Monthly Archives: July 2010

Mercury (a poem)

You’ve changed again! Sixth time today:
Eloquent poisoner, splitter and joiner,
We appease you in some calm amalgam;
Chain you to the colder stone
To make you keep your distance from the bone. Continue reading


Filed under Poems

Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

[First posted on MyT]

I see that an exhibition will soon open at the National Museum of Ireland on the history of duelling, which reached its peak here between 1780 and 1820. In a sample of 306 Irish duels fought between 1771 and 1790, there were 65 instant deaths and 16 mortal wounds; less than a third ended without injury. At least 19 Dublin companies were making duelling pistols in the early nineteenth century.

Some years ago I worked on a project involving the Irish parliament of 1695–1800, and compiled a fair bit of information on duelling and much else. Here is some of it: more will follow in a second post. Continue reading



Filed under History, Ireland

Body, mind, spirit

[First posted on MyT]

The symbol in the photo, along with dozens of other markings of various types, is on a huge rock near where I live, on the edge of the Boyne Valley complex of Megalithic sites. It is thought to have been made by sun-worshippers around 5,000 years ago – perhaps 200 generations of humanity before ours. Nobody will ever know what it signifies, if anything.

Looking at ancient structures and artefacts always makes me wonder about the minds of the people that made them, and how different they must have been from ours. Continue reading


Filed under Ireland, Philosophy of life, The music of what happened

The perils of side-taking

I posted this on MyT yesterday.

History has bequeathed us some complex and relatively intractable situations that entail conflict and distrust along ethnic, tribal or religious lines … one thinks of Northern Ireland and Israel, for example. Several examples have emerged into world attention in Europe and Asia recently.

The automatic reaction of certain people to such situations, it seems, is to choose a side, invest in it emotionally, and then espouse it though thick and thin. Notwithstanding the fact that ordinary human beings on both ‘sides’ of the conflict have innate rights and a legitimate case, the evident complexity of the situation is denied and a reading of history is proffered that places all blame on one side and all virtue on the other. Continue reading


Filed under Psychology

Up the fields

I first posted this on MyT, in response to a call for blogs on everyday life.

I went for a walk up the fields today, on my own … my wife and I had already walked the dogs (our two terriers and a neighbour’s pointer). It was misty, and so damp that the road and everything else were wet all day, though it hadn’t rained. A good day for going up the fields … as most days are.

The first field has a steep incline; the second is more level. In the third field the landscape changes … this field is much bigger and more uneven, with dips and hollows. There’s a very wild area with a lot of gorse bushes (whins, as they’re known locally), hawthorn and blackberry briars, as well as some small ash trees. Behind this is a high, rocky place, partly covered in gorse bushes. In front of it there’s a ring fort … an ancient circular enclosure of stones called a cashel. Continue reading


Filed under The music of what happened

Aran Islanders, and leaving the RIC be

This is an extract from On Another Man’s Wound by Ernie O’Malley, which I have mentioned elsewhere.

We visited the Aran Islands and around the fire at night we talked, sitting on very low stools, on the floor, or with backs to the wall. And when it was my turn to tell a story, Peadar and some of the boys who spoke English helped me out in translation. Some of their stories seemed to have had no beginning or end. They seemed mostly to like smartness in the hero, a kind of cleverness bordering on trickery – their tales of Fionn were such; accounts of people on the mainland with a stress on meanness, or some fantastic tale so elaborate that one could sense improvised embroidery. Stories that were direct or that had much concrete description, I thought, they would like. I told them of Till Eulenspiegel, some of Hakluyt’s sea tales, Bricriú’s feast and Burnt Njal. Till Eulenspiegel and Bricriú were favourites; they rocked with delight, and I had to repeat them often and eventually hear their own versions; but their greatest joy was in the story of Mac Dathó’s Boar. Continue reading


Filed under History, Ireland

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved (a poem by Nazim Hikmet)

it’s 1962 March 28th
I’m sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don’t like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it
I’ve never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love Continue reading


Filed under Poems, The music of what happened

Bloodbath (a poem)

I spent my summer sliding
Slippery livers into polythene bags
Barely big enough: sometimes those beef livers
Would turn and waltz right out again
And on the table, or the floor: awkward bastards.
Warm summer of seventy-eight, but chilly in the chills –
Warm blood. Continue reading


Filed under Poems

21 January 1919

Further to my ‘Plugging the enemy’ post, I thought this might be of interest. I posted it on MyT in January 2009.

Ireland saw a significant anniversary last week … on 21 January, it was exactly 90 years since the first sitting of Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament).

73 of the 110 MPs elected for the whole of Ireland in the December 1918 general election, instead of going to Westminster, met in Dublin to declare an independent Irish Republic in defiance of the British administration.

On the same day, the first shots were fired in the ‘War of Independence’ when members of the Irish Volunteers (soon to become known as the Irish Republican Army) killed two armed policemen who were escorting a consignment of gelignite at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary. Continue reading


Filed under History, Ireland

Plugging the enemy … guerrilla war in Ireland

When I was a small boy living in a small town in Co. Tipperary, an old man lived across the road from us whose name was Jack Meagher. I must have been quite young when he died, because my memories of him are vague. I think he was from up the mountains … an old-style countryman, garrulous and jovial, who would walk in the back door of our house without knocking and declare ‘God bless all here!’, then stay chatting for hours. Jack was a character.

Years later my sister told me something about him that I hadn’t known – he had been in the Old IRA* of 1919–21, and had, it seems been the local brigade’s executioner. When prisoners needed to be killed, in reprisal for the execution of IRA prisoners by the British, Jack was the man that did the deed. He didn’t fit the stereotype of the old soldier who ‘doesn’t like to talk about the war’; apparently he had no qualms about regaling my uncomfortable parents, around the kitchen table, with gory details of how he had ‘plugged’ some unfortunate captive. Continue reading


Filed under History, Ireland