Thank you so much for visiting our island (well, the independent part). It was a wonderful experience and its effect upon us, the faithful, was at one and the same time energising and calming. And for sure we needed that, needed it so badly.
These past few years have seen this state sinking into greater and greater godliness, between different lifestyles on the one hand and the terrible revelations of what went on in some of the religious charitable institutions on the other.
Years ago we lost the battle on condoms and the Pill but our Church survived that. And to be honest, if some of the priesthood were going to engage in immorality then it would have been better if they had indeed used condoms, God help me for saying that – but certainly in the case of a certain Galway bishop it would have been useful …. for the Greater Good, of course.
But then legal divorce, and we survived that too. It seemed hardly had we managed to coexist with those travesties than we had marriage between homosexuals legislation, now flaunting their sinful ways not only publicly – but legally married! And now, worst of all by far, abortion legalised! Well, up to three months of pregnancy but we all know, the faithful and the sinful, that once that door is wedged open ….!
Of course the abuse in the institutions run by religious orders was shocking, both in its content and extent. But people want to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater! Or the dirty laundry water, perhaps. And knowing what people are like and the enemies the Church had and has, of course it was necessary to cover it up. The first duty of any institution is to survive and therefore to protect itself. Why do people find that so hard to understand? Have we not seen political parties and governments doing the same for years? Why do people find it so strange?
So anyway, we badly needed some comforting, some reassurance and it was wonderful that in our hour of need, Your Holiness came. How wonderful to see the gold-and-white Papal Colours fluttering on flagpoles, on bunting festooned! To see so many youngsters bussed in to Dublin from other parts of Ireland, their faces aglow with the excitement (and not just because of a day out in other adolescent company, or in the excitement of youth overnight “camps”, as the cynics have commented). So what if they were somewhat incoherent or illogical when interviewed about their reasons for attendance! The brilliance of the Holy See is enough to bring incoherence to anyone!
And I understand, Your Holiness, understand perfectly why it was necessary to say Your Holiness had not known about the Magdalene Laundries. How could the mass of ordinary people be expected to understand the balancing act of the Holy See, between Perfect Good and Necessary Evil? To balance things in favour of the Greater Good? What a field day the media vultures would have had if Your Holiness had tried to explain the intricacies to them! And the unbelieving hyenas too would have gathered to the feast on our dying bodies, to crunch the bones of our faith.
Sure where else would the Irish priests, bishops and nuns have had their laundry done? Not to mention Áras an Uachtaráin, Guinness, Clery’s, the Gaity Theatre, Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, the Bank of Ireland, the Departments of Defence, Agriculture and Fisheries, CIÉ, Clontarf Golf Club and several leading hotels! In the end there was altogether too much dirty laundry washed in public really.
Considering that the story involved the whole Irish church and was publicly recorded going as far as the US, and a film about it went right around the world, I thought it was very brave of Your Holiness to deny all knowledge. Only by the grace of God surely could Your Holiness have kept a straight face. I could not have managed it for a second myself but sure I am but a humble sinner.
Of course Your Holiness’ visit did not take place in the same society as we had in 1979, when your predecessor-but-one His Holiness John Paul the 2nd visited Ireland. One in ten boys born in 1980 were named John Paul in his honour. All the same, we can look forward to a crop of baby boys named Francis this year and next, though it’s unlikely to be anything like one in ten this time. We’d be lucky to reach one in thirty, if you’ll forgive my gloominess.
Still, even Francis — and we’ve had a crop of them over the years anyway, named after the two Saints of that name and maybe even after Frank Sinatra or – God help us – Frank Zappa! Yes, believe it or not, some parents were capable of doing that in the Sixties, Seventies and even the Eighties.
I was going to say, even Francis would be a mile more likely than your Holiness’ original names. I don’t imagine that many male Irish children born this year will be baptised “Jorge Mario”. I shudder to think of the damage done to that first name in Ireland. Horhay, would be the best attempt, I’d guess but for sure there would be Horjays, Georgeays and Georgies. Your Holiness doubts this? Your Holiness has yet to hear mothers calling a “Sor-tchah” in for their tea, instead of the actual centuries-old Irish name, “Sorcha”. Or to hear of a male or female child being proudly introduced as “Sheersheh” instead of “Saoirse”, which means “freedom” — but not the freedom to mangle Irish words, God help us!
Without wishing to be in the least insulting to Your Holiness but with a name like Mario ….. well, not many Irish or migrants are going to want to sound as though their children are Italian – except of course in the Irish-Italian community. Then also, how many would want their child’s name to remind people of a popular 1980s video game, perhaps imagining all kinds of things about the parents, what they were doing when the mother conceived, etc …. And Princess Toadstool! I ask you! Pagan erotic symbolism for sure!
Forgive me, Holy Father, I have digressed.
Anyway, I hope the visit did not tire Your Holiness out too much and hope the ten thousand or so oppositional marchers did not even impinge on Your Holiness’ consciousness. To us however that showing was worrying – a couple of decades ago, only a score would have dared and they would not even have been allowed on the street!
There are signs that soon we will face a battle over the Church’s control of the primary and secondary educational institutions in Ireland. The Godless have the bit between their teeth now and it seems they will shy at no obstacle. Sorry, that’s a riding metaphor; does Your Holiness ride?
It seems we are in danger of losing the gain for which the Holy Mother Church has been striving since the mid-1800s, and which even that Protestant fornicator Parnell championed for us. If we lost control of the schools, Catholic baptisms and marriage ceremonies would cease to be required to get on the premium enrollment lists. Then religious sacraments would be confined to the truly religious and Holy Communion and Confirmation would slowly disappear out of the schools. Losing Education would mean losing most of the population of this state and already the Godless are circling. I shudder to think of it.
Would it be wrong of us to pray for a religious spectacle, Holy Father? Some kind of miraculous apparition, such as with the young wans at Lourdes or at Fatima? It does seem as though only a miracle might save the Church here in the long run.
I’m sick of seeing foreigners everywhere. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not racist or anything …. but they’re just everywhere. And as for Muslims building mosques! Here, in Ireland!
What’s wrong with that? We’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of churches in Ireland.
Yeah, but we’re a Catholic country.
Do you object to Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist and Unitarian churches too?
Er … no, they’re Christian religions. Muslim is completely different. We’re a Christian country – always have been.
What do you mean?
We were pagans once. Before Christian missionaries came in.
OK, before St. Patrick. And yes, I do know he was a foreigner. But since then, we’ve been a Christian country, right?
Yes, I grant you that.
That’s what we need to go back to – Christian Gaelic Ireland.
An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?
No, I don’t speak it. No need to be smart. That’s another thing that was taken from us!
They teach it at school, though.
Not very well. And they force it, which turns people off.
They force maths on people too. And other subjects.
Yes …. well. Anyway, this is getting away from the subject. I was talking about … Getting back to the old Christian Ireland. The Ireland we fought against the British for. Which so many people died for.
Like James Connolly, Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke ….
James Connolly was born in Scotland, Tom Clarke in England.
Well I knew about Connolly, but Clarke … are you sure?
Yep, Isle of Wight, SE England.
OK …. but …. they were still Irish, weren’t they …. like our soccer team?
Yes, I agree with you there. And about Constance Markievicz ….
Listen, don’t try that one on me! She married a Polish count – but she was Irish.
She was born in England too.
Was she? Well ok, but of Irish stock too.
Gore-Booth – not exactly a Gaelic name, is it?
Look, let’s go back to Pearse – he was Irish through and through. He wrote in Irish – articles, stories and poems, didn’t he?
He most certainly did.
His father was English, though.
What? You’re codding me!
No, seriously. James Pearse was English. And had married previously in England.
Now you’re telling me Patrick Pearse’s father was a BIGAMIST?
No, no, calm down. She died – he was a widower. Thomas Davis’ father was Welsh, by the way.
Who wrote A Nation Once Again? That Thomas Davis?
Yes. And The West’s Awake.
OK, OK but Thomas himself was born in Ireland, wasn’t he?
Yes. Eamon Bulfin wasn’t though.
Bulfin? Who was he?
He hoisted the tricolour up on the GPO on Easter Monday 1916.
Did he? Was he born in England too?
No – in Argentina.
Yep. And De Valera’s da was apparently Cuban. Dev was born in the USA.
OK, OK, OK – but they were all part-Irish or wholly Irish …. in blood, I mean. Part of what they call the Irish diaspora.
True. But Erskine Childers wasn’t. Totally English.
Ah now you’re trying to wind me up. He was President of Ireland – of course he was born here.
That Erskine Childers was but his Da wasn’t.
OK, so what?
Well, he’s the one who brought the Mausers into Howth. In his yacht. And he was murdered by the Free Staters in the Civil War.
That was him?
Yeah, and part of the crew were two women – one born in England and one in the USA. By the way, the Tricolour that Bulfin hoisted on the GPO? You know what it signifies?
Yes. Peace between the original Irish, the Catholics and the descendants of the planters, the Protestants.
OK. Well, that’s not originally Irish either.
What? The Tricolour? Not Irish?
Not originally, no.
Where is it from then? Please don’t say England!
No – Paris. During the Paris uprising of 1848, French female revolutionaries presented it to an Irish Republican delegation.
So the Irish flag before that was …. just Green?
Well, Green yes, often with a harp in gold ….
Yes, Green, forever green, always the Irish colour …
Among the many spurious difficulties about learning Irish quoted by people there are some genuine ones.
A problem with learning Irish, according to some people, is the spelling of Irish words. When this difficulty is expressed by English-speakers, I am tempted to ask them to pronounce the English word “Ghoti”. It was a word invented by George Bernard Shaw and unless they are familiar with it, they will be unable to pronounce it correctly. Shaw took the “f”-sound from “gh” in words like “enough”; the “i” sound from the “o” in “women” and the “sh” sound from the “ti” in words like “mention” — hence the correct pronunciation is “fish”. Shaw invented the word to illustrate how illogical – or at least unpredictable – is the pronunciation of many English words. Perhaps he was replying to someone who was accusing the Irish language, an Ghaeilge, of having a similar problem; I don’t know but would like to think so.
In fact, the vowel sounds in Irish can be entirely predicted from the written word with the exception of the “A”, which has something of a narrow range of possible pronunciations and some vowel combinations. In English, combinations of vowels produce different sounds to that of each individual letter also and with a greater variety and less predictability than is the case in Irish: take the different pronunciations of the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, in ‘day’, ‘rain’, ‘contraindicated’ (true, the latter is a compound word).
Where a long vowel is indicated in Irish by an accent, the “síne fada” (“sign of length”, unlike in Castilian, for example, where the accent indicates only where the stress falls in the word), the sound to make when reading it is unmistakeable.
To illustrate, the á will produce a sound like “aw” in English (as in “law”); the ó a sound like “oe” in “toe”; ú like “oo” in “loot”; í like “ee” as in “fee” and é like “ay” as in “bay”. These will not vary, no matter where they appear in the word.
“But hang on”, the observant complainer may protest, “you mean to tell me that é is pronounced “ay”, like the letter “A” in English? And that í is pronounced “ee”, like the letter “E” in English also? Why is Irish so contrary?”
“Well,” I may reply, “I’m very glad you asked me that. Because in many other languages, the letter “I” is also pronounced like “ee” in English and the letter “A” — which in English is pronounced “ay” as you pointed out — in many other languages, probably most, is pronounced “ah”. In this case, my friend, it is the English language which is being contrary!
Furthermore, English has made a broad vowel into a slender one.”
Yes, they don’t commonly teach about broad and slender vowels in the schools now, yet the difference between them affects not just Irish pronunciation but also English, Castilian, Italian and other languages. Why is it, for example, that the “G” in “Gerry” is pronounced differently from the same letter in “Gary”? Why is that the “C” in “Cede” and “Citrus” is pronounced differently from the same letter in “Cat, Cot” and “Cut”? The answer has everything to do with broad and slender vowels.
In Irish, a, o and u are broad vowels and i and e are slender (the same in English except that y can also be a slender vowel, e.g in words like ‘only, why‘ etc). The most notable effect of the different pronunciations effected in Irish by whether a vowel is slender or not is with the letter ‘S‘, viz: Sorcha, Saidhbhín, Súil but Sinéad, Seán.
Now, the problem with the pronunciation of the name of the vowel “a” in English is that “ay” is a slender vowel sound while the letter itself is a broad vowel. In Irish that letter is pronounced “ah” as it is in many other languages around the world (perhaps all). When we speak the vowels, our mouths make a horizontal shape for slender vowels and tend towards a vertical one for broad (try it and see). Which shape does “ay” make? Yes, horizontal, the shape of a slender vowel!
“Ok,” says the complainer, “but what about the consonants? You can’t tell me that reading them and pronouncing them is not complicated!”
Actually, the complainer here does have a point. It is over-emphasised, perhaps, but the point does have some validity.
The pronunciation of the consonants in Irish is pretty straight-forward, with the variations in the “S” according to slender or broad vowels either side (discussed above) and to some extent the same effect on the “D” and “T”. And the double “L” and “N” in Irish followed by a slender vowel have the same pronunciation as the “ll” and the “ň” in Castilian respectively, which is to say theyare like “n’y” and “l’y”, for example “bainne” (“milk”) is pronounced “ban-yeh” and “sailleach” (“fatty”) is pronounced “sal-yach”.
A learner can soon get used to these peculiarities in Irish or in other languages. But what about all the consonants followed by a “h”?
Irish does not have all the consonant letters that English has – we don’t have the J, K, Q, V, W, X Y or Z. We don’t really have a H either, come to that, as we’ll see in a moment. The sound of Q in Englishcan be reproduced in Irish as “cua” or “cui” in Irish andwe can make the sounds of some of those ‘missing’ letters by employing an effect on consonants called lenition, in Irish “séimhiú” (softening). During the last two centuries, this was shown by a dot on top of the consonant to be lenited but is now indicated by a H after the consonant in question. All the other ‘missing’ consonant sounds with the exception of the Z are available in this way – not only those but in fact another two not available in English: the Irish “ch” and “gh”.
Lenited consonant at the beginning of a word
Consonant sound equivalent in English
Bh + i, e
Bh + a,o,u
Ch as in “loch”
Dh + i, e
Y (not as a vowel)
Dh + a,o,u
Gh (sound not available in English)
Mute (no sound)
Gh (sound not available in English)
Cannot be lenited
Mh + i, e
Mh + a,o,u
Cannot be lenited
Cannot be lenited
* In some Irish dialects the Mh will be pronounced as “V” whether followed by a slender or broad vowel.
Ok, so the lenited consonants do introduce some complication to reading-pronunciation but hardly an insuperable one. To balance that, we have the more reasonable vowel letter A pronunciation than does English (i.e as a broad vowel instead of a slender one) and the ability to read the pronunciation of vowels off a text. Also, to compare with English, some sounds in English are shown by combining consonants, such as ‘tch in ‘catch’, ‘ph’ as in ‘pharmacy’, ‘sh’ in ‘shake’ and ‘th’ in ‘think’.
And what about the ‘ch’ combination in English – it’s not pronounced the same in the words ‘chant’ and ‘character’ or ‘chaos’. Add to that the ‘h’ in ‘rhetoric’ or ‘rhythm’ seems to have no role in pronunciation at all and that the ‘w’ will be heard at the beginning of a word and may or not be heard in the middle (compare ‘award’ with ‘lower’). The ‘w’ will not be heard at all at the end of a word but instead governs the pronunciation of the vowel before it (‘raw’, ‘row’, ‘few’)!
This governing of the pronunciation of the vowel before it also happens with ‘gh’ in ‘dough’ or ‘rough’ – but note that in each of those cases the pronunciations of the ‘gh’ are completely different! In order to indicate the sound of the Irish ‘ch’ in loan words, English uses “gh” yet again, as in ‘lough’ and ‘bragh’ (in “Erin (sic) go bragh”) and “Drogheda”. Confusing, isn’t it?
Although pleading the feature of the pronunciation of consonants as a difficulty in learning the Irish language does have some validity it is overdone – particularly when the complainant is an English-speaker. It seems to me that the difficulty is magnified by those who do not wish to go to the trouble of learning the language but want to have a good excuse for not doing so.
We knew about gays but we didn’t call them that. That was in our primary school days. Our mammies or das or others had warned us boys about them. We were never to accept sweets from strangers. They were men, older, probably shabby, hanging around in public toilets (when we had public toilets in streets). They would try to see your mickey, try to touch it (they were only interested in boys, which went to show how totally deviant they were). They’d give you sweets or even money. Just for that? It was enough! We thought no further but when we had to use those public urinals, kept as far away as we could from any men (a habit we continued into adulthood) and tried to cover our mickies with our hands and sometimes got some of the urine on them as a result.
We didn’t call them “gays” then but there were other names in our vernacular dictionaries: brownies, dirty men, homos ….. They were always predators and always male. Girls didn’t have to worry, apparently – those dirty men would not be tempted at all. It was the normal men girls had to worry about.
Was there such a thing as female homos? But if they wanted to play with your mickies that would be normal wouldn’t it? And nice even if sinful. Ah, chance would be a fine thing! But girls or women doing it with one another? How? And sure, what for?
Did we know any homos? Well, we were kind of getting to hear about poor Oscar Wilde. He would have been our fifth national Nobel prizewinner for literature and the fourth from our capital city. If not for …. well …. Poor man, he was misguided. And duped. But a lovely writer.
Our elders, well a great many of them, knew that many famous men had been homosexual – but they didn’t tell us. We knew quite a bit about the military exploits of Alexander, the Macedonian but nobody told us he was homosexual. If we’d known, we’d have asked ourselves whether he went to conquer the world in order to hang around public toilets in foreign lands, waiting to touch boy’s mickies. William of Orange was a homo too but then we had enough reason to hate him already. Wait – William …. Willy …. willies ….. nah, coincidence!
There was another William they might have known about,King William Rufus (1087 – 1110), son of William the Conqueror, openly homosexual. And probably assassinated by order of his brother, King Henry II, not for being gay but to get the kingdom. Well, what would you expect of the English! OK, Norman-English. Whatever.
They surely knew, educated adults and anyone around the theatre, that Mícheál Mac Liamóir was “a practicing homosexual”. An Englishman who became Irish, including a fluent speaker and writer in the Irish language, he lived with his lover Hilton Edwards in Harcourt Terrace. Edwards was another Englishman converted to Ireland. But sure they were English, so our elders only sniffed and turned a blind eye, grateful for the culture of the Abbey and Gate theatres, the formation of An Taidhbhearc and fame on English language stage and screen.
We knew Roger Casement could not be homosexual (even though he was a Protestant) because he was an Irish patriot. The English would do anything to tarnish his reputation and they had forged “the black diaries” to say disgusting things about him1, before they hanged him, not for homosexuality but for “treason” to the Crown. That’s the English Crown, of course. The one on top of the Arms of the Union, with the Lion and the Unicorn below, and below them the shield bearing the Thistle of Scotland, the Rose of England and the Harp of Ireland. You can see the design on the front page of the London Times, or on the roofs of the Bank of Ireland and Customs House buildings in Dublin.
But did we know any homosexuals personally? Perhaps some did. There was a lad at school who liked to knit and listen to opera and whose manner was quite feminine. Probably he was/ is, we thought years later but at the time he was just a boy who was like a girl. There was another one, son of a famous actor, a bit of a bully with a gang around him. He turned out to be gay but I at least never suspected. Then there was a certain barber who seemed quite effeminate but would do his best to cut your hair to any fashionable style which you required.
As we came into our teens, our vision broadened a little and we came upon more sinister knowledge. There were now rumours of homosexual Christian Brothers and priests. Seeing as these two groups, along with the Jesuits, directly controlled most of secondary education in the Irish state, nearly all of us Catholics were going to pass into their hands at some point. Hopefully their educational hands only. They didn’t have to hang around public toilets. They’d have us for six or seven hours a day, five days a week. Not to speak of the residential schools (too many people didn’t).
We knew in general and we knew of specific instances, by rumour or by experience. We resolved not to be victims ourselves and the strong succeeded. The weak? Well ….. Sauve qu’il peut, as they say (or I think they do) in France.
And we didn’t talk of it to our elders. Why? Well ….. hard to say. Would they have believed us? Did we have proof? Would it only have showed how dirty our minds were?
In my teens, a youth selling newspapers in Dún Laoghaire told me of a brawny sailor who one evening wanted to entice him into an alley away from company in order “not to embarrass the girls”. So, homosexuality was not confined to the creepy men hanging around toilets, or to the effeminate and arty, or to the clergy and Catholic brotherhoods. Burly sailors? Dear God!
And now a disturbing but exciting knowledge also came to us. We learned that there were indeed homosexual women – they were called ‘Lesbians’. And almost unbelievably, if you managed to get hold of a copy of the Kinsey Reports (or reviews of them), lesbianism appeared to be even more common than male homosexuality! Disturbing in a number of ways …. women preferring to have sex with women than with men? For some of us, it was difficult enough already to get physically intimate with a girl without some of them preferring other women! Then, a second thought, disturbing in a different way: imagine seeing them together … doing it! Double female nakedness!
As we grew older, we came to know gay men personally. Of course we did. Some of us, the better ones, acknowledged them our equals, did not avoid the subject nor deny them our company. Some of us, while accepting their company, avoided any mention of their preferences; we treated them as heterosexuals, knowing they were not. And some of us avoided them or worse, inflicted violence on them. We found out that some indeed did hang out around toilets but not to feel the mickies of little boys but to make assignations with adult males. Where else could they meet? It was illegal and religiously prohibited too.
Then came gay liberation agitation in the 1970s. Decriminalisation in 1993. And finally, equal rights to wed in 2015. Incredibly almost, that same Ireland of our childhood voted by majority in every county but one in the Irish State of the Twenty-Six Counties, that gays should have the right to marry people of their own gender. In May 2015, Ireland became the first state to legalise on a national level same-sex marriage by popular vote. The New York Times hailed the victory as putting Ireland at “the vanguard of social change”.
We have come a long way, in that respect at least. But oh, the victims of intolerance strewn along each side of the route of our progress!
Generations in Ireland will grow now, hopefully, without the spectre of the Brownie.
1 Roger Casement (1864-1916) was an Irish patriot and Protestant, also a poet and an enthusiast for Irish culture. In 1916, in preparation for the Easter Rising in Ireland, he came in a German submarine to assist in the unloading of German armament, including 20,000 rifles. The German boat, disguised as a Norwegian, was discovered and its captain scuttled it outside of Cork. The IRA Volunteers who went to meet the boat and Casement at its rearranged landing place, of which they had just learned, drowned as their car went off the road into the sea.
Casement was apprehended after landing. He was tried for treason in wartime and a substantial campaign arose to save his life. He had earned fame and a knighthood (CMG) a decade earlier through exposing ill-treatment of indigenous people in the African Congo under Belgian Royal control and in Putamayo in Perú by rubber-exploitation commercial interests.
Extracts from the “Black Diaries” were circulated by the British espionage service to undermine popular support for clemency for Casement. Those Diaries (as opposed to his other diaries of his travels abroad)gave details of his allegedlysexual interludes with men abroad and the extracts circulated substantially undermined the campaign for clemency. Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison on 3rd August 1916, the last of the 1916 executions, the only one not by firing squad or to take place in Ireland.
The authenticity of the “Black Diaries” continues to be the subject of controversy. Although Wikipedia notes that a handwriting expert concluded by comparison with his other diaries that the entries were genuinely Casement’s, he is the only handwriting expert to have been permitted to examine the original, nor have samples been subjected to modern forensic testing. And the British espionage service did have a reputation for forging documents.
The Campaign for Public Housing was launched Saturday (28th October) at a large packed meeting room in the Unite trade union building in Dublin.
The demands of the campaign were announced as both long-term (in the form of a new system of universal public housing) and short-term (in dealing with the reality of the current housing crisis), as follows:
A new system of Universally Accessible Public Housing, based upon a cost rental model where the collective rent of tenants would fund the construction and procurement of large volumes of new public housing.
A tenants Bill of Rights to protect tenants in the private rental sector. This bill would control rents and provide real security of tenure.
A complete Ban on Economic Evictions by banks and private landlords.
A referendum to insert an unambiguous and legally enforceable Right to Public Housing into the constitution.
The political forces represented at the public meeting table were Éirigí (Brian Leeson), the Workers’ Party (Éilís Ryan), the Communist Party (chairing the meeting) and an individual who might be described as an independent left Republican activist (Cieran Perry). Both Perry and Ryan serve as elected councillors on Dublin City Council.
The Éirigí organisation is considerably reduced from the numbers of activists it had when it was first formed, largely by “dissidents” who left the Sinn Féin party soon after the Good Friday Agreement. The Workers’ Party is very small, having arrived at its current space through a series of splits from the original Sinn Féin (which became Official Sinn Féin after their dissidents formed the Provisionals back in 1970). The Communist Party of Ireland is also very small but owns a Dublin bookshop which also operates as a small theatre and meeting place for broader left anti-imperialist events.
At first glance, the political composition of the table may strike the observer as unimpressive in representation of numbers. However, such active forces have impacted significantly on the Irish political scene over the years and these in particular bring a wealth of political experience to the table. In addition, the audience contained a broad spectrum of left trade union and community activists, republicans, anarchists, socialists and participants who became active in recent campaigns.
According to a press statement released by the Campaign for Public Housing on 26th October, its supporters includes:
Peter McVerry (in a personal capacity, it was said at the launch)
Inner City Helping Homeless
The Workers’ Party
The Communist Party of Ireland
North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Community
Cllr. Cieran Perry
D8HAC Altogether Now
Dundrum Housing Action
Catherine Connolly TD
Clare Daly TD
Mick Wallace TD (and Joan Collins TD, it was announced at the campaign launch).
THE STATE FUNDING SPECULATORS TO BUY MORE PROPERTY
Speaking while using an electronic visual presentation on a large screen at the campaign public launch meeting, Leeson presented figures drawn from statistics produced by property and housing agencies and government departments to illustrate a history of public housing in the Irish State since its creation. Though hardly impressive in the numbers of public dwellings built, the figures showed a significant initiative in that direction under the early Fianna Fáil government years, when De Valera was at its head.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the ratio of public housing to private housing built was around one to one. In those years, private landlords notwithstanding, private housing was usually occupied by the owner. From the 1980s onwards, the ratio shifted to 10-1 in favour of private dwellings and huge numbers of these were no longer lived in by their owners and the ratio is much higher now. In effect, dwellings had become a commodity in which large-scale speculation was taking place, driving the rents and mortgages higher and higher, forcing people into debt for life or evictions and also into high-rent and unsuitable accommodation.
The figures also showed a state funding of the private property sector to the tune of eight billions (€8,000,000,000) – funds which the banks and other property speculators used to purchase more land and property, intensifying the housing crisis.
PUBLIC — NOT SOCIAL — HOUSING
Ryan concentrated her presentation on the need to call for public housing as a rational and necessary response, as one might consider for example public education or health service. Only public housing can solve the housing crisis, she maintained and so it is not only of moral importance but of urgent practical need. Turning to the cost of house building, Ryan pointed to the industry’s figures seen in the earlier presentation, showing that good-quality houses can be built much cheaper even under existing conditions. She was at pains to outline the differences between social and public housing: social housing is often aimed at low-income families and may be provided through a range of private or semi-private schemes. Public housing is state-funded with the rents going back to the state to reinvest in further housing provision and should be mixed in order to avoid ghettoisation.
Referring to the importance that Irish people tend to give to the state’s Constitution, Ryan stated that part of the objectives of the campaign was to insert a clause that guaranteed every person a good quality, affordable-according-to-income housing unit for life.
STOP THE SALE OF PUBLIC LAND!
“We have very little power as Councillors,” said Perry “but one thing we do have power on is the veto on selling public land.” He went on to speak of how Dublin City Council had sold Council land to private developers despite his and some other Councillors’ efforts. However, social and political pressure had forced the ratio of public housing on the Devanney Gardens site up to 30% despite the wishes of some political parties but that still meant that 70% went to private speculators.
Perry called for support for a demonstration outside City Hall on Monday November 6th at 5.30 pm in support of a motion put forward by himself and some other councillors to prevent the sale of any Council land.
Currently Dublin City Council own 120 hectares of land – enough to build 12,000 good quality homes. “There are 20,000 people on Dublin’s housing waiting lists, and many more average income households who will never be able to afford private rent or mortgage. So why are we allowing private developers to make money off our land?”
Turning to the question of the campaign itself, Perry promised it would be democratic, transparent and not become dominated by any political party or personality and urged all to become involved, to leave their contact details on the clipboard sheets at the door and to encourage others to come on board.
The questions and contributions were overwhelmingly of an intelligent kind and included areas such as hidden homelessness by emigration, housing waiting lists and disqualification; the privatisation of education and health services despite their public appearance; the need for the campaign to include direct action; the relationship between this campaign and other housing campaigns in Ireland; the need for quality monitoring by other than the contractor if the Council is to be the builder; the shortage of building workers at the moment; changes in the court systems to facilitate evictions; the involvement in a number of evictions of a firm led by an ex-British soldier using Loyalist ex-paramilitaries; the expected opposition from the EU to bans on the sale of public land; the hidden homelessness of one partner in a relationship breakup, etc.
Those leaving the meeting seemed fairly happy with the launch though inevitably some discussion took place on what tactics the campaign might employ and whether the organisation would degenerate into electoralism, or whether it would be manipulated for politically sectional interest. Political and community activists in Dublin have a long history and such discussion would be normal among all but the most naive. But the overall mood perceived by this reporter was decidedly positive.
On Monday 25th April people gathered in front of the General Post Office building in Dublin city centre. The occasion was the commemoration and celebration of the reading of the Proclamation of Independence by Patrick Pearse outside that same building, shortly after the 1916 Rising had begun under his overall command. Standing nearby during the reading had been James Connolly, Commandant of the GPO Garrison and also commanding officer of the Irish Citizen Army. Both were executed by the British weeks later for their part in the Rising, along with another thirteen (twelve in Dublin, one in Cork) and months later Roger Casement was tried in civilian court in London and hung.
Tom Stokes, who has been a chief organiser of this event since 2010, opened the proceedings, addressing the crowd and the flag colour party. He reminded his audience that in 1917 it had been Republican women who had organised the 1916 commemoration, printing many copies of the Proclamation and pasting them around the city, also defying British military law to gather outside the GPO to mark the events.
Among the reasons for this given by Stokes was that many Republican men had but recently been released from British prisons and concentration camps but also that the women had a special stake in the Republic for which the Rising had taken place – they in particular stood to gain from its achievement the status of citizens and many other changes in their status as a result.
So it was appropriate, Stokes said, to have women take prominent roles in the event, starting with Evelyn Campbell, who accompanied herself on guitar while singing her compositions Fenian Women Blues and Patriotic Games.
Following that, Tom Stokes gave the main oration, outlining his vision of a Republic and castigating the Irish state for what it had produced instead, in particular attacking its treatment of women and declaring that abortion was a private matter in which the State had no right to interfere.
This was followed by Fiona Nichols, in period costume, reading the Proclamation and after that came Dave Swift in Irish Volunteer costume, reading a message given by a wounded James Connolly (he had been injured Thursday of Easter Week by a ricochet in Williams Lane while on a reconnaissance mission).
Cormac Bowell, in period Volunteer costume played an air on the bagpipes, Fergus Russel sang The Foggy Dew, Bob Byrne sounded The Last Post on the bugle and Evelyn Campbell came forward again, this time to accompany herself on guitar singing Amhrán na bhFiann.
Tom Stokes thanked the performers and everyone else for their attendance and said he hoped to see them all again on the 24th April 2018, which will be a Tuesday. He said it was his wish that this day be an annual National Holiday and they had started the annual celebration because no-one else was doing it.
Some of those present marched to Moore Street with a Moore Street campaign banner, taking the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route on Friday of Easter Week through Henry Place, past the junction with Moore Lane and on to Moore Street, where Dave Swift, still in Irish Volunteer uniform, competing with the noise of construction machinery coming from the ILAC’s extension work, read the Proclamation before all dispersed, leaving the street to street traders, customers, passers-by and builders.
On 13th April 1742, Dublin City heard the world première of the Messiah oratorio (a bit like an opera but not quite), composed by George Frideric Handel. The choice of Dublin shows the importance the city had in the European Anglo world, probably second only to London at that time, the city in which German-born-and-raised Handel had based himself.
It may be also that Handel wished to remove himself from Anglican Church criticism and interference in of work built on religious material, problems he had encountered in London.
Incidentally, there is a tradition that Handel also played the organ in St. Michan’s (Protestant) church in Church Street (but not the organ that survives there today).
The oratorio was written in English, something of rupture in Handel’s work which had been firmly based in Italian-language opera. However, the fashion in London was changing and Handel gave in to it, writing first Esther in English, then the Messiah. The somewhat radical Englishman Charles Jennens wrote the libretto (like a script or text passages) for Handel to work in the musical score.
A COLONIAL CITY
Dublin in 1742 would have been primarily English-speaking, with pockets of Irish-speakers from the surrounding countryside and further afield, with linguistic artifacts of Irish and Norse audible in the English spoken by the lower social orders in the city, some of which survive to this day.
Ireland was then recovering from “the Irish Famine of 1740–1741 (Irish: Bliain an Áir, meaning the Year of Slaughter) in the Kingdom of Ireland, (which) was estimated to have killed at least 38% of the 1740 population of 2.4 million people, a proportionately greater loss than during the worst years of the Great Famine of 1845–1852.
“The famine of 1740–41 was due to extremely cold and then rainy weather in successive years, resulting in food losses in three categories: a series of poor grain harvests, a shortage of milk, and frost damage to potatoes. At this time, grains, particularly oats, were more important than potatoes as staples in the diet of most workers.
“Deaths from mass starvation in 1740–41 were compounded by an outbreak of fatal diseases. The cold and its effects extended across Europe, but mortality was higher in Ireland because both grain and potatoes failed. This is now considered by scholars to be the last serious cold period at the end of the Little Ice Age of about 1400–1800.” (Wikipedia).
Of course, it would not be the primary sufferers of famine, the poor (and largely the natives) who would attending the event and this was made clear by the advice to prospective audience members to leave their “swords and hoopskirts” at home so as not to overcrowd the premiere.
The main elements of the Penal Laws were still in place in 1742 and the Irish Parliament in College Green admitted only Anglicans, thereby barring representation not only from the huge majority of the Catholic faith but also from the next largest group, the Presbyterians and all the other ‘Dissenter’ groups.
However, the audience for the premiere may well have had wide representation from the higher social classes in Dublin across religious lines. Handel was, after all, a superstar!
A tradition arose over the years for audience members to arise as the Halleluyah chorus begins. This is based on a belief that King George was so impassioned by hearing it that he stood up, obliging the audience to do so too so as not to remain seated when the King was standing. Of course, knowing the reason for that tradition would be enough to to keep any democratic republican firmly seated. But apparently the story is without foundation and it is not even certain that the murderous Royal was even present at a London performance.
The Messiah was performed in the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street (see video by Wayne Fitzgerald — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHWDJjS_JkU — the white arch is all that remains of it today). That street was a busy medieval one, close to what was the seat of foreign domination since the Norse built their fortifaction by Dubh Linn some time around 841. The Normans, after driving them out in 1171 and banishing them to Oxmanstown, constructed their own castle there in increments as they gradually became the “English” and remained in formal control until 1921.
I watched (if that’s the right word) a performance of the Messiah some years ago in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, not far from Fishamble Street. I had bought tickets only as a favour to a friend visiting Dublin and I was really impressed with it. The performers often stood on the pews to deliver their lines and I remember, despite my atheism, being uncomfortable with this – cultural conditioning runs deep!
No wonder the oratorio was a raging success in Dublin in the 1740s and since. At the Dublin performance, “the alto soloist, Susanna Cibber, was an actress who had attracted scandal in the past, but legend has it that her emotional performance of ‘He was despised’ moved Dr Patrick Delany – the husband of one of Handel’s most ardent champions – to exclaim ‘Woman, for this, be all your sins forgiven’” (!) It took the London higher classes a little longer to take to the oratorios but they did so in time. One is reminded of Shaw’s comment that went something like this: “No-one could accuse the English of failing to note a work of genius — providing someone was kind enough to point it out to them.”
We are long accustomed to the association of these two symbols with Irish ethnicity and nationalism, the shamrock and the colour green — but historically can they be shown to be authentically Irish?
The shamrock symbol has been used by a number of products and services, including Aer Lingus, formerly the Irish national airline and now a subsidiary of the International Airways Group1. Both as a plant and a living symbol it is now being sold on the streets and in shops in preparation for the celebration of the male patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick on March 17th.
St. Patrick himself was a foreign import, albeit one seized unwillingly by Irish raiders. The son of a Romanised Celt it seems and probably from Wales, Patricius was kept as slave labour herding sheep until his escape but he returned as a Christian missionary and became one of the founders of the Celtic Christian Church in Ireland.
We may view this as an amazing feat in itself – Ireland was one of the few European countries which went from the old multi-gods religion to the monotheism of Judeo-Christianity in a largely peaceful transition. However the Celtic Church at least tolerated and many would say condoned many of the laws and customs of the old culture, including marriage of priests, the right to divorce by men or women and a higher status for women than was common in an increasingly feudal Europe.
The word “shamrock” is an Anglic corruption of the Irish seamróg, itself a contraction of seamair óg, meaning a sprig of young — or more likely small –clover. The Irish shamrock is usually the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover; Irish: seamair bhuí), with yellow flowers or the white-flowered Trifolium repens (white clover; Irish: seamair bhán) with the bias towards the yellow-flowered.
Children at schools influenced by the Catholic clergy in Ireland (which was and still is in control of the vast majority of the schools within the Irish state) were taught that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the existence of the Christian Holy Trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, i.e. explaining how there may be three different aspects in one entity, as in the three leaves on the one stem of the shamrock.
A charming story but clearly without any foundation whatsoever – not only is it not mentioned in what is believed by historians to be Patrick’s autobiography but the story only emerged much later. However, the crucial case against the veracity of the story is that neither the Gaels nor the Celts in general2 had any need to be convinced of the existence of trinities of gods: in Ireland we already had the Morrigan, a female trinity of Badhb, Macha and Anand and of course the Celts had the ubiquitous triskele symbol (surviving as the national symbol of Manx) to illustrate a trinity, religious or otherwise.
The first clear association of the shamrock with St. Patrick in Ireland comes in an account by an English traveller to occupied Ireland, Thomas Dineley, who described in 1681 Irish people on St. Patrick’s Day wearing green on their clothes, including the shamrock. But the first account of St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock is not seen until 1726, when it appears in a work by Caleb Threlkeld, a botanist.
But what of the colour green? Surely that at least is authentically Irish? Well, it certainly has a longer pedigree. Dineley’s account in 1681 associates wearing green with the celebration of the feast day of St. Patrick’s, one of the three patron saints of Ireland3 (yet another trinity?). But the Catholic Confederacy of 1642-1652, an alliance of Gaelic chieftains with Norman-Irish aristocracy against the Reformation being imposed upon them, also flew a green flag, with a gold harp upon it.
The symbol of Ulster was the Red Hand from an ancient Irish myth of arrival but what was the background? Both the O’Neills and O’Donnells, dominant clans of Ulster, have designs in red and blue against a white background. Only Leinster province has a design in green and yellow.
The colour of an old design for Meath is blue. There is an old heraldic design for Ireland of three crowns on a blue background and although this was the arms granted by Richard II of England to Robert de Vere as Lord of Ireland in 13864, over two centuries after the Norman invasion, it may have drawn on the colour of an existing Irish flag or design.
The Wikipedia page on the Coat of arms of Ireland, although commenting that heraldry is a feudal practice suggests an older inspiration:
“The colour of the field is sometimes called ‘St. Patrick’s blue’, a name applied to shades of blue associated with Ireland. In current designs, used by the UK and Irish states (sic), the field is invariably a deep blue. The use of blue in the arms has been associated with Gormfhlaith, a Gaelic mythological personification of Ireland. The word Gormfhlaith is a compound of the Irish words gorm (“blue”) and flaith (“sovereign”); it is noted in early Irish texts as the name of several queens closely connected with dynastic politics in the 10th and 11th century Ireland. The National Library of Ireland, in describing the blue background of the arms, notes that in early Irish mythology the sovereignty of Ireland (Irish: Flaitheas Éireann) was represented by a woman often dressed in a blue robe.”
The designers of the Cumann na mBan flag may have been aware of the ancient claim of the colour blue when they made that the background colour of their own flag. Markievicz and Hobson would even more likely have been aware of it as well as the blue with an orange, golden or silver sunburst, alleged flag of the legendary band of warriors na Fianna, when they made that the flag of the Republican youth organisation they founded, Na Fianna Éireann.
THE GREEN FLAG
But what about the United Irishmen’s flag of green, with a golden harp? When talking about the United Irishmen we need to remember from where they received their ideological influences. These were mostly from radical and republican thinkers and agitators in Britain, the USA and France. The United Irishmen organisation was founded by Anglicans and Presbyterians, mostly colonists and settlers or their descendants and most of their leadership in the uprisings of 1798 and 18035 came from from among that section of Irish society. That goes a long way to explaining why most of the revolutionary texts of the time are in the English language, in a country where the majority even then still spoke Irish and with a rich literary and oral tradition in the Irish language.
There is a historical trend among colonists to feel disadvantaged with regard to their compatriots back in “the mother country”, to resent levels of taxation, to complain of inadequate representation and of corrupt or inefficient government. This occurred in English-speaking America and led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. It also occurred in the other America, where the Spanish-speaking colones developed conflicts with the Spanish Kingdom and eventually rose in rebellion against it across South and Central America, eventually gaining independence for a number of states.
A similar process was taking place in Ireland, where the disaffected who belonged to the established church, the Anglican or Church of Ireland, understood that to create a strong autonomous nation, even as part of the English-ruled unity of nations, they would need to bring into government the greater majority, the Presbyterians 6 and even the overwhelming majority, the Catholics (i.e the native Irish).
Henry Grattan attempted this by trying to get the excluded denominations admitted to the Irish Parliament but Crown bribery, sectarianism or fear of having to return lands grabbed by their grandparents or others, combined to have a majority vote the proposals down. That ensured that the organisers of the United Irishmen would realise that no progress to their objectives was possible without revolution.
Irish nationalists among the descendants of colonists often adopted Irish symbols and some other Irish identifiers as a sign of difference from the English. There was some interest in the Irish language but it does not appear to have been widely studied by most Irish Republicans of the time as witnessed by the incorrect appellation of “Erin” for Ireland – any Irish-speaker would know that Éire is the nominative form for the country and ‘Éireann’ is employed in the genitive and dative cases. United Irishmen were involved in organising the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, while folk-song collectors and antiquarians dug among the people and archives for survivals of an older Irish culture.
The Harp, an ancient Irish musical instrument employed also to accompany poetry recitation was employed as a symbol by the Unitedmen — often with the motto “ ‘Tis new-strung and shall be heard”. In addition, the English had long recognised the instrument as a symbol for Ireland, albeit under the Crown.
THE COLOUR GREEN
But where did the colour green come from to be associated with Irish nationalism? This question could do with more research than I have the time or other facilities to devote to it but one may comment what green is not: it is neither the Red of Royal England nor the Blue of Royal France. Nor is it the red with a white saltire of the Order of St. Patrick, another colonial creation and clearly of Royal and colonial origin and patronage, created at the time of a bubbling of the nationalist pot in Ireland and only sixteen years before the 1798 Uprising.
Interestingly, the Irish Brigade (1688–1791) of the French Army did include the colour green in its flag design, four quarters alternately green and red, with a crown in each. And the standard of Napoleon’s La Légion Irlandaise in 1841 is described as of “emerald green”.
William Drennan (1754–5 February 1820), United Irishman, is credited with first use of the description “Emerald Isle” in his poem When Erin First Rose and it was much later re-used in the ballad Bold Robert Emmet. John Sheils, a Drogheda Presbyterian and United Irishman, employed the harp, the colour green, St. Patrick, Erin (sic) and the shamrock all in his song The Rights of Man, which he composed some years prior to the 1798 Rising. The “three-leaved plant” which is “three in one” is used in Sheils’ song:
“to prove its unity in that community
that holds with impunity to the Rights of Man”
The trinity there is clearly the political one desired by the Unitedmen of Protestant (Anglican), Catholic and Dissenter (Presbyterian and other sects).
Green was widely worn by people with United Irish sympathies and particularly during repression by Orange militia, people wearing green were targeted. However, if one wanted to wear a suspect nationalist colour, how safer than to do so than on the feast day of the alleged founder of Christianity in Ireland and acknowledged by Protestant, Sects and Catholics alike?
From the United Irishmen onwards, green has been unarguably associated with Irish nationalism and Irish Republicanism, in the flags of the Fenians, the Irish Volunteers and even of the Irish Citizen Army, also part of the tricolour flag awarded by Parisian revolutionary women to the Young Irelanders which is now the national flag of the Irish state. Green was also the colour of the flag of the St. Patrick’s Battalion that fought for Mexico against the invasion by the USA (1846-’48) and of ceremonial uniforms of some Irish formations during the American Civil War along with the main colour of some of their regimental flags, also of the flags of the Fenian veterans of that war invading Canada in 1866.
Does it matter whether green is authentically an ancient Irish colour or not? Would Irish Republicanism or nationalism be de-legitimised if it could be proven the colour they are using was of dubious origin or of comparatively recent political significance for Ireland? I don’t think so. But it is good to be aware of the different origins of symbols and to question and even challenge what is handed to us as unquestionably authentic.
However, enough people have now fought under the green in eight uprisings in Ireland and struggles abroad; enough people have laid down their lives under the colour and indeed, once it became a symbol of Irishness, enough Irish have been persecuted, prosecuted and even executed for wearing it, to ensure that “wherever green is worn” can be Irish. And in that representation, the shamrock too, which of course happens to be green, and could be passed off as a devotional symbol to suspicious authorities and murderously insecure and sectarian minorities of colonial origin, has its place.
The Wearing o’ the Green
(by John Keegan “Leo” Casey (1846 – March 17, 1870). Keegan, known as the Poet of the Fenians, was an Irish poet, orator and republican who was famous for authorship of this song, apparently written when he was 15 and also as the writer of the song “The Rising of the Moon” (to the same air), also as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He was imprisoned by the English and by a huge irony died on St. Patrick’s Day in 1870 at the age of 24).
O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick’s Day we’ll keep, his colour can’t be seen
For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
I met with Napper Tandy7, and he took me by the hand
And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”
“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
So if the colour we must wear be England’s cruel red
Let it remind us of the blood that Irishmen have shed
And pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod
But never fear, ’twill take root there, though underfoot ’tis trod.
When laws can stop the blades of grass from growin’ as they grow
And when the leaves in summer-time their colour dare not show
Then I will change the colour too I wear in my caubeen
But till that day, please God, I’ll stick to the Wearin’ o’ the Green.
But if, at last, her colours should be torn from Ireland’s heart
Her sons, with shame and sorrow, from the dear old soil will part;
I’ve heard whispers of a Country that lies far beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal, in the light of Freedom’s day!
O Erin! must we leave you driven by the tyrant’s hand!
Must we ask a Mother’s blessing, in a strange but happy land,
Where the cruel Cross of England’s thralldom’s never to be seen:
But where, thank God! we’ll live and die, still Wearing of the Green!
A high-pitched but hoarse scream cuts through the night. Again and again it is heard, then is silent. A frightening sound, perhaps of a person being attacked …. But no, it is a vixen, a female red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Why is she screaming? Is she in pain? Not exactly — she is informing dog-foxes in the area that she is ready to mate and where they can find her.
But this is December and, according to Internet site after site dealing with foxes in Britain and in Ireland, she is at least a month early1. Perhaps she is a rare exception, this vixen in the Drumcondra area but it seems to me more likely that the sites have it wrong: either urban foxes breed earlier or the breeding pattern of foxes is changing. Actually, a combination of both is likely.
A vixen breeding in January would give birth to her cubs just over 50 days later, when in rural areas the earth is warming up in the Spring and when lambs are born, hares are boxing, eggs are being laid, greens are growing and being eaten by rabbits – in other words, food is becoming available for the vixen. Obviously vixens breeding in February or March will have yet more food available in April or May but may also find greater competition, in food and for a mate.
Say this rural vixen conceived on 1st January, then she would give birth on or around 22nd February. She will need feeding just before that and probably up to24th March, a task falling to the dog fox and to unmated young females who may be part of the community. The cubs need the warmth of the mother’s body for up to three weeks after birth and she cannot leave the den. One month after giving birth the mother vixen may go hunting while the “aunts” look after the cubs, who are now venturing out of the den or “earth” (but staying very close to it).
The food brought to the young is carried inside the hunters’ bellies and regurgitated for the young to consume along with their mother’s milk which they will suckle until six weeks of age. After weaning, the cubs will eat solid food but cannot yet hunt for it themselves until perhaps mid-late Summer and, if males, will leave to establish their own territories in the Autumn.2Males become sexually mature at one year of age.
A vixen breeding in December in an Irish rural area might have difficulty receiving enough sustenance in January or even early February, especially in decades past when winters were usually harder. However, with changing seasonal weather patterns tending to warmer winters – and in urban areas where a lot of food tends to be available for scavenging all year round – these problems are substantially reduced and so breeding in December should present little difficulties. So the thinking goes among the vixens in Drumcondra, anyway and, I suspect, in many other Irish and British urban areas.
The male or ‘dog’ fox can be heard sometimes too in a staccato bark, normally three (but occasionally four) rapid barks: bak, bak, bak!
THE URBAN FOX
The urban fox is a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland3, as far as we know, although in Bristol, for example, they have been recorded since the 1930s. Up to fairly recently, a number of experts maintained that the fox populations of city and countryside had little contact with one another. But in January 2014 “it was reported that “Fleet”, a relatively tame urban fox tracked as part of a wider study by the University of Brighton in partnership with the BBC’s Winterwatch, had travelled 195 miles in 21 days from his neighbourhood in Hove, at the western edge of East Sussex, across rural countryside as far as Rye, at the eastern edge of the county. He was still continuing his journey when the GPS collar stopped transmitting, due to suspected water damage.”4
and the Country Foxes
Decades before I heard of this I often fancifully imagined a conversation between a fox, now settled in the “big city”, and his country relations when he returned on a visit. After the initial customary welcoming, sniffing, licking etc are over, the conversation might go like this:
“So, Darkie, tell us, what is life like in the big city?”
“Ah, it was scary at first, with cars and buses and lorries going all day. You wouldn’t believe the noise.”
(Sympathetic whine from the audience).
“But I’m used to it now, Redthree, I have to say. And the food! You could not imagine!”
“Good, is it?”
“Lovely, Whitepatch, absolutely delicious.”
(Sounds of salivating all around).
“Chicken, beef, lamb, fish, potatoes, bread, rice, vegetables, fruit – just left out there to be eaten!”
“Ah, you’re havin’ us on, Darkie. We might be “Culchies” but we’re not stupid! You expect us to believe the humans feed you like they do their dogs, do you?”
“No, of course not, Greymuzzle. Well, actually a few do leave out food on purpose for us but no, this is mostly food that humans are throwing away. We find it in plastic bags and metal containers.”
“They throw away food?”
“They do and huge amounts of it too. Then big lorries come and take away what we have not eaten ourselves.”
“Where do they take it?”
“I am not sure. I’ve never troubled to find out because, to be honest, I have all the food I need nearby.”
(Silence while country foxes imagine a huge mountain of food somewhere).
“Er …. Darkie, so you never hunt now?”
“Oh, yes, some – the city rats and mice eat the discarded food too and they grow plump and big. Yes, I catch and eat them too.”
“Well now, what about all the humans?”
“What about them, Lighteyes? They don’t bother us.”
“Don’t the humans have guns in the city?”
“Some of them do, Lighteyes. But they don’t shoot foxes with them.”
“Really? What do they shoot with their guns then?”
“Other humans, Lighteyes, just other humans.”
(Noises of amazement and disbelief)
THE INNER CITY FOX
The Internet sites all agree that foxes are more likely in suburbia than in the inner city but I think they ignore some important features of the inner city which foxes can frequent in relative safety and around which they are likely to find sufficient food: railroad lines and their banks, canal and river banks, parks, allotments, cemeteries and derelict sites. One can’t get much closer to Dublin’s inner city than Parnell Square, yet I have seen foxes in a laneway off there and also squeezing through the railings to enter the Garden of Remembrance. They have been photographed near the Irish Parliament, the Dáil (though some people might say that’s less surprising with the number of scavengers nearby :–). I’d be surprised if they are not to be found along the banks of the Dodder, the Liffey, the Tolka and both canals, also along the railway lines and in Glasnevin and other cemeteries.
According to one Internet site5, the urban fox population in Dublin may be growing too big for its own health, as the ready availability of food allows unhealthy individuals to exist, diseased and covered in mange infestation (mites that denude patches of fur). I would need to explore this argument before I could accept it.
I am familiar with the overpopulation argument in the case of grazing animals or rodents, where too many individuals consume the available resources and the whole population suffers – a fate usually occurring when natural predators are not present to thin out the weaker individuals and thereby unconsciously preserve the general population in a healthier state.
But how would this work with regard to Dublin foxes? It seems unlikely that the food available is being reduced yet and if and when it is, one presumes healthier foxes will outcompete their sicker species members. Also, sick and undernourished foxes are less likely to come into oestrous and should they do so and conceive, to be able to raise their young. It seems to me most likely that what is occurring is that foxes that would normally have been winnowed out in the struggle of survival are now able to sustain themselves, which might be distressing to see but which will not necessarily have any effect on the healthy population.6 And will healthy individuals necessarily succumb to mange infection from infested individuals? And if they do now, might they not in time learn to chase infected individuals away?
Theories of overpopulation and scare stories about foxes attacking babies, cats and so on seem prompted by the intention to cull foxes, as Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, proposed. Johnson seems unwilling to learn from history, as “there was a large and expensive effort to reduce the number of urban foxes across the UK in the 1970s, but the population subsequently bounced right back.”7The average litter now may be four cubs but vixens have been known to bear up to a dozen and with a low population-to-high-food-sources ratio, are likely to bear a greater number of cubs. And a recent National Health Service survey in the UK indicated that nearly 60% of all stings and bites admitted to emergency rooms were inflicted by dogs8but anyone suggesting a cull of urban dogs would probably find a gathering bearing pitchforks and burning torches outside their home.
There have been claims that foxes kill and eat lambs, cats, other domestic pets and poultry. Most experts have concluded that if indeed a fox killed a lamb, such incidents are very rare. A ewe is capable of protecting a lamb from a fox, an animal not much larger than a cat. However, foxes have been found to eat the afterbirths of lambs and would of course eat a stillborn lamb or one that died soon after birth, after which its mother would leave and the opportunist would move in; such incidents may have convinced some people in rural areas that the fox was the cause of the lamb’s death.
The Foxwatch study program in Bristol city filmed a number of confrontations between urban foxes and cats and found that in all cases, it was the fox that backed down. This makes sense, for a predator does not usually take on another predator of similar size except in defence of its young, its own life or, at times, its kill.
Yes of course foxes will kill poultry if they can get at them and are often accused in such situations of going on a killing spree. Foxes do kill and gather more food than they need at times and, like many other animals, hide it for recovery later, marking the spot with their scent. But when a fox breaks into a poultry pen and kills its inhabitants, it usually has to leave with what it can carry and will not be permitted to return for the rest. The answer for humans is to build secure pens into which to bring the poultry at night – and that applies also to rabbits kept as pets or for the table, etc. — or keep a dog outside, unleashed.
Scare stories and unscientific suggestions to one side, wild animal populations living alongside humans frequently do need management. All species of bats are protected in Ireland and Britain and should you find them in your attic you are not permitted to remove them but must instead notify the appropriate authorities. Some people have suggested that the red fox should be granted protected species status but it is difficult to see the rationale for this, since it is on the species of “least concern” list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Pigeons receive no protection and, though often fed by people who consider them cute or pretty, do have a negative effect on our urban environment and, in the case of seagulls, who are protected, may be responsible for the disappearance of the many species of ducks that once were common in Stephens’ Green. Rats and mice are not deliberately fed or considered cute by most people (though I have kept both myself and found the individuals tame and harmless and, in the case of rats, quite intelligent) and humanity wages war upon them with traps and poison.
Do urban foxes require management? Zoologist Dave Wall9, who has studied Dublin’s urban foxes for some years, thinks not. In his opinion, the fox population in Dublin has remained constant since the 1980s.According to statistics regularly quoted but never referenced that I can find, Dublin fox families occupy on average 1.04 Km². 10 Given a rough and probably low estimate of six individuals per fox family (a mated pair and two unmated females and two cubs) and a Dublin City area of 115 km² would give us a fox population of 663 in the city. That might seem a lot, until one hears that London holds an estimated 10,000.
Given statistics of that sort, and information that the average litter is of four cubs, one may wonder why most urban dwellers see them but rarely and also why urban foxes are not a massively growing population. There are a number of controlling influences, ranging from the need to establish territory and fight to hold it, which may cost in injuries or even death, to deaths by traffic, the most common cause of fox death according to Internet sites (although how often do we see a dead fox on the road?). A common non-captive life-span of from two to four years and a fertility “window” of only three days for a vixen would be population-controlling factors and yet the allegedly stable population is puzzling, to me at least.
The rural fox tends to inhabit, widening when necessary, burrows already excavated by rabbits and badgers. In urban areas, the fox may have to excavate its own – under buildings and sheds and into railroad banks, for example – but will also use and expand other holes and gaps.
Many urban human dwellers, probably most, never see urban foxes, although they are becoming increasingly visible. They are active mostly at dusk and shortly before dawn and are mostly likely to be seen by people who rise very early for work, or who work at night or who are returning from late night socialising on foot, by bicycle or on foot.
In the Lewisham area of South-East London where I lived for some decades, I regularly saw them on the roads while cycling home from a late music session or a friend’s house. Lewisham would be considered midway between being city and suburban in nature and contained parks, cemeteries, allotments, streams or rivers and railway lines, houses with gardens but also high-rise blocks of local authority housing and very busy roads. I once passed about three yards near to an adult fox on the housing estate I lived on for awhile between Grove Park and Eltham (also in SE London). On my allotment in Catford, if I worked until dusk (which I did often enough when I managed to find the time), they would come out and play and dig for food less than ten yards away from me. And I frequently found trainers (running shoes) and balls they had taken from outside local houses and gardens, discarded on my allotment.
A number of theories have been forwarded for the penetration of urban areas by the fox, including the shameful wiping out of rabbit populations by state-inflicted plagues of myxomatosis but the real reasons are probably the same as those of the pigeon, rat and mouse – availability of food and home provided by humans and the adaptability of the species themselves.
THE MOST WIDESPREAD CARNIVORE ON EARTH
Indeed, the red fox has proved an adaptable animal – much like ourselves. She is an omnivore, as are we and can take her prey from animals as large as a goose to those as small as beetles or earthworms, also frequently eating wild fruit, especially in the Autumn. Studies in the former Soviet Union found that up to 300 animal and a few dozen plant species were known to be consumed by her11. Mice and rats are frequently on her menu and her ancestors are thought to have developed as specialist rodent hunters in Eurasia five million years ago but her kind is now the most widespread carnivore on Earth, with 46 recognised subspecies.
The fox has binocular vision which is particularly effective at night, excellent hearing over distance, including the ability to detect the squeaking of mice at about 100 metres (330 ft) and capable of locating sounds to within one degree at 700–3,000 Hz, though less accurately at higher frequencies12, compensated for by an ability to hear at very low frequencies, including a rustle in grass or leaves and the burrowing of rodents underground. It has evolved many tactics for hunting, including tracking, ambush, stalking, leaping, pouncing and digging.
The fox can also run at a speed of 42 km/ hour, climb some trees, leap high and swim well. Considering the latter, its absence from many islands near to mainlands may come as a surprise but I think that is easy to explain through eradication by human agency.
The red fox is to be found everywhere in Europe (where she is thought to have reached 400,000 years ago) and in North America, Canada, China, Japan and Indochina. Sadly, in the mid-19th Century her species was introduced to Australia by European settlers (at first for sport and later perhaps to control the rabbit, also introduced there by Europeans), where a population of 7.2 million red foxes now is wreaking damage among rarer indigenous wildlife and is considered responsible for the extinction of a number of species. It is classified as the most harmful invasive species in Australia and eradication and population control measures are adopted against it there, as are also against feral domestic cats and dogs, also imported by Europeans.
The dingo is regarded as a controlling agent on red fox population growth in Australia though not totally effective due to the fox’s habit of burrowing; this is interesting for a number of reasons: firstly, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) is itself a wild dog most likely imported from Asia by Aborigine settlers somewhere between 4,500 and 10,000 years ago and secondly, the red fox in Ireland and Britain does not tend to excavate its own burrows but rather to enlarge existing ones and then generally only for mating and rearing cubs. The Red Foxiscurrently absent from Iceland, Greenland, South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
The fox has been hunted by humans primarily for its fur, especially in winter when it is thicker and from foxes in the far north its silkiness is considered very valuable.
Reynard (one of the names traditionally given to the fox) has also been hunted for sport, usually by the aristocracy or country gentry, on horseback with hounds, an activity which gave rise to one of Oscar Wilde’s many memorable phrases: “The English country gentleman galloping after a fox – the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.” Of course, it was not only the English who did this but also the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy (from which Wilde’s father himself came) and the upwardly-climbing Irish who aped them, ag sodar i ndiaidh na nuaisle.13There have been numerous attempts to get fox-hunting banned and direct action such as protests and sabotage of hunts but it is still legal in Ireland and in Britain, though substantially reduced from a century ago.
Gamekeepers have also hunted the foxin order to keep it from killing ground-nesting birds such as wild pheasants, grouse and partridge, so that the landowner and his friends could shoot these birds down later14. Finally, the farmer has taken his toll, sending specially-bred dogs such as cairn terriers down earths to kill a hiding fox and in particular the cubs. The farmer wishes to protect his poultry but avoid the cost of building secure pens and so hunts foxes down; he could let his dogs roam his poultry area which would keep foxes away but dogs do often go chasing sheep too, which will also represent a loss to the farmer, either because the sheep are his or because his neighbours will claim compensation from him.
AN MAIDRÍN RUA and tradition
In Ireland, the fox was known as Sionnach, Madagh Rua (“red dog”) or Maidrín Rua (“little red dog”) and has given its name to a number of places, eg Cnoc an tSionnaigh (Fox Hill, Co. Mayo; another as a street name in Co. Laois); Oileán an tSionnaigh (Fox Island, Co. Galway); Carraig an tSionnaigh (Foxrock, Co. Dublin); possibly Léim an Mhadaigh, (Limavady, Co. Derry) and Lag an Mhadaigh (Legamaddy, Co. Down); possibly Ráth Sionnaigh (Rashenny, Co. Donegal), etc.15
Fox is also a family name and the Irish language version of it is Mac an tSionnaigh (literally “Fox’s son”). The Maidrín Rua or Sionnach features in a number of songs in Irish and in English and here is one from the Irish language tradition of song but in a non-traditional choral arrangement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bJyqbPxTwU.
Widely represented in folklore from China to Ireland, the fox is also mentioned in the Old Testament Bible and in Greek stories such as the fables of Aesop as well as among the Indigenous people of the Northern Americas. He is never stupid but his intelligence or cunning is also often portrayed as devious, tricky and even malicious. On the other hand, let us not forget that the anti-feudal Mexican hero created by USA writer Johnston McCulley(February 2, 1883 – November 23, 1958), who fights for the downtrodden and indigenous people and mocks the Mexican aristocracy and large landowners, always escaping them, used the nom-de-guerre of “El Zorro”, the fox.
There is a sexual connection too in the representation for the fox: for example in English a “foxy lady” is one with a high level of sexual attraction and in Castillian (Spanish) a “zorra” (vixen) isa pejorative term for a woman trading in sexual favours or “of low morals”16. Have we come around in a circle to where we began, to the vixen’s scream? I think so, but loaded now with a patriarchal outlook. Men can openly want and enjoy sex, of course, that is natural – but a woman? Surely not … or, if she does, she must be bad!
6Other feature which makes this claim suspect are a number of scare items in the article: a) the sensationalist reference to the alleged danger to a baby from a fox in a bedroom and a link to the article reporting this event. Such an event, supposing it occurred, must be on a level of likelihood way below the danger to babies from, for example, pet cats and dogs. Also b) the reference to the danger of contracting roundworm (Toxocara canis), which can cause toxocariasis in children, while not however mentioning how low that risk is and that infection for children is most likely to be encountered from dogs and cats.
9Dave Wall B.A. is a postgraduate researcher in zoology at UCD. He has studied otters, marine mammals and Alpine badgers as well as studying Dublin’s urban foxes for the past few years. He is a Director of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.
13“Trotting after the nobles”, a derogatory phrase in Irish.
14Gamekeepers in Ireland and Britain also shot, poisoned or trapped badgers, otters, pine martens, stoats, escaped mink, eagles, hawks, buzzards, crows and magpies and often hung their carcasses in near their lodges to display their diligence in their tasks
(Gaelic football team Sheares Brothers has been doing very well for a change. A reporter from the Irish Times is about to conclude his interview of the club’s Bainisteoir).
Your club’s local nickname is “the Pats”, I’m told.
Yes, I’ve heard that too.
Is it true – what I’ve been told – that all your players, in your entire team, are called Patrick?
Well, now, many are named Patrick, right enough, but they are not all called Patrick.
[Reporter jots down in his notebook: ‘named not called – wtf???’] Does that not cause problems, though, on the field? I mean, it must be difficult at times for your players to know to which of them the Captain is referring when he shouts out: “Patrick”.
[The interviewer smiles. He has shown the ridiculousness of this situation]. (Fucking unbelievable that this team got as far as its current position in theLeague! he thinks)
No, not all. Sure if the Captain called out “Patrick”, he’d be referring to himself! That would be a strange thing to do, for sure, to be talking to himself! Well, when with the team, anyway.
(This man is an idiot. An idiot managing a ridiculous team. Still, get the interview done, file the story. Then the pub ….) Ok …. what if he wants to say, to indicate to a player, to pass the ball to the left midfielder? Would he just call the position – as in “Pass the ball to Left Midfield”?
Well, he might …. but he’d more likely say “Give Paudie the ball”. That’s Paudie’s usual position, you see.
(What a thicko!) I meant “ok”. Your left Midfielder’s nickname is “Paudie”?
Well, it’s the name he goes by anyhow. Paudie Whelan.
So are all your players called a variation on Patrick?
Pretty much, yes.
Fifteen variations on Patrick? And no repetitions? That’s not possible, is it?
It seems to be.
OK, all right …. what about say, your Centre Forward?
Pa. Pa Walsh.
Hmm. Left Forward?
Packy Ó Braonáin.
(Got you now!)
Sorry, he’s just back from an injury. Patchy …. Patchy Stokes.
Paddy plays that position – Paddy McGuinness.
(Has to run out of them soon). Left Mid-Field?
You had his name already – Paudie Whelan.
(Smartass!) Yes, of course. Right Mid-Field?
That’d be Pád Óg Trainor.
That’s P, a, u, d ……
No. P, á, d; Ó, g.
No, I meant just “Right” , as in “OK’.
(Is he taking the piss?) Well ….. where was I?
Yes …. thanks …. Right Half-Back?
I thought you said ….? Never mind …Paudeen Sullivan.
Pád …. Pád Carney.
P, a, u ….
No, P, á, d; C, a, r ….
I know how to spell Carney, thanks.
That’s Patrick … our Captain. Patrick Burke.
(Have I got him?)
Ah, sorry ….
(Aha! At last!)
Pat Sheehan. His name slipped me mind there for a minute, sorry.
Oh …. Ah. Good. Full Back?
Páraic Ó Flaithearta. Will I spell it for you?
(Fucking smart-ass! I’ll get it from their website. Just let me run him out of Patrick variants first.) No, it’s ok, I know my koopla fokol, gurra mah hugut.
Muise, tá fáilte romhat. Bail ó Dhia ort.
Well …. let’s carry on. Right Corner-Back?
Pádraig. Pádraig Lehane.
(Got you now!) Pádraig. The same as the man next to him, the Full Back.
No, that’s Páraic. P, á, r, a, i, c.
Oh! Ok, yes, I see. My mistake. Goalie?
Yes. Well, thanks. Yes …. I don’t suppose your substitutes are called Patrick?
No, neither is.
Good … good story, thanks. I must be going ….
Don’t you want to know their names?
OK, yes I suppose. Yes, please.
PJ Hanley and Packer Dunne.
I …. see …. ‘PJ’ as in ….. Patrick Joseph?
Um … Well …. Thanks for your time. All the best for your next game in the League. I don’t suppose, heh, heh, your Junior team are all variants of Patrick too?
Ah, not at all! Of course not. Sure, that would be awful confusing. No, there’s Michael Fitzgerald, Mick Smith, Mickey Doyle, Mícheál Connors, Micilín Seoighe, Mikhail ….