Thursday, July 20, 2017


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C'est une poupée qui fait non...non...non...non...
Toute la journée elle fait non...non..non...non...

Elle est tell'ment jolie
Que j'en rêve la nuit.

C'est une poupée qui fait non...non...non...non...
Toute la journée, elle fait non...non...non..non...

Personne ne lui a jamais appris
Qu'on pouvait dire oui.

Sans même écouter, elle fait non...non...non...non...
Sans même regarder, elle fait non...non...non...non...

Pourtant je donnerais ma vie
Pourqu'elle dise oui.

Mais c'est une poupée qui fait non...non...non...non...
Toute la journée elle fait non...non...non...non...

Personne ne lui a jamais appris
Que l'on peut dire oui...


Wednesday, July 05, 2017


St. Doolagh's church, Balgriffin
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Raheny Library's current exhibition for the month of July: the work of the Raheny Active Retirement Art Group.

I've just picked three examples but if you're in the area drop in and see the rest.

Ireland's Eye & Howth Harbour

An Old Woman of the Roads, by Padraic Colum

This is from Michael Gaffney whom people may remember for his work on the traffic light control boxes as part of the Dublin Canvas project.

So, the above is something old, if the participants will parden the phrase. I'm sure I'm older than some of them myself.

Meanwhile in the children's section of the library there's something new. Well, a mixture of the old(er) and the new as you can see.

A great project where the young people meet their seniors and then retell their stories in this exhibition.

I won't spoil it by going in any closer that this general shot, but it is a heart warmer.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


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This is the old variable height gasometer viewed from South Lotts Road. Over a period of about twenty years I passed it in the train, going to and from school and then work. Some days it was high with lots of gas. Other days it was low with less.

It was not clear what would happen to it once it became obsolete. Would it vanish like the gasometer on the Gas Company's land on the South Quays?

But then, the most amazing thing happened. It was converted into apartments and those of us who remembered it could still rejoice in its nostalgic outline.

My son told me I could take a short cut around it between South Lotts Road and the Dart station at Barrow Street and when I found myself in the area the other day, that's exactly what I did.

I had never seen it up close before and it turned out to be a very impressive and imposing structure.

Both a new experience and a trip down memory lane all at once.

But then I started to get a little uneasy. Something was amiss. It took me a while to identify the cause of my unease. I had just passed by the gasometer when I noticed a small red spot appearing on the underside of the peak of the baseball cap I was wearing.

I thought at first it might have been something reflecting in my glasses, but no. It was definitely a spot of light and it moved around on the underside of the peak. When I stopped moving it went away and when I started up again it reappeared.

I looked left and then right, but it was still there. I just couldn't figure it out. I hoped it was some sort of motion detector and not a local sniper taking aim. It defied all logic and, for the life of me, I couldn't pin down it's source. All a bit scary.

And then my eye caught another red spot of light - the source. I had a laser pointer in the inside pocket of my jacket and a heavy camera strap over my shoulder. When I moved, the pressure of the strap turned on the pointer.

What a relief. I felt as foolish as someone who thought they were being followed and it turned out to be by their own shadow.

I took a last lingering look back as I headed for Barrow Street station with my adrenaline count slowly returning to normal.


The Rope of Life - South Docks Dublin
Photo by Larry O'Toole
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There's no end to what goes on in the Donaghmede Shopping Centre. Regular readers will know that I follow Michael Edwards's annual photo competition, and it is while I was up there yesterday checking that out that I noticed another exhibition.

This is an art exhibition staged by the Coolock Library Art Group. The Group normally meets in the Coolock library and they were offered this exhibition space by Donaghmede Shopping Centre. This was initially for the month of June but Peter Coyne, in the picture above, tells me that the offer has now been extended till the end of July. So you've plenty of time to go and have a look.

I'm told all of the paintings are for sale. There must be close on a hundred paintings on display at present and I've just included a few below that took my fancy.

Ballet Dancer by Margaret Hollywood €75 ono

This is not just any old ballet dancer. It is Monica Loughman who trained in Russia, formed her own Irish ballet company and is now teaching in Dublin. She is doing fabulous work - check out Big Ballet.

Ballet Dancer by Margaret Hollywood €120

Genoese Tower Corsica by Gwen O'Byrne €60

Dún Laoghaire by Peter Coyne

Bather by Peter Coyne

Monday, June 26, 2017


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Time flies and it's that time of year again. In fact I nearly missed the first act but just caught it in time.

Michael Edwards's Photo Competition is off again and the first club has already been exhibiting during the month of June. Full marks to Michael and Dermot for taking on the burden of another year's competition and to Donaghmede Shopping Centre for donating the exhibition space.

The theme this year is OUR TOWN and the idea is to illustrate what makes where we are from special. I think expectations are for the positive rather than the negative


As usual, I intend dropping in each month and, without prejudice to what the judge may eventually decide, bring you a few photos from the current club which appealed to me for one reason or another.

The shot above is of the remains of the old Roman Catholic church and graveyard in the centre of Raheny village. It is taken from an unusual angle and the mixture of flash and natural lighting gives it an eerie air. I even thought for a moment that I could see gravestones.

You might think the choice of subject here a bit pedestrian but just try and imagine Raheny without Macari's chipper.

The clouds and the cyclists give context and interest to a piece of street sculpture that often looks bereft just sitting there in an open space.

The iconic Dublin chimneys set the context and the Bull Wall, now more frequently referred to as the wooden bridge, reassures us that we are on the Northside. The reflection of the golden clouds in the foreground warms it up nicely.

Again the chimneys with some very nice light and shade.

Finally, the end of the line as old meets new in Howth.

The timetable for the competition is shown below. As I understand it entries for the public, as distinct from the club, section need to be in by early October.

Club Date
Raheny 3rd June
St. Benedict’s 1st July
Howth 29th July
Sutton 26th August
Swords Viewfinders 23rd Sept
Club Finalists on Display
& Public Entrants
21st October
Winners' Presentation
and Reception
9th November


Again this month the chimneys are prominent. It just goes to show that, however unaesthetic they may be in real life, Dublin has taken them to its bosom and they are now part of us.

Photos from the general Clontarf area should not be surprising but there are also some from town. The Ha'penny Bridge is always a magnet for photographers and when you get the right lighting it can be a bit surreal.

This offers an alternative to the 200 year old bridge - a modern perspective of an area where the old is giving way to the new, with the view itself taken from what I assume is the top of Dublin's first skyscraper.

I don't want to overdo the black and white but there is a fair amount of it in this month's exhibition and that it always welcome.

An unusual and slightly ominous perspective on Ireland's Eye with just two hints of warmth in the lighthouse and the sunset.

Finishing up in Howth in the boatyard on the West Pier. Almost like a graveyard but probably just intensive care or even an annual makeover.

As usual, Benedict's have lots more stunning work on show and it is well worth a visit.


I would just add a general qualification/apology to any of the photographers who may be looking at their own photos on this post. There may be slight variations in lighting and perspective from the originals as I photographed the exhibits on the wall under the prevailing lighting and in some cases had to do a little post-processing to get back as near to the original as possible.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


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What must surely be the definitive book on the Custom House Raid of 25 May 1921 has just been published. The author is Liz Gillis, a well respected historian of the revolutionary period. Her previous book, Women of the Irish Revolution, reflected her interest in the role and relative neglect of women of this period in the history books.

She has now turned her attention to the Custom House Raid. Well, not really. She has been researching this subject, along with Micheál Ó Doibhilín, for some years now and the book is the culmination of that research, for now at least.

It is a great read and unputdownable once you start. The style is in true storytelling mode and very engaging and it is all backed up by meticulous research incorporating the most recently available sources.

I was at the launch the other evening in Beggars Bush Barracks, former Headquarters of the hated Auxiliaries. Fitting.

The Publisher

The proceedings commenced with a word (or two) from the publisher.

Micheál Ó Doibhilín runs Kilmainham Tales and he has published a good few quality books around the general theme of Ireland's resistance to British occupation. Liz has published a few books in the same vein through her normal publisher, Mercier Press.

This is the first time that Micheál has published Liz and I'd say both of them are thrilled with the result.

I know Micheál since my schooldays when he was already an independent minded young man and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid bore the scars to prove it. But that's a story for another day.

My acquaintance with Liz dates from more recent times. I think I met her first when she gave a talk, with Micheál, on the Custom House Raid to the Howth Peninsula Heritage Society. It was a fascinating and provocative talk on a subject about which I knew nothing then. But my interest was stimulated and later intensified by a discovery in the course of my pursuing my own family history.

Mícheál started Kilmainham Tales some years ago to publish his own book on Anne Devlin. He also felt, through his work in Kilmainham Gaol, that there was a need for small, informative introductions to aspects of Irish history, a history that is often complex and difficult to grasp.

To date he has published a series of books, and also articles on his website, taking a fresh look at Irish history and telling it in an interesting, innovative and accessible way. He also wanted to stimulate fresh research and unearth new information.

He has certainly got all that, and more besides, from this wonderful book.

The Launcher

Éamon Ó Cuív

Who better to launch the book than the grandson of the man who argued strongly for a big push to strike at the British and at the same time achieve a major propaganda victory to consolidate international support for Irish independence. Eamon de Valera had just come back from a tour of America convinced that the IRA needed a major strike.

Dick McKee had long been advocating a strike on the Custom House, but that had been turned down twice in favour of other actions. Now it resurfaced as one of two possible locations, the other being Beggars Bush Barracks, headquarters of the hated Auxiliaries. The Barracks was eventually considered too well defended and attention switched to the undefended Custom House.

The symbolism here was important. The Custom House was not only the repository of records, such as tax returns and wills, it was the centre of the British administration and particularly that concerning Local Government.

Since the 1918 General Election and the establishment of a separate Irish parliament (Dáil on the run), and the January 1920 local authority elections in particular, a majority of local councils had sworn allegiance to the underground Dáil and a fully operational alternative system of local government and justice had been set up. This was accepted by the majority of the population but was obviously bitterly opposed by the authorities.

So a strike on the Custom House would serve both the propaganda need for a major coup and also strike at the heart of the British administration. It would show that, despite all the savagery of the reprisals of the preceding two years, the IRA was still very much in the game. At the same time it would contribute to their efforts to make Ireland ungovernable for the British.

Éamon reminded us of one of the reasons why the War of Independence had been so successful up to this point. Earlier revolutions had been riddled with British spies and basically fizzled out before they got properly started.

This time it was different. Michael Collins was in charge of intelligence and, as Éamon put it, our spies were better than their spies. And, of course, Collins also took the opportunity to take out their spies, the most dramatic example of this being his Squad's assassination of British Intelligence officers on 21 November 1920, the original Bloody Sunday.

Collins wasn't the only one who knew what he was at. Éamon was lavish in his praise of Liz as a true historian in contrast to some of the more lazy variety around the place. Liz went to the primary sources, where available, and she was meticulous both in her research and in her conclusions.

That didn't in the least interfere with her style of presentation which was clear, economic and engaging. He said he had learned a lot from the book and that it had clarified the great success of the Custom House Raid by putting it firmly in context.

The Author

The book having been launched we finally got to hear from the author. Liz is brimming over with enthusiasm and jizz and a keenly developed sense of humour. And we got a taste of all of this as she gave us some background to the book and her own enthusiasm for it.

She not only painstakingly trawled the latest written sources, as a perusal of the endnotes will confirm, but accumulated a vast amount of oral history, speaking to relatives of those who took part in the raid. This may, to some extent, explain the immediacy and readability of the book.

Her hope is to have transformed what was generally considered a failure by later generations into the the pivotal success that it really was, and so do justice to those who conceived, planned and participated in it.

Having now read the book, I have no doubt about her complete success on this score.

Eating her Words

Not everybody noticed the clunky volume on the table as they arrived. I certainly didn't and had to have it pointed out to me.

Thankfully, a paperback version soon appeared to keep it company and this was accompanied by the offer of a serious discount on the normal selling price for those who had made the effort to turn up on this fine summers evening.

I've heard of people having to eat their words but have never seen it so graphically executed. There was no hardback. It was a cake, a magnificent creation by Micheál's daughter Aisling Whelan.

And just like the communion service, in its original conception, we all partook of Liz's project. That's my slice you see, full of lush and biscuity things, and soon demolished.

The Long Road to City Hall

Photo: Micheál Ó Doibhilín

I can't let pass Liz's recent marriage to James Crowe in the magnificent setting of City Hall.

Kilmainham Tales commented:
This was the final event in a 23-year courtship, proving that Liz, who is renowned for the depth of her research and attention to detail in her books, applies the same attention to choosing her life partner!

Photo: Micheál Ó Doibhilín

As if that location, with all its resonances of living history, wasn't enough the couple walked straight into an ambush in Parliament Street en route to the reception.

The Audience

Three generations

The Sales Team

My Interest

I mentioned above that, at one point in following up my family history, my interest in the Custom House Raid intensified.

Peggy Medlar was a cousin of the husband of my grand aunt. She was from a staunchly Republican Kilkenny family, and in February 1923 she was arrested at her home in Adelaide Road by Free State Forces.


Among the items they confiscated from her was this photo of a young man. It carried the inscription Do Chara, Stiofán Ó Raghallaigh (Banba).

With a pen name like that he was clearly a writer in Irish and most likely a member of Conradh na Gaeilge. For a good while I got nowhere in trying to find out more about him. But then one day it all fell into place.

I read at that he was one of the five volunteers who lost their lives in the raid on the Custom House. And I now read in Liz's book that he, and his brother who also lost his life, were likely deputed to collect the money, stamps and money orders, from the building's Post Office before it was set on fire.

As Crown Forces turned up a little sooner than expected, well over 100 volunteers were trapped in the building and faced with a choice between (i) trying to leave quietly amid the genuine employees leaving under police supervision, (ii) just making a run for it and hoping for the best, or (iii) come out shooting. Stiofán (Stephen O'Reilly) apparently opted for (iii) and that was the end of him.

The book's Foreword opens with the comment:
The Custom House, as one visitor remarked, must be one of the few buildings in the world with a "monument to the guys who burned it out front".
And a fine monument it is, from Breton sculptor Yann Goulet.

Stephen is specifically mentioned on the plinth.

Peggy's cousin, husband of my grand aunt, was actually on Dublin City Council between 1920 and 1924, and in following up his story I had become aware of the fight to the death between the Council and the British Local Government Board. The stories are legion but the matter was resolved when the Treaty was signed in December 1921.

A final and purely chance connection came about when I was on holidays in Knockananna in County Wicklow and happened on this most unusual grave stone in the local graveyard. It turned out to be that of Tom Keogh/Kehoe who was a member of Collins's Squad and who took part in the Custom House Raid. He survived that only to be killed the following year in the Civil War.

Buy and read the book.