Archive for February, 2011

At-Swim-Two-Birds at the Project Arts Centre

28 February 2011

Contributed by Eoghan Smith

2011 is the centenary year of Brian O’Nolan’s birth. Better known as Flann O’Brien, his work represents the last great rebellion of Irish modernism before the naturalist mysticism of Patrick Kavanagh, John McGahern and Seamus Heaney suppressed the comic element in Irish writing. Along with The Third Policeman (1967), At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) is the last outpost on the border between the radical ambition of the Irish modernism, and the introverted helplessness of much of post-war Irish literature. After reading O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, James Joyce famously said, ‘that’s a real writer, with the true comic spirit’.

Jocelyn Clarke’s adaption of At Swim-Two-Birds for Blue Raincoat Theatre Company is a brilliantly conceived rendition of the true lower-middle class comic voice of O’Brien’s labyrinthine meta-novel. Recounting the tale of a writer who is writing a novel, who then loses control of his characters, At Swim is a riotous affair in which the conventions of storytelling are pressurized until they almost explode. Read more

Thinking about legitimacy

25 February 2011

By Christina Morin

With the 2nd Pue’s Occurrences symposium only a week away, I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme we’ve chosen to focus on: ‘Web Legitimacy’. This was an issue that popped up again and again at our first symposium last year and one that we, like many of last year’s participants, felt important enough to concentrate on this year. We’ll be focusing on issues of legitimacy particular to blogging – whether academic or not – but much of what we’ll be discussing also pertains to other web-based publications and, indeed, Digital Humanities as a whole. Several participants in last year’s symposium voiced the concern that online publishing – specifically that without a corresponding print publication – simply isn’t weighted as heavily as more traditional print formats. I know myself that in constructing my CV, there’s a certain hierarchy of publications to be followed in order suitably to impress the reader. Online publications always go last, irrespective of my perception of their ‘worth’ or ‘value’.

This hierarchical attitude towards online publications in the academic community has been reified in recent years by various large scale research assessment programs, chief among them, the RAE and now, the REF. While attempting scientifically to categorize and quantify the research outputs of both individuals and the schools/departments/universities to which they contribute, such exercises suggest that digital outputs – be they in the form of a blog, contributions to a web-based academic journal or encyclopedia, or myriad other such outputs – are a negligible, at the very least, less worthy, asset of academic life in comparison to traditional, printed monographs, journal articles, and editions. Ironically, however, in sciences and maths, the monograph – the seeming end all and be all for academics in the humanities – is relegated to a lowly position, while digital outputs receive a far higher ranking, a situation that highlights the inconsistencies inherent to the weighting of outputs across the disciplines.  Read more

‘Applause please’: Innovations in Irish electioneering

23 February 2011

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

Polling day is now almost upon us.  By this stage the leaflets of various parties will have come through our letter boxes, while the lucky (?) few will have been canvassed directly by the candidates themselves.  The usual gimmickry is evident: the election has produced a proliferation of campaign songs; Maman Poulet has collected some of them on her blog.  And although this has not been an internet election, twitter, Facebook and other on-line media have had a noticeable presence.  Ireland, it would seem, is embracing the post-modern or digital age of campaigning.  But the combination of traditional gimmicks with new techniques and technologies to reach a wider audience is nothing new.

In the late 1920s and early thirties, Cumann na nGaedheal took an innovative approach to electioneering.  The Dublin North by-election of March 1929 was an arid political battle that attracted little attention; the parties simply went through the motions.  One event, however, that did inject some life into the campaign occurred on polling day.  A private aeroplane flown by Colonel Fitzmaurice – one of the three-man crew that piloted the first flight from Europe to North American on board the Bremen aeroplane the previous year – flew over the constituency, dropping the leaflets of the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate, Dr Thomas O’Higgins.  Read More

The Story of the King James Bible

21 February 2011

By Christina Morin

While in Cambridge a couple of weeks ago, I took the opportunity to visit the exhibition I mentioned in this month’s recommendations: ‘Great and Manifold Blessings: The Making of the King James Bible’. Just before going, I happened upon Diarmaid MacCulloch’s review piece, ‘How good is it?’ in the London Review of Books (3 February 2011). In it, MacCulloch states, ‘The story of the KJB and its influence has often been told, and we will hear it repeated to distraction in this quartercentenary year. If one wonders whether it’s worth telling again, well, like the KJB itself, it sells, and good luck to publishers who turn an honest penny by it’. If ever you’ve booked yourself into a hotel and had a rummage through the bedside table drawers, you’ve probably found yourself a KJB. I have a copy or two of the KJB myself, as I imagine lots of Irish households do, and though its language can be excessively formal, flowery, and archaic, especially in an atmosphere in which there is an ever-increasing number of translations that target twenty-first century readers with twenty-first century language (here I’m thinking specifically of The Message), the KJB remains a bestseller today, four hundred years after it was first produced.

Part of the KJB’s continued attraction is the transformation it effected in seventeenth-century English social, religious, and cultural life as well as the ongoing effect it arguably still has on many facets of twenty-first century life. In an article published in The Guardian last November, Robert McCrum calls the KJB ‘a number one bestseller of unprecedented literary significance’ that has fundamentally ‘shaped our imaginative landscape’. With stronger language still, McCrum claims, ‘As well as selling an estimated 1bn copies since 1611, the KJB went straight into our literary bloodstream like a lifesaving drug’. He further notes that many well-used words – ‘scapegoat’ and ‘long-suffering’, for instance – as well as favourite idiomatic sayings – ‘fighting the good fight’, for example, or ‘see the writing on the wall’ – come directly from the KJB. Read more

Counting the Costs

18 February 2011

By Christina Morin

It was with a great sense of eagerness and anticipation that I headed off for Cambridge last Monday for a full week of uninterrupted research. My reading list in hand, I arrived at Cambridge University Library bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, nothing daunted by the airline’s loss of my luggage or the taxi-driver’s surly insistence that the long way around was the only way to go at that hour, or even the resulting exorbitant taxi fare. I’ll admit my enthusiasm was slightly dampened by the consternation with which my request for a certain printed catalogue was met. And, my fervour received a further, harsher blow when I was sent away with the words, “leave it to me”. Luckily, said catalogue had been located by the next morning, and I settled to work with a sigh of relief.

Halfway though the first triple-decker Gothic novel I’d requested, all contentment and delight had vanished in the face of rising panic. If it was taking me this long to read one novel, how was I ever going to read all of the titles on my list? What had seemed like an ambitious but viable goal in the rosy glow of enthusiastic academic zeal now appeared horribly naïve in the cold glare projected by the microfiche reader. By Wednesday, I was resigned to my fate: a future research trip, or several, to complete my reading. How exactly to afford those projected research trips, however, began to prey on my mind. Accordingly, when I got back to Ireland, I began to search for possible funding opportunities with which to make these trips. Read more

Honest to Blog: Programme

17 February 2011


The Pue’s Occurrences blogging symposium takes place Friday 4 March in Trinity College Dublin. Our participants include: Myles Dungan from Myle’s Dungan’s history site, Conor Brady from the Rosnaree Archeological Project Blog, Orla Murphy from Orla Murphy’s Blog, Niamh Cullen from The Little Review, Ciaran Swan speaking on behalf of the Irish Left Archive , Jonathan Wright from Trinity College Dublin, and our own Juliana Adelman from Pue’s Occurrences. Topics to be discussed include blogging as a teaching tool, blogging to teach, web legitimacy and blogging in Ireland. There will be attendance from across the Irish blogging community and a roundtable session at the end for an inclusive discussion from all attendees. You can register on our site here and lunch will be provided. The programme is now available and can be found here.

‘When the press is gagged, the reader must read between the lines’

16 February 2011

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

In a time of political crisis, when real power eludes us or there is huge uncertainty about what we want or how to solve our problems, words may be the best weapon we have. It is journalism and editorial comment that so often articulate the mood, and the concerns of a society, and through words – whether printed or increasingly online – that we manage to reflect meaningfully on what is going on, and even to sketch out, discuss and debate ideas and possible solutions. The value of good editorial commentary – whether in national newspapers or blogs; Fintan O’Toole or Ireland after Nama – has become increasingly clear during Ireland’s recent years of political crisis. The more immediate Egyptian crisis is another, urgent indication of the importance of courageous, independent voices, even if their medium is more likely to be Twitter than newspapers.

The outspoken antifascist Piero Gobetti attempted to play this role in Italy during the early years of Mussolini’s rule, trying desperately to raise the Italian people’s political consciousness, before his premature death on February 16 1926, eighty-five years ago today.

Born in 1901, this ‘boy wonder’ of Turin began his career as journalist and editor at the precocious age of 17, and at a time when Italy was in a state of chaos. Read More

Who was St Valentine?

14 February 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The Saint Valentine most of the world celebrates (the government has banned the sale of Valentine’s cards in Saudi Arabia) on 14 February, is actually not one saint, but possibly three. We know so little about this third century saint that in 1969 Pope Paul VI revoked the day as a religious holiday stating “though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient… a part from his name nothing is known of Saint Valentine”. Too many details about Saint Valentine have been lost to build up a credible account of the saint’s life. Indeed, it is not until ten centuries after his life that we have the first written evidence of his link with love and romance.

We know that there were two or three Valentines who can be linked with the date of 14 February. Read more

Freedom in Fremantle

11 February 2011

Contributed by Joanne McEntee

In 1829 a new settlement was devised by the British in Western Australia. Under the governorship of Captain James Stirling, the Swan River Colony was established as a ‘free’ colony – unlike the penal settlements of New South Wales, Norfolk Island, and Port Arthur. Two main sites of settlement developed within the colony: the state’s capital Perth and the port city of Fremantle. Due to adverse climatic conditions and inhospitable lands the population of the area remained low. In order to rectify this and to assist with the development of the region a petition was sent to the British Government requesting that convicts be sent in order to provide much needed cheap labour. The first ship carrying convicts arrived at Fremantle on 1 June 1850. Over an eighteen year period over 9,700 convicts were transported to Western Australia. The last ship – the Hougoumont – arrived 9 January 1868 carrying 280 convicts. In 1991 after 136 years of incarceration and punishment Fremantle Prison was officially closed. A year later the prison began its development as one of the State’s major historic heritage sites. In July 2010 Australian Convict Sites were included in a list of seven cultural sites newly inscribed on the World Heritage List.

For tourists, Fremantle Prison offers a wide ranging and varying experience. Read More

The challenges of contemporary history

8 February 2011

By Kevin O’Sullivan

I’ve been thinking a lot (again) recently about how we do what we do. First, the squeeze on public sector spending and comments made in The Irish Times by Glen Dimplex chairman Martin Naughton– ‘it’s crazy for the Government to borrow money and then give it away on overseas aid’ (3 December 2010) – put me in mind of the travails of the Irish aid industry in the 1980s and the lessons they offer to today’s policy-makers. Then, as I sat distilling my thoughts – we’ve been here before, don’t you know – an invite came from the Irish Historical Society to take part in a roundtable discussion on the challenges of writing contemporary history. More time for reflection, further opportunity to think and talk out the future of our profession – what procrastinating historian wouldn’t jump at the chance?

Of course, holding opinions is one thing; articulating them is another. Read More