Tag Archives: the gathering 2013

Second Hand, First Class!

Although the city has lost many of its favourite, second-hand bookshops in recent years, it’s good to see that quite a few have sprung up to fill the gap. In these straitened times it’s great news that readers can buy books at the ‘right price’, and long may it continue. These second-hand bookshops serve a growing need  and, in the process, are establishing themselves with their appreciative and growing, customers numbers.

Sweny's Pharmacy

Sweny’s Pharmacy

Some shops sell a range of genres while others serve a niche market. One such shop is Sweny’s in Lincoln Place  which  specialises in Irish books, where you can get anything from Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry to William Trevor, James Joyce or Oscar Wilde. The shop was, in a previous life, a pharmacy and it still retains many of the original features. It has its own unique place in Irish literary history as it is mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses. In fact, they hold weekly readings of the great man’s work, which is worth considering if you, like many others, have trouble in getting to grips with reading the difficult but ultimately rewarding book. And, there’s always a complementary cup of tea on offer!

Sweny's - living history...

Sweny’s – living history…

All these shops have their own unique atmosphere, something which makes browsing all the more interesting. Some are small, almost hidden away upstairs in old shops or markets, all vying for much-needed attention and trade. On the other hand, Chapters (Parnell Street) is probably the biggest of them all, and it has plenty of reduced new titles on sale. Upstairs is the second-hand section and it is well laid out and stuffed with books. The shelves are full and there are a few seats where readers can sit and ‘dip-into’ a  book before buying. It’s a nice feature, and something that I have often taken advantage of. Also, the shop will do ‘trade-ins’ of your old books, either for cash or credit, and that can’t be bad.


Chapters – stuffed with books!

So, check out the second-hand shops, either in town or in your locality, they are worth a visit and, more importantly, worth supporting.


Filed under Dublin, James Joyce

The art of the matter

The day was warm, the sky blue – a perfect day to visit the Sculpture In Context in the National Botanic Gardens. The exhibition series that began in 1985 has been held in various places around Dublin; namely, Dublin Castle, Farmleigh and Kilmainham Gaol to mention a few. But since 2002 it has found a home in the Gardens, and a most suitable home it is too.


The Gallery


Sun Offering

In the Visitor Centre I got a Map & Guide to the Gardens, and then went upstairs to the Gallery where a number of  small exhibits are on show. The room, with a long wave-like glass wall looking onto the Gardens beyond, is a real treat  and a wonderful space for an exhibition. And the sun streamed in showing the exhibits ‘in the best light’. There are just enough pieces on show to make it comfortable to move about easily and view all the exhibits. Some rest on window ledges, some on small stands like Sun Offering by Eamonn Ceannt which might the smallest piece on show. Everyone will find something of interest and the colours are intriguing.



 Outside, check your map and head off on botanical mystery tour. Every path leads to something interesting, and you should keep your eyes wide open so as to spot the exhibits in unexpected places. It’s fun, a long way away from the small galleries where they are usually shown. Children, especially, love the colours and the playful, entertaining settings. Pieces can be found in trees, gardens, the Great Palm House, ponds and lawns. 


Pack of Packmen!

 At the end of the Gardens, near the ponds, a number of ‘fishy’ exhibits are not to be missed. Also, there is the recently unveiled ‘What Is Life?’ piece by Charles Jencks. It celebrates the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick, for which they won the  1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Watson, who was on hand when the piece was unveiled in April, said he was inspired to study chemistry when he read Erwin Schrödinger’s famous paper What is Life? in the 1940s. The great Austrian scientist, who was living in Dublin at the time, presented his groundbreaking work during a series of lectures in February 1943 in Trinity College.

So, if you go down to the Gardens today there is much to see and enjoy!


What Is Life?

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Dublin – Walking With Words 2

Hi there,

Well, after much effort my book is finally finished. Needless to say there were some issues that had to be addressed, and, thankfully, they are all now resolved. The finishing process  just never seemed to end – it was quite an eye-opener.  Click on the image below for a preview of the ebook.

Now it’s time for the next project.

Bloomsday: The city is gearing up for the annual celebration of all things Joycean. There are many events on around the place, and we’re all hoping for some good weather. The James Joyce Centre has plenty on offer, as does Sweny’s Pharmacy which is always lively and well worth a visit.  And don’t forget to buy a bar of the famous lemon soap! But whatever you’re doing, have a great day and raise a glass to Jimmy.

Happy Bloomsday!

Walking With Words  - front cover

Trinity College – front gate

Check out the video below for a quick look at some of the places and people featured in the ebook.


Filed under Dublin, James Joyce

MylesDay – it’s your only man!

Hello there,

It’s an odd thing but Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O’Brien) the great comic genius passed away on April 1st, 1966. I’m sure that if he had a choice as to which day of the year to ‘leave the stage’ then April’s Fool Day would be just about perfect.  Ah, what timing!

The Palace Bar

The Palace Bar

This year was the third annual celebration of his passing, and appropriately enough for such literary royalty, it was  held in The Palace Bar, Fleet Street, Dublin. The place was packed long before proceedings were due to begin, and the buzz of excitement was palpable. Many pints (‘A pint of plain is your only man!’) were drunk in a pub that the great man was familiar with, and much laughter and lively repartee filled the air. It was a great success with over twenty acts partaking in reading and performing works by Myles, some of which were truly hilarious. For those familiar with the works it was great fun, and for Myles’s virgins food for thought and ‘someone to find out about’.

Flann the Man & Joycer

Flann the Man & Joycer

I had the pleasure of meeting and taking a photograph of Myles and James Joyce, honestly, and they are both looking well – must have something to do with the consumption of Guinness and all the little molecules in it! Check out more about the event at the official website: MylesDay

Slainte – ’til next year!



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Dublin – Walking With Words 1

What is the world’s tallest sculpture?

Well you might be surprised to know that it is The Monument of Light (better known as The Spire) on O’Connell Street, Dublin. It’s just one little gem of information that I found when I was researching my e-book ‘Dublin – Walking With Words’ which will be available in May/June!

Walking With Words - front cover

Trinity College – front entrance

The guide covers Dublin, and in it you meet many of its most famous sons and daughters and hear what the city meant to them – in their own Words. It takes you on a stroll through its history where you meet James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Elizabeth Bowen, Phil Lynott, Molly Malone and many others. You will find out where they lived and worked, and how the city influenced them in their artistic endeavors. Whether it was in the Georgian heartland of Merrion Square, along the Grand Canal, Trinity College or some favourite watering-hole, all these places have a story to tell, and with photographs and maps they are brought to life.

The guide is divided into five sections, each one taking about fifty minutes to complete – depending, of course, on how long you may decide to linger in some friendly pub or restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere!

So, if you have a little time in Dublin and wish to ‘get to know the place’ better than some of the locals, then put on your comfortable shoes and ‘Walk the Walk’.  (Check out the video below for a preview of your ‘Walk‘. I am very thankful to Derek Gleeson for his kind permission to use his composition as a soundtrack.)

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Crime Pays Off!

Hi there,

Congratulations to Dublin writer Gene Kerrigan for winning the CWA’s Gold Dagger for his book The Rage. If you want gritty realism and a brilliantly paced crime thriller with believable characters then Kerrigan is your man –  and this is a real cracker. It’s a first-rate effort! If you haven’t read any of his work then check him out – you will not be disappointed. Well done!

Next week sees the opening of the Dublin Book Festival which promises to be a highlight for all literary fans. There will be a full programme of events  for all ages in various locations; workshops; interviews and readings from the great and good including Roddy Doyle, Jennifer Johnston, Fintan O’Toole, Declan Hughes and many others. It should be well worth checking out.

I was at a music recital last week – Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart – and it was most enjoyable indeed. Listening to Mozart I was reminded of another evening when I went to the National Concert Hall with my mother, which sometime later inspired me to write a short story. It’s called Mum & Mozart and please let me know what you think, thanks.

Mum & Mozart

‘If music be the food of love play on’ always makes me smile, especially when I think about my mother. She was a music fan, a lover indeed, and this famous line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was something that she truly, deeply believed in. Our house was never quiet when mum was around. The sounds of opera and orchestras drifted from big 33 1/3 rpm records she treated like family heirlooms. They were her pride and joy and she loved nothing more than tearing the cellophane from a new disc and placing it reverently on the turntable. I remember the look of anticipation on her face as the needle dropped, scratched and hissed momentarily, before the strains of violin, piano, soloist or quartet made her smile the broadest of smiles. It was transfixing and one of my earliest, and happiest, childhood memories.

It was no wonder then that growing up with such a lover of music I was encouraged to get involved and for many years I took piano lessons. Although I practised hard, and recall the touch of her hand gently squeezing my shoulder as she whispered ‘That’s nice, really nice’. We both knew that I was never going to be the next Mozart. It didn’t matter to her as long as I tried and I grew to love the Austrian maestro and his many wonderful works. Of all the great composers she introduced me to on my musical journey, Mozart’s warm, inspiring and exuberant music is something that has stayed with me and for which I am always and happily in her debt.

She did not come from a very musical home herself but they were very enthusiastic for their daughter. She was taken to singing lessons and concerts whenever possible and this was something of a treat for such a young girl. She would recall the old gramophone with its box of needles. The records were heavy, black vinyl plates that all too often became scratched and cracked. She spent hours in record shops and got to know the best places to go. Sometimes the owners gave her free records recognising her great love of music. She collected music by all the great composers and was as knowledgeable of classical music as anybody I have ever known. I found a few of her old records recently in the attic, the sleeves dusty and torn, and wondered how many times did she slide them out and put them on her record player? Countless, no doubt, I thought, as I gently clean them off and place them beside my own CD collection. They look out of place but they sound just as good.

As I grew up pop and rock music became a bigger part of my life. I listened to the radio and discovered The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder and countless other bands that now I cannot remember. Their music made an impression some good, some bad, and it was discussed endlessly with friends late into the night – our own musical rite of passage. Some of us were fans of one band or another and we took great delight in defending our own personal favourites. We were committed to the music and I came to understand why my mother had such a love of this mystical medium. You cannot touch it, taste or smell it, but you can certainly feel it. Music inspires and lifts the soul, expressing happiness and sadness that words could never hope to do. The magic of music is wonderful and it always had the power to surprise and make me feel better throughout my life.

In later years I accompanied my mother to concerts and operas in the National Concert Hall and The Gaiety Theatre, nights out that I remember fondly. The one that stands out for me and the one which illustrates her love of music was a Mozart night in the National Concert Hall. The foyer was abuzz with excitement long before the start. We sat with our drinks and my mother was bubbling excitedly looking at the happy faces and listening to the friendly conversations around her. ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ she asked and I grinned a reply.

When we were seated she immediately leaned forward to look over the balcony at the milling crowd below and the stage beyond. She sat back in her seat, clasped her hands tightly and nodded her head slowly in response to some inner rhythm. With the seats filled and the doors closed the lights were dimmed and the performers took to the stage. Silence descended and you could almost hear the audience breath as one waiting for the music to begin.

It opened with a rousing version of the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro which was loudly applauded. There followed some beautifully played piano concertos and his Clarinet Concerto, which is my own personal favourite. Every so often I would glance at my mother and see the concentration and happiness on her face, but it was when the singers took the stage that I saw what I can only describe as a transformation. She was  in her eighties then, but the singing seemed to unlock something within her and I was privileged to see it. During the Sull’aria, from the Marriage of Figaro, I heard my mother sing very quietly, like the whisper over my shoulder from a lifetime ago. I had never heard her sing like that before and I was immensely proud. When I glanced at her again I didn’t see an old woman sitting beside me but a young girl lost in music, bright-eyed with her whole life ahead of her.

When it finished she smiled at me and it took all the strength I had not to cry. It was a magical moment and I’m sure even Herr Mozart would agree that he had struck the right chord and that music is indeed the food of love.

Herr Mozart

WA Mozart


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Golf – now and Zen!

Part 3

 Set of golf clubs

Over the next few days I became aware that I was paying attention to things when I picked them up; my briefcase, a bag of groceries or a bottle of wine. It wasn’t just about their weight anymore as I began to ‘feel’ their existence in my fingertips. It felt as though I was developing another sense, and in a sense I suppose I was. If this was what Zen was talking about then I couldn’t wait to meet him again.

‘And how are you?’ he asked.

I wrung my fingers like a pianist about to play. ‘Good, thanks.’

He grinned. ‘I see you’ve been working – feel different.’

I nodded. ‘Sure does. I feel…better. I’m more aware now about what I have in my hand.’

‘That’s exactly what we’re trying to get, because when we do it will make swinging a club so much better.’ He sounded pleased. ‘Take a club out and let me see your grip.’

I did as he said and carefully wrapped my fingers around the grip of my eight iron. I undid my grip a few times until I was finally comfortable and swung the club easily back and forth a few times.

Zen looked at my hands. ‘Now roll your wrists – left, now right.’

Again I did what he said.

‘Well I don’t see any sign of white knuckles now….that’s an improvement.’ He quickly snatched the club out of my hands. ‘That’s better, much better.’

I was stunned and my face showed it.

‘It’s alright, don’t worry. It just proves the point that I made the last time about holding the club too firmly. If your grip is too strong you cannot really appreciate the nuances of the swing. You might as well be swinging an axe, and we both know that swinging a golf club needs more subtlety than that. Agreed?’


We went to the driving range and with my club Zen made another beautifully, balanced swing. Could I, would I, ever be able to swing that club the way he was doing, was a thought that kept running through my mind as ball after ball fizzed into the blue and straight down the fairway. It was a dream, I knew, but one that was maybe a little closer to achieving with Zen’s guidance. He handed the club back. ‘Ok, it’s your turn.’

I was nervous, but excited.

‘Relax, breathe easily….it’s about control.’

I took a few deep breaths and slowly exhaled. I could feel my pulse slow down and gripped the club the way I had been practising for the last few days. Don’t rush it, I told myself, and looked down the fairway.

Zen smiled encouragement.

I took a last look down the fairway, exhaled and swung.

I don’t really remember what happened next but I felt the club make contact with ball which zoomed off the tee, straight down the fairway before making a big, ugly turn to the left.

‘A bit of a hook that, but otherwise pretty good,’ Zen said when he turned.

‘Thanks,’ I said, my throat suddenly as dry as a bone.

‘Yeah, that was pretty good. And how did it feel…different?’

‘Better…it felt much better.’

‘Excellent, I think I might make a golfer out of you yet.’

It was my turn to smile.

‘What many people do not realise is that in order to play this game properly they have to unlearn certain things.’

Unlearn, what do mean?’

‘Well, just like you have learnt to grip the club lightly in order to improve and increase your feel, that meant unlearning your old grip.’

I nodded, not certain where this was going.

‘It’s all about change and most people do not like change. They fear it and are comfortable with what they know. Others, like you, however, embrace it and grow.’ He checked his watch. ‘I’ve got to go now, but keep that idea in mind until next week.

I practised for almost an hour after Zen had left and wondered, not for the first time, was I getting instruction in golf or philosophy. I wasn’t sure, but Zen was one interesting character and I was determined to learn as much I could from him, and maybe how he got his nickname. Now that was something to think about, I said to myself, as I finally hit a ball that flew straight down the fairway. I was pleased and already looking forward to my next lesson/lecture or whatever with Zen.

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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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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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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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