Na seascaidí scóipiúla

"Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive But to be young was very heaven." These famous words by William Wordsworth capture his youthful enthusiasm for the French Revolution. They also sum up the attitude of many who lived through a more recent rebellion against the old order. I refer to the cultural revolution that took place during the 1960s. In later life the zeal that Wordsworth felt for the heady days of his youth waned considerably. As the years go by my own thoughts about the 1960s have also changed. Yes, a lot of great things happened during that time, especially in music. But was it all positive? Historian Arthur Marwick has argued that the sixties cultural revolution altered permanently the "material conditions, lifestyles, family relationships, and personal freedoms for the vast majority of ordinary people".[1] In other words, we are now living in a post-revolutionary world in which the past, i.e. before 1960, really is a 'foreign country'.


I must have been 11 or 12 when I first came across Brian Cleeve. During the 1960s he was a familiar face on Telefís Éireann, Ireland's national television station. His programme, Discovery , came on just after tea.  Every week Brian would explore some facet of Irish life, such as Dublin Airport, fish-farming, or a major waterway like the River Shannon. Occasionally he would delve into more serious issues, like the plight of Ireland’s Travellers (or Itinerants as they were known then). But mostly Discovery was uncontroversial television broadcast between the early evening news and the latest hit show from America. Brian’s work on Discovery was recognised in December 1964 when he received a Jacob’s Television Award for his scripts and narration. In 1966, two years after Discovery was launched, Brian was dropped from the programme. The news hit the papers, but like many  causes célèbres , the story vanished after a few days. Years later I looked into the affair that caused so much tro

Peadar Mercier

In a series of posts  last year I wrote about the pushback against international pop music led by Seán Ó Riada. If the wizard from Cork masterminded the counter-revolution, one of his ablest lieutenants was Peadar Mercier. This tribute to Mercier was published in Scan Magazine in October 2014. * * * Irish traditional music found a global audience when Riverdance exploded onto the stage of Dublin’s Point Theatre during the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The Riverdance phenomenon marked one of the highpoints of a modern renaissance of Irish music that began only three decades earlier. And if one man could be said to have started that renaissance, it was Seán Ó Riada.  During the 1960s he gathered around him a small band of musicians, known as Ceoltóirí Chualann, with whom he hoped to recreate the authentic sound of an ancient Gaelic culture. Among the band’s members were Paddy Moloney, Éamon de Buitléar, Seán Ó Sé and bodhrán-player, Peadar Mercier. Peadar Mercier first b

Christine Buckley

I never met Christine Buckley. In fact I never heard of the woman until she spoke out about the ill treatment she experienced growing up in Goldenbridge Orphanage during the 1950s and 60s. In doing so she raised an unsavoury reality that most people would prefer not to consider. Throughout human history the strong have preyed upon the weak. It has happened in all societies at all times. Ireland was and is no exception. This article first appeared in Scan Magazine in June 2015 under the byline "Gabriel Conroy" * * *  In the late summer of 1971, an American professor named Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment at Stanford University. He set up a mock prison in which volunteer students took on the roles of guards and prisoners. Very quickly the ‘guards’ became abusive: humiliating and tormenting the ‘prisoners’ in various ways in a bid to assert their authority. Some ‘prisoners’ accepted this treatment while others rebelled. Although the experiment should have continued for t

Albert Reynolds

In 1997 I had the pleasure of meeting Albert Reynolds. I will always remember his down-to-earth nature and generous spirit. This article examines the origins of the can-do approach that brought him to the top of Irish politics. It was first published by  Scan Magazine  in January 2016 under the pseudonym "Gabriel Conroy". * * * ‘It’s impossible to explain to people today the kind of hysteria generated by the showbands.’ These are the words of Father Brian D’Arcy as quoted in Send 'em Home Sweatin' , Vincent Power’s excellent account of this peculiarly Irish phenomenon. As young people throughout the world were driven wild by Presley-mania and then Beatlemania, Irish youth were no less excited by the home-grown equivalents. Every week thousands of eager fans travelled for miles to hear showbands like the Clipper Carlton, the Royal and the Miami.  In the early days the dancehalls were awful, sometimes without even basic amenities like electricity. Spotting a golden oppo


Regular readers of Na Seascaidí will know that these posts are about my memories of life in the 1960s. I supplement my recollections of people and places with research that fills out and contextualises these snapshots of life back then. Examples are my articles on John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Savile . My personal connections to these men were tenuous to say the least. I saw both of them from a considerable distance while they were receiving great acclaim in a public space. But those memories were vivid enough to push me into a deeper exploration of the culture that spawned such influential celebrities. But what about the more intimate and personal side of my character? Is it possible to bring back into focus an accurate or authentic picture of the kind of person I was more than half-a-century ago? Is my young self retrievable at all? Maybe it’s true that, as a famous novelist once wrote, “The past is a different country: they do things differently there”.[1] Was I a different person the


My first pet was a goldfish named Jimmy. I can’t remember who christened him. It may have been me. As a boy I was a Jimmy and it was probably the first name that came to mind when I was given the fish. It must have been at the beginning of the “long 1960s” . I was very young, maybe four, so my memories of that time are few and far between. I do remember something specific about Jimmy the goldfish though. That was the day I was told my pet had died. I don’t think that Jimmy and I were particularly close. So I was not especially saddened by the news. Being a fish Jimmy lived in a glass bowl full of water. So I probably peered in at him from time to time. Maybe I sprinkled some fish food into his bowl. But I doubt if there was ever any tactile bonding between us. (For his sake, I hope not.) In fact the reason I remember Jimmy at all is because of the news of his death. Perhaps in an attempt to soften the blow, my father told me that the goldfish had died as a patient in the nearby general

Is cuimhin le Lennon

In an earlier post I described the first time I heard the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”. Wow! It made me realise that the B-side of a single could be better than the A-side. In those days, singles were released on a 7-inch vinyl disc. There was a song on each side but the A-side was the one the radio DJs played. In late-November 1967 the Beatles released “Hello, Goodbye”, a catchy pop song sung by Paul McCartney that gave the Beatles their fourth Christmas number 1. However the B-side was much more interesting I thought. Because the lyrics of “I Am the Walrus” included the word “knickers”, some radio stations refused to play the B-side at all. That’s probably why I heard it for the first time in a dance hall. The lyrics were nonsensical but George Martin’s musical arrangement, particularly the chanting chorus, created a sense of mounting tension that I found mesmerising. John Lennon took the lead vocal on “I Am the Walrus” and from then on I began to associate him with the more complex a