Tag Archives: kilmainham

You South African beauty

Nelson MandelaWho could resist that winning smile? Well… 28+ years in prison proves there’s no accounting for taste.

What a beautiful man.

He may have been a bit of a rubbish MK leader of the armed struggle, but Rolihlahla the troublemaker went on to be the world’s most effective ambassador for peace and reconciliation in prison and afterwards. (Though here’s a less rosy view of Mandela’s legacy.) He changed tack on HIV/Aids too. If only more of us were able accept enlightenment.

I was fascinated with South Africa when I was young – one of the causes. So in 1984, when “Mary Manning of Kilmainham, a 21-year-old cashier” (as the song goes) and IDATU member was suspended for refusing to sell South African (apartheid) produce in Dunnes Stores on Henry Street in Dublin, Irish Anti Apartheid Movement members like myself got up to mischief at other Dunnes branches in support.

The strike never really grabbed the popular imagination in Ireland, but it also led to a law change on the import of apartheid produce to the country, and the strikers eventually had a street named after them in post-apartheid Johannesburg. Back then the strike made me proud to be Irish. (Here’s the song – I can’t find the Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger version.)

Nelson Mandela mural, Falls Road, Belfast 1988

Nelson Mandela mural, Falls Road, Belfast 1988

Nelson Mandela has long been (appropriated as) an icon in some parts of Belfast. However, to be fair to the appropriators, the same man seemed pleased and sympathetic.

I guess it was at least partly because of Madiba that I travelled to work and wander in South Africa. Lots of good times.

Among the highlights – taking a street paper seller to Cape Point (he was the only black visitor), operating an informal taxi service for the day round Khayelitsha Continue reading

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The Charming Men of Ireland

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins (see below)

I had a problem. It had been on my mind for a while. Something had to be done. I needed help from the Charming Men of Ireland. I’ll introduce you to them in a moment. But first the problem…

The thing is, my wife’s English. (OK, half English. The other half’s Manx. But let’s not quibble.) So she’s English. I’m not saying that’s bad. I like English people. I like England. I even live there. Some of my best friends are English – to quote the classic defence against accusations of racism.

Actually, her Englishness isn’t the problem. That’s fine. It’s what it has led to. And that is, our children are half English. That’s the thing.

Actually, that’s not really it either. If they were only half English that would be fine. Half and half. Who could argue with that? Irish blood English heart is good enough for Morrissey.Ah yes, if only they were merely half English. But when you consider that:

  1. They were born in England.
  2. They live in England.
  3. They have (not surprisingly) English accents.
  4. My son supports an English football team. (OK, that could go for being Irish too.)
  5. They were baptised into the Church of England. (Long story. Another time.)
  6. My son is cricket mad.
  7. He supports the England national football team.

It’s clear I’ve been letting things slip. Thank goodness Ireland has been holding its own in rugby, and that my daughter remains stalwart in declaring her half-Irishness. (I fear though that she could be humouring me because she’s lovely.)

So there’s the problem. No, let’s call it a challenge. To somehow reassert the Irish half, as the English side seems to be doing well enough as it is thank you very much. But I needed help. And I had to go to Ireland to get it. I sought out The Charming Men of Ireland. And here they are:

  • The Latvian/Polish guy at Newgrange – He’s fun. He’s enlightening. (But seemingly not Irish.) He took us through the tunnel into the central chamber of  the prehistoric Newgrange passage grave. The subterranean refuge is  illuminated by the sun for five days in late December. It’s in the Boyne Valley of County Meath. Turn off the main road near Drogheda and head for Donore. Or if you’re an Orangeman, head for you-know-where and  keep going upriver a couple of miles.

    newgrange

    Newgrange

If you overcome your claustrophobia and make it into the centre of the mound, look out for the Mickey Mouse logos. (Archaeologists call them tri-spirals or something dull.) And the hundred year old graffiti, including the word Disney. You see? You see? Mickey Mouse suggestion not so silly after all.

And for any Egyptians reading this. Newgrange is about 5,000 years old. That’s older than the pyramids at Giza. By 500 years matey. (Fair enough, I’m not saying Newgrange is better, but you had an extra 500 years to tart up the pyramids. You could have at least invented electricity to light them. I mean, c’mon! Make an effort.)

  • Donal at Kilmainham Gaol – Yes, I took my children to a prison for their short visit to Dublin. I know. I spoil them. Me: “Look, another plaque.” Them: “Does that mean…” Me: Yes, yet another person was shot there.” The prison feels like a real prison – which it was – rather than a film set – which it is – The Italian Job, The Escapist, Michael Collins.

     

    Kilmainham Gaol

    Kilmainham Gaol, new wing

    There’s obvious enjoyment to be had shutting each other in small prison cells and holding the door shut. But what made the big grey forbidding jail and its litany of rebellions and executions FUN, was… Yes, it was another Charming Man of Ireland. Donal. The handsome, friendly, accessible communicator who led us around. To be precise, he let my daughter lead us around. So everyone was happy. (A word to Unionists. Don’t expect your existence to be acknowledged till the very last moment of the tour, when the significance of the orange in the green, white and orange of the Irish flag is explained.)

  • The twinklies in the Palace – The three of us dropped in to the Palace bar on Fleet Street in Dublin. I used to drink there when I lived in Dublin. As often happens, the kids were finding it difficult to understand what a group of men were talking about amongst themselves. “Dad, are they talking Irish?” And, for once, the answer was yes. We weren’t in Belfast. It wasn’t just the accents. It was a genuine foreign language that was being spoken. But more importantly, the group of Irish speakers were friendly and twinkly-eyed, and also willing to discuss techniques for using chopsticks in English. So more good vibes.
  • Vincent Higgins – Vincent (see picture at the top) and fellow actor Abby McGibbon were acting in Strike!, the play Vincent wrote to mark the dedication of a stained glass window in Belfast City Hall celebrating the 1907 Dock Strike in the city. The play was commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). It was funny and clever, and short enough to fit into a weekday lunch hour – about 30 minutes long. The plan was to take it on tour round factories, but as Vincent told me, they couldn’t find enough factories, so they’ve branched out. Apart from his playwriting prowess, acting skill and general geniality, the most charming things about Vincent are his irresistible smile and very fine singing voice.
  • That bloke at the bar in Maddens – My sister was finding it difficult to get a pint at the bar of my favourite pub in Belfast. No barman was there to be seen. Not upstairs. Not in the basement. Not outside having a fag. But no problem. Another customer nipped round to pour her a Guinness. Isn’t that charming? I thought so. Especially as the Guinness was for me. (Oh, it turned out he was in the toilet. Seems reasonable.)
  • David at No Alibis bookshop in Belfast – Botanic Avenue is a great place for books. War on Want has an excellent Irish section. The cancer shop and an Oxfam also sell books. But there’s an excellent specialist crime bookstore called No Alibis – as often mentioned on CrimeScene NI. Good atmosphere. Good range of imports not usually available in the UK. And wandering the aisles is David, whose charming welcome almost had me accepting a cup of tea before I caught a grip on myself. A narrow escape. (See previous post.) Another Charming Man of Ireland.

So to all you Charming Men of Ireland, thanks for the timely boost.

My children will now be returning to England wearing green sports tops that are nothing to do with England or anything English. That’s thanks to my sister. (Admittedly the sports tops have nothing to do with Ireland either. They’re Canadian. But one step at a time, right?)

PS: To any charming men in Ireland who feel passed over, ignored, snubbed or forgotten, I have two responses. One: Maybe you’re not quite as charming as you think you are. Better work a bit harder at it, mate. Two: A charming man like yourself is too good to share. I have to keep back some information for my personal benefit. Choose whichever response is most appropriate to your own case.

PPS: To any charming women in Ireland feeling aggrieved, passed over, ignored, etc, etc. Yes, of course there are charming women in Ireland. The whole place is coming down with them. But keep in mind that I’m over in Ireland with the children on my own. Wife back in England. So naturally I haven’t been meeting, encountering, palavering or otherwise hobnobbing with any women. Apart from my Mum and other relations.

PPPS: The Latvian/Polish guy. He had an Irish accent, but was obviously foreign. Latvia, Poland, somewhere like that. As it turned out, when I asked him, the somewhere like that was Kerry. He just had a cold.

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