. I could start with John Scotus Erigena, a great 9th century Irish philosopher whose career culminated with service at the court of the French King. He is regarded as Europe’s greatest philosopher of the early Middle Ages. And then you’ve got Irish mercenaries sighted in France in the 14th century. But Irish holidays to France really took over in the 18th century.

In the 18th century, the number of Irish soldiers leaving for France reached its peak. They didn’t just go over there because of this mysterious season called ‘summer’, no. For the previous two centuries, at least, there was a great link between France and Ireland. It began as a religious link, with Irish students studying in France (before the Celtic Tiger in Ireland, generally if you were studying at university level, it meant you were studying for the priesthood!), but then blossomed into a military link with numerous brigades of the French armies composed of men of Irish descent. In some cases, an Irishman would join the very same brigade of the French army as his grandfather. 

The reason France is not speaking a Gaelic tongue now –the reason for the decline of the strong Irish-French connection – is because the British army lifted its ban on recruiting Irishmen. And they lifted it well! By the end of the 19th century, there were, apparently, more Irish commanding officers serving in the British Empire than there were Welsh, Scottish or even English commanding officers!

And the axiom is still holds true today – Irish people become more successful abroad than in their own country.

So, come on Grenoble, give me a commanding position!

My flat there is a penthouse, does that count?

Friday, October 14, 2011

‘… a grey eye will look back’

I picked up Human Chain today. It's a book of poetry written by Séamus Heaney. I picked it from my bookshelf where it had been sitting for a few months. I'm not a big reader.

Though I do enjoy poetry. Once in a while. It enriches words again and, in doing so, enriches and clarifies the passing of time. Poetry is well-thought meaning-rich words. Talk is cheap these days. It's always been. Though, it seems to be getting cheaper with every advertisement, and every figure who has said too much.

Here's one of his poems from 'Human Chain' to reinvest the meanings to words that are, like nearly everything in this financially-vacuous state, in need of reinvestment:

‘Colum Cille Cecinit’
1. Is scíth mo chrob ón scríbainn
My hand is cramped from penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
It's bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.

Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn sallow hand:
Riverrun on the vellum
Of ink from green-skinned holly.

My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin,
To enrich the scholars' holdings -
Penwork that cramps my hand.

II. Is aire charaim Doire
Derry I cherish ever.
It is calm, it is clear.
Crowds of White angels on their rounds
At every corner.

III. Fil súil nglais
Towards Ireland a grey eye
Will look back but see
Ever again
The men of Ireland or her women.

11th-12th century

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Let’s go Dutch

It’s coming into autumn in this, the fourth year of our recession. Things are still looking pretty bleak. Hundreds of suggestions have been made in order to get our country out of this mess. I just thought of one.

Bring back Monto. Monto was, essentially, the red-light district of Dublin. In its heyday, 1860-1900, there were up to 1,600 prostitutes working in Monto at any one time. Religious campaigns, as well as the departure of the British army, led to its eventual decline in the 1920s.

Where was this magical place? Well, it wasn’t magical: it was described in 1901 as ‘one of the most dreadful dens of immorality in Europe.’  The name Monto derived from Montgomery Street (now Foley Street) which runs parallel to the lower end of Talbot Street on the way to what was Amiens Street Railway Station (now Connolly Station). But the heart of Monto was Mecklenburgh Street Lower (now Railway Street) and the surrounding lanes and alleyways - many of which are gone. Not all the streets were renamed to hide the history of the area. One street seemed to undergo a reversed process. Little Martin’s Lane was renamed Beaver Street!

If we brought back Monto, it would definitely return some identity to the area. As well as that, it would be great for tourism. If we learned from how the red-light district is run legally and competently, it could go very well for us, especially if we were able to convince potential Amsterdam visitors to come to Dublin instead. Ah, let’s through in a few coffeeshops there as well. Good timing – the Dutch are limiting coffeeshop purchases to Dutch nationals only in 2012, so Dublin would be happy to take that type of tourist. If you’re worried about criminality, there’s a Garda station nearby – that helps the argument.

It could become the Temple Bar of the northside!

Ah, em, not sure if that’s a good thing. But, we need the money.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Croppies Acre

Primordial have released a new album. Actually, it’s been out for quite a while now. Upon initial listen, it doesn’t sound like their best work. But then I recall how it took me no less than a year of occasionally listening to Primordial before I realised how brilliant the band is.

This new album is called ‘Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand’. Now, for those of you who are familiar with Irish history you will at once be reminded, upon reading ‘puritan’, of that darkest of figures in Irish history, Oliver Cromwell. Obviously, the title imbues the notions of redemption from someone closer to God and His will, and of death at someone’s hand. As is Primordial’s style, they have never mentioned the English outright and, rather, prefer to simply allude to them. Hence, their songs are metaphorical, sometimes ironical, and often include very rich imagery and intense emotive expressions, which all make their songs, for all intents and purposes, poems (you rarely say that about any genre of music, let along metal).

The first song ‘No Grave is Deep Enough’ has the chorus ‘O death! Where are you teeth? That gnaw the bones of fabled men. O Death! Where are you claws? That haul me from the grave.’ and ends with a great lyric: ‘Rise, my brothers, rise from your graves. No grave is deep enough to keep us enchained.’ I just had the thought that this could so easily refer to the Croppies’ Acre.

Croppies’ Acre is an enclosure situated in front of Collins Barracks in Dublin city centre. It was in this small patch of ground where hundreds, some say over one thousand, of Irish men were buried in one mass grave after the 1798 rebellion. They were mercilessly tortured, marched out to their soon-to-be graves in heavy chains, before being executed for ‘being’ rebels. Then, their corpses were thrown into a mass grave. Made an example of by the British authorities, buried in unconsecrated ground, their memory erased, forgotten about by not only the British but also the Irish themselves, the souls buried underneath that patch of grass are still very angry. I’ve been told by psychics that many of those souls have not yet passed on into the next world. Such was the injustice served to them that they can only but wait for those wrongs to be righted, or avenged.

I, as well as many others, remember them. We have not forgotten. I believe they know this. And I hope they also know that no grave is deep enough to keep them enchained.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Online profiles

This really going to be more of an update, or news report than a blog. I know, it's a shame - I haven't blogged in quite a while. The reason is simply because I'm busy with all the tours I have - a nice complaint to have. It's the high season; if i'm not busy now, I don't stand much of a chance of making any money!

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that my online presence can be found in myriad places:
View Rob's tour guide profile on LocalGuiding
This blog, of course!

Any comments or suggestions would be very welcome. Thanks!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A destiny unfulfilled?

On this day, June 4th, in 1798, Lord Edward Fitzgerald died in Newgate Jail, Dublin.

He was born at Carton House, Maynooth, Co. Kildare (a place I know well!), on 15th October 1763, of the first Duke of Leinster. In the 1790s, he visited France, adopted revolutionary ideas and renounced his title. In 1976 he joined the United Irishmen and his home, Leinster Lodge, in Kildare town became a meeting place for the members.

With his military training (having served in Ireland and north America), he was well-suited to his position as military commander of the United Irishmen. Politically, he was influenced by French revolutionary ideas and endorsed thinkers like Paine and Rousseau – believing in liberty, equality and fraternity and the Rights of Man.

Of course, he’s best remembered as one of the leaders of the 1798 Rebellion, a Rebellion that in many ways failed before it began. The United Irishmen was banned and Fitzgerald went into hiding. Eventually he was found at a house in Thomas Street, Dublin. He, naturally, resisted arrest, resulting in him being wounded in the right shoulder, and in the death of a militia officer. He was brought to Newgate Jail, where he later succumbed to his wounds.

I often find myself reflecting on Irish history with a ‘what if?’ thought. What if the organisation had not been infiltrated? What if Lord Fitzgerald and his comrades had succeeded in achieving their aims? Well, the Act of Union probably wouldn’t have happened. Dublin probably would have continued to amass wealth, and we probably wouldn’t have suffered the Famine, yet perhaps we wouldn’t have had a 1916?

And what if Hugh O’Neill had won the Battle of Kinsale?

You could contemplate so many historical events which, had they had different outcomes, may have resulted in a better present situation. But the trials and tribulations are what define a people. And, as much as I would have preferred Irish independence to come sooner, I’m glad it came at all. And, as much as I am haunted by our tragic past, I know that I, and all Irish people, would not be who I am today without it.

I’m looking forward to the time when St. Werburgh’s Church finally finishes its renovations so that I can visit Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s final resting place. I NEED to pay my respects to a man whose deeds have not been forgotten. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

What happened today?

Arthur Wellesley, aka The Duke of Wellington, aka the guy who defeated Napoleon, was born on this day in 1769. Unfortunately (in his eyes nonetheless), he was born in Ireland. 

Now there are many greats in Ireland's history that were born in Ireland but whose parents, or at least one of them, were English. Take some literary figures for example. Swift, Wilde, Yeats and Stoker are not strikingly obvious Irish names (I bet ALL of them are not Irish names), yet we definitely count them in the list of great Irish literary figures. Heck, I'm one of the few who would even count Shakespeare in the list!

But, we don't know for certain which, if any, would actually prefer NOT to be counted in such a list. Wellington definitely did not really regard himself as an Irishman, or if he did, he resented such a tag. We don't care. If he didn't  want to be one of us, we don't want him to be one of us! So there, Wellington!

That's the way I see the 'label' of 'Irishness' - you can claim or deny Irishness, but only with legitimate principles: and "it's St. Patrick's Day, I'm Irish" is not legitimate!

I bring up this issue on today of all days because there's a royal wedding happening in London. It will be watched by a couple billion people around the world, among them many Irish. Nowadays, we Irish have a strange relationship with the British monarchy (a relationship that will get even stranger, I bet, once and after the Queen arrives for a visit) - many Irish bought 'Candle in the Wind' after Diane's death, and, doubtless, thousands have tuned in today to watch the royal wedding. I am not one of them.

 So I wonder if many people in Ireland today have done 'a Wellington'.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Monday 2011

It is, or was, Easter Monday, the anniversary of The Rising. What did I do to celebrate? I don’t know? Did I celebrate subconsciously? Did I mark the day when Irish people stood up and said ‘I did not sit idly by while...’ by sitting idly by?

Did you?

How do we celebrate such things?

Our ability and our want to celebrate such undeniably celebratory anniversaries are both frustratingly unquantifiable (for reasons I won’t go into right now). We don’t know what we should do. We don’t know whether doing something significant is too much, especially when we notice that most people.... do something insignificant – something having more resemblance to doing nothing than doing something special.

Today, as we were driving through my beautiful, wild county of Donegal, we passed by an obvious procession. A commemoration by a concrete cross. I sensed that it was something significant. Something celebrating the importance of this day, of this date, of history. Something I should stop for, witness, reflect, embrace, respect. Yet, we didn’t. We drove by. We drove by, somewhat convincing our ‘ignorance’ – as I would call it, I suppose – that we shouldn’t stop simply because we did not know what was going on or we didn’t know that such a thing would be going on.

And I thought: of all the sites we saw today; the great views, the harbours, the grassy roads, of all the permanent sites that make the place, what most connects us to this place is what we, as a people, have done here. We didn’t make these views, we didn’t form this inlet, we didn’t grow this grass. But, we erected this cross. Not because of the landscape. We erected this cross in this landscape to celebrate a unique occurrence and not a universal permanence.

We should have stopped. For, if I were to return tomorrow, the grassy road will still be there, as will the cross... but the commemoration has passed. And I had missed it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Quitting the habit

“No smoking in this area” – that’s what the sign says. And yet, these two people are smoking ‘in this area’. Breaking the rules. Perhaps, as is likely, they do not actually see the sign – it is just a sheltered doorway, a good place to stand [on this note, why do smokers stand in doorways? Is this a way of compensating for the fact that they can’t pollute the air for everyone inside anymore so that now, they think, “at least we can ‘get’ them on their way inside”?]

Or perhaps they do see it, and intentionally invoke the anger of the sign’s maker or patron. Or maybe, probably worst of all, they have seen it, and have, without consciously reading and noticing the sign, made the subconscious decision that that very spot is the place to smoke.

Of course, when I witnessed this, I laughed to myself – the utter lack of...

Respect. Respect for authority. We Irish have a strange relationship with respect:
We have nicknames for monuments, nicknames which seem, oddly, to denote both a lack of respect and a curious affection.
A lot of us could curse the devil blue.
We rarely wait for the ‘green man’ to cross the road.
Drinking on the street is illegal, as is smoking on buses, and littering, yet why do so many Irish people continually disrespect the law in committing these minor yet prevalent crimes?

Well, for several hundred years there – ya know a while ago – we had these ‘minders’ called the British. We weren’t too happy with them. Didn’t like their oppression (who would?), didn’t like their language, and generally just didn’t appreciate their presence. We eventually had to put up with all these though. In order to get us through, and to annoy the British at the same time, we simply disobeyed their laws:

“You’re not going to Catholic mass!” “We’ll go to Catholic mass even more than we used to!”

“Don’t rebel, you wouldn’t like the consequences.” “You just gave me an idea for a lifelong goal!”

“English is a splendid language. Read great works by English authors in order to learn how to use the language properly.” “Your thoughts lack originality and your expression lacks personality. Read fantastic works by Irish authors in order to learn how to use the language properly.”

Disrespecting authority is a long-surviving Irish tradition. Naturally, when the British government in Ireland was replaced by an Irish government, we couldn’t wilfully change a national, and now natural, habit.

Even those who enforce and establish authority have a surprisingly hard time quitting the habit.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Book club

Welcome to the book club: now, for one of my favourite books. This particular work has, to the best of my memory, inspired and enlightening me more than any other.

It is not a self-help book.
It is not a book of philosophy.
It is not a book that I have written myself [as if!].

Tony Crowley has written an exceptionally cohesive piece that has retained its pedestal position on my book shelf ever since I first read it in 2007. Nothing else I have ever seen, read or heard has given me, as an Irishman, a more fuller explanation and understanding of Irish society over the last few centuries.

I’ve probably built it up enough by now. The suspense is probably killing you...

The book is called ‘War of Worlds: The Politics of Language in Ireland 1537-2004’. I want to share with you some interesting facts I’ve learned from this book:

1.     Even today, Irish people still harbour a sub-conscious inferiority complex of their own language and, by extension, their culture – the result of the English inculcating, over centuries, such sentiments and ideas into their everyday lives.
a.    Hence, the reason the Irish look abroad for the lead, be it in culture, trends, technology, speech, customs etc. instead of looking at themselves and their own culture.
b.    Hence, most times when you attempt to speak in Irish with an Irish person, even those who are fluent in the language, you are met with awkwardness and most likely an answer in English.
2.    It was the Catholic Church and not the opposing Church of Ireland that was the main proponent in teaching English, over Irish, to the Irish.
3.    That the Irish language is more important than any other aspect of Irish culture and that without it, the Irish culture will perish. And our forefathers knew it.

Some quotes:
·       ... A basic theme of modern Irish history had emerged: robbed of their native leaders and identity an increasingly degenerate people were united only in their hatred of England.
·       [DeValera once] told the Gaelic League that ‘it is my opinion that Ireland, with its language and without freedom is preferable to Ireland with freedom and without its language’.
·       ‘If you urge Irish speaking, the response is: “What good is Irish in America?”’... ‘it would be the veriest mockery to say to those people – “Don’t speak English, or emigrate: speak Irish, stay at home and starve, cry out yearly for doles, and send your children picking winkles instead of being at school, and earn the contemptuous pity of the world.’
·       Michael Collins noted on the central role which Gaelic had played in the period which ended with the War of Independence:
We only succeeded after we had begun to get back our Gaelic ways, after we had made a serious effort to speak our own language, after we had striven again to govern ourselves. How can we express our most subtle thoughts and finest feelings in a foreign tongue? Irish will scarcely be our language in this generation, nor even perhaps in the next. But until we have it again on our tongues and in our minds, we are not free.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's all politics!

I was just looking over some photos from Paris. 

I went to Paris in October 2010 and I was very impressed by the Louvre and its interior. I began thinking that, while the rich pricks were enjoying this offensive opulence, people were starving on the street. And then I thought of the French Revolution; why it happened, and its effects. And I realised something… I realised the reason why the English didn’t have a similar Revolution. [Warning: Take it easy, it’s a blog, not book]

The English didn’t have their own ‘French Revolution’ because they had been properly brainwashed. In fact, brainwashing was the key to the Norman’s conquest of Britain. How else would such a foreign influence be able to enforce its dominance and rule WITHOUT convincing the people that they were serving a native, if not inherently local and natural, government? The Normans convinced the Anglo-Saxons that their new rulers were rulers of England; England, the home of the Anglo-Saxons, and hence their paternal figures. Once they were convinced, the Welsh and Scottish were next.

This time, they worked off the concept of an island nation. Britishness became the new unifying concept to plug in order to get these two Celtic nations to fight for this German/French hybrid. And the Normans just continued this methodology until, now, a disproportionately high fraction of the world unconsciously follow their ‘British’ tradition.

Thankfully, us Irish never accepted their proposal. It just didn’t make sense to us. Well most of us. And most of us, despite the cruel centuries, prevailed. Brainwashing and propaganda isn’t natural. And when you encounter it, you know it. The Germans knew it. If not during ‘those’ years, then definitely after WWII.

It just goes to show ya…

Peer pressure is not just restricted to your youth.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I didn’t say ‘no’!

Ah Northern Ireland. She’s rarely mentioned without the big T. Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley are two other names rarely not spoken about. Sinn Féin, DUP, UVF, IRA – what’s with all these names and what the heck do they all mean? Heck what does ‘Northern Ireland’ even mean (this question will have even more significance if you ask it just after asking a native what the name of the country is – ‘Norn Iron’)?

Ya see, ‘Northern Ireland’ and ‘Southern Ireland’ are misnomers. ‘Southern Ireland’, i.e. The Republic of Ireland, when distinguished from ‘Northern Ireland’, contains most of the island including all of the west. So shouldn’t it be called ‘South Western Ireland’? Well, I then just think of the province of Munster, and you’ll also be leaving behind my sweet county of Donegal.

 Ah Donegal, now there’s strange, yet artistic and inspiring aunt that you seldom see. (Yes, still more about names:) In Irish, it’s officially called Dún na nGall, but it’s older more suitable (as Dún na nGall originally referred to simply one settlement) name is Tír Chonaill, the Land of Conall. Anyway, Donegal is Ireland’s most northern county. But it’s not a Northern county. What?! Yes, strangely, the most northerly county in Ireland is actually ‘in the South’. If you’re not Irish, that’s a surprising and frustrating idiom.

On a similar note, the most easterly county, Co. Down, is actually in The North as well. Ah, come on! This is causing too much trouble! Can’t we rename things? Ok, we’ll call ‘The South’, ‘The Republic’. And we’ll call ‘The North’…

‘The Plantation’? ‘The Six Counties’? Yeh, that seems suitable but it’s not much of a name for a country, now is it? “Well, then leave it as ‘Northern Ireland’, why don’t you?” Well, because we’ll be running into the same problems again. “Ok, then Ulster…”

This is my main grievance. ‘Ulster’ is, if I’m correct, what the Unionists call it. Paisley’s always recalled relentlessly saying ‘Ulster says ‘no’!’ In this context, the name ‘Ulster’ originates in the Ulster Plantation. ‘Ulster’, then, is the area or community of the Unionists, i.e. the descendents of those planters.

Woah, woah, woah! Stop! Right there! Stop! ‘Ulster’ has always been one of the four provinces of Ireland. Before partition in 1922, Ulster comprised of 9 counties. And the province of Ulster still does. Donegal is in Ulster. Monaghan is in Ulster. Cavan is in Ulster. Remember that! When people refer to Northern Ireland as ‘Ulster’, they neglect these three counties and offend them by either adding them onto Northern Ireland or excluding them from the ambit of the name ‘Ulster’. So then, the three counties live in liminality – not in any province at all. Unity by this, they are grouped as their own kind of province: ‘The Border Counties’.

No! My province isn’t ‘Borderland’ or anything like that. I live in Ulster and I want people, in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, to stop regarded the name ‘Ulster’ as a synonym for ‘Northern Ireland’.  Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan are in The Republic…

And they didn’t say ‘no!’

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Studying again

At the moment, I'm taking a break from doing some research. In other words, I'm briefly procrastinating: It feels strange - has it been that long since I've had the opportunity?

Maybe it's just because, since the start of the year, I've been uncharacteristically busy. I'm so busy that my computer can't handle it (I'm blind-typing - waiting for the computer to display my typing). One of my projects is a tourism course. That's what I'm supposed to be studying for right now.

On Saturday (Feb 26th), our class of approx. 8 will head to up to Belfast. But we'll see lots of sites along the way. Since this is the fifth tour, our workload has reached maximum capacity: I, as well as every student, have to prepare topics to present live on nearly every aspect of Northern Ireland and its history as well as preparing two topics of general Irish knowledge. Oh... and did i mention that i'll have to present it in French!

So that's more work. Now that's only one project i have, and thankfully that's the only one with a deadline this week. But, heck it gets me back to studying, which i love for the learning aspect, not so much for the enslavement aspect. On the other hand, I'm not making money by studying - but it's an investment: this summer I'll be able to give tours all over Ireland and make some (quite a amicable amount, actually) money from it.

And so ends the first blog since Nov 2010. Ironic, isn't it? That over the last 3 months or so, now, the time at which i'm most busy, is the time when i 'get the chance' to post a blog.

Hmm, i think that was an interesting blog, don't you?

Or maybe it was just an interesting procrastination?

'Interesting procrastination'? Hmm, must do some research on procrastination...

Odds are i'll never get it finished.