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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dublin Castle

An image blurring in its menacing secrecy
Cold stone, dripping fresh rain from above - the castle’s sky
With every wash, more filth surfaces.
Rising in this place, as the ascendency.

For, I have always seen it, through the black and white
Of a past page, two words written with a trembling clasp;
Under, the castle is deluged. Deluged with ‘traitors’.
Men who were made to wear the devil’s mask.

Mocked for the wrongs, they thought rights.
Two colours appear different in diverging eyes
The castle. Dublin. Ireland. Éire. A Kingdom of…
Servants, sinners, stones and our helpful spies.

A place of high standing - It touches the sky.
Not piercingly, but as a plague, an infection.
A knife is easily removed, and replaced.
But it seeps, and all are under our subjection

It owns the sky; sky around it, around this island.
Overcast, stalking closer to those people there.
Storms and tumults to evict their warmth
Rains, winds; a bittering, biting, breaking air.

Torture’s echoes captured in this courtyard
Do chill each footfall that is caste
With the chocked last words of scandal
From martyrs now at last de-masked.

~ Garbhán Ó Ruis

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We Saw a Vision

On this day, September 18th, in 1914, the Government of Ireland Act had reached the statute books in Westminster. This act was set to give Ireland Home Rule; something that the Irish politicians and the Irish people had been aiming towards for decades. But, as is natural in Irish history, bad luck has to mock the wishes of the downtrodden Irish (as if Father Time and Mother Éire had had a very difficult divorce. This probably originated in the early Middle Ages when Ireland refused to experience the Dark Ages. )

World War I shook the Home Rule Bill off the table in Westminster. And it would only be back on the table after the conflict had ended.

“Hmmm, lunchtime, maybe? If not, then surely by Christmas?”

Eh, no.

And so, frustrated by this, the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) met to decide the fate of Irish republicanism. The Easter Rising was the ultimate result of this meeting. In commemoration of the importance of the site (north Parnell Square), the Garden of Remembrance was opened in 1916, on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. 

For those who gave their lives in the fight for Irish freedom…

Incidentally, also on this day, in 1922, another bill rose to attention. This was the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann Bill, which W. T. Cosgrave (the first Taoiseach/Prime Minister/ President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State) introduced to enable the implementation of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland.

And its successor is still on the table.

In Dublin, not Westminster.  

Friday, September 14, 2012


Well, it has been the longest time without blogging. Yes, I feel terrible. They say you should blog every day or at least every second day. I feel that such blogging would diminish the quality of my blog posts - though I don't see this one winning any awards.

The life of a tour guide is a very varied and irregular one. Why did I choose it? I like my routines. No, I love my routines; the very few routines that I actually maintain. I have reminders set so that I do my 'daily' to-dos: 'recite poem', 'quotes of the day', 'work, work, work!'.

Truth is, this year has been really good. I mean this work year. I've been relatively busy (is the blog paying off?). I consider myself lucky, even though I did put the work and preparation in. Hey, Napolean used to emphasise the importance of 'mastering luck' in order to achieve his aims. My sister is the lucky one. I stay away from gambling as much as I can, despite my recent success at the dogs at Shelbourne Park. Beginner's luck.

I do, though, find the topic of luck fascinating. So much so that I decided to my philosophy undergraduate thesis on it. Unluckily, (ironically) the topic of 'moral luck' was suggested, and thus the implication that my supervisor would be that most incomprehensible and therefore ridiculously inept professor/teacher/child minder/night light I have ever experienced.

But, hey, if I didn't lose the silicon head of one of my earphones, I wouldn’t be angered enough to feel the need to have a beer at The Gypsy Rose whilst waiting for my bus home. And this blog post would not have existed.

So, thank you bad luck.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New place, new faces, same old Dublin

I’ve finally settled down.

No, not marriage. I mean that everything was quite hectic there for a while. Having returned from living in France, I took to house-hunting in Dublin on the following day, found a place by the fifth day, moved in on the sixth, and had my first tour of the season on the seventh! I hadn’t seen my family since January, so after that tour, I got the bus home. More hecticness – packing the rest of my stuff to bring down before my next tour!

Just in case you’re thinking I’ve been having a bad time so far, I’ll tell you I’m happy to back in Dublin, scumbags and all. Colour, chat, variety, mischief – traits that Grenoble blatantly lacked, and some say Dublin has too much of! Tea. Cadbury’s chocolate. Excellent beef. Guinness. They’re all still here! Thank God!

But changes are inevitable, as my good university buddy Heraclitus was always saying. New shops, restaurants, transport ‘improvements’ (which have exacerbated services), buskers on Grafton St., ways to see Dublin, Starbucks (sigh) on the original site of the Bewley’s Café, and, most importantly, new beers!

Tom Crean, the Irish Giant, is known to Irish people as the fella from Kerry who had quite a walk in Antarctica. Those guys who fabricate those fantastic Guinness TV ads succeeded in recalling his achievements to Irish minds about ten years ago.

Funnily, his connection with Irish beer has now become real.

The ‘Dingle Brewing Company’ has created a beer in honour of the great man. Simply named ‘Tom Crean’s’, the smooth lager is something I’d choose over the boring, predictable common lagers you find everywhere, and I'm not just talking about this country. I think I’ve seen it in three Dublin pubs so far. For a huge, and frequently updated, selection of beers on tap, O’Neill’s on Suffolk never lets me down. Well, except for their removal of Curim on tap. L

Eight Degrees Brewing’ has been in half of the pubs I’ve been in since I’m back. Granted, I mainly go into pubs in search of new wonderful inebriating beverages, so that fact is not as startling as would first appear. I‘ve only tried the ‘Sunburnt Irish Red’ (on draught in O’Neill’s on Suffolk St.), but I was mightily impressed – probably my favourite red ale now. It’s rich in flavour and body, two things which 8 degrees obviously knew were desperately lacking from the common Irish red ales.

(I’m still suffering withdrawal symptoms from having worked four months in Belgian beer pub. It’s not all bad; there are places to get Belgian beer here in Dublin, but this post is already too long.)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Know your Capital Cities

Besides the oh-so-often confusion that Irish people speak English and, therefore, must be, for all intents and purposes, English, French people are sometimes surprising ignorant of Ireland. I’m not saying that Ireland is an equally important country, in economic terms, as France for the French, but, hey, it’s a country, with a capital, and a distinct heritage that should be universally acknowledged. That’s all I ask.

[If you’re an economist, or economically-minded, this will either help you with geography or completely confuse you! Either way, it’s interesting]

I mentioned this to a customer in my pub (there I go again saying ‘my’). He didn’t know the capital of the Republic of Ireland. Quite offensive, you must agree, if someone doesn’t know something very important about your country. The capital city, after the name of the country and where it is located, is pretty important. Turns out he didn’t know many European capitals - I was no longer offended.

The smaller the country, the more its people concern themselves with other countries and the rest of the world. The bigger the country, the less they have to. I think we are all familiar with the great Australian clip where the stunning worldly ignorance of many US citizens is proven – and then, to counter this attack, in hilariously ironic, yet stereotypical fashion, some US citizens travel to Britain to show the English (whoops, not the Australians!) how ignorant they can be.

The strength that is self-sufficiency has a weakness in self-dependency.

France isn’t regarded as world-renowned beer-producing country. So, let’s just say I’m glad the pub I work in helps the French learn more about Belgium!

Friday, April 20, 2012

On the nineteenth day of April

Oops, meant to post this yesterday:

On the nineteenth day of April
Their gallant ship set sail,
With fifty-five brave Irish lads
True sons of Gráine Mhaoil.
They landed safely in New York
On the nineteenth day of May,
For to meet their friends and relatives
All in the USA.

Their relatives did meet them there
As soon as they did land,
With many a bumper drank their praise
As they clasped hand in hand.
Though some of them had few friends there,
Their hearts were light and bold
And by those swaggering Yankees
They could not be controlled!

As six of our brave Irish lads
Were going down Charles Street;
One of these Yankee gentlemen
They happened for to meet.
He brought them to an ale house,
Where he called for drinks galore.
I’m sure such entertainment
They’d never seen before.

The ale it flowed full fast and free
They had a jolly time,
Which was more than they expected
Upon that foreign clime.
But when he thought he had them drunk
The Yankee then did say:
‘You are listed in the army now
To fight for America.’

They looked at one another
And then to him made plain:
‘It is not for this that we came here
Across the raging main,
But to earn an honest livelihood
As thousands did before,
Who emigrated from their homes
By the dear old Shannon shore.’

Six of these Yankee soldiers
Came dressed without delay.
They said: ‘Now lads you must prepare
With us to come away.
This is our esteemed office
Who listed you complete,
So do not strive for to resist
We can no longer wait.’

The Irish lads hopped to their feet
Which made the Yankees frown;
With every blow that they did strike
They brought a soldier down.
That office and all his men
They left in crimson gore,
And proved themselves St. Patrick’s sons
Throughtout Columbia’s shore.

A Frenchman of great fame had seen
What the soldiers tried to do.
He said: ‘I will protect you
From the Yankee criminal crew.
I will take you to Ohio,
Where I have authority,
And keep you in employment there
Till you leave this country!’

So now to conclude and finish
Let young and old unite,
And offer up a fervent prayer
Both morning, noon and night
In honour of the Lord above
To help you hold your sway
And keep you from all danger
When you go to the USA.

That was a poem I found in ‘My Father’s Time’, a collection of stories by probably the best Irish seanachai or story-teller of the last fifty years. Although I missed the 19th, the date of my post is still apt. The 20th April is my father’s birthday, indeed, I posted ‘in my father’s time’. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to live to be 120yrs old

120 years old. That's the age St Kevin reached before God called him to heaven. Sounds familiar, right? A holy man who devotes his life to God and just happens to live an extraordinarily long life. Too familiar? Cliché even? Unbelievable, right? “I mean how could someone live so long, especially back in those days?”

St. Kevin lived an isolated life as much as he possibly could in the valley of Glendalough. An ascetic, he maintained a lifestyle of minimal sustenance: his shelter was a stone-framed beehive cell, he wore a single layer of clothing and ate only what he could find - berries, roots and fish. When I first learned of these details, I wondered, as have many since his time, 'how could he live on so little?' especially under Ireland’s climate!

On Tuesday, I fasted. I'm not talking about your 'only fish on Friday' fast, I mean no food for at least 24hrs. Why? Explore this website to learn the reasons behind and the benefits of fasting. I did this not solely for religious reasons but for physical and psychological reasons as well. I didn’t view it as a chore or as ‘work’. I was actually really excited about the idea and looking forward to the fast.

If nothing else, it was a challenge and made Lent a little different this time around. I had had the conviction to abstain from all chocolate during the Lenten season. Not very creative or original, but a respectable vow nonetheless given my preference for the smooth delicacy. Deciding to fast every Tuesday of Lent (from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday) only materialised after extensive reading on the risks, benefits, concerns, preparations and how to break a fast.  

I really enjoyed fasting – no, I didn’t actually spend it twisting in agony from hunger pangs! It’s an enlightening experience. And that goes for simply reading about fasting too. Intrigued? Here’s some quotes from notable figures throughout history.

After my 24hrs were up, I thought that I might as well go a bit longer for added benefits. I ended up fasting for over 38hrs.

I don't think I could manage to do it every week until I'm 120, though!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

10 Things I didn’t know about France and the French people

  1. Most things are closed on Mondays
  2. They love comics
  3. Culture and tradition over innovation and convenience, which means you can only buy your shopping at certain, in my opinion, tight, hours and never just at one place.
  4. They pay for everything, from setting up a bank account to insuring a rented property
  5. Even though they produce a lot of cheese, it’s still damn expensive
  6. Having a drink at the pub is pretty much the same as having a coffee at a restaurant. In other words, they don’t have a laugh and become merry to let off steam while drinking.
  7. Clothes are expensive. In contrast, the clothes we buy in Ireland are so cheap that I can only assume thousands of people in some far away country are getting paid next to nothing to manufacture them.
  8. Get-togethers and private parties/meals are nearly a weekly occurrence for the French. I like this.
  9. Most of the showers do not have ‘showerhead holder’ fittings as standard! Only one free hand in the shower which means longer showers.
  10. They think ‘Anglo-Saxon’ refers to the English speaking world rather than simply the English people and culture.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What are the odds?

Today, in Grenoble, I saw someone who I thought looked familiar.

I thought she was a girl to whom I had given a Dublin tour about two years ago. Weird, I know.

She (and her boyfriend and mother) stayed in the pub where I work for about an hour, I’d say, during which time I perceived one or two quizzical glances from her. 

With those, my intuition seemed more probable, but it wasn’t until they were about to leave when I realised…

Her boyfriend came up to the bar and ask me, in French: ‘are you Irish?’, ‘did you use to give tours in Dublin?’. Smiling uncontrollably in knowing, I ‘yessed’ his eager asks. He was about to ask me another question, or pose something assez verbal or assez physical to me – quite a jealous guy, I reckon – but he held back.

Then, the girl (I say ‘girl’, she’s in her 20s) and her mother came up to the bar and wanted to confirm it for themselves. Needless to say, they seemed less fraught in asking. As it happens, a girl and her mother to whom I gave a tour, and subsequent pub crawl, about two years ago, in Dublin, find me, working in a bar, in Grenoble, as she starts her Erasmus semester as a psychology student in Grenoble. It’s difficult to believe.

On the other hand, I have given tours to a few thousand people so I suppose such a ‘coincidental’ occurrence was bound to happen sometime!

No doubt it’ll happen again – I can’t imagine too many people thinking ‘Is that the guy who gave me a Dublin tour a couple years ago? Nah, I’m sure there are loads of people who give Dublin tours, from Donegal, over 6ft3, with an unmistakable accent, and long, flowing red-golden curls?’

Ok, maybe the last part was a little too detailed.