Saturday, September 23, 2017


Thanks to the Lord Mayor for the lend of the photo
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I didn't really sign up for Culture Night. I just knew that Lisa Marie Griffith was guide for a tour of Trinity and South City Georgian Dublin on 22 October 2017 and I went and booked myself in. Then I forgot about it until the day arrived.

My first contact with Lisa was through that wonderful blog "Pue's Occurrences". This was a real quality blog and it's an awful pity it is no longer active. But at least it is still online.

My attitude to town is, when in town do as much town stuff as you can. So, once there I rarely sit down.

The walking tour didn't start until 5.30pm, which I only later realised was the kick off time for culture night. My plan was to go in early, do some stuff, take the tour and, if I then saw any culture happening around me, give it a whirl.

So my first port of call was to the Dublin City Library and Archive where I thought I might remind whoever was in charge, now that Máire Kennedy is gone, that I had tentatively offered to do a talk for a family history day on "A Whimsical Look at Death". But there was nobody around.

Anyway, I had missed taking a photo at the opening of the Jacobs biscuit exhibition there which I needed to garnish an already published blog post, and I sorted that. You can see the result above.

Then I checked out the visitors' book for updates. Since the opening of the exhibition various people had signed in. In general the praise for the exhibition was fulsome and the book recorded the visits of many who either worked in Jacobs or whose relatives had worked there.

Despite it being a fantastic exhibition, there were, of course, the few begrudgers, and that saddened me. However I cheered up when I found a new entry by Mark Merrigan whose grandmother had worked in Jacobs and whose photo I had taken at the exhibition launch. Ann Rogers is now in her 90s.

I then dropped in to the Alliance Française with the aim of trying to flog them a talk. When I gave a talk there in 2015 on Killiney Bay and its Martellos, the Director was quite pleased and asked me if I had any more. I didn't. But then I got to thinking and came up with a sort of "Me and the French" narrative and the Director sounded like he might be interested.

But now he's gone so I thought I might slip in a reminder in person to the new guy if he was around. After all I just walked in off the street with my original talk. However, I forgot it was culture night and everyone was flying around the place like busy bees.

Defeated, I took refuge in the Café Joly in the National Library of Ireland, and while there spotted the typwriter. This time it was not on prominent display and had its cover on. But I spotted the yellow frame peeping out at me and was glad to see it back. Last time I was there it had gone missing.


It wasn't quite 5 o'clock but I decided to go round and check out the assembly point for my tour at the Mansion House.

That was when I spotted the mile long queue in Molesworth St. Yes I know the street is not a mile long but you know what I mean. All thes people were queueing to get a glimpse of the inside of the Freemasons' HQ.

I figured they must all have been Dan Browne fans on a pilgrimage from Roslyn. Unlike at Roslyn, where entry is £9 a pop, this was free. Everything on culture night is free. That's what it's all about.

Needless to say, there was no sign of action at the assembly point. Well, it was more than half an our before the appointed time.

So I continued on to Stephen's Green and lo and behold. Another monster queue outside the Little Museum of Dublin.

Now this is a real gem and if you haven't been, a visit is a must. It does help if you're Irish, and a Dubliner and born before the Holy Year as it is a real trip down memory lane. If you're a visitor, the guide will explain it all to you.

So back I come to the asseembly point at the Mansion House, but still no action. I spent my time watching the world go by in all its shapes and sizes. Then, out of the corner of my eye I spot something that sets my euro-red-lights flashing and my euro-bells ringing.

Surely that euro-flag on "The Dawson" & "Sams" is not flying upside down. It's very hard to make it out when the flag is just drooping but eventually a little gust does the needful and yes, upside down it is.

With time on my hands I cross the road, carefully avoiding the new LUAS trams. I eventually run down a member of management sufficiently high up the food chain to receive my report.

I am first met with some incredulity, but I'm well used to that. People still don't realise you can actually fly the European flag upside down. When the light dawns I am assured that the matter will be attended to and thanked for my trouble.

Back to the assembly point only to find that some cheeky person has parked their car right in the middle of the forecourt.

On closer inspection the reg looks suspicious. The first Dublin registered car of 2017 parked on the forecourt of the first citizen's residence.

Yes, it's the Lord Mayor's own car. A bit flaunty I thought. But you can't blame the current Sinn Féin Lord Mayor, Mícheál Mac Donncha, as he only came into office mid-year. Now what was the name of the fella before him.

Shouldn't have said that. There goes any prospect, however slim, of the Freedom of the City before I go.

Anyway, time for the tour and no sign of Lisa. This other fella calls us to order and begins to tell the story of the Mansion House quarter, the foresight of the developers, not to mention their skullduggery and the venality of the politicians of the day.

Turns out it's Eamon Darcy from the history faculty in NUI Maynooth. And he turned out great.

We got a historical debunking tour - an education for any true blue Dubliner or Christian Brother's boy. [I should just give a plug here to the Dominican nuns from Eccles St (Scoil Caitríona san áireamh) or I'll be relegated from Blogger to a humble position on the free version of Wordpress.]

The tour was well structured with three stopping points: the Mansion House, Trinity College and Merrion Square.

In the Trinity quad, beside but carefully not beneath the campanile, we got a deconstruction of the 1641 "massacres" and depositions, an end-of-term report on sexist Provost Salmon, and a eulogy of, what would then have been considered revisionist, historian Lecky. All heady stuff and with the statues of these two luminaries flanking the speaker..

Finally in Merrion Square/Street, we learned of the Duke of Lenister's arrogance and Developer Fitzwilliam's foresight and abhorrence of the Duke. We discovered that although Wellington, contrary to popular belief, had not been born in a stable, Daniel O'Connell couldn't tell the difference. And finally, that there were no ordinary people in this area in those times.

Thanks to Eamon for a most informative and entertaining tour.

What next?

I had noticed a trumpet quartet in the newly re-opened forecourt of the National Gallery of Ireland as we passed earlier. The Gallery has just completed a major refurbishment during which some two thirds of it was closed to the public and you couldn't get in from the Merrion St. end.

A pity there were only a few stragglers listening to the music. But never mind, the night was still young.

I decided to go on inside and check out the fluctuating fortunes of a man who had attended the Central Model School and Synge St. in his day and who was subsequently the major philanthropic benefactor of the Gallery.

Good, following the refurbishment, during which he was a bit sidelined, George Bernard Shaw has now in a central position in the foyer at the Clare St. entrance.

Content, I moved on to my next port of call.

I stopped off at the Alliance Française once again, but the action there was not scheduled to commence until eight o'clock and it was still about twenty minutes short of that. However, I did get a chance to speak to the Assistant Director and there is the possibility, but only that for now, of another talk there.

There was also a young lady with a pile of yo-yos to interest the children. I was amazed that the legacy of Billy Panama, from my youth, appeared to have been forgotten and the belief now appeared to be that the height of yo-yo competence was simply to get the damn thing to go up and down, the up bit being the major challenge. [Note to myself: market niche there. Twas not for nothing that I won a leather football in the yo-yo competition in the Royal Cinema in Bray all those years ago.]

So off I went to the next venue, promising to drop in on my way back to the DART.

The National Library was offering a performance by the Bach Singers, also starting at eight o'clock, which by this time was fast approaching.

I filled in the few remaining minutes looking at the Library's mini-exhibition of formerly banned or censored film posters from the period long before the Late Late Show brought sex to Ireland. These are from the Library's Liam O'Leary archive which spans the period 1910-92.

The Bach Singers were a treat. They don't just do Bach so we had some other classical composers and a suite of Irish melodies while I was there. Handel's Halleluia Chorus went down a bomb.

The acoustic in the foyer is quite good and these singers sang without amplification.

I decided to head back to the Alliance to sample the Creole Music Night. On my way out, I was dumbfounded to see that there were still long queues waiting to visit the holy of holies. That made it a solid three hours of a long queue and the night was still young.

When I got back to the Alliance, it was packed with a queue way out the door. So I decided to call it a night.

On rounding the corner into Nassau St. I could hear the pulsating music from the inside and just get a glimpse of the back of the musicians from the far side of the street.

I'll leave you with this Dublin icon as I wend my weary way home.

Don't know how these young, and not so young some of them, folk keep going till 11pm when it's all supposed to shut down for another year.

And the day wouldn't be complete without this contribution to our culture in our first national language from the ever-to-be-relied-on Iarnród Éireann.

Oíche mhaith.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


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I was very much looking forward to this exhibition but having visited it, I suppose I should set out where I was coming from, as I found it very disappointing.

I was involved with the Eblana Theatre in the early 1970s when Amalgamated Artists were putting on stuff there. I did sound effects for The Ginger Man, The Singular Man, Little Red Riding Would and Look Back in Anger.

So I was approaching the exhibition from a nostalgic theatrical angle. I realised that Gavin Murphy's interest was primarily in the use and quality of space as opposed to actual performance but I did expect to find enough of interest in the exhibition to make it worth a visit.

The principal space in the exhibition itself was a purpose built cinema/theatre for the screening of Gavin's video on the Eblana. But let me just comment first on the space that first came into view as I entered the premises.

On the right hand side were nine representations of a spinning top with slightly varying shapes and textures. Facing me was a series of stencils projecting at right angles from the wall and side-lit by a spotlight.

On the left hand wall were three vertical brackets housing curved structures at right angles to the wall and a tantalising picture of a small auditorium where just a few seats were highlighted.

I gathered that the curved structures were intended to be reminiscent of the curves in Busáras and that they were arranged to represent a timeline of activity in the Eblana Theatre.

The timeline had a peak around the middle to lower end of the central element and it quickly flattened out in the right hand element, representing the abandonment of the theatre space and its neglect ever since.

The stencils when read in sequence, either directly or from their shadows, formed a quotation but there was no angle from which the full text could be read at a single go.

This highlighted a problem that, while there all the time, became more evident in the photographs than to a person actually present and looking at the objects. The placing and shape of the spotlights here and in the timeline tended to produce hotspots making the peripheries problematical.

The video, or at least half of it, turned out to be more interesting but there did not seem to be a lot to it.

Michael Scott's own description of the genesis and construction of Busáras was interesting. I liked the use of domestic and foreign magazine articles of the day to illustrate Scott's voice. But I thought an opportunity was missed to reinforce the points by the addition of some forcefully presented contrasty black and white shots from the present.

Des Nealon's commentary on the Eblana itself was interesting but again the visuals were slow and unadventurous. The bookshelf in the Dublin City Library and Archive was over-used and the presentation of the theatre programmes was a bit too fast for my liking. I would have liked to read a few of them in detail rather than having them simply pass before me with their speed of movement representing the inevitable passage of time.

This segment has, however, whetted my appetite and I will be paying the Archive a visit in the near future to peruse them at my leisure.

I have said where I was coming from and maybe this was not the exhibition for me, so you should probably go to the Temple Bar Gallery + Studio site's page and read up on it for yourself.

And the spinning top.

I think it was still spinning as I left.

Friday, September 15, 2017


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So, who are these Photo Detectives and what do they detect.

Well, the National Library of Ireland has thousands of photos in various collections. Some, like the Lawrence Collection, have been around for more than a century and others have been donated to the library in more recent times.

Wonderful as the images may be, a major lacuna in many of these collections is that they are often not fully documented. Sometimes they are hardly documented at all. So it can be a mystery where the photos were taken, when they were taken and who were the subjects. That's where the Photo Detectives come in.

Little incidentals in the images can suggest a place or a time and, at the end of the day, the subjects may be someone's granny or auntie or suchlike.

But how is the Library to get to know these hidden facts?

The answer is to shoot the photos out into the street and hope that some member of the public sees them, recognises something in them, and comes back with the goods.

So mystery photos are put up, one a day, on Flickr with appeals for information and the result has been stunning.

Some are spotted by people with connections, direct or indirect, to the photos but in other cases complete strangers set about trying to unearth the answers from old newspapers and other historical sources. All are detectives, but the obsessive nature of some soon turns them into Special Agents.

This initiative has been going for a number of years now and the Library thought to celebrate it and get it even wider publicity by having a year long exhibition at the Library's National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar.

I went along to the launch on Wednesday (13/9/2017)

The A Team: (l-r) Maeve, Carol, Sandra, Sabina & Nicola

Let me introduce the team. Maeve Casserly, Carol Maddock and Nicola Ralston are on the staff of the Library, and with the assistance of some others, it is they who have put this wonderful exhibition together.

Sandra Collins is the Director of the National Library of Ireland and Sabina Higgins has come to formally launch the exhibition. Sabina is an actor and artist in her own right. She was a founder member of the Focus Theatre. But she also happens to be the wife of the current President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins.

After taking Sabina around the exhibition, of which more later, Sandra opened the proceedings by welcoming all to the Archive.

On behalf of the Library she thanked all those whose work contributed to the success of the initiative and made today's exhibition possible.

She was particularly pleased that much of the audience was made up of those who had become part of the Photo Detective Squad, some of who had travelled long distances to be here.

She looked a very happy lady.

Meanwhile, the First Lady was patiently waiting to take the floor under the watchfull eye of Photo Detective Photopol.

Sabina had brought a script with her and she launched into it, punctuating it with unscripted remarks reacting to the exhibition itself which she had just toured.

Soon her ad lib remarks had made the script redundant and she gave a wonderful, and impromptu, emotional speech on the importance of history and of people connecting with one another.

She drew on the examples on the wall around her and I would have been shouting my support were she not the President's wife and a certain modicum of decorum on the part of the audience was appropriate to the occasion.

You can hopefully sense her involvement and the intensity of her remarks from the images below, not forgetting the glint in her eye and her well developed sense of humour.

In her earlier tour, Sabina was introduced to some of the amazing results of the work of the Photo Detective Squad. This was Seán O'Casey's house, pinned down through a myriad of sources.

Incidentally, you can view the photos used in the exhibition in a custom Flickr album here. Just click on the shot you want to examine and you'll get it as part of a slide show with the Library' comments beneath and also the interplay between the Library and the Photo Detective. Click on the photo again to enlarge it and again to return it to its original size. There is a link at the top left of the screen which brings you back to the original album.

Nicola is explaining the background to the moving Bollards at the junction of Parnell St & O'Connell St to Sabina.

Sabina emerges from the Tardis on St Patrick's Hill, Cork City around the year 1900.

But it's not all serious stuff. There's buckets of fun and enjoyment to be got out of the exhibition and you might even be encouraged to become a Photo Detective yourself. Mind you, detective work is 90% hard work and 10% luck, but when it all comes together there's no beating that buzz.

There is a serious side to it, of course.

I don't know what Sandra was expostulating here but Sabina looks receptive. A word in Michael D's ear these days though is not what it used to be when he was Minister for Culture and the Arts with a pot of real gold at his disposal.

One of the Library's strong points these days is catering for young people. I noticed this at their recent birthday party and it's evident here again today.

They are not always this young, but you're looking at a span of four generations here from two month old Finn to his great grandfather Tadhg Devane in the picture on the wall.

The photo above is how I lined the family up.

Mark Stedman

Enter photographer Mark Stedman and the dramatic content shoots through the roof.

This is Mark's line up. I've commented before on Mark's ability to organise a shot. Unfortunatly I was not best positioned to exploit it to the full.

As I said, they're not always that young and the Library caters for a spread of ages at these events. This is a drawing of a lady from one of the exhibition photos ready for colouring in.

For the more analytically minded child there is a maze, also themed on the exhibits.

And for the trainee junior Photo Detective a fold-out quiz based on searching the exhibition, finding the relevant exhibit, and answering questions about it. A sort of a photo treasure hunt.

And I shouldn't forget to mention that the above materials, and the exhibition signage and panels is in both English and Irish.

After expending all that energy you must be hungry and thirsty. The Library's own Café Joly is on hand with the catering.

The Mortimer's Grocery and Confectionery Shop is part of the exhibition and it particularly caught my eye. Mortimer is not all that common a name. My own grandfather Mortimer was in the grocery trade and rose as far as manager of Lipton's store in Birr, Co. Offaly.

However he dirtied his bib, the how I don't know, ended up back in Dublin as a canteen assistant in Richmond barracks and, within a few years, his corpse was fished out of the Liffey on Eden Quay. I'm sure Mr. (Waterford) Mortimer above had better luck.

But let's not spoil the day that's in it. You want to see a very happy Director. Well, there you are.

Photo: Bríd O'Sullivan

And as for me?

I'm guaranteed a year's immortality on the wall in the company of all the other Photo Detectives.