Monthly Archives: October 2007

Shades of green
or how handling Michael Collins’s inamorata fuelled Malcolm’s drink habit

There are many enjoyable ways of irritating Malcolm, but two came together this week. One was a particular song; the other was a lapse of memory.

The link between the two was Four Green Fields.

Pub songs

The late Tommy Makem did a lot of good work, but his 1967 song, of which he was inordinately proud, grates on Malcolm. Makem in performance made it just a trifle too saccharine sweet and maudlin for Malcolm’s palate. The New York Times’s Neil Strauss implied something less than boundless enthusiasm, too, in his review of the 1999 New York Fleadh:

… backed only by an acoustic guitar, Tommy Makem bellowed a stentorian ”Four Green Fields,” the hallowed Irish leave-us-alone-with-our-beauty ballad he wrote in 1967, as the audience members pumped their hands in the air and sang in spellbound unison.

Perhaps Malcolm is being over-pernicketty here, but over the years he has fallen out of love for the whole Clancy and Makem Oirish soft-soap, which owes more to the White Horse, Greenwich Village, than Malcolm feels comfortable with.

He totally sympathises with Dominic Behan for what Liam Clancy did to The Patriot Game. Cutting the references to Connolly and de Valera changed the whole tone, making an apology for blood-sacrifice out of a much more bitter, darker, socialist text (here with both versions):

This Ireland of mine has for long been half free,
Six counties are under John Bull’s tyranny.

And still de Valera is greatly to blame/So I gave up my Bible, to drill and to train
For shirking his part in the patriot game/To play my own part in the patriot game.

Hardly a game

If anyone is not aware of the background to Behan’s song, it relates to the shambles that was an IRA attack on the RUC Brookeborough Barracks on New Year’s Eve, 1956.

Seán Garland’s dozen Volunteers rode a commandeered dumper truck into town, and parked too close to their target, thus warning the RUC men within (who would have been alert after previous IRA activity in “Operation Harvest”). Under covering fire, the Volunteers tried unsuccessfully to plant a mine, but were driven off by return fire from the RUC sergeant. The IRA men retreated to the mountains, recovering the badly-wounded Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon, both of whom died, in Dublin’s Mater hospital, within hours, of “motor accident” injuries.

The main consequence of these events, apart from the ballads adding two more heroes to the pantheon, was Seán MacBride wrapping the green flag tightly round him, and causing the downfall of the Dublin coalition government and of his own political career.

The most beautiful woman in Ireland

MacBride’s mother, Maud Gonne, is the link back to what Malcolm expects is the origin of the “Four Green Fields” metaphor for the four Provinces of Ireland. She appeared in the title-rôle of a one-act play, Cathleen ni Houlihan, on April 2, 1902 at St. Teresa’s Hall in Dublin. WB Yeats (who would hardly have been neutral) later said of the performance:

Miss Maud Gonne played very finely, and her great height made Cathleen seem a divine being fallen into our mortal infirmity.


The setting is the 1798 Rising, near Killala, at the moment of the French landing. The climatic moment, and mathematical centre of the play is:

BRIDGET: What was it put the trouble on you?
OLD WOMAN: My land that was taken from me.
PETER: Was it much land they took from you?
OLD WOMAN: My four beautiful green fields.

Immediately after that:

PETER: [to Old Woman] Did you hear a noise of cheering, and you coming up the hill?
OLD WOMAN: I thought I heard the noise I used to hear when my friends came to visit me.

We then are given the notion of the blood-sacrifice:

OLD WOMAN: … there were others that died for love of me a long time ago. MICHAEL: Were they neighbours of your own, ma’am?
OLD WOMAN: … There was a red man of the O’Donnells from the north, and a man of the O’Sullivans from the south, and there was one Brian that lost his life at Clontarf by the sea, and there were a great many in the west, some that died hundreds of years ago, and there are some that will die to-morrow.

Having thus name-checked the national martyrs, from Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill to Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere, not omitting Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig, she identifies herself:

BRIDGET: You did not tell us your name yet, ma’am.
OLD WOMAN: Some call me the Poor Old Woman, and there are some that call me Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

The message:

Many that are red-cheeked now will be pale-cheeked; many that have been free to
walk the hills and the bogs and the rushes will be sent to walk hard streets in far countries; many a good plan will be broken; many that have gathered money will not stay to spend it; many a child will be born and there will be no father at its christening to give it a name. They that have red cheeks will have pale cheeks for my sake, and for all that, they will think they are well paid.

A terrible beauty

A powerful myth, but not one that Yeats created. Indeed, there is some doubt to what extent the play is his. Lady Augusta Gregory claimed the the opening scene, and that the rest was her and Yeats. Yeats himself would later wonder:

Did that play of mine send out
Certain men the English shot?
Did words of mine put too great strain
On that woman’s reeling brain?

There is, indeed, a direct link from Cathleen ni Houlihan to Easter Monday, 1916. Malcolm will return to that in a later posting, and try to ascertain where the notion began.

In this respect, one is either with Yeats or with Joyce. Yeats (who had briefly flirted with the IRB) knew the effect his play would have, and deliberately willed it. Joyce, according to Stanislaus in My Brother’s Keeper, “was indignant that Yeats should write such political and dramatic claptrap.”

So, with one bound, we are into the psychology of Pádraig Anraí Mac Piarais. Malcolm has long been exercised by this, and fortunately even the most extreme of Pearse’s apologists now have problems with it:

Many revisionists point to extracts from Pearse’s writings to support the blood sacrifice thesis. Yes, without doubt, Pearse’s use of language was often extreme, but also – and this should not be overlooked – typical of the age.

“Typical of the age”, perhaps, and frequently blamed on Sigmund Freud, though, as far as Malcolm can see, Freud’s key text did not become available until after 1918.

Beauteous Mary

Paul Muldoon suggests Pearse’s poem Christmas, 1915 takes the notion of blood-sacrifice a stage further:

Pearse is … only too conscious of the image of Christ in the arms of his mother, the mother being Ireland, the ‘pierced’ Christ Pearse himself … That the coming battle should be joined at Easter, when Pearse/Christ might be expected to triumph over death by welcoming it, was a brilliant piece of timing, one that assured the longevity of the term “Easter Rising”, and gave Pearse an emblematic status as the main rhetorician of Irish nationalism. I’m referring, of course, to Yeats’s distinction between rhetoric and poetry, one stemming from a quarrel with others, the other from the quarrel with oneself.

The truth is that it the blood-sacrifice seems particularly and sadly persistent in Irish myth and iconography (and, as promised above, a topic Malcolm will return to). In the context of Cathleen ni Houlihan, though, a more promising and immediate route is through Lady Gregory’s youthful reading of Sheridan LeFanu.

Translucent beauty

As we said at the outset of this entry, Malcolm was annoyed with himself because he could not immediately relate to the source of the “Four Green Fields” metaphor. He got stuck on Evie Hone’s 1939 stained-glass window (illustrated). Hone made this for the Irish pavilion at the 1939 New York World Fair. It then came back to Ireland, and, years later, was displayed in O’Connell Street, in the CIE head office. Then it went back into storage, before finally being accorded a place in the Government Offices at Upper Merrion Street.

There’s obviously a story behind Hone’s design: there is an earlier 1938 design showing Saints and Scholars with St. Colmcille, more typical of Hone’s religiously-inspired work. Who made the change to the more political motifs for the finished work?

Before Malcolm leaves Cathleen ni Houlihan and her small-holding problems, there are two other thoughts he appends.

Beauty and the beast

The first is a curious political inversion. Her image was conscripted by the British Government for recruiting posters, during the First World War, as these examples show:

The most beautiful girl in the Mid-West

Then came the stunning magnificence of the Irish maiden who featured on the Irish banknotes between 1928 and 1975. They went out of circulation in 1982, but the £100 design was used until 1996. She was derived from a portrait by Sir John Lavery.

The Notes Committee of the Central Bank of Ireland approached Lavery, an Ulsterman who had sided with the Nationalists, and whose house had been Michael Collins’s (of whom more in a moment) London base in the Treaty negotiations.

Here’s an account of the intention:

In preparing the portrait for the note, it was Lavery’s intention to produce a painting of Cathleen ni Houlihan, the legendary heroine who had been made popular by William Butler Yeats. Interestingly, Lavery was known to have in his possession at his death a portrait by Sean Keating, a young Irish artist, which was titled ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’. It is possible that ownership of this painting predated his commission by the Note Committee and this work may have influenced his portrait.

Lavery worked on his portrait over Christmas 1927 and evidently sent a photograph of the painting to the Note Committee …

The final portrait shows ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ leaning on a Cláirseach (Irish harp), supporting her chin in her hand. She is dressed in simple Irish clothing, with the lakes and mountains of Ireland in the background.

The result was one of the most attractive (in all senses) currencies around: the high value notes (the “Persian carpets”) were exquisite.

In this case Cathleen ni Houlihan spoke with a distinct Mid-West twang, all the way from Chicago. When she married Lavery it was a second marriage for both of them. What causes much speculation is her relationship with Michael Collins and Kevin O’Higgins: was it more than flirtation? Collins certainly had a letter to “Hazel, dearest” in his pocket when he was shot. She went into mourning for his death. The current mode is that the relationship went unconsummated: this is, apparently, based on the assumption that, if had been been, the IRA would have shot her as a possible double-agent.

That ignores the obvious rider that Collins ran the gun-men and IRA intelligence.

And if you must have Four Green Fields on your iPod, do as Malcolm does, and make sure it is Dick Gaughan giving it an authentic angry edge.

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Filed under Augusta Gregory, Hazel Lavery, Tommy Makem, WB Yeats

Knocking spots off Redmond

It’s Leopard day, and Malcolm is starry-eyed and on his way to the MacExpo, armed with credit card.

At least it stops him bemoaning that he didn’t, in the late 90s, buy Apple shares at $13 (at a time when Apple had the equivalent of $13 a share tucked under the mattress). They closed last night at $182.78: down $3.15 on the day. Ah, he muses, the wisdom of the Market.

Phew! say the rest of us. Another quiet day on the Malcolm front, just as he was waxing loud and lyrical about Percy French and the West Clare Railway.

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Comment, at least, is free:

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Culture test?

Malcolm subscribes to the BBC Newsnight email. This means that, each evening, he gets a heads-up on the main items for the 10.30pm broadcast.

It usually comes with a funny. Here’s today’s

A burglar breaks into a house and as he moves from room to room he is terrified when he hears a voice which says:

“Jesus is watching you.”

Heart pounding he looks around and sees nothing.

He gets back to work, disconnecting the DVD player when the voice calls out again:

“Jesus is watching you.”

He switches on his flashlight and in the corner of the room he sees a parrot.

“Did you say that?”

“Yes,” replies the parrot. “I’m just trying to warn you.”

The burglar relaxes.

“Yeah, thanks. You got a name, parrot?”

“I’m Moses,” the parrot replies.

The burglar laughs.

“What kind of idiots would name their parrot Moses?” he scoffs.

The parrot squawks “The same kind who would name their rottweiler Jesus.”

Now, Malcolm found that funny. It made him laugh aloud.

A few moments later he realised this was as much of a shibboleth as Norman Tebbit‘s “cricket test” (frequently failed north of Hadrian’s Wall).

So Malcolm nows wonders whether anyone, any intolerant religious bigot, chooses to voice an objection to the Beeb’s sense of humour. He guesses not. On the contrary, he suspects the same joke may have emerged (or soon will do) from many pulpits.

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A nod is as good as a wink

During the Rugby World Cup Malcolm caught it for the second time, and found himself saying to his (ironically) self-proclaimed Rugby Groupie daughter, “Watch this. It’s a terrific ad.”

It was the brilliant pastiche of the British Airways’ 1989 “Face” ad, now downsized and humanised for Silverjet.

Patrick Collister, today on First Post, does a critique of just that ad, saying, quite rightly, that it’s A Slap in the Face for British Airways. Malcolm quavers in admitting he should also have acknowledged the BBC website’s Magazine with Giles Wilson doing an even better job on the ad, back on 5th October.

Collister gives the low-down on the ad: to Malcolm’s surprise it is the work of the same ad-man (Graham Fink) and the same director (Hugh Hudson) as the original. Different cast, different budget though.

Thomas J. Barrett married Mary, the eldest daughter of Francis Pears (at which point Malcolm wonders how many have guessed where the anecdote is going). Barrett was arguably the earliest great advertising genius. He was so radical that Francis Pears took all his money out of the firm, and left it in Barrett’s hands.

Barrett imported 25,000 French francs worth of 10 centime coins, had them stamped with the name “Pears”, and put them into circulation as substitutes for the English penny. He solicited Lily Langtry and the Presidents of the various learned Societies to endorse Pears soap — for no fee. He tried to get his advertisement printed on the back of the UK census form, but the Government turned down his offer of £100,000.

His greatest coup was to pay £2,200 to the owner of the Illustrated London News for the painting “A Child’s World”. That painting was by Millais, and was a portrait of his own grandson (who went into the Navy, worked in intelligence in the famous Room 40, decoded the telegrams that led to the Battle of Jutland, and became an Admiral, Sir William James — but that’s another story).

Barrett then persuaded Millais to allow the painting to be “adapted” by the addition of a bar of Pears’ soap, and “Bubbles” was created. It is still number 14 of the 1168 “Icons of Britain“.

The “Bubbles” campaign cost Barrett £30,000, and put millions of reproductions onto walls of ordinary British homes.

Vladimir Trechikoff, Martin Elliot (of Tennis Girl fame) and Jack Vettriano all (less deservedly) profited from where Barrett led. He went on to devise the annual “Miss Pears” competition and the Pears’ Annual (which used remarkably high-quality reproduction techniques).

Malcolm’s point here is that Barrett saw advertising as the poor man’s art-gallery (and served the poor man very well thereby). Today, the best television advertising fulfils something of the same rôle. The very best ads (like BA’s early stuff done by Saatchi, Guinness, Honda and the like) achieve artistic levels which deserve to be recognised.

We should not be too haughty to celebrate them.

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Fiddling on the woof …

Here’s Matthew d’Ancona on the EU treaty in today’s Telegraph:

Mr Brown’s hope is that the duration and tedium of parliamentary ratification will force the media and electorate to lose interest (more mysteriously, he believes the debate will open up crippling divisions in Tory ranks, which it will not).

He will ask whether Britain really wants to jeopardise its position in the EU by tinkering with something, by implication, so technical and dull.

In politics, the attention deficit of voters and foes alike can often be exploited by a determined PM. “The dogs bark,” as William Waldegrave likes to say, “but the caravan moves on.”

Well, Malcolm has already suggested a sure-fire way to drive the wedge into the Tory fragile consensus of a referendum: up the ante.

Since the treaty now includes a trap-door clause for leaving the EU, that’s what any referendum should be about. So sincere ultra-EUsceptics (and the Tories play this oneupmanship game of being more sceptic than thou) should be moving towards getting the treaty debate out of the way (by approving it as soon as possible), then regrouping for the main event.

But, of course, that won’t happen, because the referendum-on-the-treaty is the fig-leaf that preserves the Tories’ lack of …

To issues of greater importance, however.

Malcolm is intrigued that the dogs and the caravan are now allocated to William Waldegrave. He cannot be allowed the credit for their currency.

The expression seems to have become more common after Truman Capote used it for his 1977 book The Dogs Bark. He based that title on an episode:

It must have been the spring of 1950 or 1951, since I have lost my notebooks detailing those two years. It was a warm day late in February, which is high spring in Sicily, and I was talking to a very old man with a mongolian face who was wearing a black velvet Borsalino and, disregarding the balmy, almond-blossom-scented weather, a thick black cape.
The old man was Andre Gide, and we were seated together on a sea wall overlooking shifting fire-blue depths of ancient water.

The postman passed by.
A friend of mine, he handed me several letters, one of them containing a literary article rather unfriendly toward me (had it been friendly, of course no one would have sent it).

After listening to me grouse a bit about the piece, and the unwholesome nature of the critical mind in general, the great French master hunched, lowered his shoulders like a wise old . . . shall we say buzzard?, and said, “Ah, well. Keep in mind an Arab proverb: ‘The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.'”


It has been around in English some time before 1977, long enough for Dodie Smith to invert it in One Hundred and One Dalmatians:

The shut-in Romany dogs heard [the Dalmatians] and shook the caravans in their efforts to get out … “The caravans bark but the dogs move on,” remarked Pongo.

That’s from 1956, so we need to go still further back.

Scott Moncrieff used it in his translation of Proust, in the first chapter of Within a Budding Grove:

“In the words of a fine Arab proverb, ‘The dogs may bark; the caravan goes on!’” After launching this quotation M[arquis] de Norpois paused and examined our faces, to see what effect it had had upon us. Its effect was great, the proverb being familiar to us already.

Even that is not the end of the chase.


There is an earlier appearance, which Malcolm finds quite fascinating. John Lockwood Kipling, in 1891, published Beast and Man in India, wherein we find:

‘The dog barks but the elephant moves on’ is sometimes said to indicate the superiority of the great to popular clamour, but the best form of the phrase is, ‘Though the dog may bark the caravan (kafila) moves on.’

John Lockwood Kipling? India? Any connection?

Yes, indeed, Malcolm reassures us. The dear dad of the said Rudyard (the only person of whom Malcolm has heard tell to be named for a reservoir). And a man of considerable distinction in his own right.

When Kim was first published, the New York Times (24 August, 1901) gave the senior Kipling prominence in its review:

… it is illustrated by the author’s father, Mr Lockwood Kipling. It is not generally known that Kipling, the elder, was for several years one of the central figures around whom the artistic education of native India flourished… His work would have sufficed to make the name of Kipling famous even had there not been the brilliant Rudyard to add lustre to it. All the Kiplings are clever, and the head of the family is as many-sided and gifted a man as need be sought. He has a taste for literature himself, and has written a valuable work, Man and Beast in India. His illustrations of his son’s newest novel are immensely interesting as accurate presentations of the living characters of Kim.

Now, for the hunters of literary trivia…

… a link from Kim to Pongo to Gide to Gordo can’t be bad.

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Several stops beyond Barking

Back at the time of the 1975 Referendum campaign, when the grass was greener and so was he, Malcolm spoke from anti-EEC platforms. After one such evening, where the platform panel out-numbered the audience and its dog, Malcolm began to question what the antis were about.

That re-appraisal led to him not voting in the Referendum itself (the only time Malcolm has not used his vote).

Today, while not rabid, he is a sincere believer that the European project deserves more than a degree of support. He is confirmed in this by any open debate on the issue. For example, today’s Daily Telegraph has a typically inflammatory piece, Brussels dictatorship will face day of reckoning, by Charles Moore, which concludes:

The European project now resembles the state of the eastern European Communists after 1968, when party members gave up believing in their doctrine and just settled for comfortable jobs. They shored up their power and ignored their unpopularity. After 20 years, it all collapsed, because people started to take down the Berlin Wall, and no one quite dared stop them. The EU is not such a sharp oppression as was Soviet Communism, but it is similar in this respect – it tries wherever possible to avoid the democratic judgment of the people it rules. When that judgment does come, therefore, it will be merciless.

Pick the factual bones out of that dog’s dinner.

Then consider the tone of the reader responses:

  • The fact that we now have a leader who is acting like a dictator by giving away something our forefathers fought and died to protect. I honestly believe that this will lead to insurrection, it may not happen now, but 10 or 20yrs from now. The English are always slow to react, but we always do react in the end.
  • I don’t suppose anyone in the Military is of a mind for some serious action? like rounding the whole lot of this lying government up and finding somewhere to keep them for a few years (the Tower).
  • AT LAST – the truth behind the political smoke screen. Charles Moore has graphically expressed the cynical way the politicians and beaurocrats who benefit from the European Treaty continue to ignore public opinion. Democracy really is under threat. If, as seems likely Mr. Brown does deny the British people the referendum that was promised we must be prepared to embark upon a national display of civil disobedience. The people’s will must prevail. Remember Britons, never, never, never shall be slaves.
  • Sudden death – or the death of a thousand cuts – Gordon has chosen.
  • We, once a independent Great Britain, would be dragged into it a new “soviet super state” with out so much as a whimper or a bang by Noolabour fuelled with lies, spin and more lies. We are it appears being lead to our certain demise, also it seems by political “inbreeds” with a low intellect toeing the party line with an appetite for absolute power. It looks as if Trotsky and Lenin live on in Brussels, and London.
  • I suppose We could have a military coup, but the army is away on other business, in a corner of a foreign field. There is going to be a reckoning, and Brown’s name will go in the same category as all those puppet communist leaders of satellites eastern European states.
  • A region of Britain in the future disagrees with a ruling from Brussels. Civil disobedience and refusal to obey the ruling follow. Troops are sent to restore order. They will not be British troops. Never happen? Has any federation of sovereign states survived without bloodshed? Because daily life appears to go on as normal, we sleepwalk further into submission. But there will be a tipping point one day, most likely over something unexpected. How long until the “freedom fighters” commit the first outrage? Hopefully the ultimate collapse and disintegration of the EU will not be accompanied by the wars between member states as happened when Soviet Communism ended.Referendum now or Revolution later – and that is a promise.
  • we are sleepwalking to a civil war

Malcolm, for once, ventured into this mad-house, along these lines:

Most of these contributions (and even parts of the original article) seem to come down to:
• either a genuine criticism of and chronic complaint against the EU,
• a prescience of the Apocalypse.

The first should be complained seriously, the second is a serious complaint.

On what basis, apart from paranoia, can one presume the EU must fracture into an armed conflict? Or that there must be blood in the gutters when the poraille rise against their masters? Yet many of the plaints above show total surety of either or both.

Now to the real issue: how is the democratic deficit in the EU to be compensated?

It is valid to ask how an institution with 25 operating languages can become trans-national. That’s a problem of comprehension at and of the organisational centre. Since so many of those petty nationalists represented above work for, shop with, deal with trans-national mega-corporations, they already know the answer there.

The other solution is devolution. Funnily enough, the EU is in favour of that principle, the UK Government welcomes it, but the little Englanders resist it equally on principle. Yes, very funny, were it not serious.

For some reason, perhaps on grounds of spelling, punctuation or good taste, Malcolm’s comment was not immediately worthy of inclusion (though, after an interim of several hours — presumably the electrons of cyberspace were going slow in sympathy with the CWU, it eventually did).

So, to the voice of reason, the first leader of today’s Irish Times,

The new treaty is a substantial document which ushers in significant new offices, powers and procedures in the EU’s political system. A president of the council of ministers will be elected for two and a half years, renewable once. A High Representative for foreign and security policy will be appointed, and there is a new mutual defence clause. The European Commission’s size will be capped and a strict rotation of membership introduced, so that not all states will have representatives on it at any one time. Majority voting will be extended to 40 more areas, including justice and home affairs from which Ireland and Britain are opting out for the time being. The European Parliament will gain influence through the consequential extension of co-decision with the commission. So will the European Court of Justice. National parliaments will get more time to scutinise EU legislation. The EU gains new competences to deal with energy policy and climate change. The Charter of Fundamental Rights will have legal effect. And there is for the first time a right of exit from membership.

Now, to Malcolm, that is an exemplary and cool summary. If that is the treaty (and he has not yet gone to any original text), Malcolm finds it difficult to quibble too much.

Surely, he says, there should be a direct challenge to the antis:

  • Endorse the treaty as quickly as possible.
  • Go for a Referendum to exercise that right of exit from membership.

That is not going to happen, because the Conservative Party could never agree on withdrawal. The braying about a referendum on the treaty is a ploy to conceal that. Their friends in Big Business would not allow such a thing, and the ordinary bloke and doll would be allowed to bite into the real meat …

For the record, last time (June 1975) it was 67% to 33% in favour on a 65% turnout. And, no, the Great British Public were not deceived; at enormous expense, they simply, sanely, coolly got it right.

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