Tag Archives: Dublin

The not-so-great and not-so-good: Usshering in another year

May I remind all denizens of planet Earth, and beyond, that today, 22nd October, is our universe’s 6,018th birthday?

That, of course, is according to Archbishop Ussher. Our natal moment will be 6 p.m. Adam’s and Eve’s come along next Tuesday.

Oh, don’t mock it!

Once upon a time an occasional series, vaguely linked to the “not-so-great and no-so-good” of mainly Irish history, appeared here. I lost count, but think this would be around number 32.

James Ussher was as prominent an academic and scholar as the Anglo-Irish produced in the early 17th-century.In 1594 he was one of the first entry to Queen Elizabeth’s Trinity College, Dublin. He became an ordained minister (and, by any standards, an extraordinarily well-read one) before he was properly of age. In his main career he was a protagonist for protestantism (which, after all, was the whole purpose of TCD at that stage): he was instrumental in composing the original Articles of the Irish Church — which were more hostile to Catholicism, more Calvinist, than the English Thirty-Nine Articles. They were more flexible — especially on the episcopacy and on subscription: as a result the Irish Church had more room to accommodate puritanism. This was conveyed all the way down to the later Twentieth Century (who can forget the Church of Ireland’s dconflicts over a crucifix appearing on the altar?). By no coincidence, in his later years, during the Cromwellian Protectorate, Ussher seems to have flirted with presbyterianism.

Ussher’s progress

At the end of 1621 Ussher was consecrated as Bishop of Meath and, as a member of the Privy Council of Ireland, was a major political as well as ecclesiastical force. In September 1622 he preached a strong anti-Catholic sermon at the swearing in of Henry Cary, Viscount Falkland, as Lord Deputy. Since many of Cary’s family, including his wife, reverted to Catholicism (which is another story), there may be more there than immediately meets the eye, and ear.

In 1625 Ussher was nominated to the Primacy of All Ireland, at a time when Irish politics were approaching fervidity. King Charles needed Irish Catholics to be soft-soaped, at a time when England was on the point of going to war with Spain. Hence the Graces, concessions on toleration, to be rewarded by financial contribution. This put Calvinist Ussher in an ambiguous position, which wasn’t eased by the rise of Arminianism in the Church of England (with Laud looking to regularise Anglican practices across the whole of Charles’s kingdoms), nor by the rule of “Thorough” when Wentworth arrived as Lord Deputy.

A significant moment here was the appointment of William Chappell (John Milton’s tutor at Cambridge) as provost of TCD. Ussher sided with the Calvinist “old guard”, against Chappell. Power was slipping from Ussher, who retreated to Drogheda and scholarship. In 1640 he left for London, as a royalist but with connections to the likes of John Pym. When England moved to Civil War, Ussher was in Oxford and a committed Royalist. He visited Charles in prison on 7th November 1648, and witnessed the king’s execution from the roof of the countess of Peterborough’s house in Whitehall.

Ussher’s anti-Catholicism seems to have softened over time. He have been on good nodding terms with the Four Masters, whose Annals underpinned Ussher’s computations. Which might suggest the postal service between Drogheda, London and Sligo was as good in the seventeenth century as it sometimes is today.

And, surely, he stands as the archetypal and prototype Trinity man.

Mainly remembered for his introduction

The whole business of 4004BC stems from his treatise on the calendar, De Macedonum et Asianorum anno solari dissertatio: cum Graecorum astronomorum parapegmate, ad Macedonici et Juliani anni rationes accommodato. This was the foreword to his final two publications: which were Annales veteris testamenti (1650) and Annalium pars posterior (1654). Ussher was effectively summarising his vast knowledge to generate an integrated chronology for biblical and ancient history. Put aside the Genesis assumptions, and much of it still stands.

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The train leaving the station is for …

Fraser Nelson recycled his Telegraph piece on HS2 for The Spectator: no good deed should go unrewarded (and doubtless recompensed) and it don’t ‘alf save on RSI and thinkin’ time.

One difference was the accompanying graphic

For the thrusting, forward-thinking Torygraph [irony alert!], a sleek silver spermatozoon thrusts past a country golf-club, apparently not far from the hills of Yorkshire or Cumbria:

TRANSPORT Trains 100471

Nice. But where’s the power-source? No electric overhead wires — though this is an electric train with pantograph retracted.  According to Boriswatch, a similar magic carpet was seen on publicity for the East London Line.

The old-fogeys of The Spectator prefer something more traditional: 22nd October 1895, when the Granville to Paris express missed its final stop at Gare Montparnasse:


We are, there, viewing the place of death of Mme Marie-Augustine Aguilard, the only fatality, who was attending her husband’s news-stall, while he went to collect the evening editions.

Happily, that came copyright free for The Speccy— it’s credited to Wikimedia Commons. The other image from that same source is a better photograph:


For real thrills’n’spills, there’s the recreation New Deal Studios did for Scorsese in Hugo:


If it were not a lazy reaching for something of a pictorial cliché, why else might The Speccy use that image?

No! No! perish any Eurosceptic thought!

Nearer, my High School, to thee

Harcourt St line crash1

traincrashMalcolm has always felt closer to an event, similar to Montparnasse, 1895: the Valentine’s Day, 1900, eruption into Hatch Street, Dublin.

That is because Malcolm commuted in, to be educated and cultured at the old High School site, opposite Harcourt Street Station. George Wilkinson’s fine Italianate building, from 1858-9, is still there, a bit scrubbed up (Dublin doesn’t do full rehabs much), and scandalously underused.

The official explanation of that was driver error, with contributory factors in poor line lay-out and — look carefully at the above image, consider the size of that concrete block, and muse — inadequate buffer stops.

What actually happened was a train of thirty loaded cattle trucks lost it on the downgrade from Ranelagh.

Alternatively …

The driver (and only significant casualty, even among the cattle, — he lost an arm) of that train was William Hyland. He was just 22-years old, which seems quite young, especially compared to Ewan MacColl’s  version of career progression:

2660Let us now refers to Deirdre Mary Kelly’s Four roads to Dublin: a history of Rathmines, Ranelagh, and Leeson Street. She spotted that John Roque’s 1757 map of the suburbs of Dublin located a “fairy rath” at the location where, later, the Dublin & Wicklow Railway (built late 1850s) crossed the Grand Canal (this action opened 1796). We are, then, imaginatively standing at the Charlemont tram stop on the Luas.

When the Canal was excavated, the fairies were evicted from their rath, presumably with some wrath. Eventually the railway bridge provided them with a new home. So the older train-drivers were accustomed to sound an appeasing whistle, warning the fairies they were crossing the bridge. Alas, young driver Hyland neglected this tradition. And was duly punished.

Well, it’s as good a fable as any from Fraser Nelson.

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Filed under Daily Telegraph, Dublin, Fraser Nelson, High School, History, Paris, railways, reading, The Spectator

How thoroughly to depress a Redfellow

Malcolm almost has a book-room (the Lady-in-his-Life persists in dignifying it as a “library”). All in all, he will have just sixty-odd metres of shelving to fill. And over six dozen recycled supermarket lettuce trays and banana boxes to fill them from.

Alas! He is under strict instruction from both the cabinet-maker and the painter to desist from shelving books until the paint is thoroughly dry. Which means Monday.


For now sits Expectation in the air,
And hides a sword from hilts unto the point
With crowns imperial, crowns and coronets,
Promised to Harry and his followers.

Hank Cinq will be among the earliest texts to find a resting place. Mayhap, to the accompaniment of Ellington and Strayhorn.

Page 20 of today’s Times

There we find a puffery for James Campbell and Will Pryce, The Library: A World History. Yes, it’s one of those coffee-table books, but one with a purpose (other than extracting mega-bucks from interior decorators and their dupes).

Malcolm instantly is afflicted by a massive inferiority complex. Perhaps he should have gone up-market, for something a bit flashier than his marine-ply and egg-shell paint. Something like Stift Admont:


Whence comes this grandiose preoccupation?

Malcolm can date that precisely.

As a TCD Junior Freshman, being taken into the Long Room and signing (in archival ink) the register for the Library. The figure of authority on hand was no less than the Junior Dean, the legendary R.B.McDowell, who casually (though, despite the theatrics, the JD did little “casually”) flicked to names of previous signatories — Wilde! Synge! Childers! Beckett! For total ego-crushing effect, the next display-cabinet down the central passageway held that other prime exhibit, the Book of Kells.

Now that’s what a real library looks (and smells) like!


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Filed under Dublin., Literature, reading, Times, travel, Trinity College Dublin

Every day a new distraction

Today’s was William Bloat.

That has divided those who venture these ways into an immediate switch off (the usual “dwell time” on a blog page is reckoned in micro-seconds) or a more positive, Oh, yes! I know that one!

Well, here’s the best-known rendition (from the Clancy’s reunion concert):

Once the final verse gets into one’s neurones, it’s ever-lurking, ready to pop out:

But the strangest turn of the whole concern
Is only just beginnin’:
He went to Hell, but his wife got well,
And she’s still alive and sinnin’
For the razor blade was British-made
But the rope was Belfast linen!

There is considerable debate about that “British-made”. That’s the version Tommy Makem gave us, and he was the first (as far as Malcolm knows) to marry the verse to The Dawning of the Day. Well, even that’s arguable. There’s a delicious, earlier, Makem concert (also on YouTube) when the blade is “Japanese-made”. That’s worth a visit if only to see Tommy trying to break through the rigidity and hyper-politeness of the RTÉ audience (don’t miss the lady with the hat).

We have, then, another opportunity to deploy the pencilled variae lectiones. But this is folk-music, for heaven’s sake! The whole point is modification, adaptation, re-working, interpretation. It’s what kept Cecil Sharp (and others) in tea and biscuits.

What we may grasp at is that the verse was by Raymond Calvert of East Belfast. And that’s Orange country. It seems the original blade was “German-made”.

Confuse a Mudcat

In any case of doubt or difficulty over folkery matters, a ready resort is the Mudcat Café. Sure enough, there’s a couple of threads on William Bloat. What is evident there is the lack of understanding of what goes on in Ulster (even in Irish) humour. Above all, it is wry. It is self-referential. And it crosses all the divides of religion and culture. The same jokes crop up each side of the Great Divide: all that happens is the protagonist is ‘ours’ and the stooge or ‘antagonist’ is one of them uns.

So, depending on where one is — north or south — the razor-blade may be be Free State-made or English-made. Belfast linen, though, is a matter of pride both ways. It’s the same as the Titanic gybe: it took 10,000 Ulstermen/Belfast men/ Irishmen (that bit depends on locality and allegiance) to build it, but only one Englishman to sink it (that bit is common to all parties).

While we in these parts …

The other — perhaps far greater — song that is set to The Dawning of the Day is Paddy Kavanagh’s love-lorn appeal to Hilda Moriarty:

There’s a useful RTÉ archive on the song, including Benedict Kiely asserting that Kavanagh had the tune in mind, and intended it to be a song rather than just a verse. There also is Hilda Moriarty briefly commenting on the inspiration.

For a couple of years in the early ’60s, undergraduate Malcolm used to stagger home, alone, bereft and unloved,  to his cold-water basement flat in Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, after a night at O’Neill’s in Suffolk Street. If it wasn’t Wellington Road, it would be Raglan Road he passed down. He never met or was inspired by a Hilda.

Dublin is a small place, and Hilda — having discreetly repulsed the inept gropes of Kavanagh — went on to marry Donogh O’Malley, the later Minister of Education. Which, finally, brings us to another personage worthy of respect and admiration.

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Divided loyalties: being Hiberno-English

A long while since (5th September 2008, since you didn’t ask), Malcolm put up a post on being Anglo-Irish. For some reason, that still attracts a fair number of “hits”. This, then, may be the logical  counter-part.

J’ai deux amours

Josephine Baker famously had two loves:

J’ai deux amours
Mon pays et Paris.

If Freda McDonald — barely two generations from slavery — had a hard life, growing up in St Louis, she found fame, fortune and a distinguished personal history as Josephine Baker in her adopted France.

Therein lies the rub

In this 21st century, many of us have two identities: one on the birth certificate, and one in the life we live. There’s little particularly “new” in this:

  • Arthur Wellesley got himself born in what is now the Merrion Hotel, Dublin — but is the archetypal English Iron Duke;
  • David Lloyd-George arrived in the world in the Manchester suburbs, but is forever “the Welsh Wizard”;
  • Éamon de Valera originated in New York, but re-made an Ireland in his own image;

— and so on.

Malcolm’s eldest has a surfeit of air-miles and is quadri-lingual in English and American, Tottenham and Noo Joisey. Even daughter number 2, the Earth Mother, manages to switch effortlessly between south Saxon RP and narrow-vowelled Anglian North Yorkshire.

Your nationalism quiz




at its fullest fluffy Murdochian populism, was rattling on:

A new version of the Life in the United Kingdom handbook, published yesterday, aims to prepare would-be Britons for the citizenship test. The guide focuses on history, tradition and what it means to be British and has ditched more mundane sections on the practicalities of life in the UK …

The 180-page guide, costing £12.99 is unashamedly patriotic, with a red, white and blue cover and pictures of the Queen and of crowds waving the Union flag at the Last Night of the Proms and on the Mall. Sir Winston Churchill is pictured alongside quotes from his wartime speeches but only two post-war prime ministers receive separate biographies: Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher.

The new edition finds a place for Monty Python, Morcambe and Wise and Torvill and Dean, but migrants will also be expected to know about important figures of English literature including Sir Kingsley Amis, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K.Rowling.

Pass the sick-bag, Alice.

On the other hand, the side-bar was a Commentary by Matthew Syed, and it went a way to re-entering normality. Syed refers back to background:

My father arrived on these shores in 1966 as a Muslim, Pakistani, and harbouring deep suspicions about British cultural assumptions. Almost half a century later, he is a monarchist, Radio 4 aficionado and just about the most patriotic Brit I know. With the exception of his Christianity, to which he converted, Britishness is perhaps the most important and cherished affiliation of his life.

My maternal grandfather, who died last week at 98, lived a very different life to my father. Born in the Rhondda Valley at the outset of the Great War, he worked down the pits from 14 then spent a lifetime serving others, first at a home for deprived children and then as warden of an old people’s home. the one thing he shared with dad was a deep love of nation, but he interpreted Britishness in a fundamentally different way.

Not deep. Not philosophical. But neither, reading between the lines of that Times piece, is Life in the United Kingdom [£12.99 at all good bookshops, or around £7.99 if you’re Brit enough to order on-line — a nationality test in itself]. Syed scores by being domestic, humane, direct, down to earth — even dignified, in the best sense. All the good things the official line seems to miss.

For an example, today’s Clare in the Community (Harry Venning’s unfailingly reliable weekly cartoon for the Guardian‘s Society section) is an instant education in ‘Britishness’, and — unlike the nostrums in Life in the United Kingdom — transcends the regional cultural divides that Syed glosses in that final phrase above:

Clare in the community cartoon

What are little boys made of?

Everyone differs: we are an unregimented, frequently-bolshie and mutually-incompatible lot, each with our peculiar passions. What is it that makes Malcolm’s academic and professorial Little Brother traipse out fortnightly to stand with perhaps 5,000 other stalwarts and watch Notts County? The heterogeneousness is an essential part of belonging anywhere on this archipelago.

Unlike Syed, Malcolm was denied personal knowledge of either of his grandfathers: one tends his plot eternally in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 2; the other died of miner’s lung around the time the (first) Great Slump arrived. Did either of those have a deep love of nation, an overwhelming sense of being “British”?

As for the royalist thing, Malcolm recalls (and can date) 15th February, 1952. He doesn’t remember the funeral of George VI — apart from the oddest early-adopter, television hadn’t penetrated north Norfolk. He does know it was a day of national mourning, and so a Friday off school. Dear Old Dad spent much of the day double-digging the long vegetable garden, and none too chuffed. When pre-adolescent Malcolm murmured a triteness about it being “Sad about the King”, the parental snort was followed by “Why, what did he ever do for me?”

Was that the germ of a young republican?

Two loves? Well, two affections.

For Malcolm neither north Norfolk nor dirty Dublin quite amount to “‘loves”. The former has changed, not wholly for the better, over the years as the have-yotties and weekenders made the coast a transplant of Camden Town — Hampstead-by-the-Sea is further south, at Southwold. Dublin has changed even more, though there remain vestiges of the old scruffiness. West Cork has gone the way of the gentrified English coast. Once away from the “gold coast”, the rest of County Down is not wholly spoiled — but could one transplant and enjoy living there?

Despite all the confusions, that double pull recurs and endures. After all, when GCE English History and English Literature immediately leads into the Irish Leaving Certificate, a cultural trauma persists for life.

Par eux toujours,
Mon coeur est ravi.

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