Sunday, February 27, 2011

Suze Rotolo has died

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo (1943- 2011), who has just died was best known as Suze Rotolo the woman walking with Bob Dylan on the cover of his album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. She was his Dylan's girlfriend between 1961 and 1964. In 2008 she published a memoir, A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, describing her time with Dylan and other figures in the folk music scene in Greenwich Village, New York.

Rotolo became an artist specialising in artists' books and taught at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

A number of Dylan's songs are regarded as having been written for or to Suze. Boots of Spanish Leather supposedly was written after she left New York to study in Italy. This song has been included in the Popular Ballads of the 20th Century section of the Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th edition.

The last time Bob played this song live was at the Echo Arena, Liverpool on May 1, 2009. I was there, that was the night he played George Harrison's Something to mark his first visit to the city since George's death.

I got a letter on a lonesome day
It was from her ship a-sailin’

Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again

It depends on how I’m a-feelin’

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sligo Elections 1918, 2011.

My talk at the Sligo Field Club went reasonably well last evening. A good crowd, knowledgeable, interested, very good questions afterwards - some of which I didn't know the answer to. The Field Club treat their invited speakers very well!

When you have a script with which you are reasonably familiar the temptation is to wander a bit from it. This can get you into trouble with your Powerpoint display which depends on following the script. Anyway I managed to get from 1914 to 1918 without too many detours.

Interesting on the drive down to pass through the various constituencies as marked by the posters. Sligo itself full of posters, lots of candidates especially on the left with various splits on the labour side. Interesting to mention that the 1918 election was the last parliamentary election without PR in the country and to speculate on the fact that Sinn Féin would not have won the landslide they did if the system had been PR.

Someone remarked on RTE today that but for PR Fianna Fáil would end up with hardly any seats after this election.

I met a couple of people who had interesting stories and indeed what sounds like very interesting pictures from the period. Great for the new book.

On the way back today I listened to Ocean FM for the first part with detailed coverage of the Sligo-North Leitrim tally, then to RTE and nearer home to LMFM for the West and East Meath counts. History being made!

Before leaving Sligo I found the sad neglected grave of the the last MP for South Sligo, John O'Dowd, defeated in 1918, and indeed physically assaulted during the campaign. He's buried in the graveyard just outside his native Bunninadden. How fickle the voting public can be.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gone to Sligo

A busy day. Voted early in Trim. Go on tell us!

Set the television to record the Cricket World Cup game, Ireland's first, against Bangladesh. Cricket is a great game to record. By using fast forward you can watch every bit of the action in a fraction of the time.

Then on the road to Sligo. One call to someone who might have something useful for the new history book then on to Sligo town. City!.

Hope to see the new Jack B Yeats exhibition in the Model Art. I remember seeing the Yeats centenary exhibition in the National Gallery in 1971. I bet he still has the catalogue.

Then something to eat and on the Sligo Education Centre for the Sligo Field Club lecture. Talk.

The Sligo Weekender called me an "eminent historian". Oh dear! No stopping him now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sligo 1914-1918

I was delighted to be asked to give a talk to the Sligo Field Club. The club was founded in 1945 and is much more than a local history society. Their interests include archaeology, history including industrial, architectural and engineering history, folklore, botany, ornithology and geology.

I suggested the title: From Irish Parliamentary Party to Sinn Féin; County Sligo 1914-1918 and it will be delivered on this Friday, 25 February, at 8pm in the Sligo Education Centre, Institute of Technology Campus, Sligo.

I'm looking forward to the event but there's a little anxiety also. Speaking to Sligo people, many of whom have an interest and knowledge in the period, is a challenge. I hope to learn something myself, clarity on some of the grey areas, more photographs, who knows.

That change in the politics of the country from 1914 to 1918 is very interesting and it is a nice coincidence that what promises to be an historic election is taking place on the same day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

General Election Posters

I'm not one of those who thinks that election posters deface our towns and countryside. I welcome this brief outburst of colour and smiles especially this year when it has happened so early after such a hard winter - something to do with global warming maybe. A hundred lamp posts in Trim have bloomed. Well maybe not a hundred. Is it just me or are there fewer posters than usual?

Bright idea for a summer festival - have a poster competition and put the short listed ones on lamp posts around the town and let the public vote for their favourites. Could even be short poems on the posters. Must keep that idea to myself in case someone steals it. What? Upstart?

Anyway there must be a list of dos and don't for poster-putter-uppers. Surely the Fianna Fáil party has told theirs not to put up posters of their new leader near closed down or unopened business premises. You can make up your own jokes and puns on the fact that Emerald Jewellers here in Haggard St, Trim has closed. (Emerald Isle etc) I should in fairness point out that the shop on the extreme left is actually open and trading.

Note: The inclusion of an image or remark in relation to the forthcoming election in Ireland (Republic of) in this blog is not intended either as an indication of the way the present writer intends to vote nor is it in any way designed to influence readers in the exercise of their franchise.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The World of Women

The Sligo Times 1913 had a regular feature The World of Women which occupied almost a half a page. Full of what you might expect, of its time. I presume it was a syndicated column, bought in from the UK. I haven't read it in any detail but I see no particular Irish slant. Conducted by Violette Deschamps, whoever she was. Nothing on the internet as far as I can find.

The paper did cover the suffragette campaign in Sligo in 1913. There was a Sligo Branch of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Federation and they held open air meetings at Rosses Point during the summer months on Wednesday afternoons - half day in Sligo I suppose. These were often well attended and the speakers included English suffragette Miss Kineton Parkes and Dora Mellone from (what is now) Northern Ireland. Miss Alice Abadam, a UK suffragette, spoke at a meeting in Sligo Town Hall in 1913

The organiser of the Sligo branch appears to have been Olga Crichton from Carrowgarry, Beltra west of Sligo town. She was married to local landowner Alexander Crichton. He was very involved in the music scene in sligo at the time. An internet search reveals that her maiden name was Olga Bestujeff Bieneman, born circa 1864. She was the daughter of Johannes Bieneman of Brighton. She married in 1884 and died in 1948.

The suffrage campaign in Sligo and indeed in much of the UK ceased with the outbreak of war in 1914. Two of Olga's sons took part in the war, her eldest, 29 year old Alexander Godfrey Crichton, died at the Dardenelles in August 1915.

My father's people were from the Beltra area and I have a feeling that he and/or some of his brothers worked for the Crichtons at some stage. If so they must have met Olga.

All this is fascinating and a great example of how you get sidetracked when researching newspapers. At best the Sligo suffragettes will get a paragraph in my Irish Revolution book. Now when that's finished - well there's the book on silent movies in Sligo 1909-1929 and then . . . . . .

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Short Story Masterclass

The Irish Writers Centre is offering twelve lucky short story writers a free Masterclass and a chance to use a writing space in the Irish Writers' Centre for the month of March.

John MacKenna will lead a discussion on the short-story - from garnering ideas to plotting the story; from the development of character to the setting of landscape. The session will focus on the discipline necessary to create and complete a piece of short fiction - how to forget the extreme ironing and concentrate on the writing. Through questions and answers and the sharing of experiences, the seminar will be a practical help in starting and finishing work. The masterclass will take place on Friday 4th March from 2-5pm.

John MacKenna is the author of fourteen books - including four collections of short stories.

To apply simply e-mail the opening paragraph of a short story on any theme (max 150 words) to along with a brief cover letter. The subject of the e-mail should be 'The Long and the Short of It'. No attachments please - all text should be in the body of the e-mail. The deadline is Monday February 28th at 12pm.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Boyne Readings : Small Impact Group

A great Boyne Reading and Open mic last evening, one of the biggest attendances for some time. Our featured readers were the Small Impact Writers Group from Navan led by Edel Gillick. The six members who read treated us to a wonderful selection mostly from their recent publication Hidden Depths.

We had a romantic story set in central Europe with a Faustian connection, a story about King Puck in Kerry, a robin poem, a story about an Australian visit and the wonderful Niall's Story which describes a father and special son playing football. Edel Gillick read from her children's book The Boy Who Fell down the Well.

Pictured above: The small Impact Group, from left: James Byrne, Sean Reilly, Edel Gillick, Michael Sheils, Anne Ritter, Pat McConnon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Long Listed

I've cut down on poetry competition entries this year but here's a bit of good(ish) news from one I entered earlier. This is the Cinnamon Press Poetry Collection Award. The money prize is small but the winner does get a volume of poetry published. Not me, but I did get on the long list. I see Kate Dempsey's name there also - well done!

I had to check my competitions spreadsheet to see what I had entered - ten random poems I thought might impress, not any kind of sequence. The results and lists are not on the website yet as far as I can see.

We are finally delighted to announce that the winner of the £100 prize and contract for the publication of her first collection is Louise Warren, whose collection, A Child’s Last Picture Book of the Zoo, will be published in July 2012. All short-listed poets together with those in the narrowed down long-list will have work in the winners’ anthology. This will be a combined anthology also featuring the winners of the short story competition: A Roof of Red Tiles & other stories & poems will be published in April 2011 and all entrants will receive a copy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boyne Readings and Open Mic - February

A writers’ group based in Navan will be the featured readers at the February Boyne Readings and Open Mic in Trim tomorrow (Thursday) evening.

“This is the first time we have invited a group,” said Paddy Smith, chairman of the Boyne Writers Group, which organises the monthly readings on the third Thursday of each month. The readings take place in the Village Hall of the Knightsbridge Retirement Home, Longwood Road, Trim, starting at 8pm.

“We don’t expect the Small Impact Writers’ Group to live up to their name,” said Paddy. “Not because they’re from Navan but because they have been making a big impact, from what we hear. "This is their first visit to Trim as a group and we expect very big things from them,” he said.

The Navan group recently published its first collection of short stories and poems, entitled ‘Hidden Depths’. At the Trim event, members of the group will take it in turn to read their own material and other members’ work, both from this publication and from their other writings.

In the open mic session after the featured readings, visiting writers and members of the host Boyne Writers Group will read their own work – poetry, prose and plays – for the entertainment of those present.

Visitors are particularly welcome, whether they wish to read or not. The €5 admission includes tea/coffee and biscuits.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No Bouquets For This

I was saddened first and then annoyed to see the notice above in a local branch of a continental chain store advertising its Valentine's Day bunches of roses.

What exactly is the message? Something like - Men are tight-fisted cheapskates who wouldn't buy a girl a bunch of roses unless there were cheap. An example of sex stereotyping, gender insulting, belittling nasty advertisement which should attract as much condemnation as sneering at female football officials or calling Mexicans typically lazy rightly did recently.

Part of Section 2.17 of the the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland Code states: "Marketing communications should respect the principle of the equality of men and women. They should avoid sex stereotyping and any exploitation or demeaning of men and women."

Complaints can easily and quickly be made on the ASAI website.

I bought my roses in the local florists.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Poems

OK if you're still looking for a love poem for the day that's in it you may find something to suit your situation on this page from Notice the Irishmen there in Traditional & Classic Love Poems? Yes Yeats is there with When you are old but so is Meath-born John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890) with The White Rose.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From the Manger to the Cross

Back to Sligo 1913. From the Manger to the Cross was a very early feature film, was made in 1912, released in the UK in October 1912 and shown in Sligo the following Lent 1913. More info here.

There were two dedicated cinemas in the town and films were also shown in the Town Hall and in the Gillooley Hall where this was shown. These silent films weren't silent of course, there was a band or orchestra playing along. In this case note that sacred music was being played.

The Sligo Times reported great interest in the film with the Catholic Bishop of Elphin attending and saying he was very impressed. It also stressed that people of all faiths attended.

How much was the entry charge in modern terms? Well the local newspaper cost 1 penny and the cheapest seats were six times that, most expensive twenty four times that. Multiply the cost of your local paper by those figures. The UK National Archives have a money converter here. According to that those expensive two shilling seats are the equivalent of five pounds sterling 71 cents.

Friday, February 11, 2011


We have no snowdrops in our garden. I keep meaning to plant them but forget. Remind me next October please. That means that the crocus is usually our first spring flower and sure enough in the past week they have appeared here and there. They come up in places I had forgotten about including in this corner of the enclosed rose and willow garden. Well it will be a rose and willow garden if the roses I pruned a bit too severely last year recover.

I tidied this up last year, it was one of the two project which had to be done in the garden. Yes that is a bicycle built into the rose bush trellis - it once belonged to my mother, then we had it and rather than dump it when it became too old I put it in there. A talking point.

Crocus poems are few. The Crocus, a poem by Harriet Beecher Stowe here.
Emily Dickinson was very fond of gardening especially of corms and bulbs. Here is a stanza of hers from this page:

The feet of people walking home
With gayer sandals go -

The crocus - till she rises -

The vassal of the snow -

The lips at Hallelujah

Long years of practise bore -
Till bye and bye, these Bargemen

Walked - singing - on the shore.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Sligo Times

It's quite an experience, to read a full years supply of a newspaper in one day. The Sligo Times for 1913 is an interesting paper, too interesting in some ways. I continually had to stop myself reading the bits which had no relevance to what I was looking for. I was particularly taken with the amount of entertainment available in Sligo at the time, concerts, drama, variety, opera, orchestral societies, card games etc. There were three cinemas at the time in the town - this was still the age of silent movies. This deserves a study sometime. Not now.

The Sligo Times was a short lived "Conservative" newspaper edited by Robert Smyllie, a Scotsman who moved to Sligo. He was the father of the Robert Smyllie who was a famous editor of the Irish times later. Conservative meant Unionist, anti-Home Rule but he was also trying to make a financial success of the paper so the Unionism is muted. He does report on Unionists meetings in Sligo and has some editorials criticism of the Home Rule movement and the Liberal/Irish Party coalition.

The paper is a bright breezy affair with a farmers section, a women's column, a chess feature and lots of local, national and international news. Plenty of sensationalism as well, gruesome murder and accident stories taken from English papers. In spite of this the paper was not a financial success and collapsed in February 1914. Smyllie left Sligo for Belfast and worked on a Belfast newspaper.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm Voting for W. B. Yeats

I'm voting for Yeats - Best poster by far.

So what did he say about the recession. Well maybe this-
Part V in the sequence Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen from The Tower.
I like the last stanza especially, all would-be stand-up comedians take note, we traffic in mockery indeed.

Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late

To leave some monument behind,

Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;

With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,

They never saw how seasons run,

And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good

That fancied goodness might be gay,

And sick of solitude

Might proclaim a holiday:

Wind shrieked - and where are they?

Mock mockers after that

That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great

To bar that foul storm out, for we

Traffic in mockery.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Irish Revolution 1912-1923: Sligo

No going back now. Some details of my book are on the Four Courts Press website here, publication date winter of 2012. 15.75 euro paperback and 40.50 euro hardback. Still far from finished but I hope to make the deadline of November 2011.

My volume on Sligo, along with Tyrone by Fergal McClusky, will the first of The Irish Revolution, 1912-23 Series (Mary Ann Lyons & Daithí Ó Corráin, series editors).

I'm on the 1920-21 period at the moment. Very difficult because of all that has been written on this period recently and the amount of information available but it will be done. Then back to the 1912-1915 period. I do have a plan but it's not a chronological one. I actually started with the end, the civil war section since that's what I know most about. Today researching The Sligo Times 1913 in the National Library.

No cover design either on the website but then I'm supposed to come up with some photographs for the books, photographs that haven't been used yet preferably. I presume they'll use something from these for the cover. I do have a few photographs but not enough yet. Anyone got relevant photographs from Co Sligo for the period 1912-1923 preferably unpublished?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Boyne Writers Group AGM

Extracts from the Chairman, Paddy Smith’s Address to the AGM of Boyne Writers, 3rd February, 2011.

We have a nice little group here and I’m proud to be chairman of it.

Among other things, I’m fascinated by the dynamics of our group – comprising people who by definition are very individualistic and wouldn’t be expected to be ‘group’ people.

I’m struck by the respectful manner in which we criticise each other’s works. Not easy to walk that thin line. I think we all abide by the practice, as someone said in relation to criticism: never use a knife to cut when you can use a spoon.
Arab proverb: Insults should be written in the sand, and praises carved in stone. And if I ever get a word of praise in this group, I look forward to carving it in stone!
Some more apt quotations:
Norman Vincent Peale: The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
Noel Coward: I love criticism just so long as it's unqualified praise.

Looking back at the year, the most remarkable development in this group has been the emergence and growth of so many writers of prose. At any given meeting, the prose writers match the poets in numbers if they don’t outnumber them. This in itself is worth remarking on. Within this category we have also seen the emergence and development of writers of memoir. And I think it’s fair to say that the work of these people has grown in quality as well as quantity over the year.

Having said all that, the poets continue to be the thoroughbreds of the group. And this is borne out by the rosettes of various colours that they have won during the year. Congratulations to all.

I think we’re learning from each other, in better writing of course, but not least in the method of criticism, and it’s great to see the performance of the different members in their criticisms of other people’s works. On the other hand, we would like to continue to stamp out the practice of members apologising for their work in advance, before they’ve even read it. Out with that sort of thing! Out! Out! Out! On the other hand, it’s always interesting to hear a member’s own thoughts on his or her work – after it has been read and after it has been criticised by others. A member’s own thoughts often bring an entirely new dimension to the piece of work.

Hopefully in this coming year we can win back the Battle of the Books trophy from our arch friends, the Meath Writers Circle.

In conclusion, to all members, I wish the writing equivalent of ‘tight lines’ in fishing – which I presume is ‘loose, free-flowing lines’ or something. And, in particular, to our poets, I say: keep it up, this could be the year.

Picture above: The new officers of the group, Barbara, Michael, Orla and Paddy.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Boyne Writers Group Annual Report

After a number of postponements because of the weather we finally had our 2010 AGM last evening. This a short version of the annual report.

Boyne Writers Group has had another very successful year with increased membership and increased attendance at fortnightly meetings.

Two issues of our magazine Boyne Berries, 7 and 8, have been published during 2010. Boyne Berries 7 was launched in March 2010 by Meath county Librarian Ciaran Mangan and Boyne Berries 8 was launched in September by Noel French of the Meath Heritage Centre. Issues 9 and 10 will be published in 2011. We hope to make issue 10 a special issue and would welcome suggestions as to content or format.

The group started the Boyne Readings and Open Mic in 2009 and this has proved a success. Readers in 2010 were: February: Susan Connolly. March: Ross Hattaway and Oran Ryan. April: Kate Dempsey. May: Willie Hodgins. October: Emer Davis. November: Grainne Toher. December: Kieran Furey. We are very grateful to Knightsbridge Village for allowing us use The Village Hall.

Once again we played a significant role in the Trim Swift Festival. We again organised the Satire Competition. The prizes totalling 1000 euro were given by the Trim Swift Festival Committee. This year’s judge was John Murray of RTE.

We also took part in the second Battle of the Books satire competition which was part of the Swift Festival. Our team of Barbara Flood, Caroline Finn, James Linnane and Michael Farry was narrowly defeated by the Meath Writers Circle team. Congratulations to the victors and thanks to all our members who took part and those who supported the team. We thank the Trim Swift Festival committee for their generous contribution towards the Group’s ongoing work.

We organised a poetry reading in the Church of Ireland cathedral, Trim for All Ireland Poetry Day 2010.

Members of our group were invited to read at Readings and Open Mics in Dublin and Drogheda. Four members read at a session organised by the Viaduct Bards in Drogheda and two members read at a Last Wednesday event in Westmoreland St organised by Seven Towers.

Three Boyne Writers Group members read poetry to residents of Knightsbridge Retirement Village each Wednesday and this has proven a great success. In 2010 the group was invited to organise events in Knightsbridge for the annual Bealtaine Festival which celebrates creativity in older age. The group was also invited to be part of the Positive Ageing Week and they organised an event in Knightsbridge which involved them reading some of their work designed to spark memories and discussion. Two members also read poetry every second Friday in St Joseph’s Nursing Home, Trim.

Congratulations to all of our members who enjoyed success in having their work published in newspapers and magazines, were commended or were prize winners in competitions.

A special thanks goes to the Castle Arch Hotel, Trim who accommodate us in the lounge every second Thursday night and host our launches. Thanks especially to our members who make each meeting a special occasion and who continue not only to write but to have the courage to read it to the rest of us and put up with the ensuing criticism. Well done!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Spring - No it's not

It's official, it's Spring.
No it's not. Where's the sunshine and daffodills?
But yesterday was February 1st, start of Spring.
There's no official "start" of spring.
There must be, like December or January.
No, spring isn't a month. It's a season.
Yes I know that. So when does it start?
It doen't just "start" on a particular day. It's a process. you know when people say - spring was late this year. It's to do with growth and warmth of the earth and so on.
So what date does Spring start on?
So yesterday was just a random day, no significance.
Not exactly, it was the feast of St Brigid one of the patron saints of Ireland.
Ah yes she the one who was once a pagan goddess and then turned into a Christian.
I don't think it was actually like that.
But there was a Celtic godess called Brid or something like that?
Probably not, just a made up invention of medieval myth makers.
And this Celtic Spring festival of Imbolx or something like that - I saw it on the internet.
The same invented rubbish probably, made up a thousand years afterwards.
Well at least yesterday was the first of February, you can't dispute that.
Well there is the matter of the eleven days lost in 1752.
Ah yes but that was a change enacted by a government.
An alien colonial government. An undemocratically elected government. Hardly any men and only a handful of women could vote at the time. Hardly a legitimate procedure.
So yesterday should have been . . . . the twelfth of February!! Why don't you give up that history writing and go back to poetry! All these facts and figure are having a bad effect on you. More fancy free composition is what you need!
Indeed. Your opinion is noted.
And by the way spring is normally not written with a capital letter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Bureau of Military History

The Bureau of Military History was established in January 1947 'to assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25th November 1913, to the 11th July 1921.' It contains 1773 witness statements, 334 sets of contemporary documents, 42 photographs and 12 voice recordings.

The Bureau of Military History collection was closed to the public until recently and when I was writing history we were continually complaining about this. It is now open to the public and I've seen the statements from Sligo participants. They are somewhat disappointing, in general short, carefully composed, lacking detail. Most finish with the Truce so no Civil War details are included.

On the other hand it's great that someone decided to collect these statements and they provide a very good basis for writing a history of the period. These statements are available in the Military Archives, copies are in the National Archives. The index is available online and pdfs of particular statements will be emailed by the Military Archives on request.

Even more useful are the interviews the famous Republican activist and writer Ernie O'Malley carried out with survivors in the early 50s. These are preserved in the UCD Archives. The main problem with them is O'Malley's handwriting, very difficult to decipher.