Category Archives: History

The Druid’s Chair

If you go down to the woods today you may find…

Sun dappled wood

Sun dappled wood

It was with this thought in mind that I made my way to Killiney Heath (just off Killiney Avenue) in anticipation of seeing something that, up until a few days before, I had no idea existed. Past the large stone on the right-hand side of the road with Killiney Heath carved on it, I stepped onto a small path and entered the sun filled copse.

Slipping past the remnant of an old gate I was suddenly in a very quiet little area, and a few yards further along I came upon some very large, cut stones. I had read that they belonged to Bronze Age cairns that once stood there, possibly surrounded by a Stone Circle where druids might have held ceremonies. It was an interesting thought, and standing there in the quiet, it was not difficult to imagine those white-robed, ancient priests looking to the heavens as they chanted prayers for a good harvest.

Ancient stones - what stories...

Ancient stones – what stories…

 

More ancient stones

More ancient stones

Beyond the stones is the Druid’s Chair, and a fine piece of it is. There is much discussion as to its authenticity as some believe it to be nothing more than a Victorian-era folly. Whatever it may be it is an intriguing piece of local history (that, of course, gives its name to the local pub) and one worth checking out.

The Druid's Chair - take a seat!

The Druid’s Chair – take a seat!

 

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Trinity College Booksale (20-22 February)

As booksales go the annual one held in Trinity College is one of the best. Spread over three days there is something for everyone and the ‘price is definitely right’. This year is the 29th Annual Trinity Secondhand Booksale and the place will, no doubt, be as busy as ever. All the books are donated during the year by staff and students, and the funds raised are used for the purchase of materials for various college libraries. So, not only are you getting a bargain but helping improve college facilities.

Exam Hall

Exam Hall

The old Exam Hall, a place steeped in history with wonderful paintings on show, is a splendid venue and worthy of a visit in its own right. There you be surrounded in the steady murmur of book hunters searching for bargains as they shuffle from one stuffed table of books to another. The books are usually laid out under various heads; like History, Sport, Science, Languages, Philosophy, Adventure and many, many more. It’s always a treat and you will find oodles to choose from – and at the right price!

As the tables of books are emptied they are just as quickly refilled by volunteers. Many buyers slide cardboard boxes of books from table to table – something that I’ve not seen anywhere else – as they gather their precious finds. You can get a year’s reading here for the price of a couple of new books – and that’s what most people tend to do. It’s a book lover’s heaven – so happy hunting and reading!

A book lover's heaven!

A book lover’s heaven!

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Samuel Beckett – Less Is More

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

For someone born on Good Friday, April 13th it was not surprising that such double luck might suggest something special was to be expected. So, Beckett, who was born in Foxrock, Co Dublin in 1906, went on to become one of the most important writers of the 20th century and an inspiration to dramatists like Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. His influence on the Beat Generation and their ‘experimental writing’ was vital for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and many others.

Beckett’s father William, who traced his lineage back to the Huguenots, was a quantity surveyor and successful property developer and had the family house Cooldrinagh built in 1903. His wife Mary Jones Roe was a nurse and they had married in 1901 and Frank, their first son was born the following year. The local woods and open fields of the surrounding countryside were an area where the young Sam often walked with his father, and he often referenced them used them in his writing.

He attended junior school in Dublin before going as a boarder to Portora Royal School (1919-1923) in Enniskillen where Oscar Wilde had once been a pupil. He returned to Dublin and entered Dublin University (Trinity College) where he studied Modern Languages from 1923-1927. He was a bright student and a competitive athlete, excelling at tennis and cricket. Playing as a left-handed batsman he took to the field in two first-class matches against Northamptonshire and, as such, has the unique distinction of being the only Nobel laureate (Awarded in 1969) to be mentioned in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac – cricket’s ‘bible’.

He graduated first in his class and briefly lectured at Campbell College, Belfast. He soon tired of this and with his college first behind him he was invited to be a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928. There he met James Joyce, who was basking in the glory of having written Ulysses in 1922, the controversial, modern novel that made his name. Beckett was invited to join Joyce’s inner circle and helped him in carrying out research for his next project – Finnegans Wake.

In 1930 he returned to Ireland to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but he left in December 1931 after only four terms. This was his final fling with teaching and he went off on an extended tour of the Continent. He did odd jobs and wrote short stories, poems to earn money and filled many notebooks with notes about places and people that would provide inspiration in the following years. He hated the cruelty of the Nazi regime that he had seen in Germany and in 1937 finally decided to settle in Paris. Before that he returned to Dublin where Murphy was published the following year. Then he fell out with his mother who he was more like than his father and returned to Paris, and did not see her again until after the war.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge (on the Liffey) 2009

The Samuel Beckett Bridge (on the Liffey) 2009

Back in Paris Beckett almost died when he was stabbed in the chest by a pimp after he had refused his solicitations. The knife missed his heart by inches and it was during his stay in hospital that he met Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who was to become his life-long companion and greatest supporter. She was in Paris studying piano and they had met once before at a social gathering, but after this they became lovers and eventually married in a secret wedding in Folkestone, Kent in March 1961.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allowed him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He joined the Resistance movement but he and Suzanne fled Paris when some members of their group were arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. They spent weeks making their way, on foot, to Roussillon, in south east France, where they worked as farm labourers until late 1944. After the war, Beckett was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French Resistance. He, however, was typically understated at his efforts referring them to them as ‘boy scouts stuff’. His most famous work Waiting for Godot has been described as “a metaphor for the long walk to safety, when Beckett and Suzanne slept in haystacks during the day and walked and talked by night.”

He returned to Dublin in 1946 and stayed with his mother for a while. And it was here that he had a revelation that would direct his writing from that moment. Fearful of remaining in Joyce’s shadow he was prompted to change direction and find his own path. ‘I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, of being in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.’

Beckett's most famous work

Beckett’s most famous work

He and Suzanne returned to their pre-war apartment in Paris where he had his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories and a book of criticism. Although he was a native English speaker, he wrote in French because, as he reasoned, it was easier for him to write ‘without style’.

Having completed Godot he was unhappy with the lack of response from publishers and it was Suzanne who badgered them until Beckett’s work was recognised. Godot was written between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949 and had its premiere on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris and ran for over 400 performances. This brought Beckett international recognition and the English language version was premiered in London in 1955. In a poll conducted by the British Royal National Theatre it was voted the ‘most significant English language play of the 20th century’.

Beckett focuses on the essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways in a style that was called ‘Theater of the Absurd’. His plays focus on human despair and the determination to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and died on 22nd December 1989. He is buried with Suzanne, who had died five months earlier, in Montparnasse Cemetery and they share a simple granite gravestone that follows his instruction that it should be ‘any colour, so long as it’s grey’.

Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

Grave in Montparnasse Cemetery

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Jonathan Swift – A Literary Giant

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, considered one of the greatest of all satirists, and whose literary legacy is still vital, was born on 30th November 1667 at 9 Hoey’s Court (beside St Werburgh’s Church, Dublin) in the home of his uncle Godwin Swift. His father, Jonathan, had died when his wife Abigail was only two months pregnant, and the infant was raised in his uncle’s household.

After schooling in Kilkenny College he entered Trinity College and graduated with a BA in 1686. One of his friends there was William Congrieve who was writing satire and it impressed the young Swift. One of Swift’s many quotes shows his clear and acerbic observation:
Satire is a sort of glass, where beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.

After college he went to London and worked as Secretary to Sir William Temple, a high-ranking diplomat. As part of his work he often met King William III who visited Temple seeking his advice. It was a meteoric rise for the young man who wanted more. And it was there that he met Esther Johnson ‘Stella’ with whom he was friendly until her death, in Dublin. Although there has been much conjecture about their relationship there is no proof of marriage. She is, however, buried beside him although in St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

After no significant advancement he left Temple and became a Church of Ireland priest in 1694. And after an initial, unhappy posting to a parish near Carrickfergus he returned to Temple, until he died in 1699. He then moved to London and secured a similar position with Robert Harley, the Lord Treasurer. And, he also met some of the country’s greatest writers, including, Alexander Pope, John Gay and John Arbuthnot, Queen Anne’s physician. Together they formed the Scriblerus Club where they and other like-minded men discussed the issues of the day.

In 1704 his first book A Tale of a Tub was published and it got a hostile reception, especially from the Queen. The satire highlighted corruption in churches and schools and it had a negative effect on his future advancement in the Church. And in 1713, after petitioning for years, he accepted the offer to be Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, something that was way down on his list. But there he had time to write and that is what he did with the greatest distinction, not only for its sharpness but for the passion he brought to it. His take on writing is as resonant today as it was then:
The proper words in the proper places are the true definition of style.

Gulliver's Travels - Original

Gulliver’s Travels – Original

During his early years as Dean he wrote and published many pamphlets anonymously (so as to avoid retribution), that addressed various social issues. His Drapier’s Letters (1724-25) tackled the planned imposition of privately minted copper coinage. Swift saw that this would devalue the local economy and it was just another injustice being piled on Ireland. The plan was soon withdrawn and Swift’s contribution quietly acknowledged. Other works in this style are his Modest Proposal, that suggests the poor Irish should, to improve their economic situation, sell their children as food to the rich, and the wonderfully titled An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity. In 1726 his Gulliver’s Travels, another satire that is still popular and relevant, was published to great acclaim.

Now approaching his sixties the vertigo that had plagued him for years became more pronounced and it had a most debilitating effect. It was discovered, almost a century after his death, by the renowned Dublin physician Sir William Wilde (Oscar’s father) that Swift had suffered from Meniere’s disease that was not diagnosed during his life time.

In 1742 when GF Handel planned to have the debut of Messiah performed in Dublin he went to speak with Swift about hiring some of his singers. Handel, who  had already acquired the services of singers from Christ Church Cathedral, found Swift obstructive. He did not like the idea of such sacred music being played in a music hall but, thankfully, he relented and agreed to let the King’s Composer have his wish. He attended the performance and enjoyed it immensely. By now he was in great distress, his black future having finally arrived. Later that year he was committed to a home, and one visitor who knew him well was upset to note that ‘the man of words had not spoken one word for a year’. In his will he left £12,000 (over £3m today) for the building of a hospital for those with mental health issues. As he observed:
Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.

And that hospital, St Patrick’s, still continues his altruistic legacy in offering assistance to those in need. He died on the 19th October 1745, a few weeks short of his 78th birthday, and is buried in his beloved St Patrick’s Cathedral.

St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral

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Oscar Wilde Exhibition – An Intimate Visit

OW in Merrion Square (opp No 1)

OW in Merrion Square (opp No 1)

The exhibition in Trinity College ‘From Decadence to Despair’ honouring one of its most famous students, Oscar Wilde, is small but intimate, and a  must-see for all his fans. The items; including letters, programs photographs and other memorabilia are on show in The Long Room, one of the great libraries of the world that is worth a visit in its own right. More information about the exhibition can be seen here IrishCentral.

Oscar Odyssey: For those visiting the exhibition you might like to add the following as they are also intimately associated with Oscar Wilde, and beside Trinity College.

  • 21 Westland Row – where OW was born on 16 Oct 1854
  • St Mark’s Church, Pearse Street – where OW was baptised
  • 1 Merrion Square – where OW’s family moved to in 1855
St Mark's Church

St Mark’s Church

 

1 Merrion Square

1 Merrion Square

21 Westland Row

21 Westland Row

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Dublin’s Culture Night – what fun!

Pearse Museum

Pearse Museum

It was busy in town with crowds visiting the many houses, galleries, houses, museums that took part in Culture Night. The pleasant, dry weather certainly helped matters, and everywhere there was excited talk as visitors moved from venue to venue. All in all it was a great event, and what I enjoyed most was the good nature and the genuine interest shown by Culture Vultures, both young and old!

The event has become one of the Dublin’s main attractions, for locals and tourists alike, and a real ‘must-see’. It offers unique opportunities to visit places that are often closed to the public and, as such, is engaging like no other event and growing year-on-year. And with venues from all corners of the city taking part; from Dunsink Observatory in the west to Windmill Lane Studios in the east and Malahide Castle in the north to the Pearse Museum in the south, there was something for everybody to see and enjoy. And, for those wishing to move quickly between venues there was a Free Culture Night Bus service. Yes, everyone was involved!

Dunsink Observatory

Dunsink Observatory

There is so much to see that you have to have a plan, something that is usually gets forgotten about after visiting a few venues. But that is part of the fun and it adds to the sense of discovery that is so important. That’s what happened to mine, anyway, but I was more than happy with I saw, and heard. For music is a big part of the event and there was so much on offer. There were formal shows in Dublin Castle and Smithfield Square and any number of impromptu performances in small venues and in the open air. Outside the National Gallery I saw four young trumpet players, in dress suits, playing Classical Music that got a loud round of applause. It was different, something that is very much the theme of the event.

Thomas Moore's harp

Thomas Moore’s harp

I enjoyed a guided tour of the recently, and beautifully revamped, National Gallery that was abuzz with excitement. Then it was along a noisy Nassau Street and into the beautiful Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street. This is a veritable treasure house of Irish history where you may indeed spend more time that you might have planned. You can see Ireland’s oldest manuscript that dates from the sixth century, and the collected works of the great singer and writer Thomas Moore, along with his harp. In the Meeting Room there are chandeliers and benches from the House of Lords that was abolished under the Act of Union of 1800.

Then it was into the Mansion House where the guide gave our group a very swift and informative tour of the building that has been the Mayoral Home since 1715, the oldest in the British Isles. The famous Rotunda was added in 1821 for the visit of King George IV, and ironically it was where the First Dáil assembled on 21st January 1919 and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.

It was a great night and I just wish that I had the time to visit other wonderful places and meet more enthusiastic visitors. Maybe the organizers might consider extending the event to a two-night affair, but I am very happy to see it thrive and grow and continue to bring so much fun and excitement to so many.

The Mansion House

The Mansion House

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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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