Category Archives: Literature

War in Ireland, 1921

This is another extract from On Another Man’s Wound, by Ernie O’Malley. I posted one here; a post dealing with similar themes appears here. This incident – the execution of three British officers in reprisal for the killing of prisoners – occurred in the same part of South Tipperary as this and this.

We walked into the closing-in darkness, riflemen in front and behind the trap, until we were at a distance from where the officers had been captured. I expected a big round-up in which the countryside would be combed by troops from Cahir and Clonmel – both strong military posts. They would probably converge in the triangular area of which Fethard was the apex.

We came to a farmhouse up in the fields some way off the main Clonmel road. Sentries were posted. The girls and women of the house got ready supper; they did not ask questions. A fire was lighted in the room where the officers were. After supper I went into the room. The blinds were drawn so that they could not look out. It was a large room. They were seated at a table. One had his head in his hands. Continue reading

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Filed under History, Ireland, Literature

The women of France

This is an extract from Patrick MacGill’s First World War memoir, The Red Horizon.

“… Oh! ‘ang it, Pat, they’re nothin’ to the French girls, them birds at ’ome.”

“What about that girl you knew at St. Albans?” I asked. “You remember how she slid down the banisters and made toffee.”

“She wasn’t no class, you know,” said Bill.

“She never answered the verse you sent from Givenchy, I suppose,” I remarked.

“It’s not that—-”

“Did she answer your letter saying she reciprocated your sentiments?” I asked.

“Reshiperate your grandmother, Pat!” roared Bill. “Nark that language, I say. Speak that I can understand you. Wait a minute till I reshiperate that,” he suddenly exclaimed pressing a charge into his rifle magazine and curving over the parapet. He sent five shots in the direction from which he supposed the sniper who had been potting at us all day, was firing. Then he returned to his argument.

“You’ve seen that bird at the farm in Mazingarbe?” he asked. Continue reading

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Patrick MacGill and The Red Horizon

[First posted on MyT]

Patrick MacGill is the only person I know of who wrote books about life as an ordinary working-class British Army soldier in the First World War trenches (there may have been others).

MacGill was born in Glenties, Co. Donegal, Ireland, in 1891 … the first of eleven children of a small farmer. He left school the age of ten, and two years later was hired out as a labourer in a neighbouring county. At fourteen he went to Scotland to pick potatoes, and he later lived the hard life of an itinerant navvy, working on the railways and other big civil engineering projects. All the time he was educating himself by reading Tolstoy, Gogol, Zola and Hugo, as well as Kipling. Continue reading

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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

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More Joyce … old England is dying

[Again, something I posted on MyT before.]

Anastasia’s post on anti-Semitism reminded me of this extract from James Joyce’s Ulysses (published in 1922, set in 1904), which I posted here before. Ulysses, with its Jewish everyman hero or antihero Leopold Bloom, is a great work in many ways. The extract gives a flavour of the brilliant writing, sustained in many different styles in the course of the book … which is often very funny too.

Mr Deasy, a school headmaster, is holding forth to Stephen Dedalus, a young teacher and poet. It strikes me that if Mr Deasy were a real-life character and living now, he would be a very busy blogger. But Stephen is the clever one. Continue reading

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Filed under Literature, Philosophy of life

For Claire … end of ‘The Dead’

[posted originally on MyT] Today Cymbeline mentioned a story from James Joyce’s Dubliners (1914); coincidentally I had been thinking about another one earlier – ‘The Dead’.

In 1987 John Huston made this exquisite story into a beautiful film, starring his daughter Anjelica and Donal McCann. It was the veteran director’s last movie; he died later that year. McCann, a wonderful actor, died in 1999 aged just 56.

The end of the story is especially poignant. After a party in his elderly aunts’ house, Gabriel Conroy discovers that his wife has always harboured a love for a boy she knew in her native Galway when she he was young – he died at the age of 17, heartbroken at her imminent departure to Dublin. After she has fallen asleep, Gabriel remains awake with his thoughts: Continue reading

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Small world?

Here’s a piece I like from Flann O’Brien.

Keats and Chapman were entrusted by the British Government with a secret mission that involved a trip to India. A man-of-war awaited them at a British port. Leaving their lodgings at dawn, they were driven at a furious pace to the point of embarkation. When about to rush on board, they encountered at the dockside a mutual friend, one Mr Childs, who chanced to be there on business connected with his calling of wine-importer. Perfunctory and very hasty courtesies were exchanged; Keats and Chapman then rushed on board the man-of-war, which instantly weighed anchor. The trip to India was made in the fastest time then heard of, and as soon as the ship had come to anchor in Bombay harbour, the two friends were whisked to land in a wherry. Knowing that time was of the essence of their mission, they hastened from the docks into the neighbouring streets, and on turning a corner, whom should they see only – Continue reading

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