Archive for ireland

The Centenary of the First Dáil

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2019 by telescoper

As I mentioned at the weekend, today marks the centenary of the historic first meeting of the Dáil Éireann, at the Mansion House in Dublin on (Tuesday) 21st January 1919. The picture above shows the 27 Teachtaí Dála (TDs) present. The event is being commemorated this afternoon.

I’m summarizing the events surrounding the First Dáil largely because I didn’t learn anything about this at School. Despite Ireland being such a close neighbour, Ireland’s history is only covered in cursory fashion in the British education system.

The background to the First Dáil is provided by the General Election which took place in November 1918 and which led to a landslide victory for Sinn Féin who won 73 seats, and turned the electoral map of Ireland very green, though Unionists held 22 seats in Ulster.

In accordance with its policy of abstentionism, the Sinn Féin MPs refused to take their seats in Westminster and instead decided to form a provisional government in Ireland. In fact 35 of the successful candidates for the General Election were actually in prison, mostly because of their roles in the 1916 Easter Rising and the Ulster Unionists refused to participate, so the First Dáil comprised only 27 members as seen in the picture. It was chaired by Sean T. O’Kelly; Cathal Brugha was elected Speaker (Ceann Comhairle).

As part of this meeting, the adoption and the ritual of ‘the Turning of the Seal’ establishing the Sovereignty of the Irish Republic was begun. The First Dáil published The Declaration of Irish Independence.

It also approved a Democratic Programme, based on the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and read and adopted a Message to the Free Nations of the World in Irish, English and French:

On the same day as the first meeting of the Dáil (though the timing appears not to have been deliberate), two members of Royal Irish Constabulary were shot dead by volunteers of the Irish Republication Army in an ambush at Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary. The IRA squad made off with explosives and detonators intended for use in mining. This is generally regarded as the first incident in the Irish War of Independence. The war largely consisted of a guerrilla campaign by the IRA countered by increasingly vicious reprisals by British forces, especially the infamous Black and Tans who quickly became notorious for their brutality and indiscipline.

Following the outbreak of the War of Independence, the British Government decided to suppress the Dáil, and in September 1919 it was prohibited. The Dáil continued to meet in secret, however, and Ministers carried out their duties as best they could.

The War of Independence lasted until the summer of 1921, when it was ended by a truce and the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. That, in turn, triggered another cycle of violence with the breakout of the Irish Civil War in 1922 between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces and the eventual partition of Ireland into the independent Republic and Northern Ireland which remained part of the United Kingdom.


We and They

Posted in Biographical, Literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2018 by telescoper

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They.

(from `We and They‘, by Rudyard Kipling.)

A few days ago one of my colleagues here in Maynooth mentioned that he found it amusing that, although I’ve been living and working here in Ireland for less than a year, I have already taken to referring to the British as `They’ rather than `We’. He went on to point out that he noticed this transformation from First Person to Third Person some months ago.

I hadn’t realised that I was doing this, but I suppose it is a reflection of the fact that I have accepted that I will almost certainly be spending the rest of my working life in Ireland, and will probably end my days here too. It has taken relatively little time of observing Britain from the other side of the Irish Sea to recognize that it is changing into something grotesque and horrible. I want no part of what it is becoming, a squalid xenophobic rathole run by crooks, liars, and narrow-minded bigots. My new home is far from perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than Brexit Britain.

About a year ago I wrote (from Cardiff) about my reasons for moving to Maynooth. Here is a quote:

Because I’ve lived here all my life I thought I would find it difficult to leave Britain. I was quite traumatised by the Brexit referendum, as one would be by the death of a close relative, but it made me re-examine my life. There is a time when you have to move on, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m done here.

I haven’t changed my mind.

Not that I now consider myself fully Irish. Passport and citizenship notwithstanding, I still feel like a foreigner here and probably always will. I lived for over fifty years in Britain and do not have sufficient experience of Ireland to feel really part of it. Yet. That may come. But to appropriate the phrase Theresa May used in her Lancaster House speech last year I am proud to be for the time being, and perhaps forever, a `Citizen of Nowhere’. I don’t mind that, and a little bit of autobiography that might explain why I see things the way I do.

I was born in Wallsend (on Tyneside) in the North East of England. My parents were both born just before World War II started, also in the area where I was born. Of my four grandparents, one was born in England, one in Northern Ireland, one in Scotland, and one in Wales. I always smile when I had to put my nationality on a form, because I always put `United Kingdom’. Of course being born in England makes me English too, but I find that less defining than `UK’ or `British’ or even `Geordie’, and now of course there’s the Irish dimension. To be honest, my ancestry means that I generally find the whole concept of nationality fundamentally silly. I find nationalism silly too, except for those occasions – regrettably frequent nowadays – when nationalism takes on the guise of xenophobia. Then it is truly sinister. Nationalism is a tool by which unscrupulous individuals whip up hatred for political gain, regardless of the economic or social consequences. This is what lies behind Brexit.

Anyway, talking about Theresa May, it appears that the Prime Minister has written a letter to the British public asking for them to support her `deal’. I find it very curious that she has done this when, without another referendum or a General Election, the British public is denied any way of either expressing or withholding such support. Is this an admission that there will have to be another vote?

It appears from her letter that the PM is particularly happy about one aspect of the deal:

We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all.

Apart from the fact that the UK always had control of its borders anyway, I find it absolutely astonishing that any politician could brag about removing from its own citizens the right to free movement across 27 countries. Freedom of movement was and is one of the great benefits of the European Union. Outside the EU, Theresa May’s `hostile environment’ in which all foreigners are viewed with suspicion and contempt will become even more hostile. It is just a matter of time before the unlawful deportations that the Home Office have inflicted on members of the Windrush generation will begin happening to Europeans currently living in the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of her awful letter, there is this:

We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people.

Excuse me, but the time for reconciliation was in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Referendum result. Instead, Mrs May went out of her way to insult, denigrate and marginalize everyone who voted Remain; she never apologized for the `Citizens of Nowhere’ jibe and her pals in the right-wing added other pejoratives like ‘saboteur’ and ‘enemy of the people’. Like so many other things she says and does, Mrs May’s letter is so phony it is painful.

Worse, the Prime Minister has continued to insult European citizens working in the UK by accusing them of `jumping the queue’. It seems that the Prime Minister just can’t stop her deep-seated xenophobia showing itself from time to time. It’s her defining characteristic, and it is sure to be the defining characteristic of post-Brexit Britain.

Women-only Professorships in Ireland

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , on November 16, 2018 by telescoper

Earlier this week the Irish Government made an announcement that has ruffled a few feathers: it aims to create a number of new senior positions at Professor level in Irish Universities that are open only to female candidates. I don’t know the details of how this scheme will work, but I understand that the positions will be targeted at subject (and perhaps geographical) areas in which there is a demonstrable gender imbalance and the scheme will cost about €6M.

Reactions to this among people I know have been very varied, so it seems a good topic on which to have a  simplistically binary poll:

For the record, I should state that I am broadly in favour of the idea, but I’d like to know more about how these positions will be allocated to institutions, how they will be advertised and how the recruitment will be done. I’ll also add that my main worry about this initiative is that it might distract attention away from the need for Irish higher education institutions to have much better promotion procedures; see, e.g. here. There are plenty of female lecturers in Irish universities, but they seem to face ridiculous difficulties getting promoted to Professorships.



Presidential Election Time

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on September 29, 2018 by telescoper

This week the deadline passed for nominations of candidates for the post of President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann). The rather peculiar nomination process has left voters with a choice of six, including the incumbent Michael D Higgins. As a relative newcomer to Ireland, even I know that the post of President doesn’t have any real power associated with it and is largely ceremonial. Surprisingly, some of the people who put themselves forward didn’t seem to understand that but, fortunately, some of the more obvious fruitcakes who put themselves forward failed to get nominated. On the other hand, three of the candidates are businessmen best known for having appeared on the Irish version of the TV show Dragon’s Den. There’s ample evidence that the products of reality TV shows do not make good presidents.

The election takes place precisely four weeks from now, on Friday 26th October 2018, and the term of the presidency is 7 years – the last such election took place in 2011.

Naturally, given the vital importance of the office of the Presidency and the need to treat the forthcoming election with the appropriate gravitas, my first thought was to look at the betting odds on Paddy Power. Here is the full SP:

  1. Michael D. Higgins (Incumbent) 1/5
  2. Sean Gallagher  5/1
  3. Gavin Duffy 14/1
  4. Joan Freeman 25/1
  5. Liadh Ni Riada  33/1
  6. Peter Casey 66/1

Obviously Michael D Higgins is a strong favourite. I think he’s carried out his duties in a very dignified and diligent way for seven years, so he will probably get my vote. Candidates 2, 3 and 6 are the Dragon’s Den people. Joan Freeman is a  journalist by trade (and an Independent member of the Seanad Éireann) and Liadh Ni Riada is the official candidate of Sinn Féin. Neither of the two biggest parties in the Dáil Éireann, Fine Gael and Fianna Fianna Fáil, nominated a candidate, preferring to back the incumbent.

It seems likely that Michael D. Higgins will win and serve another seven years, but it’s hard to be confident about anything in politics these days so we’ll just have to wait and see..



Newsflash: Ireland and ESO

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on September 26, 2018 by telescoper

Some good news was waiting for me when I got back to the office after my lecture just now, namely that Astronomy in Ireland will shortly receive an enormous boost, as the Republic has joined the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

For those of you not in the know, ESO is an intergovernmental astronomy organisation and is the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. Founded in 1962, its headquarters are in Garching (near Munich, Germany), and it currently has 15 member states. On October 1st, Ireland will become the 16th. Its main work is conducted using a variety of large optical and radio telescopes which are all located in the southern hemisphere, notably at Paranal in Chile.

ESO’s VLT telescopes at Paranal (in the Andes Mountains).

The official press release includes the following:

We are delighted to welcome Ireland as the newest member of our organisation” stated ESO’s Director General, Xavier Barcons. “Ireland’s mature and thriving astronomical community will add to the broad variety of expertise in the ESO Member States, strengthening ESO’s position at the forefront of global astronomy. Irish astronomers will gain access to a suite of the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical telescopes and will have the opportunity to be part of the construction of the next generation of ESO instruments in partnership with other ESO Member States. We are also very much looking forward to working with Irish industrial partners to build and operate ESO’s state-of-the-art telescopes.

It was probably the industrial opportunities afforded by ESO membership that persuaded the Irish government to stump up the subscription fee, but this decision is also extremely positive news for the relatively small but vibrant community in Ireland working on observational astronomy which I’m sure will make the most of the chance to do ever more exciting research using these facilities.

Charles Kingsley on the Irish

Posted in Biographical, History, Politics with tags , , , , on September 4, 2018 by telescoper

I’ve been aware since my schooldays that there has been (and still is) a significant tendency among the English (especially their governing classes) to regard the Irish as lawless barbarians, but this quote which I found in a book I’ve been reading really took my breath away. It’s from a letter written by Charles Kingsley to his wife in 1861, while he was travelling through an Ireland still reeling from the devastation of the Great Famine:

But I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault, I believe that there are not only more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.

This passage is revolting in so many ways that I don’t think it needs any further comment, but it is worth mentioning that Charles Kingsley was, by the standards of his time, regarded as something of a progressive. As well as being a Church of England priest, Professor of History and a novelist (I read The Water-Babieswhen I was a child), he was also a social reformer involved in such initiatives as the working men’s college and labour cooperatives. Clearly his concern for the poor and oppressed didn’t extend much beyond his own people.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that Charles Kingsley did his undergraduate studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, as did I (thought not at the same time).

All-Ireland Hurling Finals Day

Posted in Sport with tags , , on August 19, 2018 by telescoper

Just a quick post to note that today is a huge day on the sporting calendar here in Ireland. It’s the final of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship, which will be between holders Galway and Limerick, in front of 80,000 at Croke Park in Dublin.

It will take some doing for this match to be as exciting as the Semi-Final I watched a few weeks ago in a pub in Maynooth, but you never know. That game ended in a draw, and Galway won the Replay. The other semifinal was also a cracker, with Limerick winning in extra time. Galway are favourites to win the game, but there seems to be more support around these parts for the green of Limerick than the maroon of Galway.

Anyway, if you’re bored this afternoon, and have access to cable or satellite TV, then I suggest having a look. If you’ve never seen hurling before then the first thing that strikes you is the phenomenal speed at which the game is played. The sliotar (ball) can travel from one end of the pitch to the other in a second and the players have to be extremely fit. Brave too. This is definitely not a game for faint hearts!

There was heavy rain last night but it has passed over and it should be a good game. I’m sure the atmosphere will be brilliant in the stadium, but Ill be happy to watch in the pub (although it’s sure to be crowded).

UPDATE: Half-time Galway 0-9 Limerick 1-10, the underdogs ahead by 4 points. Frenetic and rather scrappy game with lots of wides. Exciting to watch though. I’m up by two pints of Guinness.

UPDATE: Full-time Galway 2-18 Limerick 3-16. Most of the second half was rather one-sided. When Limerick scored their third goal and went 8 points clear I thought it was all over, but suddenly Galway scored two goals and were right back in it. Nerves jangling, Limerick managef to survive eight minutes of stoppage time. Galway had a free at the end that could have tied the scores but it fell short. Exciting finish but Limerick worthy winners, if only by a single point!