Monthly Archives: September 2012

Merrion Square – The Georgian Heart

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

Merrion Square is a jewel in Dublin’s crown, and as it celebrates its 250th anniversary, it is looking better than ever. The square was originally laid out in 1762 and landscaping went on for almost thirty years, and this attention to detail shows in the magnificent space that we can enjoy today. The square is surrounded on three sides by unbroken Georgian terraces and by National Gallery, National Museum – Natural History, and the manicured lawns of Leinster House on its West side. Nowadays most of the houses are occupied by professional offices and various institutes; namely, The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (No. 8), The Goethe-Institut Irland (No. 37), Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA – No. 73) and many more besides. Its central location has always attracted people and many of its residents have telling contributions to Irish life and beyond. Daniel O’Connell, known affectionately as The Liberator for his championing the cause of catholic emancipation lived at No. 58 (South). A short walk away, on the same side, the Nobel award-winner, poet and founder of The Abbey Theatre WB Yeats resided at No. 82.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde – Dublin’s first rocker!

And, of course, its most famous resident Oscar Wilde lived, appropriately enough, at No. 1. He was born about three hundred yards away at 21 Westland Row on 16 Oct 1853, and his upwardly mobile family moved to the square two years later. His mother, Jane, was a poet and wrote political, revolutionary verse for The Nation during the stressful and turbulent years of The Famine under the pseudonym ‘Esperanza‘. Her famous, raucous Saturday afternoon salons were the talk of the town and left a deep impression on Oscar who would brilliantly recreate their atmosphere in his books and plays.  The  square (11.7 acres) is beautifully maintained and the central flower plot a joy to behold in the sunshine. There are many statues set randomly about the place and the colourful, reclining Oscar Wilde (opposite his old home at No 1) is a favourite with visitors and photographers. Another piece, The Joker’s Chair, is a memorial to Dermot Morgan, who played the part of Father Ted Crilly in the hit TV comedy Father Ted. I’ve heard many a laugh here as visitors sit, recite a funny line from the show and have their photograph taken. Also, in the artistic scheme of things, an Art Market is held every Sunday with artists displaying their work along the railings. The square, although 250 years old, is still the beating heart of classic Georgian Dublin and always interesting to visit, if only to stroll among its quiet trees.

Joker's Chair

Joker’s Chair

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Golf – now and Zen! (part 2)

Continuing my golfing journey under the guidance of my teacher, Zen Hogan, I have been practising hard and looking forward to my next lesson.

Wilson Golf Clubs

My Wilson Golf Clubs

Zen Hogan & the Arc of a Drive r – Part 2

 

After my first meeting with Zen Hogan I was keen to learn and Dad was happy to give me his old clubs. They were Wilson ProStaff and he had used them for years, and kept them in really good condition. ‘Treat them well and they will treat you well,’ he often said as I watched him cleaning and adding a little oil to prevent corrosion. It was a useful lesson and one I appreciated when I took a club into the back garden and practised with it. It looked great; the grip firm and holding and the blade and grooves clean and ready for action. The steel shaft glinted in the sunlight, and I knew when I swung it easily back and forth that I had to do justice to this beautiful club. I wasn’t so sure about feeling some kind of ‘oneness’ as Zen had talked about, but there was definitely something that intrigued me. And I wanted to know more.

I watched some videos that Dad had bought and stood in front of the television and copied the stance and movement of the instructors. The low ceiling prevented any swinging of clubs and I had to go into the garden to practise what I had just seen. I swung back and then forward and tried to feel what was happening. It was interesting but I knew I had a long way to go and looked forward to my next lesson and maybe hitting some balls.

‘That’s looking pretty good,’ said Dad who had come home and was watching me from the kitchen.

‘Thanks,’ I replied.

‘Looks like the beginnings of a swing,’ he added.

‘A thing of beauty,’ I said grinning.

‘I’m not sure about that just yet…but definitely a thing,’ he said and left it at that. He wasn’t one for false praise and I knew that he was happy seeing me practise. ‘Keep at it, son, you’re doing fine.’

I nodded and went back to work wondering all the while what Zen was going to say.

 Zen and I walked to the practise range which, thankfully for me, was empty. ‘I hear that you’ve been practising,’ he said ‘let me see what you’ve got.’

I’m not one to get nervous, usually, but as I reached for my eight-iron I could feel my heart speed up and my breath got tighter. He never said a word but stepped back, and waited.

All the confidence that I had brought with me from the practise in the garden seemed to disappear and I made an ugly, rushed swing. I lost my balance and finished by almost falling forward like some unsteady drunk. It was embarrassing and my only saving grace was that there was no ball involved. It probably wouldn’t have mattered as far as the ball was concerned, as I no doubt would have missed by a country mile. It was horrible and I wondered why fate had conspired to play such a trick on me, and especially in front of Zen.

‘Try again,’ he said calmly ‘and relax. It’s the most important thing to do. Swinging the club and hitting the ball are indeed vital, but if you are not relaxed then nothing can be achieved. Absolutely nothing,’ he added and those words were meant to stick.

I nodded and deep down felt as though I had been let in on some secret. My swing, if that’s what you call it, had been so bad that I expected Zen to turn around and leave me to it. But no, he took out my driver and after a few gentle practise swings swung effortlessly and finished perfectly poised like a ballerina. I marvelled yet again at his easy grace and wondered if I could ever get close to being like that. It was a pipe dream, of course, but something that looked so good I was willing to put in some work to see how far I could go.

‘Let me see your grip,’ Zen said and reached down to see my hands.

My hands moved back and forth as he moved the club. ‘You grip the club too hard,’ said ‘it’s much too strong. When you do that you cannot feel the club as anything other than a weapon in your hands and not an extension.’ He pulled the club but I did not it go.

‘Extension, what do you mean?’

He grinned and shook his head. ‘Last time I said that the swing is about a ‘oneness’ – do you remember?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, the word thick in my dry throat.

‘Well, it seems that you have not appreciated what I meant. And what I mean is this’ he added ‘is that you and the club need to work together otherwise you have no chance.’

What was he talking about? ‘I was working with the club,’ I said but not sure it that was the answer.

‘Of course you were, but not the way you should. You need to hold it, of course, but not strangle it like you did. Doing that means that your focus is on holding the club tightly and not on swinging it correctly. You cannot do both things.’

I was flummoxed. ‘Can you show me, please?’

Zen stepped closer and rested the club in his palms and then wrapped his fingers carefully around the grip. ‘Now pull it away from me,’ he said.  

I grabbed the club and pulled it free.

‘You see, now. I was not able to do that when you held the club. It was too strong and most importantly lacked feel.’

‘Feel?’

‘Yes, feel. Just like the feeling in your fingertips you should be able to feel the club at all times. Then it’s an extension of your hand and this, believe me, is what you need to get. Ok?’

I could feel my grip loosen and how much better it felt. Yes, I did believe and watched as Zen took a few more swings, each one a copy of the one before and each one a thing of beauty.

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Flann – Yer Only Man!

Anne & ‘Flann’

It’s not often that you can get a chance to meet one of your heroes, but Val O’Donnell’s one-man show about the life and times of Flann O’Brien was pretty close.  His performance in the United Arts Club was informative, lively and throughly entertaining. The setting, in a large upstairs room, had the feeling of an evening in a friendly parlour, would definitely have met with the great man’s approval. And as it happened, his sister-in-law Anne O’Nuallain was in attendance, lending an air of authenticity and continuation to proceedings. After his introduction ‘Flann’ entered the room with a bicycle pump (think The Third Policeman!), a few books under his arm…and, of course, a pint of Guinness. As theatrical props go it has to be the best ever – slainte. Dressed in a black, three-piece suit and the obligatory black hat, ‘Flann’ looked the part and gave a wonderful performance that had the audience grinning and laughing out loud at some of the stories. We heard about O’Brien’s early life, college days and work in the Department of Local Government from where he was forced to leave in 1953.

‘Flann’ & Bicycle Pump!

This was due to his barely veiled observation of his boss who demanded his early dismissal. He had published his first book, At Swim-Two-Birds,  in 1939 to great critical acclaim. It was praised by the great British writer, Graham Greene,  who recommended it to hs publishers, Longmans. James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Dylan Thomas, among others, thought highly of it, but sadly, it never made the mainstream breakthrough that his writing has since done. ‘Flann’ recited pieces from various books, The Dalkey Archive, The Hard Life,  his Irish Times column An Cruiskeen Lawnand other satirical work. They were challenging at the time of their writing (part of the reason why they never received the acclaim they deserved) and still have a resonance today. Altogether it was a tour-de-force and left me (and others, no doubt) wondering where my Flann O’Brien books were and that I should really dip into them again. Just before he finished ‘Flann’ recited with perfect rhythm and feeling what is probably O’Brien’s most famous piece The Workman’s Friend, otherwise known as A Pint Of Plain Is Yer Only Man, and if you closed your eyes for a moment you could almost feel that the great man was in the room.  A special night – I’ll drink to that.

‘Flann’ & Don

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