Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tom Ashe, punster

Thomas Ashe (1656–1722) was a member of the Irish parliament, first for Swords and then for Clogher, and a friend of Jonathan Swift (who wrote Ashe’s dying speech years before he died).

Ashe was described as

‘a facetious pleasant companion, but the most eternal unwearied punster that ever lived. He was thick and short in his person, being not above five feet high at the most, and had something very droll in his appearance … There is a whimsical story, and a very true one, of Tom Ashe, which is well remembered to this day. It happened that, while he was travelling on horseback, and a considerable distance from any town, there burst from the clouds such a torrent of rain as wetted him through. He galloped forward; and as soon as he came to an inn, he was met instantly by a drawer; “Here,” said he to the fellow, stretching out one of his arms, “take off my coat immediately.” No, sir, I won’t,” said the drawer. “… confound you,” said Ashe, “take off my coat this instant!” “No, sir,” replied the drawer, “I dare not take off your coat, for it is a felony to strip an ash.” Ireland in the eighteenth century was almost denuded of trees [bark was used in the tanning industry] and this referred to a statute, probably that of 1698, aimed at their preservation. Tom was delighted beyond measure, frequently told the story, and said he would have given fifty guineas to be the author of that pun.’

[Quoted matter is from E.M. Johnston-Liik, History of the Irish Parliament 1692–1800: Commons, Constituencies and Statutes (Ulster Historical Foundation 2002), Vol. IV, p. 114.]

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To France, to fight

I’ve written a bit about Patrick MacGill on this blog before, and given extracts from his work: Patrick MacGill and the Red Horizon and The Women of France. In the centenary year of the start of the First World War, it’s worth considering the experience of the ordinary men who took part (which was brought home to me on a visit to Arras last November). A facet of this is captured well in the following extract, set on a troop-ship crossing to France, from MacGill’s autobiographical novel The Red Horizon.

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A piku

Today is Pi Day, apparently. In honour of the occasion I have written a piku: instructions given here.

Can I form
A verse extolling in supple words pi’s weird, redolent,
Enigmatic quality? Certainly, but it may collapse.

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49 old haiku

1
For my just reward
I am liable to seek
A share of the day

2
If it is found that
No share is to be given
I shall not take long

3
I shall fly upwards
In the wake of a magpie
And the form of wind

4
Hoping hence to gain
Entirely deservedly
What is for the best
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Scientism and ‘the man above’: spare me the separatism

In Ireland, people often refer to ‘God’, flippantly or otherwise, as ‘the man above’. This is emblematic of the common view of a separate, person-like God – a kind of great humanoid in the sky, or a chief executive who can be taken to task for allowing bad things to happen. In my opinion, this is facile and illusory. Worse, the churches reinforce it by insisting on a separate, omnipotent ‘God’ to whose vagaries we are prey.

Recently I compiled an index for a book on influences on Carl Jung’s psychology, which I found inspiring (I won’t give details for the moment as it hasn’t been published yet). As the author sees it, monotheism and atheism are both based on a misconception: the existence/non-existence of a transcendent God (two sides of a worthless coin). In fact divinity is not separate from us – we are a contributing part of it. Divinity inheres in humanity (and in everything). Continue reading

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Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland 2

Continuing from my earlier post, Duelling in eighteenth-century Ireland

Sometimes it was not only the defeated party in a duel that suffered the consequences. In 1807 William Congreve Alcock (former MP for Waterford City and Co. Wexford) killed John Colclough over an election dispute, apparently in front of a large crowd including the county sheriff and 16 magistrates. Afterwards, Alcock ‘became melancholy; his understanding declined; a dark gloom enveloped his entire intellect; and an excellent young man and a perfect gentleman at length sank into irrecoverable imbecility’. He was confined in a lunatic asylum, and died in 1813 at the age of 42.

Robert Edgeworth, a member of the prominent Longford family and MP for St Johnstown (1713–27), was described as follows: ‘He had no notion of good breeding, was outrageously rude and abusive to persons he disliked, had a strange disposition to fighting and quarrelling and was quite void of fear of any man living; but was most childishly fearful of apparitions and goblins especially after he had killed Mr Atkinson in a duel in Clontarf Wood, after which time he could never lie without a lighted candle in his room and a servant either in his chamber or within his call … He hated many people, loved nobody, nor nobody loved him.’ Continue reading

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Moving Hearts, Irish laws and first-person pronouns

[I first posted this piece on another blogsite a few years ago]

Moving Hearts were an Irish rock band of the early 1980s that grew out of the revival of traditional music in the previous couple of decades. They made some great music on drums, guitars, bouzouki, sax and uileann pipes, but never quite captured their live brilliance on vinyl. I went to see them many times in Dublin pub venues.

They used to do one song that I didn’t like then and don’t like now, partly because of its dirge-like sound but especially on account of the lyrics. The song is ‘Irish Ways and Irish Laws’ (I WAIL (!)), by a man named John Gibbs.

It is a saga of victimhood: the sort of thing that certain anti-Irish bigots like to claim that all Irish people indulge in all the time. (In fact there was an advanced and sophisticated system of Irish law that pre-dated the Norman invasion and carried on in parallel with the Norman/English system for centuries, but that is not the point.) Continue reading

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Filed under History, Ireland, Music, Politics