Tuesday, 5 November 2013

State murders of children in Ireland's early years

The 1922 government run by the immediate successors of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith was responsible for the murders of children, members of the republican boy scouts body called the Fíanna.
These murders started just before the sudden deaths of Collins and Griffith - Collins killed in a gunfight on August 22, 1922 in his native Cork, Griffith of a heart attack 10 days before, and continued until after the end of the Civil War.
The epicentre was their Criminal Investigation Department, the sinister group based at Oriel House on the corner of Fenian Street and Westland Row, which assassinated a series of anti-Treaty republicans in 1922.
Kevin O'Higgins, the Minister of Home Affairs, a nephew of Parnell's sidekick and betrayer Tim Healy, had unleashed them with the cool statement "what was needed to put down the 'Irregulars', were more local executions, and we should just kill them anyway". The 'Irregulars' was what the Free State government called the anti-Treaty republicans, carefully moulding the language.
The CID began with the killing of Harry Boland on August 1 1922; a week before his death he'd said "I know too much about Mick [Collins]; he won't let me live."
Three days after Collins' August 8 1922 death two Fianna boys were picked up at Newcomen Bridge - the bridge where James Joyce sets the beginning of his paedophile story An Encounter, in Dubliners. They were shot dead in front of witnesses in Whitehall, near what's now Dublin City University, in what was assumed to be a reprisal for Colllins' killing. The killings continued, at the rate of one or two a week.
One of these long-forgotten dead was 17-year-old Edwin Hughes, who, on October 7 1922 was picked up by the secret police based at Oriel House, along with two friends, Brendan Holohan, also 17, and 16-year-old Joseph Rogers.
Edwin had grown up in a respectable civil service household headed by his father Mark, a temporary clerk in the Public Record Office, and his old uncle Martin, a former assistant clerk in the Education Office.
In the 1911 census there were four boys in the house: Edwin, then six, and his brother Gerald, eight, and his cousins Martin and William, aged 16 and 18.
His friend Brendan Holohan was the son of a telegraphist in the GPO, and was one of a stepfamily of six children.
The third lad, Joe Rogers, was the youngest of a commission agent's long-tailed family of five children - his eldest brother was 26 years older than him. A 'commission agent' was a bookie; his father was the popular Dublin bookmaker Thomas Rogers; Joe was already a promising apprentice mechanical engineer.
A pal of the boys, Jennie O'Toole (probably the child who appears in that 1911 census as Mary Josephine O'Toole, daughter of a railway auditor living in nearby Richmond Road), was pasting up republican posters and received some abuse from another neighbour. This shouter was Captain Pat Moynihan of the Irish (Free State) Army, who lived on Clonliffe Road, and whose home had been one of Michael Collins' main typing depots. As a postal worker, Moynihan had been Collins' inside man fingering mail deliveries that could be raided. Now he was the senior officer in Oriel House…
To free Jennie from being shouted at, the three boys took on the postering with her, and were arrested. They were taken into a lorry at Clonliffe Road in Drumcondra by Charlie Dalton and Nicholas Tobin, G-men from Oriel House and also from this same neighbourhood.
Charlie Dalton was just 19. He lived a coupe of streets away from his victims, in St Columba's Avenue. Son of an American father (now the manager of a laundry) and an Irish mother, he was second of a family of five. His brother was Major-General Emmet Dalton, now aged 24, head of intelligence for the Free State, who had been at the side of his adored friend Michael Collins six weeks before when he died in a republican ambush on August 22.
Nicholas Tobin wasn't much older; he was 23, son of a hardware clerk from Cork; the 1911 census has the family in Kilkenny - the parents plus William (soon gaelicised to Liam) Tobin, who would be Collins' chief profiler of assassination targets during the War of Independence, and Nicholas, and their sister Katherine, along with two boarders, a literature teacher and a cycle mechanic; life is full of interest and variety.
The CID men Emmet and Charlie Dalton, Nicholas Tobin and Pat Moynihan had all been members of Michael Collins' 'Squad' – the group of assassins who carried out the targeted killings of British agents in Ireland, most famously wiping out the British intelligence network known as the Cairo Gang, who had been sent to kill the Irish leaders, on November 21, 1920 (an account from the British parliament's record, Hansard, quotes Charlie Dalton's own book on the events of that night http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1931/may/06/with-the-dublin-brigade-1917-1921).
Now, however, Charlie and Nicholas were on a different job: the killing of those who opposed the new government, including children.
The three teenager leafletters left the Hughes house in Clonliffe Road at 10.30pm on October 7, 1922. They were seen in Charlie Dalton's military lorry a little later; this was the last time they were seen alive. Their bodies were dumped near the Naas Road, where the Red Cow roundabout on the M50 is now, and were found the next day. Soon, Nicholas Tobin would be dead too, shot by his Oriel House colleagues as they attacked a bomb factory in Gardiner Street.
At the boys' inquest, Dr Frederick Ryan, who performed the post mortem, described the wounds that killed them.
"Joseph Rogers' overcoat was saturated with blood," he said. "He had 16 wounds altogether. There was an entrance wound in the back of the skull, about an inch and a half from the ear. There was no exit wound. It was possible for a man to inflict this wound while both were standing. There was no singeing. In the left upper jaw there was an entrance wound, but no corresponding exit wound. There were superficial wounds on the left side of the body corresponding to the nipple, on the left side of the abdomen, a punctured wound on the left side of the nose, an entrance and exit wound at the base of the left index finger, superficial wounds on the left arm, an entrance and exit wound in the middle of the left thigh, a large contused wound on the left shin bone, and an incised wound on the left knee, probably caused after death." In his opinion, the wound at the back of the skull would be sufficient to cause death; so would those through the right jaw or in the nose. There was no singeing in the head. His body had been identified by his brother Michael.
Brendan Holohan's father identified his body. The doctor reported that "Regarding Brendan Holohan there was a bullet hole through the peak of his cap, but no mark on his head. The coat was torn on the right elbow, and there was a wound through the flesh of the arm, corresponding with the perforation in the sleeve. There were two entrance wounds, four inches from each other, in the right chest, but he did not find any exits. They were clean cut, such as might be made by an instrument of the same diameter as a pencil. The clothing was perforated at the place corresponding with these wounds. There was a wound over the right shoulder blade, which was an old one. There was an entrance wound in the lower portion of the abdomen, and he found a bullet lodged in the surface over the left hip bone and the shin. There was a wound in the back of the skull in the occipital protuberance, which took a downward direction into the neck and severed the spinal cord. This was sufficient to cause death immediately. If a man was standing on top of a ditch he could have been shot in the head, otherwise he must have been lying down."
In the case of Edwin, he said, "The first wound, on the right-hand side corresponding to the second rib, took a horizontal direction and pierced the great vessels of the heart. There was no exit wound to it. There was no singeing. Another bullet pierced the overcoat on the right side, but there was no mark on the inner coat or vest. There were wounds in the abdomen and on the left thigh. On the right knee and right arm there were superficial wounds, such as might be caused by grazing bullets. The clothes were cut as if by barbed wire. The abdomen wound might possibly be caused by a prod of some instrument, but that was not probable." In his opinion, the wound to the chest caused death.
Edwin's body had been identified by his elder brother, Gerald.
A particularly tragic aspect to the killing comes from the Waterford Quaker diarist Rosamond Jacob, who wrote on January 25 1923:
 "[Mrs Kiernan] told us about Edwin Hughes & his brother too. He had an elder brother Gerald, who was offered a good job at Oriel House some time ago (he had been in the IRA & was still republican, but was engaged to a girl who said she wd have nothing to do with him if he didn't take this job). Against the wish of his mother & brother he took it, for the sake of the girl – not liking it at all himself. The night Edwin was arrested, Gerald passed by the lorry as it was standing still, & saw Edwin in it, in a navy light overcoat. He scarcely believed it was Edwin till he went home & found E not there, and learned from his mother that he had gone out in that overcoat. Then came the news of E's murder, & the investigation at the inquest. Gerald gave up the job at Oriel House, and seemed to lose all interest in life – thought of nothing but Edwin & his own late association with the CJD [Criminal Justice Department] - and in 3 weeks died of a broken heart – no illness apparent at all."

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Dublin City Council arts funding

The deadline for applications for arts funding from Dublin City Council is November 4, 2013. The council's arts officers ran a seminar on Tuesday October 15 to help people to apply.
Four things to remember: that deadline is 5pm on Monday. If you get your application in at five minutes past five, it will be refused. There are no days of grace.
If you're applying for funding, this is not given for 'arts practice' - it won't fund you sitting at home and writing your novel or painting your picture, or going to London to research your history in the libraries there. It is given as a community grant, to help the arts in Dublin, so your project must have some outreach into the community.
The council prefers for at least 30 per cent of funding to be provided by other sources - so if you have a project, get a commitment from other sources to pay for a third of it, and you'll have a better chance of your grant succeeding.
And all applications need proof backing their claims: if you say that your community group is going to have a play put on in the Abbey Theatre, you need a letter from the Abbey management saying this. "The more you can give - backup letters of support from organisations you've worked with, the more we can see of your practice," the audience was told."
City Arts Officer Ray Yeates presented a seminar and question-and-answer session on these grants in the Wood Quay conference venue on October 15, with help from arts officers Jim Doyle and Sinead Connolly, administrative officer Victoria Kearney and Jonathan Ekwe of the arts office's administrative team.
There are three types of funding, Ray Yeates said: revenue funding, project funding and neighbourhood funding.
Revenue funds groups that have an ongoing relationship with the council; no more of these are being added, this group has been capped, and the groups being currently funded are being evaluated randomly.
So that leaves project funding and neighbourhood funding, each of which offer grants ranging from €2,000 to €10,000.
The arts staff said that there are much more applications for project funding - so neighbourhood funding might be a good place to target. 
Your supporting material for your grant application - letters from artists and theatres and community groups and so on - should fit into A4 folder
The applications are read by four people - arts officers or qualifiers - with the applications randomly distributed to lessen the chance of people being swayed by knowing applicants.
Dublin is small, so the arts officers probably know nine out of ten of the applicants, but with new applicants, everyone gets interested. "At the team meeting, we start to debate, if there are new things, if there's a change in a grant, differences or exceptions," said Mr Yeates.
At this stage a shortlist is made.
Arts grants are not given by arts office, but by the City Council, they stressed. There are two external examiners - for example, last year's were visual arts curator Cliodhna Shaffrey and a playwright from Cork.
If there is a governance issue - for example, a conflict of interest or a concept that's not filled out, these examiners will look at the application.
Then two councillors come & are given all of the applications. These councillors ask searching questions - "We sometimes have to advocate for a project". 
There's more than 100 years of experience going to debate your application, between the arts officers, the councillors and the external examiners.
This procedure can be sent to you in written form - it's public and transparent. (http://www.dublincity.ie/RECREATIONANDCULTURE/ARTSOFFICE/ARTSFUNDING/Pages/ArtsFunding.aspx)
The core criteria used for judging applications are: 
  • Quality of artistic work - innovation, imagination, deeper thinking, work that has reframed an idea into another idea - "Knock us out," said Mr Yeates.
  • Audience being served - is there an audience and what is it.
  • Feasible project design with realistic financial projections: "If you only give €2,000 and we have to raise €10,000, how can this be realistic? Proof, for example if you've had a funded project and it worked. Common sense - we're looking for if it'll probably work."
  • Accessibility for diverse audiences and participants in terms of location, cost, people with special needs.
  • Ability to secure other source of funding, including in-kind funding (such as a free theatre, or a fashion designer who has given costumes, etc) (see specific criteria relating to different grants). "We want to see the money going on this project. You can value in-kind funding yourself - for instance, if you get a week in Smock Alley that's worth €2,000."
  • Artists' fees in accordance with professional practice. "It is OK for artists to take shares, for example, in the box office, but we prefer them to be paid. We really don't want artists to be working for nothing." The context is very important. "But if we saw most of the money going on marketing, not on the artists, that would break the criteria."
  • Public presentation of work in the city - "We represent the public - though action research projects will be considered, for example, workshops, etc in neighbourhoods. We don't fund research." 

Research projects may be covered. "If you're at home researching the impact of 17th-century arts funding on today, we won't fund that; but if you're studying impact on different communities, and going to do an installation, then that's in the public area, involving more people than just you on your own - it's action research. You need to name this community - 'hope to', 'aspire to' don't work, and you need supporting documentation showing that they agree. Verify everything. Don't say 'we're going to play at the Abbey Theatre' - prove it."
Because this funding comes from Dublin City Council, the council is only allowed to fund things that happen in Dublin.
In the case of a non-Irish person applying, "We're entirely blind to where you're from; as long as it's happening in Dublin you're as welcome as flowers in May," said Mr Yeates, to a happy laugh from the audience. "We're doing our best to engage with others who are non-Irish, non-graduates, etc."
The arts office has done an analysis of the residential spaces; 50% have gone to non-Irish applicants - and about 50% of the non-Irish are north American, so non-European. Some of these are employed to live here for a year and work, for example in the Red Stables residential studios. 
The specific criteria for Project Grants:
  • A specific thing that you want to do that will start & finish at a particular time. 
  • Quality and artistic ambition.
  • Track record of the individual or team - "Tell us about it, we'll get help to understand it. If you're new, we have to judge. We have a tiny amount of money for an enormous number of applicants. You may, for instance, form partnerships. Track record is important. If you've no track record, you've never been to college, etc, it's difficult, so show you have help."
  • Feasibility of project within known and realisable resources: "We want crazy ideas, but we want them possible. Put the thought into the left brain: time, planning, numbers. Known and realisable, not aspirational."
  • Ability to secure at least 30% of your funding from other sources. "We're an investor. We're hoping to give you a stamp of approval."
  • Budget to include professional fees 
  • Public presentation of work in Dublin City. "We're all for making things happen, and there isn't a hierarchy," said Mr Yeates.
  • Project must have a start and finish date - three months, one day, etc; better if it's within one year, but not necessary. 
If you don't use up all of the grant - if the arts office give out 100 grants and 15 come back and have difficulties, the arts office may have trouble keeping this funding. "If you get into trouble with the project, don't suddenly change the project, come back to us. Change of date isn't too bad, but change of core details will have to go into an appeals project. Sometimes it's too much of a change and we can't do it."
Who should apply: "We realise that to make something happen in the public domain you have to apply - but you may need to have a team of people. Or if it's an individual, you have to tell us how it's going to happen.
"We're very used to visual artists applying as individuals; we're not after subsidy of practice, but after a specific project - show how you'll go into a particular venue, etc."
A question from the audience: "The 30% funding requirement from partners - how do you get over the problem of funding being related to possibility of other funding - for instance 'I've got a promise of money if I do the event'?" Mr Yeates said: "You just have to have it on paper. We want the application to help your project work. Think of it as if it were your own money you were putting in: what would you believe. And the 30% needs to be - at least some of it - in cash and not in kind."
Any individual arts organisation can only be funded for a single project per year. 
The response on funding comes in January, and the project can't start before January, because the project is for a particular year. "If we can be flexible we sometimes give an indication - but without the city council voting, sometimes we can't give the grant till February because of date of council meeting - we can't give the grant without the vote."
You can draw the fund down pretty quickly when it's announced; it depends on what time of year your project takes place. "If you get your letter saying you've received funding, just contact us and say when you're starting, etc. We do have a draw-down procedure, with reporting, etc."

Neighbourhood funding criteria:
  • To animate & support local arts activity in the city. Not to support community development primarily, though it may do that powerfully.
  • To contribute to enhancing/creating a sense of local identity. For example, consider, if you're working in Inchicore and you're doing something with no local relevance 'is it a mushroom or a parachute' - are local people growing up into it.
  • Connection and interaction of the arts activity to the neighbourhood.
  • Involvement of a professional artist or artists in the project. "This is important because local people can't just think 'let's all be artists' - we want a professional input."
  • Reaching specific populations (for example,  young people, old, underserved populations) - like a project that used Muslim women in dance project using the movements they use in prayer.
  • Ability to meet cultural diverse interest through inclusion.
  • Level of involvement of participating groups, eg input into project design.
  • Ability to secure at least 30% funding from other source.

"We're not getting as many applications for neighbourhood funding as we want," said Mr Yeates.
An artist can apply for neighbourhood funding by herself, if the project has relevance to a Dublin neighbourhood.
As many as possible should be met; "otherwise I get into picking which are more important".
Almost the same percentage of the available money goes to neighbourhood and project funding; "even though we get vastly more applications for project".
Applications involving sport, for instance, are acceptable, but the project needs to be something of quality.
'Neighbourhood' refers to a specific geographic area, but a group could be in a neighbourhood. If your group straddles two areas, for instance Dublin city council and SDCC, "it's ok, but we're going to debate it". 
If you apply and fall into wrong section - you apply for neighbourhood funding when you should have applied for project - "I just cannot get over how kind people are; I've seen people say tthey applied for the wrong thing' - so applications can get sent to correct one of neighbourhood or project if the application was wrong in first place."
The arts officers will go to Vimeo or YouTube to view links in applications - "but test your links, and also give an alternative in case one link doesn't work; and don't rely on your link to make the case for you; your case has to be made in writing. Think about us - there are five of us and if you've got an error, we really can't be calling you up to ask for elucidation."
In the neighbourhood category, "we often get excellent ideas but no proof of the quality of the artist you intend to work with, and that really weakens your application".
Also, you need to document the fact that the artist is happy to work with you, happy to work in the community, etc. "Get them to say, in a letter, that they are happy and involved. Evidence, evidence, evidence. Your vision must be based on reality."

Apply here: 
Dublin City Council Arts Office

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chicken Normandy, a delicious winter treat

In the depths of winter, come home to this Norman treat, a chicken stew combining the rich meaty taste of chicken, the sweet of apples, the tart of dry cider, the salt of bacon and savoury of moutarde à l'ancienne, and the umami of mushrooms. This is the low-fat version; if you like fat, replace the yogurt with cream and don't skin the chicken.

Chicken Normandy
Serves four people
One chicken
A pint of good dry cider
Four onions
Four apples
Four streaky rashers or some lardons
2 tablespoons grain mustard
One cup yogurt
Four large flat mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups rice - I like Basmatti - rinsed and boiled till fluffy

Joint and skin a chicken. Fry off the pieces in good olive oil. Add four onions, peeled but whole, and four apples, peeled, cored and chopped, and a container of lardons from Lidl or four streaky rashers. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add two tablespoons of grainy mustard and a pint of good cider ('hard cider' if you're American). Cover and cook for an hour, giving an occasional stir, then take off a cup of the liquor and add it slowly to a cup of good yogurt (Lidl's Greek yogurt is good). Add this back in gradually to the other ingredients as they cook, and add four big flat mushrooms. Stir, cover and cook for a further 30 minutes. Serve over rice or with crusty bread.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

'Our nursery rhymes were English'

Dublin in the 1900s "was totally Anglicised... an English city... our nursery rhymes were English and we knew all about Dick Whittington, Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland, but we never heard of Fionn or Cúchullain.
How has Ireland changed? Discuss.

Saturday, 11 May 2013


Where narrative is the roadway of a story, dialogue is the stream-fed pool where we stop to drink. For new writers, the fatal words their friends will always say is "Your dialogue is great - you're really good at it." This leads the unfortunate writer to neglect the story and plunge into long, self-indulgent runs of dialogue, to which their embarrassed friends respond: "[Oh no, do I have to read more of this stuff, but] your dialogue is really great."
Dialogue, delicately used, is a close-up of character. Here's Vronsky watching Anna Karenina, the first time he sees her, from that old sensationalist Tolstoy's book of doomed passion:

Madame Karenina, however, did not wait for her brother, but catching sight of him she stepped out with her light, resolute step. And as soon as her brother had reached her, with a gesture that struck Vronsky by its decision and its grace, she flung her left arm around his neck, drew him rapidly to her, and kissed him warmly. Vronsky gazed, never taking his eyes from her, and smiled, he could not have said why. But recollecting that his mother was waiting for him, he went back again into the carriage.
"She’s very sweet, isn’t she?" said the countess of Madame Karenina. "Her husband put her with me, and I was delighted to have her. We’ve been talking all the way. And so you, I hear ... vous filez le parfait amour. Tant mieux, mon cher, tant mieux."
"I don’t know what you are referring to, maman," he answered coldly. "Come, maman, let us go."
Madame Karenina entered the carriage again to say good-bye to the countess.
"Well, countess, you have met your son, and I my brother," she said. "And all my gossip is exhausted. I should have nothing more to tell you."
We see Anna through Vronsky's eyes - warm, impulsive, and, of course, resolute. Then we have his mother mischief-making - and Anna letting him know that she knows full well, and making a little intimacy with him against his mother.
And look at how Ernest Hemingway uses dialogue to describe love at first sight:
They were all eating out of the platter, not speaking, as is the Spanish custom. It was rabbit cooked with onions and green peppers and there were chick peas in the red wine sauce. It was well cooked, the rabbit meat flaked off the bones, and the sauce was delicious. Robert Jordan drank another cup of wine while he ate. The girl watched him all through the meal. Every one else was watching his food and eating. Robert Jordan wiped up the last of the sauce in front of him with a piece of bread, piled the rabbit bones to one side, wiped the spot where they had been for sauce, then wiped his fork clean with the bread, wiped his knife and put it away and ate the bread. He leaned over and dipped his cup full of wine and the girl still watched him.
Robert Jordan drank half the cup of wine but the thickness still came in his throat when he spoke to the girl.
“How art thou called?” he asked. Pablo looked at him quickly when he heard the tone of his voice. Then he got up and walked away. 
Nothing is said - he just asks her what her name is. But the sensual description of the simple meal, followed by that question - a question that is really a declaration - immediately tells the reader what's going on here. More doomed love.
Dialogue, if it's used right, shines a light into the character you're writing about. Dialogue is the lamp Diogenes carried: it reveals an honest man in daylight.
It should never be trimmed around with the author's instructive adverbs - we should never write:
"Oh, yeah?" he laughed sarcastically.
because if you write that, you're stealing from the readers, who should be discovering the character of the people whose story they're following, by the tone and content of their speech, not through a big authorial finger pointing down from above, saying: "Looky, this is what I mean."
And remember that dialogue doesn't have to be the truth. Sometimes the most powerful words are those your readers know to be lies. In Casablanca there is a scene where a naive English couple is approached by a helpful stranger on the street. He puts his arm around the man's shoulder and says:
I beg of you, Monsieur, watch yourself. This place is full of vultures, vultures everywhere, everywhere.
Naturally, when the Englishman pats his pocket, his wallet is gone. A wonderful piece of dialogue. A beginner would have had the earnest warning, but Casablanca's writers whip it around and give it a spin, by making the very man who's warning them be the thief. Fabulous.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Not listening to Irish radio

Note: after writing this, I suddenly realised that the tweeter may have meant the other A word of the day: Abortion, not Austerity. Same thing is true of this, mind you: people unlikely ever to experience something sitting comfortably telling the poor and unfortunate how to live their lives.

"Might we get through without mention of the A word?" a young woman tweeted on Sunday. "I have 14 coming for lunch and am really not up to it."
The A word is Austerity. She didn't want to hear about poverty, debt, fear, people losing their homes - a constant topic of discussion on Marian Finucane's Sunday morning discussion programme, where well-heeled members of the middle classes chat for a couple of hours each week. The tweeter's attitude is pretty typical of middle-class people's feelings, though they don't necessarily express them with such brutal frankness. They have learned to put a nice veneer on their distaste, disguising it under the traditional Catholic middle-class surface of charitable pity.
The attitude is why I hardly listen to Irish radio any more. Well, I do - I listen to Lyric, which drenches the house with beautiful music, or in the car to Raidió na Gaeltachta and Radio na Life, whose discussions in Irish are by people nearer to the pointy edge of that A word. But mostly I listen to them for the music too.
For talk radio, it's BBC World Service. There are two advantages. The first and more serious is that the World Service takes journalism seriously. There are hardly any of the programmes that are the core of RTE's oeuvre, the groups of well-fed folk sharing their similar opinions. There is little propaganda, and when there is propaganda, well, it's from a foreign country and I can mutter "Codswallop!" and ignore it. The core of the World Service's programming does what it does best, what it has always done best: the kind of journalism that comes out of the stringent, scholarly academic training of the great English and Scottish university.
The BBC has stringers in every obscure corner of the world: educated people who are also get-down-in-the-dirt journalists. If there is a political scandal in Bhutan tomorrow, you can be sure that there will be a BBC journalist opening out its layers of complexity on the airwaves within seconds of the scandal breaking. The journalist will be an insider in Bhutan, but will have no axe to grind.
On the A word, the BBC is superb. They interview the well-heeled slavemasters in the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission, and the robber barons of the trading houses. They also keep listeners up with the latest research and theory in economics - the BBC loves academics, especially if they're fluent.
They don't do much of the Talk to Joe moaning of RTE's Liveline, where the presenter presides over a series of woeful people wringing out their handkerchiefs in public over truly terrible misfortune. Instead, the World Service has phone-in programmes where experts of one sort or another answer questions from around the world, on every subject conceivable. The brilliance of these programmes lies in their absolute sense of egalitarianism. The world's greatest experts on a subject - and sometimes just well-informed and -educated amateurs - sit in panels, and the questions and comments from listeners are often as deep in their scholarship as the answers from experts - I was practically eating the radio during a wonderful recent hour-long World Book Club on F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p017pz6y
So, no RTE for me, or rarely. I read the papers - online, I have to confess - for news about each new horror that strikes Ireland: the brutal greed of Irish politicians and their friends the developers and bankers; the latest revelations about the rape of children and the bishops' actions as accessories to the rapists in concealing their crimes, bullying their victims and sending the perpetrators on to new parishes with fresh victims and unwarned parents; the lies, the endless lies, about the enormous wealth of the Catholic church and the protected wealth class that grew out of the big farms that survived the 1840s Famine. I can't take the way Irish radio pretends - or perhaps believes - that we are the republic of equals that the republicans of the early 20th century dreamed up. I can't stand the way that salaries are growing at one end of society while at the other end people are terrified and losing everything - and we're still pretending. I absolutely can't stand the way that Irish radio - and it's not just RTE, I should say - is so deeply based in the world and worldview and accents of the well-heeled.
RTE is particularly bad in this way: people paid hundreds of thousands of euro pontificating on the lives of those living at the officially poverty level. Do they not see how brutal this is?
So for me - and, I increasingly find, for many of those I know, Irish radio is an irrelevance, an unpleasant buzzing in the ear. They listen, like me, to world services from the BBC or the American NPR stations, or they listen to French stations, or to the wonderful classical stations from Belgium or Canada or Latvia or America.
It's so sad seeing the divisions coming in Ireland. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they were always there, and I didn't see them.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Writing tips 2: the end

A good end is as important as a good beginning, and nearly as important as a great middle. And surprisingly unusual. A perfectly ended story remains in your mind forever, its faintly astringent taste lingering on the tongue.
The most famous, and one of the best, is the end of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Our antihero, Jay Gatsby, has spent his misspent life one one ambition: getting to the point where he can be the husband of adorable young socialite Daisy Buchanan (née Fay; good thing boys don't take their wives' names or he might have become Jay Fay).
At the end Fitzgerald has his narrator, the slightly louche but perfectly socially placed Nick Carraway, standing on the edge of the sea, looking out across the bay at the house once lived in by Daisy and her horrid husband - the house Gatsby gazed longingly at every night.
And Fitzgerald does a wonderful thing: he encapsulates his story, but more, he encapsulates all of fiction, every story, because what are stories about but seeking the future in the past:
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Fitzgerald has done a fabulous thing: he has made a philosophical statement, and it's a world-changer, but it's also not the 'moral' of his story - Fitzgerald would not be so cheap or so ill-mannered as to offer the reader who has done him the honour of entering his story a moral.

Not so with the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitisyn, whose story Matryona's Place is a wonder and a jewel - until its last two lines. He manages to take a lovely, delicate story and turn it into a finger-wagging lesson, undoing all the subtle, gorgeous storytelling of the previous 38 pages and leaving the reader going "Bleaghhhh!"
In Matryona's Place, our narrator arrives home, and goes to the Personnel Office to ask for a job in some remote village where they need a mathematics teacher. He's sent to one place, but it's not of-the-soil enough for him - they buy their food and drag it home in sacks. So he goes back to Personnel, and describes what he wants, and they send him to the village called Peatproduce.
Here, the only person who can put him up is the aged Matryona. Her wooden house is lovingly described - its traditional Russian stove, her beloved fig plants set all around the windows, the mice, and the five layers of thick ribbed wallpaper stuck together and standing out from the wall that the mice run behind; the lame cat that pursues them; the miserable goat.
It becomes gradually clear that the teacher has returned from a prison camp. He and Matryona live happily together. She's hard-working - apart from her daily work, every day she has some special job, like collecting a load of turf semi-illegally, making pickles, collecting mushrooms in the forest.
At the time the teacher goes to live with her, Matryona is spending a lot of time going from office to office trying to get a pension. Her husband disappeared in the war; she always worked on the collective farm, but apparently not on "productive work", so she's not entitled to any pension for herself, but only as her husband's widow.
Meanwhile, all the neighbours call on her all the time for work - harnessed in the five-woman plough, collecting turf, digging, etc.
Eventually, Matryona is dragged into an unwise enterprise by her brother-in-law - the man she really should have married, and a thoroughly bad lot, spoiled by disappointment in love. She is horribly killed by a train, and her mangled body is brought home. Her body is prepared, the relatives quarrelling over who will get the house.
Everything she said about Matryona was disapproving: she was dirty, she was a bad housekeeper, she wasn't thrifty, she wouldn't even keep a pig because she didn't like the idea of fattening up a beast to kill it, and she was stupid enough to work for other people without pay...
Solzhenitsyn beautifully writes:
Only then, listening to the disapproving comments of her sister-in-law, did I see an image of Matryona which I had never perceived before, even while living under her roof.
It was true - every other cottage had its pig, yet she had none. What could be easier than to fatten up a greedy pig whose sole object in life was food? Boil it a bucketful of swill three times a day, make it the centre of one's existence, then slaughter it for lard and bacon. Yet Matryona never wanted one...
Misunderstood and rejected by her husband, a stranger to her own family despite her happy, amiable temperament, comical, so foolish that she worked for others for no reward, this woman, who had buried all her six children, had stored up no earthly goods. Nothing but a dirty white goat, a lame cat and a row of fig plants.
It's the perfect ending. But then Solzhenitisyn loses it. He can't trust the reader to get the point; he takes it out and slaps it down on the table like a side of fish:
None of us who lived close to her perceived that she was that one righteous person without whom, as the saying goes, no city can stand.
Nor the world.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


This is the first story in my collection Love. When I wrote it years ago, it was a playful homage to the mediaeval love stories based on the model brought back from the Middle East. I never knew it would prove so prophetic.

ELSEWHEN, the sky darkened over Fatima Mansions. Friday night, the call of a muezzin mixed with the Angelus bell and the handbrake turns of a stolen BMW. Joy spoke from the concreted yards.
The Omurchu caravan was coming into town, the camels tired and cranky as they trudged down Christ Church Hill. Tomáisín saw a door open, glimpsed in the blue paraffin light a family saying the Rosary, detailed as a Mansur miniature: grandmother, wives, daughters, faces lifted to the statue of the Virgin. 
The door closed, Tomáisín and the lead camel swinging forward to guide the line of beasts through the evening traffic jam.
A Guard held up his white-gloved hand as the Angelus rang, sounding its eighteen notes from the cathedral high behind them, the notes echoed and tolled by mosques here and there in the city. 
The traffic drew to a halt, drivers bowing their heads as the bell-notes struck on car radios. A one-handed man begging for a cigarette stopped with his mark, both faced east.
As the notes faded the spell of stillness fell away. Tomáisín's camel was bitten and lashed back. The ex-thief's cigarette was lit, the prosperous mark cupping the flame of the petrol lighter. The Guard repossessed his anger, stormed over, saw Tomáisín's Omurchu features -
"Is it yourself, Mr O. Go on ahead, so."
Tomáisín steered the camel train around, into the square, kicked up a leg and slid from the camel he rode. "Hang on a tick, I just want to check the bookings," he said to his overseer, Pangur. Pangur led the string of beasts in and parked them by the wall.
 As Tomáisín called the hotel, the Perspex door of the kiosk framed a picture, another picture for Tomáisín. Two women with buckets of disinfectant and floppy mops washed blood from the cobbles. A tipper truck full of boulders backed into position, directed by a porter from the bank. By the fountain an old lady stood, her eyes above her veil fixed on the barred truck from Mountjoy Gaol.
Tomáisín felt a shudder run down his back at this ordinary scene. He turned away.
The booking cleared, he remounted and led the caravan along the one-way system and across the bridge to Capel Street market. 
"You go on, Tom," said Pangur in his high voice, "I can clear up here." His broad Welsh face turned, checking the loads against the bills he held. 
"Are you sure?
"Sure, why not. I'll settle the lads in their hotels and join you after. Get this lot stabled. Go on and have a few pints."
Tomáisín Omurchu walked away, the sound of his shoes sharp, echoing through the streets following the dying echo of the bells back across the city, into the valley where Fatima Mansions rises, and where Ayishe is waking from her sleep.
I awake from sleep, the photograph of death, and go immediately to check my image in the mirror. The face is the same: had I expected it to change? I put on my grandmother's chador, consider, does it look as well with my red hair as it did with hers? My eyes stare back, Celtic grey, Moorish downward slant. Their expression does not reflect my thoughts. The stranger in the mirror is there again. "Ayishe, come to serve the food," calls my co-wife, and I go. Is the pictured person the mirror shows me a representation of creation?
I look out from the top flat, looking over at Christ Church and the river. My husband, like my family, is a thief, a super thief as he boasts, and an elderly one who has never lost so much as a finger. He sends me to work for him, setting up the men. 
We sit and watch television. First an American programme, guns and heroics, then a veiled Irish newsreader, her eyes furtive. We are laughing at the news when the call comes: I am sent over to the hotel by Capel Street Market. 
Tomáisín turned on the television. A newsreader. Little news. Stock market report: Omurchu up 4. 
"Can I get you anything, sir?"
Plausible face, blank, serviceable. "A pipe? Newspapers?" The face watched him. "A woman?"
"Why not?"
"Any preference, sir?"
"Not really. Clean."
So in she came and turned on the bath. "I want the tap end, mind."
"Hey — you're supposed to pamper me, make me feel like a master, not squabble over the bath."
"Oh yeah? And risk my life too?"
I climb out of my shalwar and dress and shake off pants and vest, sit on the edge of the bath and put the toes of one foot into the steamy water.
"Is it very bad at the moment?"
"You have to be joking. The Legion of Mary are everywhere, handing out immaculate medals and brown scapulars. Again you get a pint in your hand it's whup out and you're handed a Pioneer total abstinence pin. Girls being stoned to death wholesale in Dame Street. Bad? Are y'in earnest?"
She was in the bath, blue lights showing in her red hair as she fanned it behind her, careful to keep it out of the water. One strand escaped and he lifted it clear, wrung it out like a washerwoman.
"So what do you want me to do? Tell you stories?"
"Some men like that." His skin is smooth, dark and gold. His wrists are full of grace, widening to where the muscles run under the sleeves of his T-shirt. "Diarmuid and Gráinne. That's a racy one." My voice doesn't break but it roughens. What is this?
Tomáisín sat on the edge of the bath and looked at the woman. The rich flesh of her belly appeared and disappeared shyly as the water moved. Her nipples were small, unusually so. He could have covered them with a finger, a forefinger pressing each button. Her lips pressed out, a warm rose. 
I take the soap and begin to lather myself. I can feel my heart beat, even with my fingertips. Is he going to get on with it? In the way of business they sometimes need encouraging. Why is my heart beating so. I must have a fever coming on. Have I frightened him with all that old chat about executions? Of course he could buy himself out, no bother, but sometimes it's the rich fellows who are the most cautious.
"Did you come far, today?"
Is he not getting in the bath, or what?
"You must have been fairly shifting."
"The old camels can cover the ground, all right."
She kicked out the plug, wrapped herself in a yellow towel and sat on the edge of the bath, steaming, the steam rising gently into a cloud around her. Abruptly she dropped to her knees and caught his foot as he tapped it.
"Shoe the little horse,
 "Shoe the little mare,
 "But let the little colt go
 "Bare, bare, bare." 
She looked up at him, her lip caught between her teeth as she smiled. "What age are you?" She stood and walked to the bed, the towel falling until it trailed from one shoulder and she was a collection of shadows: her shoulder blades, her neck, her waist, the hollow which put a stop to the line from back to bottom. "Turn up the light." Her voice trembled.
He turns to the globe, but instead of pumping the pressure up he opens the valve and with a brief hiss the light turns from blue to yellow and shadows shoot up the wall as the light fades. 
"What's your name," he whispers, and when I tell him, he whispers, "Ayishe."
He crosses his hands and strips up the black T-shirt, falls beside me.
They lie together. Downstairs the porter is calling the Guards. Yes! He is a member of the Pádraig Pearse Youth. 
I look at him, Tomáisín. His eyes are very black, big and glossy. We have finished making love, he licks my lip with the tip of his tongue and my mouth floods with fresh water. 
"Love," he whispers, "Oh, love."
"Oh love," I whisper, "where did I find you?"
"Sweet one, I'm here."
Yes, they have found each other, and they lie together, these two strangers, his tears running into her eyes and her fingers holding the soft hair beside his ear.
When the knocking comes on the door I am safe in his arms.
"Open up. Open up. I am a Garda." The door shakes as the men kick it and hit it.
How sweet his kisses are.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Tips for writers, 1: Introducing your characters

Starting a story? Start it with your hero. One reason Edward Bulwer-Lytton's famous opening
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
is so famously bad is that there's no one there. Lots going on, but where's our hero? We meet him soon:
Through one of the obscurest quarters of London, and among haunts little loved by the gentlemen of the police, a man, evidently of the lowest orders, was wending his solitary way. He stopped twice or thrice at different shops and houses of a description correspondent with the appearance of the _quartier_ in which they were situated, and tended inquiry for some article or another which did not seem easily to be met with. All the answers he received were couched in the negative...
but don't really get to know Mr C until he takes action:
He was admitted by a lady of a certain age, and endowed with a comely rotundity of face and person.
"Hast got it, Dummie?" said she, quickly, as she closed the door on the guest.
"Noa, noa! not exactly; but I thinks as 'ow--"
"Pish, you fool!" cried the woman, interrupting him peevishly. "Vy, it is no use desaving me. You knows you has only stepped from my boosing-ken to another, and you has not been arter the book at all.  So there's the poor cretur a, raving and a dying, and you--"

But enough - you can read Paul Clifford by Bulwer-Lytton on archive.org, should you wish. 
For an opening to be good, your reader has to sit inside the head of your hero and look through his eyes. Or her eyes. Looky here:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
See what Gabriel Garcia Marquez did there? You want to know immediately what's going to happen to the colonel in One Hundred Years of Solitude. And look at James Stephens' opening to my favourite dog story of all time:
There are people who do not like dogs a bit--they are usually women--but in this story there is a man who did not like dogs. In fact, he hated them. When he saw one he used to go black in the face, and he threw rocks at it until it got out of sight. But the Power that protects all creatures had put a squint into this man's eye, so that he always threw crooked.
Stephens' readers immediately sit down and settle in for the story. Even the dog-lovers do. Especially the dog-lovers, in fact, since they're the ones who have a stake in the fate of the dog we know is definitely going to walk into the story. The fact that the dog is an aunt of Finn Mac Cumhaill's will make the story all the more interesting - but that's for later. 
So when you're starting your story, start it with your hero, and make sure he's about to face a challenge that will define him and make your readers root for him, or hate him, but anyway make them absolutely want to know what's he's about to do. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Did chicklit cause the crash?

According to the Palma Index, the fate of the tax system, and of society, rests with the middle classes. The Palma Index is a measure of the ratio between rich and poor in society, just like the Gini Index, only different. Whereas the Gini measures the whole spectrum from the poorest to the richest, the Palma takes a new approach, comparing the richest 10 per cent against the poorest 40 per cent. The reason for this is that the Gini is oversensitive to changes in the middle, and as a result, it's less sensitive to changes at the top and bottom.
So if you have a society like Ireland at the moment, where there's a group in the middle who are getting along just about ok, but at the bottom 40 per cent you quite suddenly have people living in utter desperation, while at the top 10 per cent you have enormously rich people, the Gini won't measure this so well, but the Palma will.
When Gabriel Palma studied inequality, he found that the middle classes generally have around half the gross national income everywhere.
What's different is how much the very rich and the very poor have. And Palma said that how this shakes out depends on who the middle classes side with.
(All this is thanks to a great blog by Alex Cobham of the Center for Global Development and Andy Sumner of King's College London here http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=13982)
It set me thinking. The literature of the 1960s was plain about where its loyalties lay: with the working classes, the angry young men, the scholarship boys.
But when the 1970s segued into the 1980s and 1990s, there was a change of view. Now the heroes were men in red braces gambling and becoming millionaires and brash women in high heels and cutthroat shoulder pads kicking them out of the way to be millionaires themselves.
The chicklit that was a craze of the millennium had the same loyalties. I except Marian Keyes, whose warm, funny books were about girls from a working-class background, often baffled in the new world they'd found themselves in, and wanting only a nice guy like their dad who'd mow the lawn in a woolly jumper and be a strong and comforting love.
But an awful lot of the chicklit was set in an entrepreneurial world fuelled by gallons of crisp white wine, and with money as its beau ideal. Sure, the heroine was looking for true love, but they were using the model the Edwardians used to advise: "Don't marry for money, but marry where money is".
I wonder will we see a new kind of story, now that the rampant greed has led to rampant destruction.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Grace Plunkett's wedding

The report of Grace Plunkett's death in The Irish Press of December 16, 1955 describes her wedding to Joe Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol on May 4, 1916:

The couple were married at midnight in the Prison Chapel, by Rev. Eugene McCarthy, Prison Chaplain.
The gas supply in the prison had failed and for the wedding ceremony the chapel was lighted by a single candle held by an armed British soldier.
Two soldiers moved their rifles from hand to hand when they were called upon to act as witnesses to the ceremony. The couple were separated immediately afterwards.
The newly-wedded Mrs Plunkett was taken away to lod§gings found for her by Father McCarthy, while her husband was led back to his cell. They met only once again. She was summoned to the prison on the following morning, just before his execution on May 4, 1916. Fifteen soldiers with fixed bayonets stood by while she talked to him for ten minutes.

The Irish Times of October 3, 1967 has an extract from RM Fox's 1935 book on the women of 1916, Rebel Irishwomen, including a description of Grace in jail with her elder sister, the (formerly) unionist and (always) strait-laced Katy Wilson, née Gifford. Mrs Fox paraphrases Grace's description of a search by warders:

The prisoners massed on the landing, and at 9 o'clock in the evening soldiers entered, attacking them, dragging and throwing them down the iron prison staircase from landing to landing. At the bottom, women searchers, like demons, fell on them, scratching and pulling. Mrs Wilson had her face ripped as if with an animal's claws. All night from 9pm to 7am, the struggle went on. Grace Plunkett describes it as being like a picture of hell, with screams and oaths and struggles. Women were being kicked and punched, while they packed close together and made what resistance they could...

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Bríd, Dog of Genius

THIS is Bríd, an old lady now, her spine raked with spurs so that she can't race and play as she once did. But still the same sweet, kind nature, the same naughty playfulness, the same sense that she is the guardian of the household who must sleep in the place best sited to guard those she loves.
And superdog.
Bríd is a dog of language; she understands a surprising amount of what you say. I first copped this when she was a pup of around nine months old.
I have fairly nasty asthma and spend a lot of my time sick, and Bríd is a hairy girl. There was no way she could be allowed upstairs if I didn't want to suffer from the effects of her shedding. At the time I was minding Luna,  a cat for an American friend who had re-re-re-emigrated, and Luna lived mostly upstairs; despite Luna's own furry generosity, she was homeless; what could I do.
Bríd's ambition was to make friends with Luna, and have her as a plaything playmate. Luna's was to have a peaceful purry life without more than a courteous touching of noses with this bounding pup.
So there I am hoovering around the living room, and chatting away to Bríd in an absent-minded way, sometimes singing along to La Mer or Boum, sometimes just maundering on, as you do when a pup is dogging your footsteps. And I said those fateful words:
"Wonder where that pussycat is?"
Bríd laid her ears back and gave me a thoughtful glance. She switched her ears forward again - and with tail going like mad, she ran out to the hall and put her forepaws on the bottom step, and peeked up the staircase.
I was gobsmacked. I hadn't made any gesture, anything like that; it was purely the word 'pussycat' that she'd responded to.
A few weeks later, another job having gone from under me in the collapsing employment scene of Irish journalism, I decided the hell with it, I was going to spend recklessly on petrol and drive out to Greystones for a walk.
I drove out, we walked up and down the almost-deserted beach, I lay down with a book and tried to read for a bit while Bríd nestled against my side, but it was a windy day and I got tired of spitting out hair and sand, and said the hell with it again, and got up and went back to the car.
And found that I'd dropped my keys.
I looked at the expense of the beach, tried to work out where we'd been lying, made my way there and looked hopelessly at the empty sand.
Bríd was romping in and out of the waves and galloping around. I turned on her and gave her (natch) dog's abuse, telling her that we couldn't drive home if we didn't find my keys. "Where are they?" I cried wildly. "Find the keys! Keys, Bríd! Keys!" I wasn't, of course, expecting any action; this was purely relief of spirit.
But Bríd looked keenly at me, looked keenly at the sand, started nosing around, then digging, and up came the keys.
Never was a dog so praised or so proud. Mind you, her genius (apart from understanding every word you say) has failed to show up much in recent years; she hasn't found any thousand-euro notes, say, or chosen the right Lotto numbers (though that may be because I don't actually buy Lotto tickets; my fault, really).
But still. Bríd, Dog of Genius.