Category Archives: Anecdotes

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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Filed under Anecdotes, History, Humour, Ireland, Stories

Some diary extracts … May to September 2003

Where Sean is standing (bucket on head) is where my wall partly collapsed last August or so ... weakened by years of having footballs kicked against it. I used to give out to Sean for kicking the ball so hard.

11/5/03 – We all headed to the church in Ballyjamesduff for Sean’s confirmation. This went well, notwithstanding the bishop’s dull homily. Sean did a good job of reading a prayer of the faithful.

14/5/03 – Sean and I watched Real Madrid lose to Juventus, to our disappointment.

17/5/03 – Sean and I watched the FA Cup Final – Arsenal beat Southampton 1–0, much to the joy of Sean in particular (officially all four in our household are Arsenal supporters).

6/6/03 – Sean got an early birthday present, to which he had put some of his own money – a CD player. He was very pleased with it.

20/6/03 – The four of us went up Lough Crew late in the evening and had a good time, with Sean doing spectacular slides on the way down.

4/7/03 – We finished constructing the tennis court, and all had some good games later – Sean is particularly keen. Continue reading


Filed under Anecdotes, Ireland, Memories, The music of what happened

Blog rationale, and some diary extracts

The purpose of this blog, since 17 October last, has been to document the life of my son Sean, who died on that day at the age of 19. I hope to build up as detailed a picture as I can.

I will never manage a true representation of Sean … he was too complex and multifaceted for that, and I, like everyone else that knew him, knew him only partly. I loved him, as did many others.

The fragments I present on the blog – photos of moments and people in his life, anecdotes, poems, the things he liked, what he said, the games he played, his music, what people said about him – may form a kind of wall mosaic that, from a distance, looks like a reasonable likeness of Sean. Up close, only the fragments will be visible, but it’s the best I can do. The more fragments I add, the truer the mosaic … or at least that’s the theory.

It will be a sort of memorial to Sean, though the very fact that one is required still breaks our hearts. It will be good for me and, I hope, for others. I know that many people who knew Sean read this blog (they are very welcome to comment here, by the way). It won’t bring Sean back, but it may help him to be held in the memory, as he so deserves to be. Continue reading


Filed under Anecdotes, Biography, Blogging, Death, Ireland, Memories, The music of what happened

Some further thoughts on Sean

I must scan some photos and post a slideshow. In the meantime, Pauline and I have of course been thinking about Sean a lot. We are devastated.

It strikes me that his entire life, from conception to death, lasted 20 years – perhaps exactly.

Sean was born in the Coombe Hospital in Dublin at 18 minutes to midnight on Sunday, 28 July 1991. He died on a Sunday too.

When he was born, there was a true knot in his umbilical cord (which, fortunately, had not pulled tight). From some research this morning, it seems that such knots occur in 1% of pregnancies, and lead to a four-fold increase in likelihood of foetal death. Sean, typically, had been jumping about recklessly in the womb. It didn’t seem to have done him any harm. Continue reading


Filed under Anecdotes, Memories

Sean on holiday

Sean in Torremolinos with new friends, 2007

Sean in our apartment on holiday was such a rarity that my wife decided to record it

My wife, our daughter and Sean had four holidays in Majorca, Spain and Portugal when Sean was a teenager. From the time we arrived at our destination the rest of us hardly saw Sean at all, as he would be off making friends, socializing and having fun.

In Majorca in 2005, Sean had just turned 14. We were staying in an apartment/hotel complex used mainly by Irish holidaymakers; directly across the road was a more upmarket hotel occupied entirely by Germans. After a few days, Sean had befriended all the teenagers in our hotel, and must have felt the need to extend his scope. He started to go across to the German hotel and swim in the pool there, even though it was supposed to be for residents only (Sean always had a healthy disregard for every kind of rule). Continue reading


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Munich … Winter Wonderland 2009

I posted this on MyT last December … I repost it here (without the links) in honour of the fact that myself and the same three friends will be going back to Munich this December, DV.

Three of us flew out from Belfast early on Saturday. Met up with the English member of our quartet, who had flown from London, at Munich Airport. 45 minutes on the train, then a short walk on snow-covered streets from the station to our hotel.

One of our number knows Munich quite well (I’d been there just once before, in 1988), and had worked out an itinerary of sorts … much of which revolved around finding and dispatching the best local beers. So, on the first day we did a lot of that kind of thing. Falafels for kebab-shop lunch; dinner at the Hofbräuhaus; between times walking round the city, dropping into bars, shivering in the bitterly cold wind and trying not to step into the cycle lane. Continue reading


Filed under Anecdotes, The music of what happened, Uncategorized, Wildlife

Thomas Whaley (1766–1800)

The eighteenth-century Irish parliament had its share of larger-than-life characters, as I have pointed out before. One of the most colourful was Thomas Whaley (MP for Newcastle, Co. Down 1785–90 and for Enniscorthy 1798–1800).

The son of an MP, Whaley left school at sixteen years of age with an allowance of £900 a year, and went to Paris with a tutor to ‘complete his education’ – in fact he ran up enormous gambling debts, and had to return to Ireland. He became an MP at eighteen years of age (MPs were supposed to be at least twenty-one). Continue reading


Filed under Anecdotes, Biography, Ireland

Allingham’s diary

William Allingham (1824–1889) was a minor poet from Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, and a close friend of many of the famous people of the day – in particular Tennyson, D. G. Rossetti and Thomas Carlyle. He was a humane and curious man, and his diary offers often amusing glimpses into the lives of his Victorian contemporaries.

The following is an extract from August 1858.

Returning to Paris, after a short tour in Switzerland and North Italy, I found Thackeray in the Hotel Bristol with his two daughters. He not well — often in bed till mid-day or later — struggling with (Pendennis), but in the evening usually recovering himself.

I told him I had been with the Brownings (who were then in Paris, staying in the Rue Castiglioni, No. 6).

‘Browning was here this morning,’ Thackeray said, ‘ what spirits he has — almost too much for me in my weak state. He almost blew me out of bed!’ Continue reading


Filed under Anecdotes, Literature, Poems

An afternoon in Battersea Arts Centre, 1989

Written 29 October 1989

P and I got up late, but gained an hour as the clocks had gone back. Read the paper for a bit, then we went for one of our long walks, despite the rain, and ended up in Battersea Arts Centre again.

We sat by a large window, ordered cider and cauliflower cheese, looked out at the rain and occasionally made snide remarks about people at other tables. There was an individual we had seen there before, to whom we referred sardonically as ‘the New Man’. He was obviously quite well off, but wore an ancient woolly jumper with gaping holes at each elbow. He was ostentatiously affectionate towards a little brat who was running wild. P and I decided that he worked in computers and was a local Labour Party activist. Continue reading


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Double negatives

The Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin was giving a lecture in New York to a group of fellow philosophers. In it he raised the question of double negatives. ‘In some languages,’ said he in his precise Oxford voice, ‘a double negative yields an affirmative. In others it yields a more emphatic negative. But I know of no language in which a double affirmative yields an negative.’ From the back of the hall came a drawling professorial Brooklyn accent: ‘yeah, yeah’.


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