Category Archives: Seamus Heaney

How local?

The New York Times looks at the Shutdown in Washington in the context of the Virginian Gubernatorial election:

With 170,000 federal employees in Virginia and 30 percent of the economy of Northern Virginia dependent on government spending, no state has more to lose from a government shutdown than this one.

And the first concrete gauge of the political fallout may play out here, where a governor’s race that had been dominated by the weakness of the two candidates now seems to be focused on the question of which party will take the blame.

With the election just 34 days away, the issue increasingly is raising risks for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican, who is worriedly trying to keep voters angry at Washington Republicans from taking it out on him.

All (and the rest of that piece by Trip Gabriel) doubtless very valid.

The niggle it raises in Malcolm’s mind is: to what extent do national issues rub off at the local level?

There obviously is a chasm of difference between, say, the 3.75 million accredited votes in Virginia in the 2012 Presidential Election, and the 394 who turned out last week for the Way Ward of Mid Devon District Council. On quantum alone, one is statistically suggestive, and the other is … not.

Even so, we can draw some inferences:

  • There something odd about Virginia returning eight Republican Congressmen (and they are all men) out of eleven Districts, when Obama carried the State by a twinge over his national rating. Only back in 1982 was the disparity so great.
  • Admittedly, the Democrat vote seems heavily concentrated in places like Hampton Roads and Fairfax County (which, incidentally, has the highest family income anywhere in the nation).
  • There does seem to be an issue to be addressed about balancing the Districts. The GOP intended to gerrymander even worse, and ran into serious problems therewith.
  • The State is dividing, as the liberal north moves Democrat, while the south remains highly conservative and Republican. It is in the northern part that the population is growing, and now comprises as much as a third of the electorate.
  • Despite all that, the GOP grip continues to tighten:


  • An outsider might begin to mutter “fix”.

That is incidental to that niggle in Malcolm’s mind

It’s quite illogically logical for voters to go different directions locally and nationally. There is a natural propensity to be “awkward”, or to look for “balance”. More than half of Greater London’s constituencies (38 of the 73) stayed with Labour in 2010 (and that was a “bad” year). Then in the 2012 Mayoral (generally, a pretty “good” year for Labour), Boris Johnson was near on 4% ahead of Ken Livingstone.

As for the surge of UKIPpers in May 2013 (up to 23% nationally, and 139 additional councillors), we still don’t know if that was a freak (current polling seems about 10%, but doing far better in local elections), or a more enduring presence. UKIP, in any case, seems to be the “Up yours!” vote (which, at least, is an improvement on the BNP, the previous recipients). By all accounts the “Up yours” tendency will be a strong flavour in the European Parliamentary election next year — though, surely, Labour must improve on its derisory 15.7% of 2009.

Let’s apply all this to the four million voters in Scotland

A couple of curious statistics there:

On December 1, 2012:

  • 4.06 million people were registered to vote in the local government and Scottish Parliament elections – an increase of 54,795 (1.4 per cent) compared to December 1, 2011, the highest level recorded since local government boundaries were revised in 1996.
  • 3.99 million people were registered to vote in UK Parliament elections – an increase of 43,665 (1.1 per cent);
  • 3.99 million people were registered to vote in elections to the European Parliament, an increase of 43,489 (1.1 per cent).

The Scottish General Record Office adds a further caveat to that:

  • During the same period [2009-12], the number of European Union (EU) citizens registered to vote in local government and Scottish Parliament elections rose by 11,114 to 79,063 (16.4 per cent). This is likely to underestimate the total number of EU citizens resident in Scotland, since many may not register. Latest estimates put the number of EU citizens from continental Europe living in Scotland at around double that number.

So, Mr Salmond: one in every fifty of the voters in the Referendum will be Europeans, rather than Scots. And four more of those fifty are English-born. We are already accounting for 10% of the Scottish electorate.

For the BBC, just a couple of weeks back, John Curtice ran his slide-rule over the present polling:


The Curtice slide-rule may have an electric smoothing attachment, for his conclusion is:

… the best measure of the balance of public opinion – the average ratings for the Yes and the No side across all of the recent polls – looks much the same now as it did a year ago.

The Yes side’s average poll rating currently stands at 33%, while the No side has a score of 50%. Around 17% say they do not know or are unsure about what they will do.

If we leave the Don’t Knows to one side, that suggests that if the referendum were being held today rather than next year, 60% of people would vote to stay in the United Kingdom while 40% will vote for Scotland to become an independent country.

That is a little better for the Yes side than the equivalent figures for those polls that were conducted earlier this year, which on average gave Yes 38% and No 62%.

That is a bit of a come-down for Salmond and the SNP: in May 2011 the SNP took 45.4% of the constituency vote. It is more credible that the SNP excess-of-2011 over where-they-are-now isn’t disillusion among Nationalists, but that on local issues and for local candidates a significant number of Unionist votes were lent to the SNP.

By the by, if there’s anything crooked about Districting in the State of Virginia, it’s straight stuff compared to Scotland: on just 32.7% of the vote, Labour took 35 of the 73 constituency seats (though that was “remedied” by the Regional Seats.

[For the record, Malcolm happily voted “No!” in the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum, not because of partisan bias, but because it didn’t offer, by any stretch of the imagination “proportional representation”.]

In the meanwhile, for an Election addict, like Malcolm, the Virginian Gubernatorial is the juiciest low-hanging fruit. And — happily — it shows good promise of being a dirty one:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign is launching Facebook ads targeting Virginia’s substantial federal worker population that attack Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) for the federal government shutdown.

“There are 150,000 federal employees in Virginia,” read the Web ads. “Why is Ken Cuccinelli standing with the Tea Party on the government shutdown?”

The ads target federal workers in Northern Virginia, where nearly one third of the economy relies on the federal government, and in the military-heavy Hampton Roads region. 

The shutdown could have a severe impact on Virginia’s economy, and stands to become a major campaign issue with one month left to go until the election.


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Filed under Boris Johnson, Britain, Elections, Europe, Ken Livingstone, Labour Party, London, Salmond, Scotland, Seamus Heaney, Tories., UKIP, US Elections, US politics

The lute continues

Orpheus with his lute made treesFair enough: bad translation and, if you didn’t get it (La lutte continue!), a despicably worse pun.

Anyway, (right) there’s Orpheus and his lute, charming the birds and the bees.

That’s the way we are going.

The other lutte, on Slugger O’Toole (see previous post) had an after-shock. The powers-that-be (i.e. Mick Fealty, the boss himself) were less than convinced by Malcolm’s midnight matinee on the topic of Larry Humphrey and his nolle timere.

So Malcolm tried another, and — he feels — all-conquering sally.

But first …

Anglican night-shirts and neckwear

Malcolm fully appreciates that unreconstructed Romanists (you know who you are!) fail to appreciate the theological implications of Anglian clerical dress. Nor recognise it is a symbolic matter down to the present day.

High or Low Church, the storm warnings are all in the clobber:

  • Pay particular attention to the pectoral cross: its absence is an awful premonition and warning of guitars and dancing in the aisle.
  • Don’t expect a decent bash at the 1662 Prayer Book if the M&S shirt replaces the decent stock.
  • Style 728X Clergy Latin Single Breasted cassock is a sure-fire guarantee that none of that awkward hand-shaking and “sharing of the peace” has to be endured.

Then, more politically, did you not observe, along with Mr Andrew Marr’s Sabbath return, Archbishop Sentamu missing dog-collar (and, as of the last few weeks, Malcolm’s Yorkie Metropolitan)?


Do you not appreciate why?

Now for the Classical bit, with added buttons

Similarly with the serious grammatical matter of nolle+ following infinitive. Despite the trivial protests of Rory Carr at Slugger O’Toole (see 3 September 2013 at 11:23 am), this is an accepted Latin construction, particularly so with poets needing to fill a tum-titty, tum-titty hexameter line.

More to the point, it is one with which Heaney was familiar. Let Malcolm direct all comers to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book ten, lines 38-39:

Quod si fata negant veniam pro coniuge, certum est
Nolle redire mihi: leto caudate duorum.

Orpheus1858[1]Non-Latinists and the less-classically attuned should still recognise the story of Orpheus and Euridice, nobly celebrated by Herr Gluck. Then, in a degenerated later age, it was bouffe(d) by M. Offenbach in a deplorably leg-show manner).

 [If you clicked that last hotlink, and your speaker cones blew out around 1:25, don’t blame Malcolm. The poster — as right — should have provided as ample a warning as the previously-noted down-market gear of the Evangelical minister.]

If your Latin isn’t up to Ovid, try Dryden’s version (who never fails for Malcolm):

But if the destinies refuse my vow,
And no remission of her doom allow;
Know, I’m determin’d to return no more;
So both retain, or both to life restore.

The drafts of Heaney’s rendering of that Ovid episode are lodged at the National University of Ireland. If you still don’t get the implications, recall that Heaney celebrated Marie’s and his honeymoon (in London) in The Underground:

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

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Filed under London, Northern Ireland, Quotations, reading, Religious division, Seamus Heaney, Slugger O'Toole

Timor mortis conturbat me?


Scottish Chaucerians didn’t loom large, if at all, on Malcolm’s High School reading. So he came late to William Dunbar:

I that in heill was and gladnèss
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmity: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance here is all vain glory, 
This fals world is but transitory,
The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

The state of man does change and vary,
Now sound, now sick, now blyth, now sary, 
Now dansand mirry, now like to die: —
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

No state in Erd here standis sicker;
As with the wynd wavis the wicker
So wannis this world’s vanity: — 
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

lament copy

Dunbar then goes on, ticking off all his dead fellow poets, from Chaucer through to Henrysoun (with others, including himself, queuing at the exit door). The consolation is the creative artist leaves a legacy.

Consolatio Philosophiae

Yes, those who know their Great Detective stories of former years will recognise Michael Innes’s 1938 Appleby novel Lament for a Maker

Death, its imminence and its consequence play long in the late Medieval period — especially among the dour Scots.

A century later, and southwards things get more cheerfully sanguine:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; 
The valiant never taste of death but once. 
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard
It seems to me most strange that men should fear; 
Seeing that death, a necessary end, 
Will come when it will come.

Even then [Julius Caesar, Act II, scene ii], the eponymous central character self-revealingly follows with:

[Re-enterosses every social and denominational divide for one of theswr Servant] 
What say the augurers?

Now to Heaney

They didn’t hang about getting the ol’ soul under six feet of Derry earth. Anyway, all Four Provinces of Ireland know how to do a good funeral. The Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook got two bites of the cherry: the Removal on Sunday and the obsequies proper on the following day. Then it was the home-coming. Rural Ireland crosses every social and denominational divide for one of these:

Spade. Rake. Shovel. They stood under the ash and sycamore trees, beside the plot Heaney had chosen for himself. These were the kind of tools Heaney celebrated in his poems, particularly in Digging, the first poem in his first book, Death of a Naturalist.

“They dug it deep enough anyway,” one Bellaghy man observed in the early afternoon of yesterday, looking down into the open grave with an approving, critical eye. It was the remark of one who recognised the skill in the most basic and yet most meaningful job of digging a man ever has to do.

Solitary piper

At 5pm exactly, a solitary piper stepped out on to the main street of Bellaghy village, leading the funeral cortege of three cars – and the hundreds of people who followed. They were of every age. They came on foot, in buggies and on crutches. As the cortege came to the corner of Castle Street, the PSNI officer controlling traffic saluted sharply.

It was the most public of burials for the most private of men. Even in death, Seamus Heaney chose to be generous; his burial in St Mary’s Church was shared by his family with the thousands of others who lined the route from the village and silently filled the churchyard.

When Heaney won the Nobel Prize in 1995, the Farmers’ Journalheadline was a marvel of understatement: “Bellaghy celebrates as farmer’s son wins top literary award.” Yesterday, Bellaghy was in mourning for its famous farmer’s son: the Nobel laureate who chose to come home to be buried with his people. In months and years and generations to come, people not yet born will seek out this small village to the east of Lough Neagh, with the sole purpose of visiting Heaney’s grave.

Rosita Boland giving due measure for the Irish Times.

Meanwhile, in the shrubbery something rustles …

There has been, inevitably, an extended thread on Slugger O’Toole. We’d all said our bits, and the thing was Petering out (thus: it had been instigated by Pete Baker) until the matter of Heaney’s final cyber-utterance emerged, and the usually-reliable and politically-admirable Rory Carr intervened with:

I read today that Séamus Heaney’s final message to his wife was a ‘phone text that read simply, “Nolle timere“. I suspect that Heaney, who was pretty familiar with his Latin is more likely to have written, “Noli timere” which correctly translates as, “Be not afraid,” when addressing a single person, as he was in this instance, (or “Nolite timere when addressing more than one person) and that the reporters got it wrong. In Latin poetry we sometimes find the construction, “Ne Time (singular) or Ne timete” (plural”).

Sound enough, but bound to cause the like of Malcolm to niggle. Sure enough, he did. And this is a version of what ensued:

Nolle timere!

This is going to smell of the lamp, for indeed it took a bit of midnight study. It is, possibly relevant to nolle timere. Eventually.

HumphreyLet us start with the curious character, Laurence Humphrey (c.1525-1589) — Elizabethan scholar, divine and university administrator (as seen, right, on his memorial at Magdalen College, Oxford). He was a protagonist in the evolving nature of the reformed Church of England — particularly over such matters as the wearing of ecclesiastical robes.

By 1561 Humphrey was president of Magdalen and the leading theological doctor of the university. Magdalen was a hotbed of religious controversy, with the robing issue being the hot topic. Humphrey had already been arraigned before Archbishop Parker at Lambeth Palace, and obliged to conform to Parker’s demand that vestments were of no consequence, and could be a matter of official edict — Humphrey (along with Dean Thomas Sampson of Christchurch, Oxford, the main dissenters) cryptically agreed to sign Parker’s agreement, both adding that, if “all things were lawful, all things were not expedient”.

Queen Elizabeth (25 Jan 1565) then ordered that the rites and dignities of her church (including vestments) be maintained. Parker, properly suspicious, sent a commission to Magdalen to be assured of the proper wearing of vestments. On 26 February 1565 we find most of the fellows of Magdalen in full revolt, complaining that only the Bishop of Winchester had jurisdiction, and refusing to wear vestments. The dispute rumbled on for the next year or so — Sampson was removed from his position at Christchurch, and Humphrey survived, but only through the support of Dudley, the newly-coined Earl of Leicester, and the Duke of Norfolk.

Elizabeth herself took enough interest in the doings to make a royal progress to Oxford in August 1566. She pointedly commended Humphrey on how he was suited by his doctoral gown. More to the point, since Humphrey was now a family man, he needed the income and slithered into line — becoming vice-chancellor (again through the Leicester’s intervention) of the University in 1571.

So on 11 Sep 1575, Vice-chancellor Humphrey is preaching before the Queen at Woodstock, and in honour of the occasion, knocks off a few lines of verse, happily preserved by Google books. See page 585 for this:

Hactenus afflavit Zephyrus, fuit aura secunda,
Spes est: mox portum, qui bene solvit, habet.
At mare fluctisonum est, Syrtes, Pirata, Charybdis,
Saxa latent, scopulos nolle timere, furor.

How all that might (or more likely might not) be a relevant analogy for the Big-enders and Little-enders of Irish politics and religious disputation, Malcolm would hesitate to pursue.

However, allow him an essay at rendering into English:

So far the West Wind has blown, and a breeze followed, there is hope: then there’s a port (to enter), which suits well [that bit seems arsy-versy]. Yet the sea roars with waves — sandbanks, corsairs, Charybdis, rocks lurk, fear not the reefs, the storm.

4poetsAt which ‘Hold on’, cries he!

This is going right back to Heaney’s beginning, and Hobsbaum’s Belfast Group.

Try Storm on the Island, and its enigmatic final line:

But there are no trees, no natural shelter.
You might think that the sea is company,
Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs
But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits
The very windows, spits like a tame cat
Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo,
We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.

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Filed under Detective fiction, Dublin, fiction, High School, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, Literature, Quotations, reading, Religious division, Scotland, Seamus Heaney, Shakespeare, Slugger O'Toole

What’s in a name?

… That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Juliet’s soliloquy, (II, ii, 44-45), of course and now so clichéed as to need an occasional reference for respectability.

And then there’s the vexed question of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. In English, this is “Northern Ireland”  — though the most northernly part of Ireland is Malin Head, which is in Donegal — and so, in the parlance, paradoxically in the “South”. Nor, of course, is a Northern Irishman exclusively an “Ulsterman” — because Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan are in the ancient province of Ulaidh, but are not in Northern Ireland.

My passport’s green

MorrisonMotionEven among the northern (missing capital deliberately so — see more on this below) Irish there is no agreement on what one is: British? Irish? Northern Irish? Ulster Scots? When Penguin Books included Seamus Heaney with Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian and Paul Muldoon, in the The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, he was the one who famously objected:

Don’t be surprised if I demur, for, be advised
My passport’s green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast The Queen.

He made up for it, though, at Dublin Castle in May 2011.

The People with No Name

k7173That is the title of a fine book by Patrick Griffin, in Malcolm’s view the best account of the Ulster protestant diaspora who occupied and extended the Western frontier of the American colonies. It is subtitled: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764.

The opening paragraph of that book illustrates the nominal confusions with a variety of names:

BETWEEN 1718 and 1775, more than 100,000 men and women journeyed from the Irish province of Ulster to the American colonies. Their migration represented the single largest movement of any group from the British Isles to British North America during the eighteenth century. In a first wave beginning in 1718 and cresting in 1729, these people outnumbered all others sailing across the Atlantic, with the notable exception of those bound to the New World in slave ships. By sheer force of numbers, this earliest generation of migrants had a profound influence on the great transformations of the age. Even before they left Ulster, they contributed to the triumph of the Protestant cause in Ireland, paving the way for an unprecedented extension of English power into the kingdom. They also figured prominently in the British transatlantic trading system by producing linen, one of the most important commodities exchanged throughout the empire. Sailing when they did, Ulster’s Presbyterian migrants played a formative role in the transition from an English to a British Atlantic. Before their migration, Puritans and adventurers leaving England during the seventeenth century for the North American mainland and the Caribbean dominated the transatlantic world. After men and women from Ulster boarded ships for America, the cultural parameters of the Atlantic broadened, as they and thousands of land-hungry voyagers from the labor-rich peripheries of the British Isles sought their fortunes in a vast, underpopulated New World. In America, Ulster’s men and women again had a hand in a number of defining developments of the period, including the displacement of the continent’s indigenous peoples, the extension of the frontier, the growth of ethnic diversity, and the outbreak of religious revivals. In the abstract, therefore, the group contributed to the forces and processes that dwarfed the individual but yoked together disparate regions into a broad Atlantic system.

The editor of Gaelscéal, Ciarán Dunbar, has picked up Griffin’s essential thesis, inverted it, and now puts up a ruminative thread on Slugger O’Toole:

Whilst working on Gaelscéal on Tuesday last I realized that I did not know the correct Irish term for ‘Northern Irish,’ so I quickly checked, the ‘National Terminology Database’ for Irish.

That was a fruitless journey for they had no such term, I requested they provide one.

The term was one I have strangely never needed in Irish and I have never thought about it to date.

On the day, we simply used the English term in single speech marks.

That night I heard two terms used on TG4, ‘Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh’, agus ‘Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha’, both translating into English as  ‘Northern Irish’ but with a subtle difference in meaning in Irish which the English doesn’t capture.

One implies a mere geographical distinction, the other, perhaps, a clear political distinction.

A meaningless distinction for most but one could argue that constitutional  future of the Northern Ireland state rests on this distinction, whether the Northern Irish are ‘Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh’ or ‘Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha’ at the end of the day.

Malcolm queries whether English cannot capture precisely the distinction between Tuaisceart-Éireannaigh, and Éireannaigh Thuaisceartacha by doing what he did above: capitalising or not the “n” of “northern”.


Beyond that, the thread provided Malcolm with a bit of further diversion, the Latin version of wikipedia. Yes, indeed: there is one — even if somewhat abbreviated for the present. And here is its definitive statement on the topic:

Hibernia Septentrionalis, quondam (H)ultonia (AngliceNorthern IrelandHiberniceTuaisceart Éireann) est provincia in Hibernia et Regno Britanniarum. Caput est Belfastium et dux gubernationis est Petrus Robinson; ille est dux factionis civilis qui appellatur Factio Unionistarum Democratica. Successit Reverendum Ioannem Paisley, qui abdicavit in Iunio 2008. Proconsul est Martinus McGuinness. Ille est membrum factionis civilis Sinn Fein (Latine: Nos Ipsi), olim dux Exercitus Republicani Hibernici.

Apart from stroking Malcolm’s self-esteem (that even after half-a-century, his TCD Latin, ever so rusty, can still cope), there were several amusements in that.

One was Máirtín Mag Aonghusa transmogrified from the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland into the far more concise, even poetic, ‘proconsul’. Which instantly directed Malcolm’s butterfly mind to Kipling:

Years betweenThe overfaithful sword returns the user
His heart’s desire at price of his heart’s blood.
The clamour of the arrogant accuser
Wastes that one hour we needed to make good
This was foretold of old at our outgoing;
This we accepted who have squandered, knowing,
The strength and glory of our reputations
At the day’s need, as it were dross, to guard
The tender and new-dedicate foundations
Against the sea we fear — not man’s award.

The subject there was originally Sir Alfred Milner, who was the British High Commissioner in South Africa during the Boer War. The “Oh, gosh!” thing is, stripping from one context to the other, the elevation of  Máirtín to ‘proconsul’ almost works.

“Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”

Moving swiftly on, there is the conceit of Petrus Robinson, dux Factionis Unionistarum Democraticae (3rd declension, feminine: genitive case!). Thus rendering the DUP into Latin gives us the acronym FUD:

generally a strategic attempt to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavorable opinions and speculation about a competitor’s product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

In the case of the DUP, precisely.

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Filed under DUP, Ireland, Literature, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, Rudyard Kipling, Seamus Heaney, Slugger O'Toole, Trinity College Dublin, Troubles, United States

Browne study

Bishop Michael Browne of Galway would almost qualify as a “not-so-great and not-so-good” had not “Bill” done a previous, and better hatchet-job:

Michael Browne was catholic bishop of Galway in from 1937 to 1976 and seemed to exemplify everything that was wrong with the church… He was among those who led the hierarchy’s objections toNoël Browne’s mother and child health scheme. He supported a boycott of protestant businesses in Co. Wexford during a dispute over a protestant woman married to a catholic man who refused to educate her children at the local catholic school. He described Trinity College Dublin as “a centre for atheist and communist propaganda”. He forced the segregation of the sexes on Galway beaches. He seemed so perpetually angry that his episcopal signature — “† Michael” – was popularly rendered as “Cross Michael”. He supervised the construction of a grandiose new cathedral in Galway that local wits dubbed the “Taj Micheáil” (pronounced Meehaul).

That post also involves the late Brian Trevaskis, a perverse and interesting character who was a feature of TCD, overlapping Malcolm’s time.

{9D2643CF-FC87-4117-8002-F730D2E33175}Img100The Fethard-on-Sea business was nasty in the extreme, and contributed mightily to the sectarian prejudices of Northern Protestants well after the original episode. Tim Fanning’s The Fethard-on-Sea Boycott is probably the fullest account. A summary of the main events is on Gareth Russell’s blog.

Anyone of a fair mind (and even other) would surely recognise that Browne was off-piste in oh-so-many ways. Or, “The Irish bishop stands on ceremony and sits on everybody,”as Seán O Faoláin put it. However, let’s pass on all that.

Going through the motions

Once upon a shitty time, when Galway hadn’t made much effort to filter its effluents, that was the experience of swimming in Galway Bay. To be strictly honest, across the city and county, there remain ample opportunities for improving water-quality. In 2007 it was cryptosporidium. In 2008 it was levels of lead. In 2011 it was oily waste. In 2012, e-coli.

Anyway, allegedly Bishop Browne liked to swim. Unencumbered by swimming costume. And to air himself in the Galwegian sunshine thereafter. Doubtless among males of similar disposition. He had a sign put up on the beach at Salthill, prohibiting women therefrom.

Elsewhere Bishop Browne was very much against any mixing of the sexes, even clothed, on beaches:

“Everywhere has changed in my life time”, [Christie Moore] says. “I remember Galway winning three-in-a-row; the Bishop of Galway banning “mixed bathing” — the dirty minded bollocks; Des Kelly and The Capitol being Number 1 in The Irish Charts; when there was only one De Danann; Michael D presenting me with a platinum disc; Moving Hearts falling asunder in St.Patrick’s Hall, and reforming two hours later in The Skeff.”

Out of the strange came forth sweetness

170px-Lyle'sGoldenSyrupWhich isn’t quite how Judges 14:14 has it, nor (as is better known in every British kitchen to the present day) how it appears on the Tate & Lyle golden syrup tin. Yet it has a relevance here.

Bishop Browne’s prurience was the contrarian inspiration for an early Seamus Heaney poem, Girls Bathing, Galway 1965:

The swell foams where they float and crawl,
A catherine-wheel of arm and hand.
Each head bobs curtly as a football.
The yelps are faint here on the strand.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth. The breakers pour

Themselves into themselves, the years
Shuttle through space invisibly.
Where crests unfurl like creamy beer
The queen’s clothes melt into the sea

And generations sighing in
The salt suds where the wave has crashed
Labour in fear of flesh and sin
For the time has been accomplished

As through the swallows in swimsuits,
Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.
So Venus comes, matter-of-fact.

That now appears by the Galway Bay Hotel, opposite the beach — still ‘the Ladies’ Beach’ — on the Salthill Promenade, one of half-a-dozen bronze plaques celebrating poems along the Cúirt Literary Trail.

The poem seems  superficially a slight thing, almost a piece of juvenilia. That’s Heaney’s deception: it anticipates so much of what Heaney’s later work would become. It is highly complex in its allusions and, appropriately in this context, in its undertow.

The incident is, on one level, from Marie and Seamus’s honeymoon.

The form is almost a ballad: quatrains of four-stresses to the line. There is the characteristic Heaney conflation of past and present, the classic and the work-a-day: So Venus comes, matter-of-fact. The implied visual references include Botticelli’s Nascita di Venere and St Catherine with her wheel: that, along with in fear of flesh and sin, must imply continuing martyring of women in Browne’s gynophobia.

Strange meeting

Grace and ElizabethThere is is the nod to Irish tradition and history: the pirate queen in battle clothes is Gráinne Ní Mháille/Grace O’Malley/Granuaile/The Sea-Queen of Connacht.

Gráinne, another woman of strength, is depicted in the frontispiece to Anthologia Hibernica, no humble suppliant. She had been summoned  in  September 1593, to Greenwich to  encounter Elizabeth I. The Queen acquiesced with all of Grace’s demands — to the profound disgust of Richard Bingham, Lord President of Connacht, who regarded her as nurse to all rebellions in the province for this forty years.

All that without the implicit physical sexuality: Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed.

Bishop Browne knew not what he had provoked.

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Wish you all adieu

There is a world out there, beyond spats about immigration.

For the next couple of weeks, Malcolm will be elsewhere.

The elsewhere will be via JFK, NYC, DC and Thanksgiving in Noo Joisey.

With luck it will involve substantial sampling of craft ales, book-stores, diners (the US’s gracious gift to international cuisine, and rarely matched), decent music (Mona’s in the East Village is inked into the agenda), a bit of family familiarity, along with the odd novel (real and literary) experience. In there somewhere will be thirst-slaking at  the Old Town Bar  — if only because, one celebrated afternoon, unshorn and weary, sitting beneath the image of Frank McCourt and other worthies, Malcolm was accosted by a pasty and insipid youth and asked was he Famous Seamus.

Redfellow Hovel will be left in full charge of he who answers to the code number of 1690: the password is “No Surrender”. That’s no joke: his name is Ken. He left just that message on the Redfellow answerphone when “The Troubles” were at their height. For months afterwards, there were strange clicks and quiverings whenever anyone else ‘phoned. Can’t think why.

So, this evening, Malcolm has been filling the iPod to get him from here to there and back. Just let’s hope that he doesn’t disgrace himself on AA107 if the iPod spills out Phil Coulter’s Scorn Not His Simplicity — 

Or (as is more likely) Luke Kelly’s angstier rendition:

It cracks him wide open every time. For a good reason.

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Rolling the yule log

It’s that time again: the seasonal book lists, “best books of 2010”, “what we read this year”.

So, immediately after signing off that previous post:

Some pretensions to literacy: just like Malcolm

the reality came back to haunt him.

He picked up the current issue of the Times Literary Supplement and started through its Books of the Year (just don’t forget those authoritative capitals). Some sixty-five eminent bods (it says here, and seems to tally), over seven pages, expiate on what turned each one on. There is repetition:

I very much enjoyed and admired Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto)

says A.S.Byatt. Jonathan Bate is more effusive:

Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto) is a beautiful piece of writing, mixing family memoir, cultural history, travel narrative and nuanced observation of miniature curiosities (his inherited collection of netsuke) in a style suggestive of Sebald without the gloom.

Among others, Michael Howard (no, not the political one) joins in and goes overboard for this as:

the book, not of the year, but of the decade.

Harrumph! Anyone for navel-gazing, however nuanced, and suspenders for Japanese pouches?

What really gave Malcolm the glooms, Sebaldian or not, was his growing recognition of seemingly how little he had read of such recent worth. He had missed out, among others, on Felipe Fernández-Armemesto’s choice:

the chef Fabio Picchi’s Senza vizi e senza sprechi (Monddadori) — a culinary memoir that makes most British celebrity cooks look like idiots.

Funny that: Malcolm hadn’t realised it needed Italian comparisons to demonstrate so self-evident a truism. Indeed, Malcolm had reached D for Richard Davenport-Hynes and F for Roy Foster before he found points of recognition.

Davenport-Hynes is boosting Graham Robb’s Parisians: An adventure history of Paris. Now, in Maclolm’s ‘umble opinion that really is a juicy read. It’s not just the information and the opinion it provides, there’s the entertainment value on top — delicious pastiche of literary periods and forms. It’s already out in paperback, and deserves to sell in truckloads.

Foster starts where he is best, on the island:

A disastrous year for the Irish economy, but a very good one for Irish poetry. Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain (Faber) was dazzling: full of three-word lines that light up like a flick of a switch, conveying a haunting preoccupation with the borderlands between this world and the next.

Why the past tense (“was dazzling”), Roy? Later on in this catalogue of wonders, Bernard O’Donoghue also gives Famous Shamus a nod. Somewhere between those two, G for Peter Green devotes his three paragraphs to Donna Leon and Commissario Brunetti’s latest Venetian outing (number nineteen, and Malcolm has every one, in sequence, on a garret shelf) in A Question of Belief. Amid all this pretentiousness and log-rolling, Green comes on like a boy scout’s simple good deed in an affected world:

… the stench of the canals in a broiling August carries its miasma of judicial corruption, homophobia (leading to murder), and red tape. Smooth-talking astrologers prey on elderly ladies. While his delightful family cools off on an Alpine vacation, Brunetti himself (reading Marcus Aurelius) is recalled to sweat out the murder investigation and what lies beneath its surface. Leon’s unique mixture of sadly cynical realpolitik and heartfelt moral compassion has never been shown to better effect. She is a truly fine novelist, period, and should be acclaimed as such.

Cheers to that, says Malcolm.

Leon’s spring annual is a treat to be anticipated. Malcolm will have it on pre-order.

Fiction seems in small regard among the stratospheric literati, with an exception for Peter Carey (that regular Booker-listee). Do these great minds at the TES not take time off for faux-simple joys such as Leon? If so, they might then extend to the likes of Philip Kerr and his Bernie Gunther in their diet. Why (excluding the obvious objection of being “popular”), as far as Malcolm can see, did le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor or C.J.Sansom’s Heartstone not make someone’s list?

Clearly, Malcolm knows little about art, but he knows what he likes.

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