Saturday, 12 November 2011

A Saturday. So far.

Got up. Drove wife to daughter's. Drove daughter to town. Drove back to daughter's. Took daughter's daughter for a walk/push in Fairview Park. Brought daughter's daughter back to daughter's. Gave daughter's daughter to wife to babysit. Left car outside daughter's for use of wife later. Got bus back to apartment. Read nice new review of my book The Colour of Her Eyes. Had shower. Drove a different car to son's. Had lunch. Wife turned up in first car. Left son's in second car. Drove to southside of Dublin. Visited bookshops to talk to bookshop owners. Got tired of all that. Went to Mass in St Michaels Church. Prayed. Left. Got in car (second car). Drove to apartment. Drank wine with wife. Drank more wine with wife. And realised I was living in a game of chess. Not quite sure which piece. Pawn? Bishop? The jury is out.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bono's day off.

Oops. Sorry about that. Vanishing. Had to edit a book. The thing has to be ready by New Year. No time available to be writing blogs. Yes of course I know if you don't continually update your musings you will lose all your followers. Just like that. Fickle bunch, followers. But, being fickle, they'll come right back again just as quick. It's a fast moving situation.
The editing job almost complete I decided to visit Dublin. City Break sort of thing. Though if one can take a city break in one's native city is another point. A philosophical one. Whatever. I visited. By car rather than Ryanair.
It was a beautiful weekend. Weatherwise. And there hasn't been many of them. (Thinks: I'm writing about the weather. Pull yourself together man.)
People were out and about. The weather has been so bad. (I'm still writing about it. Stop.). There were hordes of us. All along the beaches and promenades and piers on the north and south side of the city. In  the city parks and up the hills on the outskirts.  
I went for the hills myself. I would've brought the wife. But she doesn't really do hills. And we'd been cooped up together in a house (in the rain) in the west of Ireland for a month. Twenty four seven. And needed to be apart. To realise how much we missed each other. That sort of thing.
But I didn't want to go up the hills alone in case I had a heart attack. So I called on my friend Michael the Mystic. Not that he'd be any good if I had a heart attack. Though I suppose he'd call an  ambulance. Whereas strangers up the hills would walk around me. That's the modern world.
MtheM was planting daffodil bulbs when I called. And he said they're going to be beautiful in Spring. I said if there is a Spring. What with the Euro, and that.
He agreed.
We went up Dalkey Hillon the southside of Dublin.
I was born up there. Well, not in the woods,in a house on the lower slopes.
It's kind of my place.
Yesterday it was also the place of hordes of fellow Dubliners. The weather. And it was Sunday. Not that the day of the week would make much difference. What with half of Ireland  being unemployed.
We parked at the top of the Burma. (Placenames coming up). We walked along the Green Lane. It was built for the visit of Queen Victoria. So's she could see the view from her carriage. And then we went up the hill itself from the Torca. Passed a house I designed. Bloke had built a big fence around it. But we peered through gaps. See that patio (I said). MtheM saw it.
Well (I added), bloke had an Indian wife. She lolled on that patio.
That's what they do (said MtheM), Indian women, they loll.
I didn't say a word. My new novel what I've just finished editing is called The Snake Dancer of Sati Chowra. And the character does not loll at all. She dances. And works for the Zurich Insurance Company. But I suppose there's Indian women and Indian women.
We continued the climb. And it is a climb. One side of the hill is a hill, so to speak, and the other sheer drops, hundreds of feet into old quarries. They dug away the hill on that side to get stone for DunLaoghaire Harbour. It's all very interesting. Topographically. We discussed these matters, and admired the view of the city spread out in the distance. The city has got huge. MtheM said there were now seven billion people on the planet, and the rats were getting worried. I told him that as a teenager I used come up here with an air rifle and shoot down at people in the quarry. There were no computer games then. Kids had to do things in real time.
A pleasant conversation. Then we were interrupted.
Three men passed us by. Two small balding middleaged blokes and one small Bono.
Hey that's Bono, said MtheM.
I didn't really notice, because I was of the small balding blokes was carrying an almost full glass of red wine. A crystal glass.
What's all that about, I asked MandM.
Well, he said, they were having sunday dinner down in Bono's house. And they got an urge to climb the hill. Simple.
No it's not simple, I averred. (Averred? Weather?) It's not simple at all. Bono's house is a mile or so away, down through woods and precipitous paths. As is every other nearest house.
Maybe they drove to the carpark?
But the carpark is also down through woods by precipitous paths.
So why the wine in the glass?
Because they're plonkers throwing shapes?
Could be, anything is possible.
But sure as hell one thing, that's not plonk in  that crystal glass.
We walked on.
The day somehow spoiled in its innocence.
Back down in the carpark there was a police car, the guards looking out for antisocial behaviour. People drinking in public parks, that sort of thing.
We were tempted.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Sales Drive

I know what I’ll do.
I thought.
When I’m in Dublin next I’ll drop into the Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre. To see how that book of mine is doing. I’ll pretend to be a customer. And ask the staff for the book. And if it’s out of stock I’ll look very very disappointed. And then when I am gone they’ll order a new supply. Because they’ll suspect there’s been some publicity for the thing and customers will be gathering. And anxious queues will be forming. Throngs. Starting at the cash desk, sneaking out the door and threading all the way through the shopping centre.
The sales ploy didn’t work.
Because when I arrived at the bookshop there was Mary Burnham womanning the till.
She knows me. We go way back. Though never a girlfriend, I seem to remember a warm embrace outside a restaurant in Killiney Village. The context escapes me. Probably drink. But whatever. There are no restaurants in Killiney Village now. And it was a long time ago. As said, she and I go way back. I knew her parents. Her mother taught piano. And I knew Mary’s sisters. And her brother. One of her sisters and the brother both worked for me when I ran a building business. Don’t even ask.
 Mary’s single name was Hughes. Which is strange, because the former rival Dún Laoghaire bookshop was, whilst no relation to Mary B,  Hughes and Hughes. It went bust. No loss. Neither my publishing hat nor the head beneath it dealt with Hughes and Hughes. It’s a long story. I didn’t like Hughes or Hughes. And I didn’t like the Hughes that came before. A financial matter arose between us. Yes right, I do not merely harbour grudges. I provide a full docking service of repair and maintenance.
But enough of that. Dubray Books is a different kettle. I knew the mother of the organisation when she was an old lady presiding over Bray Bookshop. Canny without being cunning, she was knowing without being knowall. It’s a theory of mine that organisations have their own DNA systems, and the ethos and understanding of the founders travel down through managerial generations. I may be right and I may be wrong, but it’s a notion that appeals to the genealogist in me.
            Instead of books, Mary and I discussed mutual acquaintances of days gone by. And lovers gone and lovers lost. And who had died, of drugs and drink and suicide, that sort of thing. Yes those were colourful times, around Dún Laoghaire, the nineteen eighties I suppose. And we were younger then.
            I left the bookshop.
Peculiar for a writer to admit, but I actually don’t like bookshops very much. All those soon to be forgotten tomes screaming for attention. And meaning so little in the scheme of things. The book industry is a gigantic intellectual X-Factor, performed on paper instead of the screen.
Depressing really.
So, really depressed, I wandered through the shopping centre. Though recently revamped it had the air of decline. Not helped by closed up shopfronts. And too many security guards and not enough customers.
This is the way the world ends
Really, really depressed now. I wandered out into Dún Laoghaire, my home town. And though I divide my time now between Italy and the West of Ireland it is still my home town. Born there. And yea back through timeless generations. My grandmother Mollie McGovern was married in the old church, the one that burnt down.
I went in to the newer version, and lit a candle for her. Then walked about the town. Remembering myself drinking in these pubs, and courting girls in alleyways and lanes and down there on the metals. Then I went back along to where my car was parked in Haigh Terrace. Opening the door I noticed that I had parked right opposite the house where once had lived my great grandmother Jane Carroll. And I remembered that further along in Adelaide Street my grandfather on the other side of my family had lived. They wouldn’t have known each other, those generations. But here they were united in my dna.
Funny old world.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


There was the worry.
Dublin's Morrison Hotel has gone bust. I read. Or words to that effect. Administration. Receivership. Bust.
“What”, I said to my wife H, “what if the tango do is cancelled?”
“What do, what tango do?”
“Didn’t I tell you?”
“We’re going to a tango do in Morrison’s Hotel. Saturday. A dance thing. My friend John the polymath is taking us. I took him to Sonairte in Laytown. He’s taking us to a tango do. Give and take. It’s what friendship is all about”.
“Oh”, she said. “Well the hotel is probably still open. Even if it is bust.”
“Like the country?”
“Something like that”.

I’d never been to the Morrison Hotel. But I had heard it was very happening. I do happening. Cutting edge stuff, socially speaking. On the cusp of. Etcetera.
Doesn’t come easy, that role. Happening, cutting edge and on the cusp sort of stuff. Needs planning. I planned. I brought the Louis Feraud from the Italian place to the Dublin apartment. And then I sat in the latter, working out the journey to the Morrison. 
It had been decided…or, to rephrase, H said we’ll go on the Luas…so I examined the ins and outs of that excursion. Instinct told me that there was a Luas stop somewhere near the Morrison. I googled. A little map popped up on the Morrison Hotel website. A little arrow popped up on the little map. The little arrow seemed to point us to Merchant’s Quay, to dead on exactly the location  of the Merchants' Quay Project. Now trust me on this. Whilst I do do happening, and cutting edge, I don’t do projects. Anything with the word project appended to other words is no go as far as I am concerned. Whether that appended word or phrase be art, or travellers, or migrants, no matter. I don’t do projects.
“I thought”, says I to H, “I thought Morrisons was on the north side of the river”.
“It is”, said H.
“No it’s not”, said I, it’s on Merchants Quay. South side.”
“It’s not”, said H.
“It is”, said I, “lookit here”.
I pointed to the screen. She didn’t look at it. She doesn’t look at screens unless Downton Abbey or Casualty is on them. She is not an internet person.
“I know furrafack”, she said, “I know it is on Ormond Quay. I don’t care what it says on that silly thing”.
“But this is my new laptop. I’m running Vista.”
“It is on”. Full stop. “Ormond Quay. Furrafack."
“How do you know?”.
“Morrisons is built in the former premises of the Ormond printing works. I know this. Furrafack. When I was working in publishing I used go there to check proofs of books. Big four colour presses. Pounding away. Those were the days. The smell of ink.”
“Ok”, said I. “One of us is right. The tango do is either in a drug rehabilitation centre or a derelict printing works”.
It wasn’t.
We went.
It was in a bankrupt hotel on Ormond Quay. A very nice bankrupt hotel, be it said. Maybe a bit overdesigned. Oh alright, a lot overdesigned. Just as were the three slender girls wearing Moulin Rouge outfits who greeted us at the door. Their lipstick was very rouge indeed, and they each held aloft a silver yoke containing chocolates in silver paper. And each stood exactly the same. Feet just so. Silver salver held just so. And free hand on hip just so. All in all, just so.
The gathering tango dancers chattered around a large circular table. And the large circular table groaned under half filled flutes of champagne. And I was just wondering whether a half filled flute of champagne is very posh or very mean when my friend John the polymath appeared. He was wearing an orange jacket and yellow shirt. I thought Fossetts. Nineteen eighty six. That guy with the exploding car and red nose and giant shoes. But I held (alongside my half filled flute of champagne) my peace.
John talked to H.
I examined the Moulin Rouge girls 
I noted, a chap does, that they were all three flat chested. But I supposed Moulin Rouge is all about legs and thighs. Can Can etc. Horses for courses. So it didn’t really matter. And remembered that my own aunt  and godmother had been a chorus girl in the Theatre Royal, a Royalette. I wrote about her a few weeks ago, I remembered. And thought how life is a weave. And it all hangs together. And then I shrugged away philosophy. And looked forward to a bit of high kicking later on in the evening.
Yeah right well, look forward I may well do. But I was to be disappointed. After necking back the champagne we all made our way into the ballroom and sat around the dance floor. I bought a bottle of wine for myself and H and John.
It cost €28.
How, I wondered, how can a hotel go bust that charges €28 for a bottle of €6 wine?
No answer.
No Can Can either.
But there was tango. An awful lot of tango indeed. And there was Caroline Moreau. A french chanteuse. She sang somewhat like Edith Piaf. Though without that attractive memory of many cigarettes and prostitution in the voice.
Then more tango.
Some finger food.
Then more tango.
Then out into the night. Traffic and rain. I looked down the quays and thought I saw James Joyce's Mina Kennedy going home from work. But it was dark and raining and I could have been confused. I looked up the quays and raised my arm. A taxi skeetered across through the traffic. It was being driven by what The Irish Times would describe as a new Irishman. We piled in. We shot off. It didn’t take me a hundred yards to realise it wasn’t being driven very well by what The Irish Times would describe as a new Irishman. We shot across O’Connell Bridge and on towards Amiens Street. Hurtling  from lane to lane with joie de vivre, and a dash of  je ne sais quo. All that.
“So…what part of the world are you from?” said I. Conversationally.
Nigeria”, he said.
“Ah”, I nodded. And found my fingers checking my seatbelt.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


It seems a long time ago. And I reckon it is. I don’t quite know exactly how many years until I get home and refer to google. And yes, I find, it was, a long time ago. Thirty four years in fact. Thirty four years since I walked through  Little Bray behind the coffin of Seamus Costello, founder of the IRSP and the INLA. He’d been assassainated by another faction of republicanism, the one that included our current Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Not that  slippery Eamo was the actual assassain no, we’re just talking factions and movements and splits and vague discontents here, we’re talking the Irish way.
But anyway, it was all a long time ago.
Thirty four years ago.
Let the dead bury the dead.
Thirty four years after all that I’m walking through Little Bray again to another funeral. I’m older. My knee is sore. Not actually walking behind a coffin this time, no, I’ve just parked a car near Sunnybank and am headed to the graveyard. My wife H walks beside me. As ever. Yes there’ll be a day when one of us will walk alone at a funeral. But not quite yet. Today we’re together, at a family funeral. The burial of one of the older generation, maybe the last. Which kind of makes us part of the older generation now, I reflect. And that reflection bounces off the pain in my knee like something unwanted in a mirror.
This is our second funeral in as many weeks. The earlier was in Rathdrum, also in County Wicklow. Not that Little Bray is really in County Wicklow, not really. Yes they do call it County Wicklow now, but it’s on this side of the Dargle River, which makes it County Dublin. Hardly matters, these bureaucratic niceties. Particularly to me. I’m well out of it, living in the West of Ireland as I do. Handy enough that, being removed. Though there is a downside. In the past ten days I’ve had to travel twice across the country to attend funerals. And after this funeral now will travel back again. That car just parked in Sunnybank is merely borrowed in Dublin for the day. We’ll go back to Mayo by train.
In the old days, I tell  H the wife, Sunnybank was actually called Bloodybank, because of battles and slaughter and mayhem in the vicinity. Wild Wicklow men pouring across the Dargle to rape and pillage Dubliners every so often. She nods vaguely at the information. And I reckon I’ve told her that before. But then we’ve been married a long time. Running out of things to tell her. Whereas she’s doing the opposite. Discovering new things to tell me every day. Like not to forget this, and do this and don’t do that. As she moves inexorably along that path of a married woman’s life, from mistress, to friend, to nurse.
            Yep, cheerful enough, these funeral thoughts.
            We’re early at the graveside. The hearse is somewhere in the traffic. But the grave is ready. I look down into the hole. And know that down there, just below the discreet layer of earth at the bottom which covers an earlier coffin, just below that lies the body of the husband of the woman we’ve come to bury.
I knew him well. If I were Hamlet and was being written by Shakespeare I’d pick up his skull and orate. But I’m not Hamlet. I’m merely a middleaged man looking into a grave. And thing is…a middleaged man looking into a grave is looking back at his past, and towards his future too.
It’s a moment.
The coffin arrives on shoulders of grandsons. There are prayers, but not too many.
A relation comes up to me.
"You'll be coming back to the house" he says.
I will.
Back at the house I sit alone in the garden, eating triangular sandwiches. Wife H is away working the crowd, like she’s standing for election. Or being polite, one or the other. I’m doing neither. I’m just sitting on a bench which I remember from fifty years ago when I was a little boy. It was in the garden of my grandmother’s house in Dalkey. And before that I know…I know because I’ve seen it in old photos…it was in the garden of another house in Dalkey. Grandfather’s House. I wrote a book of that name.
Beside me here is a marble topped garden table. That too came from my Granny’s house in Dalkey. And, as a little boy, I took tea at it with her. My new novel The Nottingham Road Hotel will reveal all. When I finish the damn thing.
A blonde woman sits down beside me. (At the bench, not in the novel). She is bright and bubbly and her name is Siobhan. And when I learn her name I think of my own dead daughter. Buried in Connecticut. And how her name was Siobhan too.
I think of this while we laugh together, Siobhan and I. And as we laugh I suddenly wonder… which particular Siobhan am I sharing the laughter with? With my dead daughter or with this living woman?
But then, what else to do at a funeral?
Except laugh, and wonder.
And let the dead bury the dead.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Thanking Mr Barry

He gave me sixpence. Well, not precisely me, I was a new born baby, but he reached over the garden wall and gave my father a silver sixpence. For me. I’d just been born in that house, and he’d heard the crying. And the sixpence was some kind of luck token. A tradition, then. Not sure how well it worked in my case. Not even sure if my father ever gave me that sixpence. But he did tell me the story. And a story is worth more than money. It cannot be spent, and grows with each telling.

My parents called him Barry. An old man who kept an old horse in the field beside our house. The horse’s name was Paddy. And when I was no longer a new born baby I watched my sisters playing with him, riding him around the field. I was never particularly interested in horses. But one of my sisters was, and her interest grew to the extent that she now owns a  large equestrian centre. So I reckon she can thank Barry for that.

His name wasn’t actually Barry, in the sense of Barry this or Barry that. Barry was his surname. But my parents were of the class and times who called working men by their surnames. Though this didn’t seem to be a rigid system. Because they did have a gardener, and called him by his given name, John. And in his case they never did use his surname, and if they wanted particularly to define him they called him John the gardener, as if there was John the this and John that, also in service around the place. There wasn’t, there was  just John Cunningham. He lived in Dalkey. And commuted to work in our garden. On one of those bikes you see leaning against pub walls in  John Hinde postcards. He had been the gardener in my  grandfather’s house in Dalkey. And my mother sort of inherited him. I’m sure she would’ve preferred the mansion. She liked a bit of style. And had a maid, who was ‘first name’, Theresa, or Mary. Though not at the same time, there was only one maid. We weren’t rich. And later when there was less money we had no maid at all but a cleaning lady coming in. But she, being an older woman, was respectfully called Mrs Finlay. From St Patrick’s Square in Dalkey. I never knew her first name. It’s an interesting topic, all that, names and surnames. At school we were called by our surnames, but I suppose that’s all died out. And nowadays people call you by your first name on first meeting. Even if they’re not trying to sell you something. Instant friendship. Like instant coffee I suppose, no way as good as the real thing.

But Barry, back to Mr Barry. I never found out his first name, he lived over in Honeypark. This was a clachan-like settlement beyond the fields which were soon to become the housing estates of Avondale and Sallynoggin. His cottage was several miles from our house and it’s a mystery to me now why he didn’t keep Paddy nearer to hand. Maybe there was just no land available. The big landowner in the neigborhood was Paddy Belton, and maybe he didn’t want Barry’s horse on his land. Not that I’ve any reason for thinking that, other than the fact that Paddy Belton’s daughter Avril grew up to be the politician   Avril Doyle. I suspect sympathy for the landless peasantry is not too strong in that quarter.

Yes, Mr Barry was landless, didn’t actually own the field beside our house. It was owned by Valentine Kirwan, a solicitor. My inner genealogist tells me he was part of a well known Dublin legal family. And that maybe a descendant is the Valentine Kirwan, author of legal books. Maybe. But it hardly matters. Genealogy is much like theology, or indeed like any word that ends in ogy. It hardly matters. The earth spins, the stars shine. We live. We die. All that.

And so why these ruminations?

Because today is my birthday. And on this day half a century ago (plus a bit), an old forgotten man leaned over a garden wall and handed another man a sixpence. And it’s time for me to say thanks.

Thanks, Mr Barry.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Thanks a heap.

My new novel  The Colour of Her Eyes is set in Bognor Regis in England. And this morning a friend there sends me this Bognor link. It’s to the Bognor Birdman. Which has absolutely nothing to do with my new novel. Nothing! But the video (sort of !) catches the atmosphere of the place.(I think). And comes with nice fairground music too.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Street in Dalkey

A dapper man. He stoppeth one of one, me. In Castle Street in the County Dublin town of Dalkey. He points at me. Mentions my name, a questionmark in his inflection. He is dead right, spot on. That indeed is my name. And as for his? Well his name is Derek and he is the brother-in-law of my late godmother Dodie. And we chit and we chat and as we chit and as we chat I remember that it was precisely here, precisely here in this spot outside the onetime Gemma’s shop is where I last met Dodie. And I remember how she clung to my arm as she laughed and giggled, and how her lips were blue. Elderly then, the heart was just about to kill her. A few days later she was dead.

An older generation to myself, as godparents tend to be, I never saw her young. Once a chorus girl in the Theatre Royal. I never saw her dance. But there was something in her always dancing. It’s not for nothing there’s a rhyme between words and phrases. Woman’s eyes and  woman’s thighs, all that. Dodie found the world and its affectations ridiculous, and people devious and shallow. We were at id idem. Not that she would have used a pretentious latin tag. Dancers don’t. Whatever, we got on very well.

Derek tells me that his own daughter is an actress now.  Laoisa Sexton. And that she’s acting in the Helix. So we talk about that. And just then a woman catches my eye as she passes. And I reach out an arm and grab her hand and pull her towards me. And I kiss her on the cheek. And Derek says “if I did that I’d be arrested”.

And journalist Mary Finnegan associate-producer-of-60-minutes-for-CBS-News says “don’t worry, one day he will be”. And then she says “I’m rushing to the bank”, and makes vague typing gestures in the air with her fingers. And rushes off to the bank. And I think to myself what’s with this very irritating typing in the air, and decide that she means “I’ll talk to you online”. And then I think why, why is she rushing to the bank? It’s the Ulster Bank. Does she know something? Being associate-producer-of-60-minutes-for-CBS-News? Has she heard it’s going bust, and is she in a rush to get her money out? I mull over all this for a few moments. And realise that no. People one meets in the streets are frequently rushing to banks. And this “I’m rushing to the bank” is a polite way of saying I couldn’t be bothered talking to you now, but may very well be in a different mood later.

That sorted in the mind, I shrug. I’ve known Mary since we were teenagers together. Remember her in a Cluny School uniform. But that was when she was a schoolgirl of course. Which is probably a pity. Point is,  her many moods are no strangers to me. We’ve grown middleaged together. Well, not together, we’ve grown middleaged apart. Passengers in different carriages of the same train.

“That’s a very good looking woman”, Derek tells me, quite unnecessarily. And then gives me technical information about the bone structure of a woman’s face, and how that’s the important thing in a woman. Bone structure. Good to know, I decided, because up to then I’d always thought it was the flesh was the important thing in a woman. Well, that and the female spirit of course. The spirit that makes a woman laugh. And dance. And make very irritating typing gestures in the air. And rush to the bank.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


There just had to be a Nicaraguan woman working in the coffee shop. It was just so right, so fair trade. So ecological. So Sonairte.
So wha?
Sonairte. The National Ecology Centre in Laytown.
Laytown? A dreary stretch of coastline pockmarked with depressing looking housing estates plonked on sand dunes and in scrubby fields.  It’s near Julianstown. 
Julianstown? A dreary stretch of coastline pockmarked with depressing looking housing estates plonked on sand dunes and in scrubby fields.
“Do you want”, said I to my friend John the Polymath, “do you want to go to Laytown to the National Ecology Centre?”
“Uh..mmm..ok” he said.
So off we sped up the M1 in H’s Passat. H is the wife. The car is hers. It’s a tradition in our marriage that she always owns the motorcar. This is a hangover from the days when she had a job and I didn’t, and thus could raise finance for wheels. And a house. And food for the kids, that sort of detail. Of course these days neither of us really have jobs. As such. OK I do write, and she watches Spooks and Lost and stuff like that on TV. Not exactly jobs, not really. But we seem to be pretty well sorted. Perhaps not minted, as the expression  has it. But comfortable.
Bloody nice car, Passat. And a very fine road, from Dublin towards Drogheda. (Yes this notebook is jointly sponsored by Volkswagen and the National Roads Authority.) Nice car, good road, a fine quiet Saturday morning. And my friend John the Polymath looking thoughtfully out the window at the story of Ireland’s decline.
What more could a man want?
Some food.
 “What’s the soup”, I said to the man in the National Ecology Centre coffee shop. I would have said it to the Nicaraguan woman but I knew that she didn’t speak english. Something to do with her grin. That I-don’t-speak-english sort of grin.
“Roasted parsnips and lentil”, said the man.
My friend John and I looked at each other. The word lentil has a certain resonance. Carries some sort of baggage.
“Organic”, added the man. As if to clinch the deal. Like a bloke in Power City offering a further five percent off the plasma TV.
My friend John and I looked at each other again. The word organic also has a certain resonance. In proximity to the word lentil it’s vaguely disturbing. Like watching an Islamic guy on the DART with a smoking rucksack.
How and ever, the soup was actually quite good. The accompanying slice of brown bread was…well, if you ever wonder where recycled cardboard goes there may be a few answers up around Laytown.
“What are we doing here?” asked my friend John.
I looked around.
Sonairte runs courses. Ecology courses. And whilst our soup was being decanted from some solar powered soup generating machine a dozen or so students wandered in for lunch. What precisely they were studying I have no idea. Though am quite certain it wasn’t anything to do with how to build a nuclear power station in the back garden. These were…well…organic sort of folks. And their carbon footprints danced lightly on this mother earth.
I remembered. Long years ago I had an organic and hippie sort of girlfriend. She was young and beautiful but I didn’t leave my wife H for her and looking around the coffee shop now I was glad. Yes of course organo females mean well, but that is not the same as ageing well.
 “What are we doing here?” repeated John the Polymath.
“Genealogy”, I told him, waving a hand around. “Where are we sitting?”
“In the converted outbuildings of  a Victorian farmyard”, he responded.
My friend John is an architect.
“Ah hah”, I shook a finger. “Yes indeed. But not just any converted outbuildings of any Victorian farmyard.”
“No. These buildings were built by my kinsman Frederick Hans Kennedy. As indeed was half of the farmhouse out there across the yard”.
“He owned Sonairte?”
“The original farm, yes. Bought it in the 1880’s. Sold up just before the first world war. Died quite young. Buried in Deansgrange
“That all?”
“No no no no.”
“What else?”
"You'll have to wait til my book Fragments from Frescati  comes out".

Thursday, 11 August 2011


I’m writing now as someone who would prefer to preach the Gospel of St Paul in a Taliban controlled area of Afghanistan than go to an Irish Arts Festival. Bear that in mind. But go to a recent arts festival I did. It was in  Thomastown, and was some kind of outlying event of the Kilkenny Arts Festival.  

What dragged me there was a longtime friendship with one Niall Harkin, an artist. And the opening of his exhibition. In all honesty I feared the worst. Because he had told me in recent times that he had given up painting and had taken up sculpture. This struck me as akin to myself giving up writing and taking up painting, or indeed, having a bash at brain surgery…just like that.
Further nerves were jangled by the information that the sculpture he had taken up involved angle grinders and welding and the like. I had a vision of bits of old gates welded to tractor axles. And the printed invitation to the event did nothing to comfort. It stated that it was to be opened by one Theo Dorgan. Of whom I had very vaguely heard, but nothing bad nor nothing good. I had the impression he was some kind of writer. And I suppose that was as far as it went. Ireland is coming down with some kind of writers, including my good self. But then, I noticed, appended to his name, the ominous words “Member of Aosdana”.
This is in no way a comforting announcement. Aosdana, (which is Old Irish meaning “a gathering of the mediocre and delusional”), is a taxpayer funded body famous for honouring the late Francis Stewart, (a Nazi broadcaster based in Germany in the 2nd WW), and in more recent years, maintaining as member one Cathal O Searchaigh (a poet exposed as a sex tourist). But be all that as it may, needs must, etc. I went to the arts festival.
The consort and I drove from County Mayo. In Dublin we met up with my friend Michael the Mystic and his former consort, now sadly estranged. But not estranged enough to not give us a lift to Kilkenny in her Mercedes. There are many reasons for splitting up with a woman, but the fact that she owns a flash car doesn’t strike me as one.
Off we sped.
En Route Michael the Mystic told me that he doesn’t like motorways. Says that they are an affront to the earth which is a living organism, and should not be offended by swathes of concrete. But still and all he didn’t take to the fields, no, he stayed sitting beside me in the back of the air conditioned Merc, his estranged consort driving and my non-estranged one navigating.
We arrived in Thomastown early, and lunched in The Sol Bistro.  Goats cheese and rocket salad featured. Bear this in mind. As soon as you start lunching on goats cheese and rocket salad you know you’re in a vortex which can only end in your being sucked into an arts festival. Inevitable. And so it was.
We wended our way to the exhibition.The sculpture was surprisingly good, nicely wrought and decorative, gently analytical but not overly challenging. Niall and the gallery apparachik ran around sticking red dots onto plinths. Theo Dorgan turned out to be very small and very bearded. But he overcame his Aosdana membership and made a good speech. I met a Belgian. And an Irish woman I know blanked both myself and my consort. “What’s her problem”, I asked the consort. “You wrote something rude about her in A Walk on The Southside ”, she reminded.
“Oh for godsakes” I said.
And we left.
In an adjoining gallery a pretty girl by name of Roisin Leadbetter was exhibiting her paintings. She couldn’t really paint but she was very decorative herself. I popped in, chatted. I asked her if she was related to my mate  Gordon Leadbetter. She wasn’t. I left.
Back in the Merc and back to Dublin. We stopped at  Leighlinbridge for a pint at the Lord Bagenal Hotel. It’s very big and very vulgar and looks like it was designed by the architect of Sadaam Hussein’s palaces. But one can sit by the river on a terrace. Michael the Mystic’s estranged one and I had a difference about the pronounciation of Leighlinbridge. She said it was lay and I told her no, it was lock, pronounciation wise. LOCKlinbridge. I am right. My company once published a book about the place. Molaise. By Colm Kenny. He doesn’t talk to me anymore. This happens quite a lot.

 (PS: Read some of my poetry at deaddrunkdublin )

Saturday, 23 July 2011


“Yes”, I said in Dublin Castle, feeling a little joke coming along. “This is   St Patrick's Hall and it’s magnificent, isn’t it?”
She nodded.
“And we’re very grateful to you English for leaving it behind.”
Boom Boom.
She nodded.
Yes indeed, this young woman from Cambridge University Press was pretty stiff going. And no doubt would have been the same coming too. But she was English, and I forgave her. It has to be accepted that a certain type of English do find us Irish incomprehensible and strange. Allowances must be made. It’s all about the rich uniqueness of the world’s peoples. And that.
I drifted away.
A very small and very voluble academic sort of bloke was making animated conversation to H’s cleavage. She introduced me. He made it clear that he was completely uninterested in meeting me or in anything I might have to say. Though he did mention that he had got his teeth redone in Hungary. Just don’t think about clamping them onto either of my wife’s breasts, I thought.
And drifted away.
And fell into conversation with Tony Farmar, one of the A’s in A & A Farmar. We go back a bit. I met him first as a floppy haired Oxford graduate (him, not me), and now he had matured into a floppy haired middleaged publisher from Ranelagh.
“Did you manage to place that book”, he inquired, referring to a proposal of mine that a publisher had recently rejected.
Neither of us mentioned that the publisher who had rejected the thing was A & A Farmar.
We  moved on to discuss a proposal of his that had come my way.
I’ll probably reject it, I thought. And I drifted away.
And talked for a moment to Michael Gill. But I didn’t mention that his erstwhile company Gill & Macmillan  had united with Farmar in the rejection of my great new book proposal. I had last seen little Michael in Drogheda at a performance by Arvo Part  So we talked about that. Strangely, at the Arvo Part event we had talked of our previous meeting. At a diner in New York. Maybe if I ever meet him again we will talk about the launch of the Dictionary of Irish Biography.
I drifted away. And chatted to Jeremy Williams, architect and architectural historian. We went to university together. I told him he should write more books. He agreed.
I moved on.
H had also moved on. And was now in deep discussion with ex-Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. Some blue shirt family connection there, methinks. She introduced me. He was quite frail and old now but obviously in possession of all his marbles. That rasping Minister of Hardship voice had not changed a whit in intervening years.
And then it was time.
Ex Taoiseach Cosgrave went to a reserved seat, and H and I joined the seatless mob awaiting. Awaiting for the arrival of current Taoiseach. He would launch my book. My nine volume Dictionary of Irish BiographyThe fact that I only wrote three pages of the nine volumes is neither here nor there. Everyone in the room only wrote three or so pages. Our ownership was both collective and individual. We are the scholars and historians of Ireland. Six hundred of Ireland’s finest scholars, in fact. Or so the Taoiseach said when he eventually arrived and launched himself into a speech.
I nudged H with my elbow. And muttered.
“See…see…six hundred of Ireland’s finest scholars. That includes me.”
She did not respond.
But we have been married a long time.
Not that it seemed quite as long as the Taoiseach’s speech. And beside him an ominous looking lineup of future speakers awaited their moment, clutching sheafs of notes.
I caught H’s eye, and she caught mine.
It was enough. We edged backwards through the mob and out of the hall and down the stairs and away across the cobbled yard. A solitary bloke with the word Constable across his back looked out at us from under the portico at the rain. I wondered what he was thinking. Of your one in her high heels and your man in his poncey hat.
It probably didn’t matter.
H and I moved through the rain up Castle Street and into the Lord Edward Pub 
We had met here for our first date.
Five children ago.
And we had not been back since.
“Do you remember that time?” I asked her.
“Yes”, she said, “I remember sitting here, watching you walk to the bar. From that direction…” She pointed. “To that.”
“And you said to yourself”, I suggested, “you said I will marry that man”.
“No”, she said.
“Oh. What did you think?”
She shrugged. “Fellow back from Africa.”
We drank our drinks and left. And into  Jury's Inn  where we would stay the night. Dead handy to the Castle, we had planned. Drank more drinks there and went up to our room. High up, I’d specifically asked for a top floor room. Less liklihood of colourful street folks (in which this area abounds) climbing through the window and cutting my throat. And a better view.
H got into the bed and played with the TV remote control.
I stood at the window and looked out at the city and the streets below. It was a very wet night. Umbrellas passed on the footpaths and the traffic lights reflected in puddles. What I really need…I thought…what I really need is a neon sign right here on the wall beside my window. A sign saying vacancies, and flashing on and off. And then I’d be a thoughtful private eye in a nineteen fifties movie.
But I’m not…a thoughtful private eye in a nineteen fifties movie. I’m a thoughtful writer in a twenty first century blog. A thoughtful writer remembering. My ancestors came from over there, Fishamble Street. I’d traced them back. And discovered that one of them is buried in the little unmarked graveyard of St Johns, between the cathedral and the City Hall.
A woman ancestor, I wondered what she was like.
Much like any woman, I supposed, glancing over at H in the bed.
But probably not so pretty.