Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

What makes a good exhibition great? Monet at the Grand Palais

5 October 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

It’s something I’m sure most of us have in common. In our lives we’ve spent millions of slow footsteps dodging the digital camera-wielding bus tourists and the unenthusiastic schoolchildren led around by stressed-looking teachers and harassed tour guides. We remember some of them. Others fade quickly into a mist of ‘did I see that?’ But only sometimes do we stop to think more deeply about what captures our attention and what turns a collection of paintings and artefacts into a memorable exhibition.

Should we be guided along in a thematic or chronological sequence? Do we prefer to be left alone? Lots or little text? How much background do we need? And what about interactive touch screens? Audio guides? Introductory films?

It is, of course, predominantly a matter of personal taste. When I go to a museum, I’m searching for an elusive property: the space to engage with the subject matter physically, but also just the right amount of information to make up my own mind about the subject matter in front of me. Whether that makes me typical or not, I have no idea, but I know that sometimes a curator can get it so right that it leaves everyone – consciously or not – with the sense that they’ve been allowed to see something special.

The Claude Monet retrospective which opened at Paris’s Grand Palais on 22 September does just that. Read More

Top five: historical fiction

24 September 2010

Contributed by Patrick Walsh

That’s wrong! Oh God she was not like that! That dress is so anachronistic! Grr they wouldn’t have had that then! Oh my God it was so more complex than that! How many times have we as historians made these or similar exclamations while watching “historical” films or reading “historical” fiction? It probably runs into the hundreds each; historians are after all prematurely cranky old men and women. However, we are usually rather harsh critics; for every Alexander there is a Lives of Others, for every The Tudors there is a Wolf Hall. The latter novel; by Hilary Mantel, which I am currently immersed in, is every bit as good as its legions of fans claim, both an excellent read and also a reasonably accurate portrayal of a very complex period in English history. It has given me a new appreciation and insight into Henry VIII’s England, and the most famous divorce in history. It has also got me thinking about historical fiction, both the good and the bad, just as there is some very good…there is some very bad! What follows is very much a personal selection, including some of the books that have stuck with me, and indeed have introduced me to histories and cultures I would never have found otherwise. Read More

Review: From Parnell to Paisley

15 September 2010

Contributed by Brian Hanley

When John Bruton was Taoiseach he famously placed a portrait of John Redmond in his office reinforcing the notion that Fine Gael were the modern heirs of the Irish Parliamentary Party tradition. Bruton’s gushing tribute to the visiting Prince Charles in 1995 further seemed to confirm the view that ‘Redmondism’ was essentially pro-British. Whatever about Bruton’s personal royalist tendencies, there are many for whom the ‘constitutional’ Home Rule tradition represents a moderate, peaceful road to self-government-particularly when contrasted with Irish nationalism after 1916. The reality, as several of the best essays in this collection illiustrate, was rather different. The book contains eleven studies, of subjects as diverse as the funding of Charles Stewart Parnell’s movement (and more research on the funding of Irish political movements would be very welcome) to Fianna Fáil’s handling of the IRA in the 1940s and the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland during the 1960s. While some of the authors have already produced distingushed work, most, encouragingly, are new scholars. Read more

The 1916 Rebellion Walking Tour

1 September 2010

By Juliana Adelman

In case you don’t already know, I am not Irish.  I am not even Irish-American; my only Irish relations are my in-laws.  As such, I was probably one of the few people on the 1916 walking tour who learned most of my Irish history from academic books instead of in school or at home.  Before the tour, I hadn’t quite realised how much my academic bias had tended to drain events and people of their colour.  For me, 1916 is one of many rebellions which, due to a variety of circumstances, snowballed into something that rebellions in say, 1798, 1803, or 1848 were unable to achieve.  For Lorcan Collins, my tour guide, 1916 is the birth of free Ireland.  Its leaders are heroes; its ideals lofty.  It is the culmination of historical Irish aspirations.  Over the two hour tour, I enjoyed Lorcan’s enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, all things 1916.  I got to revisit 1916 and bask in the glow of another nation’s pride in its difficult birth.

Lorcan has a lot of energy and a lot of information to impart in his allotted two hours.  Read more

Review: Black Taxi Tour, Belfast

20 August 2010

By Christina Morin

After having lived in Belfast for a couple of months, I reckoned I’d lost my newcomer tourist rights and would therefore have to wait for visitors to take a Black Taxi Tour. Accordingly, when guests from the US arrived a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to show them around Belfast via one of these much-celebrated taxi tours.

Available from a seemingly endless array of companies, black taxi tours are essentially exactly what it says on the tin – a tour of the city from the (dis)comfort of a (not always) black taxi.  The history of these tours apparently stems from twinned tourist interest in but anxiety about wandering around on foot in certain areas of Belfast – the Falls Rd., the Shankill, the ever-changing display of murals around these areas, peace lines, etc. Although I imagine the tourist industry would be quick to deny any current threat to tourists taking in the sights on a walk through the city, a black taxi tour is, as advertised by the companies themselves, a pretty much guaranteed way of getting a safe and comfortable tour from a very knowledgeable guide with an incredible familiarity with the streets of Belfast and their sights. Read more

Review: The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey

19 August 2010

Contributed by John Gibney

The Plough and the Stars is back on at the Abbey. And why not?

It is hard not to mention it without thinking of the controversy that greeted it in 1926. But does that mean it is actually any good? It is the longest and most expansive of Sean O’Casey’s three Dublin plays, in dramatic and thematic terms, and crucially, it is the most verbose. But the Abbey pulls it off. This is a very impressive production of a notoriously acerbic play. For those who did their Leaving Cert at the wrong time, it is set in a tenement, a pub, and a tenement again, before, during and after the Easter Rising. And that is about it. The Plough does not have a plot so much as points to make. What gives its stature as a classic is that O’Casey made those points through characters rather than caricatures. What makes this production stand out is that the actors do justice to those characters. The first half is an excellent and hugely entertaining display of ensemble acting (either that or I should get out more), with Joe Hanley’s Fluther Good stealing the show by a country mile. Abbey actors are unlikely to live in tenements, so some of the accents do wobble. But in a world where depictions of Dublin’s working class and unemployed all too often turn into patronising caricatures, we can let the national theatre off the hook here. Read more

So why is it ‘The English Market’?

17 August 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

I visited Cork recently and it certainly lives up to its reputation for food and culture. While sampling the fares (i had to be rolled back to Dublin) I began to wonder why the Cork food market located off the main street is called ‘The English Market’? I asked many locals, staff working in the hotel where I stayed, some of the restaurants I visited and even some of those working in the stalls at the market to no avail. No one was able to tell me so when I returned home I did a little research. There has been a food market on the site since 1788 which means the English market predates Barcelona’s market ‘Boqueria’ by 80 years, surely making it one of the oldest covered food markets in Ireland if not Europe. London can claim an older out-door market than Cork in Borough Market. There has been a food market on that site continuously for 250 years although as their site points out there was a Roman Food Market around the area too. Paris can do one better for covered markets, however, and Marche des Enfants-Rouge dates to 1688.

But to get back to my point, where does the name come from? Read more

Review of the Cork City Gaol

10 August 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

You would want to be living under a rock to have missed that Cork has made it into The Lonely Planet’s ‘Top 10 Place’s to visit’. At Pue’s we were wondering what historical attractions the city has on offer. I was in Cork for the August bank holiday weekend so I made my way to the Cork City Gaol and was impressed at what the Gaol had to offer in terms of local and national history.

The Gaol opened in 1824 and is unusual looking for a gaol for both it’s red colour (the red sandstone used in the building was quarried from the hills surrounding the building) and its Castle like features.  It was initially a Gaol for men and in 1878 it became the women’s prison. During the tour there is even a description of this change being introduced into the prison when one female prisoner recounts the sight of the men filling out under armed guard up the city quays on one side, while women were marched up the other side into their new homes.

The tour itself falls into two parts: Read more

The National Leprechaun Museum

4 August 2010

Contributed by Eamon Darcy

On 12 July 1963, Seán Lemass, then Taoiseach, appeared on the cover of Time magazine alongside one of the most enduring images of Ireland (well, at least in American imaginations): a shifty-looking leprechaun, no doubt hiding something. Cynics amongst you would argue that the person over Lemass’s shoulder was just another member of Fianna Fáil protecting the whereabouts of their ill-gotten pot of gold and ‘lucky charms’. On closer inspection, the Leprechaun bears a striking resemblance to our favourite resident of St Luke’s. Indeed, his pot of gold has eluded the Mahon tribunal for a few years now. One could be tempted to urge Justice Mahon to grab him
and tickle him for a confession. Alas, this would inevitably fail; our guide at the National Leprechaun Museum warned us how crafty Leprechauns are, they may tell us where their gold is, but only through riddles and directions that can never be trusted.

A copy of this cover from Time hangs proudly in the foyer of the National Leprechaun Museum alongside other Leprechaun related artifacts – a mock Leprechaun uniform, a cartoon of Walt Disney in Ireland and, of course, the film poster advertising ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’. Our guide informed us that this museum was a ‘monument to our storytelling past’ and suggested that we too would hear a tale or two, ‘some true, some not so true’ but all a very important part of our heritage. 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