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Showing posts from March, 2020

Ag dul chuig pictiúrlann, 1/2

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Most Saturday afternoons, from the age of eleven, I used to take the bus into Dublin city centre. O’Connell Street was my bailiwick – a magical, enchanting place at that time. A southsider like me entered via O’Connell Bridge, as wide as the street itself, and that was pretty wide. The first feature to catch the eye was Nelson’s Pillar, positioned right in the centre of the boulevard, and by far its tallest structure. Other famous landmarks nearby were the Gresham Hotel, the General Post Office, and Clery’s department store. This last was the focus of O’Connell Street’s status as the capital’s premier shopping district. If Clery’s was Dublin’s queen of retail, it was surrounded by the lesser nobility, a wide variety of food emporiums, cafés, jewellers, and high end haberdasheries. Entertainment was plentiful also. Revellers could dance their cares away virtually any night of the week in the Metropole or Clery’s ballrooms. But it was the cinemas that drew me to the city centre. From

Imirce oíche a dhéanamh

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In the early hours of Monday July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the surface of the Moon. How do I know this? Because I saw him do it on live television. Just imagine. Live TV beamed into our home in Dublin from a quarter-of-a-million miles away. In 1969! Beggars belief, doesn’t it? Two years earlier about 350 million TV viewers around the world watched The Beatles perform “All You Need Is Love” in a live satellite broadcast from Abbey Road Studios in London. So the technology existed to transmit live television pictures across the planet. But successfully carrying out a much longer broadcast from the Moon to the Earth was another matter entirely. A host of concerned experts were against adding camera equipment to the already burdened Apollo space craft. However the US space agency, Nasa, insisted that the additional weight was justified if it allowed everyone to witness an historic moment as it happened. Nasa had long realised that an effective pu

"Anois teacht an Earraigh…” [1]

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I was 10 years old when my mother took me to see John F. Kennedy. He was the first Catholic president of the United States of America, and of Irish stock to boot. Kennedy had been to Ireland before, but in June 1963 he made his only state visit as American president. While he was in Ireland, Kennedy stayed at the American ambassador’s residence in the Phoenix Park. As it happened, we lived about 15 minutes’ walk from the park. Not having a car, and located in Dublin’s inner city, there was little for a young boy to do on a fine summer’s day. I was glad therefore when our family would make the short journey to the park, where we could feed the ducks swimming in the pond, and generally enjoy the wide open spaces. So my mother knew exactly how we could see the distinguished visitor in the flesh without too much effort. The newspapers printed details of the route the presidential motorcade would take. Upon arrival in Ireland, Kennedy and his entourage were to travel from Dublin Airport

Beatha ná bás

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In June 1965, the government distributed a 55-page booklet to every household in the land. The purpose of the booklet was to advise citizens what to do if Ireland was caught in the crossfire of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers, not an unlikely possibility at the time. The Minister of Defence wrote in his introduction: “The risk of nuclear war… may remain for many years”. Is it any wonder that people held onto the booklet, which is how I came to have it more than half-a-century later? The content of the booklet was written in English, but the four words on the front cover were in Gaelic. Across the top was the heading “Cosaint Shibhialta” (Civil Defence), being the name of the official body of volunteers set up during the Cold War to support the emergency services. Two other words were printed in larger typeface underneath. They were “Bás” and “Beatha”. For anyone unsure what these meant, a helpful illustration was printed alongside each word. In the case of “Bás”, the accom

Ó Riada an cumhachtach, 4/4

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As a boy, Seán Ó Riada saw a strange woman when he was out walking one evening. As she passed by he noticed that she was floating above the ground. He ran home in terror and his hair began to turn white from that day on. Such visions, or aislingí in Gaelic, are not unknown in Irish history. The 17th-century Munster poet, Aogán Ó Rathaille, described a similar encounter in Gile na Gile : The Brightness of Brightness I saw in a lonely path, Crystal of crystal. Her blue eyes tinged with green. Melody of melody, her speech not morose with age, The ruddy and white appeared in her glowing cheeks.[1] James Fintan Lalor wrote often of the ‘island-queen’, whom he described as ‘a lady of soft heart and grateful disposition’.[2] For Yeats, such female manifestations represented the ‘goddesses of ancient Ireland’.[3] Indeed, throughout Ireland’s history under British rule, poets sometimes depicted their subjugated nation as a woman, variously known as Ériu, Aoibheall, or Caitlín Ní Ua