Category Archives: Stories

For Sean, on His 26th Birthday


The windows are open;
Air from the garden
Will freshen your room.

A hurricane brought you
And took you away:
You are part of its force.

The shoreline before me
Recedes and advances;
My boat is becalmed. Continue reading


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Filed under Biography, Blogging, Ireland, Memories, Philosophy of life, Poems, Religion, Stories

Gatineau 2017: Editors Canada conference

Around 11.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 June, I made a mistake that meant I lost a couple of hours’ work, then I walked into the side of a door and cut my forehead: not the best prelude to my Canadian adventure. I needed a break.

The next morning Pauline drove me to Dublin Airport, and I caught my plane to Toronto. I was tired, not having slept well (in fact I wouldn’t get a good sleep till I was home again). Seven hours later we landed, giving me two hours to catch my Ottawa flight. Queuing at customs, check-in and security took up most of this, but I made my connection.

I took a taxi to the Crowne Plaza hotel—across the river in Gatineau, Quebec—checked in, and had a walk around. That part of Gatineau is quite unprepossessing. I was surprised at how much French was spoken. I had a Subway sandwich, disoriented by the time change. The hotel was quiet and, to my surprise, the tiny bar sold no beer: this would be a source of wonderment to some of the editors all weekend and beyond. Continue reading

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Filed under Stories, Work

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

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.

Continue reading

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Filed under Death, History, Ireland, Literature, Stories

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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Some diary entries … March to May 1999

1/3/99 – Sean played Hercules – he loves it and is progressing through the various levels.

4/3/99 – Pauline took the kids to an Irish dancing lesson in Maghera (their first) – they both enjoyed it enormously … A tree fell across the road today just after Maire, Andy and Susanna passed on the way home from school, and just before Pauline drove to Erika’s – she had to turn and go another way.

5/3/99 – We watched The Simpsons and the final of Robot Wars; Sean rang Peter to tell him about the latter and we chatted to him.

6/3/99 – Pauline went out to look for Itsy, who hadn’t come home last night (not for the first time). She found poor little Itsy dead by the side of the road – she was still warm, her eyes were open and she wasn’t marked except for some blood by her nose. The children were very upset … She was a lovable cat. Continue reading


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Sean’s world 5

Apart from Dublin and Munterconnaught (and a pre-natal stint in London), the only place Sean ever lived was Cavan town, half an hour north-west of us.

I have never spent much time there, except for the 2006–7 rugby season when Sean played under-16 rugby for Cavan and I helped out with the coaching. I don’t know the town very well.

In his first year at Cavan Institute, a third-level college (2008–9), Sean studied Multimedia Production … a FETAC level 5 course. He was always good with computers, and the course suited him well. We used to drop him to Virginia each morning, and he would catch the bus to Cavan. The course was largely project-based, and his results for the year were excellent … he gained a distinction or a merit in every subject. Continue reading


Filed under Ireland, Stories, The music of what happened


[Previously posted on MyT]

He was sitting on a rock at the edge of the sand, playing with a piece of bladder-wrack he’d picked up – bursting the bladders, and thinking about this and that.

‘Medusa,’ she said, ‘had seaweed on her head. Instead of hair.’ He looked up and saw her – a slight, smiling, dark-haired girl, his own age or close, blocking the dim sun.

She sat down on the rock to the right of his, uninvited, and continued to speak in a strong country accent … probably a traveller, he thought as he inspected her, which he was free to do as she was looking out to sea. The wind blew back her ropes of hair and showed her face. Continue reading


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