Scannáin (Movies)

Oíche Sheanchais, The First Irish Language Sound Film

Oíche Sheanchais (Oidhe Sheanchais)

Oíche Sheanchais (Oidhe Sheanchais) “A Night of Storytelling”, 1935 (Íomhá; Harvard Film Archive)

From a report by the Galway Advertiser:

“The first Irish language ‘talkie’ ever made has premiered at a renowned Italian festival of rediscovered and restored film

Oidhche Sheanchais, an 11-minute film featuring Aran islanders from the Man of Aran cast listening to a story told by seanchaí Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin, was the first ‘talkie’ to be filmed in Irish and was made in London in 1934 while the cast were recording post-synch sound for Man of Aran.

All copies of Oidhche Sheanchais were thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 1943, but a nitrate print of the film was discovered at Harvard University in 2012.

The Harvard Film Archive worked with the university’s Houghton Library and Celtic department and Harvard’s Office of the Provost, to preserve Oidhche Sheanchais on 35mm film and in digital formats, as well as translating the film and creating a subtitled version.

The film originally had a short cinema run in Ireland in 1935, and was never subtitled in English. It featured Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, and Patch Ruadh of the Man of Aran cast sitting around a hearth listening to Ó Dioráin’s story, interspersed with footage of seascapes shot while filming Man of Aran.

The restored film premiered at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, Italy, last week…”

From the blog Antti Alanen: Film Diary:

“The short Oidhche sheanchais affirms Flaherty’s belief in cinema as a mythopoeic and folkloric art. Ireland’s first government-sponsored film, Oidhche Sheanchais was funded by a modest £200 budget assigned for the production of an Irish language talkie enshrining a vital element of the national heritage. Flaherty directed the film while in London recording the post-synch sound for Man of Aran using that film’s cast together with Seáinín Tom Ó Dioráin, a renowned Aran Island storyteller. Unlike Man of Aran, Oidhche Sheanchais was recorded entirely in Irish. Prior to the film’s release the Irish Press distributed a dialogue transcript to ensure that “children will… not miss any of the beauty and subtlety of the story it tells.”

More information can be found at TCD’s Irish Film and Research database with a full transcript of the script at Feasta.

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Harry Potter To The Rescue!

Alex Salmond, the liberal centre-left politician elected by the people of Scotland is re-imagined as a fictional evil wizard in contrast to an author elected by nobody, nowhere. This is not an abusive image by Britnats; apparently it is just a bit of “fun” (Íomhá: the British Mirror newspaper)

It says much for the fantasy politics of British nationalism that a decision by the English-born children’s author JK Rowling to boost the already hefty warchest of the Unionist “No” campaign with a donation of one million pounds is being heralded by the right-wing press in Britain as “the most significant” celebrity intervention in the referendum campaign so far. Rowling is famous for her “Harry Potter” series of juvenile books in which a youth destined to greatness because of his superior parentage overcomes a nefarious opponent of lesser ancestry in a familiar Fantasy trope. The writer herself offered few substantive reasons for her opposition to Scotland’s right to be a sovereign nation beyond some egregious insults directed towards pro-independence Scots by referencing evil characters from her own books:

“…a little Death Eaterish for my taste.”

Of course when two ordinary Scottish citizens, Chris and Colin Weir, donated a substantial amount of money towards the “Yes” campaign from their recent lottery win both were vilified throughout the conservative and liberal British news media in an epic smear campaign. Rowling on the other hand is being hailed as the saviour of London’s hegemony on the island of Britain. To use a formula she might well appreciate it seems that for the British press:

Pro-British millionaires = good wizards

Pro-Scottish millionaires = bad wizards

Of course the Unionist newspapers are now spinning the story like crazy with hyped-up claims that the author has already been subject to a series of online attacks by “Yes” supporters in her adopted country (“attacks” being a code word for criticism or queries about her anti-sovereignty views).

Oh well, at least it adds a bit more more colour to an already garish debate. Though of course the one debate you are unlikely to see is the one between the head of government with an actual democratic mandate in Scotland and the head of government who has no mandate at all. Now that is a little bit Lord Voldemort, isn’t it?

Cultus Obscuram – Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Mr Rossi, Signor Rossi

Sometimes looking back at Ireland in the 1970s and ‘80s I wonder if the entire nation was quite right in the head. It was a truly surreal time. Forget the war in the north-east against the British, the twin scourges of poverty and emigration, the political scandals and omnipresent corruption, the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church, the emergence of illegal drugs and drug-related crime, the bus strikes and bin strikes and all sorts of strikes. As a child many of those passed me by (well, almost…). What truly made our island nation the whacked-out member of the European family was RTÉ’s programming for children. There was nothing quite like it before and certainly nothing quite like it since. While kids of the 1990s and 2000s were fed a steady diet of mainstream, wall-to-wall Anglo-American fare in the days of yore children were treated to a more eclectic mix culled from the arcana of world television (a fact not entirely unrelated to RTÉ’s minuscule acquisitions’ budget). All sorts of psychedelically insane shows were injected into our young and impressionable minds. I heard more Russian and Czech in my childhood than I did in my adulthood (the last ten years aside!). Oh yes we had our own home-grown versions of the post-hippy madness: Wanderly Wagon, Fortycoats & Co and Bosco (I hated Bosco). However nothing competed with those tripped-out cartoons from behind the not-so-opaque Iron Curtain or the obscure corners of US television.

From the latter came the jittery-coloured Mr. Rossi, an Americanised version of the original Senior Rossi produced in Italy by Bruno Bozzetto. Beginning in 1960 there were several short films, three feature length movies and an eleven-part TV series all of which seemed to have been broadcast on RTÉ at one time or another. I can honestly tell you very little about them except how odd they seemed even back then. Like ‘60s odd. I’m not sure I enjoyed them. I’m not sure how much I watched them. However I do remember the theme tune which has stayed with me like some form of subliminal brainwashing. It’s in there and I can’t get it out. So here, for your delight (or puzzlement), is the Signor Rossi original theme “Viva La Felicità” with a rather funked-up 2002 remix known as “Signor Rossi vs. De-Phazz – Viva La Felicita (Phazz-a-delic Radio Remix)“.

Is it bad that I have the latter as my ringtone?

Irish TV And Cinema? Some Hope

TG4 - Súil Eile

TG4 – Súil Eile

I was going through my collection of Blu-ray and DVD movies and box-sets over the weekend, not to mention several hundred hours of digital content on my main HTPC, and it suddenly struck me that less than 1% of the total was actually Irish-made. I have a huge catalogue of films and TV shows from (in descending order) the United States, Britain, Japan, China, Canada, Korea, Australia, France, Denmark, Germany and Russia but the number of productions from Ireland is infinitesimal. Six documentaries or drama-docs from TG4 (including “1916 Seachtar na Casca” and “Bóthar na Saoirse”), two comedy-dramas from TG4 (“Rásaí na Gaillimhe 1” and “2”, plus “An Crisis”) and one comedy from RTÉ (the early 2000s’ “Paths to Freedom”). And that is pretty much it. Out of some three thousand hours of cinematic and television entertainment less than twenty hours are actually Irish-made productions for Irish audiences.

In part this is attributable to the availability of domestic productions for the home entertainment market in Ireland which is astonishingly low. Only a handful of the more popular shows are released on DVD and the vast majority of those are from RTÉ which gobbles up most of the licence fee to feed itself. Unsurprisingly they are usually at the lower end of the market, reflecting the culture of Irish television in general. TG4 releases hardly any of its far superior and more Irish-orientated shows on DVD no doubt due to costs. Though why it has not entered the digital market via downloads or streaming on the lines of Amazon or Netflicks is beyond me. It simply makes no sense – but then very little about public service broadcasting in Ireland does.

All of which leads me to the observation most commonly made by Continental visitors to our island nation: in terms of language and cultural references the Irish are indistinguishable from the Americans or British. In fact they seem little more than the mongrel off-spring of both. Given that Irish television and cinema has historically provided almost no output to balance that of the United States and Britain this is hardly surprising. If I were French, German or Spanish one would expect French, German or Spanish entertainment productions to dominate my home library. Even if one were to accept arguments about economies of scale there seems little doubt that the same would hold true if I were Danish, Swedish or Finnish, nations not dissimilar in size to Ireland.

The facts are this: public service broadcasting in Ireland as embodied by RTÉ has failed and failed miserably. It is simply a bad Irish joke. This is widely acknowledged throughout the country where, ironically, most people now recognise that the best TV output stems from TG4, the Irish language TV channel. Even militant hardcore Anglophones critics have agreed that it outperforms every one of its rivals, public or private, and is about the nearest Ireland has to an “Irish BBC”. Yet it receives less than 5% of the television licence fee and a nominal government grant (95% of the TV licence goes to RTÉ which is begrudgingly obligated to produces a handful of shows for TG4).

Funnily enough it seems that I am not the only one who was thinking along these lines. From the Irish Times newspaper:

“Could Irish language movies and songs ever compete in the global entertainment market? Some 70 per cent of Hollywood’s box office revenue now comes from dubbed and subtitled versions of its movies sold in international markets, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. In pop music, Psy’s Gangnam Style represents the first wave of non-English international mega-hits that will sweep in as the commercial pop culture of countries such as Korea, India, China, Russia and Brazil continues to develop.

Currently, most Irish language films and pop songs are not making a major domestic, let alone international impact. So how about establishing a €2 million annual competition to select and film the best Irish language movie script, and to record the best Irish language pop song?

Imagine the film got €1.8 million, with the remaining €200,000 spent on recording and making a video for the song, and on the administration of the competition.

The competition could be open to international screenwriters and song-writers, with the proviso that all production money be spent in Ireland – meaning an annual investment of at least €1.8 million into the Irish media industry.

The Irish Film Board (IFB) used to maintain that it was unrealistic to try competing in Irish against major Hollywood films, but in an increasingly globalised world, things are changing. Ned Dowd, a Hollywood producer responsible for films such as The Wonder Boys and Last of the Mohicans , points to the success of his film Apocalypto , directed by Mel Gibson, which despite being in Mayan earned $121 million dollars (admittedly on a budget of $40 million). Gibson’s earlier film The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic and earned $611 million. “It’s all about story, universal themes,” Dowd has said. “The language is secondary.”

This whole notion is speculative and aspirational, but if it were to succeed even partially it could prove a key element in keeping the language vibrant for the next generation. Young people are now accustomed to cartoons and soap operas in Irish, but films and pop music are almost exclusively in English. Demand for Irish songs exists, witnessed by the viral success of the Coláiste Lurgan cover versions that emerge each summer.

It seems there’s also an appetite from abroad to help the language. Seven years after broadcasting the No Béarla TV programme, in which I travelled around the country speaking only Irish, I am still regularly approached by Irish-American cultural groups and impassioned individuals, keen to know how they can help the language.

…the benefits of targeted funding can be seen in the Danish media market. “In Denmark the public service broadcaster puts €1 million a year into feature-film production on top of the Danish Film Institute’s €60 million – and that’s a country the size of Ireland.””

The doling out of severely limited funds between RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann (the Irish Film Board) and the idiosyncratic Sound and Vision Fund (controlled by that quango par excellence, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) is beyond a scandal. Whether the monies are raised through the licence fee or general taxation millions upon millions of euros are being wasted on projects that are almost guaranteed to have little commercial or popular impact. Most simply appear and disappear without the general public being even aware of their existence. Millions more is going on duplicated staffing and administration expenses. Offices filled with paper-shufflers and seat-warmers. It is this scatter-gun approach to Irish television and film production that has made our nation a cultural vacuum.

If we intend to be serious about our language and our culture, if we intend to be serious about establishing a viable TV and cinema production industry for our domestic market, then it is time to close down the vanity projects and political patronage system of yesteryear. A start should be made by leaving English language broadcasting in Ireland to the private market with all the necessary (and presently missing!) statutory safeguards on quality, standards and ownership in place. Let TV3 and 3e, or the new “ITV Ireland” promised by UTV, provide English language television services along with the dozens of American, British and Canadian channels already available to Irish viewers via cable and satellite. RTÉ should become an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster (and restricted to Irish language advertising in order to level the playing field with its private rivals who survive on English language advertising and sponsorship). After all what is public service television and radio supposed to do but provide what private enterprise will not? TG4 should be rolled back into RTÉ which should be restricted to two TV and three radio channels, as well as internet services. Bord Scannán na hÉireann should be replaced by a cinema production arm of RTÉ, the equivalent of BBC Films or Film4 in Britain, with an obligation to produce a minimum of four Irish language cinematic release a year. Legislation should be introduced to facilitate the showing of these movies in cinemas across Ireland upon release, similar to regulations in force elsewhere in Europe. RTÉ should also take up the old role of Gael Linn, producing and fostering Irish language music for cultural or commercial purposes.

As for the TV licence fee or its replacement, scrap both and instead implement direct government funding via an independent oversight body appointed by the Oireachtas. Given the size of Ireland’s national economy, comparing overseas’ public service broadcasters and the country’s needs a new RTÉ budget of 400 million euros per annum is more than adequate (with 45 million earmarked for Scannáin RTÉ). And if you are wondering where that money is going to come from how much do you think the government already spends on direct funding for RTÉ, TG4, Bord Scannán na hÉireann and the Sound and Vision Fund under the BAI, not to mention the millions that goes to the likes of Gael Linn Records and other Irish language organisations? Believe me there is a mass of money dispersed throughout a dozen state-funded organisations and quangos that could be easily pooled to contribute towards the core budget of a new RTÉ.

More bang for your buck, the elimination of waste and duplication, removing corruption and patronage, introducing public oversight and accountability, levelling the playing field between public and private broadcasters, servicing Ireland’s indigenous language and culture and presenting it to the world, establishing a thriving domestic television and movie industry, employing tens of thousands of Irish people in Irish jobs, generating tax revenue through targeted government investment…? Ok, admittedly all of this is far too sensible. Which is why it will never happen.

Cultus Obscuram – Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

The old cliché “…so bad it’s good” springs to mind when one watches the 1975 cinematic release “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze”. Based upon the eponymous 1930s’ pulp magazine character primarily written by Lester Dent the film was intended to be the first in a series of purposefully old-fashioned adventure movies by legendary Sci-Fi entertainment producer George Pal that would cash in on the then box office popularity of nostalgia-themed dramas like the Sting (1973) or Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Unfortunately Pal’s release was missing the production values or high-profile casts of its rivals and was inevitably destined to be nothing more than an also-ran. It features an impossibly blue-eyed if charisma-free Ron Ely (formerly the star of the US television show “Tarzan”) surrounded by various well-known and not so well-known TV and B-movie actors of the 1970s hamming it up in fine old style. Given a script that unintentionally careers back and forth between the comic and the camp with the odd flair of the not-so-dramatic or not-so-thrilling the resulting hyperactive acting offers no surprises. Perhaps what is surprising though, especially given the cinematic heritage of George Pal (the man behind 1953′s “The War of the Worlds” and the 1960 Oscar-winning “The Time Machine”), is the mediocre special effects, including the use of almost wilfully fake-looking matte paintings and visuals. They really are poor, more at home in a cheap 1970s’ TV series than a mainstream Hollywood production. Shot in the tame and overly familiar landscapes of southern California or in poorly finished sets that look like rejects from an episode of “Columbo” even the appearance of a dangerous-looking fuselage-free helicopter does little to up the on-screen “wow” factor.

From a toe-curlingly awful supervillain who laughs manically at his own deviousness to ethnic stereotypes that span the range of mildly to deeply offensive there is much to be amazed by in Doc Savage. Perhaps the worse offender is a brutal (and I do mean brutal) Scottish accent borne by a stocky would-be assassin. Just about the only thing of real interest is an early appearance of the actress Pamela Hensley who went on to play the sultry alien princess Ardala in the SF television series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. However with all that said Doc Savage is so gloriously silly that one can’t but help at times enjoying it. The fact that those who produced and starred in it obviously thought they were making what could have been a proto-Indiana Jones makes it all the more fun (in an admittedly cruel way). Bare chests (lots of that), dodgy accents, egregious stereotypes, hokey special effects, ratty-looking studio sets… what’s not to enjoy?

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

The Randomers

I’ve been asked to highlight a recently released independent Irish movie, “The Randomers”, the fourth feature-length film from writer-director Graham Jones. The free-to-view drama focuses on a love affair sparked by the actions of a young woman living on the west coast of Ireland who places an advertisement seeking a man for a relationship “without speaking”. What follows is their meeting and time together as they travel in wordless companionship through urban and rural landscapes, visual and musical cues setting the tone of each scene. Though the verdant counties of Galway and Mayo have never looked better it is the near mute actions and reactions of the two lead actors, Sarah Jane Murphy and Joseph Lydan, that give the movie its strength. Their looks, their body language, their silences-within-silences say it all. “The Randomers” is an unexpectedly engaging endeavour, beautifully shot and produced, and shows what is possible on even the most limited of budgets when creativity, imagination and talent are given a free hand.

Cultus Obscuram – Knightriders

Knightriders, the 1981 film by George A. Romero. Never heard of it? The very definition of a cult movie!

Knightriders, the 1981 film by George A. Romero. Never heard of it? The very definition of a cult movie!

In the oft-played Geek game of “Cultus Obscuram” I’ve yet to be beaten, whether it is in the arena of movies, TV programmes, books or comics. Undoubtedly my winning hand when it comes to contesting a knowledge of cult films is the truly obscure 1981 George A. Romero effort “Knightriders” (note the plural) notable for its leading and only star, a young and frequently stripped-to-the-waste Ed Harris, and the acting appearances of Horror author Stephen King and his wife Tabitha (the former sporting some rather odd-looking facial hair). Hailing from the era when Home VHS was starting to drive the growth of the newish phenomenon of Fandom, the story itself is an overly self-referential Arthurian tale in modern dress, with motorbikes for horses and misfits for knights. This is delivered via the medium of the most inanimate acting and bum-squeezingly awful dialogue you are likely to see outside of a fan-made Star Wars movie.

However its very awfulness does lend it a quaint charm of its own, the portentous mystical musings are fun (and quotable), you can play spot the 1980s’ B-movie actor or actress, and some fans actually see it as a sort of template for life. Which is the very definition of a cult film.

Find your inner adolescent Geek and enjoy.

Steampunk In Ireland

Well-known Irish Steampunk and Alt model Black Swan Persona

Well-known Irish Steampunk and Alt model Black Swan Persona (Íomhá: Joanne Pasternak)

Because there is far too little Steampunk in Ireland, here are some links:

Steampunk Collective Ireland

Steampunk Ireland

The Josie Baggley Company

Talking to a friend a few days ago who is a sean scoil Steampunker I found him frustrated by the way the movement in Ireland is subsumed into the cod-Victoriana of the Pax Britannica, even by Irish adherences, with no distinctive identity of its own. The conversation actually came about as part of a discussion relating to the Fenian fáinne Chladaigh and other 19th century Irish Republican memorabilia. Recently he has moved towards the more welcoming environs of the Belle Époque and his Continental peers and it easy to see why. I’ve written a few unpublished stories in the Steampunk genre myself, using the struggle of the Fenian movement against the British colonial powers in the mid to late 1800s as the background with one Séamas Ó Muircheartaigh as the hero (better known to some as Professor James Moriarty).

So is there a distinctly Irish Steampunk aesthetic? I believe there is – or at least there could be. And what of a name as Gaeilge? The term Gaelpunc is probably another example of Béarlachas (not to mention that some might understandably take it as a reference to Gaelic/Celtic Punk). It would probably be right up there with other poor Gaelicisations like “Fantaisíocht. Ugh!

So, any suggestions?

UPDATE: So this post is my second mention in a year on the satirical hipster webzine They will probably hate me for describing them as hipsters, but honestly is there anything more hipsterish than sarcasm? I of course strongly deny being a hipster myself. I’m not sure about the “Gaelster” accusations though (apparently speaking Irish is now considered the very definition of “hipster” in Ireland!). It went under the headline “Fenian Steampunk” which to be honest I sorta like (though that might not have been the intention). There was actually a large market in “Fenian literature” in the late 1800s and early 1900s that has been all but forgotten now. Several authors made a living from it, as did a number of illustrators. There was even some Fenian “scientific romanticism” or Science-Fiction added to the mix (e.g. “A Modern Daedalus” by Tom Greer, 1885). So we certainly have some precedents on our side ;-)

A Modern Daedalus by Tom Greer (1885)

A Modern Daedalus by Tom Greer (1885)

UPDATE TWO: It seems I have upset Portadown Belfast journo Newt Emerson. Oh dear. And when I regularly post articles surely more offensive to Status Quo and Unionist sensibilities than this entirely innocuous one? Its a funny old world. But at least he was kind enough to link to this piece and so help to surge today’s number of visitors. Which was nice… :-D

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Oh for the cinematic vision of “Dune” that could have been. From Salon and Andrew O’Hehir at the Cannes Festival:

“According to “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn (who’s also here this year with the ultra-violent “Only God Forgives”), the legendary unmade mid-‘70s film version of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” by Chilean-born mad genius Alejandro Jodorowsky actually exists – and he’s seen it. OK, even Refn hasn’t seen a version of it that can be projected on a screen or played on a high-def monitor, the version that was supposed to star David Carradine, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dalì. That doesn’t exist. But Refn says he spent a long evening in Jodorowsky’s Paris apartment while the latter went through the storyboards for “Dune” with him page by page, talking through every shot and every line of dialogue. “I am the only spectator who has ever seen this movie,” Refn concludes. “And I have to tell you: It was awesome.”

I don’t hope to see a movie at this festival, or all year long, that’s as inspiring as Frank Pavich’s documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” the story of an enormously influential film that was never made. That may sound strange on a number of levels: How does one of the most famous collapsed productions in cinema history, a failure so dire that it derailed its director’s career for many years, become a source of inspiration? Especially when the resulting documentary largely consists of a man in his 80s sitting around and talking? Well, when the old guy talking is as brilliant, passionate, ferocious and hilarious as Jodorowsky, and when the stories he tells convince you that his quixotic dream of making an enormous science-fiction spectacle that combined star power, cutting-edge technology, philosophical depth and spiritual prophecy nearly came true, it’s as if you glimpse his vision of a transformed world where everything is possible.”

For more on the fabled “Jodorowsky’s Dune” see here and here.

Judge Minty – Taking The Law To The Lawless

2000AD's Judge Dredd

2000AD’s Judge Dredd

After touring the convention circuit the Judge Dredd-inspired fan film “Judge Minty“, written and directed by Steven Sterlacchini, has finally been released online. While the acting may be less than inspiring the special effects on the other hand show just how far technology has moved on since the days of filming spray-painted plastic bottles on wires against a blue background.

Robert E. Howard – The Whole Wide World

Robert E. Howard, Irish-American heroic fiction author and essayist

Robert E. Howard, Irish-American heroic fiction author and essayist

While going through the old bookmarks on my browser the other day I came across the Cimmerian, a wonderful if now defunct group-blog that was dedicated to Fantasy, Horror and Adventure fiction, with a focus on the works of the Irish-American writer Robert E. Howard in particular. Some of the most intelligent and thoughtful pieces on Fantasy literature that I have ever read graced the webpages of the Cimmerian, many notable for their length and analytical nature (the curse of the internet is the culture of brevity – very few people write long articles now and even fewer read them. Perhaps the rise of the tablet and phabelt will change that?).

As for the great man himself, Robert E. Howard is an author of some special meaning to me. Enough to know that it was the 107th anniversary of his birth three days ago. Most of his works have dated with the passing of the years –  strange snapshots of another time, another place. Ironically so given their frequent historical setting (real or imagined). Yet the raw talent, creativity and productivity that left many others floundering in his wake continues to inspire new generations of artists, be they writers, illustrators or movie-makers. Howard was an author who truly had the potential for greatness, who was growing into his abilities with every new tale, until he brought it all to an end one terrible summer’s day in June 1936 at the tragically early age of 30.

Perhaps it is the tortured artist that I identify with? Or the fatal allure of self-death. While I celebrate life I do have my darker moments and a certain susceptibility to the siren call  of the Cthulhu. Would it surprise you that back in the day some regarded me as a goth? I suppose I was in a way though I despised the term and those who wallowed in it as a lifestyle choice. I remember the young son of a friend describing me with the innocence of a child as “very black”. It amused us mightily at the time since we took it as a reference to my preferred colour of clothing. And car. And decoration. Perhaps it should have been An Sionnach Dubh? But I think he was also referring to my dark nature. More of the Diarmaid than the Fionn. Who else would love a black Christmas Tree? That’s not normal is it? But then being not normal is what I admire. I glory in unconventionality and those who cock-a-snoop at society and its restrictions. Conform? The hell I will.

Of course, I’ve changed a lot since those halcyon days. I’m not sure how anyone regards me now. I suspect with little favour. Too much pain. Too many things seen and done. Life is cruel and it will seek you out no matter how hard you try to hide. In my youth I was Séadanta. Now I have become Conchúr.

All of which rambling brings me to this movie I stumbled across on YouTube, “The Whole Wide World”, focusing on the relationship between Robert E. Howard (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) and his friend and lover Novalyne Price Ellis (a young Renée Zellweger). Enjoy.

Christopher Tolkien On The Legacy Of His Father, J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R., is the person who has undoubtedly done the most to explain the background and history of his father’s writing to the general public, and in particular to his many fans and admirers. Le Monde recently carried a lengthy interview with Tolkien from his south of France home, noteworthy not least for how rarely he grants access to his self-imposed rural retreat. In the article he discusses the complex relationship of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of books, “The Lord of the Rings”, to the Peter Jackson produced movies of the same name. As some may be aware all is not well in this particular area, and a real note of sadness, despair even, seems to be the prevailing feeling. One is left wondering at times how much Christopher Tolkien is the inheritor and protector of his father’s legacy and how much he has become it’s prisoner.

Now Sedulia Scott has generously translated the article from the original French into English, including Tolkien’s disquiet views on the forthcoming movie, The Hobbit. It can be read here and for most Tolkien fans it will make for poignant reading.

“”I could write a book on the idiotic requests I have received,” sighs Christopher Tolkien. He is trying to protect the literary work from the three-ring circus that has developed around it. In general, the Tolkien Estate refuses almost all requests. “Normally,” explains Adam Tolkien, “the executors of the estate want to promote a work as much as they can. But we are just the opposite. We want to put the spotlight on what is not Lord of the Rings.”

This policy, however, has not protected the family from the reality that the work now belongs to a gigantic audience, culturally far removed from the writer who conceived it. Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? “They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people 15 to 25,” Christopher says regretfully. “And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film.”

The divorce is systematically reactivated by the movies. “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time,” Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialisation has reduced the esthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: turning my head away.”

It is hard to say who has won this silent battle between the respect for the word and popularity. Nor who, finally, has the Ring. One thing is certain. From father to son, a great part of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien has now come out of its boxes, thanks to the infinite perseverance of his son.””

The Young Ancestors

Excellent article over on Indian Country Today on a new documentary, The Young Ancestors, which examines the efforts of Native American students in New Mexico to learn their indigenous Tewa language.

“When producer/director Aimée Broustra heard about it she decided to make a documentary.

“The teenagers in The Young Ancestors are motivated and enthusiastic about learning because they understand the symbiotic relationship between language and culture; that one cannot survive for too long without the other,” Broustra says on the documentary’s website, “In a broader context the documentary explores the burgeoning movement by Native Americans to revitalize their native languages in tribes throughout America.”

Of Irish descent, Broustra says she is familiar with oppression.

“I was raised Irish Catholic, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Growing up, I had two different experiences of what it meant to be Irish Catholic. My mother spoke at length of the history of the Irish people and their oppression under the English: the seizure of land owned by Irish Catholics, the loss of the Celtic language and tradition,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network.

Though there are differences in the backgrounds between the Irish and Natives, her history helped her grasp nuances in the film without having to ask for explanations.

In addition to embracing tradition, Broustra offers eye-opening statistics in the film. While there are tribes engaged in revitalizing their languages, many tribal languages are close to endangered and will not survive if the young people don’t start speaking them.”


The Murder Machine – The British War In Ireland

Several weeks ago I examined the acquittal in a British-run court in the North of Ireland of the long-time Irish Republican activist Colin Duffy. Following years of imprisonment while awaiting trial (colloquially known as “internment on remand”) he was found not guilty of the killings of two British soldiers shot dead during an attack on the Masserene Military Base outside Belfast by the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA). For Duffy and his supporters it was a validation of his claims to innocence and further evidence of a campaign of persecution conducted against him by the British state since the late1980s.

In the light of those developments I examined some of Colin Duffy’s history, in particular the attempted murder of Duffy and two other Republicans some twenty years previously. In March 1990, shortly after attending an appointment at a British paramilitary police base of the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (later reformed as the Police Service of Northern Ireland), Duffy and his companions, Tony McCaughey and Sam Marshall, were attacked by a group of British terrorists. Leaping from a car two British gunmen opened fire with a hail of bullets from automatic assault rifles wounding Sam Marshall who fell to the ground, while Duffy and McCaughey narrowly managed to escape. The badly injured 31 year old father was then shot to death as he lay defenceless on the street.

Returning to their vehicle the terrorists sped off, apparently “escorted” by a second car identified by several witnesses as a red Maestro. In 1999 a news documentary for the BBC revealed that the second vehicle was in fact a registered undercover car manned by members of British Military Intelligence and that a number of soldiers were present both on foot and in other vehicles observing the attack. These revelations further fueled already existing allegations that the assassination attempt was the result of co-operation between elements of the British Forces in Ireland and their British terrorist counterparts. The Irish Examiner now brings us the latest revelations in this ongoing scandal:

“…undercover British soldiers were at the scene of a high-profile killing carried out by loyalist paramilitaries in the North, a dramatic new report has revealed.

The revelations centre on a controversial attack where three republicans were ambushed minutes after they left a police station in Lurgan, Co Armagh, in 1990.

Former republican prisoner Sam Marshall was killed in a hail of automatic gunfire, but the presence nearby of a red Maestro car, later found to be a military intelligence vehicle, sparked claims of a security force role in the killing.

The presence of the Maestro, and questions over how the loyalists knew when the republican trio would be leaving the police station, sparked major controversy in the 1990s and led the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) and government to deny anything suspicious had taken place.

A review of the unsolved case by the police Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has now found:

  • At least eight undercover soldiers were deployed near the killing, with their commander monitoring from a remote location;
  • The armed military intelligence personnel at the scene were in six cars, including the noted red Maestro;
  • Two plain-clothed soldiers with camera equipment were in an observation post at the entrance of the police station as the three republicans arrived and left;
  • Two undercover soldiers followed the republicans on foot, and were within 50-100 yards of the attack, but said they did not to see the killing in which the gunmen fired 49 shots;
  • After the two masked loyalists jumped from a Rover car and started shooting, the troops did not return fire, claiming it was out of their line of sight and too far away, but alerted colleagues who launched an unsuccessful search for the killers. Despite being in a republican area, the soldiers make no reference to feeling at risk from the gunmen.
  • The killers’ guns are believed to have been used in four other murders and an attempted murder. Weapons of the same type have been linked by police to seven further killings and four attempted murders carried out in 1988/89;
  • The RUC found gloves near the gang’s burned-out getaway car, but the gloves were subsequently lost;
  • The RUC sought to deny the existence of a surveillance operation by giving “misleading or incomplete” statements. But RUC Special Branch had briefed the undercover troops;
  • Investigators could not rule in, or rule out, that the RUC leaked information to the loyalists.”

In a further twist to the story it has now been revealed in the Irish Times that the rifles used in the attack were part of a consignment of weapons from Apartheid-era South Africa smuggled into Ireland by British Intelligence agents to arm the British terror groups operating here.

“The guns used to kill Sam Marshall were from a haul smuggled into Northern Ireland by a top security force agent, the murdered man’s family has claimed.

Brian Nelson was a leading member of the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and a prized asset of military intelligence.

He has been linked to a string of controversial killings, including the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.

…the family obtained a copy of the original RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) report on the killing, after the document was handed to a US court as part of an extradition case in 1993.

* It confirmed the guns were VZ58 automatic rifles, similar in appearance to the infamous AK47 weapon.

* Victims groups have said the rifle model was among a consignment smuggled into Northern Ireland for use by loyalist paramilitaries in the late 1980s with the help of Brian Nelson.

* The rifles formed part of a major arms shipment from South Africa and the entire stockpile has been linked to 95 of the estimated 225 loyalist murders carried out in the six years following the arrival of the cache.

The family further claimed that by comparing information with other victims of loyalist violence, they have directly linked the guns that killed Sam Marshall to four other murders and an attempted murder.

The Marshall family has also questioned whether the description of a man seen acting suspiciously near Lurgan police station on a previous bail signing by the three republicans matched that of Robin Jackson.

The leading UVF member, known as “The Jackal”, featured in a recent HET report on the murder of members of the Miami Showband pop group in 1975, which pointed to collusion by security forces.

Rosemary Nelson, a Lurgan solicitor who took up the Marshall family’s case, was killed by loyalists in 1999 amid allegations of state collusion.”

Britain’s war in Ireland. Pitiless, remorseless, unending.

We Are 42%

Another image borrowed from the Occupy movement with another Irish spin. More of the original images are available from and The 42% of course refers to the percentage of Irish people who described themselves as speaking fluent or partial Irish in the 2006 Census of Ireland. We are still awaiting the results from the most recent 2011 census.