Not normally angry in Ireland

but I am a bit just now.

Westminster Abbey: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Last Sunday, 13th November, I was sitting, at 11.00am, in the Galway Hooker in Heuston Station, Dublin waiting for a train home to Cork (hilariously, my partner’s daughter, phoning him, thought he was in Houston, Texas).  Silently, and unnoticed by other punters, the Remembrance Day commemorations, in London, were playing out on the TV screen.

Armistice Day in the Lloyds building, London.  Leon Neal, Getty Images

We were awaiting the two minutes’ silence.

Had I been alone, and thus unable to embarrass my partner, I would have mounted the stairs to the gallery of the pub to ask everyone to respect the moment marking the end of the First World War, in which, 35,000 Irish served (and many more in British Regiments, and of Irish heritage in Commonwealth regiments) and, of whom, many thousands were killed or maimed.  But he was there and so I spared him that embarrassment and just sat there with him as our companions munched their way through belated full Irish breakfasts, unaware of the event playing out above their heads.

The Queen on Sunday 13th November: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Munster Fusiliers (and soldiers from many other regiments) are sorely neglected in their homeland in terms of  First World War memorials and commemorations.  We were reminded of this when their Battle of the Somme remembrance  wreaths were thrown into the Lee earlier this year.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day  of the eleventh month is a full stop that has punctuated my life since I was born.  I am not militaristic and neither was my father.  But, nevertheless, after a year studying at the Sorbonne in 1938 and going up to the University of Cambridge in September 1939, at the age of 19, he found himself an officer in the Second World War, named ‘the emergency’ at the time in Ireland.

As a republican and left-winger he would have not have fought in the 1914-1918 war.  He would, like my two grandfathers, have been a conscientious objector.  But here, facing him, was Hitler and National Socialism.  So my father, Alan Smith, a puny, literary and art-loving young man,  who, because of his university, was officer class, and, being good at trigonometry he was sent to the artillery so that he could work out how to aim the guns.  He ended up at D Day + 1, being ‘steady under fire’.

Where was Ireland then?  Untitled.pngIt was introspective, dreaming of ‘a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youth and the laughter of happy maiden’.  It sounds suspiciously like Hitler’s Aryan ideal, which is still encapsulated in Berlin’s 1936 Olympic stadium which I saw last month on a visit to that fine city.

But there were, always available, (often impoverished) young men and women, willing to serve in the British army and to send money home to their families.  And there were those who hated the stultifying Irish society that was ruled from Dublin, in an almost, medieval, or at least, Victorian manner, closing down freedom and denying thought.

Reading John Bruton’s article in ‘The Centenary Conversations’ (p19), which argues that “commemoration should emphasise non-violent events” I was struck, in a way that I have not not been previously, by the idea that “the 1916 Rising and Proclamation” should not be “treat[ed] as the foundation event of our democracy”.

This uprising, he says, and I agree, “involved the deliberate taking of human life, in the middle of a war, and in alliance with the central powers, the first World War grouping that included Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey.  The Rising lacked a prior democratic mandate of any kind and was in breach of a countermanding order.” For me, Bruton’s key phrase  is “in the middle of a war”; also important is his noting of the rebels’ connections with  Germany.

Michael Anderson holds the helmet of his father, Lieutenant Bill Anderson with his nephew Vincent Murphy: Colm Mahady/Fennells

To return to the point,  Armistice Day, is a commemoration of the ending of a violent event, rather than the violent event itself.  Can that be argued for commemoration of the Easter Rising?  If you commend Bruton’s remarks then you should not really celebrate an uprising which deflected resources from a world war which was fought to establish the self-determination of small nations; especially given the contribution to the hard-won victory by soldiers from the island of Ireland.  I commend Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way to anyone wanting to engage with the conflicting ideas of this period.

Works cited

Barry, S. A Long Long Way. Faber & Faber. 2005

Bruton, J. ‘Commemoration should emphasise non-violent events’. The Irish Times. 29th October 2016.

DeValera, E. Broadcast to the People of Ireland. 1943.

Fidler, Matt. ‘Remembrance Day around the world in pictures’. The Guardian website. 11th November 1916.

Other blogs relating to the First World War can be found on my other site:

Have you forgotten yet?

Where is the Irish Literature of the First World War?

You might also like Dadland on this site.


Not all plans are idiot proof

That’s an ugly poster you might say, and what’s it telling me through its statement ‘not all plans are idiot proof’?  unknownThe lines ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’ from Robbie Burns’s poem come to mind, as well as Steinbeck’s great novel Of Mice and Men.  Ah, so is there a friendship between a lean, clever one and a big, stupid one? Is it George and Lennie writ Irish? Well, not really, although, in the film the little one does finish up (spoiler here) doing brain work. But each lad has something to bring to the mix.

And why is he carrying a hen?  And why is he carrying a nail gun? And why is he naked except for his green Y-fronts?  And do I want to see  The Young Offenders?  I probably didn’t. But I did see it, among an audience of eight, at The Gate, Cork.

Most people I know in Cork have decided not to see the film.  Not that I know many people in Cork.  But I have not yet met anyone who has seen it!  That’s a strange thing, I think, since it’s set in the city we are living in (or perhaps not, as who does actually live in the city, other than me and some Apple employees?) and it’s set in the surrounding beautiful countryside and coastline of West Cork.  At times the film looks like footage from Fáilte Ireland.

“Oh,” I was told, at the hairdressers, “the lads cannot do a Cork accent”.  But a young lad I met in a city shop told me that he was ‘the tall one’s mate’.  The tall one, Conor (Alex Murphy) is from Douglas and Jack (Chris Walley) is from Glanmire so I would imagine that their accents are not so bad.

It’s a car-chase film, only with bicycles, and a road trip film which lacks distance.  One local place the lads do actually reach is Lough Hyne.

LHyne(c)R.McAllen.jpgI have never been there but, coincidentally, the previous week I had attended a workshop, organised by Dr Anna Pilz, here at UCC including a session on ‘Deep Mapping’ at Lough Hyne. This project was presented by Professor of Modern English, Clare Connelly, biologist research assistant, Breda Moriaty, English and History of Art specialist, Dr Michael Waldron and, digital art specialist, Orla-Peach Power.

The project, being undertaken by this inter-disciplinary group ‘investigates biological, cultural and historical context of the south west coast of Ireland from 1700 to 1920. The focus is on the rich maritime environment found along the arc of Cork’s Roaring Water Bay, from Clonakilty to Bantry Bay, as it is shaped by sea and land and as it is imagined within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cultural texts. The period to be researched begins with the emergence of wide-ranging antiquarian inquiries and poetic responses to the Cork coast and ends with the start of serious biological field research in this area. By advancing a transdisciplinary understanding of this coastline, the project forms a link between cultural history, scientific research and environmental priorities while communicating a sense of cultural identity and fostering ownership of maritime heritage’.

Orla-Peach is ‘responsible for visualising and communicating the range of data collated as part of the Deep Maps project, and is also charged with the task of developing and maintaining an online presence via social media platforms and an integrated website‘.


I was pretty amazed by the project and by the range of people working on it.  Breda spoke of the marine life in the lough and I heard for the first time about  the invasive barnacle,

Unknown.jpegAustrominius modestus, which is threatening the three types of native barnacle along the West Cork coastline. Professor Fiona Stafford, attending from the University of Oxford, commented that she felt that she was an ‘invading barnacle’ in Ireland and I agree that I am too.  Much of my study as an MA student of Irish Writing and Film involves me looking at, England, my country, as colonial power: oppressive and exploitative.  But speaking to Breda, afterwards, she questioned whether the invasion of Austominius modestus was to be deplored or celebrated.  Should she and her colleagues try to expel their immigrant?  Or should they let them breed and expand, ousting the native barnacles and colonising the coast of Cork?

So, how do these two cultural experiences – watching a film and attending an interdisciplinary workshop at UCC – work as one? Well, it’s Cork all together and ‘the best laid plans of mice and men/ go oft awry’. I wish Austrominius Modestus fáilte.

Works cited

Burns, R. ‘To a Mouse’ Kilmarnock Volume. 1786. John Wilson. Kilmarnock. Print.

Foot, P. Dir. The Young Offenders. 2016. Film

Steinbeck, J. Of Mice and Men. 1937. Covichi Friede. Print.