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 )