Saturday, 30 July 2011

A true test of Love.

Bano Rashid, 18, was a Kurdish immigrant from Iraq who was among the recent victims.

"Today it is one week since Norway was hit by evil," Mr. Stoltenberg said from a stage covered with red roses at the memorial service in Oslo. "We are not going to be shocked and intimidated into silence," he added." The bravery that these young people have shown is catching. We're going to answer hatred with love. We're going to honour our heroes forever."
Later, Mr. Stoltenberg visited a mosque to stress national unity.

Norway is the front line of one of the most important battles of our times. All that they had was attacked by the madness of hate and their reaction is of vital interest to all of humanity.

For years we have watched reactions of vengeance and revenge; hitting back to settle the score like some hideous game. But each reaction has done little more than inspire further retaliations – a downward spiral of death and destruction usually visited on those who are but bystanders: women and children and the old.

Each of these reactions has been sanctified by distortions of Faiths but in the end they remain nothing but the betrayal of all that spirituality has tried to teach us. They are proof that many of us are still the savage beasts that we claim to have evolved past.

We need Norway to succeed; we need proof that we can overcome hatred and not be eternally enslaved by it.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Doug Ford and Margaret Atwood (Cont.)

Doug Ford is alleged to have challenged Margaret Atwood to run for office if she has opinions on public matters. I hope she ignores him. Ms. Atwood has a very noble and respectable profession on which she has worked long and hard. Delving into the cesspool of politics should be beneath her.

Thinking about Mr. Ford’s alleged challenge raised a few questions. Does Mr. Ford assume that riding on his brother’s coattails gives him some type of authority? Does riding the crest of the current political mood grant him the right to act like a school yard bully calling someone out? I hope not!

Riding the crest of political trends is trilling while it lasts but in the longer term it is like getting drunk and the hangover waits. It wasn’t that long ago when Ontario’s electors bought into Mike Harris’s ‘Common Sense Revolution’ though few not openly admit to it.

I once worked for Elections Ontario where a wall poster proudly proclaimed that: ‘The Informed Voter is the Sword of Democracy.’ I never disagreed with that but I do take task with the notion that many voters are actually informed. Most are guided by advertising campaigns that reinforce whatever discontent they are currently feeling. Electors are, for the most part, mobs to be led.

It has often been said that we do not elect Governments – they just throw them out. If that is true then it is a very short-sighted way of doing things. But have we not become a very short-sighted people? We seem to stagger and reel from one political fad to another. Back when I worked for the Government I met people who were born into their ideology! Really! Their families always voted for a certain party and they continued the tradition regardless of the fact that we live in an ever changing world.

It does make me stop and consider what we mean by ‘qualified’ voters.

When I think about it Democracy is just another con-job. The will of the true majority is never proportionally represented and is constantly twisted. Most of us are not informed and less of us would consider the long term good over our own immediate needs; and even less of us would be willing give up what we have for the common good. Democracy is nothing more than pandering to the largest single mob to the detriment of others. It produces politicians whose own views are less important than their need to pander to public perception – if they hope to be re-elected. Who among them would be willing to sacrifice popularity for the common and long term good – good that they might not get credit for?

I know there are a few; good decent people that have convictions and are willing to suffer slings and arrows for them. Likewise there are good ‘informed’ voters who seek to support the common good. But the problem is that most of us do not pay enough attention to them, preferring instead to focus on the louder, brasher voices that speak to our personal peeves.

I think we should all go back into the hills and think about we are heading.

I would recommend bringing a few good books along, perhaps something by Margaret Atwood?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Doug Ford and Margaret Atwood.

"The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose."
Margaret Atwood

 Doug Ford, a Toronto City Councillor, recently said that he does not know who Margaret Atwood is!

Should we be surprised? Writers are not among the most recognisable at the best of times. Writers are more long term than current attention spans can grasp. A good writer is remembered when all of the politicians and day-to-day ‘public’ figures are forgotten. A good writer comments on the times they live in and leave a record.

I think Mr. Ford’s comments reflect poorly on him and I doubt they diminish Ms. Atwood in any way. Her fans might be outraged but really – Mr. Ford has never struck me as being overly cultured. He strikes me as a representative of those among us who avoid the type of reflection that reading Ms. Atwood’s work might evoke.

For a few decades now I have believed that we are living in a ‘dark age’ – a period when all but the most expedient views were dismissed. We have gone through these before and while they are miserable times when ignorance is exploited, we do grow out of them. Each of our previous ‘dark ages’ have been followed by periods of enlightenment and advancement.

Our current ‘dark age’ has seen us bow to the ridiculous notion that ‘greed is good’, or greed is God. The champions of this notion, the Captains of Industry, now replaced by CEO’s have, over the last few years, proven how absolutely absurd the entire notion is. An old friend, Jimmy Neil, once predicted that ‘after they have eaten everything else they will turn on themselves.’ The events leading up to the crash of 2008 come to mind.

"The trickle-down theory of economics has it that it's good for rich people to get even richer because some of their wealth will trickle down, through their no doubt lavish spending, upon those who stand below them on the economic ladder. Notice that the metaphor is not that of a gushing waterfall but of a leaking tap: even the most optimistic endorsers of this concept do not picture very much real flow, as their language reveals" pg. 102."
Margaret Atwood (Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth)

I think we are all to blame for this mess. We allowed ourselves to be caught up in the nonsense and ignored the fact that we are destroying our world, environmentally, fiscally and spiritually in the name of the stability of endless expansion! We have shut out the voices crying from the wildernesses – those voices that might cause us to reflect and reconsider. Instead, we choose to listen to those voices we agree with – to reaffirm our beliefs rather than to expand our perspectives. That is a form of devolution and, as the natural world proves, a dead end.

Perhaps we should send Mr. Ford one of Ms. Atwood’s books. It couldn’t do any harm.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Good read, nicely done.

Author: Peter Murphy

A debut novel concerned with 1980’s Ireland, Lagan Love depicts Dublin in all its nuances and moods through the eyes of French Canadian painter Janice Tremblay, traveling to Dublin to attend Trinity College. Janice meets Sinead at Trinity and pours out her homesickness to her cynical Irish acquaintance. Enter one of Dublin’s rising poets, Aidan Greeley, who has just come off dating Sinead. Aidan and Janice find themselves symbiotically attached, as Aidan fancies her when they flirt on the streets of Dublin. Shy, introverted Janice becomes someone else in Aidan’s company – the flirty woman she wants to become. As they enter into artistic lust and love, Aidan decides to give up Gwen, his wealthy and strangely seductive patron, who is married to Maurice, who allows Gwen her sexual freedom, and then some. Maurice and Gwen are entwined into a strange, almost demoniacal alliance, assisting poor artists, but taking their due in return. Maurice has published Aidan and put him into the Dublin art scene as the up and coming young artiste of the day, but when Aidan gives Gwen Janice in order to get out from under her patronage, the true Irish myth and story begins.

Aidan believes Gwen to be a Lenanshee, a Muse who gifts fame and fortune to her protégé – if the person she chooses falls in love with her. In return, Gwen takes the life of that protégé at a very young age. As Aidan drops Gwen, whom he has never loved, he passes Janice into her care. Aidan’s career dies a quick death, but Janice’s paintings become the new and only art to collect worldwide. Caught between the two women, Aidan is the pivot upon which Janice succumbs to an old Irish myth.

Disturbing, full of great dialogue and Irish tradition, we find ourselves on the streets of Dublin drinking a pint with Ronan and Sinead, who become friends and try to save their friends from doom. As the Aidan, Ronan, Sinead and Janice flounder through their lives, Ronan and Sinead watch with horror as Janice and Aidan find themselves thrust into the hands of deceptive Gwen and Maurice.

Interesting at all times, Lagan Love pursues Ireland as does the Lenanshee, pouring out its heart within the souls of the drunk, the gifted, the dead, and the lone survivors – Sinead and Ronan. The financial and political turmoil of 1980’s Ireland forms the backdrop.

“Evoking the days when the love for Ireland was hidden in the lyrics about a beautiful woman in the classic 15th century song, My Lagan Love, Murphy’s freshman novel reveals the complex layers of his homeland – as bracing as a pint on a chilly Dublin evening,” states Tracey Minsky.

Good read, nicely done.

Lagan Love is available for purchase on

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Lagan Love pictures

A window of the old chapel at Glendalough

I have started to add photos of various places that feature in Lagan Love. Drop by to check them out. I will be adding more as I find them in the musty old boxes that the past has been confined to.
Feel free to leave comments etc. and do drop by from time to time to check for updates.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Christmas 1941

It was Christmas, nineteen forty-one when my father promised to use his rank to appropriate a bird from the munificence of the obliging quartermaster at Macroom Barracks. However, as was to be the pattern for many Christmas’s to follow; my father did not leave the officers mess until too late on Christmas Eve.

His black car groaned to a halt as the wet snow rain gathered on the windshield. He fumbled with the doorknob, singing for the all the world to hear.

“Adeste fidelis, laeti triumphantes

Venite, venite in Bethlehem

Natum videte, regem angelorum

Venite adoremus, venite adoremus

Venite adoremus, dominum.”

“Bartley come in and be quiet.”

“Yerra Jazus, woman, would you have some Christmas spirit!”

“Bartley, it’s one o’ clock in the morning.”

“For the love of Jazus, May, it’s Christmas – it only comes the once a year,” he burped through brandy breath.

“Merry Christmas, John,” he acknowledge the shadow of my grandfather that formed, just past her shoulder, “I got the bird right here.”

“Like the ghost of feckin’ Christmas past,” he added softly as he smiled at the old man’s frown.

“I got the bird right here with me!” he sang as he pulled it from the car – all thirty-five pounds of it, resplendent in its feathers and all.

“Bartley! What am I supposed to do with that?”

“It’s our Christmas dinner, woman! Or are you totally foolish?”

Back then there was my Grandfather, who was aged and ate little, my brother, who was less than a year, and my mother who had eaten most of her meals at the convent school.

“I’d suggest that you put it in the oven and cook it, but you’re the woman of the house.”

After putting my father and my brother to bed my mother sat with her father and cried for as long as it took them to pluck and clean a bird that would have kept an army going for a week.

“It might have been better had you taken Home Economics,” was all that the old man could offer against the flood of tears.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Picnicking in Sloane Square.

Tam was a cooper and had a fondness for drink. He repaired the old wooden barrels that were still used to store whisky. Because the bars in Glasgow did not open on Sundays, Tam had purchased a return ticket on the London train – the plan was simple enough. If he stayed on the train he could drink all the way to London and all the way home. And it went well for the first leg. But fate had other plans for Tam – and me.
When he got to London he wandered off the train, remembered that he had a friend in Lee, near Lewisham, and called to see Joe. After a very hectic Sunday evening it was decided that I should keep Tam company for a few days and on Monday morning we set out together to drink our way across London. By Tuesday afternoon we wandered into Sloane Square waiting for the bars to re-open.
“Where can we gie us a bevy.” Tam implored of the hot afternoon sun.
There was an off-license, a distinguished one, that had sold fine wines and ports to the better part of London for over a hundred and fifty years, and it was open.
“Hang on a sec, Tam, I’ll be right back.”
I stepped into the dark stained musty cool and smiled at the distinguished gentleman who approached me in a morning suit with a soft carnation in the buttonhole.
“Good afternoon young sir,” he greeted and smiled at my tattered and hairy self, “And what can I do for you today.”
“My friend and I are having lunch in the park,” I offered as I scanned the towering shelves for something familiar and cheap.
“Might I suggest a Rose, Sir?”
“A what? Oh yeah, a Rosy would be great.”
“Excellent choice and would you like that chilled, Sir?”
“Yes please and could ya open it too?”
“Can ya take the cork out?”
“Very good Sir. And will that be all?’
I handed him the four pounds he asked for – it sold in the supermarket for one pound ten but they never offered such service.
“Yer a gem, young Murphy,” a delighted Tam said on my return, “A real gentleman’s gentleman.”

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Penal Laws

Prior to the Williamite Wars, the Catholics of Ireland had retained ownership of a mere 22% of the land, despite the fact that they formed 75% of the population. Following the shameful breaking of the Treaty of Limerick, even that small percentage of ownership was reduced to 14%, and would be reduced even further as the Penal Laws would be more rigidly enforced. Arthur Young, an ‘agricultural improver’ employed by the government, estimated in 1776 that they owned a meagre 5% at that stage. This shocking decline in land ownership could be attributed entirely to the enforcement of those same Penal Laws, which was entirely contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Limerick.

The war had left the Protestants in complete control, as they now dominated the political, economical and social spheres to such an extent that life for the Catholic population was reduced to untold misery. Yet, despite their overall supremacy, the Protestant Ascendancy lived in continual fear of a revival of Catholic claims and a restoration of the Stuart Dynasty. And so, to prevent either of these happening they resorted to the Penal Code which had such a crippling effect on the majority population.

These shameful restrictions could be divided into four or five main categories, principally the laws against religion, education, property and social activities. Under the heading “Religion’ the Catholic bishops were banished completely from the country, while Parish Priests had to be ‘registered’ and also take the Oath of Abjuration. In ‘education’, Catholics were forbidden to have schools of their own or to have their children educated by Catholic teachers, while under the heading ‘property’, no Catholic could own a horse worth more than £5. They were also forbidden to buy land, and they could not lease property for more than 31 years, while at the same time having to pay a rent that was to be at least-two birds of the annual value of the land. Neither could a Catholic become a guardian, nor could they carry arms, while the ‘Laws of Inheritance’ were also altered so that a son or daughter who adopted the Protestant Religion would become the sole heir/heiress to the property.

The first of these laws had been introduced by the Irish Parliament in 1695 when they brought in the regulations against educating children, bearing arms and owning a horse worth more than £5. In 1704 many of the harsher restrictions were imposed, while in 1719 came the most disgusted of all the Penal Laws - the castration of unregistered priests. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Catholics were denied the vote (1727) and were not allowed to enter the army, the civil service or the legal profession.

The Penal Code reduced the Catholic population to dire poverty, but it also had the effect of strengthening their will to survive, while their steadfast holding on to the ‘old’ religion never faltered. If anything, their Faith became even stronger, and only a mere handful of their priests deserted them by ‘conforming’. Some 400 priests, however, had been deported by 1698, while there was no archbishop in the country from 1692 to 1714. Despite the fact that there was £5 reward for a priests head, the clergy survived, while the infamous ‘priest hunters’ frequently became the victims of revenge by the many Irish rapparees, who now roamed the countryside. Mass was still celebrated at mass-rocks in the glens and woodlands, while fourteen bishops also managed to survive in disguise, the principal of these being Patrick Donnelly, the archbishop of Armagh. Visiting his flock in the guise of a harper, he was later immortalised in the lovely ballad “The Bard of Armagh.”

The laws against education were also overcome at practically all levels. Young men intended for the priesthood now went abroad to the Irish colleges on the continent and returned as priests to their home parishes where they were sheltered by their families and friends. The children received their education from a new race of educators known as “hedge schoolmasters” usually classical scholars who had at one time been intended for holy orders but who had dropped out somewhere along the way. The ‘hedge-schools’ as their name implies, were originally held at the backs of hedges, but in harsher weather were held indoors in a barn or out-house, while the many friendly Protestants frequently gave them accommodation.

The Penal Laws had been aimed mainly at Catholics, but Presbyterians also suffered, principally in the matter of paying ‘tithes’. These had to be paid to the Clergy of the Established Church and both Catholic and Presbyterians were affected, naturally resenting the fact that they had to pay towards the upkeep of the clergy of a church to which they did not belong. Those who collected the tithes were called ‘tithe-proctors’ and there were many instances all over the country where they were attacked, stoned, and sometimes even killed, by an angry native population refusing to pay the hated tithes.

The sufferings of the people were compounded even further by the outbreak of several minor famines during the eighteenth century, while an exceptionally severe and lengthy frost also hit the country in late 1739. An even more disastrous famine, accompanied by fever, struck the country again in 1741, even afterwards called ‘Bliain an Air’ in Irish history, as over 300,000 perished in that year, while emigration figures during the same period also rose alarmingly. A slight ray of hope was appearing on the horizon, however, as there was a relaxation in some of the Penal Laws, notably during 1778 and 1782, when laws affecting the exercise of religion and the possession of land and property were abolished. Parliament was obviously finding it difficult, even impossible to fully enforce some of the more obnoxious regulations, but pressure was also being brought to bear on them by a number of liberal protestants, who now formed what would become known as “The Patriot Party” in the Parliament.

News of the outbreak of the American War of Independence of 1776 was not long in reaching Irish shores and the sympathy of the Ulster Presbyterians was with the colonists across the Atlantic in their struggle, as they too had been hampered by trade restrictions from London. However, when France joined forces with the revolutionaries, their attitude changed somewhat, particularly when most of the army stationed in the country was sent to America, leaving the country practically defenceless. Fears of an invasion by their traditional enemy inspired the Protestant classes to form companies of Volunteers for defence purposes, not just in Ulster but all over Ireland, who would defend the country against any such invasion.

The very liberally-minded Henry Grattan now came to the fore as leader of ‘The Patriot Party’ in Parliament and also of the Volunteers, and he, along with fellow liberal Henry Flood, soon began to demand parliamentary reform and an end of the restraints on Irish trade, as well as an easing of the Penal Code against the Catholics. They received major support in Dublin where there was a huge demonstration of Volunteer power in 1779. Massing their forces in full uniform in College Green, they placed several cannons in front of the House of Parliament (now the Bank of Ireland building), having adorned them with placards demanding “Free Trade or This”. The message was not lost on the British government and the demands were met in December 1779.

A hugely attended Convention of Volunteers (from here on known as ‘Grattan’s Volunteers’) was also held in Dungannon in February 1782, when several more demands were made and where the Volunteers also passed a very significant resolution welcoming the relaxation in the enforcement of the Penal Laws “against our Roman Catholic fellow subjects”. In addition to all this, the Volunteer movement had created for the first time ever the idea of ‘nationhood’ even among the Protestant population, something which had never before been experienced in Irish history.

Following the passing of a Relief Act, Catholics were finally given the right to vote in 1793 and could now also enter the University of Dublin and the junior branches of the civil service, but they were still debarred from taking a seat in parliament and from obtaining any of the higher positions in the public service, nor could they become judges. A further attempt at conciliation was made in 1795 with the founding of Maynooth College for the education of Catholic clergy.

Other events were now unravelling on the world scene which would again have a major effect on Irish history. This time it was in Europe, and the French Revolution of 1789 was proving highly successful in spreading the doctrines of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” throughout the continent. Just as the American War of Independence had given rise to the formation of the Volunteers, the example of the French people would soon inspire a new movement which would have a lasting effect on the future path of Irish history.

Dublin for the coffee?

Not too many people would consider going to Dublin for the coffee. What with St. James’s Gate and all, ‘Strumpet City’ is synonymous with the other dark drink with the frothy, creamy top.

There was a time when going for a coffee meant Bewley’s. They had a roaster in the window that filled Grafton Street with a dark and delicious aroma; a memory that is indelible. Drinking coffee elsewhere was, at the least, risky.

Not anymore: cafés are everywhere and each one offers a dark rich brew that would make a Roman smile.  My friend Phil-Lip disagrees, claiming Dutch coffee is better but he can be like that, sometimes.

Watch out for the cream though – it is delicious, sinfully delicious. It took hours of hill-climbing in Alfama to burn it all off!

Graham O’ Sullivan’s, on Dawson Street, was a hang-out back in the day – gone now and replaced by Carluccio’s – a fine establishment that caters to a crowd above the shaggy students who used to linger between lectures.

I met up with Padraig J. Daly there. He spent a number of years in Italy, speaks and writes the language, and is more than comfortable with lattes and biscotti.

He gave me his two latest books of poetry – to add to my collection that goes back to the beginning. He is a very modest and loving soul and his poetry is the same, simple and easy to read but it reverberates in the mind for hours.

Dardis Clarke joined us too – they knew each other well – and a grand time was had by all.

Graham O’ Sullivan’s might be gone but some of the old magic still lingers.

The point is that when one thinks of Dublin, one thinks of pubs. But what is often over-looked is that many Dubliners just like to get together and talk. Because of the weather, sitting on patios can be risky so most Dubliners sit inside. Even in Grogan’s the morning crowd ordered coffees, something that I never really noticed before, but that was back in the day.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A Tale of two cities.

Dublin has a new swagger; an arrogance in the face of problems that might crush a lesser place. It is an old town full of young bravado – an energy that carried me along as I met with old friends who are wise enough now to sit back and see things for what they are. Diminished now is the folly of mythological affluence and in its place a determination to get through whatever life puts in the way – an ancient and cherished legacy of the city.

All that was important to me, that which I thought was gone and lost forever, is stepping out from the shadows and hidden nooks and crannies to reclaim the hearts and souls of the people. The striped shirted Seamuses, those bastard children of the Tiger, will take their places on the rogue’s gallery along with Gratton’s parliamentarians, absentee landlords and scabs and striker-breakers, to be remembered with the derision they deserve.

There were casualties too, dreams broken and lives contorted, but there is hope among the scurrying grey clouds that drop the rain stores even as the sun shines. Dublin has confidence again and the young, fresh from going to and fro to the furthest corners of the globe, will demand nothing less than a fair chance. They have shed all that bound their parents; the nagging inferiority and subservient obedience to the rags and lies of a church-bound state.

Dublin is rising again, like the Phoenix in the park, and the world will be better for that.

Lisbon is in a lugubrious mood, full of sad faces of a confused people who were caught in transition from decades of isolation to the illusion of a new Europe. Some are resigned to the endless sufferings of life but others, like Teresa Milheiro, burned with a fiery passion against the great injustice of Socialising the cost of Capital greed. Her workshop, Galeria ARTICULA, on Rua dos Remedios, hidden in the hills of Alfama, is a must-see for all who seek proof that creative life still flourishes in the darkest days.

Lisbon too, has overcome all that history has thrown at it so far. Phoenician, Roman, Moorish and Gothic, once devastated by an earthquake and a tsunami, it rose again in absurd splendour. The present too, will pass – just another period that will leave its mark.

One of the things that gave me great hope as I wandered the broiling streets was the cool shady sanctity of its gracious bookstores – places of reverence and reflection. I will go back and wander more through the jigsaw streets, the hilly warrens, the wide boulevards and the improbability of it all scented in the cooler evenings by the aroma of sardines on the open grill and the bitter-sweet strains of Mariza’s Fado – the music of Lisboa.

Lagan Love - Peter Murphy

Friday, July 1, 2011

Lagan Love
Peter Murphy
Fiction Studio, June 7 2011, $16.95
ISBN: 978-1936558124

Ireland has a history of poetic tellings of Celtic mythology, and Lagan Love, Peter Murphy's debut novel, is clearly rooted in this tradition. Filled with a fierce and evocative emotional depth, Lagan Love takes the reader on a journey that speaks to their heart. Murphy has created a beautiful story of love, loss, and redemption which transcends the pages. The prose is musical, there is a magic in the dialog between the well-defined characters as well as Murphy's description of Ireland in the eighties. Lagan Love is unforgettable, a novel that sticks with you days after finishing it. Peter Murphy has written a masterpiece, and put himself firmly on my must-buy list. One of my favorite reads this year.