Friday, April 18, 2014

Morning, Good Friday.

‘Fiction was invented the day Jonas arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.’
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

From that point on, fiction has had quite a journey. In Spanish, it stops to admire the view twice. Notably with the 16th century Miguel de Cervantes (29 September 1547  – 22 April 1616), whose ‘Don Quixote’ is regarded as the greatest work of fiction in any language. And, more recently, with Gabriel García Márquez, who died last night (April 17th 2014) after being treated during the month for dehydration and infections at a Mexican hospital.

Gabriel García Márquez in Monterrey in 2007
Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez in Monterrey in 2007. Photograph: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

The Colombian’s significance is evident from the familiarity of “One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera", works that ring a bell even for the not-so-avid readers. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

They’ll be flying the flags at half-mast all across Colombia as President Juan Manuel Santos declared three days of national mourning. Strangely, it’s not the first time that the world has prepared to mourn the loss of the literary giant. In 2000, a poem was disseminated that convinced all that Marquez had, or was just about, to pass away. It was a hoax, but it made many realise how much they should treasure him.

‘What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.’ - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

‘It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.’ - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A person doesn't die when he should but when he can.’ – 100 years of Solitude

Personally, I have yet to discover the extent of the rich quality of his works, but I will always remember him. Every year. On April 18. When I recall the morning I learned of his passing - my 27th birthday.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Old Dublin custom of visiting St. Patrick's Well

Quality Irish knitwear and crafts shops grace Nassau Street in Dublin city centre. The Porterhouse, Kilkenny Design Shop and Celtic Note (and check the Irish mythology wall between the two!) are some of my favourites on the street. Well, on one side of the street. The high railings of Trinity College border the other side.

Notice how much higher the street is compared to the college? Most of the streets are several feet higher than they were 500 years ago. Nassau street, however has another cause besides medieval refuse. In 1685 the Thingmote was levelled and the earth brought to fill the street and make it 'grande', as the Wide Streets Commission saw it. Ah sure, for Dubliners, sure it was grand already.

And it wasn't just the havoc of roadworks that should annoy denizens. Something was covered. A sacred shrine.

An old St. Patrick's Day tradition in Dublin was to visit the holy well of St. Patrick and immerse you shamrocks and maybe even yourself in the holy waters once blessed by our patron saint.

The junction of Nassau & Dawson streets

At the side entrance of Trinity College

Glimpse down through the railings

The entrance to the well 

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote 'Verses Occasioned by the Sudden Drying Up of St Patrick's Well near Trinity College, Dublin'. Being the wonderful satirist that he was, the title does not betray its contents, remininscent of 'A Modest Proposal'. It was, I assume, the intentional filling in of the well that forced Swift enraged pen. Besides his usual impressive writing, Swift substantially demonstrates his historical knowledge.

Click here to view the poem.

I hope you read it. Read it. Now!

Good. (I hope you read it.) It's a narrative of the author and St. Patrick basically cursing at the British. So, yes, that's why it was only published after Swift's death.

I wonder if Swift wasn't also lamenting, as a portent, not so much the changing of the street name from 'St. Patrick's Well Lane' with 'Nassau St.' but the fact that since Irish Independence we have neglected to revert the name. Most Dubliners have no idea, it seems, that 'Nassau St.' was named after King William III, a member of the House of Orange-Nassau.

So if you want to want to visit the well, you'll have to ask Trinity authorities to gain access.

Georgian-era brickwork*

Underlying ancient stones*

St. Patrick's Well - thought to be once up to 20ft deep now roughly a mere 4ft*

At least it's much more accessible than Dublin's OTHER St. Patrick's Well, buried under the park beside St. Patrick's Cathedral. 

Sure, we couldn't have just one.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


As a tour guide, my work day is never routine. I may have a tour in the morning then nothing for the whole afternoon, as many as three in the one day, or none at all! But I'm always in tour guide mode: walking the streets of Dublin, reminded of the history on every street with every step; a tweet here, a Facebook photo there; a frequent glance at my to do list. Even looking at the time reminds me of work. But in a different way than what you might think.

It's 19.13 now, and I just put on the washing. (Most people would just say 'quarter past seven', but accuracy is a tour guide's calling card / pet peeve, so when I say 'I'll be there in 5 minutes', I mean 5, not 6. Well, ok, not 7, anyway!) This time of the day reminds different people of different events. For some it might mean they've already missed the start of their favourite show. For others, simply that they're overdue for dinner. But for me, for me it reminds me of Jim Larkin and the Lockout in the year 1913.

Having watched Odyssey, the 1997 film today, it inspires me to persevere and keep reading the 'modern' modern dead tree version. And so, feeling a bit Joycean, I wish for you to join me through one day in the life of a tour guide in Dublin:

If I wake up in the morning in Dublin and the Vikings have already established it, t'will not be the most productive day. During my coffee break, I'm enjoying the last century before the Normans come to Ireland, but before I know it they've already built St. Patrick's Cathedral according to my watch. Give or take a minute or two.

"Oh, look it's '1:23'", a girl on Grafton st shares with her friends. I look at my watch. 13.25. Damn! I missed the match. Scotland were playing England on Irish soil. They both lost. Oh, and Ireland lost too.

The start of Irish dinner time. The best time to be in Dublin. No fresh pizza today so should be a longer process than the Irish Houses of Parliament, but hopefully not as complicated.

I try to make sure I'm somewhere else when it's quarter to seven. Ah, sure I'll do a bit of planning for me travels. Little more than half an hour later and I'm already in Germany gift-wrapping some presents for the lads back home.

"Should have thrown out this fruit!" It's rotten. Been here too long. "Wait, sure I only brought it home seven hours ago!" And it drips all over the floor. Some cleanup!

It's 20.13.

The washing must just be finished.

Only took a hundred years.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I used to think it was gold.

The orange part of the flag, that is. I thought it was something like ‘green for the 40 shades’, ‘white for the sky’ and ‘gold for the all gold’ (or Golden Age of Irish monasticism, would be more fitting). And when I found out it was ‘orange’, I was in denial. I refused to give up the lustre of gold for the rust of orange. Of course, I really had no idea what the Irish tricolour actually meant.

 For those still favouring gold, you should know that ‘green is for those who regard themselves as Irish on the island of Ireland’, ‘orange (after William of Orange) is for those who regard themselves as British on the island of Ireland’, and ‘white is for the peace between them’. Some would say that it’s more so a religious divide than a cultural one, but some would also say that the white is not peace they share but ….

The story of the flag is that it was inspired by that of France, which similarly has disputed symbolism. White represents the clergy, red for the nobility, and blue for the bourgeoisie. That just gave me an idea to add to our list of symbols for the Irish flag: white is the church that has separated the two groups. Ah, tis all a bit political for me. Personally, I would prefer a different flag:

This flag does have gold. Hurray! But it’s more than just that. The golden harp has been a symbol of Ireland for around a millennium (see here). The harp is our national emblem and I interpret its place on this flag as representing not only the importance of the harp in Irish history, but the importance of music in general, and, with that, all the arts. All the arts of Ireland: Irish music, poetry, song, story - our heritage. These are what have made our country unique. The gold symbolising our culture’s richness. That, not political boundaries, was what united our country.

The green is a deeper, solemn shade. A shade for wisdom. For centuries’ learning of our monks, our brehon’s (judges) 20 years of aural memorisation of every detail, poets’ and story-tellers’ ability for something new nearly every day of the year, for education for Catholics after O’Connell abolished the Penal Laws.
All that speaks to me more.
So why isn’t the flag of Ireland? Well, because it’s already the flag of Leinster. 

You see, during the Eleven Years’ War, a self-governing body was established in Kilkenny which remained loyal to the British monarch throughout its duration. From 1642 to 1649, the Irish Catholic Confederation governed most of Ireland and basically wanted freedom for Catholics in Ireland under the crown of England, as opposed to free from it. Their flag was a gold harp on a green background, supposedly incited by Owen Roe O’Neill (one of the descendents of the ancient Irish ruling dynasty of Uí Néill) who flew it from his ship’s mast and who would become the Commander of the Confederate Army. Thenceforth, it became associated with Kilkenny and its province, Leinster.

Our tricolour was first flown in public on the Mall in Waterford City on March 7th 1848. And we commemorate its anniversary today. So it’s a more suitable day than most to buy a wee Irish flag.

Don’t know which one, though. ;)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Anniversaries - reasons to celebrate.

Or to commemorate. 

Or… not.

In Ireland we have important anniversaries every week of the year. Things like the birth or death of Irish martyrs or battles or the first time an abortion will be legally rendered in this country. But, generally, it seems, Irish people don’t like anniversaries. We have far too many – a result of having too much history.

Furthermore, as a whole, the Irish nation does not celebrate its history or identity. (St. Patrick’s Day is the exception, of course, but even on that one day of the year when we openly celebrate our Irishness, I’m sure many Irish people celebrate our thirst instead.)


So, why is this? 

The Irish have an inferiority complex: having been told by the English for so long that our language, customs, dress, law, society, manners were second to theirs, we believed them. And though it seems like the oppression of the English has been gone 81 years, we still have that sense of inferiority, that lack of pride in our nation. It had been inculcated for so long that it still remains for the next generation. Albeit, this sense of inferiority is subconscious, hidden, but, to an outsider, puzzlingly evident in an apathetic form – Irish people don’t know why, but they don’t seem to want to celebrate their Irishness as much as they should.

The Irish language is the best example. Terrible primary school teachers aside, the Irish language should be thriving in Ireland. People don’t want to speak it, not because they can’t or are afraid of making mistakes, but because, deep inside, they’re ashamed of it.

Like the generations before us, speaking Irish was a symptom of your poverty. Those who held onto the language could not represent themselves at court, could not be employed by the landlord, and would die in destitution and starvation. And, in order for the Irish to survive in this English-engineered world, they had to regard their language and culture negatively. It was necessary. We were able to survive, to raise ourselves up by pulling the Irish language down, under us.

Then there’s the whole ‘if you celebrate the Easter Rising with anything more than a nod, I’ll consider you a radical and a Sinn Féiner’ – another consequence of The Troubles. But hopefully this will dissolve when the 100-year anniversary of the 1916 Rising in celebrated.

As for the other anniversaries that should be celebrated, time will tell.

Happy Irish Independence Day, by the way.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Or vacation - whatever you want to call it. I have it. No more working for a while. The tourism season is over. But unlike a teacher on her summer holidays, I don't get paid for those holidays, and my 'summer' is in winter. Still, I took a holiday so to speak and spent a good month in New York. Rather than reflecting on the entire sojourn with you like a September 'what I did on my summer holidays' essay, I'll skip to the end.

The second half of my US trip would bring me to Albany New York. Or so I thought. “It's a good thing you didn't start walking to downtown Albany, Garvan, as we don't live there anymore.” “Great. So where are ye living.”

I've never heard of Troy, New York. At least, I can't recall the city. So, what have you got to offer?

Many notable people were born or resided in Troy. Hermann Melville, Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president and James Connolly. Wait, what? Is this an American James Connolly, you know like that Irish Rebel who went to the moon with Neil Armstrong?

No. The James Connolly lived in Troy from 1903-05. Couldn't believe it when I found out! What chance!

Apparently, the Irish martyr lived in Troy from 1903 to 1905. To support his family of six, he worked for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He continue to be active in pursing socialism and advocating the ideals he was to die for in 1916.

His bust is only a few metres away from that of Uncle Sam whose statue is… well, different, shall we say.

Uncle Sam and Connolly, however, aren’t as dissimilar as their tributes may denote. They’re both personifications and heroes for their respective countries.
And just like his statue in Dublin, I cannot pass by Connolly’s bust without placing a respecting palm upon the cold bronze.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dare cross Joyce?

In ‘Eveline’, a short story in Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, the protagonist aspiration of  taking a trip to Buenos Aires with her lover is meant as a metaphor for wanting to escape to a different world, a different life.
When Joyce said ‘daulphin’, ‘oldun’, ‘Tumplan’ and ‘Doubtlynn’ in Finnegans Wake, he actually meant the city of Dublin.
And when Joyce set the scene of Ulysses in Dublin, he actually meant Zurich…

Well, there is truth in my reference to Finnegan’s Wake (don’t forget, though, the other 247 or so phrases for Dublin), and my inclusion Eveline is a weak point due to its forgettability , but my Ulysses remark is completely ludicrous. Well, not completely.

Joyce's grave in Fluntern Cemetary

Joyce lived in Zurich in 1904 and then from 1915-19. And it was his first stop on his self-inflicted, or self-endowed, exile. He was supposed to teach English at the Berlitz Language school (I actually saw an ad on tram 6, going back into the city from Joyce’s grave, for Berlitz’s language school!) there, but was sent to Trieste instead. He returned to Zurich in 1915, and wrote ‘Exiles’, quite fittingly.  ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man’ was published, and he began really getting into ‘Ulysses’. It is difficult to consider that his adopted city could not have inspired him in at least small ways during his time writing there.

One piece of quotable Joycean eloquence said of Zurich is along the lines of Bahnhofstrasse is so clean that you can drink minestrone soup off of it. True, the place is ridiculously clean. Admirable, in a way, but this quality deflates in my eyes when I’m reminded of a TripAdvisor reviewer saying ‘Zurich – world’s most boring city?’. Nah, I don’t think so. But I did have a mission, of sorts.

After seeking and finding his grave in a logical and direct manner perhaps typical of Zurich, but definitely not of our Dubliner, I headed to one of his former residences in the city. And I noticed this on the wall.

Granted, he lived here for less than a year (Jan 1918 - 26 Oct 1918), but I’d have to be some mad fan to trace all the residences in Zurich. Joyce’s tendency to not stay put mirrors his writing style well. Notice how in German ‘novel Ulysses’ translates as ‘Roman Ulysses’ – as opposed to ‘Greek Odysseus’? The house is on Universitatsstrasse, just up the road from… yes, the university. I can imagine the number of literature students who gain inspiration from Joyce’s historic presence in their town – well, those who notice the plaque anyway!

But Joyce is not a forgotten ghost of the Irish diaspora. He is regarded as a citizen of the city: there is a James Joyce Foundation in Zurich, I’m happy to say. As the biggest Swiss city, juggling French, German, Italian, and occasionally English, is a daily occurrence – I recall that having resolving an issue with a clerk at the railway station that I had used all four languages in our conversation – so I suppose the Joyce fanatics of Zurich are the best suited to dissecting sections from Finnegans Wake.

Going over my photos from my recent Swiss sojourn, I noticed I had accidentally captured one of Joyce’s favourite restaurants/pubs, Restaurant Augustiner.. You can see the illuminated sign on the right. I’ve put it in B&W so that we can try imagine it being taken ca 1915, and that that’s Joyce standing right outside.