Category Archives: The Herald

The other fighters of Easter 1916

rebels gpo

Rebels in the GPO

FOR the past four months I’ve heard voices. Some scared, some hopeful, some excited and some disillusioned.

They’ve been the voices of, for the most part, young men. Or the echoes of young men in the accounts of their older selves.

I’ve encountered dozens of them in recent months as part of my work compiling The Herald’s 1916 ‘Rising Remembered’ coverage. Many of the voices are contained in the archives of Ireland’s Bureau of Military History (BMH) – fighters’ accounts of what they did and saw, who they shot and who died in front of them, in the Easter Rising. Other information came from family members.

The statements given by these rank-and-file Irish Volunteers provides a street-level account of the events of Easter Week that parallels the grand narrative, which usually focuses on actions of the leaders, their last stand and subsequent executions.

While some Volunteers – like Harry Walpole, who raised the ‘Irish Republic’ flag at the GPO – were present at key moments, others fought out their Rising on the sniper-ridden sidestreets of Dublin. Annie Grange, for one, performed first aid and came under fire at City Hall. Mamie Stephenson ferried concealed weapons between safehouses and rebel outposts.

Some survived despite being injured – like Leo Casey, who sustained eye damage in a firefight in the Grand Canal Street area.

Rebels at a barricade during Easter Week

Insurgents at a barricade during Easter Week

Others did not. John Dwan, whose brother was in the British Army, was shot by British troops on the last day of the Rising at North King Street – his friend pulled him from a barricade but he died of his injuries shortly afterwards. Richard O’Carroll was shot in the chest by a rogue British officer after being captured at Camden Street, and passed away nine days later. His death was recorded as murder.

Statements given to the BMH by those who survived give an indication of the confusion and violence that marked Dublin’s streets that week, 100 years ago.

Joseph Dolan, who took part in the occupation of the South Dublin Union hospital recalled: “The nuns enquired from me if we’d come to read the gas meters”.

Helena Molony, who fought at City Hall stated: “The women had no uniform…I had an Irish tweed costume, with a Sam Browne [belt]. I had my own revolver and ammunition”.

Mamie Stephenson

Mamie Stephenson

Robert Holland, an insurgent in the Marrowbone Lane area, told how: “She was only about 35 or 40 yards away from me and I fired on her. She sagged halfway out of the window. The hat and the small little shawl fell off her and I saw what I took to be a woman was a man in his shirtsleeves”.

The accounts of desperate, dangerous and often grubby streetfighting – punctuated by constant sniper fire, prayer sessions and boredom – are some way from the story of noble sacrifice that was taught to generations of Irish schoolchildren, or the Government’s politically correct, watered-down Rising.

They are worth reading though – if only to remind us of the full story behind the birth of a nation.

The Herald’s ‘Rising Remembered’ coverage can be found here

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Want to communicate? Then simplify, simplify

With Antonio Carluccio, Glasthule, April 2015.

With Antonio Carluccio, Glasthule, April 2015.

Antonio Carluccio knows it. So did Joey Ramone. So did Ernest Hemingway, and Leonardo da Vinci and Frederic Chopin.

Simple is best. As Henry David Thoreau put it: “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify”.

If only it were that easy. Confronted with vast amounts of information every day the task of refining, digging to the core or even finding it, is not an easy one.

Unlike Thoreau most of us don’t have the option of going off-grid to a hut in the woods. We have to engage with the information avalanche. And having sorted through it we then have to utilise the useful bits.

I do more of this than most. I work in the communication industry. As a journalist I process large amounts of information every day, filtering it down and then re-communicating the key elements to readers.

Books have been written, theses published and academic careers built upon analysing this process – how best to sort through the mound of content and find the ‘news hook’, the golden thread of the new or the interesting. It’s a constant process – as the news cycle changes day to day so must I.

Joey Ramone, 1980 Pic: Yves Lorson

Joey Ramone, 1980
Pic: Yves Lorson

After a day of such work I recently had the pleasure of attending an event and meeting Italian restaurateur Antonio Carluccio. I can’t cook like the 78-year-old but I can apply his method to the communication field.

In his autobiography Carluccio explains the culinary theory he formulated in the early 1980s. Finding that the nouvelle cuisine of the time amounted to much extravagant kitchen technique Carluccio argued that simple dishes were best.

He called his theory ‘mof mof’ – minimum of fuss, maximum of flavour.

In content terms this translates to ‘less noise, more nub’. It’s a practice those mentioned above applied to their own respective disciplines, like Ramone’s ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go‘ or Hemingway’s “one true sentence“.

Like those declarations ‘mof mof’ is far simpler in theory than in practice. It requires distillation, refinement and constant revision to get to the purest message possible – to cut through the fuss and find the flavour.

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Revise, revise…and then revise

Hemingway's first-page draft for A Farewell to Arms. Pic: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Hemingway’s first-page draft for A Farewell to Arms.
Pic: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Ernest Hemingway’s war novel A Farewell To Arms could have ended any one of 39 ways.

We know this because Hemingway told us so but also because, two years ago, an edition of the book was published containing each of those endings, and a further eight more to boot.

Some are more optimistic than the final, fatal closing paragraphs, some are minor variations, some entirely different to what was published.

But, as far as the writer was concerned, it took 39 attempts to nail it, “39 times before I was satisfied”.

Three decades later, asked what had made the task so difficult, Hemingway answered, simply: “Getting the words right.”

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A 2012 news story on the new edition of the novel was shared with me this week by M, a fellow soldier in the journalistic trenches.

It sparked my interest. My daily workload involves revision, three or four times for every article edited, reading closely for facts and legal. This blog likewise.

But I doubt I’ve subjected any piece of writing to more than a dozen revisions, let alone three dozen, before filing it away.

The Beatles, 1964

The Beatles, 1964

Hemingway’s dogged rewriting of his novel’s closing paragraphs put me in mind of Malcolm Gladwell’s observation on the success of The Beatles.

He estimated that the group performed 1,200 live shows in the four years before they broke through to stardom, in 1964.

Reading Hemingway, or large parts of his work at least, or listening to The Beatles, it’s easy to presume that finely tuned words or close-to-perfect melodies occur, when they do, more or less naturally.

Such artists laboured on their art, of course, but their inspiration surely ran far beyond Edison’s fabled one per cent?

However, the older I get the clearer the importance of revisiting, remaking and repeating, becomes.

To the extent that the secret of producing the best creative work can be reduced, for me, to a simple practice.

To improve it, revise it; when you can’t revise it any more, you can’t improve it.

Ernest Hemingway in London at Dorchester Hotel 1944. Pic: NARA

Ernest Hemingway at Dorchester Hotel, London, 1944.
Pic: NARA

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Note: I like the idea of ‘life hacks’ – pieces of advice, knowledge, insight, admonitions; discrete mind shots that improve life and produce an awareness of living.
The Lifehacks section of the blog is where I’m collecting and collating them.

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Time to take the booze out of Behan

Brendan Behan at the Jaeger House, NYC, September 10, 1960. Pic: Phil Stanziola NYWTS

Brendan Behan at the Jaeger House, NYC, September 10, 1960.
Pic: Phil Stanziola-NYWTS

IRISH writer Brendan Behan died almost 50 years ago.

The photograph on the right offers some clues as to why.

With a few under his belt (and one down the lapel of his shirt) the writer clasps a microphone stand at a ceili in the Jaeger House ballroom in Manhattan. It’s 1960.

According to the original caption Behan’s just been asked to sing. Again. And that probably wasn’t the last song of that particular night.

Two years earlier Borstal Boy, his critically lauded coming of age tale, had been published to positive reviews.

Less than four years after this photograph was taken Behan would be dead, passing away in a Dublin hospital days after collapsing in a city pub. Diabetes, compounded by years of heavy drinking, led to his demise at age of 41.

In the five decades since his death, on March 20, 1964, the fact of Behan the writer has, slowly and deliberately, been incorporated into the myth of Behan the character, the Irishman, the drinker, the artist living life on the edge and falling off it.

A bit like the millions who claimed to be in GPO on Easter Week every man and his dog, of a certain vintage, had his own beer-stained Behan anecdote.

These slowly slipped into popular culture, to the extent that those who never met the writer – like Shane Macgowan – could dream about their own boozed-up encounters with him.

I spoke to one Dublin author recently who compared Behan to another Irish celebrity and alcoholic (or celebrity alcoholic), George Best.

He argued that it’s time to drop the ‘Brendan the boozy broth of a boy’ myth and return to what established Behan’s reputation in the first place.

'Ireland's own boy-o.' US edition of Borstal Boy.

‘Ireland’s own boy-o.’
US edition of Borstal Boy.

For me this is his 1950s’ writing, specifically Borstal Boy, the autobiography which exposed the mundane pointlessness of terrorism; and the play The Quare Fellow, his humanist meditation on capital punishment.

Both works are full of compassion, anger, humanity and – for want of a better word – Irishness.

One thing they lack is the preoccupation with alcohol which marked Behan’s later works and life.

Official Ireland will commemorate Behan next month with the launch of a stamp in his honour. Expect plenty of media coverage of around the anniversary of his death.

As it approaches the best way to remember this Dublin writer is simply to read his work, the best of which stands with the finest of all Irish writing.

Not least of this is his famous account of arriving back in Dublin after being released from jail, which closes Borstal Boy:

The next morning I stood on deck while the boat came into Dun Laghaire, and looked at the sun struggling out over the hills; and the city all around the Bay…

There they were, as if I’d never left them; in their sweet and stately order round the Bay – Bray Head, the Sugarloaf, the Two Rock, the Three Rock, Kippure, king of them all…

…and the framing circle of the road along the edge of the Bay, Dun Laghaire, Blackrock, Sandymount Tower, Ringsend and the city; then the other half circle, Fairview, Marino, Clontarf, Raheny, Kilbarrack, Baldoyle, to the height of Howth Head…

‘Passport, travel permit or identity document, please,’ said the immigration man beside me. I handed him the expulsion order…

‘A hundred thousand welcomes home to you.’

‘Thanks.’

‘It must be wonderful to be free.’

‘It must,’ said I, walked down the gangway, past a detective, and got on the train for Dublin.*

'The road along the edge of the bay.'  Dublin, April 2013.

‘The road along the edge of the bay.’
Dublin, April 2013.

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*Brendan Behan, Borstal Boy (Arrow, 1990), p 370

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Predator is likely to be freed before appeal

PROPER order.

That will be most people’s reaction to news that the DPP is appealing the sentence handed down to Anthony Lyons.

There was outrage last month when the businessman, who sexually assaulted a woman, had five and half years of a six-year jail term suspended. The public anger at the sentence was also fuelled by the fact that Lyons was ordered to pay €75,000 to the victim, who did not ask for compensation.

The public was entitled to ask whether, if Lyons was not a “man of means”, as the judge said, he would have been treated so leniently?

In the aftermath of the sentence it was clear that many people, not least the victim’s family, felt that justice was not served in the case. “A disgrace” was the simple, accurate, description offered by relatives.

It’s hard to disagree. Lyons rugby tackled the woman to ground in a tree-lined, darkened area on Griffith Avenue as she was walking home and sexually assaulted her.

Lyons’ sentence is so short that, farcically, it is likely that he will be freed before the Court of Criminal Appeal hears the DPP’s appeal. In order for justice to be seen to be done, this case must be expedited through the court lists.

Sentencing Lyons, Judge Desmond Hogan ruled that he was “hitherto of good character, is well regarded and is unlikely to reoffend.”

The Court of Criminal Appeal judges may have a different opinion.

This post first appeared in the Evening Herald, August 15, 2012

Katie’s world class…so why do we patronise her?

‘SHE fights like a man’.

That’s a compliment, I think, to Katie Taylor, Olympic medallist and world champion boxer. And it’s one that has popped up again and again this week.

Because, of course, we expect our female boxers to be dainty little diggers, checking their make-up at the bell.

We don’t expect them to fire flurries of punches and withstand heavy bodyblows.

And we’re not used to seeing them in a boxing ring, usually the preserve of swaggering and staggering men.

Katie Taylor fights like a man? She fights a better technical bout that most professional male boxers.

And she certainly fights better than most men I’ve see in action.

She’s proved herself as a world champion four times over, and her London performances are the icing on the cake.

And yet some folk continue to patronise the Wicklow woman.

Again and again, at the age of 26, she’s the Irish ‘girl’. Have you heard Paddy Barnes described as the Irish ‘boy’?

More than once there’s been a reference to her father Pete as Katie’s ‘daddy’. Ah, bless, a daddy watching his little girl trying her best. It’s heartwarming, isn’t it?

This cutesie crap is, of course, a million miles away from the reality of the professional training grind, the hours of mentoring and prep that the two Taylors put in, the clinical focus that’s yielded a slew of world championships and put Taylor on an Olympic podium.

But keep an ear out for it this evening – I guarantee it will slip into coverage of the gold medal bout.

But why is there this reaction among a minority of spectators?

Perhaps it’s Katie’s appearance.

We don’t expect champion boxers to be well-spoken, photogenic women from Bray.

Perhaps it’s her youthful looks.

But, at 26, Katie has already been boxing for 14 years, longer than many professional careers. Before that she lined out for local soccer teams. Maybe she played “like a boy” then?

Perhaps some people patronise Katie Taylor and her fellow female boxers because we’re just not used to seeing female boxing at the Olympics. The 2012 Games are the first time the sport’s featured, after all.

Whatever the reason it’s high time that people drop the cliches, the “isn’t she great for a girl” rubbish and applaud Katie Taylor the athlete, the winning Olympian.

Katie Taylor doesn’t fight like a man. She doesn’t fight like a woman either. She fights like Katie Taylor.

And few other boxers can do that.

This post first appeared in the Evening Herald, August 9, 2012

Water mess…when will the Council come clean?

WHAT’S in the water?

That’s the question that’s been on the parched lips of thousands of unfortunate Dublin householders since last Sunday night –  and 48 hours on they’re still waiting for an answer.

But they won’t get one from the City Council, whose spokesperson says: “We are not naming the bacteria.”

It’s not e-coli. And it’s not lead. So what is it? Does the Council know? – it’s had two days to check, two days in which the problem has spread like, well, a contagion, from 16 to 1,400 houses.

Despite not knowing what’s contaminated the supply householders are still permitted to wash and bathe in the water.

Just don’t drink it, they say. Don’t worry folks – the only thing harder to swallow than the tap water is the Council’s assurances.

This post first appeared in the Evening Herald, August 7, 2012

Dr Reilly’s on hols – and sticking his head in the sand

HEALTH Minister James Reilly’s on his holidays at the moment.

It appears that he was taking a break through April, May, June and July too – if letters sent by HSE boss Cathal Magee are anything to go by.

The minister seems to have been asleep at the wheel as the outgoing health chief Magee wrote a series of increasingly urgent letters to the Department of Health over months on the HSE deficit.

As Magee repeatedly asked for policy directions on the HSE’s deteriorting financial position he got few, if any useful answers.

In April he stated that he needed guidance from the Department of Health on how overspending would be financed.

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly.

In May he again asked for the Department’s guidance, this time on what activities hospitals should cut back on to make savings.

In June the HSE boss wrote that he had been waiting for a response on how to deal with financial challenges since February.

The HSE boss received replies to his letters. These stated that officials would draw up proposals to be considered by the Minister.

Finally, in June, the HSE was told that an independent expert had been commissioned and, meanwhile, it was up to the HSE to cut its own costs.

So, after six months of spiralling overruns the HSE is now in an even worse position – and Minister Reilly is nowhere to be seen.

The HSE is still overspending and its managers still want to know what services they should cut to stop the system haemorrhaging money.

Why has the Minister for Health not confronted the potentially catastrophic cash crisis in the HSE? It was known about since late 2011.

Is he running scared? Or does he find it easier to stick his head in the sand?

 This post first appeared in the Evening Herald, August 2, 2012

Waiting until an innocent person is killed

Another day, another report of a violent and unprovoked attack on our streets.
On this occasion a 25-year-old photographer was badly beaten up as he walked home in Celbridge, Co Kildare.
Kieran Broderick was approached by three men who struck him with a bottle without provocation, leaving him with stomach-churning injuries.
Such was the violence of the attack that his injuries could have been much, much worse.
The same gang are also suspected of earlier mugging a 19-year-old man in the area.
Kieran Broderick’s story is one that has become increasingly common in recent years.
Random, unprovoked acts of violence, often fuelled by drink or drugs, are now a regular occurrence, often with fatal results.
One shocking incident was the death of Polish fish worker Lukasz Rzeszu in Coolock, who was kicked to death by three men “for a buzz”.
Violent anti-social behaviour hit the headlines in the mayhem at the recent Swedish House Mafia show in the Phoenix Park.
But it can also been seen daily in the open drug-dealing and assaults that take place on Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street.
What happens there is replicated, albeit to a lesser degree, in cities and towns around the country.
Despite pledges from our politicians, and meetings between the Justice Minister and sorely under-resourced gardai, nothing seems to change.
Is it a case of waiting until the next unfortunate innocent is killed?

This post first appeared in the Evening Herald, July 27, 2012

A handy snap…but much ado about nothing

DID YOU see the big news story up North today?

Hollywood star Bill Murray teed off with Graeme McDowell in a pro-am ahead of Irish Open at Portrush.

Elsewhere an ageing ex-terrorist shook an old lady’s hand.

Fair play to Martin McGuinness, though.

Because, as comedian Frankie Boyle pointed out, it’s always difficult to make smalltalk with old folk, especially your old mates have blown up their cousin.

Queen Elizabeth II meets Martin McGuinness in Belfast, June 27, 2011.

Or their husband’s cousin, as McGuinness’ IRA colleagues did when they assassinated Prince Phiilip’s relative Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1979.

That murder was one of a number of reasons why the Queen might have chosen a fairway at Portrush ahead of a meeting with a man playing off a serious handicap – a brutal terrorist past.

Another reason might have been the attempt of McGuinness’ pals to blow up her Government’s Cabinet, en masse, by bombing the Grand Hotel in Brighton five years later.

In fact there are any number of good reasons why the British monarch could have passed over Mr McGuinness hand today.

But she didn’t. And that’s to her credit, not to Sinn Fein’s and certainly not to Martin McGuinness.

The party has spent the past month staging a PR blitz, sorry, ‘debate’, on whether their ex-IRA figurehead should go ahead with the meet’n’greet.

The result was never in doubt. The handshake was always on, but the debate provided plenty of news coverage, much of it lauding Sinn Fein for making such a magnanimous gesture.

The fact that an elected Sinn Fein mayor shook the Queen’s hand on her visit here a year ago, which rendered much of the debate null and void anyway, was quietly ignored by the spindoctors.

This was another poster moment for the party, which would provide with a handy filip in polls down South. It could do with it too, after last weekend’s Red C poll saw them drop three points.

That’s the plan at least. But it remains to be seen if it will play out that way.

Because the dignified way in which Elizabeth Windsor has handled matters shows McGuinness and his party pals in a grubby light.

In the end it was, of course, much ado about nothing.

Publicity hungry Martin took his place in a line of a dozen others, had his three seconds chit-chat, was flashed a smile, and that was that. Over and out. Back to the golf.

This post first appeared in the Evening Herald, June 27, 2012