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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'.

Fírinne an scéil

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Time to digest and reflect.  Two years ago, when I started writing about the 1960s, I was not interested in bringing readers on a nostalgia-rich visit to the golden age of my youth. Yes, it was great to be alive back then and my memories of the sights, sounds and smells of that time were a resource I would have been foolish to ignore.  Memory can be fickle though. Some moments stand out in my mind, but others are lost forever. My very first memory is of gazing at the smoke from my father’s cigarette as it swirled around the ceiling of our living room. Another is from a few years later when I stood beside my mother in Parkgate Street and watched in wonder as the limousine bearing US president John F. Kennedy passed by only yards away. Given the historical significance of Kennedy’s visit to Ireland, and his tragic death a few months later, it is no surprise that I should recall that day in June 1963. But why has the apparently trivial sight of those tobacco fumes stayed with me? And what

Aduantas

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I don’t think I ever saw a doctor when I was a child. Maybe it was the cost, or perhaps we regarded doctors and the medical establishment with suspicion and fear. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was a familiar saying. It never motivated us to eat healthily. But that maxim was a reminder to keep doctors at a distance. Occasional childhood illnesses were usually treated with some hideous-tasting medication purchased from a local pharmacy (and maybe a few days off school). One of my fondest memories is having the mumps and being in bed for several weeks while my cheeks deflated. I spent the time reading Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby from cover to cover. Bliss. Although childhood vaccinations were pretty common when I was a boy, even they did not bring me fully into the medical orbit. In fact I can’t remember ever being jabbed when I was a youngster. For instance I did not have any of the tell-tale pimples on my upper arm which were a side effect of the BCG shot. This was a popular va

An spaisteoir

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This is pure nostalgia. A look back at the Dublin of my childhood. I have written, here for instance, of my frequent trips into the city centre during the 1960s. It is probably unthinkable now for a child of 11 or 12 to be allowed travel alone by public transport into our capital city, let alone gad about in shops and cinemas for the afternoon. Although I took it for granted at the time the freedom this afforded was exhilirating. I've been here and I've been there. I've sought the rainbow's end, But no crock of gold I've found. Now I know that, come what will, Whatever fate may send, Here my roots are deep in friendly ground. Happy Christmas. Back in 2022.

Ceacht na toirtíse

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My childhood experiences as a pet owner were not particularly happy ones. I have previously related the story of my goldfish and his sad demise. I was apparently given a second chance by my parents because, at age 11 or 12, I was once again the owner of an animal, this time a tortoise. I remember very little about that tortoise. Was it male or female? What was he or she called? I have no idea. So I guess I’d better just refer to it as the “tortoise”, and use the male pronoun throughout. It must have been early spring when I found my tortoise in our back garden. I had not seen him for a long time. When he turned up again I guessed that he had been hibernating for the winter. Now that the sun was warming up our north Atlantic island again, it made sense that he had emerged from his long sleep.  I recall lifting up my pet to have a closer look at him after his lengthy absence. However he must have been alarmed by my action because he defecated on my hand as I picked him up. I was so alar

Cuimhní níos fearr

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During the Jubilee commemorations of the Rising more than a half-century ago we learnt a lot about the role of Patrick Pearse in leading that rebellion. On Easter Monday 1916 he marched his troops into the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, thus launching a military struggle against British rule that, six years later, resulted in the establishment of the Irish Free State.  What we did not hear much about, at least in my school, was Pearse’s prior role as a teacher and his interesting views on the education of children. Perhaps there was a good reason for that omission. Until I was 18 I attended Primary and Secondary schools run by a Roman Catholic religious order known as the Christian Brothers. The Christian Brothers were celibate males who wore a habit of black soutane and stiff white collar - just like Catholic priests. It was not only their outward appearance that made priests and brothers look alike in my young eyes. Together they formed a religious caste that dominated Iris

Urbi et Orbit

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I never knew or met Kevin O’Kelly but his was a familiar voice on Irish radio when I was growing up in the 1960s.   This short biographical piece was published in Scan Magazine in December 2015. * * * To his colleagues in RTE, Kevin O’Kelly was known affectionately as ‘Urbi et Orbit’. This was a pun on the Latin title of the Pope’s blessing ‘to the city and to the world’. It neatly encapsulated the two major events with which the newsman was associated during the 1960s. The first was his radio coverage of the ground-breaking Second Vatican Council. The other was his television commentary on the Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969. However, it is for an entirely different broadcast that Kevin O’Kelly is best remembered today. On November 19th 1972 he secured an interview with the head of the Provisional IRA, Seán Mac Stíofáin. At the time Mac Stíofáin was masterminding a relentless campaign of bombings and shootings against British forces in Northern Ireland. As he left O’Kelly’s home

Bobbie

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To most people he was Bobbie or Robbie. To me he was my father, a rather distant figure - and not just because of the 40-year age gap between us. When that gap spanned perhaps the most turbulent period in modern Irish (and world) history, it became an almost unbridgeable chasm between his generation and mine. Almost. Bobbie was born in the last year of peace before World War I broke out, and was really a child of the 19th century. When my father entered the world, Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. The seat of government was in London not Dublin, and the Easter Rising was almost three years away. By the time I appeared on the scene in the 1950s, it must have seemed like a different place to what Bobbie had known as a boy. My father was a well-known figure around the area where we lived. Not being a driver, he always walked to work in Thomas Street, a journey that took about 20 minutes each way. This brought him past a variety of shops, such as Lockhart’s butchers. There he m