Archive for Dublin

Moon Child – Pharaoh Sanders

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on October 11, 2018 by telescoper

Following the advice of novelist E.M. Forster to `only connect’, I thought I’d do just that by only connecting  two bits of news. The first is that legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders is playing at the National Concert Hall in Dublin next month and the second is that astronomers have been discussing whether or not a moon can have a moon and, if it can, whether it should be called a moonmoon or a submoon or something else. Well, I think such an object should be called a Moon Child, after the album by Pharaoh Sanders from which this is the title track. With a link like that, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I get offered a job as a radio presenter!

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Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (`Resurrection’) at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2018 by telescoper

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the opening performance of the new season of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. As well as being the first concert of the season, it was also my first ever visit to the National Concert Hall. To mark the occasion we were in the presence of the Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, and his wife Sabena. By `occasion’ I of course mean the first concert of the season, rather than my first visit to the NCH. After the concert the audience were all treated to a glass of Prosecco on the house too!

I’ve done quite a few reviews from St David’s Hall in Cardiff over the years, so before writing about the music I thought I’d compare the venues a little. The National Concert Hall was built in 1865 and soon after its construction it was converted into the main building of University College Dublin. It was converted to a concert venue when UCD moved out of the city centre, and fully re-opened in 1981. It is a bit smaller than St David’s – capacity 1200, compared with 2000 – and does not have such a fine acoustic, but it is a very nice venue with a distinctive and decidedly more intimate vibe all of its own. I had a seat in the centre stalls, which cost me €40, which is about the same as one would expect to pay in Cardiff.

The NCH is situated close to St Stephen’s Green, which is a 15 minute walk from Pearse Station or a 30 minute walk from Connolly (both of which are served by trains from Maynooth). The weather was pleasant yesterday evening so I walked rather than taking the bus or Luas from Connolly. I passed a number of inviting hostelries on the way but resisted the temptation to stop for a pint in favour of a glass of wine in the NCH bar before the performance.

Anyway, last night’s curtain-raiser involved just one piece – but what a piece! – Symphony No.2 (“Resurrection”) by Gustav Mahler. This is a colossal work, in five movements, that lasts about 90 minutes. The performance involved not only a huge orchestra, numbering about a hundred musicians, but also two solo vocalists and a sizeable choir (although the choir does not make its entrance until the start of the long final movement, about an hour into the piece). The choir in this case was the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir. At various points trumpets and/or French horns moved offstage into the wings and, for the finale, into the gallery beside the choir.

About two years ago I blogged about the first performance I had ever heard of the same work. Hearing it again in a different environment in no way diminished its impact.

Stunning though the finale undoubtedly was, I was gripped all the way through, from the relatively sombre but subtly expressive opening movement, through the joyously dancing second that recalls happier times, the third which is based on a Jewish folk tune and which ends in a shattering climax Mahler described as “a shriek of despair”, and the fourth which is built around a setting of one of the songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, sung beautifully by Jennifer Johnson (standing in wonderfully for Patricia Bardon, who was unfortunately indisposed). Jennifer Johnson has a lovely velvety voice very well suited to this piece, which seems more like a contralto part than a mezzo. The changing moods of the work are underlined by a tonality that shifts from minor to major and back again. All that was very well performed, but as I suspect is always the case in performances of this work, it was the climactic final movement – which lasts almost half an hour and is based on setting of a poem mostly written by Mahler himself, sung by Orla Boylan – that packs the strongest emotional punch.

The massed ranks of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir (all 160 of them) weren’t called upon until this final movement, but as soon as they started to sing they made an immediate impact. As the symphony moved inexorably towards its climax the hairs on the back of my neck stood up in anticipation of a thrilling sound to come. I wasn’t disappointed. The final stages of this piece are sublime, jubilant, shattering, transcendent but, above all, magnificently, exquisitely loud! The Choir, responding in appropriate fashion to Mahler’s instruction to sing mit höchster Kraft, combined with the full force of the Orchestra and the fine concert organ of the NCH to create an overwhelming wall of radiant sound.

Mahler himself wrote of the final movement:

The increasing tension, working up to the final climax, is so tremendous that I don’t know myself, now that it is over, how I ever came to write it.

Well, who knows where genius comes from, but Mahler was undoubtedly a genius. People often stay that his compositions are miserable, angst-ridden and depressing. I don’t find that at all. It’s true that this, as well as Mahler’s other great works, takes you on an emotional journey that is at times a difficult one. There are passages that are filled with apprehension or even dread. But without darkness there is no light. The ending of the Resurrection Symphony is all the more triumphant because of what has come before.

The end of the performance was greeted with rapturous applause (and a well-deserved standing ovation). Congratulations to conductor Robert Trevino, the soloists, choir and all the musicians for a memorable concert. On my way out after the Prosecco I picked up the brochure for the forthcoming season by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, which runs until next May. I won’t be attend all the Friday-night concerts, but I will try to make as many as I can of the ones that don’t involve harpsichords.

Update: I hadn’t realised that the concert was actually broadcast on TV and then put on YouTube; here is a video of the whole thing:

Ireland And The Roman Empire. Modern Politics Shaping The Ancient Past?

Posted in History with tags , , , on July 18, 2018 by telescoper

I’m here in Dublin Airport, not far from Drumanagh, the site discussed in the following post. I’m on my way back to Wales for, among other things, tomorrow’s graduation ceremony for students from the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University.

I thought I’d reblog the post here because it’s very interesting and it follows on from a comment thread relating to my post a few days ago about the current drought in Ireland which has revealed many previously unknown features of archaeological interest, and the (unrelated but also recent) discovery of a 5500 year-old passage tomb in County Lowth.

The site at Drumanagh is not related to either of those new discoveries, but it is fascinating because of the controversy about whether or not it is evidence of a Roman invasion of Ireland in the first century AD. I think the idea that no Romans ever set foot in Ireland during the occupation of Britain is hard to accept given the extensive trading links of the time, but there’s no evidence of a full-scale military invasion or lengthy period of occupation. The only unambiguously Roman finds at Drumanagh are coins and other artefacts which do not really indicate a military presence and there is no evidence there or anywhere else in Ireland of the buildings, roads or other infrastructure that one finds in Roman Britain.

My own opinion is that the Drumanagh site is more likely to have been some sort of trading post than a military fort, and it may even be entirely Celtic in origin. The position and overall character of the site seems more similar to Iron Age promontory forts than Roman military camps. I am, however, by no means an expert.

You can find a description of the Drumanagh site in its historical context here.

AN SIONNACH FIONN

Way back in 1996, the Sunday Times newspaper in Britain ran an enthusiastic if awkwardly-phrased banner headline proclaiming that a “Fort discovery proves Romans invaded Ireland”. The “fort” in question was an archaeological site in north County Dublin known as Drumanagh, situated on a wave-eroded headland near the coastal village of Loughshinny. Nearly 900 metres long and 190 metres wide, the monument consists of a trio of parallel ditches protecting an oblong thumb of land jutting out into the ocean, the seaward sides of the irregular protrusion relying on the waters of the Irish Sea for defence. The location is fairly typical of a large number of Iron Age promontory settlements found in isolated spots throughout the country. However what made the area at Drumanagh of particular interest was the significant number of Roman artefacts found within its fields.

Unfortunately a comprehensive archaeological survey of the site has yet to be published due to questions over property rights and compensatory payments for finds, meaning most discoveries from the location have come through agricultural work or destructive raids by…

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Cardiff to Dublin via Belfast

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff with tags , , , on April 11, 2018 by telescoper

I thought I write a brief post to arising from today’s travel difficulties, really just to make a record of the episode for posterity.

As last Wednesday I got up early this morning (4.30am) to get the 7am FlyBe flight from Cardiff to Dublin, due into Dublin at 8.05am. Having only hand luggage, as usual, I proceeded straight upstairs to the departure area only to find that the screen said the flight was cancelled, and directed passengers intending to travel on it back downstairs to the `Disruption Desk’ .

A long queue had already formed by the time I got there, but I got to the desk fairly quickly. The assistant explained that the cancellation was due to `staff sickness’ (i.e. they were short of a pilot) and the only option on offer was to fly to Belfast whence a bus would be provided to Dublin. The Belfast flight should have left at 6.15am but was being held for passengers to Dublin. I was also given a £5 refreshments voucher.

I thought a moment and then decided to accept this offer. I didn’t have any morning appointments today, but definitely had to get to Maynooth somehow by tomorrow morning as I have a lecture to deliver.

The plane left Cardiff about 7.15am and arrived in Belfast around 8.10am but when I emerged from the arrivals area there was no bus. In fact it took about 45 minutes to arrive, and we didn’t get going until about 8.55am. Many of the passengers were clearly nervous about missing connecting flights in Dublin, including a group of women planning onward travel to the USA, but the trip was fairly uneventful apart from the fact that the toilet was out of commission necessitating a stop so that people could use the facilities in a service station.

I can confirm that there is no visible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic on the road between Belfast and Dublin, although it does change name from A1 to M1 on the way. The distance between Belfast and Dublin by road is about 100 miles and it took just over two hours. I arrived at Terminal 1 of Dublin Airport at 11.05, almost exactly three hours late. I thought that wasn’t too bad a result given the chaos in Cardiff when I left but it was still a frustrating morning. I had to wait until 11.50 for the bus to Maynooth, where I finally arrived about 12.40.

I will of course be submitting a request for the compensation to which I am entitled for the delay, but above all I hope that those whose arrangements were even more seriously disrupted than mine managed to get to where they needed to go in the end.

A Day at DIAS

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews with tags , , on March 27, 2018 by telescoper

Last night I flew back to Ireland for a few days of work here before the Easter Weekend. The schedule of flights from Cardiff to Dublin has changed for the spring, with the afternoon flight much later: at 7.45pm instead of 3.40pm, so I left from Cardiff after work on Monday and had dinner in the airport (an overpriced and barely edible beefburger).

Although there is no teaching in either on Maynooth or Cardiff this week I had to come to Ireland for a few reasons, including giving a seminar today at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) this afternoon which provided me with the chance to visit it for the first time.

It being a pleasant morning I walked to DIAS from Connolly Station after taking the train there from Maynooth. It’s about half an hour’s walk.

DIAS is actually spread over several sites. Officially my talk was at the School of Theoretical Physics, but there were some people there from the School of Cosmic Physics, which is located not too far away. There were also a few people from Maynooth there, as there are a number of collaborations going on between the two institutions involving staff and students. There was also a visitor from even further afield, in the form of Cormac O’Rafferty who also visits this blog from time to time.

Anyway I had a nice curry for lunch before the talk, which generated a lot of questions from which I infer that it was either confusing or stimulating (or possibly both). Here are the slides in case anyone feels like taking a look.

For a change I decided to take the train back to Maynooth from Pearse rather than Connolly, but as it was rush hour I found it packed.

Maynooth by contrast is very quiet with most students away for the break. I can also report that the annoying roadworks that have been going outside my Maynooth residence for months have now finished.

Anyway, thanks to my hosts at DIAS for inviting me and I hope my talk was reasonably bearable. Hopefully this will be the first visit of many!

De Valera’s ‘Last Letter’, Kilmainham, May 1916

Posted in History with tags , , on March 11, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve just been reading Charles Townshend’s book ‘Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion’ and was searching for the photograph it includes of Eamon de Valera surrendering with his men at the end of the uprising. I found it at this excellent blog post, which includes a great deal of other interesting information, so I thought I’d reblog the whole thing!

The Cricket Bat that Died for Ireland

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Planes, Trains and Quaternions

Posted in Biographical, History, mathematics, Maynooth with tags , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2018 by telescoper

Well, here I am in Maynooth for the first time in 2018. I flew over from Cardiff yesterday. The flight was rather bumpy owing to the strong winds following Storm Eleanor, and it was rather chilly waiting for the bus to Maynooth from Dublin Airport; nevertheless I got to my flat safely and on time and found everything in order after the Christmas break.

This morning I had to make a trip by train to Dublin city  to keep an appointment at the Intreo Centre in Parnell Street, which is about 15 minutes walk from Dublin Connolly train station. I bought an Adult Day Return which costs the princely sum of €8.80. Trains, stations and track in Ireland are maintained and operated by Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann), which is publicly owned. Just saying.

The distance between Maynooth and Dublin about 25 km, which takes about 40 minutes on the local stopping train or about 25 minutes on the longer distance trains which run nonstop from Maynooth to Dublin. As it happens I took one of the fast trains this morning, which arrived on schedule, as did the return journey on a commuter train. My first experience of the Irish railway system was therefore rather positive.

I had thought of having a bit of a wander around the city on my way to Parnell Street but it was raining and very cold so I headed straight there. I arrived about 20 minutes ahead of my scheduled appointment, but was seen straight away.

The reason for the interview was to acquire a Personal Public Services Number (PPSN), which is the equivalent of the National Insurance Number we have in the United Kingdom. This number is needed to be registered properly on the tax and benefit system in Ireland and is the key to access a host of public services, the electoral roll, and so on. You have to present yourself in person to get a PPSN, presumably to reduce the opportunity for fraud, and I was told the interview would take 15 minutes. In fact, it only took about 5 minutes and at the end a photograph was taken to go on the ID card that is issued with the number on it.

So there I was, all finished before I was even due to start. The staff were very friendly and it all seems rather easy. Fingers crossed that the letter informing me of my number will arrive soon. It should take a week or so, so I’m told. After that I should be able to access as many personal services as I want whenever I want them. (Are you sure you have the right idea? Ed.)

For  the return trip  to Maynooth I got one of the slower commuter trains, stopping at intermediate stations and running right next to the Royal Canal, which runs from Dublin for 90 miles through  Counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Westmeath before entering County Longford, where it joins the River Shannon. One of the intermediate stations along the route next to the canal is Broombridge, the name of which stirred a distant memory.

A quick application of Google reminded me that the town of Broombridge is the site of the bridge (Broom Bridge) beside which William Rowan Hamilton first wrote down the fundamental result of quaternions (on 16th October 1843). Apparently he was walking from Dunsink Observatory into town when he had a sudden flash of inspiration  and wrote the result down on the spot, now marked by a plaque:

Picture Credit: Brian Dolan

 

This episode  is commemorated on 16th October each year by an annual Hamilton Walk. I look forward to reporting from the 2018 walk in due course!

P.S. Maynooth is home to the Hamilton Institute which promotes and facilitates research links between mathematics and other fields.