On the radio – 2

A few days ago I was delighted to be a guest on The History Show on Limerick City Community Radio, hosted by John O’Carroll. The two subjects who I talked about were:

  • Sir Hugh Lane – art dealer, promoter, gallery director and patron of Irish Art ; and
  • Jonathan Swift – scholar, writer, satirist, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral and hospital patron.

Both of these men made immense and unique contributions to Ireland that we still enjoy and, no doubt, will the generations to follow.

 

 

Sir Hugh Lane

Sir Hugh Lane

Dean Jonathan Swift

Dean Jonathan Swift

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Filed under Art, Dublin, History, Ireland, London

National Gallery – looking great

The National Gallery of Ireland

The National Gallery of Ireland

As I passed by the locked and boarded front gate during the last six years I often wondered ‘When will it be open?’ The National Gallery had opened in 1864 and it was no surprise that serious work needed to be carried out to allow it to continue in the most positive way for another hundred and fifty years. The removal of old and worn, parts and their sympathetic replacement with modern, state-of-the-art materials was essential, and took time. That’s understandable and the result, I must admit, has been spectacular.

Harry Clarke piece

Harry Clarke piece

Upper Gallery

Upper Gallery

The gallery is a place that I know well having being a regular visitors for many, many years. The Millennium Wing that was opened in 2002 is a great addition and gives a modern feel to the place. And now with the extra space available the gallery can have more of its works (there are more than 16,300 works of art, comprising: paintings, sculpture, objets d’art and works on paper) on show – almost 650 items. And, of course, its size and popularity allows it to attract works from international galleries.

William Dargan

William Dargan

The recently completed work in the Dargan and Milltown wings has been suitably praised, and rightly so. There is much to see and enjoy here, and my own favourite was a complete and wonderful surprise. Knowing the gallery I did not expect to find the atrium that, on the sunny day when I was there,  was seen at its best. The beautiful space had been ‘hidden away’ but its revelation is a real treat and the sculpture at its centre, Magnus Modus (by Joseph Walsh), will bring a smile. It’s a must-see!

 

Magnus Modus

Magnus Modus

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Get me to the church…sometime!

King of the Road

King of the Road

‘Are we there yet?’ cried a voice for the umpteenth time, kicking off another out of laughter.

This was the fun memory of our journey from the hotel to the church in an old, London bus that, at times, seemed to be about to give up the ghost. It was a close run thing that made the swing through north Wicklow memorable, if not a little nervy.

‘All aboard,’ called the conductor when the last passenger climbed on and took a seat. The atmosphere was akin to that of going on a school outing and there was much joking about Back To The Future comments. Or was it Back To The Past?

All aboard!

All aboard!

We set off for St Patrick’s Church and after a short drive we arrived, only to find out that we were at the wrong St Patrick’s Church. This was one time when our patron saint’s fame wasn’t helping matters. Confusion reigned until our true destination was established and we headed off, again. And now that we were on ‘the right road’ the noise levels increased as we went down the motorway, where cars sounded their horns as they passed. Seeing a red London bus is a novelty at the best of times, but one with stuffed with weddinggoers on the road was a rare sight.

The old bus twisted and turned as it made its made along the winding road into Enniskerry where the fun was about to begin.

‘Are we there yet?’ shouted someone and a chorus of imitators followed.

We were already late and furious phone calls went back and forth relaying our position. Our expected time of arrival, however, wasn’t quite so certain.

The bus drove into Enniskerry drawing much attention from onlookers. The journey up to that point had been mostly on the flat and, as the bus began its climb up the hill that it had to take, a silence descended on the passengers. The hill is incredibly steep and as the bus moved forward we were all holding our breath. The sound of the gears grinding as the driver switched was painful, and outside I could see onlookers shaking their heads. It was a nervy few minutes but finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we crested the hill and a roar of relief filled the bus.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, and if the Beatles had their Magical Mystery Tour then we certainly had ours. It had been an unforgettable experience and ‘Get me to the church…sometime,’ was about right!

Are we there yet? - Yes

Are we there yet? – Yes

 

 

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The Obelisk, Stillorgan

Obelisk and its stairway to....

Obelisk and its stairway to….

In south Dublin, as far as obelisks are concerned, I was familiar with two of them: the wonderfully sighted one on top of Killiney Hill and the other on the seafront in Dun Laoghaire that commemorates the site from where King George IV left Ireland in 1821. However, until recently I had not seen the oldest of them all, and that is the Stillorgan Obelisk on Carysfort Avenue.

As part of the Summer of Heritage (run by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council) it is open to visitors who can go on a free guided tour and enjoy a unique piece of history. The two guides, William & Eamon, who led us around were well-informed and happy to engage with our questions. It’s definitely a ‘must-see’ and, hopefully, you will have as bright and sunny day as I had.

The obelisk was built in 1727 on lands owned by Joshua Allen, 2nd Viscount Allen that stretched north-to-south from Blackrock to Stillorgan and east-to-west from Newtownpark Avenue to Mount Merrion Avenue. He and his wife lived in Stillorgan House, a large country mansion that was demolished more than a century ago, and is roughly the site where the Stillorgan Park Hotel now stands.

Base Gates

Base Gates

Margaret, Lady Allen, hired the young but sought-after architect Edward Lovett Pearce to design the obelisk at the far corner of the property where it would offer fabulous, uninterrupted of Dublin Bay. Pearce had travelled in France and Northern Italy in the early 1720s and visited many great classical buildings and was most impressed by the work of Andrea Palladio who is widely considered the most influential person in the history of architecture. So, on his return to Dublin he adopted his style as was knighted in 1731 for his design and building of The Irish Parliament (now the Bank of Ireland) on College Green.

View from the top

View from the top

Lovett may well have referred to the restored Obelisk of (Emperor) Domitian that was used by Lorenzo Bernini in his River of Fountains work in Rome, as he had probably seen on his travels. The stone was brought from a quarry in Stepaside before being cut and set in place. The steps that circle the structure lead to an inner space with four windows that must have been a joy to sit and look out of. Up there was a popular spot for visitors that included politicians, merchants and men of learning like Jonathan Swift who liked to ‘take the air’.

It is still (just about) possible to see Howth on a clear day, and when it was finished the obelisk would have been one of the tallest buildings in the area. And, after almost three centuries of encroaching development and tree growth, it still stands tall and has a great story to tell. It’s no longer a hidden gem!

In all its glory!

In all its glory!

 

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Grave Importance

Mount Jerome Cemetery

Mount Jerome Cemetery

It was a cold day in early January and the graveyard was a most uninviting place to be. Tall, leafless trees, silhouetted against the grey sky, swayed in the biting, cold breeze. People around the grave huddled close like windswept penguins, chins stuck into their coats and scarves. In the distance a bell peeled as yet another funeral procession began its short, sad journey. ‘For whom the bell tolls’, my uncle said before stamping his feet on the rock hard ground.

I was standing in Mount Jerome cemetery with the rest of my family, as the gravediggers lowered my grandaunt’s coffin onto two muck-covered, broad beams that were set across the grave. The clunk of wood on wood made an eerie sound and people stiffened in response. A few seagulls swooped and cawed, adding to the gloomy air. Only the gravediggers spoke as they pulled and pushed the light-coloured coffin into place. After a few hefty tugs their work was done and they stepped aside, their boots scrunching noisily on the pebbled path.

The priest, dressed all in black, carefully made his way to the side of the grave. I could see the fresh muck on his clean shoes and the wind whipping at his trousers. He said a few words about my grand-aunt and about her long and happy life. She had in fact celebrated her ninety-eight birthday only a few months beforehand, making her by far the longest living member of the family. He then began to say a decade of the rosary and we joined in, happy that the silence was broken. As we prayed I could see, off to our right, the slow progress of another funeral; its mourners following in respectful silence, heads bowed in contemplation and against the cold.

Dust to dust...

Dust to dust…

My grand-aunt was being buried in my grandmother’s grave and I, for one, had never been to the place before. All around the graves were overgrown and unattended; most of them had not been opened for over thirty years. It was an old part of the cemetery and obviously very few people visited it. ‘Out of sight…’ I thought and heard my mother say to my uncle ‘It’s different, isn’t it?’

He turned his head slowly and sniffed the air. ‘Yeah, it’s been a long since I’ve been here.’ He paused, a slightly quizzical look on his face. ‘But I thought that the grave was nearer a big tree, not as close to the path as this is.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s been a long though, and my old memory isn’t as good as it once was.’

As soon as those words had left his mouth we all turned to see a woman walking quickly along the path to where we were gathered. Behind her the funeral procession had stopped and all the mourners were looking in our direction.

The priest stepped forward to meet her, as we waited in silence. The head gravedigger moved closer, keen to find out what was happening. It was a moment nobody will ever forget.

‘You’ve got the wrong grave’ the woman said, her voice almost breaking. She took a few deep breaths. ‘There’s been a terrible mistake. This is my father’s grave. I checked it last week with the cemetery superintendent. Something’s gone very wrong.’ She started to cry and the priest gently put his hand on her shoulder.

‘What’s your father’s surname’, asked the head gravedigger quietly. She told him and he said he would have to check the details back in the office. He ran off down the path as everyone stood around the grave, my grand-aunt waiting and somewhat forgotten in the commotion. And there she stayed, lost somewhere between heaven and earth, for another five or so minutes before we heard the gravedigger’s boots scrunching along the gravel path.

There was tension in the air and even the wind stopped as if it wanted to listen to what he had to say.

‘Yes, there has been a most unfortunate mistake. I’ve checked the register and this lady’s grave number is K492, and your father’s is K429. It’s a simple mistake for which I am terribly sorry.’ He looked at my grandaunt’s coffin and slowly shook his head. ‘This woman is indeed, well almost, in your father’s grave and it’s only by a real stroke of luck that both funerals arrived at the same time. Otherwise I don’t know what would have happened.’ He shrugged with nothing more to add. The chance that the two graves were opened on the same day, and that the two funerals arrived at almost the same time was, dare I say, miraculous even. ‘The other grave is ready for this ‘lady-in-waiting’, so we will take care of things now. My most sincere apologies to you all.’

I had to grin at his words, and wondered how often does this sort of thing happened. I didn’t want to know.

‘Thank you, thank you so much’ the woman said, wiping tears away.

So, about twenty minutes later, the priest led the prayers for a second time, and we finally laid my grand-aunt to rest.

‘She always wanted to be remembered,’ my uncle said ‘and after today, well….’ He winked, and we headed down the path, past broken headstones and the church where the bell was again tolling.

This is the end...

This is the end…

 

 

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On the radio

A few days ago I was delighted to be a guest on The History Show on Limerick City Community Radio, hosted by John O’Carroll. The two topics I talked about were:

  • The publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 (95th anniversary) and the growth in popularity of Bloomsday; and
  • The premiere of GF Handel’s Messiah in 1742 (275th anniversary) and his time in Dublin.

 

Link (click to listen): The History Show

James Joyce

James Joyce

GF Handel

GF Handel

 

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Filed under Art, Dublin, History, Ireland, James Joyce

Bloomsday – Joyce’s Memorable Gift

Sweny's Chemist

Sweny’s Chemist

When he wrote Ulysses James Joyce said: ‘I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.’ He may well have succeeded in that as the interest and industry in all things Joyce continues to grow; but having a date in the calendar proclaimed in honour of his book is something else entirely. Such acknowledgement, worldwide and sustained, would have been a great source of pride and, no doubt, brought a smile to his steely countenance. Well done, Jimmy.

A few years ago I wrote a short story, The Bloomsday Boys, and was fortunate enough to have it read by the actor Shane Egan, on the fateful day, outside Sweny’s Chemist (where Leopold Bloom buys a bar of lemon soap in the Lotuseaters episode (No. 5) of Ulysses).

 

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