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The South Circular Road, Dublin, on the Eve of the First World War (Maynooth Studies in Local History)
The South Circular Road, Dublin, on the Eve of the First World War (Maynooth Studies in Local History)
by Catherine Scuffil
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Jews, boxers and cigarettes, 14 Oct 2013
That's what the South Circular Road (SCR) meant to me as a young boy in the 1950s.

Jews: my godmother Mai lived in a mixed Jewish Christian house in the heart of Little Jerusalem at Leonard's corner on the SCR. Her family did the usual Sabbas Goyim needful at the weekend. The community was very integrated and the whole area were ever so proud of Chaim Herzog, who had been raised there (1919-35), and later (1983) became President of Israel. Local boy made good.

Boxers: the National Boxing Stadium is on the SCR and was constantly figuring in the sports results of my youth, though some of the bigger international bouts were held at other locations.

Cigarettes: in my day they were what transitioned you from a callow youth to whatever came next. They were a right of passage. So a cigarette factory to a youth was what a chocolate factory would have been to a child.

When I started chasing up my family history I found other connections with the SCR. My great grandfather retired there with two of my maiden grand-aunts, who were subsequently to suffer the German bombing of the SCR in May 1941. The synagogue was also damaged in this bombing and Eoin Bairéad, in another book in this series, recounts that it was the only synagogue bombed by the Nazis for which they paid compensation.

My grandfather married out of Arnott St., which is one of the SCR offshoot streets, in 1901. He was a commercial traveller and succeeded in avoiding being counted in the census of that year by being neither here nor there.

So, the point of all the above is that I am no stranger to the SCR, though almost all of my connections with it date from periods after rather than before WWI.

Séamas Ó Maitiú, made the point at the launch of this book, that the SCR is not just a road, it is an area of Dublin, and that would be echoed by most Dubliners.

This came about not just because of the positioning of the road around the southern limit of the city, but because of the way in which the road evolved. It was conceived in the eighteenth century to join up the southern radial routes out of Dublin, and to link up the various occupying British military barracks; but the conception was only executed piecemeal. Stand alone terraces and big houses were built along the route over a long period, which has led to a variety of styles of housing. These terraces, with their indivdiual names, were absorbed into the road in later periods and many are no longer separately identifiable.

This was a common feature of road building in its day. My grandfather lived in Park View Terrace, which is now just a series of numbers on Brookfield Road off the SCR. Another relative lived in Hebron Terrace, which is now just another series of numbers on Dolphin's Barn Road/Cork Street also off the SCR.

The piecemeal development of the road meant the preservation of existing villages like Dolphin's Barn and Kilmainham and it also allowed the congregation of shops at important intersections like Leonard's Corner and Donore Avenue.

So this little book has a fertile field for study and Catherine Scuffil makes the most of it. She documents the road, or the area, or the succession of villages like jewels in a necklace. A fascinating, and thoroughly researched, commentary on the area's topographical features and physical development, its population and its religious, economic and social communities.

One limitation of the treatment of the demography of the road, mainly based on the 1911 census, is the limiting of the population studied to those actually living on the road itself. It does not include all the side streets, most of which were part of the on-road communities. But where do you stop. Before you know it you'd be in to Nelson's Pillar (now the Spike) in the city centre. Catherine overcomes this by including some of these streets in the wider commentary and by doing a particular analysis of one such mini-area, Poplar Place in Dolphin's Barn.

This is another worthwhile book in the excellent series of Maynooth Studies in Local History. The research and write up is to a high academic standard, as the book is based on Catherine's thesis for her Masters in Local History from NUI Maynooth, and it is very readable as the text has been rewritten for publication in book form.


The Testament of Mary
The Testament of Mary
by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious reality check, 30 Sep 2013
This review is from: The Testament of Mary (Paperback)
This is a subversive book which would have had its author burned at the stake in those times when the Church exercised serious temporal power.

It consists of some reflections by Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she approaches death in a foreign land.

She touches on Jesus's happy boyhood, how he then matured and eventually turned into a bit of a cold fish with delusions of divinity. She reports on some of his miracles third hand. The only one at which she was present was the water to wine at Cana, and she seems to harbour some doubts about this. The raising of Lazarus, assuming it happened, turned out to be a bad joke. She didn't hang around for the end of the crucifixion saga as she was in fear of her life. So no pietà. And the guys, who are now harassing her for stories from the past, seem to be writing major works of fiction to which they expect her to add her name.

All in all a serious debunking job.

But it is refreshing in its sadness and depression as it makes you think. You begin to wonder what was it really like, particularly when you start to think of people as real people rather than the sanitised and unreflective versions which have been handed down to some of us.

This Mary is at the other end of the spectrum from the Italian breastless plaster-cast statues that were found in most of the churches of my youth.

She is a poor tortured soul, looking forward to relief from this mortal coil. But she is still a loving mother and has a serious backbone made of steel which is not paraded unnecessarily.

A short, well written, provocative book. I'm currently on my second read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 28, 2014 11:37 PM BST


A Question of Conscience
A Question of Conscience
by Tony Flannery
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy Whistleblower, 30 Sep 2013
I first came across Tony Flannery in a piece of his writing on the website of the Association of Catholic Priests, of which he was a co-founder, offering the opinion that the then upcoming International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) in Dublin would be an opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church to pursue the theme of repentance and humility and avoid any of the triumphalism which dominated the last Dublin IEC in 1932. A rock of a sensible suggestion, I thought at the time.

Did the hierarchy pay a whit of attention to this good advice? Not at all. They went out and got brand new bespoke uniforms (vestments to you) for all the clerical participants and had a right extravagant Communio Fest. Mind you, their use of media, including social media, was first class professional, really. Had the message matched up to the quality of the dress and the media we might have been getting somewhere.

The day after I first came across Fr. Flannery, I read a piece in the Irish Catholic newspaper which said he had been silenced by the Vatican and his regular column in the Redemptorist magazine Reality had been pulled.

There followed a good eighteen months when none of us knew what Fr. Flannery's status was, and in the course of which it came to light that other priests had been silenced, not least Fr. Seán Fagan, an inspirational theologian now ageing and in bad health.

Fr. Flannery eventually came to the conclusion that, despite various attempts on his part to satisfy the outrageous demands of the Inquisition (now the Vatican Curial Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - CDF), there was no satisfying them, so he unsilenced himself and gave interviews and wrote articles about his case, and he has now written a book which sums it all up. The book publishes the texts of his correspondence with the Superior of his Order (who was, in effect, a Vatican proxy) and it attempts to explain the context of the views and remarks of his on foot of which he was being condemned.

Among the reasons for his coming to the conclusion that he would never be allowed return to ministry, was the conviction that he was simply being used as a pawn in a wider Vatican game to undermine the newly formed Association of Catholic Priests, of which he was a co-founder and member of the leadership team, and whose independence scared the bejaysus out of the Vatican.

His book is a bloodboiling read, all the more so if you have heard him interviewed on radio or tv. How such a holy man could be so outrageously treated by the Church to which he had given some forty years of sterling service is unbelievable. The saga is a testimony to the unfitness for office of all of those he has come up against.

Meanwhile the question now is: has Fr. Flannery blown it, or will he benefit retrospectively from the current Pope's apparently more conciliatory views regarding dissenters. His own view is that the Pope's recent intervention has effectively emasculated the CDF and that his fate is now in the hands of his Redemptorist superiors.

Anyway, the book is a great read. I hope to see it going viral, translated into many languages, and on the curriculum of all seminaries (while such institutions last), first as a warning and eventually, hopefully, on the history shelves.


What's Happened to Sin
What's Happened to Sin
by Sean Fagan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A failed book burning, 30 Sep 2013
This review is from: What's Happened to Sin (Paperback)
Seán Fagan is in his eighties but he writes and thinks like a young man, a wise young man with buckets of experience behind him.

"What happened to sin?" was originally written in 1977, under a slightly different title. Fr. Fagan has now rewritten it in the 2008 edition.

I really don't know where to start. It is such a relevant and inspirational book that it is hard to see anyone of good faith taking issue with it.

One of his other books, "Does Morality Change?", originally written in 1997, was condemned by the Vatican (CDF) on its republication in 2003, on the following grounds (as reported by the Irish bishops):

"the denial of the binding force of the Magisterium [Rome] on conscience"; "the uncritical acceptance of the tendency `to substitute a dynamic and more evolutionary concept of nature for a static one',"; "the effective rejection of the church's understanding of the natural law (illuminated by revelation)"; "the explicit denial of moral absolutes, specially those concrete acts which are intrinsically wrong"; and "the promotion of a false understanding of conscience".

I would have thought that these sound more like grounds for praise than condemnation. Of course, they are a hostile presentation of Seán Fagan's ideas by a power-mad bureaucracy that feels threatened by him. They fail to present the inspirational context in which these ideas are put forward, and they fail completely to see that Seán Fagan's thinking could be the salvation of a church which is failing in its duty to its members and which even some of its own highest officials acknowledge is rotten at parts of its core.

I found "What happened to sin?" the most inspirational book I have read since John Robinson's "Honest to God". It is a game changer. Don't be put off by the use of the word sin; you could even dispense with the divine in its content, and you would still have a programme for good (Godly?) living to bring you in sight of the Promised Land.

I read it as an unbeliever, but with an eye to what its thinking might mean for the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church on the lines promised by Vatican II some half a century ago.

It is a plea/recipe for individual moral responsibility in a buck passing and uncaring world. It debunks the power-enhancing strategems of church administrations over the last decades, centuries even, in favour of person-based moral growth.

It is a disgrace that this man has been silenced, though not very effectively it would seem. It is a sad reflection on the moral pygmies who reported him, those who silenced him, and those, who by their own silence, consent to the outrageous treatment of this holy man.

And the title of this review? The Vatican ordered Fr. Fagan's superiors to get hold of every available copy of this book and destroy it. Despite their best efforts to do so there are still many copies in private hands and also in the my local library system (Dublin City). So despite the attempted book burning, I got to read it and I hope you do too.


U2 by U2
U2 by U2
by U2
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Iesu Mawr, 24 Aug 2013
This review is from: U2 by U2 (Hardcover)
Looking at the photos in this it is not surprising that Bono has come to think of himself as Jesus Christ.

He also says, rather strangely, that his parents were married in 1949 (see caption to their wedding photo). If that is true then they were married three times over as they were married twice in 1950: August in a Protestant church and December in a Catholic church, both recorded separately as civil marriages.

Weird.


Ireland: Photographs 1840-1930
Ireland: Photographs 1840-1930
by Carey Schofield
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare photos in context, 14 Aug 2013
This is an absolutely fabulous book.

My main interest is in the photos, which are not the usual crop and, which give great depth to the history they illustrate.

There are heartrending scenes of evictions, a clatter of crutches at the church in Knock just a few years after the apparition, and fascinating photos from various phases of the revolutionary period.

A beautiful piece of work in both text and vision.
Comment Comment | Permalink


The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) (Counterblasts)
The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) (Counterblasts)
by Harry Browne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Browne Stuff, 9 July 2013
Before commenting on this book I have to declare an interest, or two.

One: I have been accused of being related to Bono. Fortunately there is no truth whatsoever in the rumour. It happened like this. I got an email out of the blue from a Gary Rankin, a Scot working in London, who said he thought we must both be related to Bono. My grand-uncle, whose mother was a Rankin, lived in 10 Cowper Street, Dublin. Gary told me that Bono's grandfather, who was also a Rankin, died in 10 Cowper Street. Almost conclusive. Panic stations. So I threw myself immediately into a forensic investigation of the matter. It turned out that Bono's grandfather died in 8 Cowper Street, where his family lived, and that he was a Protestant from Belfast while my grandmother Rankin was a Catholic from Co. Laois. The two families did, however, know one another, but only as neighbours. A close call.

Two: In my work, from which I am now retired, I had a lot of dealings with Third World Debt. A lot of people were working very hard on this issue, albeit sometimes from very different standpoints and offering very different "solutions". Along comes Bono, avails of a whack of mutually beneficial photo ops with the great and the good, projects himself as the principal mover and shaker in this matter, and then claims credit for whatever "advances" were achieved. This, and the messianic complex which lay behind it, did not endear him to those in the field.

This book points out that his activities in this area effectively disenfranchised Africa and allowed world leaders to get away with all sorts of sleight of hand in supposedly dealing with Third World Debt.

The book is not concerned with Bono's private life nor with his singing career as such. It is concerned with how he used his position as a famous person to meddle in the politics of Third World Debt, preached to the world at large on the matter, and, behind it all, behaved just like any other greedy capitalist lackey.

The book also deals with how Bono "saved" the Northern Ireland Peace Process and almost brought the Dublin cityscape into the 25th century.

The case is made fairly convincingly, though much of the writing is over the top, and you can see the author behind the bush, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting Bono every time he passes the road. A toned down text would carry more weight and might keep more readers engaged up to the point where the prosecution rests.

While it is the first critique of Bono from this angle that I have read, I have only now become aware that some commentators, such as George Monbiot, had been hacking away at Bono for years.

In contrast, Gay Byrne (the father of Irish broadcasting?) has recently done an in-depth tv interview with Bono which would make your flesh creep in its obsequiousness and in the Jesus complex of its subject. This guy is off the wall and clearly should stick to his singing last and leave saving the world to those who know what they are at, if, indeed, there are any such people around.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a review of the book.

Should you buy it, steal it, or get it at your local library?

On balance, yes. But be prepared for an unnecessarily difficult and demanding read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 25, 2013 8:14 PM BST


The Liberties: A History
The Liberties: A History
Price: £1.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cuisle na Cathrach, 6 April 2013
This reads like a labour of love.

It is well written and the material is well organised under various thematic headings.

It concisely traces the history of the area from early times and documents its rise and fall as an industial centre. It gives a great feel for the area and its characters. It also refers to current attempts to revitalise the area by replacing its vanished industry with artisan and historical tourist attractions. The potential here is enormous and its development would be nothing less that this area deserves.

[This review appears under the Kindle edition, but I am in fact reviewing the hardcopy edition.]

The book's paper is high quality, so the photo reproductions are good. The choice of photos seems designed to be complementary to those published elsewhere rather than to reproducing familiar ones.

I have to declare an interest, as it includes a paragraph on my grand uncle, Councillor Patrick Medlar, quoting from George P Kearns's "Old Dublin Cinemas", which mentions the glass plate in the Councillor's coffin. The family told me this was in imitation of Constance Markievicz who predeceased him, but I have been unable to find any reference in the literature to her glass plate.

An extremely useful feature of the book, and one the reader is grateful for at every turn, is that, where a place or event is referred to, its location is also specified in terms of today's world.

The list of characters, either born in the Liberties or with strong associations with the area, is long and entertaining. I was pleased to see that Mr Tayto was born there in my great-grandparents neighbourhood. He ended up in Ballybrack/Killiney, Co. Dublin, and was a customer in my mothers paper shop.

The book firmly stitches the area into the fabric of national history, and that of the City of Dublin, much of which took place within its limits.

It is the first time I have seen the origin of the Dublin term "gurrier" attributed to the gurrying of tanned leather in Back Lane. The traditional, and probably more superficial, story was that it came with the French Huguenots and was a derivation of "guerrier" (fighter). The book is full of this kind of fascinating detail. The author, probably wisely, doesn't attempt to fathom the derivation of "Cow Parlour" but he does remind us that it had once been the site of an abattoir.

The section on acknowledgements testifies to how widely the author trawled in compiling the book and the extent to which he got enthusiastic cooperation from all those involved.

The book is very entertaining and it is well written and researched.

A must read for anyone interested in the history of The Liberties or of the wider Dublin.


The Royal Irish Constabulary: A Complete Alphabetical List of Officers and Men, 1816-1922
The Royal Irish Constabulary: A Complete Alphabetical List of Officers and Men, 1816-1922
by Jim Herlihy
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Only a list but an indispensable one, 13 Mar 2013
I was going to do a review of this book but have instead commented on the previous review.

Hopefully, if you are researching family members in the RIC the book will be available in your local library. I see it's now going for £800+.
Comment Comment | Permalink


Independent Newspapers: A History
Independent Newspapers: A History
by Kevin Rafter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £41.48

5.0 out of 5 stars When Abbey Street hummed., 15 Feb 2013
When I was growing up, the Independent was seen as an unexciting, conservative, Fine Gael and Roman Catholic clerical paper. Subsequently it turned into a rag and the wonder is that it still has some good journalists writing for it.

My own connections with the paper are simply that I was offered a job as a sub when I left school but went on to university instead. I was also interviewed by Hector Legge at some stage in connection with an essay competition. So was Maurice Manning. He got the prize.

My current connection is a newly found interest in Gordon Brewster, who was Independent Newspapers' chief artist and who contributed some wonderful cartoons to the papers. The National Library of Ireland now has a collection of 500 originals of cartoons he did (mainly) for the Evening Herald between 1922 and 1932.

So to the book. It is a great read as it puts flesh on a paper/organisation about whose more distant past I knew very little. It does not purport to be either comprehensive or the last word, but it is a significant contribution to the history of Independent Newspapers. It is modest in its claims but it has assembled a very high powered team of contributors, each of whom deals with a particular theme. The editors refer to a number of areas they would like to have covered but, on this occasion, contributors undertaking the required academic research were not available. The omissions actually testify to the quality of those contributions which have been included.

I was particularly interested to read of the extent to which the Independent in the past pushed an Irish Irish identity and fascinated with Felix Larkin's piece on how T R Harrington, as editor of the Irish Independent, piloted the paper from its partisan past into an independent stance, and successfully maintained his own editorial independence often against the wishes of the then owner, William Martin Murphy, who, as we know, was not a man to be trifled with.

The extent of the influence of the owner on the editorial content of a newspaper has always been of great interest - this most recently in the case of Rupert Murdoch and his UK and US publications. Proprietors of the Independent, from the Murphy family onwards, have claimed that they do not interfere with editorial content. The book, however, reports a former employee of Independent Newspapers who quoted a member of the Murphy family as saying that "they would never try to change the news but they might change the editor".

For the historian reader there are some very frank but equally very sad admissions of the destruction of archives over time. This was not confined to Independent newspapers but was a feature of newspapers in general. I had a first hand account of this myself in relation to the destruction of some of the photo-archive in the Irish Press Group. I have also come across it in the wider world in the course of my following up my own family history.

If you have an interest in Independent newspapers or the media in general you will find this book a rewarding read. The contributions are full of interesting content, are well researched and are written in plain English.

Congratulations to all concerned in its production.


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