Category Archives: Dublin.

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium.

Yeats orates

Yeats, 1926. The oul’ fella knew little of Byzantium that he hadn’t read in an Edwardian history of the sixth century. Being another product of The High School, then at the top of Harcourt Street, I declare my personal interest in a passing remark by Norman Jeffares:

R. Ellmann has suggested that J.B.Bury the historian, who was Latin master for a time at the High School, Dublin, may first have interested Yeats in Byzantium.

Except Yeats hadn’t:

sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

His wife had taken him to recuperate in Sicily. There he saw the mosaics in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo, which — since it’s an early twelfth century construction by Roger II of Hauteville — is some time and space from Byzantium. Impressive, though …


Here’s one I made previously:

Constantine gave his name to Constantinople (11 May AD330), but its antecedent, Byzantium, had been around for the previous millennium. Byzantium, after all, had been paying fifteen talents to the Athenian treasury since Darius was seen off. That implies a place of some wealth and importance, which then revolted from Athenian control in 440BC and again in 411BC.

Look at the location of Byzantium/ Constantinople/ Istanbul, and recognise it had to be a place of settlement, and an important one, through any period of human development. Over there, just a day-trip south and east, is the site of ancient Troy — and the Greeks didn’t destroy that one for the love of a none-too-honest woman, so much as it could strangle commerce through the Hellespont.

And that was why Constantine fixed on this spot. H.G.Wells’s The Outline of History (1921) includes an outline map by J.F.Horrabin (page 518), showing the world as then appreciated by the western mind:


Malcolmian aside:

Socialistic Wells, with that book, was arguing his political point against American ‘exceptionalism’ and the Republican Party’s ‘isolationism’, which he saw as subverting any hopes of a peaceful world.

Some things don’t greatly change.

Herodotus narrates

The Bosphorus, at its narrowest point, is little more than a mile wide. Herodotus described Xerxes bridging it:

They joined together triremes and penteconters, 360 to support the bridge on the side of the Euxine Sea, and 314 to sustain the other; and these they placed at right angles to the sea, and in the direction of the shore cables. Having joined the vessels, they moored them with anchors of unusual size, that the vessels of the bridge towards the Euxine might resist the winds which blow from within the straits, and that those of the more western bridge facing the AEgean might withstand the winds which set in from the south and from the south-east. A gap was left in the penteconters in no fewer than three places, to afford a passage for such light craft as chose to enter or leave the Euxine. When all this was done, they made the cables taut from the shore by the help of wooden capstans. This time, moreover, instead of using the two materials separately, they assigned to each bridge six cables, two of which were of white flax, while four were of papyrus. Both cables were of the same size and quality; but the flaxen were the heavier, weighing not less than a talent the cubit. When the bridge across the channel was thus complete, trunks of trees were sawn into planks, which were out to the width of the bridge, and these were laid side by side upon the tightened cables, and then fastened on the top. This done, brushwood was brought, and arranged upon the planks, after which earth was heaped upon the brushwood, and the whole trodden down into a solid mass. Lastly a bulwark was set up on either side of this causeway, of such a height as to prevent the sumpter-beasts and the horses from seeing over it and taking fright at the water.

And now when all was prepared — the bridges, and the works at Athos, the breakwaters about the mouths of the cutting, which were made to hinder the surf from blocking up the entrances, and the cutting itself; and when the news came to Xerxes that this last was completely finished — then at length the host, having first wintered at Sardis, began its march towards Abydos, fully equipped, on the first approach of spring. At the moment of departure, the sun suddenly quitted his seat in the heavens, and disappeared, though there were no clouds in sight, but the sky was clear and serene. Day was thus turned into night; whereupon Xerxes, who saw and remarked the prodigy, was seized with alarm, and sending at once for the Magians, inquired of them the meaning of the portent. They replied: “God is foreshowing to the Greeks the destruction of their cities; for the sun foretells for them, and the moon for us.” So Xerxes, thus instructed, proceeded on his way with great gladness of heart.

Herodotus, so generally an annoying gossip, comes up with precise detail there. And, of course, in ancient history every crucial event deserves an eclipse.

Byron natates

That bridge would have run between modern Çanakkale and Kilitbahir:Canakkale.jpeg

The aerial shows the site of Troy. A bit north and it’s ancient Abydos, where legendary Hero had her tower, directly opposite across the strait from Sestos, where Leander pined for his inamorata.

Inevitably, that’s where George Gordon, Lord Byron, felt driven to repeat Leander’s swim (3 May 1810). And, the braggart rehearsed it in verse:

If, in the month of dark December,
Leander, who was nightly wont
(What maid will not the tale remember?)
To cross thy stream, broad Hellespont!

If, when the wintry tempest roared,
He sped to Hero, nothing loath,
And thus of old thy current poured,
Fair Venus! how I pity both!

For me, degenerate modern wretch,
Though in the genial month of May,
My dripping limbs I faintly stretch,
And think I’ve done a feat today.

So it became, two hundred years on, an annual effort. Good luck with that, say I, having observed the shuttling of rust-bucket freighter and tankers through the Bosphorus.

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Filed under Dublin., High School, History, leisure travel, Literature, WB Yeats

How socially-prejudiced is that?

Yesterday our local political discourse was enhanced by an otherwise-unremarkable Tory back-bencher [*]

A Conservative MP has been suspended from the party after it emerged she used a racist expression during a public discussion about Brexit.

Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot, used the phrase at an event in London to describe the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

She told the BBC: “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.”

The Conservative Party later confirmed she had had the whip withdrawn.

Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “completely unacceptable” language.

“I immediately asked the chief whip to suspend the party whip,” she said in a statement.

I was much taken by Stephen Bush (of the New Statesman) instantly producing a 26-point check-list, notably this bit:

10. How on earth do you become an MP while being so stupid as to use the N-word at a public event?
11. I mean, surely, even if you are an honest-to-God, white sheet-wearing KKK racist, your basic self-preservation instinct kicks in and goes “Hmm. Wait a second. I wonder if this might possibly backfire?”
12. I mean, come on, aren’t these the same people who go on about political correctness gone mad?
13. Anne Marie Morris presumably had to defeat at least one other person to be selected as the Conservative candidate.
14.Imagine how rubbish you must be to lose to someone who uses the word “n****r” at a meeting in 2017.
15. Anne Marie Morris is 60.

Some of the follow-ups have come close to that. There was Paul Waugh’s Waugh Zone for HuffPo, which deserves repetition:

Given the damage done, it’s hard to see how Morris can regain the Tory whip, no matter what the ‘investigation’ by Tory campaigns HQ concludes. Which raises the issue of whether she will be booted out for good, and whether she would quit to trigger a by-election. Her majority in her west country seat is 17,000.  But as this year has taught everyone, electoral norms can be upended.

Morris had already been forced to distance herself from her electoral agent and partner Roger Kendrick last month, after he claimed “that the crisis in education was due entirely to non-British born immigrants and their high birth rates’.” Kemi Badenoch, the Tory MP for Saffron Walden, told the Telegraph she spoke to the Chief Whip “to express my dismay, and I am pleased that decisive action has been taken”. Maidstone MP Helen Grant said she was “so ashamed” that a fellow Tory could use the phrase without knowing its history (and it’s an awful history) or impact.

[*] Lest we forget, Matt Chorley, for The Times Red Box categorised the lady:

Anne Marie Morris – who until this point was best known in the Commons for waving a sling around while wearing Deirdre Barlow’s glasses – used the n-word yesterday at a public meeting.

All of which stirred the Redfellow Hippocampus to two thoughts:

1. How far we have come in my lifetime.

I became politically active in the 1960s — by which I mean I discarded the political attitudes I inherited, and adopted an alternative set. Whether that also means I “started to think for myself” is more debatable.

What did shock was what happened in the 1964 General Election for the Smethwick constituency. It wasn’t that the Tory — against the national swing — took the previously Labour seat. It was how it was achieved. There have been any number of re-drafts of that bit of unpleasantness. At the time it was generally accepted that

  • there was effectively a colour-bar being operated for social housing in the borough, in pubs, youth clubs and social centres;
  • that, officially or not, the Tory campaign was sustained by propaganda such as the leaflet (right) — note that it comes without the “imprint” required by electoral law;
  • that Harold Wilson was entirely justified in declaring the elected Tory a parliamentary leper. Many Tories were deeply uncomfortable about the elected MP as a fellow: even Enoch Powell (whose “rivers of blood” speech came two years later) refused to campaign with him.
  • that the local Trade Union branches and whatever were not beyond reproach.

In our innocence, we — and I include myself explicitly — believed such horrors had gone away. As if …

2. Just how racist is our language?

Put the woodpile (above) aside.

We could quibble about “nitty-gritty” (and many have done). Indeed, almost any use of “black” and “white” could be construed as a racist offence, if one was so determined.

And then there is (sharp intake of breath) “calling a spade a spade”. However that one dates from 1542, and Nicholas Udall translating Erasmus Apophthegmes ii. f. 167:

Philippus aunswered, yt the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.

Erasmus, in turn, was translating Plutarch’s Greek into Latin, and hesitated over a literal rendering of to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough, which some ascribe to Aristophanes. His hesitation might plausibly because “fig”, as the Oxford English Dictionary has as the second meaning:

A contemptuous gesture which consisted in thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers or into the mouth. Also, fig of Spain, and to give (a person) the fig.

Which Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Pistol (Henry V, Act III, scene vi):

Pistol: Die and be damn’d! and figo for thy friendship!
Fluellen: It is well.
Pistol: The fig of Spain!

Preferring the epicene, Udall goes for the horticultural reference. The racial slur dates only from the 1920s, and apparently from New York, and specifically Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem (1927).

And one more to finish

What about “beyond the Pale”?

Note the capital “P’. Any delineated space could be a “pale”. In Ireland it had a specific connotation:

The area of Ireland under English jurisdiction (varying in extent at different times between the late 12th and 16th centuries, but including parts of modern Dublin, Louth, Meath, and Kildare).

By implication, anything “beyond the Pale” would be among the wild Irish. As one who has frequently been called a “West Brit”, I know we have our archipelagic variant of Crow Jim.  Now consider all those places with a district “Irishtown” or even “Irish Street”. Without exception, they will be less favoured, and more down-market. In medieval Dublin, Irishtown was the bit outside the city walls, down to the slob-lands of the River Dodder. Only last week, the Irish Times had this:

A plague of flies of “biblical proportions” has descended upon the Dublin 4 suburbs of Sandymount, Ringsend and Irishtown, according to residents and local businesspeople.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys said he had received “hundreds” of complaints from locals in recent days over the fly infestation, which has forced people to keep their windows shut and resulted in the closure of some businesses.

Tony “Deke” McDonald, who runs Deke’s Diner at the Sean Moore Road roundabout in Ringsend, said the infestation was the worst he had ever seen.

“It started around four or five days ago with a swarm of biblical proportions. People would be used to flies in the summer, but I’ve been running the diner 17 years next week, and I’m 30 odd years in the area, and I’ve never seen the like of it. There [were] hundreds of them.”

It didn’t take more than moments for Dublin wit to crack in, saying Ringsend and Irishtown deserved all they got, for social-climbing and pretension to post-code D4.

Then there’s Louis MacNeice describing:

…. Smoky Carrick in County Antrim
Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams

The little boats beneath the Norman castle,
   The pier shining with lumps of crystal salt;
The Scots Quarter was a line of residential houses
   But the Irish Quarter was a slum for the blind and halt. […]

I was the rector’s son, born to the anglican order,
   Banned for ever from the candles of the Irish poor;
The Chichesters knelt in marble at the end of a transept
   With ruffs about their necks, their portion sure.

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Filed under Belfast, bigotry, Britain, Conservative family values, culture, Dublin., Ireland, Irish Times, New Statesman, Northern Ireland, Paul Waugh, politics, prejudice, Quotations, Racists, Tories., underclass

Cato-tonic economic sabotage

There are different ways to lose one’s head.

Shortly after 9/11 the Washington Post published a piece by Richard W. Rahn of the Cato Institute.

Sorry: did that sets off every fruitcake-warning klaxon? Cato describes itself as:

dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. 

One of its main thrusts is to brief the Supreme Court on its view of what the Founding Fathers would have made of any modern dilemma. The Cato Institute doesn’t blush too deeply when identified as “libertarian” (which worries me none too much), but is a renaming of the erstwhile Charles Koch Foundation, which ought to re-charge and re-energise all those klaxons.

Joseph_Addison_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt_cleanedMore positively, by the name-change the Foundation/Institute was wrapping itself in the toga of Joseph Addison, the supreme Whig essayist of the early eighteenth century.

When I was a student, working towards the Irish Department of Education Leaving Certificate, the essays of Addison, and his mate Richard Steele, were prescribed to us as models for comment, criticism and imitation. That was doubtless derived from the opinion of Doctor Samuel Johnson:

Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.

There’s the “Kit-Kat” portrait of the man himself, by Godfrey Kneller, to the right here.

Addison’s five-act drama, eponymously on Cato the Younger, was the West End hit of 1713 — and went on to even greater success and longer-lasting fame in the American Colonies. So much so, it became a fave of George Washington, who had it performed for the delectation of his troops at Valley Forge, and serially cited it in his orations.

To the main point, Redfellow!

Much of Kahn’s argument could flow as easily from the Taxpayers’ Alliance (which are a styrofoam assemblage, merely right-wing fellow-travellers, without the intellect or clout of the Cato Institute). Let me focus, though, on Kahn’s punchline for that 2011 essay. It was:

Economic saboteurs can only succeed when the public is kept ignorant of their actions by a compliant press and timid foes. It is important that good people be as steadfast in defeating the economic saboteurs as they are with the terrorists.

The economic saboteurs of #Brexit were (and are) the ignoramuses of the Out! campaign who propagated arrant nonsense and deliberate untruths — none more grotesque than the “£50 million a week for the NHS”. That was so blatantly a lie its sponsors were denying it even as the votes were being counted. Beyond the BoJos, the Goves, the Farridges (English: rectè), it took the self-interests of the press lords and lords-in-waiting to perpetrate a stupendous, xenophobic fraud on the general populace. And they all got away with it.

By the way — no: I’m not suggesting the other side were without sin. However, the Remainers were singularly “timid” (Kahn’s word) in answering the excesses lobbed across by the Outers. Even the BBC, in the misguided pursuit of “balance” were reticent in calling the lies for what they objectively were — and are. To describe the Leader of the Opposition as “supine” is a slur on any horizontal human.

In the 1950s, East Germany (then under the jackboot of another ideological cadre) introduced the crime of “economic sabotage”, with the ultimate capital punishment of beheading. Just saying.

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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, economy, EU referendum, High School, History, Literature, Tories., Washington Post

Not seen, but getting heard

 has bragging rights to open threads on Slugger O’Toole, and kicked off a good one:

Ruth Taillon chaired a panel with Dawn Purvis, Martina Devlin and Bernadette McAliskey for a session entitled And where were the women when history was made? at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh.

Note the names already in the frame there.

So I had to have my two cents’ worth, and here for the record it comes:

For a few examples from Easter Week:

  • Mollie Adrian, on her bicycle, shuttled orders and reports between Pearse in the GPO and the Fingal Battalion, so that Thomas Ashe would get the credit.
  • Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh was in command of the Cumann na mBan at Jacob’s factory, from where she had an excellent view of the pounding the GPO was getting.
  • The Cumann na mBan had to be ordered out of the GPO — it took Seán McDermott backing up Pearse before they would agree — late on the Friday morning of Easter week. The first shell arrived soon after their departure.
  • At the Department of Agriculture farm at Athenry, Mellows had about 500 men armed with a total of 35 rifles and 350 shotguns. The women of the Cumann had the local bullocks slaughtered, and made the stew to feed them all — which was about the most positive aspect of Mellows’ “campaign`”.
  • The Kilkenny Cumann were (later) more than tart in their comments about how the menfolk sat around debating, but not actually getting stuck in.
  • Marie Perolz of Inghinidhe na Éireann, on her motor-bike, all the way from Dublin to the brigade in Cork, brought MacCurtain and MacSwiney the orders for the Rising (how the other eight orders got through, I’m not sure).
  • Rose McManners of the Inghinidhe was in the Jameson distillery to observe how clueless MacDonagh was when it came to leadership. When the garrison of 44 men at the South Dublin Union surrendered, and dumped arms, Rose and the other twenty Cumann picked up the weapons and brazenly carted them into the Richmond Street barracks. They got away with it, because the British Army had no women searchers to hand.
  • Kathleen Lynn took command at City Hall after Seán Connolly was killed, and negotiated the surrender of the ICA garrison.
  • Elizabeth O’Farrell, nurse and midwife, of the Cumann na mBan, under fire took the white flag from the GPO to Moore Street, to open the surrender negotiations.

Then, of course, as Kathleen Clarke never stopped complaining, the women of 1916 were largely elided from the record. It’s not they weren’t there, but as Jessica Rabiit said, “I’m just drawn that way”.


As I was posting that, it came to my mind that once — around 1960 — I shook hands with Caitlín Bean Uí Chléirigh.

She was

  • a Sinn Féin TD in the Second Dáil (and spoke against the Treaty in the Great Debate),
  • was on the receiving end of attention (first from the British, then from the Free Staters),
  • was a Fianna Fáil TD for Mid Dublin in the Fifth Dáil, then in the Seanad,
  • then on Dublin Corporation — including being the first woman to be Lord Mayor.
  • To her credit, she was one of the women who despaired of de Valera after the 1937 Constitution re-defined the role of women, and then continued her shift to the left (or, rather, maintained her stand as Fianna Fáil became corporatist and shifted to the right).
  • So, in 1948 she was a candidate for Clann na Poblachta.

By the time I met her, she was definitely out in the leftist fringes. A Great Lady.


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Filed under Dublin., Ireland, politics, Republicanism, Sinn Fein, Slugger O'Toole

Don’t look back

Remember The Go-Between:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

My past has a positive gazetteer of “foreign countries”:

  • In the beginning there was post-War London, with its winter smogs, watching the conductors with their bull’s-eye lamps leading — yes, leading —  trams through the filth of a London particular. And being totally embarrassed by the word “nun” in my father’s The Star crossword. But Londoners had the choice of three evening papers then.
  • There is Wells, Norfolk (see previous posts ad nauseam), where tumbledown flint cottages (yours for hundred quid a throw, or less) became the second-homes for Islingtonians (starting print £350,000 plus).
  • Schull, West Cork, which has suffered a similar fate to north Norfolk, and where I spent a series of mixed-miserable schoolboy-vacations, translating Euripides, swimming among the sea-wrack, and catching a huge pollack (which left the house-cat bloated). And where I was accosted by the Parish Priest and reminded I had not been in church that Sunday. When I protested I was not of his congregation, I was further told that was not the point: I should have been in my church.
  • The light-hearted, golden-age, early-’60s Dublin, where one could eye-ball the likes of Paddy Kavanagh, in the flesh, in his cups, in McDaid’s, for the price of a pint. Now he has a seat by the canal; and the pub has a website.
  • And one particular parenthood (after the other two). This the one we hadn’t expected. Carrying a toddler off the rocking ferry onto Staffa, and across the machair to Fingal’s Cave. Years passing, and having her near-pass out climbing a 13,000 foot peak in the Rockies (she would go on to camp at 18,000 feet in the Himalayas). Then having her escort her ageing Pa past the Spanish Steps, across the Piazza di Spagna, to acknowledge the Keats-Shelley House.

And so on. And so on.

Which brings me to this, in the New York Times. So tell it like it is, Angel Daphne:


I, too, am Eugene Gant. But I can’t look back: my old neck’s too stiff. But I, like Thomas Wolfe, recall my Lycidas:

Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth.

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Filed under County Cork, Dublin., History, Literature, New York Times, travel, Wells-next-the-Sea

Back to the grind

Lots going on, so not lots happening here.

One small matter that has occupied my declining intellect these recent days is my total ignorance of “the Eastern Question”.

It must have occupied my time at school, intruded into those long hours acquiring Leaving Cert History in the dusty rooms of the High School (then at the top of Harcourt Street). Yet … near total mental void.

If pressed, I suppose I could rattle off the good bits of Chesterton:

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.
Being honest, I didn’t manage line 7 to 10 from memory without a prompt. Though that, in itself, may be a brag.


It’s a long while, too, since I read John Julius Norwich’s Short History of Byzantium. That didn’t particularly stay with me, either — unlike his History of Venice, which I still rate as a tour-de-force.

Then along came a thread on, starting from the Dardanelles affair, but rapidly developing. Predictably a general tone was anti-British and, specifically, “let’s get Churchill”. Both of those flavours have something going for them; but simplicity has never been my strong point.

I have had a go, previously here, and on, to try and decipher what actually happened in the run-up to the attempted landing, and the doings of two Irish seamen: Admiral Sir Sackville Carden, from Templemore in the County Tipp, and Admiral John de Robeck, from Naas in the County Kildare.

This re-visit I became more interested in the curious way in which the Turks attached themselves to Berlin.9780805088090So I located David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace, and became much more informed.

Essentially I was unravelling two parallel chronologies:

  • One is happening between the Sublime Porte and Berlin, as the C.U.P./Young Turks have Enver Pasha soliciting an arrangement. Fromkin (writing in the late 1980s) conceded that “details of how the Ottoman Empire and Germany forged their alliance remained obscure” and skates over this in his Chapters 4 and 7.
  • The other is all about doings in the Admiralty in London, with Churchill as First Lord and calling the shots (quite literally).  This is Fromkin’s pages 54-61 and Chapter 6: Churchill seizes Turkey’s Warships.

In 1912 someone in the British naval bureaucracy had come up with contingency plans, in the event of war, to take over any foreign vessels being constructed in British yards. So Churchill could claim he was merely applying a previous decision. Fromkin casts doubts on this:

  • his only source is Churchill himself;
  • in late July 1914, there were other, smaller, ships were being built for Chile, Greece, Brazil and the Netherlands, but the two Ottomans were the sole focus, until the First Sea Lord pointed out a broader picture. On the other hand the two Ottomans were ready for sea: the Reshadieh (later HMS Erin) had been ready for a year, but — incredibly — the Turks didn’t have a dock to receive her.

I found myself making notes, and came up with this:

Towards a meeting of minds

☛ 22 July 1914: Enver Pasha “made his approach” to Hans von Wangenheim. The “approach” was rejected: “Apparently he was unable to persuade the German ambassador that the Ottoman Empire had anything of sufficient value to give in return.” [My stress: it’ll regurgitate.]

What makes me reconsider my assumptions is a recognition that the Ottomans, not the Germans, are making the advances, with the C.U.P./Young Turks — Russians to the north, Bulgarians to the east, Greeks to the south, and Italians messing in the Aegean and North Africa — anxious for a major power protector.

☛ 23 July 1914: the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia. From here until 4 August (when the lines between Central Powers and the Triple Entente are complete) everything seems up-in-the-air.
☛ 24 July 1914: Kaiser Wilhelm II overruled Ambassador von Wangenheim, and declared for an Ottoman alliance “for reasons of expediency”.
☛ 28 July 1914: the Ottoman leaders sent Berlin a draft of a treaty of alliance. It seems that only Prince Said Halim, as Grand Vizier and Foreign Minister, Talaat Bey, the Interior Minister, and Enver Pasha, the War Minister, were in the loop. Despite assurances given to Berlin that the C.U.P./Young Turk Central Committee had approved the offer, the Central Committee and (more significantly) Djamal Pasha, the Minister of the Marine, were kept ignorant.
☛ 28 July 1914: Churchill asks Prince Louis Battenberg (First Sea Lord) and Sir Archibald Moore (Third Sea Lord) to “formulate plans in detail” to seize the two Ottoman ships. Moore asked legal opinion of the Foreign Office, and was told such seizure would be illegal except in case of war itself, with the rider that the Ottomans should be persuaded to sell.
☛ 29 July 1914: the Foreign Office warned the Admiralty that Sultan Osman I was bunkering, and — although not finished out — was preparing for sea. This is when we can be assured the Turks had fully sussed what was happening. Churchill immediately personally ordered the constructors to retain both Ottoman ships, and sent security to guard the vessels and prevent the raising on them of an Ottoman flag (which would secure ownership under international law).
☛ The German Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg had been consistently cool about a deal with the Turks. When the General Staff told him, 31 July 1914, to issue the order to go to war, Bethmann Hollweg was still telling Ambassador von Wangenheim not to sign anything, unless “Turkey either can or will undertake some action against Russia worthy of the name”.
☛ Also 31 July 1914: the business of the Ottoman ships came to Cabinet, which accepted Churchill’s argument in case of war. Churchill sent naval detachments to board the ships. The Ottoman ambassador called at the Foreign Office to demand an explanation, but was told it was all just for the time being.

A busy day

☛ 1 August 1914, midnight: Churchill gave formal written instructions that Moore mobilise the fleet, to Vickers that the two ships had to be detained, while the Admiralty intended negotiations for their purchase. This was the first time Churchill had made any move on those other foreign ships under construction, nearly a week after Moore had drawn them to his attention.

1 August was also the day the Constantinople negotiations came to a head. The Ottomans did not want any kind of active involvement in waging war: the Germans were anxious they should. Even so, an agreement was reached, and signed the following day (2 August). Article 8 was an obligation that the treaty remain an absolute secret. Article 4 gave the C.U.P./Young Turks the assurance they required: “Germany obligates itself, by force of arms if need be, to defend Ottoman territory”. Turkey would remain neutral between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarians: curiously the wording seems to allow the Turks not to intervene under any treaty between Germany and Austro-Hungary, while allowing the German military mission to exercise “effective influence” over the Turkish army.

There were some very peculiar doings this day, not least over the Sultan Osman I. Much later a document emerged that shows on 1 August Enver and Talaat had offered von Wangenheim that Turkey would hand over the ship to Germany. British intelligence reported, a fortnight later, that the Kaiserliche Marine had been salivating over the potential addition to the fleet, and very severely discountenanced when Churchill forestalled it.

Who’s the sucker here?

Of course, in making that seductive, possibly decisive — but essentially empty — offer, the anything of sufficient value to give in return, Enver Pasha knew the British had seized the ship.

Now it becomes just “fall-out”

☛ 3 August 1914: the Admiralty began those formal negotiations to acquire the two ships. A Foreign Office cable was received in Constantinople that evening. By that stage, the Ottoman government had ordered general mobilisation, but also declared neutrality. The treaty with Germany remained a deep secret, and Enver Pasha was still suggesting Turkey might combine with the Triple Entente.
☛ 4 August 1914: Sir Edward Grey further telegraphed the Turkish government, saying he was sure the Turks would understand the British position (!) and offered “further consideration” to appropriate compensation.

And that, folks, is how an old man profitably occupies a weekend afternoon.

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The “not-so-good and not-so-great” revisited

Well, to be honest, I’ve lost count on this irregular series. Yet, today I need a peg to hang a hat on:


I see, on the shelf behind me, three of Anne Leonard’s oeuvres, in grander company than they deserve:


In either incarnation, as myself or as pseudonym, I do not appear in any. My circle at TCD in the early 1960s was as active, as interesting, as complex, as talented (if not more so) as that exclusive world of ex-pat, West Brit jeunesse dorée she celebrates. Where she, and her set, mentally resided (mainly in Kensington and the English Home Counties, with the odd baronial pad), we were merely the spear-carriers, the walk-on parts, who flitted across the screen to add texture.

No, Ms Leonard, MBE; no, Colin Smythe (writing that Irish Times puff-piece), yours is not the Trinity I remember:

Trinity was more like an Oxbridge college than a university: you could know “everyone”. And this is what Anne Leonard has shown us in her three volumes, the most recent, Portrait of an Era, a superb visual record of what Trinity was like in the 1960s, with essays and photos by students of students, of scholars, of staff, of President de Valera, of events, cars, fashion, Players, Trinity Week, Dublin pubs, sport, porters in their archaic uniforms, a time when all male students dressed in jacket and tie, and women only wore dresses, men living in college having to attend Commons in their black gowns every weeknight, and when roll calls preceded each lecture and all students had to attend six sevenths of those given in each seven-week term.

The reason for that is my Trinity was definitively in Dublin, in Ireland, and not semi-adjacent to the Kings’s Road. We were not wholly taken by cars, fashion, Players, Trinity Week. Actually, one year we had our own anti-Ball party, which (as I recall) involved drinking bottled beer in the Dublin mountains and watching the sun-rise over Dun Laoghaire. I admit I had a tie, and wore it occasionally — though my “jacket” may have been a donkey-jacket.

Far more TCD students at that time were Irish and Northern Irish than Ms Leonard, MBE, cares to recognise. Our concerns and interests were not exclusively English.

Most of us could not afford the rents of rooms in College: mine was a cold-water flat in a Ballsbridge basement (sanitary arrangements irregular, but hat-tip to the Edwardian bath-house off Botany Bay). We used bars which were not the Bailey or the International: mine was the corner bar of O’Neill’s in Suffolk Street. We ate at joints like the Universal Chinese restaurant in Wicklow Street, when we could afford to — and bread-and-processed cheese when we couldn’t. We travelled by Dublin Corporation bus. We swilled endless quantities of Maxwell House instant coffee. We argued incessantly about things that mattered: Cuba, Irish membership of the EEC, CND, the Black North under the Brookelborough mal-administration.

While Ms Leonard, MBE, and her associates and supporting Players, everyone der biedere Mann, reckoned Max Frisch and The Fire Raisers were the last word on world politics, the TCD Fabians were involved in the Universities Branch of the (Irish) Labour Party, and even reaching out to the assorted odd-balls of Queen’s Labour Group.

Ms Leonard, MBE, writes about her little self-anointed élite: they were, and as these books show, more effete.

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Filed under Dublin., History, Irish Labour, Irish politics, Irish Times, Trinity College Dublin