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  • Archive for the 'Ireland' Category

    Nautical Book Review: The Cruel Coast, by William Gage

    Posted by David Foster on 12th July 2014 (All posts by )

    The Cruel Coast by William Gage

    —-

    In an early morning in May 1944, the German submarine U-234 is cruising on the surface in heavy fog.  The bored lookouts are startled fully awake by the sight of a British corvette heading directly for them at full speed, 4-inch gun crashing and 20-millimeter cannon hammering.  The corvette rams the submarine about 30 feet from the bow, hitting hard and doing major damage.

    The submarine manages to disengage from its British pursuer and find temporary safety in the fog, only because the corvette also has suffered from serious damage.  But the effects of the ramming make it impossible for U-234 to submerge, and Captain Ludtke knows that his expected lifetime on the surface, in an Atlantic dominated by Allied air and naval forces, is quite short.  He resolves to put in at sparsely-populated Spanish Island, off the coast of Ireland, and attempt to repair his U-boat.

    To the people of Spanish Island, U-234′s arrival is like the appearance of a spaceship. The inhabitants are mostly fishermen, all living without much in the way of luxuries or possessions, isolated from the mainland except for the weekly visits of an old steamer, the Kerry Queen.  Ireland is of course neutral in the Second World War, but the people of Spanish have an inherited anger against Britain and hence have pro-German inclinations, carried over from the First World War without much thought.  The only person on Spanish who has a real sense of the issues in the present war is Nora Berkeley, a college graduate who lived for several years on the island after becoming orphaned as a child. She is now on Spanish to visit her grandmother, Lady Maud.  Nora loves the people of Spanish and feels protective toward them;  she does not like the Nazis and does not like submarine warfare—”How can they be honorable, and torpedo defenseless merchant ships?”

    U-234′s captain is Gerhard Ludtke.  He is a very successful submarine commander, holder of the Iron Cross, and his greatest ambition is to add the Oak Leaves…the ultimate award for military valor and success…to this decoration. Ludtke’s father surrendered a battleship to Bolshevik mutineers in the chaotic days following the end of WWI, and Ludtke’s own life has been largely driven by a strong need to redeem this strongly-felt disgrace.

    The submarine’s First Officer is Kurt Riegel—a devout Nazi, and with the kind of personality one might expect of such an individual–Riegel is arrogant, dramatic, quick to cast blame on others when anything goes wrong. The Engineering Officer, Peter Hoffman, is a very different sort of individual–quiet, with a “shy, tilted smile.” Once a violinist and an avid skier, Hoffman was deeply affected by the death of his wife Erika, who was killed in an air raid.  His considerable capacity for loyalty and devotion is now directed toward the crew of U-234;  indeed, his sense of responsibility toward the submarine’s crew parallels Nora Berkeley’s feelings toward the people of Spanish Island.

    Most of the people on Spanish are initially enthusiastic about the submarine’s presence and eagerly volunteer to help with the necessary repair work.  But Peter Hoffman quickly determines that submerged operation will only be possible if they can procure certain electrical parts which are by no means available on the island.  Captain Ludtke initially considers radioing for a Luftwaffe air drop, but realizes that any transmission would probably be intercepted and triangulated by the British.  He resolves to send Hoffman to the mainland by fishing boat to buy or steal the necessary equipment, with two strong islanders to do the rowing and Nora Berkeley as a guide.  Ludtke overcomes Nora’s objections by telling her that if the sub doesn’t get repaired quickly he may be unable to control his men, and some of the island women are likely to be raped… moreover, he warns, if the sub is still there when the Kerry Queen arrives on her weekly trip, he will blow the steamer out of the water.

    Hoffman and Nora Berkeley and the two islanders make their way to the mainland without incident, with Nora harboring a secret intent to slip away and notify the police about the sub’s presence in Irish waters.  They borrow a car and begin a tour of electrical distributors and power stations, with Peter looking for circuit breakers and battery acid that he can acquire and Nora looking for an opportunity to get away and go for the police.

    But as they become acquainted, talking among other things about music and  their childhoods (“Things did not seem to have been greatly different at Wassenburg Akademie and the St Brigid Convent School”), a strong mutual attraction grows up between Nora and Peter.  Nora now has a three-way dilemma: Keep harm from coming to the people of Spanish, keep U-234 from returning to the fight, and keep Peter Hoffman alive until the end of the war.

    The author has done a good job in portraying the two closed worlds of the islanders and the submariners and in building the action of the story around the collision of these worlds.  This book would have made…still could make…an excellent movie, with lots of opportunities for good visuals and good acting.

    Long out of print, but a fair number of used copies are available.

    Posted in Book Notes, Germany, Ireland, Nautical Book Project, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Musical Selections for St Patrick’s Day

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2013 (All posts by )

    …at Grim’s Hall.

    The Celtic harp

    Some songs

    Speaking of things Irish, there is an interesting Dublin-based blog called Sibling of Daedalus. Check it out.

    Posted in History, Holidays, Ireland, Music | 2 Comments »

    re: What They Teach the Children in Schools Today

    Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 31st October 2012 (All posts by )

    The wife and I moved to Ireland a year or so ago.
    I found academic work here. So we moved.

    Today, the wife is walking the children home from school.
    They pass by a lamppost dated “1911.” Douglas, who is 9,
    asks “who was king then?”

    “Edward VII”, she replies. Douglas thinks for a moment and says,
    “George V was his son. And king during the First World
    War.” “Excellent!” she cheers him on, and “Who were his sons?”
    “Edward VIII and George VI.” “Fantastic!” she exclaims, “And
    who is George VI father to?”

    Douglas yells happily back …
    “Our current Queen!!”

    There you have it … I name him after an outstanding American …
    and he grows up to be a Tory (while living in Ireland!).
    Where did I go wrong?

    Mr. Innisfree

    Posted in Anglosphere, History, Ireland, Personal Narrative | 2 Comments »

    Singer/Songwriter Appreciation: Tom Russell

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd May 2012 (All posts by )

    From an Amazon customer review of one of Tom Russell’s albums:

    Twice in my life, while driving in heavy freeway traffic, I’ve heard songs so good on the radio that I had to pull off the road and collect my thoughts. Turns out Tom Russell wrote both of ‘em.

    I’ve never had to actually pull off the road, but there’s no denying that TR’s songs pack a considerable emotional punch…indeed, I think Russell is one of the most talented singer/songwriters working today. I’ve been meaning to write a review of his work for some time, and was stirred into action by L C Reese’s post Grasshoppers and Frost, which reminded me of some lines from Russell’s song Ambrose Larsen:

    The blackbirds and the locusts, destroyed our corn and wheat
    The hawks they ate the chickens, the wolves our mutton meat
    With traps and dogs and shotguns loud, we fought this old wild ground
    Our children caught the fever, but no doctors were around

    (listen here)

    The above is from TR’s album The Man From God Knows Where, a song-cycle about the American immigrant experience based in part on the lives of his own Norwegian and Irish ancestors. “Concept albums often fall flat because they are too explicit” noted an SFGate review of this work, “…but The Man From God Knows Where triumphs by laying out the story of one man’s family in intimate detail while developing general themes that inform all our lives.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Ireland, Music, USA | Comments Off

    Not yet TEA time…

    Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 3rd April 2012 (All posts by )

    Yes, the world is abuzz with the fuss that Irish homeowners are making over the Household Tax. To recap, the Household Tax is a precursor to a property tax, which hasn’t been charged until now. Homeowners are asked to pay EUR100 this year, with an eye towards bringing in a proper tax in 2013. The idea is to get homeowners to self-identify themselves to the government to create the database. (Many government (and indeed health and education) records still are very much on paper.) The deadline for paying this tax was this past Saturday – however, at last count less than half of the suspected 1.6 million households have ponied up.

    In fact, there was a protest at the current ruling party’s annual planning conference (called an “Ard Fheis”). An estimated 5,000-plus people turned out to air their rancor against this tax. Indeed, a number of TDs (members of the Irish parliament) have taken to the airwaves to condemn this tax and at least in a couple of cases, hint broadly that people not should pay it. From an American conservative/libertarian point of view, this all looks promising…

    …until you hear what the complaints are all about. Almost no one is calling for a cut in spending. A goodly number are piqued that they can’t pay for this bill at the post office. And other voters and government folk are calling for the property tax to be means-tested. Sinn Fein wants to scrap this tax altogether for a flat-out income tax rate hike (which is what a property tax based on income level would effectively become) . In other words, this is really a broad-based call for more soaking the rich. But let’s see where this tax is going to.

    It’s being sent to the District Councils – local-based government at the city or county level. And what it’s paying for are parks. Swimming pools. Libraries. And streets (remind me what the Road Tax was supposed to be for?) Meanwhile, still no talk of councillors taking a pay cut. Just asking the homeowners to dig deep to pay for “leisure amenities”. Feh, “leisure amenities”. Let’s get this straight. This isn’t a principled fight over taxation. It’s a squabble over who pays for little Sinead’s swim lessons. As King James II exclaimed at the Battle of the Boyne, GMAFB.

    Posted in Big Government, Ireland, Taxes, Tea Party | 10 Comments »

    Fianna Fail – fault-lines?

    Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 29th February 2012 (All posts by )

    So in today’s continuing Eurodrama, Fianna Fail deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv had to step down due to his refusal to support the Fiscal Treaty. Interesting, especially as Fianna Fail is due to start its annual party conference (the “Ard Fheis”) on Friday. Will the grandson of Eamon de Valera lead the way to a new Irish euroskepticism?

    Meanwhile, The Independent points out in an editorial today that on March 31, Ireland will have to pay another €3.1 billion on its ongoing €30 billion bailout of Anglo-Irish bank. For a country with a GDP of somewhere around $200 billion, that’s not chump change. Indeed, there are rumblings of the government will have to cook up what is called here a “mini-budget” (a budget revision) the summer involving more cuts, although (hopefully) no new taxes.

    For leading parties Fine Gael and Labour to succeed, they will have to try to forestall the mini-budget until after the referendum. How they will managed to wrench out a Yes vote from this will be, um, interesting. And why, yes, I do mean that in the Chinese sense.

    Posted in Europe, Ireland | 2 Comments »

    Ireland to have a referendum on the EU fiscal treaty…

    Posted by Telegram from Innisfree on 28th February 2012 (All posts by )

    Prime Minister Enda Kenny has just announced this afternoon that a general referendum will be held on the EU Fiscal Compact prior to the summer. Labour and Fine Gael, the parties currently in power, will campaign for a Yes vote. Sinn Fein will probably line up on the No side, which would continue their journey on the road to Euroskepticism. Fianna Fail, which spectacularly combusted in general elections last year, will be having its Ard Fheis (Party Conference) this weekend, which a good deal of the party’s future will be discussed. No doubt this referendum will be a hot topic. The sense I get so far is that Fianna Fail will back a yes vote, since the previous government was thoroughly Europhilic and the current leader, Micheal Martin, was in the prior cabinet. But let’s see what happens this weekend…

    A few quick thoughts:
    - The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) is announcing this now because he thinks people are generally feeling good about Ireland’s prospects. In the last 10 days or so several hundred new jobs from various overseas corporations have been announced.
    - Or maybe his hand has been forced by the prospect of Sinn Fein issuing a court challenge?
    - Initial takes I’m reading/hearing indicate a No vote would imply a break from the Eurozone.

    Time to go listen to the radio!!

    Posted in Europe, Ireland | 11 Comments »