Stair (History)

Dublin Irish, 4000 Years And Counting

Baile Átha Cliath - Dubhlinn

Baile Átha Cliath – Dubhlinn

A few years ago a former passive-agressive manager in my job, who made a great point of mispronouncing my surname whenever the chance arose, confronted me with the following declaration: If you speak Irish why are you living in Dublin? Why don’t you go live somewhere down the country where it is spoken?

His pugnacious view probably reflects that of many other Dubliners (native or adopted) who choose to believe that the Irish language is somehow “foreign” to their city. No matter that Dublin is the capital of the island nation of Ireland, of which Irish is the national language. No, in their opinion the capital city is an English-speaking, English-reading, English-thinking place (and perhaps in more ways than those stated here). Some who hold this view do so out of simple ignorance. For others is it a badge of bigoted honour, Anglophone supremacists who insist that “they” and their “ancestors” in the capital never spoke “Gaelic” in the first place, that Dublin was always a non-Irish or English-speaking region – and always will be. I’m sure you’ve seen such things spouted online or heard them in person.

Of course this bigotry, like all bigotry, is based more upon myth and supposition than fact. It glosses over the very Irish origins of the city of Dublin or Baile Átha Cliath, beginning with the secular settlement of Áth Cliath “Hurdle Ford” (situated in what is now the vicinity of the present High Street and Cornmarket area) and the ecclesiastical settlement of Dubhlinn “Blackpool” (almost certainly on or near the site of what is now Dublin Castle). The former place was probably a small – and likely centuries-old – agricultural and fishing community on the southern banks of the river Liffey (An Life) near the main crossing-point. The latter settlement was also south of the tidal estuary, a large and once influential monastery of perhaps a hundred or so monks and servants situated on rising ground near the river mouth with several satellite churches dotted in the surrounding countryside. Both places derived their prosperity and importance from their location near the meeting point of Ireland’s pan-island network of slite or highways and their proximity to the ancient (and much disputed) boundary between the historic provinces of and Laighin just to the north of the river Liffey. The region itself was part of the territory of the Uí Fhearghasa, one the branches of the powerful Uí Dhúnlainge, and was populated with scattered communities many of which were later absorbed into the suburbs of the Medieval and early industrial conurbation.

When Scandinavian invaders and colonists – the Vikings - made their permanent presence felt in Ireland during the 9th century one of the first places they occupied was the monastic “town” of Dubhlinn, annexing the neighbouring hinterland and river crossing. While some point to this as the (non-Irish) foundation of the city of Dublin it was of course simply another phase in a pre-existing (Irish) complex of settlements. In any case over the next hundred years the inhabitants of Dublin became thoroughly assimilated or Irishified, emerging as a bilingual Scandinavian-Irish kingdom and mercantile centre vied over by the country’s major dynasties. Indeed from the late 10th century onwards the rulers of Baile Átha Cliath / Dubhlinn were invariably Irish or Scandinavian-Irish, notably Murchú son of Diarmaid mac Maoil na mBó, the formidable king of Laighin.

So if that populist Anglophone understanding of Dublin’s origins is wrong what of the Irish language and its place in the life of the city and county? Would it shock you to know that the last native speakers of the Dublin dialect of Irish lived into the 20th century? From the new blog, “Dublin Gaelic”, which is dedicated to uncovering the evidence of the region’s once rich native identity and in particular the local manifestation of the Irish language we have this fascinating information:

“If you ask anyone the question, ‘When did native Irish die out in Dublin?’, the likelihood is that they will answer ‘very early on’…

This is a well-founded presumption given the general trend of Irish history, but it is incorrect.
First of all, Gaelic dialects from outside Dublin have been (and continue to be) spoken in the capital without interruption. There have always been Irish-speaking incomers in the city and once English became the predominant native language there there continued to be a partially Irish-speaking working class and underclass composed of rural migrants. Indeed, during the Famine, the populations of Dublin, Belfast and Cork all actually increased – many of these would have been Irish speakers. There almost certainly would have been small, poor Irish-speaking districts of the city well into the late nineteenth century, as people moved together to the metropolis from congested Gaelic-speaking areas throughout the country and encouraged others back home to join them.
Secondly, and more importantly for this blog, traditional local Gaelic receded far more slowly in Co. Dublin than generally realised. Anglicisation took hold most quickly along arterial transport routes, through which commerce and bureaucracy could push the English language ahead of them. But mountainous parts of south Co. Dublin remained relatively remote (and so self-sufficient) well into the twentieth century, providing conditions that helped the survival of a local Irish dialect – although it was, even in its lifetime, very difficult to find.
It is here – just 21km south of O’Connell Street – in the townlands of Bohernabreena (Bóthar na Bruíne) and Castlekelly (Caisleán Uí Cheallaigh) that local Gaelic persisted as a community language into the 1870s, with individual native speakers still to be found after 1900. These included one speaker, an elderly lady, who had – ironically – moved to town (Kimmage) by 1930 but who still spoke, with some difficulty, the Dublin Mountains dialect of her childhood.”
It is fact-based articles and posts like those featured on the Dublin Gaelic blog which provide an antidote to the poisonous anti-factual ravings of contemporary Anglophone supremacists in Ireland who wish to denigrate the modern Irish-speaking communities and citizens of our island nation. Knowledge is a weapon, a chairde. Arm yourselves.
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This Land Is Mine, Israel And Palestine

From the talented Nina Paley.

The Orange Order – Enough Is Enough

Margaret Thatcher touring the British Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, '80s and '90s

Then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher touring the Occupied North of Ireland in 1981 wearing a beret of the UDR, an infamous British Army militia whose members were responsible for scores of terrorist attacks during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s

From 1975 to 1982 a British terrorist faction nicknamed the “Shankhill Butchers”, part of the militant UVF, carried out a series of attacks designed to instil terror in the Irish Nationalist community of Belfast, randomly targeting men, women and children living in isolated enclaves around the city. Like Al-Qaeda in Iraq during the intercommunal conflict the Unionist grouping simply didn’t kill their victims. Armed with guns, explosives, axes and butchers knives they kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, hacked the limbs and cut the throats of those they encountered, often using various pubs and bars around the city to carry out their murderous activities (sometimes with the full knowledge of staff and customers). Fuelled by alcohol and drugs they boasted of the time it took to slay their captives or of how many they had killed that week, from ten year-old Kevin McMenamin to forty-eight year Marie McGrattan. Existing in the twilight world of British colonial culture on the island of Ireland, nationalism and religion fused together, they came to represent all that was evil on the ideological fringes of Unionism. Eventually their frenzied behaviour and ancillary criminal ways became too much for the British authorities and paramilitary police and they were brought to heel, arrests and assassinations (both internally and by Irish Republicans) breaking the back of their amorphous organisation.

One of their number was Eddie McIlwaine, a serving British soldier with the infamous Ulster Defence Regiment, who helped the group secure weapons, intelligence information and safe passage through British security cordons and checkpoints (though he was not the only one to do so). He was convicted in 1979 of kidnapping, assault and possession of weapons, the least of the charges that could have been brought against him. His only admitted victim was Gerard McLaverty, a young man the gang grabbed off the street while posing as police officers, beat, strangled and slashed with a knife before leaving for dead. Back then McIlwaine was an acknowledged psychopath, a dangerous soldier-cum-terrorist addicted to inflicting human suffering. Today he is an honoured and all-but venerated member of the Orange Order, the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish fraternity devoted to fundamentalist Protestantism and Britishness. From the Belfast Telegraph newspaper:

“One of the Shankill Butchers stewarded an Orange Order parade past a Catholic church in Belfast last weekend.

Eddie McIlwaine was filmed by Carrick Hill residents ushering members of the loyal orders past St Patrick’s on Donegall Street on the Twelfth.

McIlwaine was jailed for eight years in 1979 for being part of the Shankill Butchers gang that killed 19 Catholics and Protestants.

Last year Sunday Life pictured him parading through east Belfast during the UVF’s 100th anniversary parade.

He wore a UVF armband emblazoned with the words ‘UVF West Belfast 1’, and a medal understood to signify time spent in prison.

McIlwaine’s involvement with the Orange Order was first revealed a decade ago when he was pictured carrying a banner commemorating UVF killer Brian Robinson at the controversial Whiterock parade.

A spokesman for the Orange Order defended the Shankill Butcher’s role in the organisation, saying: “I can confirm that Eddie McIlwaine is a member of that lodge and in good standing…

“As long as Mr McIlwaine upholds the principle of the institution and has paid his debt to society he has done nothing wrong.””

Politicians, journalists and observers sometimes claim a moral equivalence between the actions of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, the British Occupation Forces and the British Terror Factions during the conflict in the north-east of Ireland and beyond. They argument goes that they all were equally guilty of militarism and violence. This is simply untrue. While the IRA can be justifiably criticised and condemned for many of its actions, up to and including war crimes, more often than not it exercised restraint. As dreadful as the war was it could have been far worse had the IRA chosen to act entirely outside the norms of western European behaviour at the end of the 20th century (or what the communities who supported it were willing to tolerate). That is not to negate the suffering caused by the Republican Army, the many innocent victims both direct and indirect left by its actions. The litany of its barbarisms, deliberate or otherwise, is lengthy and bring no credit to anyone. The war was not a clean one. Heroes are few and far between.

However the terrorist gangs organised and functioning under the aegis of the British state, acknowledged or otherwise, are a different matter. It was these factions which embraced as a weapon of war the policy of “ethnic cleansing” as the ultimate solution – or fallback – to the conflict and the defeat of their enemy. Acting as the cutting edge of Britain’s counter-insurgency strategy they engaged not armed opponents, guerrilla fighters or their commanders, but ordinary Irish men, women and children.

35% of all those killed by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army were civilians.

51% of all those killed by the British Occupation Forces were civilians.

85% of all those killed by the British terror factions were civilians.

When the Orange Order permits the membership of someone like Eddie McIlwaine, a literal butcher of human beings, when it elevates him to a position of authority in its organisation, however slight, it sends a message to the people of Ireland as a whole. It is the same message that ISIS, the would-be Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sends to Shia Moslems and Arab Christians or Israel sends to the Palestinians of Gaza: you and yours are unhumans.

France Had Pétain, We Nearly Had Redmond

John Redmond MP presents a regimental flag to a unit of the Irish National Volunteers, the paramilitary wing of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, April 1915

John Redmond MP presents a regimental flag to a unit of the Irish National Volunteers, the paramilitary wing of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, April 1915

John Redmond is probably one of the more divisive figures in Irish history and rightly so. The patrician head of the Irish Parliamentary Party whose followers eulogised him with an almost messianic fervour while excoriating any and all critics he was the self-proclaimed “leader of Nationalist Ireland” who bullied and cajoled thousands of young Irish men into sacrificing their lives in the service of the British Empire from 1914-18. While opposing “militant” nationalism at home he was a devout defender of British militarist nationalism abroad, a committed if “devolutionist” imperialist whose desire for Home Rule was driven as much by self-serving political ambitions as justice for the Irish people as a whole. Like his followers Redmond believed that Ireland was the personal fiefdom of the Irish Parliamentary Party and acted accordingly. Dissent was rarely tolerated and when rival forces arose, like the disparate Irish Volunteers in 1913, they were quickly appropriated or side-lined.

His conservatism shaped his political, economic and social world-view. Limited autonomy for Ireland within the so-called United Kingdom based upon exploitative class lines little different from that under the existing British administration allied to the diktats of the Roman Catholic church. The conformist, anti-pluralist state shaped in the 1920s by the Irish counter-revolution and the political forerunners of Fine Gael was in many ways the embodiment of Redmond’s constitutional ambitions, albeit with considerably more independence than he would perhaps have felt comfortable with.

So given John Redmond’s deplorable track record on the separation of church and state, women’s rights, employee rights, opposition to comprehensive health and social care, and generally early 20th century “neo-liberal” socio-economic outlook it is surprising to see Rónán O’Brien, a Labour Party activist and former advisor to several Labour ministers in government (at the cost of €114,000 per annum, a chairde!), defending Redmond’s tarnished political legacy in the Irish Times. Albeit in a self-defeating manner:

“It is not difficult to understand why a man who called on Irish nationalists not only to defend the island of Ireland during the first World War but to volunteer for the British army has been written out of a national narrative based on Easter 1916.

It is not difficult to see either how a man whose Irishness was matched by an affinity to the British Empire was forgotten in independent Ireland.

And it is not difficult to see how a man hostile to women’s suffrage (unlike his brother) would be disregarded by at least half our population.

But none of these things should detract from the contribution made by him and his party to Irish independence.”

Actually, I think you’ll find that they should. And do.

Name The Kincora Abusers


The bizarre sight of an Israeli flag in a British Unionist area of Belfast flying above a British terrorist banner and Britain’s national flag, Ireland

For the first time an allegation long made in private has been stated in public: a senior member of the largest political party representing the British Unionist community in the north-east of Ireland and a current minister in the regional executive in Belfast was once an associate of Tara, a would-be British terrorist grouping founded in the 1960s by the notorious paedophile, Orange Order chaplain and British-Israelite occultist William McGrath. The latter individual is indelibly linked with the Kincora Boys’ Home Scandal, the Belfast care home where vulnerable children were “ritually” abused by McGrath and suspected members of Britain’s political establishment flown in for the occasion, not to mention others linked with the paramilitary police, armed forces, intelligence services and various militant factions.

McGrath’s organisation seems to have been part of a wider if loosely organised network of paedophiles in Britain from the 1950s to ‘90s whose more notable members have become familiar names in the controversies of recent months. He is also closely linked with the inception of the “Ulster-Scots” völkisch movement, in particular those who believe in a catalogue of pseudo-historical theories linking the Unionist community in Ireland with the ancient Pictish peoples of eastern Scotland and the Lost Tribes of Israel. If all this sounds very Dan Brown I suggest that you employ Google or Bing for yourself to discover more. The truth is more fantastical – and worrying – than any novel. Religious fundamentalism meets ultranationalism with hefty doses of colonial racism and fringe academia thrown in. And in this case made subservient to the physical and sexual exploitation of children.

The Irish and British media will remain silent on this one. But for how long?

Britain’s Legacy In Ireland, 800 Years In The Making

A British Unionist and Orange Order bonfire decorated with sectarian and racist messages, Ireland, July 2014

A British Unionist and Orange Order bonfire decorated with sectarian and racist messages, Ireland, July 2014

Pictured above is an “Eleventh Night” bonfire, one of many dozens erected across the north-east of Ireland by usually adolescent members of the British Unionist minority to commemorate a series of 17th century Protestant British victories over Catholic British and Irish opponents during localised conflicts in the pan-european War of the Grand Alliance. In Ireland the primary struggle, known as Cogadh an Dá Rí or “War of the Two Kings”, reasserted Britain’s colonial rule over the island nation and the association of militant Protestant fundamentalism with Britishness. As is now the (controversial) tradition in some districts the bonfire is “decorated” with a number of sectarian, racist and homophobic symbols and slogans aimed at those deemed outside or anathema to British ethno-national culture and identity.

Starting from the top of the pyre we have:

A number of Irish flags, both current and historical, including the national flag of Ireland (commonly called the Tricolour), the Irish Harp flag (superseded by the Tricolour) and the Gal Gréine or Irish “Sunburst” banner, a symbol derived from indigenous literature.

A Palestinian flag (some British Unionists in Ireland believe in the pseudo-historical and messianic myth that their community or “folk” is descended from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel while others identify with contemporary  Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories).

A Rainbow or Gay/LGBT Pride flag, homosexuality and gender-realingment being widely viewed as a biblical abominations by Protestant fundamentalists amongst the Unionist minority.

Various banners painted with political acronyms and slogans:

Keep Antrim Tidy = KAT = Kill All Taigs “Kill All Irish/Catholics”

We’re Not Racist We Just Don’t Like Cotton-Picking Niggers / We’re Not Racist, Just Don’t Like Niggers

I Ran Away = IRA = Irish Republican Army

[With thanks to babeufinsiberia]



Between The Land And The Sea

Teach an Locháin, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014

“Teach an Locháin”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. A new build with an aggressively modern – and locally unsympathetic – design replacing an older more low-key dwelling (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Regular readers will know of my affection for Bóthar an Choinicéir, a leafy side-road in Fine Gall situated on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the main BÁC-Binn Éadair DART line. Generally considered to be part of Cill Fhionntain technically the area lies within the separate townland of An Coinicéar (though both lie in the barony of An Chúlóg. For administrative purposes Ireland is divided into townlands, parishes, baronies and counties, the first three often following indigenous Irish territorial divisions rather than later British colonial impositions). I spent a considerable part of my childhood here, both at school and at play, and remain a regular visitor. So I thought I’d post a couple of pictures of my favourite houses (of which there are many).

Cois Farraige, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014 (3)

“Cois Farraige”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014 . The front view of “Seaside”, a listed house dating from the 1800s lying empty for some considerable time (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Cois Farraige, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014 (2)

“Cois Farraige”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. The rear view of the empty “Seaside”, a noted property dating from the late 1800s (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Trá an Choinicéir, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014

Trá an Choinicéir, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. The view from the garden of “Cois Farraige” or “Seaside”. An enviable vista I think you’ll agree (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

An Sean Teach, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014

“An Sean Teach”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. One of a number of properties lying empty on the road at Bóthar an Choinicéir – Bóthar Dhroim Chléire (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Rhetoric Should Take Second Place To Respect

The Gaza Strip under Israeli assault (Íomhá: The Guardian)

The Gaza Strip under Israeli assault (Íomhá: The Guardian)

The ongoing military operations being carried out against the civilian population of Gaza and Occupied Palestine as a whole by the Israeli defence forces and government in pursuit of Palestinian insurgents are dreadful and may well fall into the category of war crimes. However the use of deliberately egregious language to describe or condemn those operations, especially language that knowingly harks back to World War Two and the Third Reich, is not only offensive but counter-productive. Six million men, women and children from a Jewish background, however tenuous, died in the concentration camps or the killing fields of Europe between 1939 and 1945. To refer to an “Israeli blitzkrieg” on Gaza as An Phoblacht did today is to echo language normally used in relation to the Nazis. It is both insensitive and unnecessary. Likewise the Israeli government, however much it is influenced by sectarian and racist views, is not a “Zionist regime”. It is all the more ironic that this article comes from the newspaper of Sinn Féin, a party that sits in a regional power-sharing government in the north-east of Ireland with another grouping whose isolationist world view is not so far removed from that of the current governing parties in Israel.

A Sickness At The Heart Of Britishness

The once much-lauded British Unionist militant and notorious paedophile William McGrath photographed in his regalia as a

The once much-lauded British Unionist militant and notorious paedophile William McGrath photographed in his regalia as a “chaplain” of the Orange Order. Throughout the 1970s he procured the “ritualised” abuse of children for suspected members of the British military, police, judiciary, government and aristocracy

As Britain witnesses the revelations of a decades old culture of institutionalised paedophilia and sexual abuse within the heart of the state (seemingly encompassing the BBC, the lower and upper houses of parliament, the judiciary, the police and intelligence services, the “aristocracy”, and past – and possibly current – governments in London) it is worth remembering how the conflict in the north-east of Ireland was exploited to feed the baser vices of the ruling elites in our neighbouring island. The Blether Region, which normally focuses on issues relating to the Irish, Scottish and Scots English languages, has done an exemplary job in reminding us of the squalid nexus of sectarianism, terrorism, money and power as represented by the infmaous Kincora Boys Home Scandal. For ten years the “reverend” William McGrath, a fanatically anti-Catholic member of the Orange Order in Belfast, the founder of a would-be terror gang, a Far Right conspirator, and a believer in the myth of the Lost Tribes of Israel, worked with others in the 1970s to supply a chain of boys and youths for the “ritualised” pleasures of fellow Unionist leaders, members of the British armed forces, the intelligence services, and senior government officials (elected and otherwise). The list of those possibly involved seems to grow with every passing week as more information comes to light, primarily through the efforts of a few honest campaigners in Britain, and now Ireland, with the British news media lagging well behind (you can assume your own reasons for that). The latest post is here and should be read by all those concerned with just how incredibly dirty the “Dirty War” really was. Beyond even the reckoning of most of its protagonists.

When politics and religion, fantasies and ravings, are mixed together this is the result.

Syria’s Other War

The 12th century Krak des Chevaliers or قلعة الحصن‎ near Homs in Syria, under recent bombardment (Íomhá: BBC)

As if the dreadful loss in human life and untold misery inflicted upon tens of thousands wasn’t enough the internecine struggle in Syria now rivals the conflict in Iraq for the irreparable damage it has caused to the physical heritage of the Middle East and its many peoples. A thoroughly depressing report from the BBC:

“Syria, graced with thousands of historic sites, is seeing its cultural heritage vandalised, looted and destroyed by war…

In March the Syrian air force bombed the world’s best preserved Crusader Castle, the 12th Century Krak des Chevaliers in Homs province.

In November a mortar shell, fired from rebel-held areas in the north-eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, struck the priceless mosaics on the facade of the 8th Century Great Mosque – the spiritual heart of the city.

Among the 2,000-year-old remains of the Roman oasis city of Palmyra, to the north-east, the army has dug a road and earth dykes, and installed multiple rocket launchers inside the camp of the emperor Diocletian.

Further north, Aleppo’s Great Mosque, founded in the early 8th Century, has come under heavy fire. Its 50m-tall Seljuk minaret, a masterpiece of elegance dating from 1095, was considered one of the most important monuments of medieval Syria.

The minaret, whose height made it a useful rebel lookout and sniper position, collapsed as a result of shelling in March 2013.

Aleppo’s souks, dating back in parts to the 13th Century, were considered the finest of any in the Middle East, with more than 12km of winding alleys. Not just a major tourist attraction, they represented the beating heart of the commercial city, founded in the 2nd Millennium BC.

Free Syrian Army rebels established a headquarters in a bath-house near the old souk, making it a target for bombardment.

The Old City of Homs suffered more aerial bombardment than any other city in Syria. Many ancient buildings, including several active churches and monasteries, were flattened. Umm Al-Zinnar Church boasted a relic from the belt of the Virgin Mary.

Far to the south, the 2nd Century Roman amphitheatre of Bosra, once the capital of the Roman Province of Arabia, is concealed within a 13th Century fort not far from the Jordanian border. It has been occupied during the current fighting by army snipers and shabiha militia, its windows piled with sandbags, firing at rebel pockets in the Old Town of Bosra.

The famous tells or archaeological mounds of Mesopotamia – rich repositories of man’s earliest history once carefully dug by the likes of Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband Max Mallowan – are now systematically being plundered with heavy machinery to fill the coffers of Islamist militant group Isis. While some ancient artefacts are traded for weapons or cash, others that represent humans or animal gods are seen by Isis as heretical to Islam and destroyed.

Isis has also bulldozed statues of lions along with Sufi and Shia shrines in the Raqqa province, the militant group’s headquarters.”

Whatever about removing modernist symbols of relatively recent oppression in various nations around the world, Queen Victoria in Ireland, Stalin in Ukraine, Pol Pot in Cambodia, using contemporary political or religious ideology to justify the destruction of ancient monuments indicates the facile nature of those beliefs.

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.

A Colony Cannot Be Reformed

A 1960s’ civil rights march in the north-east of Ireland demanding equality in housing, jobs, justice and voting. Decades on little has changed

In case you missed it, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations:

“Press Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing…

From 29 August to 11 September 2013, I undertook an official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the invitation of the Government. My visit included various cities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The main objective of my visit was to assess the country’s achievements and challenges in guaranteeing the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination in this context, in accordance with existing international human rights standards. The assessment includes legislation and policy frameworks as well as the consideration of concrete outcomes from those policies, examining how they respond to the housing needs of women, men and children, with a particular focus on those most vulnerable and disenfranchised.

Planning systems reforms are also being considered in Northern Ireland, devolving powers to Local Councils, which will also be territorially redefined. In this context, I want to express my concern at the potential that this decentralization may have for increased sectarianism and discrimination.

… population groups, highlighted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2009, which continue to face inadequate access to affordable housing are Catholics in Northern Ireland, specifically in North Belfast. The current allocation scheme was created to be fair and open, and to allocate accommodation on the basis of meeting the housing need of people. Despite the efforts of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, I remain concerned that full equality has not been achieved yet.”

Nearly five decades on from the eruption of the war in the north-east of Ireland and the causes of the conflict remain as current as ever. Despite the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, despite supposed power-sharing and improvements in civil rights institutionalised discrimination based upon religion and ethnicity remains the dominant feature of the last remnant of the historic British colonial state on our island nation. One cannot reform the unreformable. One can only wipe the slate clean and start again.

The Real Subversives In Ireland

John Redmond For The Death Of Ireland

John Redmond – For The Death Of Ireland (larger image available at

The twisted psyche of the ruling elites in Ireland is never plainer to see than when one of them emerges from the Big House to criticise the revolutionary stepping stones that led to the establishment of the nation-state they inhabit. And by implication the very existence of the state itself. Former Fine Gael politico and EU careerist John Bruton, probably one of the most inept Taoisigh in living memory, has used a meeting held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passing by the British of the “Home Rule” legislation for Ireland in 1914 (severely limited autonomy for the country within the so-called United Kingdom) to effectively condemn his own nation’s resistance to colonial rule. In a speech which defies any rational understanding of European history Burton claims that the 1916 Revolution and subsequent War of Independence were unnecessary and that people must consider the “…damage that has been done to the Irish psyche” by their staging.

Well, in fairness he is right in one way. If the British state had accepted the three votes by the overwhelming number of people living on the island of Ireland at the start of the 20th century in favour of independence there would have been no insurrectionist violence or damage to anyone’s “psyche“. However I suspect that is not what the historically-blinkered Bruton means. In particular he condemns the alleged cultish devotion to “violence” by the first President of the Irish Republic, Patrick Pearse, a man whose life was violently ended in front of a British Army firing squad. No matter that Pearse was originally a pacifist school teacher who only latterly turned to violence as a method of last resort after the repeated failures to pass Home Rule legislation by the British and the state-violence surrounding the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913. Lets not upset the revisionist narrative with something as troublesome as facts.

From the Irish Times:

“Mr Bruton was one of a number of speakers who addressed an event in the Irish Embassy last night to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Home Rule Act. Speaking later to The Irish Times, Mr Bruton said he did not believe that “the problems of Ireland” then were “amenable to solution” by violence.”

That would be Irish violence against the British. As for British violence against the Irish? Y’know, the kind that was inflicted on our people for several hundred years? On that he is unsurprisingly silent.

“The belief in the spiritual cleansing was not just one shared by Pearse at the time, he said, noting that the belief was prevalent in other countries in the run-up to the first World War. “I don’t think that that belief was particularly strong in England at the time but it was the case in other countries, and it played a role in the willingness of countries to take part in the war,” he said.”

So the British didn’t worship at the same altar of military heroism in the decades leading up to WWI as most of the other major powers in Europe? An absolutely extraordinary misrepresentation of the historical record that flies against a wealth of documentary evidence. It seems we are dealing with less a speech and more of a defence of Imperial Britain straight from the pages of a British “Boys Own” annual c.1934!

“Asked if Pearse had “justified” the existence of the IRA, Mr Bruton said: “I suppose so, yes. He could not have been more wrong. Violence is about killing, remember that.”

Later, he said: “It is a very hard to be both a fan of Padraig Pearse and of John Redmond. And I am a Redmondite, and I always have been.””

Would this be the same John Redmond who used political threats and violence to stage a de facto coup within the ranks of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 so that the anti-British military organisation could be brought under the control of Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. The same Redmond who then built upon his successes in seizing influence within the Volunteers to further split the movement creating the Irish National Volunteers, an armed grouping completely under his control and that of the IPP? The same Redmondite politician who then sent tens of thousands of young Irish men off to die in the service of the British Empire while he stayed well away from any of the actual fighting, even sacrificing his own brother in the process?

You wish to know the difference between Pearse and Redmond?

Patrick Pearse led a thousand Irish men and women into battle in 1916 to establish a democracy in the name of the Irish people.

John Redmond sent a hundred thousand Irish men into battle in 1916 to defend an empire in defiance of the Irish people.

That is what the British apologists who populate Ireland’s contemporary political and media élites cannot forgive – or forget.

For more on this subject please read “Remembering to Forget: An essay on Ireland and WW1” by Michael Carley.

Tony O’Reilly, Entrepreneur Or Ideologue?

Tony O’Reilly (or Sir Anthony to his employees), the “moderate Unionist”

For the last three decades the national press in Ireland has been dominated by the publications of the Independent News & Media group (INM), a corporation formerly ruled by the controversial businessman Tony O’Reilly (or “Sir Anthony O’Reilly” as his newspapers were allegedly instructed to describe him following his “knighthood” by the British head of state in 2001 for “services to Northern Ireland”). Despite denials to the contrary critics regularly charged that the editorial pages of the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent newspapers were little more than mouthpieces for the political, economic and social diktats of O’Reilly and his coterie of like-minded colleagues. He was to Ireland what Rupert Murdoch was to Britain, Australia or the United States, and with much the same cultural attributes (albeit on a suitably Lilliputian scale, despite his grandiose pretensions). The main effect of O’Reilly’s influence was the head-hunting and promotion of journalists and staff members within his media empire who agreed with or soon adopted his non-too-subtle pro-British, anti-Republican line in relation to the conflict in the north-east of Ireland and Irish history in general.

Through his newspapers, for two decades and more, articles and editorials were published attacking the central role of Irish Republicanism in the founding of our freedom and democracy, the historic opposition to British colonial rule on our island nation, the 1916-21 Revolution, indeed the very establishment of the nation-state of Ireland itself. Britain’s centuries-long invasion, occupation and annexation of this country and the accompanying ethnocide of the Irish people was rewritten as a history of a civilizing force liberating primitive tribes from their own innate savagery. The indigenous Irish language and culture was excoriated while the English supplanters were held up as symbols of modernity and progress. A faux Anglo-American vision of Irishness was promoted, a hollow façade free of any roots deeper than the 18th century and the era of the Anglo-Irish Ascendency, occasionally overlaid with the worse aspects of contemporary Plastic Oirishness.

Inevitably given the small and incestuous nature of the journalistic community in Ireland by the late-1980s news reporting as whole, from print to electronic, was now under the control of an establishment whose members were ideological clones of each other. When critics of the Irish media lamented its closed-circle “group-think” this is exactly what they were referring to. Men and women who think the same, speak the same, write the same. Indeed who attend the same restaurants and pubs, are members of the same clubs and societies, live in the same suburbs and commuter towns, send their children to the same schools, and even marry and divorce each other (and with alarming regularity it may be said).

When the Sunday Independent published its extraordinary editorial in the aftermath of the European and local elections condemning the Irish electorate and other media groupings for failing to subject Sinn Féin “to sustained close scrutiny as we have done for the past 30 years” it was one of the more explicit political statements to have come from the group-think in recent years. It was a revelation of how the people at the IN&M grouping saw themselves: defenders of the “Free State” Nouveau Ascendency against the Corner Boys and Mountainside Men of old. In its contempt for the workings of democracy and the plurality of representation the editorial view was in many ways typical of the stable of newspapers who regularly tried to promote their own “in-house” political parties while calling upon unelected “entrepreneurs” to be elevated to cabinet positions in the government.

Now the great O’Reilly has fallen from his lofty perch, and his business empire in mortal crisis, his former media acolytes are in damage-limitation mode paying off past largesse with sickeningly effusive defences of his career and character. However such is their panic that the old rules of yesteryear have been forgotten, the instructions to deny the influence of the man behind the curtain put to one side, and the implicit is being made explicit. From the Irish Independent:

“The one clear, consistent policy was that there was to be no truck with republicanism. That was not popular either. Despite what one hear nowadays, there was widespread passive support for extreme republicanism for a long time, from the highest to the lowest echelons of Irish society.

As well as campaigning against the IRA, O’Reilly was instrumental in cutting off much of their American money by setting up the Ireland Fund to provide an alternative for Irish Americans to contribute their dollars.

His style is patrician, his politics are moderate unionist, he is comfortable with both Irish and British nationality. The knighthood said a lot about him…”

Indeed it does, as does the acceptance and praise of his “Unionist” politics from within the journalistic establishment. For what is a Unionist?

“In the United Kingdom, British unionists are those people and political organisations who wish their constituent country to remain or in historical usage to become part of the United Kingdom.

In Ireland, unionism is an ideology which favours the continuation of some form of political union between Ireland and Great Britain.”

Now do you understand the last thirty years of Irish journalism?

The Dirty Secrets Of A Dirty War Get Even Dirtier

Joan Connolly, a fifty year old Irish mother of eight murdered by British troops during the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971

Joan Connolly, a fifty year old Irish mother of eight murdered by British troops during the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1971

In the “better late than never” category Britain’s Left-leaning newspaper, the Guardian, has published a special investigation by Ian Cobain into the infamous Ballymurphy Massacre of August 1971. During the course of three days rampaging British troops in an isolated Irish Nationalist enclave on the edge of West Belfast murdered ten civilians, 9 men and boys and one woman, while wounding dozens more. If you are a regular reader of An Sionnach Fionn you will have read my own description of the terrifying events that summer some forty years ago. You will also be aware that the government in Britain has refused to hold an official inquiry into the war crime, largely on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest do so. That would be the British public interest, of course.

“One of the most tragic and controversial episodes of the conflict in Northern Ireland will be relived in a Belfast courtroom on Friday when a preliminary hearing is held into the deaths of 10 people shot dead more than four decades ago.

All 10 were killed in one small neighbourhood of west Belfast over little more than 36 hours in August 1971 during the disturbances that were triggered by the introduction of internment without trial.

Drawing upon hundreds of pages of contemporary witness statements, police reports and pathologists’ records gathered for the inquest, the Guardian has reconstructed the events surrounding the killings.

What emerges is a picture that is complex and confused, but which points to a prolonged killing spree by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, several months before troops from the same regiment massacred protesters at Derry on Bloody Sunday.

Among the nine men and one woman fatally wounded in the streets around Ballymurphy between the evening of 9 August and the morning of 11 August were a local priest, shot twice while giving the last rites to a man who had also been shot, and a 44-year-old mother of eight, shot in the face.

At least eight of those who died appear to have been shot by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment. A ninth was shot by a soldier from a different regiment, while the 10th was shot by an unidentified sniper, possibly a soldier. Another man died of heart failure, allegedly after being subjected to a mock execution by soldiers.

Unlike on Bloody Sunday, however, no journalists were present, no camera crews captured the events, and there was no international condemnation of the killings.”

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, killed in the 1989 ambush at Baile an Chláir by an Active Service Unit of the South Armagh Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. His suspected links to British terrorist factions in the north-east of Ireland have gone unreported by both the Irish and British news media

Chief Superintendent Harry Breen, killed in the 1989 ambush at Baile an Chláir by an Active Service Unit of the South Armagh Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. His suspected links to British terrorist factions in the north-east of Ireland have gone unreported by both the Irish and British news media

Meanwhile the Guardian also reports on new revelations surrounding the assassination by British terrorists of Sergeant Joseph Campbell, a paramilitary police officer with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), in 1977. A recent investigation by the Police Ombudsman in the north-east of Ireland has discovered that the planned killing of (the Roman Catholic) Campbell was known before hand by senior commanders in the RUC who did nothing to prevent it. In fact there is considerable suspicion that they permitted the shooting to go ahead in order to protect corrupt and terrorist-supporting men within their own ranks.

“Campbell had been a well-known and respected police officer in the County Antrim community for many years. The shooting took place on the evening of 25 February 1977 and since then his widow and children have campaigned for more information about the circumstances surrounding his death.

The Campbells have always believed their father was murdered by one of the most notorious loyalist paramilitary killers of the Troubles – Robin “The Jackal” Jackson. Jackson was an assassin for the Ulster Volunteer Force, whose targets were mainly Catholics living in the so-called murder triangle of North Armagh and Tyrone.

Since Campbell’s murder there have been allegations that the police officer was shot dead because he discovered links between Jackson and a rogue member of RUC special branch who was organising criminal activities including armed robberies in County Antrim.

The police ombudsman is currently involved in a legal battle with the PSNI over its refusal to allow him access to sensitive historic files on unsolved Troubles crimes.”

If the name of the gunman Robin “The Jackal” Jackson seems familiar to you that is because we discussed him before in relation to the killing of RUC Superintendent Harry Breen in a 1989 ambush by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. In a sworn affidavit to a tribunal set up by the government of Ireland an ex-RUC officer-cum-terrorist, Sergeant John Weir, testified that Harry Breen supported the campaign of violence and mayhem by British militants in the mid-Ulster region, led most notably by Jackson. Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s serving and former British police officers and soldiers in the so-called Glenanne Gang staged a series of gun and bomb attacks against the local Irish civilian population in the counties of Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan and Fermanagh, a region soon dubbed the “Murder Triangle” by the contemporary news media.

The more we uncover the secrets of Britain’s “Dirty War” in Ireland, the dirtier it gets.