BASED ON HISTORY BUT FAR FROM IT– McCann’s “After the Lockout”.

Diarmuid Breatnach

History can and should be researched, interpreted, discussed, argued and used for lessons on current questions and projections into the future. It can also be used in fiction: as the backdrop for a novel; as a way of bringing historical events to life; as a what-if speculative story.

James Plunkett (21 May 1920 – 28 May 2003) used the Dublin Lockout as a backdrop for his Strumpet City and did it wonderfully well; Walter Macken (3 May 1915 – 22 April 1967) wrote a fictionalised account of brothers in the War of Independence and the Civil War in The Scorching Wind and also did it well1. Roddy Doyle did NOT do it well at all in his historical novel (A Star Called Henry) and sadly nor did Darran McCann in “After the Lockout”. Interestingly, the central characters in both latter books were what one might call “Left critics” of the leaders of the struggle and one is tempted to conclude that the attitudes of the central characters mirror those of their creators.

(Image sourced: Internet)

It seems fair enough that we can play with history in fiction but, when using it as a backdrop for a story, it should be accurately represented – otherwise, surely one should invent something else entirely?

Doyle did some reading on the GPO garrison’s struggle for the background of his “A Star Called Henry” but seemed to have done none for the War of Independence, in which he had his hero and heroine like a kind of Republican Bonny and Clyde living in ditches and shooting up the Free State forces. McCann seems to have done hardly any reading on the Lockout (and not that much on the GPO garrison’s fight either). Having Jim Larkin give a speech from the restaurant in Murphy’s Imperial Hotel restaurant window is bad enough – when we know he only got to say a few sentences before the Dublin Metropolitan Police ran in to arrest him – but having him then shin down a rope and get away is absolutely ridiculous.

McCann set the story of his central character, Victor Lennon, in between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and it has many of the elements of the story of James Gralton (17 April 1886 – 29 December 1945), the only Irish person to have been officially exiled from Ireland by an Irish government (in 1933).

The arrest of Jim Larkin after he spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel in 1913. He did not shin down a rope!
(Image sourced: Internet)

McCann’s Victor Lennon, a communist and member of the Irish Citizen Army, gets people in his home town to build a dance hall in opposition to the local Bishop, which a mob then burns down. Gralton, a communist also, did that too, in Leitrim; however, he ran dances there and also gave talks – it was a success, to a considerable degree. The Irish Catholic Church vehemently opposed Gralton and in McCann’s novel the Bishop and local supporters also mobilise against Victor: the hall is burned down before any dance is held in it. Like Gralton’s story, there is a shooting incident around the dance hall too – a fatal one, in which Victor’s father and two IRA men are killed. But instead of being deported from Ireland, as Gralton was (illegally) by an Irish Government, which in McCann’s story had not yet come into existence, Victor heads off for Dublin to join the Volunteers in what will become the IRA and the War of Independence.

Newspaper photograph of James Gralton in the process of his deportation in 1933 (note he is described as “Irish-American” as though to justify his deportation, though in fact he was born in Ireland and did not leave for the USA until 23 years of age, subsequently returning to fight in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.
(Image sourced: Internet)

What actually happened after Larkin spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel — a vicious police baton charge and indiscriminate beating of all in the area.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Roddy Doyle wrote very disrespectfully about Volunteers, Pearse and a number of other leaders and even salaciously about anonymous wives of martyred men. He did so by placing those words and thoughts in the mouth and mind of his central character, Henry Smart. McCann does somewhat the same but to nowhere near the same extent as did Doyle.

I admit to finding that lack of respect extremely distasteful but also from a historical point of view I see it as anachronistic. I find it hard to believe that those who took part in the Rising despised those who fought alongside them, no matter the difference in ideology – or that they spoke so contemptuously of their leaders, martyred or not. Disagreed, certainly – disagreed strongly, probably. But disrespect and contempt? No, that is attaching a post-Free State intellectual revisionist attitude on to participants in the Rising and in the War of Independence. Later, there would be fear and hatred, during the Civil War, but even then, none of that contemptuous and dismissive attitude.

I am not the only critic from a historical perspective, as I see from a quick Googling. Reviewing the book for the Irish Independent in 2012, Pat Hunt had this to say:

The opening section set in Dublin reads more like a 1917 Thom’s Street Directory and a survey of political events and personalities of the time. The seediness of the red-light Monto district in the inner city does not ring true. The period feel of the city of Armagh is much better realised.

The author’s editor has done him no favours. It was never possible to hop on a train at Amiens Street and hop off at Harcourt Street station (not unless one took a scenic route via Bray).

The Big Wind of 1839 occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany, not Pentecost. Forecasts of wine lakes and butter mountains (concepts that emerged with the EEC and its common agricultural policy) could not have been envisioned by even the most ardent socialist in 1917.”

Hilary Mantel, who writes historical fiction, praised McCann’s book and I can only assume that she knows very little of Irish history, nor indeed should we expect that she should – her background is not Irish. Glen Patterson, novelist from the Six Counties, praised it highly too and I assume did so on the composition of the writing, turn of phrase, story-telling etc – but I sincerely hope he did not do so on a historical basis.

After the Lockout, Darran McCann, Harper Collins 2012.

End.

 

FOOTNOTE:

1 Though not perhaps as well as the other two books in the trilogy, those dealing with the Cromwellian war and Great Hunger periods: Seek the Fair Land and The Silent People)

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Strange & Deadly Journey

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

I thought back over all that happened and I was afraid, really afraid.

 

It began when I was walking down a lane leading down to what seemed to be a very big building site, the shell constructed but the doorways without doors and windows without frames or glass. It was my intention to get inside and I strolled down casually in manner, to see how that might be done.

On the way, I passed ground where, beyond a shoulder-high wall, there were women, under an overhang of the building. They seemed to have been sleeping on the ground and were now waking up. One of them stretched and I saw her breasts bare.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” she called out to me but without covering herself. Nor did she sound very angry.

I averted my eyes, though in truth I wanted to look; I gave some excuse for my presence but could hardly call out the real reason – people in the building might hear me. Continuing strolling past the women I came to the building entrance and, undetected, managed to find my way in. I got up to the second floor and there was one of the workmen there, tools hanging from his belt and I walked past confidently because that’s the only way to do it.

I forgot now for a little why I wanted entry in the first place and made my way to front of the building, facing back down into the lane. It would be a passage outside the apartments or offices when they installed the internal walls; there would be a glass frontage from waist-high but now there was only the empty opening. I looked out, hoping to see the women below but the overhang hid them from sight.

A little later, I was away from the building, in the open among black youths that were fighting with white ones but not myself part of the battle. The black youths slightly outnumbered the white ones and were giving them a real hiding.

And a little later, one of the black youths was walking through a low-level housing estate when he was challenged by a shout and a white youth was coming towards him. That seemed no great danger to him until other white youths were coming out from different directions, unbuckling their belts as they came, clearly to use them as flails, with the heavy metal buckles to inflict damage. As they gathered together, some much younger girls stood in front of them, trying to stop them attacking the black youth, but it was to no avail.

The fight was fierce and the white youths hurt the black one badly before they left him, bleeding in the road. I went and helped him into the house where I was staying and for safety, even though he was in a really bad way, got him up the stairs to the first floor.

Laying him down on a bed there, I got out my phone to call an ambulance, even though I feared it would do no good. I was stopped by a strange sight. There was a mixed race girl, light-skinned with dark freckles, lying down beside the wounded youth, facing him. She was somewhere around fourteen years old, I’d guess. As if paralysed, I watched.

The girl was smiling and she said: “You know, when they act like they don’t want you, that’s when they want you.” I had no idea what she was talking about and doubted he did.

She repeated it and after the third time, he whispered: “Truly?”

Her smile widened into a beautiful thing to see and she leaned further towards him, saying: “ Oh, yes! That’s when they REALLY want you” and kissed him gently three times on the lips. He closed his eyes and somehow I felt him slide away, life leaving him.

Downstairs, I heard the front door open.

“The youths come back to finish him off,” is what I thought first. Then I thought it might be the paramedics – even though I hadn’t called them yet. Someone else might have.

But it wasn’t – I recognised the voices.

What were they doing here? It was the owners and they were supposed to be abroad on holiday, with me minding the house for them. My mind was in a whirl as the couple came up the stairs, greeting me, the woman then complaining about some features of where they had been. To be honest, I can’t remember now where that was. My mind was in a turmoil. I didn’t want them to know what was in the small bedroom.

My heart beat even faster when their two big dogs bounded up the stairs, one dark brown and the other white. They knew me and gamboled around as I tried to block them from going past the doorway into the room. They were pushing, as if they knew I had something to hide.

Just as I shouted “No” in my most convincing master voice, the white one got past me and into the room. A second later it uttered a howl-bark of challenge inside. I was sunk, went weak and the woman pushed past me easily. A second later she screamed.

When I followed her in I saw that the youth was lying where I had lain him, his blood soaking into the sheets. The girl was nowhere to be seen, although there was nowhere for her to have gone. The dog had relaxed, as if knowing the body presented no threat.

Haltingly, I told the woman how the youth had been attacked and how I had brought him in.

“And you put him ON THE BED?” she shouted unbelievingly. I was somewhat appalled at that but I knew she was not a bad person and put it down to the shock she was feeling.

“Better phone the ambulance,” I muttered then and turned to look for where I had put down my phone. As if activated by my words, I heard it ringing. “Emergency services?” I thought … but wait a minute, I hadn’t called them yet.

“Hello?” I enquired cautiously after I’d picked it up.

“Dad?”

Beyond bizarre, was what I thought. My 20-year-old son, phoning from our relatives in Spain. He started talking about his arrival earlier, the relatives, his accommodation … I didn’t want to cut him off for we had been somewhat estranged in the past but … After making some minimal responses I then said: “I’m in the middle of something – can you call me back a little later?”

“Residential work?” he asked. He knew I’d done that kind of work before, in homeless hostels, probation hostels, sheltered accommodation etc.

“Yes,” I lied.

“Ok,” he yawned “but I have no money on the phone.”

“I’ll call you back soon then,” I replied, inanely wondering which way the hour difference between Spain and here was, more or less?

Turning to the woman, I saw that she had a gentle look on her face. “Your son?”

“Yes,” I replied, then sighed. “Better call emergency services now.” She nodded.

And then I woke up and I thought back over all that happened and to be honest, I was afraid, really afraid to back to sleep, in case somehow I slipped back into that. And it was too early to get up.

I wondered what my Ma would make of that dream for she was a pretty good dream-deviner. But she’s gone years now.

So I switched on the light and read some more of Lady Gregory’s arrangement of stories about the Fianna. There’s plenty of killing and dying, and kissing women and strange events in there but somehow a lot less frightening than what I had just experienced.

End.

IRA VOLUNTEER, PAYROLL HEIST MAN, THRILLER WRITER

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

To discuss a thriller-writer who was in jail in the USA for one of the largest payroll heists in US history and who before that was in the H Blocks, an incarcerated IRA Volunteer, is to have most people thinking one is writing about a fictional character – but I’m not. The man exists and his name is Sam Millar.

WRITER

Millar has a number of novels and a memoir to his credit, all the most recent published by the O’Brien Press. Some of them are detective novels, centred around Karl Kane, a tough private investigator, back-talking cops and gangsters alike. Yes, we’re familiar with the type, from Chandler’ Philip Marlowe to Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Hammet’s Sam Spade or Towne’s Jake Gittes in Chinatown (1974). But if we’ve liked his type in print or film before, them then we tend to like him again. To be truthful, Kane is a bit different: I can’t recall or even imagine any of the others ever opening their front door dressed only in their lover’s short pink dressing gown and falling on their arse, accidentally flashing their tackle at passing schoolgirls. And Kane’s health problems are perhaps more reminiscent of some of the Scandinavian fictional police detective heroes (and heroines) than his fast riposting counterparts in the USA-based stories.

Cover Dead of Winter, a Karl Kane novel by Sam Millar.

The dialogue and commentary in the Karl Kane novels is good with some very funny lines, his plots interesting and he keeps the story moving along at a good pace, with a few twists along the way. Kane, like Marlowe has a conscience pushing through his hard exterior and though he’s tough he tends not to invite more slaps after the first few. And not every thread in the story is tidily tied up at the end of the book.

The dialogue is not so slick in some of his other novels (one set in the USA) but the conjuring of the ill-boding atmosphere is well done, as is the description of the thinking in the adolescent characters’ minds.

Belfast is where his writing is centred now:

“I have deliberately used (Belfast) as a backdrop for all my crime noir novels for a number of reasons”, he was quoted as saying in a Crime Review author profile “- mainly because I know it so well, but chiefly to bring the imaginary one-dimensional Belfast of badly written novels into the modern era.”

Sam Millar
(Photo source: Democrat and Chronicle)

His stories are dark (which is part of the meaning of “noir”) but generally not without humour or redemption, at least for some of the characters. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not presented as shining good guys and in that Millar fits in with the general attitude to the enforcers of law and order in the detective noir stories: the cast of cops usually includes the downright nasty (and often corrupt), the in-between and the good guy – the latter being the cop who feeds the private investigator information or warns him of trouble coming his way from the cop’s superiors. For the genre and for Millar’s stories it works, providing one doesn’t step back too much to think about the sectarian and often murderous RUC now transformed by name into the PSNI.

However, Millar doesn’t try and paint a rosy picture of a post-Good Friday Agreement society and has been quite open about his own views: I hate bursting people’s bubbles, everybody wants to believe something like a fairytale has happened over here but it hasn’t”, he said in a 2014 interview with David Henessy in the Irish in Britain weekly The Irish World.

It’s changed superficially but for working-class Protestants and working-class Catholics it hasn’t changed. There’s still a lot of people out of work, a lot of poverty and it seems the politicians are the only ones who seem to benefit out of this Good Friday Agreement which has been a terrible let down, to be honest with you, especially in nationalist communities.

“But for myself being a writer, of course, I have been able to move away and I felt guilty. You don’t want to turn your back on your neighbourhood but at the same time, I’ve young children. I want them to have a better life…”

SELLING WELL ABROAD

A number of Millar’s books have been translated and sold well in France (where he was won a number of literary awards), Italy, Germany and Poland and some as far as Turkey and Bulgaria. He is not without Irish awards either: the prestigious Aisling Award for Art and Culture; Martin Healy Short Story Award; Brian Moore Award and Cork Literary Review Award, et al.

I could probably sell more books in Ireland if I kept my mouth shut about what I thought,” Millar commented more recently. Perhaps he’s right. I find it hard to believe I never heard about him until picking out a book by chance in the library, saw it was about a PI working in Belfast and with a sigh, felt obligated to read it. But without any great expectations, having come across some novels allegedly about the Six Counties that seemed to be about somewhere else in the world but also bearing Ulster place and family names. I was glad I chose it and am now working my way through his other published works.

Asking some Dublin Republicans about Millar and his writing, I was again surprised that they had not heard of him, particularly since they would share his view of the Six Counties today.

IRA VOLUNTEER AND HEIST

Millar was brought up a Catholic in Belfast (but with a Protestant grandfather), became politically active and went to jail in 1973, “the first nationalist put away under the Diplock court system. That’s a forgotten historical footnote, except for me”, he says. Released in 1975, his days of freedom were short, like many another in those days and a year later he was back inside after being caught with explosives in Belfast city centre. He joined the blanket protest against the British policy of criminalisation of Republican prisoners.

Released from the H-Blocks in 1982, he got acquainted with Bernadette, now his wife, whom he had known as a child, a few streets away from his family‘s home.

Photo source: New York Times

Moving to the USA, in 1993 Millar got involved in the New York Brinks Armoured Car Depot robbery, “the biggest in US history” (in which no-one was killed), for which he got caught a year later and served six years in a penitentiary, to be released by Clinton. Millar wrote about the heist in On the Brinks (2003) and apparently investigators believe that though Millar masterminded the robbery, he fictionalised some of the details in order to protect some accomplices.

Cover of extended version of the best-seller On the Brinks, Millar’s memoir of Republican activism, British colonial jail and the Brinks Heist of 1993.

Warner Bros. bought the rights to the book for a screenplay before backing out of making the film and a long “and draining” legal battle followed as Millar fought to win back the rights, so as to have some other company make the film.

 THRILLER WRITER AND REVIEWER

Writing for the New York Journal of Books, Millar said he had “reviewed tons of books”, in reply to an accusation by Armagh author Stuart Neville that he had indulged in “sock puppeting”, i.e using fake identities to rate his own work highly and do down some others, including Neville’s.

If you look at my books reviewed by people on Amazon,” said Millar to Nuala McCann for BBC News in September 2012, “you will see one stars and two stars, some by writers. I have never asked Amazon to remove them, nor complained on line about them.

“Ironically, the only book I’ve ever read by Mister Neville I reviewed for the influential website New York Journal of Books,” he added.

“I think if you read it, it wasn’t too bad a review. I get lousy reviews sometimes myself, but take it on the chin. I’ve reviewed ‘tons’ of fiction/crime books for writers, and never given a negative review of any of them.

“If I don’t like a book (after a few chapters) I will not review it, as I do not like to give bad reviews to fellow writers, as I know how difficult enough it is without adding grief.”

Cover of Millar’s next novel, with a new anti-hero, due out in June.

Sam Millar has another anti-hero novel (not Kane) novel due out in June, The Bespoke Hitman, as part of a three-book deal with O’Brien. I’m looking forward to reading it.

End.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Dark Souls (April 2003)

The Redemption Factory (July 2005)

The Darkness of Bones (2006)

Bloodstorm: A Karl Kane Book (2008)

The Dark Place: A Karl Kane Book (2009)

The Dead of Winter: A Karl Kane Book (2012)

Brothers In Arms (Stage play 2012)

Black’s Creek [originally Small Town Killing] (2014)

On The Brinks, O’Brien Press (April, 2014) [but originally by Wynkin de Worde (Sep. 2003) then bought by Millar’s present publisher, The O’Brien Press]

Past Darkness: A Karl Kane Novel (2015)

LINKS FOR SOME SOURCES:

http://crimeire.blogspot.ie/2015/03/sam-millar.html

http://www.theirishworld.com/sam-millar-back-from-the-brinks/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-19465081

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/nyregion/brinks-heist-made-for-hollywood.html

https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/03/21/brinks-heist-may-become-hollywood-film/82085488/

Author’s website: http://www.millarcrime.com/

FOREIGNERS!

Diarmuid Breatnach

I’m sick of seeing foreigners everywhere. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not racist or anything …. but they’re just everywhere. And as for Muslims building mosques! Here, in Ireland!

What’s wrong with that? We’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of churches in Ireland.

Yeah, but we’re a Catholic country.

Do you object to Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist and Unitarian churches too?

Er … no, they’re Christian religions. Muslim is completely different. We’re a Christian country – always have been.

Actually, no.

What do you mean?

We were pagans once. Before Christian missionaries came in.

OK, before St. Patrick. And yes, I do know he was a foreigner. But since then, we’ve been a Christian country, right?

Yes, I grant you that.

That’s what we need to go back to – Christian Gaelic Ireland.

An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?

No, I don’t speak it. No need to be smart. That’s another thing that was taken from us!

They teach it at school, though.

Not very well. And they force it, which turns people off.

They force maths on people too. And other subjects.

Yes …. well. Anyway, this is getting away from the subject. I was talking about … Getting back to the old Christian Ireland. The Ireland we fought against the British for. Which so many people died for.

James Connolly Monument, across from Liberty Hall, Beresford Place.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Like James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke ….

Yes, exactly!

James Connolly was born in Scotland, Tom Clarke in England.

Well I knew about Connolly, but Clarke … are you sure?

Yep, Isle of Wight, SE England.

OK …. but …. they were still Irish, weren’t they …. like our soccer team?

Yes, I agree with you there.  And about Constance Markievicz ….

Listen, don’t try that one on me! She married a Polish count – but she was Irish.

She was born in England too.

Was she? Well ok, but of Irish stock too.

Gore-Booth – not exactly a Gaelic name, is it?

Look, let’s go back to Pearse – he was Irish through and through. He wrote in Irish – articles, stories and poems, didn’t he?

He most certainly did.

Well then!

His father was English, though.

What? You’re codding me!

No, seriously. James Pearse was English. And had married previously in England.

Now you’re telling me Patrick Pearse’s father was a BIGAMIST?

No, no, calm down. She died – he was a widower. Thomas Davis’ father was Welsh, by the way.

Thomas Davis Statue monument and fountain, Dame Street, Dublin, Irealand
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Who wrote A Nation Once Again? That Thomas Davis?

Yes. And The West’s Awake.

OK, OK but Thomas himself was born in Ireland, wasn’t he?

Yes. Eamon Bulfin wasn’t though.

Bulfin? Who was he?

He hoisted the tricolour up on the GPO on Easter Monday 1916.

Did he? Was he born in England too?

No – in Argentina.

WHAT?

Yep. And De Valera’s da was apparently Cuban. Dev was born in the USA.

OK, OK, OK – but they were all part-Irish or wholly Irish …. in blood, I mean. Part of what they call the Irish diaspora.

True. But Erskine Childers wasn’t.  Totally English.

Ah now you’re trying to wind me up. He was President of Ireland – of course he was born here.

That Erskine Childers was but his Da wasn’t.

OK, so what?

Well, he’s the one who brought the Mausers into Howth. In his yacht. And he was murdered by the Free Staters in the Civil War.

That was him?

The Irish tricolour flag — presented to the ‘Young Irelanders’ by Parisian revolutionary women in 1848. (Image source: Internet)

Yeah, and part of the crew were two women – one born in England and one in the USA. By the way, the Tricolour that Bulfin hoisted on the GPO? You know what it signifies?

Yes. Peace between the original Irish, the Catholics and the descendants of the planters, the Protestants.

OK. Well, that’s not originally Irish either.

What? The Tricolour? Not Irish?

Not originally, no.

Where is it from then? Please don’t say England!

No – Paris. During the Paris uprising of 1848, French female revolutionaries presented it to an Irish Republican delegation.

So the Irish flag before that was …. just Green?

Well, Green yes, often with a harp in gold ….

Yes, Green, forever green, always the Irish colour …

Well, I hate to tell you this but …………..

End.

 

 

 

Drumcondra journey over snow

Diarmuid Breatnach

     The heights around Phibsboro and Glasnevin were reported snowbound so I decided to head down to the Tesco post for my shopping. Bundled up warm and with boots coated in dubbin, I stepped out into snow powder whipped up by the icy wind.  I had to close my eyes to slits when it blew against my face.

Heading towards Drumcondra Tesco station

A whistle woke the dogs and they came out of their snow-holes, shaking themselves and trotting over. Handing out small pieces of meat which they wolfed down, I called Buck to follow me over to the sled, where he sat supervising while I put the other dogs in harness. They were eager to go, skittish, whining, tail-wagging, occasionally growling at a perceived trespass by a team-mate. Buck stared down the most fractious but ignored Bríd altogether. Lately she’d been getting at Buck, undermining him. I didn’t know what to do about it. I couldn’t put her in the lead as, apart from that reversing the problem, the team probably wouldn’t follow a bitch. A dog team is like a wolf pack – there can be a dominant male and a dominant female but in almost all cases the male is the lead, the top dog.

Heaving the sled to left and right a couple of times I broke it free of its ice, took the leads and, with my shouted “Mush!” we were off.

A little later, going down towards the frozen Tolka, I had to apply the brakes a little to ensure the sled didn’t run into the hindmost dogs. They all felt the drag and then the jolt as the left brake hit something hard frozen under the snow, canting the sled momentarily to one side. Buck looked back at me reproachfully. You think dogs can’t look reproachful? Many can … and Buck is a master at it.

“Sorry, Buck, couldn’t help it … couldn’t see it.”

But he was already turned away, his shoulder muscles bunched, pulling along, leading. We crossed the Tolka no trouble despite one of the hindmost dogs slipping for a moment, righting himself some what embarrasedly, continuing. The sled runners hissed from the snow, then a grating tooth-gritting high-pitched scraping and then a low hiss across the ice.

Crossing the frozen Tolka

“Up boy, pull away!” I shouted but Buck was already bunching himself for the slope of the far bank, pulling steadily, all dogs in the traces pulling together. As soon as the sled was clear of the ice I jumped off and ran alongside it, one hand on the sled. As it gained the top of the bank, the dogs already over, I jumped back on and mushed them on to the Tesco post, the wind whipping ice powder towards me, sometimes higher than my head but often only at knee height.

There was another sled there, hitched to the rail outside the post, its dogs still in traces, huddled down against the wall. Swinging the team around by pulling on the leads, I got the sled in near the other dogs with my team furthest away. I didn’t want to come out to the aftermath of an argument between that team and mine.

Hitching the sled to the rail, I walked up to the front entrance, scraped the snow off my boot soles on the steel scraper and slapped it off where I could reach on my fleece-lined jacket. Opening the door, I stepped in quickly on to the mat and closed the door behind me.

Arnka Flaherty was on duty at the register and flashed me a smile.

“Fuar go leor duit?” I enquired.

“It is, yes it is cold enough,” she replied, still smiling, the blue eyes and curly hair looking a little out of place on her broad Inuit face. But her smile would light a dance hall.

I saw a few pairs of snowshoes by the door and guessed some customers had hiked it in. Not too bad really at the moment with snow only a foot to two feet deep most places, though in some hollows you might sink up to your waist in drifts.

Bart was there, a big Dutchman from over Santry way, as I already knew. I’d recognised his sled and some of his dogs outside.

“Bart”, I nodded.

“Diarmuid,” he nodded back.

“Looks like getting worse,” I said.

“Yes, says on the Internet.”

“Best get supplies in then, right?”

“Right.”

So saying, we went about our separate business. In that little exchange, we had enquired without the exact words about one another’s mental and physical health, whether we each had enough fuel and food. And said that we cared about one another and would help, were it needed.

Going through the aisles picking up my items I nodded to the other customers, a spry old woman who must have snowshoed in and two young students from the college not far away, a male and a female, perhaps a couple, perhaps not. Their winter clothes looked on the expensive end of the range.

I picked up some tins of fish (though I might catch some fresh later, hole-fishing through the Tolka ice), frozen meat for the dogs, a bag of tatties and a smaller one of rice, a parcel of briquettes, a bag of porridge oats and laid them in front of Arnka. Then I went back for milk powder, beet sugar, frozen butter, olive oil, frozen greens and a butane cylinder.

Arnka raised her eyebrows at the latter. “Where’s the empty?” she queried.

“I forgot and left it at home. I’ll bring it in tomorrow. I promise.”

She said nothing and started to tot up my account. Perhaps she minded, perhaps not. It was hard to tell with Arka. I paid, bid her slán on my second trip outside with the last of my supplies, waving to Bart and to the old lady on the way.

Outside, the wind had died down below but up above the clouds were moving fairly fast, leaving a clear starlit night. Beautiful but cold and soon to get colder. The dogs were already on their feet, shaking themselves, some whining. I loaded up the sled, pulled by scarf across my nose and mouth and we mushed back homeward, the dogs glad of the exercise and knowing they’d be fed soon. We crossed the Tolka ice, now glittering in the starlight or ghostly shining in places and up the opposite bank, the dogs straining, me pushing the heavy sled this time and trying not to slip ….

Then clear and pulling away up the rise into Drumcondra proper and soon to be home. Hot food and warmth for me, defrosted meat for the dogs and their own holes in the snow, curled up inside and soon warm with the snow piling up around them.

End

MOORE STREET MUSEUM — A FUTURE TOURIST’S ACCOUNT

A MOORE STREET HISTORY TOUR — A VISITOR’S EXPERIENCE IN THE FUTURE

Some decades into the future, I invite you to imagine a foreign-based tourist writing of her experience of the 1916 History and Cultural Quarter. Her name might be Isabela Etxebarria, from Argentina; she may be writing in her excellent English or perhaps her Castillian was translated.

This also formed part of my submission to the Minister’s Consultative Group on Moore Street which is soon to publish their recommendations.  A number of important, not to say crucial, campaigns were excluded from that group but were permitted to make submissions.  I contributed to two group contributions but this is piece is from my personal one, of which I have previously posted some sections:

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/the-1916-history-of-moore-street/

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/the-moore-street-market-a-possible-future/

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/personal-recommendations-for-the-moore-street-quarter/

 

“Dublin is an amazing city for someone interested in culture, literature or history. By virtue of its long existence as a centre of population, and also as a result of its history of invasions, occupations and resistance, it has enormous historical interest. It has also contributed three writers to the Nobel Prize pantheon and arguably would have contributed another one or more, were it not for certain prejudices of their times. I had read something about the Rising in Dublin against the British Empire early in the 20th Century — right in the middle of the First World War — and was eager to learn more.

I was also aware that an Argentinian citizen, Eamon Bulfin, of the Irish diaspora to my country, had raised the Irish Republic flag on the GPO, had been condemned to death after the Rising and then deported to Buenos Aires where he had functioned as a foreign representative of the revolutionary Irish Republican government. His sister Catalina had married Seán McBride, a Nobel laureate and also winner of the Lenin Peace Prize, son of John McBride, one of the sixteen executed in 1916, and of Maude Gonne, a prominent Irish Republican activist.

“Irish Republic” flag, the design of the flag which was raised by Eamonn Bulfin on top of the GPO.
(Photo source: Internet)

On Friday, we went to experience one of the famous historical tours of inner city Dublin. There are various history tours, some of which lead to a building called the General Post Office but which all the locals refer to only as “the GPO”. Other tours then take the ‘GPO’ as their starting point and it is one of those that I joined – its title was ‘The 1916 Rising – Evacuation, Advance & Surrender’.

The tickets of those participating were checked (except for children’s tours, the regulations restrict to no more than thirty at a time including ten children,) and we were handed audio earphones, radio receivers and issued with our instructions – stay with the group, obey the instructions of the guide, etc.

Our group contained some young children and a few in their late teens, with their parents. About half or more of the group looked like tourists and some asked for the foreign-language options of receivers. There was one man in a wheelchair.

As instructed by the guide in a number of languages, we tested our receivers to find the volume settings appropriate for each individual. Then our guide motioned for us to listen to our earphones … and the narration began.

Depiction of 1916 Rising in art
(Sourced on Internet)

Gradually, we were pulled back across the decades until we were in that amazing Rising, taking place in what had once been considered the second city of the British Empire, rising up against that very same Empire, the largest the World had ever seen.

Eamon Bulfin, from Argentina, who raised the Irish Republic” flag on the GPO at the Henry St. corner (Photo sourced on Internet)

In our imagination, aided by a commentary, it was the fifth day of the Rising and many of the buildings in the city centre were ablaze. Through our earphones, against a backdrop of booming cannon and crashing shell, chattering machine guns, rifles’ crack and whining ricochet, we could hear the crackle of flames. Irish Volunteers’ voices reported that the glass in Clery’s building opposite had melted and was running across the street like water. The heavy ledgers the Volunteers had placed in the GPO windows to protect against bullets were smouldering. Other voices added that despite fire-fighting efforts the roof was on fire and the roof lead melting. We could almost smell the smoke. Then finally, on the following day, the order to evacuate given in an Edinburgh accent – James Connolly, the socialist commandant of the HQ of the Rising, the General Post Office.

The scene inside the GPO just prior to the evacuation through Henry Place as imagined by Walter Paget
(Sourced on Internet)

In the hubbub of people getting ready to evacuate some voices stood out: Elizabeth O’Farrell, giving instructions about the moving of the injured James Connolly; calls to evacuate by the side door and caution about crossing Henry Street, with machine-gun sniper fire coming from the east all the way down Talbot Street from the tower of the train station at Amiens Street and indeed, some bullets traveling from the west along the street too.

A man’s voice in our earphones says “It’s lucky we have oul’ Nelson there to shield us some of the way!” and we hear a few people laugh.

Then, The O’Rahilly’s voice, calling for volunteers to charge the barricade at the top of Moore Street and a chorus of voices answering, clamouring to be chosen.

Now we are out in a group and crossing Henry Street. The man in the wheelchair, having politely declined offers to push his chair, is propelling his wheels strongly along with his leather-covered hands. Brass ‘footsteps’ laid into the street draw attention to the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route. It is weird to see the pedestrian shoppers and sightseers of the Twenty-First Century as half our minds are back in the second decade of the Twentieth.

Across this short stretch to Henry Place we went, the crack of rifles and chatter of machine guns louder now in our earphones. And explosions of shells and of combustibles. The garrison scurried across this gap carrying the wounded Connolly on a bed frame and Winifred Carney, carrying her typewriter and Webley pistol, interposed her body between Connolly and a possible bullet from the train station tower.

The laneway here has murals and marking on the ground to mark the route of the evacuation. Immediately we stepped on the restored cobbles of the lane-way, the sounds of battle in our earphones receded somewhat.

No bullets can reach us here!” shouts a voice in our earphones.

No, but bejaysus them artillery shells can!” replies another.

Other shouts a little ahead warn us that gunfire is being directed down what is now Moore Lane from a British barricade on the junction with Parnell Street.

A sudden shouted warning about a building ahead of us, to our left, facing Moore Lane.

See the white house? The bastards are in there too,” shouts a strong voice which I am told is Cork-accented, a representation of the young Michael Collins’. “Let’s root them out. Who’s with me?”

Another chorus of voices, a flurry of Mauser and Parabellum fire, then only the steady chatter of the machine gun up at the British barricade and the sound of bullets striking walls.

The Cork sing-song voice again. “I can’t believe it — The place was empty, like!”

Aye, it was so many bullet’s hoppin’ off the walls made us think the firing was coming from inside,” a voice says, in the accents of Ulster.

The “white house” at the junction of Henry Place and Moore Street, on the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route on the way to Moore Street, photographed soon after the Rising. (Photo sourced at the Internet).

Then an unmistakably Dublin working class accent: “Would yez ever give us a hand with this!” followed by the creak and rattle of wheels on the cobblestones as the cart is dragged across the intersection. Now we can hear the machine gun bullets thudding into the cart.

Quick now, cross the gap!” comes the order and the dash across the gap begins. Nearly 300 men and women? Someone is bound to get hit and yes, they do and we hear that one of them died here.

Across the gap, nowadays mercifully free of enemy fire but still feeling vulnerable, we follow Pela, our guide, to the corner with Moore Street. In character, she peers carefully around as we hear machine-gun and rifle here too, but Mausers and Parabellum as well as Lee-Enfields.

Gor blimey!” exclaims a London accent from our earphones, reminding us that some of the Volunteers had been brought up in Britain. “O’Rahilly’s lads are getting a pastin’. None of ’em made it as far as the barricade!”

An Irish voice: “Into these houses then – no other way! We have to get into cover to plan our next move.” This is followed by the sound of a door being hit and then splintering as they break into No.10, the first house on the famous 1916 Terrace.

“Careful now,” Elizabeth Farrell’s voice, followed by a muted groan of pain as Connolly is maneouvred through the doorway and up the stairs.

Pela sends the man in the wheelchair up in the lift and leads us up the stairs. When the lift and the last of our group arrive we proceed across the restored upper floors from house to house, passing through holes in the walls, as the GPO Garrison did in 1916 – except that they had to break through the walls themselves, working in shifts and our ‘holes’ are more like jagged doorways.

No.10 was the field hospital and here, represented by dummies and holograms, are the cramped bodies of wounded Volunteers and the British soldier rescued by George Plunkett. The woman of the house is trying to prepare food for the fighters.

Through a few unshuttered windows, we can see the busy street market below us going about its business, apparently oblivious of our passage above them. But then, thousands of tour groups have gone through here over the decades. The weather being fine, the transparent roof covering the street is withdrawn and through the double glazing of the houses one can just barely hear the street traders calling out their wares and prices.

We pass through those hallowed rooms, listening to ghosts. Here and there a hologram appears and speaks, echoes of the past. Dummies dressed in the uniforms of the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna and Hibernian Rifles are on display here and there. Imitation Mausers and Parabellums and Martinis, each one carefully made and to the same weight as the original, are there. They are security-chained but we know people are free to pick them up and feel the weight, as a couple of children do, to imagine carrying and firing one. But not to be flash-photographed, which is not permitted here.

Working people’s bath in the early 1900s.
(Sourced on Internet)

Black cast-Iron kettle from the period
(Sourced on Internet)

Candleholder for lighting for the bedroom
(Sourced on Internet)

Replica Cumann na mBan medical kits are on display, open so one could inspect the contents. The houses also have period furniture, fireplaces, beds …. chamber pots …. kitchens with utensils … bedrooms …..

Mauser ‘Howth’ Rifle
(Sourced on Internet)

There are dummies dressed too in civilian clothes of the time typical of that area — women, men, children (even the dog fed by Tom Crimmins, the last Volunteer to leave Moore St.).

ICA Male Uniform
(Sourced on Internet)

Here are some Volunteers breaking through a wall; over there, exhausted Volunteers sleeping

Cumann na mBan uniform.
(Sourced on Internet)

We see magnified historical newspaper headlines, photos, badges and medals. A map of Dublin with fighting locations flashing on them, some of them going out as they fall, the dates appearing above them to show when that happened. But many were only surrendered on receipt of the order from Pearse or Connolly.

Snatches of poetry, of song come to us as we cross from room to room, from house to house, some of it nationalist, some traditional or folk, some even music hall from the era. And for our eyes, the holograms of the Proclamation, the portraits of the executed 16 and many others who fought and died or who survived, flags, the Tricolour, the Irish Republic, the green-and-gold Starry Plough, waving in the wind above Clery’s ….

Half-way along the terrace we come to the historical discussion between the leaders, creatively reconstructed on the basis of some witness statements. Pearse wishing to surrender to avoid further loss of civilian life (the names of the dead civilians in Moore Street, their ages and the manner of their dying appearing above him), Clarke arguing, a sob in his voice, Connolly saying maybe they should wait for Sean McLoughlin to get back (he is out preparing a diversion attack to allow a breakout) …. Then the arguments with some of the other Volunteers, Mac Diarmada having to use all his powers of persuasion.

Oh, such emotion in such short discussions! Then the decision, and Elizabeth O’Farrell volunteering to go with the white flag to open negotiations with the enemy …. even though civilian men and women have already been shot in died in that street, including one beneath a white flag.

Shortly afterwards, the faces of the dead civilians and Volunteers appear, then the sixteen executed come into view, suspended in the air in front and a little above us. We stand there while passages are read out from their trials, letters from their condemned cells, words to relatives …. Then the dates appear above them and we hear the fusillades as by one their faces blink out, until finally only Casement remains, the image of the gallows and then he too is gone. All is dark for a moment, then all sixteen faces appear again, over a background of the three flags of the Rising, with a list of the fallen rank-and-file, to a swelling chorus of The Soldiers’ Song, in English and in Irish.

Portrait of the 16 executed in 1916.
(Sourced on Internet)

At the end of the Terrace, we descend again, somewhat dazed and here view the O’Rahilly monument plaque and in our earphones hear the words of his final letter to his wife read out – he wrote it as he lay dying from a number of bullet wounds. I found my eyes moistening again as they had several times during the tour and some of the others were visibly crying – including other foreign tourists.

The end of our tour lay ahead, through the underground tunnel under Parnell Street to the Rotunda. There the Volunteers had been publicly launched and recruited in 1913 and there too, in 1916, the GPO/ Moore Street garrison had been kept prisoners without food and water or toilet, some for two days, while political colonial police came down to identify whomsoever they could from among the prisoners. Here Tom Clarke had been cruelly stripped by his captors, diagonally across the road from one of his two tobacconist shops, on the corner of Parnell and O’Connell Streets. Elizabeth Farrell had been kept prisoner in that shop too by the British, before being escorted to deliver the surrender order to a number of garrisons.

In between the shop and the Rotunda stands the Parnell Monument, as it did then, honouring “the uncrowned King of Ireland”, who had tried by mostly parliamentary means, two decades earlier, to bring about Home Rule for Ireland and had failed. British officers had been photographed in front of the monument with the “Irish Republic” flag held upside down – had they been entirely conscious of the irony?

British soldiers posing with captured Irish Republic Flag upside down in front of Parnell Monument, just near where prisoners were kept on Easter Saturday and Sunday. (Photo sourced on Internet).

Directly across the road from us stands a historic building too – the premises of the Irish Land League and where the Irish Ladies Land League had been formed and also raided by the police.

Now the recordings in our earphones ask us to remove our earphones and to hand them to our guide, also to listen for a moment after she has collected them. Having gathered the sets and put them away in her bag, Pela asks us all to give a moment’s thoughts to the men and women and children, particularly of the years each side of the centenary year of the Rising, 2016, who had campaigned to preserve this monument for future generations. Pela tells us that her own grandmother had been one of the activists.

Incredible though it may now seem, the whole terrace except for four houses had been about to be demolished to make way for a shopping centre, which would also have swallowed up the street market. It had taken a determined campaign and occupations of buildings with people prepared to face imprisonment to protect it for our generation and others to come. The State of those years had little interest in history and much in facilitating speculators.

Pela invited us to applaud the campaigners, which we did, enthusiastically. She then asked us to turn around and view the reconstructed building we had left. There was a plaque on the wall there “Dedicated to the memory of the men, women, girls and boys of the early 21st Century ……” In bronze bas-relief, the plaque’s image depicts 16 houses in a terrace with activists on the scaffolding erected by those who intended demolition, with a chain of people of all ages holding hands around the site and in one corner, a campaign table surrounded by people apparently signing a petition.

Once through the underpass and inside the Rotunda building, the tour officially over, we thanked our guide and made for the Republican Café. I found we couldn’t say much, as my mind was half back in 1916. My companion was quiet too as were some other from our tour but some of the children seemed unaffected, brightly debating what to choose from the menu in the Rotunda café, or what souvenir they fancied from those on display.

We took a program of events, including film showings, lectures, dramatic representations and music and poetry performances, in order to choose which to attend later. There’s also a Moore Street and Dublin Street Traders’ Museum in the Rotunda which we intend to visit, perhaps tomorrow, after some shopping in the existing ancient street market.

Some of our tour group, we could hear, including the indefatigable man in the wheelchair, were going on the short walk up to the Remembrance Garden and we heard mention also of the Writers’ Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery adjacent to the Garden.

We’d had enough for one day, however – we were full. It was truly an unforgettable experience and I knew that for me and probably for my companion, it was something that would remain forever alive in our memories.”

The History Beat

Diarmuid Breatnach

View of the campaign table through fruit stall on a sunny Saturday in Moore St in June 2015 (Photo D.Breatnach)

View of the campaign table through fruit stall on a sunny Saturday in Moore St in June 2015 (Photo D.Breatnach)



Here we are on famed Moore Street

in close touch with market beat,

in the air and beneath our feet,

defending heritage and history

knowing that it’s no mystery —

no accident or just a mistake —

why they want our history to take

to offer on the altar of the speculator,

Gombeen and foreign vulture taker.

 

A people without history is easier to rule

without that memory, easier to fool;

without a past, having no future

our masters hope we’ll be safely neutered

to be consumers dumbly tutored.

 

But history trembles beneath our feet

here we hear it and also feel it

we speak to the foolish and the wise

denouncing speculators and their allies

refuting Government Minister lies

our voice joining street traders’ cries.

 

Lemons and leeks here for selling

History stories here for telling

You never know who you’ll be meeting

Old friend or new to be greeting.

 

This whole area was a battleground;

A knot of people gather to sign the petition in Moore Street (photo: D.Breatnach)

A knot of people gather to sign the petition in Moore Street on a colder day in 2017 (photo: D.Breatnach)

it is again, the speculators found:

through city streets protests wound,

people stood and linked arms around,

occupied also against demolition,

blockaded five weeks of attrition;

and here on Saturday some of us meet

to set up our table on the street

a part of the Saturday market beat

in dry or wet or sun or sleet.

 

Diarmuid Breatnach, Feabhra 2017.