Archive for the ‘irish’ Tag

Yeats Mates

irish harp on euro coin

So I’m sitting at breakfast as usual, late Saturday morning, a West Coast Irish sense of urgency (think mañana but less pressing), listening to Robert Elms on Radio London. After a bit of a dull gardening item an Irish poetry enthusiast with a Dublin accent pops up to talk about his guided walk to mark today’s [Saturday 13th] 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats. He says “it’s probably too late for your listeners” – red rag to a British bulldog, I was going to get to Wolburn Buildings for the start of the walk regardless of the sub-90 minute lead-time. Niall McDevitt was the name of the poetical Irish gent punting his walk on the wireless and it was the said poet who wandered up Woburn Walk, location of WB’s bachelor pad, at the appointed hour of one, in red trousers, perfect to lead a walk through a busy Saturday afternoon London, the biz in hi-viz.

As he started the walk-talk an Indian lady appeared at WB’s balcony – an artist who uses his old love-nest as a studio. She gamely waved a large photo of Yeats to the assembled motley crew. Niall explained that WB moved in as a 30-something virgin, determined to pop the ol’ cherry and in need of a bit of space from his artist father and painter brother Jack over in the family home in Chiswick or thereabouts in West London. His married mistress found the place, in a small, quiet passage opposite Euston and within walking distance of the Brain of London which was the British Museum Reading Room, the internet of its day. The affair only lasted a year but WB stayed there for 24 years (1895-1919) until he eventually married. For the Irish Shakespeare that was a long time in prime years to stay in a foreign metropolis. Perhaps we dare think of him as London-Irish in some small way?

The Euston location was convenient for his Monday evening At Homes where the likes of Ezra Pound and Maud Gonne pulled by for cultural and literary chat. It was also convenient for jumping on the train to Liverpool to catch the ferry round to the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

From Wolburn Walk we headed across Bloomsbury to the bust of Tagore in Gordon Square to review Yeats’s Indian connections. (The Nobel-prize-winning Indian poet Tagore while in London lived in the Vale of Health just below where I was born).

Then along the greenery into UCL (founded by one of my distant forebears) and the building of Faber & Faber where TS Eliot was based. Niall put forward the proposition that Yeats’s Second Coming was the great poem of the 20th Century and not The Wasteland. I let it pass – he’s obviously wrong.

Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold

At Museum Street opposite that Brain of London we stopped for an interlude at the Occult Book Shop where the proprietor, a 2nd generation bookseller who has just inducted the 3rd generation, gave us a fascinating talk about Magic and the Golden Dawn, an occult order which Yeats joined in a serious way. On the wall were pictures of various key personages including the Hackney Jew who set up the shop and an oil portrait of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the primary influences on Yeats life (alongside a Fenian whose name escapes me, Sean O’Something). Irish Nationalism and Magic – his Big Two Things.

From there into Covent Garden where we strangely enough went right past my hairdresser where I had a 3pm appointment – what’s the chances of the line from Woburn Walk happening to pass that spot? Near the Freemasons’ HQ in Great Queen Street we stopped to talk a bit of Blake. In the old Masonic children’s hospital opposite was the place where Blake did his engraving apprenticeship for 7 years. Niall’s core territory is bounded by Shakespeare (who spent a lot of time in London in Southwark) and Blake (who grew up in London in Marshall Street – opposite my first job at Solus Productions at No. 35) and Rimbaud (who spent a little time in London in Camden Town) and Yeats (who spent a lot of time in London in Euston, Primrose Hill and Chiswick).

I peeled off when we got to the other side of Lincoln’s Inn as hair cutting called. They were heading in the direction of temples where Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawners worshipped. That kind of shit freaks me out a bit any way so probably just as well. Rewind. As we were starting off in Wolburn Buildings Niall mentioned the fact that Yeats was big into the after-life and would appreciate our celebration, indeed might well be with us if his hopes for the after-life proved well founded. At that moment one of the walkers’ mobile rang, he fumbled it and dropped a small case he was carrying, from which spilled a number of harmonicas. As in mouth organs. Or blues harps. So harps, the symbol of Irish poetry, fall out on the streets of London. Nuff said.

blues_harp harmonica mouth organ

yeats walk with niall mcdevitt

Where the harps fell

WB's bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

WB’s bachelor pad, Wolburn Buildings

Gotta love the Irish

The second best Irish thing I’ve read this week (the first was Ulysses which I finished on Sunday for the second time)

Irish Stew in the Name of the Law

I’ve just come across something I wrote for a website called Lost Generation which I commissioned here at Channel 4 in 2005 in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum/National Inventory of War Memorials. I’d just read Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way and felt inspired to dig a bit deeper into that neglected and murky area of WWI history. I’m bunging it here for my archives (i.e. so I don’t lose it again).

Lost Generation masthead

Design for one of revolving mastheads from Lost Generation (2005)

Irish Stew in the Name of the Law

20.ix.05

Ninety years on and the chickens are coming home to roost. Except they weren’t chickens. They were shell-shocked. They were mentally ill. They were country lads completely out of their depth. At the end of 2004 a report commissioned by the Irish government was handed over to its British counterpart.  In it was revealed damning evidence of the anti-Irish racism and fundamental injustice of British ‘field general courts martial’ during the First World War. These were military courts in the proximity of the front line speedily dispensing exemplary ‘justice’ including death sentences.

The report contains a close examination of the cases of 26 Irish soldiers executed by firing squad. It asserts that, based on the evidence in the surviving files (the team had access to all but one), all the cases could have been successfully appealed had a normal set of legal standards been applied, including the need for sufficient proof and the proper consideration of medical evidence. The courts martial files were kept secret for 75 years by the British authorities, only being released in 1990.

If you were Irish, whether Protestant or Catholic, Ulsterman or Dubliner, whether fighting out of loyalty to the Union or for the promise of Home Rule, you were five times more likely to be shot by firing squad. In the rest of the British army one in every 3,000 troops was sentenced to execution in this way. Among the Irish soldiers the figure is one in less than 600.

Making an Example

The report makes a revealing comparison between the Irish and the New Zealand regiments, which were known for their harsh discipline. The recruitment figures for both countries were similar and yet there were ten times as many death sentences in the Irish regiments.

The indications of the 26 cases of execution – 23 for desertion, one for disobedience, one for quitting his post and one for striking an officer –  are that death sentences were imposed as a form of exemplary discipline. The report describes the behaviour towards the Irish involved in these cases as “capricious”, “inconsistent” and “shocking”. It also condemns subsequent attempts by the British Ministry of Defence to justify this military justice in the field as “fundamentally flawed”.

In eleven of the cases the death sentence was clearly linked to bad discipline in the units and a perceived need to set an example. The report concludes:  “Soldiers were effectively condemned to be shot because of both the behaviour of others and the opinion of others as to their fighting potential. …  Executing a soldier simply to deter their colleagues from contemplating a similar crime, or because their attitude in the face of the gravest of dangers was not what was expected – in some cases after only a matter of weeks of basic training – must be seen as unjust, and not deserving of the ultimate penalty.”

Not the whole truth

Of the 26 cases, the legal papers showed that presiding officers failed to consider medical evidence in almost half of them. Four cases involved significant extenuating circumstances. The report says: “In a number of cases there is clear evidence of ignoring medical conditions and personal circumstances that may have accounted for the actions of the accused and could have been interpreted as mitigating factors.”

Private Joseph Carey from Dublin served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers (who fought at the Somme) until his execution in September 1916. He was charged with desertion after going missing for a day. Clemency was recommended on the grounds of defective intelligence. It was drawn to the attention of the court that he had mental health issues in the wake of his father’s and brother’s suicides. The report singles this out as “a particularly shocking case” as Private Carey had been on the receiving end of an extremely heavy bombardment which added shellshock to his burden of mental illness. The clemency recommendation was ignored and he was shot evidently as a disciplinary example.

Private George Hanna served in the same regiment as Carey but hailed from Belfast. He was executed in November 1917. At his court martial for desertion it came to light he had not been home on leave for three years. During that time he had lost three brothers in the war. He was trying to get back to Belfast after having received news of his sister’s illness. The report concludes grimly that there was nothing to indicate that the military authorities “thought twice about taking a fourth son from the family”.

The report also highlighted a distinct class bias which it sees as “incompatible with an impartial system of justice”.

The Fighting Irish

The upshot of the report is a call for full pardons for the men to “grant them the dignity in death they were denied in life”. There is no demand for compensation payment attached to this call.

“We continue to press the British government to restore the good names of these men,” said Dermot Ahern, the Irish Foreign Minister. “Nothing less will do the Irish government and their families.” He summed up the report as “very tragic reading” and confirmed “no-one could not be moved by the simple stories of brave, often poorly educated young men who were shot after perfunctory courts martial. The Irish government believes this was wrong. These Irish people died needlessly.”

There is now a campaign for the pardons co-ordinated by Peter Mulvany – the Shot at Dawn Campaign. It was launched in 2002 in Dublin and has support from various TDs (Teachta Dála – members of the Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann), MPs and politicians across the spectrum from Rev. Ian Paisley to John Hume, as well as church leaders both Catholic and Protestant. You can find out more about the campaign here <link to Shot at Dawn Campaign http://www.irishseamensrelativesassociation.org/SADIRL.htm  >

The tragic experiences of Irish soldiers in the British army during the First World War have been brought to the attention of the British public recently by the short-listing of Sebastian Barry’s moving novel ‘A Long Long Way’ for the 2005 Man Booker Prize. It tells the story of a Dubliner who volunteers but finds himself, as the war goes on, in an increasingly incomprehensible position, ultimately belonging nowhere. At one point, just weeks before the Somme, he finds himself in his British uniform firing on his fellow Dubliners as the Easter Rising erupts and the Republic of Ireland is born.

Design for World of Mud from Lost Generation (2005)

Get Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way  <link>

Further Reading

Ireland’s Unknown Soldiers – Terence Denman (Irish Academic Press, 1992)

A Lonely Grave – Terence Denman (Irish Academic Press, 1995)

Irish Men or English Soldiers – Thomas Dooley (Liverpool University Press, 1995)

Irish Voices from the Great War – Miles Dungan (Irish Academic Press, 1995)

They Shall Grow Not Old – Miles Dungan (Four Courts Press, 1997)

Far from the Short Grass – James Durney (publisher James Durney, 1999)

Ireland and the Great War – ed. Adrian Gregory & Senia Paseta (Manchester University Press, 2002)

Dividing Ireland – Thomas Hennessey (Routledge, 1998)

Ireland and the Great War – Keith Jeffrey (Cambridge, 2000)

Orange, Green and Khaki – Tom Johnstone(Gill & Macmillan, 1992)

4 stories from Songlines

Shane MacGowan

Songs move from generation to generation like lighting fagbutt with fagbutt

Songlines is a project I’ve been doing for some years recording the answer to the question “What song or piece of music means the most to you and why?” from all kinds of people. I feel a new burst of recordings coming on so now’s a good time to gather a few of the already published ones…

MC Hammer – Hammertime (the recording only)

The Blues (the recording)

Dayenu (trad.) (the recording)

The Pogues – Rain Street (the recording)

Songlines #3 – She Moved Through the Fair

What song means the most to you and why?

Una chose She Moved Through The Fair
HEAR HER EXPLANATION HERE: She Moved MP3

My young love said to me my mother won’t mind,
And my daughters won’t slight you for your lack of kine,
He went away from me and this he did say,
‘It will not be long love til our wedding day.’

He went away from me and he moved through the fair,
And slowly I watched him move here and move there,
He went his way homeward with one star awake,
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

The people were saying no two were e’er wed
But one has a sorrow that never was said,
And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.

I dreamed last night that my young love came in,
He came in so sweetly, his feet made no din;
He came close beside me, and this he did say,
‘It will not be long love, till our wedding day.’

100 Greatest Songs

curtis mayfieldmarvin gayefrank sinatra

Ever wondered what the 100 greatest songs of all time are? Well trouble yourself no longer – here they are…

(only one song per artist/band; songs with words, not instrumental)

Hells Bells – AC/DC
The Stars We Are – Marc Almond
Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna
Ventura Highway – America
The House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Across the Universe – The Beatles
Harrow Road – Big Audio Dynamite
Hyperballad – Bjork
The Last Month of the Year – Blind Boys of Alabama
In the Sun – Blondie
Everything I Own – Ken Boothe
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed – David Bowie
ESP – Buzzcocks
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
White Man in Hammersmith Palais – The Clash
Do you really want to hurt me? – Culture Club
Ninety Nine and a Half – Dorothy Love Coates
Alison – Elvis Costello
Just Like Heaven – The Cure
Eloise – The Damned
Knowledge of Beauty – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Soolimon – Neil Diamond (from Hot August Night)
The End – The Doors
Fruit Tree – Nick Drake
Ballad of a Thin Man – Bob Dylan
That’s Alright Mama – Elvis
This is the house that Jack built – Aretha Franklin
Sometimes – Michael Franti & Spearhead
Inner City Blues – Marvin Gaye
My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
Hatikvah
Sonny – Bobby Hebb
The Wind Cries Mary – Jimi Hendrix
Winter in America – Gil Scott Heron
A Town Like Malice – The Jam
Jerusalem – hymn
Tainted Love – Gloria Jones
Atmosphere – Joy Division
Danny Boy – Brian Kennedy
Batonga – Angelique Kidjo
Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
In My Time of Dying – Led Zeppelin
Oh Yoko – John Lennon
Freebird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Jealousy – Geraldine MacGowan [County Clare’s finest]
Fairytale of New York – Shane MacGowan & Kirsty MacColl
The Snake with Eyes of Garnet – Shane MacGowan & the Popes
The Prince – Madness
Like a Prayer – Madonna
Shot by Both Sides – Magazine
My Little Empire – Manic Street Preachers
Natty Dread – Bob Marley & the Wailers
Don’t Want to Know – John Martyn
Wandrin’ Star – Lee Marvin
Move On Up – Curtis Mayfield
Amazing – George Michael
Monkees theme – The Monkees
Moondance – Van Morrison
Police & Thieves – Junior Murvin
Jerusalem the Golden – Effi Netzer singers
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Raglan Road – Sinead O’Connor
West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys
Julia Dream – Pink Floyd
Public Image Limited – PIL
Fanciness – Shabba Ranks & Lady G
Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding
Cold Water – Damien Rice
Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
Chase the Devil – Max Romeo & the Upsetters
Street Life – Roxy Music
In a Rut – The Ruts
Anarchy in the UK – The Sex Pistols
If I Was a Bell – Jean Simmons (in Guys & Dolls movie)
One for my baby – Frank Sinatra
Icon – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Because the Night – Patti Smith
Ghost Town – The Specials
For What it’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen (MTV Plugged session 1992)
Down on Mississippi – Mavis Staples
Father & Son – Cat Stevens
Runaway Boy – The Stray Cats
You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council
Forbidden Colours – David Sylvian & Ruichi Sakamoto (from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence)
No Scrubs – TLC
Listening Wind – Talking Heads
Fire & Rain – James Taylor
Treason – Teardrop Explodes
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – The Temptations
The Boys are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy
One – U2
Ivory Madonna – UB40
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
My Generation – The Who
Armagideon Time – Willie Williams
That Girl – Stevie Wonder
Old Man – Neil Young
Freedom Suite – The Young Disciples

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