Monday, June 09, 2014

Forgotten lines from Ronald Reagan

I was born in 1955 and I don't really feel old yet. However it came to my attention as Barrack Obama was first inaugurated that I had lived on the planet long enough to see 11 of the 44 American presidents in office. Also it was also only a matter of time before a serving US president would be younger than I am.....that's almost as momentous for me as him being the first African-American president!

I've been thinking about bits and pieces I recall of the various USA presidents. Often my strongest memories come down to little things said on TV at key times which stuck in my mind. Most of them are not widely quoted any more and largely forgotton. Kennedy of course comes to mind and his speeches are all well known. However I would have to say that it was some of President Ronald Reagan's moments in the 1980s which I recall best.

This guy was quite a character. He came into office with an image of being very right wing and militant. There was his so called Star Wars plans, Central American policies and his obvious suspicion of the Soviet Union. His communication skills and sense of humour was always impressive though and it was often hard not to like him. I've three strong memories of Reagan...

1. The attempted assasination of Reagan in 1981 was full of drama. But his comment to his wife Nancy as they took him to hospital was priceless..."Honey I forgot to duck!" Always the actor.

2. In my recollection Reagan's greatest speech ever was following the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion of 1986 where all 7 astonauts died shortly after launch. It was how he reached out like a father to the school children of America in this live TV oration which made it special. Young school children had been watching the Challenger launch event live in their classrooms because on board was a lady school teacher, the first civilian to travel to space. Reagan was thinking of how traumatic it was for small children to witness live on TV the sudden and horrific death of their school teacher - who was due to give them a live lesson from space . Reagan did a wonderful job in trying to explain how sometimes sudden and sad things can happen when we take inevitable risks to make momentous progress.

3. It was so interesting and full of irony to witness Reagan slowly change his attitude to the USSR as the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev changed everything. My greatest memory of this dismantling of hostility and suspicion between East and West actually came down to a simple exchange between the two leaders at a joint press briefing. I've never seen it reported anywhere since. Reagan was mentioning how they wanted bi-lateral disarmament of nuclear weapons".

Then after a very tactical pause Reagan looked at Gorbachev and said

"...but with verification".

Gorbachev then smiled and said a brief one liner in Russian which produced laughter from Russians present. Reagan could hardly wait for the translation which was...

"You say that every time we meet!"

The American audience then burst into laughter and Reagan could only add to the warm moment by saying...

"I like it!"

What a moment it was.

Does anybody else have strong memories they would like to share about past American presidents?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Some See a Weed. Some see a Wish.

I saw the photo below online today and it reminded  me of an incident when I was about 4 years old before my school days.

I was  playing in our garden and spotted an interesting variety of dandelions, buttercups and daisies in the lawn. The numbers of them and the colours had me completely hooked. I knew my mother liked flowers so I began to gather them and made up a good sized bunch. I then arranged them as a small posie and proudly brought it in to my mother. I was convinced that she would be delighted.

"Here's some nice flowers for you Mammy" I beamed.

I didn't get the reaction I expected. There was laugher.

"Ah son, those are just weeds!"

I was deflated. I stood there quietly and my smile disappeared. My mother could see my reaction and began to become more sympathetic. Eventually we agreed to put the "flowers" into a little glass vase. They were on display when my Dad came home from work. There were more sniggers but it was said that I was a good boy.

I wasn't convinced. It was like in later school life being told - "okay, but could have done much better." It was the first time I had been told that there is a difference between flowers and weeds. What I had thought was beautiful was in fact worthless.

To this day I can get rather annoyed at how we can often dismiss certain flowering wild plants in a negative way. I suppose it's because as adult gardeners dandelions, buttercups and daisies upset our nice green lawns and propagate too easily. But these flowers can still look nice in a lawn, especially to a child, it's a matter of attitude.

It all reminds me of how children and adults look at clouds in the Joni Mitchel song Both Sides Now. Are clouds "rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air" or is it that "now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone "?



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Great Great Granny Sophia Murray...Letters Through Time

I have enjoyed researching family history in the last decade. With the help of a cousin of mine in the UK, we came across records of our Great Great Grandmother Sophia Murray who would have been a child during the Irish potato famines of the 1840s. I was trying to think of a way to present Sophia in a more real way to people today. A theme in the 2006 Sandra Bullock movie "The Lake House" gave me the notion of writing a letter back in time to Sophia. Here goes...!!


Dear Great Great Granny Sophia,

I hope this letter finds you well. Actually it won't as you must be dead over a century as I write this. But I'm reaching back to you through time and I thought the first sentence should be familiar and warm for letters of your era.

In truth, as you cannot read or write you will be getting a friend - the local priest perhaps - to read this to you. I will need to print this letter out neatly as even your scholarly priest will have trouble with the notion of me writing this in bed on an iPhone, and an email to him via wifi would be quite unacceptable.  I'm Sorry Sophia, ignore my last sentence, I'm just having fun mentioning 21st century technology. But I'll bet you could teach me a lot about speaking in Irish.    

It is really nice to write to you for the first time. What a lovely name you have. I never met you but without you I would not be alive. We are separated so much in time and I wish I knew you better. But your daughter Hannah knew me as a baby. She cuddled me on her knee. Tall Hannah with the straight back. My mother and her siblings called her big granny. It must be strange for you to hear your daughter called granny.

Sophia I wish you could have told me of your childhood in the great famine - the black years of 1847 and 1848. Your parents would have felt it worse I suppose. Children know nothing better. But you told Hannah about the hardship. Hannah in turn told her sons and my mother. But the details are faded and lost.

You survived what must have been a physically tough childhood. You met Thomas Coll. You married and lived in St. Johnston. Two of your early children were born there - Thomas and Hannah.

St. Johnston is a compact and lovely Donegal village beside the majestic river Foyle. Now here is something we share together. I spent many happy childhood and teenage summers in St. Johnston. We would have known and walked the same streets. The houses in the main street were much the same no doubt in your time.
You may wonder how I also came to know St. Johnston. Well Sophia it's loosely connected to you through family. Your daughter Hannah as you know married John Downs. Their son and your grandchild - John - you certainly knew well as a small child. Now this John grandson of yours married Catherine Cregan. and Catherine had a sister called Annie. Annie married a Charles Magee and one of their children was Kathleen. Well Kathleen married Sean Mac Bride and they bought a nice country house beside St. Johnston. Kathleen was a first cousin of my mother Bridie - your great grand-daughter. My mother was a close lifelong friend of her cousin Kathleen. Kathleen's children and myself also formed a close bond and hence I spent many, many, happy times in St. Johnston with my 2nd cousins.

I think you must have been a wonderful mother Sophia. Your name is mentioned as being present for Hannah at the births of at least two of her boys.

I'm guessing you were a hardy child to have survived the ravages of the famine years and grow to adulthood. You and your parents must have watched so many suffer and die or emigrate. Clinging on to people close to you surely would have been one of life's jewels.

I wonder what you thought of your daughter Hannah's marriage to John Downs? How did she meet this Welsh man? He seems to have been stationed abroad for very long spells when serving in the British army. He is the only non-Irish person I can find in my ancestry. Of course he eventually disappeared without trace and never returned to Hannah. No army records of what happened to him.
You and Hannah were close. You lived with her in later years in Derry City. I learned something sad about you from the census of 1901. You were blind. What happened? Was it cataracts? So easy to solve problems like that today. I do think that overall you would love the 21st century!

I must go now. If only you could write back.


John Cowley

Your Great Great Grandson
Sent from my iPhone

Sophia Murray Return Letter

7th September 1897

Dear John,

Father McGonagle is writing for me. He says your letter is wile queer. It's in the fancy English and we don't know what to believe about all this far away future malarkey. But the father said a wee prayer with me and he said you might have been sent to me from the Holy Ghost. That's all because you could tell things about my Hannah and her future that only God Almighty could know. 

But he was in a tizzy because of you talking about iPhones, he thinks you mean telephones. There are some telephones in the World he says and you must be a wealthy man to have one in your house and even wired into your bedroom begob? But he says you don't spell it the way you did and he says its silly of you to say you can send mail with a telephone like Sean the Postman. He says you spelt mail wrong too and you spelt your wife as wifi. He was surprised because he says he hardly ever saw such a nicely printed letter in his life. Nearly as good as the writing the Monks do up in Raphoe he says. 

But in the name of God can you help me at all? I'm old now and at me wits end with the hardship. It's me eyes. Begob you sounded like you know how to fix me eyes. I can't in me head tell the difference between Heaven itself and this future place you are in. There is a wee woman from the village of Carrigans who can help headaches with stones she has. But nobody can help with me eyes.

God forgive me. I'm being selfish again thinking of myself and me troubles. I suppose you are just one of God's souls like myself. My Great Great Grandchild? God bless us and save us! The father had to explain to me what that meant. I can hardly get me head around it. You'll have me in tears if I think about it too much.

I'm saying a wee prayer that this letter gets to you. I don't know in God's name how you will get it at all. Father McGonagle says he spoke to the Bishop and he is sure there is no such place in Dublin. But he talked about the Holy Ghost again and that I should have faith. I've great faith in Our Divine Mother the Star of the Sea. She will make sure you somehow get this letter. It's important to me. I want to ask you many things about your World and what it's like and your family. If I know that you get this wee letter I will try to tell you more about my life.

Jesus and Mary and Saint Patrick Bless and Protect You


Monday, September 02, 2013

The Great Sun

My wife thinks I'm barmy because I often mention how much the Sun impresses me.

As a child I never thought much of the Sun. Heck, I could cover it with my little finger at arm's length. But something changed when I was a 12 year old kid. I was looking through one of the How and Why series of books on Astronomy at a Guest House whilst on a family holiday in Portstewart in Northern Ireland. An illustration of The Sun similar to below just blew me away. I had no idea that the Sun was so massive compared to Earth.

This and other contents of the book triggered a lifelong interest in Astronomy. As I studied more on the topic, the complexity and power of stars like our Sun really intrigued me.

Our family have moved to a newly built house recently and this Sun relationship I have has augmented. The new house has some interesting features...

Firstly, the front of the house faces East and has 4 windows picking up the Sun's rays throughout the morning. Then another 4 windows facing south pick up the mid morning to late afternoon Sun. Finally a further 4 windows facing West are bathed in mid afternoon and evening Sun. Only one small window of the house faces North. So 12 windows are picking up wonderful sunshine and it is terrific...the Sun is like a friend warming our rooms all day long and  since the house is incredibly well insulated this heat tends to linger until morning.

In addition, the house has large south facing solar panels on the roof. I'm amazed at the temperature and volume of hot water the Sun produces for us. Just today with Autumn now upon us the temperature gauge in the 300 litre hot water cylinder was showing 58C. Lots of free hot water courtesy of  the huge star 93 million miles away. So I even think of our friend the Sun now as I take a nice warm shower!

I have also noted and empathised on how certain older religions could find the Sun an object of adoration. One of the Egyptian Pharaohs even introduced a then new monotheistic practise of worshiping the disk of the Sun. I personally think the Sun deserves a more elaborate name and perhaps more respect. Certainly people should understand more about this amazing entity which we depend on for our very survival.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Nun Story!

In the last 10 years or so I've taken an increasing interest in researching family history.

Recently the photo below was kindly shared with me by cousins on my father's side. We were trying to trace who the mystery nun in the photo was. All we knew was that she had some connection to our  granny. There were few clues to work on. The photo looked like it was taken at least 100 year ago and the nun's habit seemed rather distinctive. Handwritten on the back of the photo were the very faded words "James Mullen, Paddock, Ratoath". Ratoath is a lovely little village in Co. Meath, Ireland. It's in an area where my father and his siblings grew up. Indeed their mother and father were also born in the surrounding area and at least a few of their grandparents.

A lot of research followed and I'll spare readers all the details. But I traced the habit in the photo as belonging to a Texas USA religious order started in the 1800s called "The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word". I swapped many emails with their San Antonio Texas branch and they were quite helpful to me. With their assistance and also through me getting some birth records of our granny Margaret Mullen we eventually traced the nun as our granny's aunt. Her name was Catherine Mullen and the James Mullen mentioned on back of the photo was her brother (our great grandfather).

So Catherine Mullen was born in 1861 in Corbalton in Meath (5 miles from Ratoath). Her parents names were Thomas and Marcella Mullen (i.e. our great-great grandparents). Catherine was recruited by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1888 from Dublin and went to Texas for the rest of her life. The photo was taken in Texas probably around 1892. Catherine's Religious name was Sister Pancratius.

The convent in San Antonio was also able to email me the history of the good works of Sister Pancratius. This detail is shown here and you can also see that she died in 1937 and is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth Texas.

It struck me strongly that none of us today as Catherine's living relations would have been aware of her long charitable life in the USA and indeed where she was finally laid to rest. So it means a lot to myself and my cousins to put the record straight.

I want to pay a particular thanks to Eva Sankey of The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio Texas for her great help to me in this research. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong R.I.P.

Yesterday my great hero as a teenager passed away. In July 1969 I stayed up all night to watch Neil Armstrong land and walk on the Moon. He was a great aeronautics engineer and a highly skilled pilot.

How strange it must have been to approach the lunar surface with Buzz Aldrin and discover that they were going to land into a large football field sized crater full of rocks and boulders. Neil had to steer the lunar module a good distance over this alien world to find a safer area, nearly running out of fuel in the process. His heart rate rose to 156 beats per minute but he put the lunar module down perfectly.

"The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said.

Last night I walked out onto our balcony and watched the D shaped Moon about to set on the western horizon. It seemed to me that even the Moon itself was bowing in respect to the human who first touched its face.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Star of the Sea - a must-read novel

I have just finished reading this fascinating novel set in the mid nineteenth century.
    Joseph O'Connor has woven an excellently crafted work with ingredients of interesting period characters and storyline, suspense, even good crime fiction twists and it keeps the reader's attention all the way through.
Moreover, for me the positives above are really secondary value seductive hooks to allow a platform for portrayal to readers of the real heart and soul of this book - the almost unspeakable details and horrors of the darkest period in Irish history.

The great Irish famine of the 1840s was truly a form of Armageddon for Ireland. Starvation, diseases and deaths on an massive scale coupled with degrading evictions, disgusting workhouses, permanent family breakups by emigration and further deaths and appalling conditions on the emigrant "coffin ships" for those who could sell all they had to afford the passage to America. Over time the direct and indirect effects of this period in our history reduced the population of Ireland by many millions of people to about half of it's pre-famine levels.

There are few novels which cover this pivotal time so well with such a variety of the raw descriptions badly needed to be exposed. The author has researched his subject properly. It is no easy task to integrate not just minute historical details but also nineteenth century phraseology, customs and attitudes. Very commendable also is the accurate nautical and maritime information from the period coming from a man who admits to being a landlubber. I've been impressed by Joseph O'Connor's writing skills for some time. I think this work is his greatest achievement to date and will be respected forever as one of the great important classics of historical literature. As a novel and a story it is a truly captivating read and one's soul is also left indelibly imprinted with many of the savage details and implications of a very important part of Irish history.

A highly recommended read for everyone and especially Irish people and those in USA of Irish descent from 19th century emigration.

Friday, November 11, 2011

President Michael D. Higgins - an election poster perspective

So today our new president of Ireland is inaugurated and I truly wish him well.

We are all quite aware of course that there were very many factors involved in the great success of Michael D. Higgins in the election. In this short article I just wanted to share my impressions from a marketing perspective on the interesting design features of the Michael D. Higgins promotional posters on display around the country during the campaign.

I was struck by some very subtle but clever aspects of what seems quite a simple poster...

1. The word "President" in the caption is very large and prominently placed across Michael D. Higgins' chest. Great visual psychology - the viewer synchronises the title with the man - it's as if he is already the president...we visualise it strongly.

2. His body is in a full facing position, his hands and eyes are reaching out to you and he has a trusting open smile. He looks stately and somebody who just might do us proud.

3. The photo is taken from a lower position and he comes across more imposingly, as if he is talking from a presidential platform. We are looking up to him physically and in spirit, he looks like our leader. You could argue that they are falsely making him taller looking but I think the podium impression is strong and honest.

4. The "Michael D" part of the name is larger than the "Higgins" - a play on how he is affectionately known to many - and it's a warmer, friendlier presentation of the man exuding a familiar first name trust.

5. The caption itself is beautifully simple and to the point of what most of us want from the role... "The President who will do us proud". Note also the "will" word...not "can". Very strong indeed - again we are visualising him as already the president.

6. As a facial photo of Michael D it is honest. He looks like he does on TV, a warm elderly grey haired balding man. This helps to disarm the viewer and opens them to absorb even more the subtle messages hitting home in 1-5 above.

Posters are not everything of course, but they are important and I do compliment whoever designed this one. Those responsible for the posters of some of the other losing candidates could do well to learn something in hindsight from his clever piece of work.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Eve of St. Agnes - Harry Clarke's Greatest Collection

Back in 1981 I recall visiting the National Gallery in Dublin's Parnell Square. I walked into a dark room and unexpectedly witnessed the most beautiful and profound works of art I had ever seen. In this tranquil darkness was a stunning sequence of backlit stain glass panels depicting the story in the John Keats poem "The Eve of St. Agnes". At the time I knew nothing of the genius behind the works - Irish artist Harry Clarke. I was mesmerised by the deep colours and especially his use of rich light and dark blue tones. The figures and details in each panel moved me so much. I loved the immersion and challenge of studying the intriguing fable unfolding in each image. I was in a surreal fairlytale world from a different era.

At the time I was a keen photographer and was particularly enjoying slide photography. I instantly knew that these wonderful stain glass images would look amazing blown up on a big projection screen. Slide photography really shows off the fine subtle colour variations in dark images.

I will spare readers details of the efforts I made in the following months via contacts to get permission to photograph "The Eve of St. Agnes" collection. Sadly it didn't happen.

Today my love of Harry Clarke's stained glass was rekindled at my local library. I have out on loan a beautifully illustrated large book called "Strangest Genius - the stained glass of Harry Clarke" by Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen. It's a terrific book and has revitalised my love of the magical Eve of St. Agnes and indeed all of Harry Clarke's stain glass art. Many of his other works appear in churches throughout Ireland.

As I write I'm amused at the serendipity that today, 20th January, actually is the eve of the feast of St Agnes! You should Google the intriguing legend relating to the Eve of St. Agnes - all to do with maidens going to sleep and having visions of their future husband. The John Keats poem of same name is very worthy of a read and of course Harry Clarke is following the storyline of the poem in this stained glass art collection.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spine chilling and beautiful aria - "Lascia ch'io Pianga"

I watched the 2009 released movie "The Antichrist" recently. It was uncomfortable viewing in many ways, yet interesting and very captivating artistically. In fact the opening 5 minute scene was the most compelling and well produced piece of artistic cinematic experience I've ever witnessed in terms of overall visual and aural impact. It needed to be viewed many times to sink in and absorb all elements which made it so great. Huge credit to the writer and director Lars von Trier for this masterpiece of slow motion.

In particular the music running through this opening scene made my hair stand up. I just had to research it more. Turns out it's an aria called "Lascia ch'io Pianga" which was composed by Handel for his opera Rinaldo - performed in Italian. This first aired in 1711 which makes this music a baroque piece and is much older than I expected, it just feels more modern. The instrument running through it is beautiful - I'm assuming its a harpsichord which would be typical of that period. But it was the female singer's voice which really made the aria magical. Again some research reveals her to be a Danish mezzo-soprano called Tuva Semmingsen. Never heard of her? Neither had I. But I also since then listened to well known classical singers like Katherine Jenkins and Hayley Westenra sing this "Lascia ch'io Pianga" piece and to me they just did not offer the same chilling and powerful impact. The original aria - from what I can tell in translation - is a sad lament of a captive for freedom and Tuva Semmingsen interprets this sentiment so well in her performance. The clarity and sharpness of her voice is wonderful - it suits a horror movie! I'm no expert in classical singing - but maybe it's also partly a feature of the mezzo-soprano range, her voice seems fuller and more dramatic for this piece.

This sadness conveyed so well is compatible with the Antichrist movie's strong opening theme - a couple in sexual ecstasy just at the point where their toddler child meets his death (unknown to them but all seen by the viewer in slow motion) and with an understandable large element of guilt and pain thereafter for the couple.

You can watch and listen to the movie prologue on YouTube here...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Britain learns new tricks with young dogs!

So Britain now has 43 year old David Cameron as the youngest prime minister for nearly 200 years (Robert Jenkinson was just a year younger when he became prime minister in 1812). You have to go back to William Pitt the younger in 1783 to find the unusual record age of 24 for a prime minister of Britain. And Cameron's deputy PM Nick Clegg of the Liberals is also a mere 43 years old. Fresh faced Eton-type English boys!

A numbers of things amused me about the election when compared to Irish elections over the last few decades.

* The British are so unused to hung parliaments and the concept of coalition. It was funny to see the visible effrontery of some Conservative MPs (notably William Hague) when the Liberals decided to also hold talks with Labour - having initially talked only to the Conservatives!! How dare they do that!! We in Ireland are so used to inter-party horse-trading after elections that such practise wouldn't raise an eyebrow.

* The lack of proportional representation (PR) in Britain brought the results out very quickly - with none of the multiple count results excitement we are used to. It's interesting that our little nation has a much more sophisticated way of giving voters a choice and that the mighty Britain still uses a simple first-past-the-post system. Indeed-it looks like the new boy-leaders are going to look at electoral reform and maybe PR for the future.

* I now feel really old at 55 - youngsters aged in their 40s are Government leaders the UK, USA and Ireland!! Well in truth our Brian Cowen just turned 50 this year but he became prime minister at 48.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leo Varadkar shoots Garrett Fitzgerald

I was amused by Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar's outburst in the Dail chamber in recent days.

Varadkar said to Brian Cowen that he was no Jack Lynch, no John Bruton, but that he was more like Garrett Fitzgerald having tripled the national debt. He also went on to say that Brian Cowen should enjoy writing boring articles in the Irish Times in a few years time. Another apparent reference to Garrett Fitzgerald.

Of course it was a clear witty parody of the famous "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" quotation from the USA vice presidential candidates televised debate from 1988 which really put the inexperienced Dan Quayle in his place!!

However I do think Varadkar as an FG spokesman shot himself in the foot by choosing wrong leaders to both praise and criticise. I actually was stunned that he chose former FG Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald to criticise and my initial impression was that he looked like he made a clumsy error in mixing up parties.

On deeper analysis of course there is probably an anger by the young bucks in FG at Garrett's apparent respect or tolerance of the Government's NAMA scheme coupled by an element of ageism in dismissing the 84 year old Garrett Fitzgerald.

I think it was a tactless, clumsy and ill thought out choice of words by a Fine Gael candidate who otherwise looks like a TD with a good future.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

George Lee and Negativity

I've written here about George Lee as an RTE commentator during the Celtic Tiger times (2006). He was totally negative of the Irish Economy and it's dependence on property boom etc. You could argue that he was proved right in the end although I would question if he had analysed the right reasons for the collapse. But anyhow - fair dues - he got what he wished for so-to-speak and I've no doubt his constant down-talking helped the Irish people to get more nervous and spend less and less... I think he helped talk us deeper into recession.

My impression is that George is a good commentator and observer and is very articulate. He appeals to many in Ireland because so many of us love totally knocking the government and policies. Although I lean towards Fianna Fail in my political outlook I find it hard to be specifically too critical of Fine Gael in the George resignation saga. I continue to get a distinct impression of George Lee as a knocker who is poor on driving ideas and policy. I've lost count of the number of times in the last year where I've heard George spit fire about the government and yet when challenged he offered nothing as an alternative direction. When questions such as "What would you do instead?" came up the interviewer would get vague stuff like.."Well, I'll tell you what I wouldn't do" or "We need to work out a plan". To this day I've still no idea what George WOULD DO except continue to moan and lament the way many Irish people do.

Lastnight on RTE's Frontline program, Dr. Leo Varadker TD the Fine Gael Enterprise spokesman only reinforced my own opinion on George Lee as a Moany Mary rather than a doer. If we are to believe Dr. Varadker it seems that as soon as George came in to the Dail he was given the position of chairman of the FG economic policy committee. Apparently George didn't ever call one meeting of this committee and wasn't involved in having other people on that committee. He also did not write down any policy drafts as part of this role we are told.

George was given a golden boy endorsement by the electorate. Okay, he is entitled to resign and leave politics. But what I do object to is his attitude that it was somehow Fine Gael and the party political system which failed him. He would have more respect from me if he just put his hands up and admitted that he simply is not the type of person who can drive or lead policy. It's not a sin to try and fail.

I don't pretend to know George Lee very deeply except what I learn of him through the media. But he does remind me of a certain percentage of the scores of sales and technical people I've hired and fired in my business career over the last 30 years. I've had some people who are better talkers than achievers and blame others for anything that fails around them. Then I've had real winners who put their heads down and get their goals done in spite of challenges by working with people and getting around problems. George reminds me of the former more than the latter.

I'm not saying Fine Gael don't have some internal issues to resolve and I'm sure most parties could do things better internally. But in my opinion the problem with George Lee's resignation is at least 80% to do with George and his incompatible skills for the job.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dramatic Wind Power Solution to Irish Economic Crises

Copy of Press Release... Leading Ireland’s Bright Future

7th May 2009 – A breakthrough national project is being launched today by the Spirit of Ireland Group. Broken into two phases - Step 1 promises Energy Independence for Ireland within 5 Years with a €10 billion stimulus to the economy. Step 2 will see energy exports from Ireland in years 6, 7 and 8 of €3 billion to €5 billion per year or up to €50 billion over the following 10 years. Both phases will seek to help secure Ireland’s financial future.

A national awareness campaign is running across the national print media today to inform the public and precipitate a national discussion in order to develop social consensus around this exciting opportunity with respect to Ireland’s future.

Over 90% of all the electricity we use is generated from imported, fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. We have no control over the fluctuating costs of imported fuel leaving us strategically naked and resulting in Ireland having the most expensive electricity in Europe. Over the past six months a team of very experienced Engineers, Academics, Architects, Geologists, Hydro Geologists, Environmental Engineers, Construction Experts, Consultants, Legal and Finance professionals have been working intensively on ideas proposed by Professor Igor Shvets of Trinity College. The results of this work have stunning implications for our country.

The Problems with Wind
It is essential to deal with the challenges presented by wind energy:-
Its volatility as a fuel source – it is difficult to predict, intermittent and variable in strength.
Costs involved in harvesting the wind and connection to the power network.
Instabilities created in the power network and dispatching difficulties for network operators.
Lack of energy storage capabilities.

The Solution
Hydro Storage Reservoirs resolve these difficulties by storing excess wind energy and providing more generation capacity when required. The Turlough Hill facility is a well established example of this principle.

Professor Igor Shvets has identified suitable valleys on the West Coast, which are ideally shaped. Basic rock dams in a few valleys, will provide Hydro Storage Reservoirs at modest cost. Positioned close to the sea, water volume is not an issue. Japan’s J-Power had built a successful sea water storage facility in Okinawa over 10 years ago. Senior executives and engineers from Japan visited Ireland and confirmed the validity of this approach. Filling the reservoirs with wind energy and using it when needed means that the intermittency of the wind problem is resolved. International Consultants from Canada, the US and Norway contributed to other aspects of the design.

The basic plan proposes to:
· Locate wind farms in suitable areas to harvest energy
· Save the resulting energy in Hydro Storage Reservoirs
· Natural energy released from Hydro Storage Reservoirs is instantly dispatchable and is ideal for both domestic use and export
· Secure energy supplies and save up to €30 billion in hard cash over 10 years on fossil fuel imports

As well as harnessing excess energy for export, the project will create jobs on a local and national level and lead to huge investment in throughout the country. We will have a massive impact on carbon dioxide emmissions.

Social Consensus for a Secure Future
To build a secure future for Ireland, we will have to construct the Hydro Storage Reservoirs, Wind Farms and Collection Networks and connect these to the grid to supply Natural Energy countrywide. Social consensus in the construction of these facilities is essential. Every effort will be made to ensure this is done in an ecologically sensitive manner by using our most talented experts, architects, environmental and civil engineers. We need to achieve consensus and support from everyone to ensure a secure future for Ireland and a better global environment. Local communities play a key role in the success of this project. The principle will be to improve the economic standing and environment of the areas containing the Hydro Storage Reservoirs.

The Costs
To achieve energy independence and save €15 billion in fossil fuel imports over five years, the country will need to build two Hydro Storage Reservoirs at a cost of €800m each. Wind farms will be connected to these reservoirs via a collection network. The cost of adding a MW to the network is €1.3m. Graham O’Donnell, electrical engineer with 20 years International Power Grid experience and spokesperson with Professor Igor Shvets for ‘Spirit of Ireland’ is asking people to now consider the role that we can all play in improving the state of our nation, ‘We want to get people talking about this initiative and realising that there is much we can do to determine our future. We must decide, as a nation, if we want to take this route to prosperity. We can be the controllers of our country’s financial and environmental destiny. If people want to “have their say”, we want to hear them. The purpose of the national press campaign is to actively encourage the public to register their opinion at’.

Mr O’Donnell continues, ‘By harnessing our wind energy resource, we have the potential to become energy independent and self reliant as a nation. As a result, we will cut our carbon emissions, our energy bill and create jobs and wealth for the future good of the country. Our people, pension funds and Government can invest in and support this initiative. This has potential to be of huge economic benefit to our country’.
The Spirit of Ireland is our people using our talents working together for our country.
Let us begin.

We invite You to register your opinion, please visit

‘The answer, is blowing, in the wind’ – Bob Dylan (copyright 1962)

- Ends-
For further information please contact:
Ann Corcoran / Eavan Breslin / Lynne McCormack
limetree, 20 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, Dublin 2
Office 01-6432303/01 6432304
Ann’s Mobile 087-6175411
Eavan’s Mobile 087-6086960
Lynne’s Mobile 086-2261881 / /

Notes to Editors
Research work to date
The project team brought in expertise from J-Power (Japan), leading international consultants Knight Piesold (Canada) and Devine Tarbell (US). Rainpower (Norway) and Kema (UK) were also consulted. Major equipment suppliers Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Siemens and Toshiba provided detailed equipment specifications and costs. Geographic surveys of potential glacial valleys were undertaken.

Detailed computer models were implemented to assess storage capability of preferred sites and size of required dams. Network designs were considered and cabling options costed by quotation from large scale European suppliers/contractors. Potential power dispatch models were designed.

SIAC construction under the leadership of Managing Director Finn Lyden, evaluated the costs of dams and civil works. SISK confirmed that their costs would be similar. SIAC confirmed the feasibility of tower, penstock and component manufacture in Ireland.

Architects prepared provisional designs of the generator building and visitor’s centres and these were costed by a firm of very experienced quantity surveyors.

Environmental impacts are being assessed with assistance from senior academic colleagues from Trinity College and independent consultants. Consultation is being sought in Brussels.

Energy Independence
To replace €30 billion in imports over 10 years, a peak load of approximately 7000 MW and base load of approximately 3500 MW could be served by an additional 2500 wind turbines and two Hydro Storage Reservoirs. These could be on line in five years. Existing and presently planned Wind farms would also play their part.

Spirit of Ireland
Spirit of Ireland is a volunteer group of Engineers, Academics, Architects, Geologists, Construction, Consultants, Legal, Finance, Students, Writers, professionals and interested people from all walks of Irish life. Your opinions and participation are very welcome. By embracing this initiative, the Spirit of Ireland group believe that Irish people can play a part in deciding their own destiny and the future economic security of the country. The group is a voluntary group and are not involved in this process for any financial gain but rather the knowledge that the future of our country will be financially secure.

Graham O’Donnell - Biography
Graham O’Donnell is an Electrical and Electronics Engineer with over 20 years in control and communications of international power networks. He holds an Honours Diploma in Electrical Engineering from DIT Kevin Street and is an Honours B.Sc.(Eng.) graduate from Trinity College Dublin. He also won a Post Graduate Scholarship to the University of Paris to study Applied Systems.

Graham worked on project management of water, gas and energy projects in Ireland, Europe and Asia before founding his own company in 1988, which specialised in control of power networks and high voltage substations. His company was responsible for design of 400kv Grid Synchronisation equipment for National Grid UK, remote Substation Grid Control for Scottish Power and other large power utilities in the UK. He developed power network control systems in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

In 1988 Graham also co-founded Orbiscom, a company which developed unique technologies for Controlled Credit and Debit Card Payment. The company holds US, European and world-wide patents, which are cross-licensed to Microsoft.
Graham is a widower and proud father of four children.

Professor Igor Shvets – Biography
Igor Shvets (46) was born and grew up in Ukraine. He graduated from MFTI, one of the leading Soviet Universities in 1986 with an MSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, with a Certificate of Excellence. He completed a PhD in 1990 specialising in materials science.

Prof Shvets arrived in Ireland in 1990 and has been based at Trinity College since then teaching science and engineering students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In 2007 he was promoted to a Personal Chair, the highest university academic position. The chair is entitled Professor of Applied Physics. He leads one of Ireland’s most active and productive research groups, enjoying excellent international recognition. Prof Shvets leads the Energy theme within the School of Physics and has also established the Cleaner Energy Laboratory within Trinity College. He also regularly publishes papers in world’s leading Applied Physics journals.

Igor Shvets is probably Ireland’s most prolific inventor at present with over 50 patents and patent applications. From his academic research Igor has initiated two spin out companies, Deerac ( and Cellix Ltd ( Both companies are export-orientated high-tech ventures producing products invented in Ireland, excellent examples of knowledge-based economy in action.

Igor Shvets is an Irish national. He has been married to Irina, a software specialist with IBM, for 22 years and is a dedicated father of three children.


Ireland CAN PROSPER within 5 years!!

"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for for your country"

I quote JFK's immortal words because I need the help of the Irish blogging community to spread a vital message and create a debate on a proven natural energy solution which will make Ireland energy independent and an economically strong nation.

In recent months I've personally worked in a very small way on this solution with a purely voluntary team calling itself Spirit of Ireland. The team is composed of Irish people who include skilled engineers, architects, academics, geologists, construction consultants, finance specialists, legal experts and many others.

You may have noticed the full page adverts in today's newspapers and interviews on Pat Kenny's RTE radio program this morning with two of the Spirit of Ireland's key people. Various Government Depts. have already had meetings with the Spirit of Ireland and early feedback is already very encouraging.

Please go to to learn more and get involved in a national debate. You will find a red button with "PLEASE, PLEASE TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!"

So what I really need Bloggers to do is to spread the word virally through the blogging community and get Ireland as a nation to debate this idea. This is truly a YES WE CAN opportunity for your country!

Also see copy of today's press release...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thoughts on US Masters and Golf Generally

I'm increasingly enjoying watching major golf tournaments on TV. Over Easter I was well tuned in to the four days of the US Masters in Augusta, Georgia. BBC had coverage in High Definition via the Sky HD box and the golf course looked glorious on our 50 inch HD plasma TV. Taking in the many panoramas of this beautiful location (example photo on left) sometimes made you forget about the golf and agree with the spirit of the sentiment associated with Mark Twain...that roaming a golf course is a beautiful walk - but spoiled by having to hit balls!

Personally, I only play golf once per year at a nice annual event organised by a company whom I do business with. I don't even own a set of clubs and I've a hopelessly short golf swing - spawned from my youth of playing short pitch and putt courses. It's just as well that the yearly event is in a team scramble format as I would not be allowed near a golf course otherwise. Thankfully my putting is average enough to escape total embarrassment. Overall I find golf a very frustrating game to play and I'm a great admirer of people who can play it properly. As an active tennis player I'm used to hitting the fast moving target of a tennis ball. In a golf drive the ball is a pleasingly stationary target and there is plenty of time to prepare for the shot.....yet it is still so hard to do it right!

So, I'm a keen golf watcher rather than a golf player. But I'm beginning to think I've been watching too much of it recent years. This fact just dawned on me because by middle of the third day of the tournament by some miracle I actually successfully picked Angel Cabrera to win the Masters. Why? Well my reasoning was twofold. During Saturday two average guys who had never won a major before were leading the tournament (Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry). I also noticed that Angel's score was creeping up to get nearer. I had watched Angel play and win the 2007 US Open. His demeanor always gives me the impression of a guy who is relaxed and doesn't tighten mentally on big occasions. So I felt...well Angel might not be as skilled as the best in the game but he should be mentally better than Chad and Kenny when it comes to the crunch on the final day.

On a slightly different subject, an observation stuck me when it got to the exciting 3-man playoff. The three finalists were all technically overweight with varying sized bellies! Kenny Perry is 48 years old and could have made history by being the oldest winner of this - or indeed any - major tournament. Both he and to a lesser extent Chad Campbell had visible paunches. But Angel Cabrera (photo left) is even more overweight and at 40 later this year he is not exactly in the flush of youth either. His shape and mannerisms on the course reminded me fondly of my late father (who was a keen golfer himself). The three of them were such a contrast to the superbly trim, athletic and toned Tiger Woods. It all re-enforces the commonly stated joke that playing golf well is 50% mental....and the other 50% is mental too!

There were plenty of other interesting players to watch in this years Masters. Tiger Woods was coming back, we had the great Phil Mickelson and of course the wonderful Irish interests with Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and the exciting new force of the teenager Rory McIlroy.
Looking forward to the US Open in June!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Rome and Vatican at Night

Rome and Vatican at Night
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
A view along the river Tiber towards St. Peters Basilica. Taken during our August holiday. A challenging shot as it was hand held at 1/4 sec and 1600 ISO.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The haunting Pantheon

The haunting Pantheon
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
When we visited Rome in August one of the buildings which had a profound affect on me was the Pantheon. In the bustle of a colourful city square with modern restaurants and buildings was this sepia toned ancient hulking and somewhat disturbing Roman ghost. It totally dominated the square in such a silent and eerie way...the history of 2,000 years etched on its scarred profile. It seemed to exude a menacing boast that all our modern architecture in this square could never match the majesty and longevity of this amazing building built by the bare hands of thousands and thousands of workers with the most basic of tools.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Love Story

Love Story
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
In February I had a Flickrmail from a young Californian man called James. He told me that his girlfriend Emmi was studying in Ireland and he was about to travel over to Ireland to meet up with her on St. Patrick's Day. James said that he was planning to propose to Emmi during his visit and wanted my advise on a nice quiet and scenic coastal location in Dublin for the proposal. Wow, talk about putting me under pressure, LOL! After a little thought I suggested the above elevated location in a large parkland at Killiney Hill and gave him detailed directions.

I didn't think I would hear from James again. However late last month I got another Flickrmail from a very happy James. He told me that the proposal went very well on Killiney Hill and that they both loved the location! So I'm sure you will all join me in congratulating James and Emmi on their Irish engagement.

I took the above shot a few weeks ago as a little tribute to the happy couple while I was up for a regular walk on Killiney Hill. The inserts are photos from James and Emmi which they took themselves on Killiney Hill just after the successful proposal. Yes I know the blended image is probably a bit mushy and sentimental...but I'm an incurable romantic, LOL!

You can visit James and Emmi's Irish proposal page photos at

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Arrival of Columbus

The Arrival of Columbus
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
This is my attempt to interpret the essence of one of my favourite short poems "The Caravels" written in about 1918.
It's such a simple yet powerfully descriptive poem from the viewpoint of a Native American. I love the man's shock and lack of understanding of how the huge ships are moving - only having been used to little canoes with paddles or oars. But in particular the line "His fallen hands forgetting all their shells" is what I focused on in the image. The forgotten shells of course are a physical symbol of the change about to take place from his old way of life. This is why the shells are emphasised a bit brighter and translucent to the sunlight. Also we are told Columbus landed in morning time - hence the low Sun from the east.
The seashore is not the West Indies but a shot I took in Donegal last year!
The Indian is me in silhouette - with a Halloween mask/wig! Taken indoors recently and added to original.
The shells were collected in Sandycove beach and added later with some computerised movement effects.
The three caravel images were found on the Internet and blended in.

The Caravels - by J. C. Squire

There was an Indian, who had known no change,
Who strayed content along a sunlit beach Gathering shells.
He heard a sudden strange Commingled noise: looked up; and gasped for speech.

For in the bay, where nothing was before,
Moved on the sea, by magic, huge canoes
With bellying cloths on poles, and not one oar,
And fluttering coloured signs and clambering crews.

And he, in fear, this naked man alone,
His fallen hands forgetting all their shells,
His lips gone pale, knelt low behind a stone,
And stared, and saw, and did not understand,
Columbus's doom-burdened caravels
Slant to the shore, and all their seaman land.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
My youngest daughter Shona (18) enjoys a few jumps around the garden on Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What a Turkey!

The Irish national song contest to chose a song for the Eurovision usually bores the hell out of me and I haven't watched it for years...and I didn't watch it this year either. I must admit that initially I cringed on hearing that we had selected a glove puppet - Dustin the Turkey.

I watched the video on the net today and I felt a bit better. I've always said over the last few years that what we needed was a good punchy visual stage extravaganza. This act pulled it off fairly well. It's a crap song and Dustin can't sing but the words are funny and I also wouldn't underestimate the hypnotic effects on the voting masses of the regularly repeated words... "Irelande douze pointe"! He looks funny too and there's dancers and colour etc. The Eurovision is now a money sucking operation aimed at the millions of fools who pay to vote on instant impact is unfortunately no longer an outlet for exposing great music - which often has to be listened to repeatedly to fully appreciate.

I saw also a video of Dustin being interviewed on Sky ideal exposure for him...the TV equivalent the Daily Mirror for instant appeal sugar coated stories. One big thought came to me from watching the Sky interview...ironically it shows we have grown up somewhat as a nation. Twenty years ago we would have been far too embarrassed to put such an act together. We had an inferiority complex as a nation....we would be afraid that other countries - especially Britain - would laugh AT us.

Now it's different. We are confident in ourselves, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the best nations and are better off and more skilled than most of them. We've won the Eurovision seven times - more often than any country. If we want to do something different and put on a light hearted fun show at the Eurovision - then why not!? If it does very well (as it might) it will be the perfect statement of what the Eurovision has become.

Go on ya good thing!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Am I Walking into Eternity...

...along Sandymount Strand?" (Stephen in the novel Ulysses by James Joyce)

I went for a walk along Sandymount Strand, Dublin at dusk this evening. It's truly a massive expanse of beach when the tide is out. I thought about the character of Stephen in the novel Ulysses and his philosophical musings as he walked on the same strand in 1904.

Yes it's a timer self portrait and yes the camera got dirty with sand!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Brooding Darkness...

"Brooding Darkness...
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
...spreads his jealous wings, and the night raven sings". (John Milton from start of the epic poem L'Allegro).

Spotted in Blackrock Park last week during full daylight and given a bit of Moonlight treatment in Photoshop. This general approach was often used in old Hollywood movies - filmed in daylight but darkened and tinted to give a night look - also called "nuite americaine" effect.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
My daughter Shona (right) and her pal Alannah enjoying their dual 18th birthday party last August.

I like this shot because of the way their good friendship is so obvious and the gentle way Shona holds Alannah's hand. I always think that friendships made at school at that age can last a lifetime, even as they go on to lead different lives.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Old Man and the Birds

The Old Man and the Birds
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
I look this photo last Autumn in Stephens Green Dublin. I've often noticed elderly people taking a interest in being near birds and feeding them etc. So maybe it's something I need to watch out for as a sign as I get older!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
Water dispenser in a remote part of Donegal, Ireland.

I played on the computer with selective colour as you can see.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Go Forth My Child

Go Forth My Child
Originally uploaded by John of Dublin.
Sorry I've been quiet for awhile on the Blog side. My main hobby in the last year has been photography and related interaction with the Flickr photographic web site. Tennis also occupies my time.

I haven't thought of much to say in the blog lately so when I'm feeling blank maybe I'll just post the occasional photo which I've been uploading to Flickr. This shot was taken at home with flash photography of a pose by my eldest daughter Amy and I. The background was added later in Photoshop. It's loosely based on the "Creation of Adam" painting by Michelangelo.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two Books on Martin Cahill - aka The General

I wrote recently on people's attitudes to the human sides of criminals. This was prompted by Frances Cahill's appearance on the Late Late Show last month to talk about her new book Martin Cahill - My Father. I found myself subsequently buying and reading her book. Given that it was a daughter writing the book I felt it prudent to get an overall balanced view, so I simultaneously purchased and read the book The General by crime journalist Paul Williams.

Surprisingly to me, there was a reasonable amount of consistency about the human side of Martin Cahill in both books. I certainly came away with the view that the man was clever, imaginative, witty, full of ironies and indeed caring for family and friends. He wasn't involved in the drug business and although he certainly injured, terrorised and robbed many people, it clearly seems true that he didn't kill anyone (although there is much evidence on a few cases where it seems he may have tried). Oddly too perhaps for an underworld figure - Cahill neither drank alcohol nor smoked and was not a high social flyer or casual womaniser.

I found both books good reads but there was much more weight and substance in the Paul Williams book. Incidentally the Williams book also inspired the movie The General - in which actor Brendan Gleeson played a great part (and does have a good resemblance facially to photos of Martin Cahill). Having said that, Frances Cahill put together an interesting inside view of Martin Cahill the family man. It's possible by reading both books to unravel a little the areas which may be a daughter's natural tendency to glorify her father. One noticable feature was also Frances Cahill's bitterness to the authorities and the policing service. In spite on the many factual consistencies between the books, there is much left unsaid in Frances Cahill's book (she claims not to know about many things her father was allegedly up to) and there are also some differences. Frances, for instance, doesn't seem to like or accept the notion of her mother and her mother's sister both being lovers of her father. Williams treats this area quite sensitively, claiming that the sisters both loved him and shared him in full understanding with each other and that both had a number of children by him. A kind of happy ménage-a-trois. Williams claims that Martin Cahill was very respectful to women and was indeed very family oriented - as Frances claims too of course.

I've also spoken to a few of my friends who knew the General - one who was a neighbour in the middle-class Cowper Downs area of Rathgar and another who was a detective at the time. From all I've learned on the man my attitude to Cahill has weaved through all sorts of thoughts. My final overall impression is one of a fairly detestable and dangerous individual to most outside his circle of friends and family, but a nonetheless complex and interesting figure. He certainly was very different to other underworld people in his era and in spite of all the ugly activity there is much ironic humour and even warm humanity in evidence. I really would recommend reading the Paul Williams book. It's quite rivetting and actually seems to come across with a balanced treatment on The General's positive and negative traits. The Frances Cahill book does offer some additional internal family insight and certain other information - but it does not present anything like a full view of the General's alleged activities (and indeed to be fair it doesn't claim to). I would certainly only recommend it as a read after having read the Williams book.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

1913 Rural Ireland...stunning colour photographs!

I visited the In Search of Ireland exhibition in Temple Bar recently. I would highly recommend it.

It's a fascinating story. Two French ladies, Madelaine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet, aged in their early thirties visited Ireland during May and June of 1913. They were equipped with camera equipment and the newly invented autochrome colour photographic plates. They were destined to capture the first colour photographs of Ireland and it's people. The women were recent graduates of the French based Albert Kahn foundation which aimed to document and photograph the people and places in remote parts of the World which were likely to be subject to irrevocable change in the near future. The women travelled from the Galway area gradually eastwards through the midlands and ended up on the east coast around the Meath area. They seem to have avoided Dublin city and other large towns and were concentrating on the rural people, their appearance, lifestyle and landscape.

When we think of the rural Irish people in the early 1900s the images we have are invariably in B&W. To see the faces and garments of the local people in full colour gives a whole new dimension. I was completely blown away by the exhibition for number of reasons....

The notes and observations made by the French women were just as impressive as the colour images. What came across to me very much was that although many of the country folk were shy of the visitors with their cameras they still warmed to them. I think that being women and French made a difference. They were not a threat as part of any landlord system and the French were traditionally friends of Ireland at least in their common opposition to the British (the enemy of my enemy is my friend!). The intended photography was not part of any oppressive agenda. Nobody photographed was trying to either impress or be obstructive. Indeed - in spite of the 10 second exposure requiring people to be a bit still and stiff -the people appeared really natural in their genuine daily lives.

Madelaine and Marguerite noticed some women with a very dark haired and Hispanic look and postulated that the strong past Spanish Armada connections with Ireland would have produced this genetic feature. I smile to myself at this as we Irish today often think that the recent arrival of settling immigrants is unique in our history.

One of the photos which really wowed me was that of the young dark haired woman with the bright red shawl. On first glance at the girl's features in this amazing colour photograph she could easily pass for a Leaving Cert student in Ireland today. On closer inspection of the photograph the life of hardship does show...her hands and fingers are toughened and nails are grimy from hard manual work and indeed the same could be said about her bare feet. Her teeth look yellowy and in need of modern care!

Although the photographers were in Ireland in the summer months they were greeted with very high winds and much rain throughout their visit which was a painful parallel to the tough, bleak and often tragic lifestyles which they encountered. Some of the notes mention the baron nature of Connemara and the often wide separation of tiny isolated dwellings a well as the presence of typhoid and other sicknesses. They do however also mention some of the stories of the people and their simple optimism. One little story about stones and a cure for headaches stuck a personal reminder for me of the type of tales and cures my paternal granny (who was from a rural background) used to tell me when I was a child. We really are not so far separated from this type of Ireland..and seeing colour photographs of the early 1900s does bring this to mind even more.

There are 54 photos in the collection and plenty of interesting accompanying notes. I would dearly love to read all the notes that these ladies took on their visit, it would make for a great publication. It was not possible to buy any copies of the photographs and photography in the exhibition was not allowed. I did however naughtily sneak a rushed and blurred phone camera shot of the wall print of the girl with the red shawl. It was poor quality.

Update 28 Feb 2011: An Italian visitor to the same exhbition took a much better photo (shown above) and as he kindly said in comments below - this photo should belong to the Irish people. So thank you Gianni, your photo is wonderful. It is terrific to share an image of the first ever colour photo of a young rural Irish girl in 1913. From another comment on my blog it seems the girl's name was Mian Kelly, then aged about 15. Mian passed away in 1973 aged 75. Mian was also a grandmother of another commenter below.

I've since then purchased the full book "The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn: Colour Photographs from a Lost Age". It's available via bookstores or on Amazon. It includes great photos from around the World at the time and a fascinating selection from the Irish visit - including the above.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Do we want to hear about the warm human side of major criminals?

I watched Pat Kenny's TV interview on Friday with Frances Cahill - daughter of the late notorious Dublin criminal Martin Cahill who was also known as The General. Frances has written a book about her father. From what I can gather she has written it from the perspective of a child's view of her father as she was growing up.

Seemingly Martin Cahill was a loving father and Frances' has very good memories of him as she growing up. So the book was an attempt I suppose to show another side of the much hated criminal. Predictably, the messages sent into the show were almost entirely very negative about giving any airtime to a book that showed a warm side to this nasty criminal.

I'm not in a position to offer any useful specific comments on this new book as I have not read it. However, the barrage of negative comments coming in (presumably from people who had not read the book - as it is just published) set me thinking a little of how society view people who do evil. I think we often view criminals as inhuman monsters who have no right to respect for any positive human qualities. We do not want to hear about the side of an evil criminal who loves his daughter and reads her a bedtime story. We fear that by airing such notions that the criminal could be wrongly made to look humane and therefore lessen the evil of their crimes.

Life is never black and white the way we would like it to be. People are never pure 100% evil. But if my own life had been ruined by somebody like the General then I'll admit that my initial tendency would be to winch at the thought of listening to his kind human qualities.

On a bigger scale this attitude also applies in dealing with political dictators and terrorist leaders. Very often democratic leaders cannot accept that such people are anything but psychotic lunatics. No point at all in negotiating, listening and learning how to work such people around to more sensible ways. But like it or not, evil dictators are often lovers of art and music and are tender with children and families. At fundamental levels they are not as different to you and I as we like to believe. They become obsessed on a particular negative track and correcting inputs get ignored or dismissed. But there are many examples of people being persuaded to turn their back completely on violence and evil and leading normal productive lives.

A big subject and I'm not a psychologist, but certainly food for thought. By understanding people better at all levels maybe we have some of the ingredients to approach correction. Closing our ears to the full person seems wrong.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What were you doing when President John F Kennedy was shot?

Without even checking a calendar I can recall that 22nd November 1963 fell on a Friday. I was eight years old. My parents did not yet have television at the time. However my Uncle Paddy and his wife Sheila did have a television and at the end of the school week on a Friday night I was often allowed to watch some TV with them. Their house was right behind ours and accessed from our back garden into their back garden. So that evening I was merrily enjoying some interesting movie on RTE (Telifis Eireann as it was called then) in the inglorious days of snowy black and white reception. The movie was interrupted and a newsflash came up. A rather stunned looking news presenter - the famous Charles Mitchel - came on the screen to say that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and had been rushed to hospital. Even as an eight year old I was more than a little shocked. Kennedy was adored in our household and had only been over to Ireland in summer of the same year.

My Aunt Sheila's mother Mrs O'Brien was watching the newsflash with me and she was quite upset about it. She carefully told me to rush home and tell my parents about this shocking news.

I ran out the back door and across to our house. I told my mother that President Kennedy had been shot. To my surprise she just laughed and told me that I was confused. Mum knew I'd gone over to watch a movie and she announced to my Dad and I that I must have been watching the movie "PT109" which was about the young JFK and his adventures in the US navy during the Pacific war with Japan. It took me quite a bit of explaining to convince her to turn on the wireless. Our old valve radio seemed to take longer that usual to warm up. Eventually the radio confirmed my version of events and the household went into turmoil. I recall that initially there was hope that Kennedy might live but they speculated that the head wound could render him useless. Not long afterwards the death was confirmed.

I've written before on how important a figure Kennedy was to Irish people. It was almost as if a family member had died and the mood in the house descended into a deep sadness. I remember Mrs Farrell next door coming into our house and bawling her eyes out. Most households had Kennedy photographs on the walls and mantelpieces at the time which had equal status to religious pictures.

The death of Kennedy was really like a personal loss to Irish households in a way that I have never since witnessed in my long life by the death of any public figure. To us he was our proud son who reached the pinnacle. He had pure Irish lineage on his mother and father's side all the way back to the dark days of famine emigration. He was the leader of the most powerful nation on earth and he was ours! People in Ireland in the 1960s were still very introverted in looking out at our status in the World. But Kennedy gave us - myself very much included - the belief in ourselves that anything we dream was possible.