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  • Archive for the 'Ireland' Category

    Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 17th March 2016 (All posts by )

    The Year of the French, by Thomas Flanagan

    (This being St Patrick’s day, I’m taking advantage of the hook to re-post this review, in the hope of inspiring a few more people to read this incredibly fine historical novel)

    Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century,” going on to say “except for ‘The Leopard,’ I know of no historical novel that so richly and convincingly captures the ambience of a bygone world.”

    In August of 1798, the French revolutionary government landed 1000 troops in County Mayo to support indigenous Irish rebels, with the objective of overthrowing British rule in Ireland.  The Year of the French tells the (fictionalized but fact-based) story of these events from the viewpoint of several characters, representing different groups in the complex and strife-ridden Irish social structure of the time.

    Owen MacCarthy is a schoolmaster and poet who writes in the Gaelic tradition.  He is pressed by illiterate locals to write a threatening letter to a landlord who has evicted tenants while switching land from farming to cattle-raising.  With his dark vision of how an attempt at rebellion must end–“In Caslebar.  They will load you in carts with your wrists tied behind you and take you down to Castlebar and try you there and hang you there”–MacCarthy is reluctant to get involved, but he writes the letter.

    Sam Cooper, the recipient of the letter, is a small-scale landlord, and captain of the local militia.  Indigenously Irish, his family converted to Protestantism several generations ago to avoid the crippling social and economic disabilities imposed on Catholics. Cooper’s wife, Kate, herself still Catholic, is a beautiful and utterly ruthless woman…she advises Cooper to respond to the letter by rounding up “a few of the likeliest rogues,”  jailing and flogging them, without any concern for actual guilt or innocence. “My God, what a creature you are for a woman,”  Cooper responds. “It is a man you should have been born.”  “A strange creature that would make me in your bed,” Kate fires back, “It is a woman I am, and fine cause you have to know it…What matters now is who has the land and who will keep it.”

    Ferdy O’Donnell  is a young hillside farmer on Cooper’s land.  Far back in the past, the land was owned by the O’Donnell family…Ferdy had once shown Cooper  “a valueless curiosity, a parchment that recorded the fact in faded ink the colour of old, dried blood.”

    Arthur Vincent Broome is a Protestant clergyman who is not thrilled by the “wild and dismal region” to which he has been assigned, but who performs his duties as best he can. Broome is resolved to eschew religious bigotry, but…”I affirm most sincerely that distinctions which rest upon creed mean little to me, and yet I confess that my compassion for their misery is mingled with an abhorrence of their alien ways…they live and thrive in mud and squalour…their music, for all that antiquarians and fanatics can find to say in its flavor, is wild and savage…they combine a grave and gentle courtesy with a murderous violence that erupts without warning…”‘

    Malcolm Elliott is a Protestant landlord and solicitor, and a member of the Society of United Irishmen.  This was a revolutionary group with Enlightenment ideals, dedicated to bringing Catholics and Protestants together in the cause of overthrowing British rule and establishing an Irish Republic.  His wife, Judith, is an Englishwoman with romantic ideas about Ireland.

    John Moore, also a United Irishman, is a member of one of the few Catholic families that have managed to hold on to their land.  He is in love with Ellen Treacy, daughter of another prominent Catholic family: she returns his love, but believes that he is caught in a web of words that can only lead to disaster.  “One of these days you will say a loose word to some fellow and he will get on his horse and ride off to Westport to lay an information with Dennis Browne, and that will be the last seen of you”

    Dennis Browne is High Sheriff of Mayo…smooth, manipulative, and devoted to the interests of the very largest landowners in the county, such as his brother Lord Altamont and the mysterious Lord Glenthorne, the “Big Lord” who owns vast landholdings and an immense house which he has never visited.

    Randall MacDonnell is a Catholic landowner with a decrepit farm and house, devoted primarily to his horses.  His motivations for joining the rebellion are quite different from those of the idealistic United Irishman…”For a hundred years of more, those Protestant bastards have been the cocks of the walk, strutting around on acres that belong by rights to the Irish…there are men still living who remember when a son could grab his father’s land by turning Protestant.”

    Jean Joseph Humbert is the commander of the French forces.  A former dealer in animal skins, he owes his position in life to the revolution.  He is a talented commander, but  the battle he is most concerned about is the battle for status and supremacy between himself and  Napoleon Bonaparte.

    Charles Cornwallis, the general who surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, is now in charge of defeating the French and the rebels and pacifying the rebellious areas of Ireland.   Seen through the eyes of  a young aide who admires him greatly, Cornwallis is portrayed as a basically kindly man who can be hard when he thinks it necessary, but takes no pleasure in it.  “The color of war had long since bleached from his thoughts, and it remained for him only a duty to be scrupulously performed.”

    This book is largely about the way in which the past lives on in the present, both in the world of physical objects and the world of social relationships.  Two characters who make a brief appearance are Richard Manning, proprietor of a decrepit and debt-laden castle, and his companion Ellen Kirwan:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Britain, France, History, Ireland | Comments Off on Book Review: The Year of the French (rerun)

    “Seth Barrett Tillman’s Recommended Irish, British, and other European Blogs (and other publications)”

    Posted by Jonathan on 20th January 2016 (All posts by )

    This is a good list and it’s worth reading Seth’s post for more information.

    (I’ve added his links to our blogroll.)

    Posted in Anglosphere, Blogging, Britain, Ireland | 5 Comments »

    Mick Ryan’s Lament

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Performed by John Sheahan with Jane & Shane

    I heard this song on the radio a couple of days ago and googled it…it was written by Robert Emmet Dunlap and covered by several singers, including Tim O’Brien and the group at the link above, whose version I think is especially fine.

    Posted in History, Ireland, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Book Reviews – 2014 Summary

    Posted by David Foster on 12th January 2015 (All posts by )

    Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written.  Here’s the list:

    The Caine Mutiny.  The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good.  The book is even better.  I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.

    To the Last Salute.  Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States.  An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.

    That Hideous Strength.  An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody.  So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.

    The Cruel Coast.  A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs.  Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German:  one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.

    Nice Work.  At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work.  This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory.  Very well done.

    Menace in Europe.  Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.

    A Time of Gifts.  In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first.  This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.

    The Year of the French.  The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”

    Posted in Academia, Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Business, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Ireland, Islam, Management, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Terrorism | 7 Comments »

    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 on Singer/Songwriter Appreciation: Tom Russell

    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 »