Monthly Archives: August 2012

Tall Ships & Tall Sails

Mexican sailors in Dublin

Four Aft!

Even the Sun got in on the act yesterday as the crowds filled the quaysides where forty tall ships drew gasps of admiration and brought many a smile to young and old alike. It was a very colourful experience with flags flying high in the easy, warm breeze and sailors in uniform happily posed with sightseers. Everywhere people enjoyed themselves and joined lengthy queues to board the ships and see the mass of sail and ropes and marvel at the gleaming, polished decks. Both sides of the Liffey were busy as traders did a brisk business in both captains’ and pirates’ hats and T-shirts with maritime images. Music from local jazz bands floated down the river and mingled with the aromas from the numerous restaurants. There was something for everybody and photographers made the most of the rare opportunity, thankful for the Sun’s unexpected appearance. It’s been a long time since so many tall ships have berthed in Dublin, but the crowds in their vast numbers certainly voted with their feet and took away many happy memories. Ships ahoy, indeed, and although their time here was fleeting, we are already looking forward to their return. Sail on!

Tall Ships

Tall ships on the Liffey

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Neil Armstrong – One Small Step

That’s all it took – one small step – and Neil Armstrong made history. It was the culmination of so many dreams,Apollo 11 dating back to the time when man first looked up at the night sky and wondered. It was the crowing achievement for NASA and a magical, wonderous moment frozen for all time. When he stepped onto the Lunar surface and spoke those famous words, his grammatical error in omitting the indefinite article ‘a’ has made his declaration all the more memorable. They were the words of a clever but humble man, who considering his worldwide fame, preferred to live a quiet life absorbed in his family and professional career. Of all his qualities, and they were many, this ‘Quiet Man’ image has endured and endeared him to people long after his exploits. I, like many, remember where I was on that momentous day, 20th July, 1969 watching those grey, exciting images from a quarter of a million miles away. It was unforgettable, and although he will not take another step, his words will be remembered for all time and, hopefully, be an inspiration for generations to come. Safe journey!

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James Joyce, Ulysses & Sandymount

Of all the areas of Dublin mentioned by James Joyce in Ulysses, Sandymount

Paddy Dignam's House

Paddy Dignam’s House

features prominently. He was familiar with the neighbourhood having lived there for a short time on Strand Road and nearby Shelbourne Road. At a recent lecture, that was part of National Heritage Week (sponsored by Sandymount Tidy Towns committee), Rodney Devitt, an erudite and entertaining host, put ‘flesh on the bones’ about the area’s appearance within the book with readings and appropriate photographs. His delivery was clear and his interest and passion for the topic made it all the more enjoyable. After the lecture we set off on a walk that took in the various places of interest. Firstly, we came to 9, Newbridge Avenue where Paddy Dignam lived. He has died due to alcoholic excess and Leopold Bloom and other mourners board a carriage and head for Glasnevin Cemetary (Episode 6, Hades). Further on we came to Sandymount Strand which features twice. In Episode 3, Proteus, Stephen Dedalus walks on the beach and ponders life and much more besides. When we pass many people are doing something similar on this pleasant evening, and out to sea the sun is a magnificent, giant orange ball slowly sinking into Dublin Bay. Later in the book (Episode 13, Nausicaa) Bloom finds himself sitting on rocks observing a young woman, Gertie McDowell, and fantasises about her. This scene caused great controversy, particularly in America, where the editors of The Little Review were convicted of obscenity. It was not until 1932, ten years after its release, that a US court delared Ulyssesnon-obscene. No such shenaniagns took place as we walked by, phew, but two boys did get quite excited when they got their colourful kite flying high. I wonder what Mr Bloom would have thought?

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand in the sunshine – beautiful!

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Golf – now and Zen!

My story of getting into and learning golf was unexpected. Like many things that one does not plan for mySet of golf clubs opportunity came when my father’s game improved hugely (in hs eyes!) and he persuaded me to take some lessons at his club. He had been helped by a new member, Daniel ‘Zen’ Hogan, who was a retired surgeon and brilliant golfer. I learned much from this man and not only about playing golf, for he was a great story-teller and wonderful human being. Along my journey there were plenty of ups and downs, humour and many wise words to take in. This is the first instalment, so if you are ready, read on…and don’t forget to keep your head down!

Zen Hogan and the Arc of a Driver.

 

‘It’s a thing of beauty, son,’ my father said ‘a real thing of beauty.’ How often did I hear my father say these words in the garden as he waggled his golf club back and forth before making a swing? Countless is the answer and he always had a little smile on his face as he did. ‘If you’re going to play golf you’ll have to get lessons from him,’ he said ‘it’s the only way.’

            Dad had always been a good golfer with a handicap of around 11 or 12, and, like others, was keen to improve. But it wasn’t until he met his mentor that his game took a giant leap forward and he seemed to find something. At the time I didn’t know what it was but he certainly was calmer about stuff and life was better. For him and all of us.

            I liked sports but couldn’t really decide on what I liked best; tennis was fun, especially doubles when my partner was okay; football was competitive but players were sometimes unnecessarily abusive, and rugby, well, that was too damned dangerous with scrums collapsing and the thought of a broken neck too much to consider. So I eventually, to my father’s great delight, agreed to take some lessons at the golf club and he arranged for me to meet the man with a swing that was ‘a thing of beauty.’

You don’t always remember meeting somebody for the first time, but when I shook hands with Zen Hogan I knew I would never forget it. He was tall and elegant, a little over six feet, and his dark hair was short and neatly combed. He smiled, no maybe it was a grin, when we met and nodded to my father that his work was done.

‘So you want to learn how to play,’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I replied, immediately aware that he did not mention the word golf. That was different, I thought, and was intrigued.

Now he definitely grinned.

‘Good. And if you are to play, and play well, you must first understand that you have to learn what to do…and do it.’ He raised his brow, questioning.

I nodded, but not sure why, and waited.

‘This game is about you and to know the game is to know about yourself. I can show you what you need to know and you must practise and then find it. It is a journey and the more you put into it the more you will get from it. You will learn about you can do and realise that there is always something to learn. And that in a nutshell is it.’

I didn’t know what to say and just nodded my head, again.

‘Good, now this is where I want to take you,’ he said and leaned down, placed a tee in the ground and placed a ball on it. He stepped back, waggled his driver a few times and was ready. ‘Straight down the middle,’ he said calmly and pointed right down the fairway.

‘Sure,’ I said suddenly trying to keep the excitement from my voice.

Zen stood over the ball, breathed out a few times, took a last look down the fairway, and swung the club. I remember it now in slow motion and I still get a chill. The club came back evenly, not too fast, and at the top of his swing there was the slightest pause, before he began his downswing. His hips moved forward and then the club came whizzing along on a perfect arc before he hit the ball. Bang! The ball rocketed away, a speeding white bullet against the blue canvas above. He finished perfectly balanced with the club around his shoulder and watching the ball as it soared before landing, of course, in the middle of the fairway about three hundred yards away.

I was dumbstruck and felt my mouth fall open. I had seen players do this sort of thing on television but I never expected this. It was unforgettable.

‘You see, it’s easy,’ he said and tapped the club on the ground. ‘It’s you and the club, it’s about oneness.’

I could only nod, but had no idea what he meant. But I did know that I wanted to find out more about this ‘oneness’ thing.

‘That’s all for today. I just wanted to let you see what you can do, and next time we’ll begin.’

We shook hands and all the way home I couldn’t wait until the next time when I could see and learn from Zen Hogan and the arc of a driver.

 

 

           

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Light a Penny Candle

In literary circles Maeve Binchy was the ‘Queen of Words’ and her passing was sad loss for family, friends and her millionsDalkey of fans around the world. She was a prodigious writer and her books, which were translated into 37 languages, sold more than 40 million copies. She is best known for her stories of small-town life in Ireland, and her well-drawn characters, interesting plots and sensitive writing  brought her many admires from far and wide. In a poll for World Book Day in 2000 Maeve Binchy finished ahead of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Stephen King, proving her broad appeal. With such success it was not surprising that some of her books were adapted for film with A Circle Of Fiends and Tara Road among them. Similarly, some her short stories were taken up by television with The Lilac Bus being a particular favourite. Apart from her immense output Maeve was always supportive of young writers and many have attested to her help and gentle advice. She was, indeed is, a national treasure and we miss you.

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Golden Girl

The phrase ‘A nation expects’ was on everyone’s lips recently as Katie Taylor boxed for Ireland at the London 2012 Katie Taylor Olympics. The unassuming young woman from Bray, County Wicklow, who has won 5 European and 4 World  championships was the favourite for gold and, thankfully the national welfare, she delivered. It was a brilliant achievement for someone who has been so dedicated to her sport and she is a classic example of hard work, sweat and sheer will to win that she must be applauded. She has set the bar very high but her powerful performances and humble demeanor have endeared her to everyone and not only those keen on sport. Well done that girl – you’re the best!

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Another giant leap for mankind!

Mars

Mars (at night!)

I must admit that the news coming from NASA right now is wonderful. After a decade of hard work and a 9-month journey of over 560 million miles, Curiosity has performed brilliantly and arrived safe and sound on the Red Planet. The fact that we were able to see images of this alien world within minutes of its landing is a testament to the brilliance of the engineers involved. It’s a stunning achievement and maybe the first step (bad choice of words, I know, but I couldn’t help it!) on our journey to having a man (or woman) walk there. How fabulous …and scary will that be? Well done, guys. It’s a helluva ride we’re on and long may it last.

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Olympic Spirit

Looking at the action from the London 2012 Olympics I was reminded of a short story that I wrote a little while ago. ItEamonn Coghlan was set in 1976, during the Montreal Olympics, and features Eamonn ‘Cocker’ Coghlan , sometimes known as ‘The Chairman of the Boards’, running in the 1500 metres final. I am sure it was exciting being in the stadium watching the race, but nothing like the goings-on in a small bar in Dingle, County. Oh, what a night!  Enjoy.

Come On Cocker!

 

The morning air was still and warm – again. It had been the same for weeks, and although uncomfortable at times, nobody was complaining. After all, such fine weather in Ireland was really something to enjoy, and the summer of 1976 was truly memorable. Whether it was caused by increased sunspot activity or the result of some crazy, Russian scientific experiment gone wrong, nobody really cared and the country smiled like never before.

            After breakfast outside our tent, in a golden field about a mile from Glengariff, we set off for the golf course. We spent the next four hours under a blue sky and were burnt by a dry, steady breeze. The clubs we hired had seen better days and one of them lost its head when I hit a shot to the green on the second hole. The dirty, chrome lump spiralled slowly against the blue canvas – it was pathetic and the source of some smart jibes for the rest of the holidays. ‘I hope Cocker doesn’t do that tonight,’ quipped Paddy, setting the others off. I agreed, silently, and rammed the broken club into my bag.

            Later that night we were part of a nervous crowd that waited expectantly, in a small pub, for the pictures from the Montreal Olympics to come through. After what seemed like an age we saw the runners jogging back and forth as they loosened up. The semi-final of the 1500 metres was about to begin and our man, Eamonn ‘Cocker’ Coughlan, was the favourite. He was Ireland’s first real sporting superstar and the excitement that his performances had generated was palpable. ‘Ireland expects’ was the headline on most newspapers and on the night Cocker didn’t fail. He won easily and we shouted his name until the roof almost lifted off the pub. Later, much later, we happily staggered back to the campsite under a moonlit sky and dreamt of gold medals before drifting off to sleep.

            The next few days were as before, hot and humid. We made our way along the coast, swimming and sightseeing in the hot, tingling air. We visited the ruins of old castles and monasteries that lay eerily silent. In an old graveyard butterflies fluttered gently about us, pausing now and then on top of cracked, lichen-covered headstones. The peacefulness was sharply at odds with the mayhem of watching Cocker the other night, and we moved away lost in thought and nervously thinking of the final. It was going to be a big night, and our thoughts drifted west, across the Atlantic, to our man in the green vest.

            We drove on and arrived in Dingle on the day of the final and pitched our tent just outside the town. After a quick visit to the local butcher where Aidan bought steaks and onions, we ate dinner outside our tent and talked about Cocker’s chances. The conversation went back and forth excitedly, but finally we all agreed that our man was going ‘to do the business’. It was a nervy time and none of us could talk of anything else before we headed into town to watch history being made. ‘Come on Cocker,’ we shouted and sprinted playfully along the dusty road with the strains of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ belting out from a nearby tent.

            The streets were packed as people chatted noisily, discussing the race. We worked our way through the crowd before finally squeezing into a lively and expectant pub that was packed tight. At this stage it was standing room only and we slowly worked our way to the bar and got a bird’s eye view of the television. With an hour to go before the big event the noise level was deafening as the new athletics experts discussed the only topic on everyone’s lips.

‘Course he’ll do it,’ said a guy beside me a confident grin showing from behind the two creamy pints he was passing back to a friend. I nodded agreement, let him pass, and caught the barman’s eye.

            The excitement grew intensely with sporadic bursts of ‘Come on Cocker’ filling the smoky bar. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd went wild when the TV screen switched to show the racetrack and the image of Coughlan in his green vest. More shouts and whoops of encouragement rent the air and the crowd seemed to push forward to be nearer their hero.

            The camera moved slowly along showing each runner in turn and we cheered when Coughlan grinned. Soon, not soon enough, the runners took their marks at the starting line – everything was ready to go.

The pub fell silent.

Everyone seemed to stop breathing as the runners leaned forward, shook the last ounce of tension from the hands, and waited.

There was aloud explosion and the crowd jumped as one when the starter fired his gun.

            What happened next was truly unbelievable; a moment of high farce if ever there was one! As the runners took the first bend a guy sitting beneath the television, stood up heading for the toilet, and stumbled backwards. He stuck out his hand to steady himself but only managed to knock the TV switch to off in the process. The crowd was stunned, looking at the blank screen and wondering if the world had ended. Howls and screams of fury rang out in the madness before the pub owner scampered athletically over the counter, stretched full length over a group of shaking heads, and hit the button. Slowly, desperately slowly, the picture came back and the race continued and Cocker ran like a man possessed. We shouted, screamed, cried out and his name as if our lives depended on it, but sadly it was not enough. Our man was denied, but not before he left us an unforgettable memory of that long, hot summer.

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Heavenly Blue

What a fabulous sky – such blueness. This is a photo taken on Sandymount Strand a while ago, and most definitely, not Sandymount Skyinthe last week. The weather has been only so-so and sometimes downright abysmal that the thought of a such a blue sky is almost painful. It’s so long since we’ve had one that we in danger of having to refer to images and memories for a fix. But not so long ago I took some video (on my phone) and you can see what a nice place it is. It was along these sands that Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s book Ulysses (Episode 3, Proteus) walks early on Bloomsday and ponders life and the material world, just as strollers and joggers do each day.

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James Joyce’s bar of Lemon Soap

Hi there,

I was in Sweny’s Chemist recently and the smell of lemon soap was strong and wonderful. In James Joyce’s most famousSweny's Chemist book, Ulysses, the main character, Leopold Bloom, enters the old shop and buys a bar of lemon soap and carries it in his pocket like a talisman throughout the day (now celebrated worldwide as Bloomsday, June 16). Although no longer a chemist shop, you can still buy a bar of lemon soap and sample the atmosphere that Joyce and his contemporaries were familiar with. The shop is unchanged and is a ‘must see’ for all Joycean fans. And for those not so literary specific it is a great chance to open the front door and step back in time. The fittings, glass jars and many uncollected prescriptions give the place an air of authenticity that is unique and memorable. Readings of Joyce’s books are held each week and are free and open to visitors – enjoy!

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