Archive for July, 2010

A hidden Irish contribution to WWII? Artist seeks former parachute factory workers

29 July 2010

Contributed by Carolyn Shadid Lewis

I have a small flare parachute dated 1944.  It first appears to be a delicate object made of silk fabric with flowing tendrils.  Yet, if it had lived out its purpose, it would have lit up the sky of a WWII battlefield.  My friend gave me the flare a few years ago after discovering my fascination with military parachutes, paratroopers, and WWII.  He explained to me that his Irish grandmother, Lucille McNulty, made the flare while she worked as a seamstress in a military parachute factory during WWII.  As we talked, I realized that the experience of Irish women workers like Lucille was an extremely compelling subject matter, one rich in poetic imagery, history, Irish culture, and female identity.

I have since lost touch with my friend, and although I cannot find any information on his grandmother, I have not forgotten her.  I have decided to explore her experience through the shared stories of others in a new documentary project.  I am an American artist, and I will be the artist-in-residence at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Co. Cork for August and September.  While at Cobh, I hope to travel throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland recording interviews with women who worked as seamstresses in military parachute factories during WWII.

My proposed task has proven to be difficult, and I cannot seem to find women who have this experience. I am contributing to Pue’s Occurrences in the hopes that the history community here might be able to provide some insight. Read more

The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl

28 July 2010

Contributed by Léan Ní Chléirigh

It was with some trepidation that I arrived in the Duke Pub last Friday at 7.15 for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Acting like a tourist in your own city is a dangerous business. As a Dub I get frequently irked by the twin pillars of Dublin Stereotype; Ross O’Caroll-Kelly and Dicey Riley. I feared the latter might be the principal focus of this tour. The tour begins in the Duke pub (and ends in Davy Byrnes on the same street) and there is a room set aside for the group to warm up between 7 and 7.30. The first item on the agenda is a brief introduction to the tour by your guides and the caveat that they are culture enthusiasts not experts so could we leave any really heavy questioning until the end. (I imagine this is the result of previous experience) We were also informed that there would be a quiz at the end of the tour in which one lucky punter could win the world famous Dublin Literary Tour T-Shirt.

The first hit of culture comes with a rendition of a few of the 27 verses of ‘Waxie’s Dargle’ a drinking song. Hmmm. I’ll keep an open mind for now. The performances are interspersed with banter, an extremely difficult thing to keep spontaneous night after night and, to be fair to the guides, while it may have seemed slightly forced to my ear, the bursts of laughter from the ‘real’ tourists showed that it was perfectly pitched. Then came a scene from ‘Waiting for Godot’ and the strength of the tour became immediately apparent. Read more

I was dreaming of the past… History songs

27 July 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Sometimes when the collective editorial brains on Pue’s get to storming, there’s no end to the great ideas that get churned out. So when Juliana suggested we do a list of historical songs or concept albums (we didn’t get very far on the latter), well…

The rules are simple: the song must have been conceived and written about a particular event or personality in history, so no folk songs (e.g. Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Partisan’, a raft of Dubliners or Planxty songs, Woodie Guthrie’s Oklahoma ballads) and no songs written about contemporary events (Bob Dylan’s ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’, Christy Moore’s ‘Joxer Goes to Stuttgart’, or a big chunk of Bruce Springsteen’s back catalogue).

Here are a few to start things off. Additions, comments or corrections welcome in the usual manner (i.e. the comments box).

1. The Band, The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down (1969)

If you can excuse the occasional historical inaccuracy and the fact that it was written by a Canadian (though sung by an American: the brilliant Levon Helm), this is probably the greatest evocation of the American Civil War in popular music. Who else could sing the line ‘There goes Robert E. Lee’ and make it sound so cool?

2. The Decemberists, Shankill Butchers (2006)

This is a strange one. Based on a mother’s warning to her children to settle down at night – ‘The Shankill butchers want to catch you awake’ – the images it evokes of men ‘picking at their fingers with their knives / And wiping off their cleavers on their thighs’ are truly chilling. But it’s the lullaby melody that’s the real killer. Read More

Some good ways to waste time

26 July 2010

By Juliana Adelman

[Image from Hyperbole and a Half ]

I am spending a lot of time writing at the moment.  What this really means, as most of you will know, is that I am staring at my computer trying to think of just about anything I could do except for write.  Pay bills? check.  Email old friends and relatives? check.  Examine long range weather forecasts? check.  Eventually I get inspired by either an idea or the sight of the hour hand creeping ever downwards and I start writing.  Is writer’s block real or is it just procrastination?  I feel as though I have tried everything: keeping journals everywhere to write down ideas, scheduling regular writing time, setting imaginary deadlines, setting real deadlines, pinning up aspirational word counts, writing from outlines, freewriting…The list goes on.  It never gets any easier.  In my efforts to avoid writing I have learned the following things you may find interesting, just in case you need some other ways to avoid doing whatever you are supposed to be doing.

1. The Library of Congress plans to archive all of Twitter. See the online magazine, Slate‘s article on the subject.  This seems like a good idea, and a potentially fruitful source.  This born-digital material will also be stored, as far as I understand, in digital form.  The LoC  is even providing tips to individuals on how to preserve their own digital materials.

2. ‘ALOT is better than you at everything.’ Hyperbole and a Half may be the funniest thing I have ever read.  I am serious.  My personal favourite is the author’s rant about bad grammar.  Maybe I have a strange sense of humour, but I actually laughed so hard at some of the posts that I cried.  This is a very good way to waste time. Read more

A toast, to the librarians and archivists

22 July 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s not all glamorous, you know. For the joys of the unexpected, earth-shattering, history-changing discoveries that lead to shrieks of ‘celebrity’ joy on Who Do You Think You Are: Azerbaijan, read piles of carbon-copied confidential reports and illegible hand-written memoranda. Professional historians are like figures from the nineteenth century American West: days spent panning fool’s gold rewarded by another small nugget to add to our hidden haul. Actually, there’s a metaphor that could go far: claims and counter-claims; years spent staking out territory; scraggly beards; wolves at the door; men and women, old beyond their years, growing ever more cantankerous and wisened in the wilderness.

So, since we’re in the midst of the summer archive rush, this post is a tribute to those who make our experience of Ireland’s archives and libraries all the more enjoyable. This month sees the retirement of Sally Corcoran, the remarkable custodian of UCD’s Development Studies Library, guardian of its unparalleled treasure trove of materials on aid in Ireland and beyond. And tomorrow, 23 July, marks the end of an era for those of us who spend days/weeks/months of every summer lost in the National Archives of Ireland. After years of putting up with the joys of cranky historians and wide-eyed ancestor-hunting tourists, Senan and Pat, the first friendly point of contact beyond the automatic doors at Bishop Street, take their leave of that august institution. No more Monday morning post-mortems on Louth’s latest defeat (yes, we’re still smarting over that), the weather, or the merits of the GAA’s qualifier system. No more ‘have you got your card’, ‘fill in the blue form’, ‘pencils only’, ‘leave your bags in the locker’, or ‘take the lift to the fifth floor and turn right to get your reader’s ticket’ (how many of them actually do?) Our lives will be all the poorer for it.

Horrible History? Ciaran Wallace is pleasantly surprised by the North Side Ghost Tour

21 July 2010

Contributed by Ciaran Wallace

As a tour guide in the capital I have noticed an increasing number of locals  popping up on my tour- not really that surprising considering that most of us are taking fewer holidays abroad. This got me thinking about discovering our own locality. Pue’s has sent 6 people out onto the streets of Dublin to review new walking tours, like the Ghost Tour below, old classics, like the Literary Pub Tour, and even unusual museums, such as the leprechaun museum. Over the next 6 weeks we will bring you those reviews and hopefully some ideas for historical things to do this summer.- Lisa Marie Griffith

Ciaran Wallace’s review:I admit – I had my fears. Heading out on Hidden Dublin Walks’ “North Side Ghost Tour” it was only natural that I should be a little anxious. I might encounter dodgy history and cringe-worthy performances in underwhelming locations. As it turned out I was pleasantly surprised.  We met at 8pm at the corner opposite The Church bar and restaurant (formerly St. Mary’s Church of Ireland on Mary Street). Our guide, John, held a discreet sign and a large umbrella displaying the Hidden Dublin Walks logo. A decent umbrella was essential; the tiny folding ones were almost useless as the rain flogged down on some of our fellow travellers huddled in shorts and sandals. It was a tribute to the tour content and John’s delivery that everyone kept walking through a most unseasonal evening. Read more

Black and white and read all over?

20 July 2010

By Juliana Adelman

You may recall the controversy a couple of years ago when the French academic, Pierre Bayard, published a book in which he claimed to deliver lectures on books he had never read.  How to talk about books you’ve never read purported to advise the ‘chattering classes’ on how to maintain literary pretensions.  If you read the fine print, Bayard says that he writes through a fictional character: he never actually admitted to being what he called a ‘nonreader’.  Nonetheless, he struck a nerve and the book became a bestseller in French and English.  A number of related articles and surveys have appeared, which seem to demonstrate that lots of people routinely lie about what they have and have not read.  A piece in the Guardian, for example, looked at an English survey that found 42% of respondents had falsely claimed to have read George Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four.  Why ignorance of this particular book is so embarassing to English people, I cannot quite grasp.

Anyway, we in Pue’s were discussing a similar subject of late and wondering what books in Irish history were read a lot less frequently than they were either purchased or discussed.  Some of us have had the experience of reading an oft-discussed text only to discover it did not appear to say much of what others seemed to remember that it did.   Leading us to of course conclude that many people had not read the text in question, merely repeated what they had heard or had read in other books.  See, we academics didn’t need to read Bayard’s book.  We’re already experts in talking about things we haven’t read.  What is it that makes a book a classic, though?  Is it the actual content, or is it the popularity of the few sentence summary that everyone remembers? Read more

A glimpse into the eighteenth century book trade: How to encourage book buying

19 July 2010

I came across a re-print of this wonderful 1745  pamphlet when I was undertaking my Masters research on the Dublin printer George Grierson (1680?-1753). Grierson was the King’s printer and as the only printer allowed to print bibles between 1732 and 1753 the catalogue of books that he printed is quiet dry.  This means that the following collaboration with Jonathan Swift’s printer George Faulkner (1703-1775), who was a colleague and friend of Grierson, is both surprising and out of character. While Faulkner was known as a satirist in his own right (although some have suggested he simply mimicked Swift), the fact that both men signed their names to this, shows they were of a similar disposition and there was a little more to Grierson then meets the eye and that you can’t always judge a printer by his books. If you love books you will enjoy this.

The pamphlet was written during a supposed slump in the book trade to encourage Dubliners to start buying books. As the citizens of Dublin are aware books are of so little use, containing only knowledge and learning, that the authors are suggesting some alternative uses which Dubliners could put their books to. Some of their ideas are quite novel and may send a shiver up the spines of book lovers but bear in mind that it is a satire! Read more

Top five: Things to do in Dublin this Summer

16 July 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

So like many others, I am confined to Dublin for the summers and I will not be embarking on a summer vacation abroad, although I will get to Cork for the July bank holiday weekend. I have been compiling a list of things to do in the capital for my summer (things to drag my poor boyfriend to really) and thought I would share my top 5 with you.

1. Slattery’s Sago Saga: I am a huge Flann O’Brien fan so I am really looking forward to the performance of Slattery’s Saga Saga. Described as ‘One part carnival, one part surreal satire’ this play is being performed at Rathfarnham Castle. Adapted by Arthur Riordan for the stage, it is based on Flann O’Brien’s final and unfinished novel.

2. Death of a Salesman at Gate. I saw Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Gate last year and it was very enjoyable so I am looking forward to this.

3. Irish High Cross exhibition at the National Museums of Ireland, Collins Barracks. This exhibition opened 1st of July and explores the tradition, significance and art work of the Irish high cross and explains the importance of these crosses to early christian communities.

4. Films on the Square. I am a big film fan and try to make it along to at least one film in Meeting House Square every summer.

5. Revisit the Caravaggio at the National Gallery. On loan to the National Gallery from the Jesuit Community of Dublin, ‘The Taking of Christ’ was part of an exhibition in Rome this year and has just been returned to the NGI.

Tell us about your summer! Pue’s Occurrences would like you to submit reviews of plays, productions, exhibitions, museums, events and cultural activities you have encountered in Ireland or even internationally over the summer. You can email us at

Historians as expert witnesses

15 July 2010

Contributed by Patrick Walsh

Academics are often accused of living in ivory towers. We are supposed to have little to offer the ‘real world’, wherever that mythical place is. Instead we are encouraged to stay in our own imaginative kingdom, where we can coexist with others similarly entranced with the arcane, abstruse and antique. Occasionally, however, we as historians are tempted to engage with real life. For some this involves writing for that rarely catered for, and often patronised, ‘general reader’; for others it means writing and presenting often excellent documentaries on sound and screen; and for some it means engaging in campaigns to preserve our history and heritage. It is this last form of engagement I want to focus on today.

Recently we have seen the mobilisation of some many of our historians in the important Archives in Crisis campaign, while others have led their voices to the Save Tara campaign amongst a whole host of other worthy causes. Read more