Category Archives: The Old Sod – Irish News

Dublin 1916: “Is this real? My ideal?”

1916 Re-play

“Drawn by the ideals of 1916, many women signed up to the republican cause. Photograph: Delia McDevitt” (Guardian, 25 March 2016)

For friends who have some insight into Irish history – hey are very many – the images circulating in today in 1916/100 are often to be taken with a mental salt-cellar from which large pinches can be regularly applied. This is a case in point. My source is a Guardian article on past disappointments and present challenges facing Irish feminism in the Republic for which the Irish Volunteers fought in 1916. It appears that their egalitarian expectations of the new state were disappointed by the actuality that emerged after 1922 and some, at least, might have been better off under British law, or else living in Britain where Olivia Leary’s aunt removed themselves – to be followed by here in latter years when she came to note as a brilliant anchorman and interviewer on British radio and TV after a stellar career in Dublin. (She was married to Paul Tansey who sadly died in 2008.)

The picture shows some lady-revolutionaries purportedly participating in the 1916 Rising and holding British Lee Enfield rifles of the .303 caliber variety which were standard in that period and much sported on the Western Front. It happens that the only arms of this description to reach the hands of the Irish Volunteers were those captured in actions such as that on Mount Street Bridge and sundry other places where they gained an advantage over the government forces, freshly disembarked from the Holyhead-Dunleary mail boat. On the photographic evidence, for a certainty, the guns disembarked at Howth were of Germany manufacture and dispatched to Ireland from a postal address in Hamburg.

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Irish General Election: Setting the Scene

Voting for a new Irish government takes place on Friday. At this point, the Irish papers are predicting a hung Dail with the FG/Labour coalition failing to gain a majority while the British are likewise forecasting a chastisement by the people for their mealy-mouthed version of austerity. Looking back over the past few years no one can contest that Fine Gael came into government with the worst fiscal legacy since the formation of the State and that they have largely remedied the situation in the meantime. Ireland exited sanctions from the European banks a few months back and in 2018, on the present trajectory, it will exit debt – and all of this without a word spoken about exiting from the European Union. Considering that they exited from the British Union one hundred years ago with a good deal of cultural and political fuss, this piece of economic stability and fiscal engineering is no small achievement but it has come at a high cost – and the best that can be said about this government is that its housekeeping routines were as necessary as they were grimly unpopular.

Enda Kenny - seeking re-election

Enda Kenny – seeking re-election

First there are the public cuts themselves and then a succession of social and political ructions: the homeless crisis, the Water Fracas, the “political strokes” style of non-government agency appointments.  It seems at present that the debt of public gratitude to a clear-sighted government is distinctly lacking at the moment and all of this is working against the re-election of the FG-Labour Coalition. This is a kind of failure which casts the comparison with other Irish governments and parties in a special light. Much as FG likes to derogate the out-going Fianna Fail government as the villain of the piece and the author of the worst economic confusion in the history of the independent state, the irony is that Charlie Haughey could probably have executed the belt-tightening exercise with lordly panache while Sir Garret certainly would have put a better face on it than this lot. But face is not a word that one associates with Enda Kenny or Joan Burton in any agreeable sense. Continue reading

Kevin Kiely & the Irish Times Gang

Kevin Kiely on "The IT Gang"

Kevin Kiely on “The IT Gang” [online]

At the risk of rising danders, it’s tempting to add some words to Kevin Kiely’s invective on the IT Gang. Unfortunately the ‘cabal’ he speaks of has the right of it, at least in some important regards. Item: it has a nigh-monopoly of the best minds and the best writers in Ireland at the moment. Item: Colm Toibin is the most remarkable man of letters we have seen since Sean O’Faolain and a much more talented prose-writer than the other. Nor is he like O’Faolain, a semi-humanised creation of Harvard, bearing in mind that O’Faolain took a Commonwealth scholarship to that Ivy League college and had a very tough time under the stern eye of the Chaucer scholar T. N. Robinson, who thought him raw material at best.

O’Faolain nevertheless internalised the Hawthorne literary ethos that prevailed in American Eng. Lit. at that moment and turned it to good effect when he returned to Ireland – though there always remained a sense of promulgating some form of higher culture (mercifully not English) from the standpoint of a somewhat tenuous conception of moral superiority which he derived from the unique mix of puritan-liberalism in the best New England tradition. (That’s why SOF annoys the hell out of me most of the time.) Continue reading

Gay Byrne and the Godless Englishman

Stephen Fry ...

Stephen Fry …

In late January of this year, Gay Byrne hosted Stephen Fry on his “Meaning of Life” programme – normally a televised packet of consolations for Irish oldies with their feet firmly bedded down in the world of Catholic beliefs. Things did not go as smoothly as planned. Apparently Gay expected that his trump card in any contest with atheist interlocutors – “You walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God, what will you say?” – would win the day, only to be met with the opinion that the God who created cancer in children is an “evil, capricious, monstrous maniac” whose long-term hospitality in the suppositious after-life is the charming Englishman would certainly refuse. Continue reading

Irish History – Facebook Style

I was chipping in about Irish history on Fred Johnson’s page when something hit my “Tory History of Ireland” button – as in Tory Island, not David Cameron – specifically the phrase ‘all kings and sons of kings’ which cropped up in a James Joyce lecture to the Triestinos in 1907. What follows is an attempt to write that history in Facebook form.

Uniquely, I think, the Irish escaped the feudal system which was ‘general’ in Europe other than in the form of a late and partial imposition by the Normans. Instead, they had a system of tribal territory in which – theoretically at least – everyone in the ‘tuath’ (people, tribe or sept) shared in the ‘ownership’ of the tribal territory – which fluctuated according to the moment but was centrally tied down to tutelary dieties, landscape features and so on. As a result, no one owned the land, which was actually the grounds of a social system in which the chief was said to be ‘married’ the territory in a kind of quasi-mythic union supported by bardic tradition. Continue reading

The Irish “Water Charges” Rebellion

It’s odd to watch. The Irish newspapers are turning massively against the Fianna Gael/Labour coalition in recent times – but especially against the premier Enda Kenny in his capacity as author of the current belt-tightening operations.

Available at

Available on Youtube

This is to be expected, but there is an extra edge to the venom not only because of the objective levels of hardship and deprivation experienced by the low-end earners and the unemployed, but because something in the Irish national project has been irremediably broken.

Some years ago a Fianna Fail government scrapped water rates in order to scoop up votes for re-election. No one stopped to ask if the measure was affordable – in other words, who would fix the drains and water-mains in future? Now Ireland has a privatised rubbish collection service and an impending water tarriff linked to meters. Continue reading

Through a Glass Darkly: Ulster & Palestine

In 2006 Carter called the treatment of Palestinians the nearest thing to apartheid in the world today. He made his disgust at the outcome of the 2nd Camp David accord well known at that time also. So there is an American conscience after all. At present the press is focusing on George Mitchell’s failed mission – it all seems to be about compassion for Mitchell and the intractable nature of the problem. But I really don’t see how the Gaza ‘entity’ can be a state in any meaningful sense and it is inconceivable that the Israelis will give up the West Bank, as Carter and other have demanded.

Incoming Palestinian rocket - June 2014

Incoming Palestinian rocket – June 2014

That is why I think the Zionists have drunk the dragon’s soup and become genocidal colonists – the ‘solution’ for Israel is the end of Palestine and Palestinians, none other. The growing violence in the region will probably facilitate that outcome rather than the contrary. The entire civilised world is disgusted.

I watched Al Jazeera tonight and was so sick at what I saw. Then I listened to the World Service – after an RTE transmission on Gaddafi – and frankly the heating up of the Ukrainian thing – with Russian ‘boycott’ on EU goods threatening energy wars next winter … and of course the persecuted Christians of Iraq and Ebola in West Africa – am I alone in thinking we are at a new nadir? Continue reading