The most famous forgotten corner in Ireland

Recognise this Dublin street corner?

It’s the site of one of the most significant events in modern Irish history – not that you’d know it.

Nowadays the corner of Moore Lane and Parnell Street, in the north inner city, is the site of closed-down pub and an insignificant t-junction for pedestrians. But it was here, almost a century ago, that Irish revolutionary Padraig Pearse surrendered to British General William Lowe, ending the Easter Rising.

At 3.30pm on Saturday April 29, 1916, five days after Pearse and his fellow rebels launched an abortive uprising against British administration in Ireland, the rebel leader symbolically handed over his sword. He was executed four days later.

Pearse surrenders to Gen Lowe, April 29, 1916. Pic: National Museum of Ireland

Pearse surrenders to Gen Lowe.
Pic: National Museum of Ireland

Next year Ireland will commemorate the 1916 Rising. Events are planned at or near many significant landmarks – the General Post Office (which the insurgents occupied), 16 Moore Street (the rebels’ final headquarters),  Kilmainham Gaol (where Pearse and 14 more were executed), and others.

But there’s no plan – officially at least – to mark the place where the Rising quietly ended.

Why memorialise a surrender? Why indeed, but given that the history of the Rising has been written by many (past Irish governments included) as a story of glorious failure it seems odd there’s no marker at the place where the event itself ended and the concept of a glorified Rising was born.

No marker, except for a decaying notice pinned to the wall by a past landlord of the shuttered pub.

History may be written by the winners but they have long since departed Great Britain Street (as Parnell Street was then known).

As millions of euro are spent on an interpretative centre at the nearby GPO perhaps it’s time to erect an official marker at a derelict street corner which played a significant, if largely unrecognised, role in Irish history?




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Of all the world’s places this was Paris


Le Sacre-Coeur

As a young man I didn’t place much importance on the City of Light.

I knew it as the home of the French Revolution, the cradle of the Enlightenment, a place of love and rivers and religion (or a famous cathedral at any rate).

And so I didn’t travel there until I was 35. When I did the city I encountered bore some resemblance to the cast-in-absinthe Paris of the popular imagination.

The guide-booked Eiffel Tower, Ile de la Cite, Sacre-Couer and Montmartre were present and correct, busy with July tourists.

But in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, where we stayed, ate and drank, the city was faster, pushier, live, loud. This Paris was traffic and dirt and people – office workers, beggars, mothers with strollers, groups of teenagers. An aroma of cheap pizza and cigarettes blew above the pavements; more than once I dodged dogs’ deposits underfoot.

Le Quai Saint-Michel

Le Quai Saint-Michel

This was the moving city. It was – and is – a city of difference. The walk from Gare du Nord station across Boulevard de la Chapelle and onto our apartment at Rue de Clignancourt took us past north African, west African and Asian homes and businesses.

In a side street in the shadow of the Sacre-Couer my wife and I ate bun bowls at a tiny Vietnamese cafe. Sitting in the shadow of Notre-Dame, on the Quai Saint-Michel, I had a lunch of falafel above the Seine. Searching out breakfast on a Sunday morning we came across a small cafe on Rue Lamarck, which served a mix of French, Greek and Indian food.

We visited, ate and drank, the other Paris too, of course.

But as the news worsened by the minute last Friday night my thoughts went back to the 11th, and to the last morning I spent in the city, walking in the light through the Sunday morning Bastille market, surrounded by a mix of faces, languages, cultures and foods. The morning’s hundreds shared a common tongue, a place, a sense of tradition.

And a feeling that, of all the world’s places this was Paris, and there was nowhere else to be.


Le Marche Bastille


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‘Beguiled and voracious ‘ – a literary meal

'Portrait of James Joyce' Patrick Tuohy (1924-1927)

‘Portrait of James Joyce’
Patrick Tuohy (1924-1927)

My reading habits are a lot like my eating ones. I go too long between chapters or meals and wind up short-tempered and salivating.

This often leads to an undignified gorge-fest, leaving me sweating, shirt-stained and ashamed.

And that was just the first chapter of Eat, Pray, Love.

On other occasions my hunger for a book and dinner collide and I find myself, stuck between pages and meals, craving Ishmael’s clam chowder or Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich.

On one of these peckish occasions it occurred to me – what would be my perfect literary meal?

Half the pleasure lies in anticipation, I’m told (by masochists). Ask Leopold Bloom. Standing at the counter of Davy Byrne’s Dublin pub, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the ravenous, rambling ad-man scans the offerings.

“Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there. Potted meats…Cauls mouldy tripes windpipes faked and minced up. Puzzle find the meat. Kosher. No meat and milk together. Hygiene that was what they call now. Yom Kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow’s digestion. Religions. Christmas turkeys and geese. Slaughter of innocents. Eat drink and be merry. Then casual wards full after. Heads bandaged. Cheese digests all but itself. Mighty cheese.

—Have you a cheese sandwich?

—Yes, sir.”

EH 7239G 1924 Ernest Hemingway outside of his residence at 13 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Paris, ca. 1924. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1924


A young Ernest Hemingway sits in a cafe at the Place St Michel on Paris’ Left Bank. After dutifully eyeing up a beautiful young woman and finishing “a very good story” he orders a dozen portugaises and a half carafe of dry white wine.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”


A grown-up son returns to the bosom of his mother’s Italian-American table in John Fante’s The Brotherhood Of The Grape.

“The kitchen. La cucina, the true mother country, this warm cave of the good witch deep in the desolate land of loneliness, with pots of sweet potions bubbling over the fire, a cavern of magic herbs, rosemary and thyme and sage and oregano, balm of lotus that brought sanity to lunatics, peace to troubled, joy to the joyless . . . the altar a kitchen range . . . the old children, lured back to their beginnings . . .beguiled and voracious Virgil filled his cheeks with gnocchi and eggplant and veal, and flooded them down his gullet with the fabulous grape of Joe Musso, spellbound, captivated, mooning over his great mother.”


Apple pic. Pic: Dwight Burdette


Dean Moriarty is barreling his way across the United States, fuelled by liquor, pills and the internal combustion engine. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road anti-hero doesn’t spend all this time speeding through the American night, though – sometimes he stops for pie. Like this time, outside Joliet, Illinois.

“I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course…[later, in Des Moines] I ate apple pie and ice cream –  it was getting bigger as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer.”


And finally, after all else, coffee. Followed by contemplation, and gratefulness – the ‘Nirvana’ of Charles Bukowski’s poem.

“the meal was
and the
the waitress was
unlike the women
he had
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
from her.
the fry cook said
crazy things.

Coffee, Dublin

Coffee, Dublin

the dishwasher,
in back,
laughed, a good
the young man watched
the snow through the
he wanted to stay
in that cafe


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Fear and foreboding in My Favourite Things

Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music

Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember
My favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Everything’s going to be ok. We’re kids again, in our pyjamas and Julie Andrews is telling us not to worry about the thunderstorm outside. Silver white winters melt into spring.

Don’t listen to Maria. The real ‘My Favorite Things’ was recorded four years before the movie version of The Sound Of Music and just a year after Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical debuted on Broadway.

In October 1960 – 55 years ago last week – John Coltrane took the then barely-known song into the studio, recording a version of it with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis and drummer Elvin Jones.

Over 13 minutes the bandleader and Tyner unlocked the dread in the lyric. Maria becomes unsettled, her soprano sax voice begins with the familiar list (“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”) but soon sounds terrified, trembling at the thunder in Davis’ bass. Remembering’s not working this time.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

Eight minutes in she is screaming, as Coltrane pulls the melody way out, beyond the musical, beyond reassurance, and far beyond from Julie Andrews’ smile four years later.

It’s unsettling, but hypnotic. Once you’re into the music you can’t escape – not until McCoy Tyner frees you from the locked-in rhythm, not until Steve Davis’ storm abates.

Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’ is many things –  a classic example of modal jazz, a subversion of the American songbook, a blend of Eastern and Western idioms.

Most unlikely of all it was a hit single, in 1961, and remains one of the most popular songs in a less-than-popular genre of music. The saxophonist would return to it often – on foot of public requests – in live performance.

Listening to it today the beauty and optimism are still there, on the song’s surface –  small comforts which scarely conceal the dread running underneath.

Fifty-five years later, with fear and anxiety the dominant emotions of a boom-and-bust, post-9/11 21st century, Coltrane’s performance sounds like the song of our age.




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You’ll never beat the Irish (breakfast)


“It’s survived recessions and depressions, world and civil wars.” Pic: Gus-DLC

First things first. There’s a great deal I like about being Irish.

An appreciation of the underdog, the mental ability to handle days and weeks of rain at a time, a healthy bulls***meter.

But more than once over the years I’ve felt that it’s time to hand my passport in.

It’s not the old post-colonial self-loathing (blaming the Brits being a national sport), but there are times, when I spot a news story or overhear a remark, that I wonder: what the hell is this place?

Like when I see this.


Because the first question you ask, when you discover that you’ve spent your life eating carcinogens is: ‘can I still eat carcinogens? Two or three types fried up together?’

Of all the gifts Ireland’s bestowed on the world the ‘Irish breakfast’ is the one that leaves me the coldest.

It’s ‘wrap the green flag round me’ on a plate. It’s traditional (but don’t the Brits, and the Ulstermen, have their versions too?), it’s salt of the earth, it patriotically supports the Irish meat industry, and it’s washed down by that other Irish morning staple – tea.

It’s eaten by all ages, from cradle to grave; and served everywhere, from the overpriced, tears-in-your- ketchup nostalgia version at departures in Dublin Airport, to the under-heated, shrivelled apology-on-a-plate passed off to you at your mid-range b and b. And in a thousand sad breakfast buffets in between.

The bacon’s either see-through or incinerated (occasionally both), the sausage an emaciated Denny Gold medal, the tomato cold and the eggs rubbery – but not as rubbery as those tumorous button mushrooms you try (and fail) to spear.

Porridge - carcinogen-free. And grey. Pic: Nillerdk

Porridge – carcinogen-free. And grey. Pic: Nillerdk

At least the baked beans are edible – but that’s probably because they’ve come from a tin.

Now it’s under threat. The World Health Organisation has advised that processed meat causes cancer, prompting panicked warnings of ‘the end of breakfast-as-we-know it’ and fuelling vox pops in greasy spoons with red-faced, recalcitrant diners who pledge a dying loyalty to their daily sausage.

Irish civilisation  – or that part of it that exists between 8 and 10am and is collecting its cholesterol medication afterwards – is under threat.

But fear not. Given that the Irish are among the most prolific drinkers in the world, and that one-in-five of us still smoke, one or two other cancers are likely to have first call on our national mortality.

Much as it disturbs me, the Irish breakfast always endures. It’s survived recessions and depressions, world and civil wars. Even dioxins in pork couldn’t stop it. When the last Irishman drags his wearied, ragged frame across what remains of post-apocalyptic Dublin his final words will be: “what time does Matt The Rashers open at?”

As for me, I’ll stick to a couple of the other things the Irish are famous for. Like porridge. And complaining.

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A walk in the Raven woods

raven1My first memory of Raven Point is of a summer afternoon when I was five or six.

I am walking with my family after Sunday lunch, along a pathway running through pine trees and around low, swampy ponds. The air smells like the sea, mixed with the scent of eagle fern. The sun is bright and high.

As we walk deeper into the woods a view of the North Slob – the mud flats at the entrance to Wexford Harbour – opens up through the brambles. Eventually the path gives way to the open dunes of the Point itself, an expanse of low grass, sand and an immense, wide sky, framed by the Irish Sea on one side and the town of Wexford, distant on the other.

Returning to Raven Point last weekend it was re-assuring to see the same pine trees over the path, the same heavy green water in the ponds. Amid the changes of 30 years Raven Point stands constant.

Stopping on the edge of the water, at the tip of the Point and surrounded only by sea, sand and sky, it could have been 30 or even 100 years earlier.

raven3The view shared something of the “beauteous forms” praised by William Wordsworth as he looked upon Tintern Abbey:

Oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet…

While the forms remain the people have changed. The six-year-old who came to Raven Point three decades ago lives on only in the memories of those who shared the walk that day. The years since have been full, often happy but not without sadness.

But Raven Point is not a place to re-live memories. It is not frozen in time. The Point was formed as a spit, and its sands are moving all the time – new flats, lagoons and dunes form and fade. The path across the sands is never the same twice.

Nonetheless at moments there is a connection here, in the light and the wind, to people who’ve gone – my younger self, the loved ones who walked the path and are no longer here to revisit it.

And so I was grateful to visit once more last weekend, to stand on the shore with my wife and think of another line from Wordsworth’s poem, thankful for this place, my past and my family.

If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence—wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together.


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Forty shades of grey

‘Is that a nice view?

Let’s stick some concrete on it.’

So runs official opinion in Ireland, land of the 40 shades of green, home to the Wild Atlantic Way – western Europe’s windswept, unspoilt outpost.

Where the post is likely an unsightly iron rod jammed into a pristine patch of auld sod. With a wall around it.

Living in Dublin, I’m lucky enough – when I take a car to the city – to drive home along Clontarf Road, known locally as the ‘coast road’.

The clue’s in the name. One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip is passing St Anne’s Park, where the seaward view opens up to the expanse of North Bull Island (a Unesco-designated biosphere), the lagoon before and the hill of Howth behind.

It’s a small pleasure, enjoyed by generations of Dubliners who’ve taken this route over the decades. Until now. Lost is the view of late – to drivers at least – soon to be replaced by a 85cm-high wall.

Instead of calming waters and wildlife we can now look forward to a kilometre of concrete – dull and gray, until the graffiti starts appearing.

The City Council claims the move is part of flood defence works, despite the fact that the only floods lifelong residents of the area can recall occur on the park side of the road. If even sea levels are rising, are they doing so by 70cms, the extra height the new wall adds to its predecessor?

It baffles me. Then again, I don’t work in local government or construction or the Brutalist-revival network. I just live here. And drive a road whose view I used to enjoy.

What makes the edifice all the more tragically amusing is that reports of it emerged in the city paper on a week when the Irish tourism agency, Failte Ireland, launched a new €1m marketing campaign promoting the city as an outdoor destination – “Dublin – A Breath of Fresh Air”.

“Dublin – framed by concrete” doesn’t have quite the same ring.


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Listening to Dave Van Ronk

DaveVanRonkFolksinger (1)Sometimes a prophet doesn’t cry out in a wilderness,
He works in a great city, battling to be heard.

Sometimes he sits in a small studio and sings –
About old wagons, booze, work, justice and its absence,
Pain and fear and retribution,
And joy too.

About the real stuff that keeps us awake in the night.

Dave Van Ronk brought the message.
Others took it but he carried it out before them – a small, constant light.
He held it in basements, coffeehouses, on Village streets, and he passed it to others.

Such small things – one man’s life, one man’s talent – rarely register.
The song ends. The world moves on.

But those who knew, knew. Some then and some now.
Hang Me, Oh Hang Me. Cocaine Blues. You Been A Good Old Wagon.

He Was A Friend Of Mine.

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On ‘Blonde On Blonde’

Detail from Blonde On Blonde LP sleeve

Detail from Blonde On Blonde LP sleeve

I’m past the stage of thinking that a record can change your life. I’ve spent hours, days, sometimes even weeks lost in certain albums. And for me, that’s enough.

Any more – such as 18 discs of out-takes from one album – is too much, even if that album is Blonde On Blonde.

But not for many Bob Dylan fans, a sector admittedly not known for taking half-measures. Next month Columbia Records will release The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series Volume 12, 5,000 copies of which will be packaged in a limited collector’s edition, comprising 379 tracks crammed onto those 18 compact discs.

The ‘thin, wild mercury sound‘ has got a whole lot thicker.

News of The Cutting Edge made me wonder just how much Bob Dylan any one person needs to hear in their life; it also helped me realise that I’m becoming a simpler type of fan – one who’s happy with the original records, thanks.

I’ve been through my outlaw phase. The early days of bootlegs on eBay or, before that, Saturday afternoon visits to an old basement record store on Wicklow Street (whose name eludes me), which offered shelves of cassettes, all manner of live shows, outtakes and unreleased demos.

I still prize my Blood On The Tapes bootleg – the alternative Blood On The Tracks, cut by Dylan in New York with a stripped-down backing band shortly the later sessions used in the official release. And maybe one or two others.

But there it ends. It’s years since I’ve hunted down a particular session and, as time has passed, much of the better stuff has been cleaned up and officially released anyway.

Bob Dylan, 1963

Bob Dylan, 1963

The complete Witmark Demos, a bootleg passed to me with reverence by a college pal, was issued back in 2010. After a rush to the record store on the day of its release I returned home, slipped on disc one and waited to hear, down the decades, the coughing kid with the rough, golden touch I’d listened to 15 years earlier.

It sounded like what it was – a demo of a young, talented kid, rushing through what he had. The silver thread was missing.

Since then I’ve told l myself that I’ve changed – the younger man willing to spend hours listening to the same 1962 radio session over and over doesn’t have the time or the interest anymore. (That’s not to take from a powerful Death Of Emmett Till on the same recording).

But then I put on the studio albums, and one in particular always delivers – Blonde On Blonde, the record that emerged from the 379 tracks that make up The Cutting Edge.

Its 72 minutes brings much to mind – the Eason store on Church Street in Athlone, long gone, where I bought my first copy; the long, Guinness-and-chianti fuelled nights in college where it was a constant soundtrack; the many moments over the years when it’s come on, or come to mind. Different places, different times, different people – and always the same shambling opening line: “Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good”.

But it’s not a nostalgia trip. The album is as live an experience today as it was when I first heard or, or when Dylan first cut it, in a studio in Nashville almost half a century ago.

And at its centre is a song I still can’t get my mind around, with lyrics which have haunted me down the years – heat pipes coughing, ghosts of electricity howling in the bones of a woman’s face, harmonicas playing skeleton keys and all-night girls riding the ‘D’ train.

One version of Visions Of Johanna is enough for any man.

Blonde On Blonde hasn’t changed my life, it’s just been a constant part of it.



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New York City – five ways

Warning #1: all lists are subjective.

Warning #2: lists about New York City are more subjective than most.

So, unless you’re a 37-year-old Irishman with a MetroCard, good walking shoes, an empty stomach and a day to fill, what follows seem a little subjective.

But whatever. Here’s five ways into New York, five standout experiences among the dozens I encountered on a short visit to the city last week. And, helpfully, five photographs.

And no, there’s no particular order (though I’d leave the pizza until after the run).


New York1

A dawn run in Central Park

Get out of bed and get to one of the West 59th Street entrances just before the sun rises over the Upper East Side. Join the other early birds and start heading north. After seven or eight minutes you’ll come upon the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. It might be oddly-named but its 2.2km add up to one of the world’s finest urban runs – pure shuffling, sweating tranquility in the midst of Manhattan. You may never live in a West Side mansion but you will see the dawn break over one.



Grab some crab 

Done with the run? This is your breakfast. Get it from Artichoke Basille’s on East 14th Street, a tiny pizzeria which offers just four types of pie. Ignore (if you can) the sicilian or the artichoke and go for the crab. I’m not sure how they make it and, once I bite in, I don’t care. It’s the best slice I’ve had in the city, and best eaten standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other punters on the street outside. Can’t handle pizza at 10am? You’re in the wrong town.



Browse a (very, very large) bookstore

Yes, booksellers still exist – even in Manhattan. Strand Book Store, two blocks south of Union Square, is a bibliophile’s heaven; or hell, as you’ll amass a dozen books in an hour’s browsing, only to leave half of them because your suitcase isn’t big enough. That said, they had me at ’18 miles of books’.



‘A mug or two of your finest’

Famous for its policy of ‘Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies’ (until the 1970s at least) McSorley’s is what you expect of an old-school New York boozer – sawdust on the floor, exposed pipes, beer-rings on wooden tables and Irish barmen. Packed at nights (must be the onion-loving ladies) it’s best hit in the early afternoon, when the bar’s half-empty and the sun is shining through the tobacco-stained glass doors. Why does the ale come in two mugs? Who knows? Who cares?



The meating place of the world

New York’s famous for its steakhouses, and Keens is famous among them. This is the land of dark wood, low lights, chest-bursting T-bones, mutton chops and creamed spinach. Time slows, the city (and the world) outside the pipe-strewn roof and picture-clad walls ceases to exist. Your New York day ends with you, 16ozs of striploin and a huge cab sav. If you can finish it there, you’ll finish it anywhere.


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