Sunday, January 07, 2018


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Broadly speaking, this exhibition in the Science Gallery, in Pearse Street, explores artistic, conceptual, or fictional responses to the end of the world or its threat.

Some exhibits mock efforts to prevent Armageddon while others post unworkable ways of surviving it. It is all meant to provoke the visitor into thinking about the environment, be it biological or political.

Below are just a few of the items that appealed to me.

This is the Doomsday clock which marks how near we are to the end of the world.

It was started after WWII and is adjusted backwards or forwards according as threats increase or recede.

It is currently three minutes short of midnight which is when the whole place goes up. Mind you, as it's an analogue twelve hour clock, you could be forgiven for thinking it was nearly high noon, if nobody told you otherwise.

This, believe it or not is a modern Noah's Ark.

The little ball in the glass case on the left contains the biological base from which new life could evolve. It is shot into space in the satellite on the right and comes back down again when earth's environment has recovered sufficiently to support new life.

This one is simply to help you survive air pollution.

The left element goes on your back and you fit the mask on the right over your nose and mouth.

The plant on your back is supposed to make the oxygen for you to breath.

The impracticality of this is that you'd probably need half a forest on your back to make any difference.

This one has sort of given up the ghost and is just documenting the demise of species as they exit stage left.

The idea is to have a drawing dating from the time they expired, cut them out of the picture like this ...

... or like this, and then ...

... burn (cremate) the cut-out image and store it in one of the urns above.

And finally the bees.

We know they are dying off due to pesticides and whatever. When they're all gone we'll die because there will be nothing left to pollinate the plants and they'll die out.

Well, this guy here is not going to go without a fight and he has hocked up this gadget to do the pollination and save the world.

I don't think Grace, my host(ess), also in the picture, is all that impressed.

But she did let me in on the secret that this exhibit is really a criticism of short term engineering solutions designed to mitigate the effects of disasters instead of finding their root causes and dealing with them.

Grace is in final year science in TCD and is just one of the many students who put in time explaining the exhibits to visitors. She enjoys this as it keeps her mentally on her toes and introduces her to other people's perspectives. And, at the end of the day, she enjoys meeting people.

You can visit the whole thing on line through the link below. Much better to drop in, if you're around, and take the tour with one of the many students on duty there. The live interaction is much more fun.

Link to the exhibition on line

Saturday, January 06, 2018


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Dublin City Library & Archive have done it again.

A very interesting and thought-provoking exhibition on the Suffragist movement. The movement had an initial success when women were given the vote in parliamentary elections in Britain and Ireland in February 1918. The voting age for men was 21 with no property qualification. For women it was 30 with a property qualification. Equal access to the vote for women and men was achieved in the UK in 1928. It had already been the case in the Free State from the beginning.

I'll just hit a few spots below but, if you get a chance, do drop in and have a look.

But first, a more general observation. This exhibition clearly demonstrates the relevance of cartoons to the developments of the day. It is great that there has been a revival of interest in the role of the cartoonist in recent times. Felix Larkin led the way with his politically perceptive book on Ernest Forbes Terror and Discord: The Shemus Cartoons in the Freeman's Journal 1920-1924. The collection is available online from the National Library of Ireland. This was followed by James Curry's book Artist of the Revolution: The Cartoons of Ernest Kavanagh (1884 - 1916), Kavanagh (EK) was the cartoonist for Larkin's Irish Worker until his unfortunate death in 1916. Then we had both James's and Ciarán Wallace's beautiful book The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly. The Lepracaun contained mainly the cartoons of its founder and editor Thomas Fitzpatrick, but it also featured those of Frank Reynolds (S.H.Y.). And finally, there is Gordon Brewster, in whom I have taken an interest, a collection of originals of some 500 of whose cartoons have become accessible online from the National Library of Ireland, and whom I have recently publicised in a talk, also available online. Felix has a post in the now sadly inactive blog Pues Occurrences which mentions a number of other works on cartoons.

So you won't be surprised to see the works of at least three of the cartoonists mentioned above figuring in this exhibition. If a picture is worth a thousand words, most cartoons are probably worth much more.

The Suffragettes were generally depicted in the public media of their day as a crowd of violent harridans, and the illustration above and the two below certainly attempt to give this impression. Mind you, I'm not saying they weren't above the odd bit of violence (unlike the men?).

This history is in a glass case at the exhibition so I didn't get a chance to leaf through it. I'm sure its content is adequately reflected in the exhibition panels.

This is the verse on the cover of the pamphlet.

And this version of "the storming of the Bastille" by the knitters brigade has a certain air of spontaneity about it.

This development in 1911 when John Redmond's party in Westminster abandoned the women in favour of Home Rule really got them going. I can do no better than to quote from James and Ciaran's book here:
In January of 1911 the unpredictable nature of electoral politics left the Irish Parliamentary Party holding the balance of power in Westminister. At last, or so it seemed, Redmond's moment had come. In this particularly sharp cartoon Fitz plays on a famous advertisement for Sunlight Soap drawing the Liberal Prime Minister Asquith as a traffic policeman holding back two great forces in British Politics, the House of Lords and the Women's Suffrage campaign, to allow a delightfully prim John Redmond to carry his Home Rule parcel safely across. The label 'Soft Soap' on both the parcel and the cartoon shows that the Irish public were not fully convinced.

As a special favour to my readers I am reproducing the original ad above. This is not in the exhibition but is in the book. Gordon Brewster took similar liberties with one of his political cartoons but in that case it was Pears and not Sunlight soap.

In another of Fitz's cartoons featured in the exhibition poor Tom Kettle comes in for a hard time. Here he is, a year before the Redmond cartoon, promising the female population the vote.

I have to confess that this cartoon reminded me of Brexit, at least insofar as the twin promises of the vote for women and Home Rule proved incompatible and in making his choice Redmond opted for Home Rule first. The cartoon is based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, Patience. You can see the full cartoon here.

I just couldn't resist this photo from the exhibition of Constance Markievicz as Joan of Arc. Call me cruel if you will.

This cartoon from the pen of Grace Gifford poses the question less asked, if ever. Indeed, why would men ask it. Her point i'm sure. Grace was an artist and cartoonist in her own right but she is probably better known to the public today for her marriage to Joseph Mary Plunkett in Kilmainham jail the night before his execution in May 1916.

A few small quibbles. I was not gone on the green and orange colour scheme. I thought it took from the impact of the content. There is an ongoing problem with the high large windows. They are not always suitable as a light source and they can make it difficult to view the exhibits, particularly against the light. I had some niggles on the Irish. "Sufragóir" is neither the singular nor the plural genitive, and I don't think you can use "um" when there is a sense of purpose involved. I have seen the meaning translated as "about" rather than "for" and I think that is a good guide for its use.

Small things truly. That said, this is another great exhibition in the series commemorating the Ireland of one hundred years ago. And it is a worthy contribution to ensuring that women getting the vote, albeit on a restricted basis, will not be overshadowed by either the ending of WWI or the UK General Election of 1918.

Kim Bielenberg has a very good piece in the Indo

Tuesday, January 02, 2018


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I have long intended to do a post on this little gem in the heart of Dublin city.

You could describe it as a collection of historic nostalgic clutter but that would be an oversimplification and would not go anywhere near doing it justice. If you ever got the job of clearing it out you'd only be half way through the first wall when the Angel Gabriel arrived to accompany you on your final journey.

The key word here is "linger". As a Dubliner who long long ago reached the age of reason - an unsupported claim according to some - I lingered over every item. While there is an apparent haphazardness about the collection, every item is replete with nostalgic resonances. And if you're not a Dubliner with a white beard, it is the quickest introduction around to the folk-history of this ancient city.

I have chosen, however, to open with one of the temporary exhibitions, this about the man above - George Bernard Shaw. My opening image is of the moving statue of Dublin. Ballinspittle has nothing on this. These movements are real, documented and photographed (by myself), but that's another story.

This is a wonderful exhibition. Shaw as you have never seen him before. The "compleat man", rounded, fallible, obnoxious, but none the less wonderful for all of that. I hope it's still there so you don't miss it.

A more permanent resident is the Admiral himself, Horatio Nelson. Still precariously perched on top of his pillar, despite having been blown off the real thing some half a century ago. This is a beautiful model, freezing the viewing platform in time before the installation of the anti-suicide cage which not only impeded an accelerating downward trajectory but also partially obscured the upward view of the Admiral himself in all his glory.

This gives me the opportunity to introduce our tour host(ess) Fionnuala. This young lady will take you through eight hundred years of Dublin history in precisely twenty nine minutes. If you are a stranger, she will whet your appetite for more. If you are a Dubliner the smile won't leave your face for the duration. Magic.

One of my bits of nostalgia was the tram. The Howth tram used to go up, and come down, at the back of our house and when I was small I had an ambition to be a tram driver. However, I had just entered my teens when they scrapped the last route up the Hill of Howth. Never mind, there's always the DART.

Then I spotted this tram bench and the memories of sitting on top of the open tram came flooding back.

Doubter that I am, I checked it for the moving back rest. The trams didn't turn around. They just went backwards and forwards. The trolley was swivelled from "front" to "back" and the seats reversed in a do-it-yourself manner.

This guy would put the fear of God into you no matter what your religious affiliation or none. The Ayatollah of Dublin, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.

This man came home from the Second Vatican Council like he'd just been down the road to the chipper.

A one and one for a humble collation at the Palace, but nothing else had changed. The faithful could carry on doing what they were told, feeling guilty about it anyway, and hoping to be the bearers of a winning lottery ticket when they reached the Pearly Gates.

Now this exhibit alone is worth a visit to the museum. No it's not one of Conor Doyle's props from the long departed Theatre Royal. It's for real. Behind these tasselled elasticated curtains is a sight you will not see in any theatre or art gallery. I can do no better than reproduce the caption from the wall.
Why is there a nude woman in this museum?
PICTURES AND SCULPTURES of naked young men are found in museums all over the world. But older women? Not so much. Above is a painting of the legendary journalist, feminist and civil rights campaigner Nell McCafferty, by the American artist Daniel Mark Duffy. McCafferty donated the picture to the museum. She says, "For some people the dream lives on. For me, the illusion lives on. I think I'm gorgeous. There is a delusion among the young that the body matters." The image provokes a variety of responses. If you find yourself offended by it, ask yourself why.

My response: Good on ya Nell. You never lost it. Rubens would be proud.

I could show you the picture, but that would spoil the fun. Maybe tomorrow, as another Dubliner might have said, and did.

This half shattered thing suspended in front of a window looked like something pulled out of a dirty skip. And indeed it probably was. But on closer inspection it turned to be a Harry Clarke window.

There was an English couple in the group on the day I was there, who were into glass and metal and who had some professional advice to offer on how the object might be further restored and preserved.

This is the backstory.

Not forgetting politics, this poster image evokes a whole saga, a moment when the Irish constitution was tested and came through with flying colours thanks to a President who respected it.

Briefly, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Garret FitzGerald had lost the confidence of the Dáil (Parliament) and was petitioning the President to dissolve it and have a general election.

Leader of the opposition, Charlie Haughey, thought he saw an opportunity to form an alternative government if the President could be persuaded to refuse FitzGerald's request. He had one of his ministers, Brian Lenihan, phone the Áras (President's residence) to get a hearing.

This was most improper and the President, Paddy Hillery, refused to take the call. This was a hightly significant act. Not only was the President protecting the constitution but he was acting against the leader of his own party. Needless to say the phone call was subsequently denied. Hence the poster.

But the story didn't end there.

This is a beautiful piece of sculpture, if you can call it that, which really hits the nail on the head. I can do no better than refer you to the caption below.


No museum of Dublin would be complete without reference to Alfie Byrne. Alfie was many times lord mayor and in response to his self-promoting behaviour became known as The Shaking Hand of Dublin. He currently has an exhibition of his own in the museum and it is full of amusement and endearment.

You can see a life size model of the man.

And you can look him in the eye if you can squeeze yourself in between him and the window.

Some of my own people were friendly with Alfie and supported him in his many electoral campaigns.

I was thrilled to see a cartoon of Gordon Brewster's in the exhibition figuring Alfie as one of a number of aspirants for political office, portrayed here as heads in a coconut shy. Alfie is on the extreme right. You can see the original in the National Library of Ireland's collection of Brewster's cartoons.

And if you missed the boat in your youth you can always catch up by shaking Alfie's hand as recreated by Nicola Zeidler.

And so we move on, to this appropriately tacky exhibition of U2.

There is clearly an element of the cult about this and in that respect it is quite realistic. I am not here referring to U2's music with which I am not familiar, but more particularly to Bono's geáitsíocht around the world.

He is only slightly saved from eternal damnation in this photo by reference to the current occupant of the White House.

This is Bono as some of us might see him, albeit a mite flattering.

And finally, while we're on the subject of horror, behold Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. Another northsider who moved southside but not as extremely so as Bono.

The above are only the tip of the iceberg of treasures in this wonderful "little" museum.

Check it out

Sunday, December 31, 2017


As the Irish border is back in the news, thanks to the folly that is Brexit, I thought it an opportune moment to share some reflections on the first EU Peace Programme which covered the full area of Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland (South!).

The programme was sort of up and running when it hit my desk in early 1996. It had been approved by the EU on 28 July 1995 following years of work and the proximate catalyst of the 1994 ceasefires.

The basic rationale of the programme was to encourage the economic and social development of Northern Ireland as a means of cementing peace in the longer term. The emphasis in the programme was on cross-community and cross-border activities, the latter attempting both to compensate border areas for their artificially enforced peripherality and to improve north/south relationships.

I should nail my colours to the mast at this point and say that, despite many, and some justified, criticisms of the programme, my view is that it was a spectacular success.

It is important to distinguish this first Peace Programme from its successors. This one was pathbreaking in many respects while its successors both had something already in place to build on and in the normal course of such matters became more structured and bureaucratised. PEACE I (and II) were funded from across the EU structural funds, each of which also had its own protocols and regulations.

The Name

I don't know just how the Peace Programme got its name but there is a rumour that the initial working title was Special Northern Ireland Programme for Economic Recovery.

If that was the case, it clearly got nipped in the bud as soon as it was reduced to an acronym.

Canary Wharf

I was just in the process of taking over the southern end of the programme when the IRA ceasefire blew up in Canary Wharf in London's docklands. This was a huge shock to the system and it looked like curtains for the programme.

But I remember Inez McCormack from ICTU reporting to a subsequent Monitoring Committee meeting that, while new cross-community contacts were out of the question for the moment, those that had been established before the breakdown were holding. This was very encouraging.

North vs South

The northern and southern sides had significantly divergent views in how they approached implementing the Peace Programme, and this most particularly regarding EU oversight and control.

As far as the northern side was concerned, they viewed funding essentially coming from London rather than Brussels and they resented the EU Commission telling them how to spend it and holding them to account after the event. The UK was a net contributor to the EU budget, so it was their money that was involved.

In contrast, the southern side was a net beneficiary from the EU budget and we more readily accepted the Commission's right to "interfere" in the programme's implementation. We didn't always go the whole hog with them but we put up with a lot to get our hands on the dosh.

You can see echoes of the northern attitude in the current goings-on over Brexit if you look hard enough.

I should mention another difference between north and south which impinged to some extent on the operation of the programme. The locus of responsibility for the programme in the civil service was in the Department of Finance and Personnel in the north and in the Department of Finance in the south.

That may seem on the surface like a perfect match but the northerners were always conscious of an additional layer lurking in the background. Ireland is a sovereign state and deals directly with EU Councils. Northern Ireland is a regional administration and responsibility for EU affairs ultimately lies with the UK, which is the EU Member State. Responsibility at the UK end ultimately rested with the Department of Trade and Industry.

This was less of a problem in the actual implementation of the programme as opposed to its negotiation but it was often lurking in the background.

Spend, Spend, Spend

Another tension arose from within the EU structures themselves. Once a budget and a multi-annual spending profile had been agreed, the relevant section in the EU Commission saw itself on the line to deliver, so they were constantly putting pressure on the Irish, north and south, to spend up to the "targets".

In some ways this was understandable as funding for the programme had been hard fought for at EU level and leaving part of it unspent would not reflect well on the Commission.

However, in the prevailing environment in the north and the border counties it was not always easy to identify projects on which spending could be subsequently justified.

And there's the rub. However much the relevant Commission section was happy to see money spent, and however much they leaned on the authorities to spend it, their say-so was a poor defence when the financial control side of the Commission subsequently arrived to inspect and audit the books. Their judgement was completely independent of all that went before and the national authorities were on their own here.

And even if that hurdle was overcome you then had the EU Court of Auditors arriving on the warpath to flush out every hint of possibly "unjustified" expenditure to feed their bureaucratic empire-building campaign. You really couldn't win.

Product versus Process

To add to all of this, there were strong views on product versus process. There was a bit of a bricks and mortar mentality in the Commission, particularly at the financial control end. By this I mean they liked to see physically measurable results - in other words, a product.

The northern authorities also shared this attitude to some extent.

But this exercise was as much about process as product and this was much less measurable in any truly relevant sense. You could count up the numbers of cross-community projects, or even meetings, but eliciting their true meaning and potential sustainability boiled down to subjective, albeit informed, judgement.

Administrative Peace and Reconciliation

As far as process goes, I didn't myself have direct experience of it on the ground at the level of individual projects, but I did experience it at the level of those running the programme.

For example, I had no real experience of dealing with northerners at official level. My experience of the north consisted of (i) spending a holiday in Bangor when I was small, when post-war rationing was still in force and when the comic strip of Mandrake the Magician in the local paper was some six months ahead of the Dublin Evening Mail, (ii) passing through the north going to and coming from Donegal, and (iii) making an LP with Tŷ Bach in Billy McBurney's studio in the centre of Belfast.

Now I was dealing not only with my counterpart in the northern Department of Finance and Personnel but with officials from other northern departments and with implementing organisations and NGOs from both sides of the border.

There was some perceptible rapprochement there over the period when I was involved in the programme. I even got to a stage of informality which allowed me, at a conference we were organising in Ballybofey in Donegal, to welcome the northern participants to Ulster. I must say, it took most of them a few moments for that one to sink in.

As far as the central authorities and the NGOs were concerned, I think a mutual understanding slowly developed of where the other side were coming from and that it was possible for both sides to be operating in good faith.

A Lesson in Geography

A significant feature of the programme, at least for those administering it, was the Monitoring Committee meetings being held in different locations, alternating between both sides of the border.

The Monitoring Committee was not just an academic exercise after the event. It was a quasi-cross-border implementing authority where the major players were held to account in real time. It was co-chaired by the north and/or south depending on which side of the border the meeting was taking place.

I was the southern chair and Jack Layberry from NI DFP was the northern chair. We held our first Monitoring Committee meeting in the Folk Park in Omagh. I'm sure there is some symbolism lurking there but I haven't yet fully figured it out.

The full significance of holding meetings on alternate sides of the border may be lost on the current generation of young people. I know that one member of my staff became quite nervous as we crossed the border heading north and didn't relax until we crossed it again on the way back.

Some people saw our chairing of the Monitoring Committee as involving a conflict of interest as the Department of Finance in the south and the Department of Finance and Personnel in the north were the locus of funding and control within our respective administrations. I can understand such a view and might have sympathy with it in other circumstances. In this case I think the Committee was chaired in a reasonably objective manner and a similar situation still pertains with the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) alternatively known as Boord O Owre Ocht UE Projecks.

A Roman Conspiracy

At one stage I got very alarmed when I heard that Ian Paisley claimed that the programme was a sham and the Catholics were getting all the money.

I wasn't the only one worried by this claim and a study was quickly commissioned to find out if it was true.

Our alarm escalated to defcon panic status when the study reported that it was indeed true. The Catholics were not getting all the money but they were getting a hell of a lot more than the Protestants.

Was this another potential death blow for a programme that was supposed to be promoting cross-community cooperation and inclusiveness?

Well, further research turned up some very interesting results.

It appeared that both Catholic and Protestant applications had the same rate of success (phew!) but that there were far more applications from the Catholic than from the Protestant side. So the programme itself was not biased. There was no papal conspiracy. The programme simply reflected one of the underlying features of the society of the day.

The reason for the disparity in applications seems to have arisen because Catholic communities were more organised on the ground, having been in a minority and having had to fight all the way for anything they ever got, while the Protestant communities were under the illusion that their own were looking after them anyway and so didn't need to be pressured to do so.

These results, in my book, certainly validated the politico/class analysis advanced over earlier decades by the likes of Michael Farrell.

Good Friday

Former US Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the talks leading to the Belfast Agreement in 1998 has said that "the European Union played a part in thawing relations between the Republic and Britain, which enabled the peace process and was central to the Good Friday Agreement".

The Peace Programme was clearly a significant element in this process.

Consider Michel Barnier who is currently the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator. He has a long history in both French national and European politics. He was EU Commissioner for Regional policy from 1999 to 2004 and as such gained good insight into the legacy of PEACE I and the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

He has said that the programme “is one of the very important instruments that has contributed towards the Good Friday agreement”.

Sadly, continued funding of the programme is in jeopardy if the UK sticks to its Brexit red lines.

Here We Go Again?