Wednesday 12 May, 2021

Lilac patterns

One of the trees in our front garden this evening.

Quote of the Day

”An expensive way of playing marbles.”

  • G.K. Chesterton on golf

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Liam O’Flynn, Seán Keane, Paddy Glackin, Arty McGlynn & Paul Brady | Gradam Ceoil | TG4 2007


The late, great Liam O’Flynn (Uilleann Pipes) plays The Humours of Carrigaholt (Reel 0:00), Mayor Harrison’s Fedora (Reel 1:13) & Tommy Peoples’ (Reel 2:26) with Seán Keane (Fiddle), Paddy Glackin (Fiddle), Arty McGlynn (Guitar), Paul Brady (Guitar) and Rod McVeigh (Keyboard).

Tommy People’s reel is one of my favourite tunes.

Long Read of the Day

Book Review: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

I love Scott Alexander’s blog for all kinds of reasons, among them his thoughtful intelligence, intellectual stamina and the range of his interests. A while back he embarked on an interesting experiment — inviting people to submit a review of a book (any book they chose). He’s publishing the entries a couple of times a week, and will ask readers to vote for the winner at the end of the experiment.

The other day he published this review of Robert Caro’s The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson which is the most unusual book review I’ve seen in years. Hope you enjoy it.

Triumph of the Gombeen Men

A gombeen man, Wikipedia helpfully reminds us is “a pejorative Hiberno-English term used in Ireland for a shady, small-time ‘wheeler-dealer’ businessman or politician who is always looking to make a quick profit.” Every Irish town has had at least one (and often numerous) members of the species. It comes from the Irish word gaimbín, meaning monetary interest, which is probably a reference to those 19th-century shysters who prospered during the potato Famine by selling food and goods to their starving fellow-countrymen and women at blackmarket prices.

For most of the 20th century there has been an informal and cosy relationship between the gombeen wing of the property development racket and local authority planning departments (and their political overlords). Indeed, during the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ period, the ruling Fianna Fáil party effectively functioned as the political wing of the construction industry, with consequences that were only fully appreciated in 2008 when the country was brought to bankruptcy by its zombie banks.

All of which is by way of context to the news that Dublin’s planners have now given permission to two property developers to transform No 15 Usher Island, the Georgian house which was the setting for James Joyce’s great short story, ‘The Dead’, into a tourist hostel.

I hadn’t known about this until Andrew Arends (Whom God Preserve) sent me a link to the New York Times story:

Last month, despite vigorous opposition from prominent writers, artists, academics and heritage groups, Ireland’s planning authority approved a proposal to convert one of Dublin’s most beloved Joycean landmarks into a tourist hostel, dashing hopes that it could be preserved as a museum and cultural space.

Located on the banks of the Liffey river near the Guinness brewery, the 18th-century townhouse at 15 Usher’s Island was the setting for “The Dead,” the final story in Joyce’s collection “Dubliners,” often cited as the greatest short story written in English.

If you don’t know it, ‘The Dead’ is an entrancing short story, of which John Huston made a lovely film — his last — which got an Oscar nomination. Joyce’s two great aunts ran a music school in the Usher Island house, and every January 6 — the Catholic feast of the Epiphany — they held a party, with food and music, for friends and family. ‘The Dead’ tells the story of one such evening.

The house’s original room plan had been restored by its previous owner, but he went bust, after which it was bought by the developers who plan to turn it into space for 56 beds and a cafe.

There’s been a petition from many distinguished Irish writers and artists to save the house and transform it into a cultural centre, but to no avail. The Times reports that the Irish Department for Tourism and Culture “said in a statement that it had considered the house’s cultural value when the proposal was before Dublin City Council in 2019 and that it had no further comment”.

That figures. Gombeen men value tourism but have little use for culture.

If you’d like to see the official trailer for the Huston film, it’s here.

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