Barry Humphries’ Weimar Caberet

usher's hallWe have visitors at our George Square Edinburgh Festival house, amongst them my dear friend Rob Hain, an artist from the Scottish boarder s who created this wonderful canvas of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall from where all her scholars take their graduation honours and where all the great orchestras of the world come to play.



And it was to the Usher hall we went to listen to Barry Humphries introduce and compere a programme of songs and music from the German Weimar Republic, the music of Weill and Krenek, the music of the cabarets of the smokey “degenerate” Berlin, before it was all banned and outlawed by the rise of the third Reich.

Yes, presented by Barry Humphries, he who as the legendary Australian Cultural attaché sought to persuade us that the one thing Australia did not have was any cultural appreciation of the finer things of life. The lying bastard! He evoked for us an Australia of the 1940’s and 50’s of tea shops and book shops, where sheltered the refugees, Jews and Germans, fleeing the horrors of Europe. A Melbourne where as a boy, he bought a battered European suitcase, in a barrydusty second hand book store, full of the sheet music of the Weimar. He could not read music but he treasured the hoard and now, he opens the suitcase, so full of music and memories, and shares them all with the Usher Hall. It was an Australian night, a European night, a Berlin night, a night of Jazz and of Tango and of cabaret and of sexy smokey songs, including the sultry Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata erotica. It was the music and the writing and the musicians and the songs of those who either escaped from or were consumed by the Holocaust. It was all in Barry’s rescued suitcase.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra, provided the music, talented beyond the size of their continent, and Meow Meow sang in throaty German. Barry danced the tango, how old is he, in his 80;s now, and he sang too, with passion, in the ruins of Berlin.

He didn’t say so but it was also a tribute, the most wonderful of tributes to all that our fathers fought for, for all the bits and pieces of civilisation that they saved, and rescued and preserved, for their children and their grandchildren and among what they rescued among the treasures they saved for the world, was surely, this magical night at the Usher Hall.

Coffee Morning talk on the Roger Casement Painting.


The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, holds a series of coffee morning talks on the paintings on exhibition in the gallery.  Such talks are for about 40 minutes, followed by questions and then to coffee for a continuing discussion.   This was my talk, on the 22nd June 2016,  given before the great canvas (10′ x 8′) that is Sir John Lavery’s “High Court – The Appeal of Sir Roger Casement”  The painting was on exhibition as part of the 1916 centenary celebrations,  surrounded by important paintings of many of the  characters who appear in the painting itself.High Treason by Lavery

May I welcome you to the Royal Courts of Justice, and in particular, here, to the Court of Criminal Appeal.   It is, as you can see from the clock upon the oak paneled wall, it is , almost High noon. The date is 19th of July 1916.

The case has been called on, and the prisoner is in the dock, guarded.  There is standing room only and almost every barrister in the Royal Courts building is here, for this is the most important state trial of the 20th century. And all of London wants to see it.

The King against Casement.

Mr. Justice Darling is presiding.  Look at him, he’s such a handsome fellow is he not?,  in his scarlet robes, see how he commands his courtroom, stern, straight backed, he has been caught in  noble profile and all eyes in the court are upon him.

You see there are two perspectives in this painting, the internal perspective, where everyone’s attention is upon Judge Darling, with most eyes in the court are drawn towards him, and then there is an external perspective, our view, where the central focus is upon, right in the middle of this huge canvas, Mr. Casement, seated in the barred dock.   Very clever chap that Lavery.   His client, the man who invited him to do the painting, Darling, has of course, to be portrayed rather prominently, but Lavery also, I think it is obvious, has an empathy with the prisoner, so he gives us them both.  The English judge and the Irish  felon.

I should tell you that Darling was rather a vain man.  He had his portrait painted several times, look at the one behind you, painted by Charles Wellington Furse, a very expensive portrait artist indeed, painted when Darling was but a simple junior counsel.darling by birch Not many barristers commission their portraits as junior counsel. Few would wish to announce such ambition, and fewer still would be able to afford the likes of Charles William Furse.  There is another one of him, painted when he was first appointed to the bench, by Henry, the outstanding Scottish portrait artist, one of the Glasgow boys, which is really rather wonderful.  I will give you the web reference at the end and you will see for yourself.*   Oh he was handsome fellow was Darling. And he knew it!  There are several other portraits of him by Grenville Eves, even by Winston Churchill, as well as several caricatures completed for Vanity magazine.

Lavery had painted him once before.  A few years earlier, wearing a black cap and pronouncing a sentence of death.  Not deemed by many of his colleagues in the law to be in very good taste.blackcap   He’s a wit, can be very funny at times, and he’s a poet, written a rather good volume of poetry.   He was considered once, oh a few years after this trial, for the post of Lord Chief Justice of England.   Didn’t get the job.   This chap sitting next to him got it instead.  Judge A. T. Lawrence.   Lawrence was 78 years old by then.  Darling was 73.  He would always say, he would always tell you, that he didn’t get the job because he was too young.

He was a Unionist, no doubt about that at all.    As a member of parliament he always voted against Home Rule.  He is a great friend of Carson.  Thinks Carson is most unlike most Irishmen, says that unlike the rest of you Irish, Carson is incapable of speaking balderdash.   He invited Carson you know, to join his chambers when Carson left the Irish Bar to transfer to the English Bar.   They were in chambers together as K.C.’s when Carson took the brief for the Marquis of Queensbury.

He sits with his four colleagues, first one here is Judge Scrutton, He has three sons fighting in the Great War, two are on the Somme and one in the Balkans, up near Thessalonica. So   you can well imagine that he may have some reservations about a prisoner who was suborning captured crown’s soldiers in Germany.  One of his sons will be killed within a month of the trial.   Then there’s Judge Bray, Darling of course , Lawrence we have already mentioned, and on the end Judge Atkin.

Oh Judge Atkin!

He is probably the most famous judge in the whole of the common law world, You won’t find a student of law, a solicitor or barrister or judge or judicial assistant who doesn’t know of Atkin and who will, at some stage of their careers, have quoted the judge.   He almost invented the law of negligence and I could not possibly exaggerate his importance to the law.  He is to the law as Arthur is to Guinness.   What a pity Lavery has not captured more of him, but of course at the time of the trial he was not quite so famous as he would subsequently become.

Look here’s another famous fellow.  The paintings full of them.  F.E. Smith.  Carson’s galloper, Attorney General, chief prosecuting counsel and a deep deep unionist; from an Orange constituency in Liverpool, Birkenhead.  Even his birthday falls on the 12th July.  A bit of a gun-runner himself and certainly young Winston Churchill, an up and coming star of the political stage, has described some of his speeches in favour of unionism as being fairly close to promoting naked revolution.  Good judge of character that Churchill.  Keep an eye on him.

Showing him the law-book is one of the prosecution junior counsel, Mr. Bodkin.  Another famous character, banned Ulysses when he became Director of Public Prosecutions, couldn’t bear Molly’s soliquity.

He’s caught the Irish fairly, has Lavery.  Here’s Gavan Duffy.  Oh what a hero he is!   He was a solicitor in London, prosperous, going places, when he was asked to take on Casement.  His partners were not at all  happy about it.

You want to represent a traitor?  In the middle of this awful bloody war?   Make your mind up Mr. Gavan Duffy, stay with the practice or represent your Irish traitor, but you can’t do both.

To his eternal glory, as both an Irishman and as a lawyer, he chose his client.   Makes him a bit of a legal hero to us lawyers.   His dad was a bit of a character too.  Ran the Nation newspaper here in Dublin, a fine constitutional nationalist he was, tried with Daniel O’Connell once, major figure in the Tenant League, was in the Ballingary Rising of  1848       Gone to Australia now.  Become Sir Charles Gavan Duffy over there, very noble, bit less of a nationalist over there?  He is now Governor General of Victoria; his other son will become Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.  This Gavan Duffy, our Gavan Duffy, will become, in the new Irish state, President of the High Court of Ireland.   This is just stuffed full of important historical figures in the life of Ireland and England.

There are three women on the solicitor’s bench.  Quite unusual for 1916.  One is Gavan Duffy’s wife, taking notes, and the other Casement’s cousin Gertrude Bannister. She is devoted to her Roger, look at her glancing up at Roger in the dock.  Are they exchanging a glance?   I think they are.  Lavery knew they were devoted to one another and he has put it into the painting.  The other woman is Alice Stopford Green, eminent nationalist historian, helped Casement organise the Howth gun-running.   Did you notice, all the ladies are wearing hats.   Quite proper for 1916 I think.

You know there is a full transcript of this trial.  Great read.  That chap standing at the end of the bench there, he’s the court reporter, taking it all down in shorthand.  It’s his transcript.

On his feet is the Dublin barrister Sgt Sullivan.   Now he happens to be married to Gavan Duffy’s sister and you may think that Irish lawyers tend to keep business in the family, I can’t possibly comment on that, but there you are.   In fact, Sullivan was one of the leading lights of the Irish Bar.   A Sgt was a special breed of Senior Counsel, Kings Counsel as they were known then.   He was destined for the bench in Ireland and would have made it if the Rising and the War of Independence hadn’t got in the way.   Their only distinguishing mark, in court regalia, was a small patch of black silk set into the top of the wig.   In England he was not a Kings Counsel.  He was only a Junior counsel and therefore he is standing in the second row because the first row is reserved for Kings Counsel, Senior Counsel we now call them.  Still is to this day.

At the trial proper, this is the appeal remember.  Casement has already been found guilty of high treason and has already been sentenced to death, he was so sentenced by the Lord Chief Justice of England Ruffas Issaccs, or Lord Reading as he was known.   At the trial, Sullivan had been summing up to the jury.   The artist has painted this scene from the Jury Box, so he would have been addressing us, we would be the jury.  He made, what in my view is a really excellent summing up speech making the best of the limited material he had.   In fact, a bit too much.  He sought to persuade the jury that the Irish were arming themselves for fear that the already heavily armed unionists would seek to undermine any parliamentary decision to grant home rule.  He was interrupted!  There was a protest, quite sharp, from both F.E. Smith and the Lord Chief Justice, who said he could not run that argument, because no evidence to that effect had been heard.   You can only address the jury on evidence actually given in the trial.

He realised they were right and had to apologise –  in so doing he lost the thread of his argument.   It was a rather deferential apology, perhaps he thought it might affect his future plans to transfer to the English Bar.  Any way he stumbled, and could not regain his composure.  He collapsed into his seat saying “My Lord I cannot go on”.    Of course the trial was adjourned immediately.  Next day he was still not recovered and the closing speech had to be concluded by his Junior Counsel, here, Artemous Jones.

I don’t think the prisoner was very impressed.

One of the reasons Sullivan was employed for the trial, so it is said, is because no English barrister, Kings Counsel, would take it on.   It was the middle of a very gruesome war, Verdun, the Somme, casualties were appalling and Casement was charged with High Treason, in time of war.  But in fact there was no difficulty getting English junior counsel and I don’t quite understand, or accept that no English KC would take the case.   In fact, there are two English junior counsel on the defence.  One, Morgan BL, is in fact a brigadier in the Kings Army, and a professor of law.  He wasn’t afraid to take on the case, even though a serving soldier.   The other, here is Artemous Jones, nor was he afraid and nor did any of their careers suffer for representing a traitor.   Morgan ended up a Brigadier General and an advisor to Churchill in WW2, and he was at Nuremberg.   Jones became a judge.    He is rather more famous as a litigant than as a counsel.   It’s his name you know.   A newspaper reporter had filed a story from the south of France, he was reporting on the English taking holidays in France, and as reporters sometimes do he wrote something like “And there is Artemous Jones with a lady who is not his wife” Of course he thought, quite reasonably, that it was quite impossible that anyone could possibly be called Artemous Jones.  But he was wrong and Jones sued.   It’s still a leading case in libel law and often cited in court, both in Ireland and in England.

And so finally in this all too brief review, we come to Roger Casement.  The much smaller version of this painting, over there, is the one that W.B. Yeats saw when he visited this gallery in 1937.  He wrote a poem about it “The Municipal gallery re-visited” and wrote of “Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars” But he is not really hidden.  For us, outside the larger painting, he is in fact the primary focus.

Four days the trial had lasted, and now he sits in the dock for the three days of the appeal.  Was there a comma in that ancient 1351 Statute, in that handwritten Norman French parchment?  Did it mean, that comma, that treason was confined to acts within the realm, and therefore acts abroad, in Germany, did not count.    Not so held the court.  As they had held before, just a few brief years ago, for another Irishman tried for treason, Colonel Lynch, who had commanded an Irish Brigade against the British, abroad, in the Boer war.

Three scarlet robed judges at trial had dismissed the argument. Now five scarlet robed judges at the appeal would again dismiss the argument.   Why didn’t they go to the House of Lords for a father appeal?   Well they wanted to, but to do so required the consent of the A.G.   F.E. Smith.   He was of the view that between the trial and the appeal eight of the most senior judges in the land had unanimously rejected the argument and that was enough.

So Casement will leave the dock, this court, for the gallows at Pentonville.  Only appeals for clemency might now save him.   And why not, for he was an international figure, he had friends in High places, in governments, writers, politicians, diplomats, ambassadors, he was active in anti-slavery movements across the globe he had a vast international network of friends and supporters.   I cannot stress to you how well known he was in humanitarian circles.  Everyone would have, should have, signed petitions.  Even Bono would have signed.

But now the Government, the cabinet, the secret service, will launch their miserable, malicious, nasty, unprincipled black campaign to defeat the pleas for clemency and to dissuade his friends from signing or joining such appeals.   It was the diaries, the so called black diaries, they circulated the most salacious pages.  To Bishops, ambassadors, governments, in the clubs of London. “Look at this, he’s a homosexual, he’s a disgusting pervert, tell your friends.  Don’t sign any petitions.”   They undoubtedly added a fatal weight to the gallows drop at Pentonville prison.

And it meant, that this painting, conceived as a tribute to the English Law, and to Darling, lost its integrity, as did the trial itself.   What had been done meant no one wanted this picture.  It was left on Lavery’s hands; he couldn’t sell it even though he tried. He ended up leaving it in his will.  Interestingly he did not leave it to Ireland.   His first choice was the National Gallery in London.   They didn’t want it; they had already declined to buy it a few years earlier.   His next choice was the Royal Courts of Justice, and only if they refused it did he then think that it should go to Ireland.   An indication I suggest, that he always saw this painting as being a celebration of the English law and not a celebration of Casement, or as an Irish subject.

The Royal Courts of Justice took it, didn’t know what to do with it, wouldn’t hang it in a public place. Put it in a basement office where no one saw it and no one cared about it and its importance quickly faded and was forgotten.

Sullivan it was who rescued it from obscurity.  He retired here to Dublin, lived in Orwell Road, became a bencher of the Kings Inns and wrote to the Lord Chief Justice of England to try and buy it.   They wouldn’t sell, even though they didn’t like and didn’t particularly want it, but the correspondence is interesting.  The Lord Chief Justice writes to the Lord Chancellor.  “We could let the King’s Inns have it on loan, and forget to ask for it back…”

And so here it is. Now a tribute to Casement and not to the English Law.   Still owned by the British, part of their government art collection, but here on loan, permanent loan.   And so far, I am pleased to tell you, they have not asked for it back.

  I might before be finishing urge you, should you have found this of any interest, to go to buy the exhibition catalogue and take it with you to the Royal Courts of Justice and visit the courtroom, this courtroom, wherein Casement was sentenced to death.   It is courtroom 36 in the West Green wing of the Royal Courts of Justice, take with you if you do, the catalogue, which has a copy of this great painting, and you will observe and compare, with the hairs rising on the back of your neck, how little the courtroom has changed this hundred years or so;  the oak panelling still encloses the space, the bookcase is still there, probably with the same books within it as were there in 1916, the clock still ticks on the wall;   you will be aware you are in a place of death, a battleground of Irish history,and perhaps, a place of pilgrimage

Shall we go to coffee?



Mr. Justice Darling in 1916, by Reginald Grenville Eves

Mr. Justice Darling in 1916, by Reginald Grenville Eves

Mr. Justice Darling by Henry

Mr. Justice Darling by Henry

darling by churchill

Darling by Winston Churchill

Four Courts in the Rising

This article was originally published in the Bar Review, April 2016


four courts

Apart from the great magazine in Phoenix Park, most of the buildings seized by the rebel forces during Easter week 1916 were not defended buildings, in the sense that Dublin or Ireland was under threat or that its public buildings required that they be defended by armed men.    Dublin was generally at peace in the weeks before that Easter.  It was a holiday weekend and even up at the castle there was very little in the way of an occupying armed force, patrolling, on high alert for insurrection.    The castle was hardly defended at all, with virtually no soldiers in residence, and a routine bank holiday weekend guard of soldiers,  carrying weapons but without ammunition.    The only man killed there was the unarmed policeman on the gate, Constable O’Brien of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and it seems clear that it was a lack of audacity, discipline and daring that prevented the rebel force from successfully seizing the very centre of British Rule in Ireland.

At the Four Courts there was another DMP constable on duty. At the Judge’s gate on Chancery Place.  The Four Courts rebels were more organised and disciplined than those at the castle and did not find it necessary to shoot the unarmed constable, he was, after all, like O’Brien, more of a caretaker than a guard.  He quickly agreed to hand over the keys, being well persuaded by the advocacy of a gun barrel.   And suddenly, without a shot being fired, the rebels had the Four Courts and were in.

It is a vast building, a complex of buildings, a campus as the courts service now refer to it, with multiple entry points each of which had to be barricaded.  Commandant Daly, the rebel commander had little enough in the way of men.  daly 2 An anticipated force of 400 rebels was down to about 130 although many more would join as it became clear during the week, that the Rising had begun.   He was required to spread his men rather thinly.  In addition to holding the Four Courts, with which we are principally interested in, he had also to garrison strong points over a wide area, Church Street, North King Street, the Jameson Distillery and up at the Broadstone railway station.   Barricades had to be erected to slow any British advance, three on Church Street alone, and more on Brunswick Street and North King Street and numerous side streets.  Some of these barricades were fourteen foot high.   First Aid posts were established in the Father Mathew Hall and in the Four courts itself.  And he sent a team up to seize the Linen Hall barracks, near Kings Inns which they did with some ease, and burnt the barracks to the ground, marching captured soldiers, mostly pay corps clerks, to captivity.  The barracks burned for the whole week of the Rising, providing a dramatic fiery background to the unfolding events.  Some of the fiercest fighting of the Rising would occur around his satellite strong points, particularly on North King Street.   But the Four Courts itself would also see plenty of action.

At around lunchtime on Easter Monday (24th April) a British army horse drawn convoy of munitions, escorted by some 50 mounted lancers, came trotting along the North quays making their way towards the magazine at Phoenix Park.  As they came abreast of the Church Street junction they came under fire from one of Commandant Daly’s barricades, the leading lancer fell dead and several others were wounded and dropped from their horses, but the lancers were disciplined professional troops and they managed to wheel the two heavily laden wagons and gallop for cover into the side streets, coming under fire as they did from the rooftop and windows of the Four Courts.   More volunteers dashed out of the Judge’s yard, up Chancery Place and opened fire on the retreating lancers.    They wheeled into Charles Street and those that could made a forced entry into the rear of the Medical Mission building, managing to carry the munitions into the Mission and turning over the empty wagons to form a barricade.  Wounded lancers, clinging to their houses ran wildly through the streets.   One lancer, isolated from his comrades,  found himself galloping up Church Street towards another of the Daly’s barricades, lowering his lance he charged in a valiant if suicidal  attempt to break through.   He was shot dead in his saddle, by Commandant Daly himself, who took careful aim using the shoulder of a comrade to steady the shot.   The lance was taken from the trooper’s body and with a tricolour attached it was wedged in triumph into a manhole at the junction of Church Street with North King Street.   Other lancers were captured and taken prisoner, some taken to the Father Mathew Hall and others into the Four Courts itself.   Yet more of the lancers had taken refuge in the Bridewell police station immediately behind the Four Courts.   The locks to the station were shot open and two more lancers captured and taken to the Four Courts.  They also found some two dozen Dublin Metropolitan constables hiding in the basement and they too were taken into captivity.  A couple of lucky prisoners in the cells were let go.

Inside the Medical Mission the lancers barricaded themselves in and prepared to fight.  Its windows, to the front of the building, overlooked the Chancery Place entrance to the Four Courts and an intense gun battle developed between the lancers in the Mission and the rebels in the courts.    The Cavalry officer in command in the Mission was shot dead in the ferocious exchange and one of the Four Courts volunteers, running out of the Judge’s yard and attempting to lob an incendiary  grenade into the Mission fell, badly wounded on Chancery Place,, shot by a lancer from one of the windows of the Medical Mission.

Today, if you were to stand outside the Judge’s gate and look towards the Mission building you can see that the major bullet damage to the upper floor has been repaired with a sort of half-white filler/cement, leaving the red brick work looking, wounded, as if it were wearing plasters.  Up close you can see that almost every brick in the building has gunshot damage, bearing eloquent witness to the ferocity of the fighting.   damage 1916There is no corresponding damage from the intense gunfire on the walls of the Four Courts as all traces of the battle would have been obliterated when the building was destroyed in 1922.   However the photograph of the corner of the Four Courts which shows the damage inflicted by British Artillery firing from Essex Street also shows heavy gunshot damage, some of  which probably came from the Medical Mission gunfight.

The Four Courts was now under fire from virtually all directions.  There were British soldiers in the church towers and on the roofs of high buildings across the Liffey, there was a Lewis machine gun on a tower in the Jervis Hospital, and soldiers constantly infiltrating across the Liffey bridges into the maze of  side streets.    An 18 pounder artillery piece was sited on Essex Street, near the Sunlight building, and opened fire on Chancery Lane corner of the building.   Fortunately they only fired some four or five rounds although it is clear that had they so wished they could have systematically reduced the building to rubble.

From the direction of Smithfield Royal Dublin Fusiliers were making their way towards the Church Street side of the courts complex, sweeping the western side of the buildings with machine gun and rifle fire.  Dubliners firing on Dubliners. You can still see some of the bullet damage to the lower stone walls of the building, as you walk up Church Street.

From inside and on the roof of what is now the Court of Appeal, and was then the Registry building, rebel volunteers returned fire on the Dublin Fusiliers.   It was here that   Volunteer Lt. Thomas Allen was mortally wounded on the staircase landing.  There are conflicting reports in the Bureau of Military History as to how he was hit.   Volunteer Thomas Smart claimed he was caught in a burst of machine gun fire and there are certainly still, this hundred years later, the evidence of dark stiches of machine gun damage across the upper windows of the Court of Appeal building.   They can be seen most clearly from the overlooking windows of Court 18 in Áras Uí Dhálaigh.    Volunteer Sean Kennedy has him in a room on the first floor landing, behind a barricaded window and being caught by a sniper’s bullet that went through the elbow of another volunteer before striking Allen in the left breast.    Both are agreed he was mortally wounded and was taken by stretcher to the Richmond Hospital where he died of his wounds.

As the battle raged in North King Street and Church Street, the Four Courts became a place to where battle weary volunteers might get some respite, a hot meal prepared by members of Cumann Na mBan, soup or tea, a bed, some much needed sleep.   There was a kitchen established in the basement, exactly where is not certain but  it was towards the back of the building opposite the Bridewell police station, perhaps in the solicitors building where their café still has that old black range on the back wall.    They were feeding up to 70 volunteers and a whole range of captured prisoners.   There was a first-aid post, also manned by Cuman mBan that treated their wounds.  Seriously injured men would be carried by stretcher to the Richmond Hospital.

One volunteer, records sleeping in the law library, using a law book for a pillow, one might hope that he found it more appropriate to lay his head upon a volume of the Irish Reports rather than the All England reports.     Dr. Bridget Lyons Thornton, of the Cumann na mBan, working as a nurse in the Four Courts, recalled falling asleep wrapped in the scarlet and ermine of judge’s robes.

The most important office in the Four Courts was probably that of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland., Sir John Ross.  His office was forced open but the rebels inflicted no damage, leaving alone his papers his wigs and his gowns.  He recalled sitting in his garden at Oatlands, (now Oatlands College) in the spring sunshine reading Plutarch and listening, now and then, to the distant sound of machine guns and cannon.

Commandant Daly spent most of the Easter week up at the Father Mathew Hall, but he was constantly going round the outposts and coming back to the Four Courts.  In effective command in the building was Frank Fahy.   He was joined, later in the week by his wife, a member of Cumann na mBan, after she had firstly placed the family cat and canary with a sympathetic neighbour.

After the surrender some nineteen men of the garrison were tried by court-martial and sentenced to death.   All the sentences were commuted to penal servitude except that of Daly.    His court martial, on May 3rd, lasted just a few minutes, he had no counsel and no solicitor.  He was found guilty and shot by firing squad early the next morning the 4th May.

For further reading on the role of the Four Courts in the Rising read Paul O’Brien’s book: Crossfire – The battle of the Four Courts 1916, published by New Ireland Press.

The English Soldiers who came to crush rebellion

Sherwood Foresters badgeThis piece was originally published in “An Cosantoir” (The Defender), edited by Wayne Fitzgerald and appeared in the 1916 -2016 Commemoration issue of March 2016

Who were they and where did they come from, those stern English soldiers, marching now towards the city, marching from Kingstown, marching through the spring Dublin sunshine, into the second city to their empire, to crush rebellion. They looked, to the mostly cheering citizens, so young, more like cadets than experienced soldiers, but they were the teeth of an Empire and were marching to be unleashed upon those who would dare to question that Empire’s rule in Ireland.
They were not, of course, cadets, but they were young, terribly young. And terribly inexperienced. Some amongst their ranks had not yet fired their weapons on the rifle ranges let alone in anger, against a determined foe. Most did not have that soldier’s familiarity with their rifles that comes with training and use, almost none of the privates were experienced in war and absolutely none of them, none at all, in the urban warfare towards which they now approached.
They were all volunteers. Kitchener’s volunteers. But it was France that they had volunteered, not for Ireland. They had seen the casualty lists from the Western Front and were prepared to die in France or in Belgium, but had not dreamed of a death in Dublin.
For the military they were the North Midlands Division. 59th North Midland Division shoulder badgeThey came from the English Midlands, a great slice of England running from the fishing villages and seaside towns of the East coast in Lincolnshire, across the great agricultural plains of that county, till the plains began to rise into the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and the hills and dales and textile mills of Derbyshire and then down into the industrial heartland of England, Staffordshire, Birmingham, the black county and rising again now, towards the boarders with Wales.
In civilian life they were fishermen and potato pickers from Lincolnshire, Shepard’s and mill workers from Derbyshire, from Nottinghamshire, hewers of coal, loom workers from the lace factories and textile mills, dyers, bleachers, mechanics from the bicycle factories, cigarette makers from Players, agricultural labourers from the farms, and boatmen from the river Trent. And from Staffordshire, the black country, Burton and Birmingham, black with smoke from a thousand forges where they made the anchor chains for the Titanic and half of the Royal Navy’s fleet, they made guns, fine instruments, clocks and pots and plates and jugs and mugs, they brewed beer and from all these trades, and from none, came the men of the North Midland Division, now, clad in karkhi and marching, to their destiny, marching on Dublin.

Many would have been as poor as the poor of Dublin. They came from overcrowded industrial slums or primitive rural cottages, they were stunted by deference and class, most did not have a vote and played little role in the civic and democratic processes of their counties and towns, they were cannon fodder for Flanders, but they were loyal enough to die, and knew in their hearts that many would fall in France. But Dublin? To die in Dublin would not have crossed their loyal minds and now, they marched with loaded weapons towards the Risen city.
The Sherwood Foresters led the march. They were without machine guns and even if they had had them, they were mostly without the training to use them. They were without hand grenades or mortars and even if they had had them they had not the training to use them. But they were men, soldiers. Numbers would count in the crushing of rebellion and they were numbered in their hundreds. Imperial hundreds.
The officers were exclusively public school, for by this year of the Great War the English public schools had effectively become officer factories for the front, such was the rate of casualties being inflicted in the trenches. Their adjutant, laden with maps and binoculars, leading the march through the leafy suburbs, was married to an Irish girl. No one knows how they had met, what fate had brought them together. She played hockey for Ireland, her family were wine merchants, her brother had died on the Somme, only the month before the Rising. She was home with her mother. She and her two small children, home for the Easter, in their grand house in Blackrock. And she saw the soldiers, marching, stern, determined coming along the coast road, rifles on their shoulders, bayonets flashing in the spring sunshine, marching, and goodness me, it cannot be, it was her husband. What was he doing in Dublin? She thought he must have been in France but he was here! Look! Children, its daddy, in his uniform, oh isn’t he so handsome!
And the adjutant fell out from the marching ranks and held his dear wife and his dear dear children and kissed them on the coast road at Blackrock, and they held each other, for war had kept them apart and the fates had now conspired to bring them together. It was but a too brief embrace, for the captain must re-join his marching soldiers, but they would meet? Soon? He would be home perhaps. A few days of leave, for tea on Sunday? And he rushed to the front of his battalion finding his step, waving goodbye, marching now to his destiny in Dublin town.
His marching soldiers would have smiled a bit at their captain’s luck, wished him well, hoped he could get away quickly to be with his children. There would have been some smart remarks, some coarse banter as re re-joined their marching ranks.
The Sgt. Major would settle them. A firm word, no need for him to shout, they were not on the parade ground now, they were marching into battle, quietly, firmly, “settle down lads”. And on they would march.
Their Sgt Major had worked as an apprentice in the cloth trade before the war, taught at a Methodist Sunday school, played in the band. He was twenty two years old.
You wouldn’t make corporal by that age in most armies. It was the war, the Great War. It was destroying men on an industrial scale, great cohorts of NCOs and officers were being systematically wiped out in the trenches, and new men, experienced well beyond their years, were being promoted to ranks they would never attain in a peacetime army. Twenty two! Sgt Majors should be veterans, feared on the parade ground, mentors in the field, mature, wise, experienced, and reliable, looked up to by both the officers and men. If the senior NCO of this marching army, now advancing on Dublin, was but twenty two then god bless and god save the young, the youths, who were his Sgts and corporals and privates that he now steadied on their march into the city.
They were careful now, they were being told that rebels were nearby. Shots had been fired at their marching ranks; ineffective shots from isolated rebel guns, but enough to march now with care, as they approached the edge of the city.
What would they have thought of Northumberland Road? It is such a pretty part of Dublin, a quiet leafy avenue of grand houses. It could be anywhere in England. There were places just like it in Nottingham. The adjutant lived in just such an avenue of fine graceful period houses, where lived barristers and doctors and well to do businessmen with servants, well-tended gardens and an air of prosperity. What on earth were they doing, advancing down this, so British looking, idyllic, peaceful place, holding loaded rifles, many of the men unfamiliar with the long awkward metal and wood of the weapons. They were still marching, albeit with a certain care, but the place, the prettiness of it, the ordinary familiarity of it, would have relaxed them. Their care would have been that which attends a pedestrian crossing a busy road, not that of those who are about to die.
There is a particularly fine house at the corner of Haddington Road with Northumberland Road. Number 25. In fact it is a beautiful house. It stands square and private and noble and commanding and you know in your heart that whoever lives there will be a lover of music and books and will be wise and educated and civilised. They will take sherry in the afternoon and go regularly to church. It is an innocent and delightful place.
Thy may have admired number 25 as they now marched towards Mount Street Bridge. They most certainly did not see and did not notice that the windows had been barricaded. They certainly did not suspect, nor did they expect, that such a handsome house would be occupied by rebels.
The Adjutant was in the lead. We can be sure he was alert and was concentrating on his command but perhaps he also had a thought for the children on the coast road for it had been such a joy to see them again.
He was the very first Englishman to be hit by the volley of shots that erupted from number 25. Ten Sherwood Foresters fell in the leafy avenue and suddenly, unexpectedly, the ordinary, the pretty the so very British Northumberland Road, was wet with English blood.
The soldiers scattered into the gardens and doorways of the grand houses, looking for where the shots had come, shouting orders, retuning fire, pulling the wounded and the dead from the blood wet road into safety and cover. The adjutant died quickly. His family would not have heard the shots or known at all that he would not be home for Sunday tea. His remaining officers drew their swords and prepared to rush number 25. Drew their swords! What on earth were they doing wearing swords in Dublin? What kind of soldiering was this! But swords drawn, they led their men in a frontal assault on the beautiful corner house. They may not have been very well trained soldiers, but they lacked nothing in their foolish bravery. If a fight was wanted then they were up for it, and never mind the fear, never mind the families back home, never mind that mum won’t like it, the officer has his sword up; charge!   Shots poured down upon them. The rebels could not miss and now other rebel volunteers, five hundred yards away, in Clanwillima House, across the Mount Street Bridge opened up with their Howth Mausers, catching the inexperienced valiant, brave Englishmen in a deadly crossfire. And they fell and they fell. They could do nothing when they reached number 25. They had not bombs to blow open the barricaded door, nor grenades to toss into the windows nor ladders to reach them.
How inexperienced where they? A fat artillery officer, from Athlone, the Clongowes College educated Captain E Gerrard of the Royal Field Artillery recorded that he found himself in Beggar’s Bush barracks under fire from rebels holding the railway line. He was accompanied by a small group of the English Foresters. “They had never fired a service rifle before” he would say, “they did not even know how to load them, we had to show them how” “They were the untrained undersized products of the English slums”.
In the end it was numbers that defeated the brave rebel fighters in number 25 and in Clanwilliam House. Overwhelming numbers, assisted by the bombs and machine guns that were eventually supplied to them by the Dublin garrison. The young Sgt Major, Methodist Sunday school teacher, died in a valiant charge, across Mount Street Bridge. Altogether the regiment suffered some 240 casualties before the rebels were crushed.
Some of the soldiers would go on to form the execution parties that shot the rebel leaders in Kilmainham Jail. If they had been unfamiliar with their rifles when they first marched into Dublin then by the time of Kilmainham they knew their weapons with that rare intimacy of soldiers blooded by battle. They would know the weight of the Lee Enfield, the smell of rifle oil and cordite, the feel of the wood, the oiled click of the steel bolt, the heavy kick of the brass plated butt and the sharp crack of its shots. But as they lifted their barrels to aim at the small white cloth pinned above the rebel heart, then you could forgive them if some barrels trembled or some faltered in their duty. They were fighting soldiers not executioners and the shots they were about to fire would echo, not just round the breakers yard of Kilmainham, but across the world. They would herald the end of the British in Ireland, and perhaps, for it is not too far-fetched, they would signal the end of the British Empire itself.
And after all the killing they marched away from Dublin in its smoke and rubble, to barracks in the town of Naas from where they would finish their training, through the summer months, in preparation for France, marching through the Irish countryside, digging trenches across the Curragh, preparing for gas attacks.
France would prove far more deadly for the Sherwood Forester’s regiment than had Dublin. Dublin had cost them some 240 dead and wounded. In Flanders over 10,000 would fall.
So should we, in this centenary year, remember these English soldiers? There is many an old fat artillery officer and a lot of armchair republicans who would be horrified at the very idea, although the Irish who had fought, the rebels, those of 3rd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers, Dev Valera’s Battalion, those who had held Mount Street Bridge for so long against so many, had not the slightest such reservation. In 1966, fifty years after the Rising, De Valera, now the aged President of a free Ireland, invited the English officer who had taken the surrender of the Battalion in 1916, to return to Ireland. They took tea together in Áras an Uachtaráin and then travelled together and stood together, on Mount Street Bridge, with the surviving volunteers of the 3rd Battalion, and remembered, together, those who had fought and those who had fallen, Irish and English.
We do not need to celebrate them, or seek to justify what they did, or to honour their sacrifice, all we need to do is remember them. And perhaps it will be left to those of us who have been soldiers, or who are soldiers still, to acknowledge that in the end they were just soldiers, and we will remember them.

Age Related Macular Degeneration and Me.

eye2010195f13My eyesight hasn’t been so good, for quite a while now. Never used to be the case. As a young man I enjoyed exceptional vision and eyesight. I was a crack shot in the Army, could make a head shot at 600 yards. That’s worthy of a sniper, although I never went into that trade, but I was on the Corps rifle team and shot at Bisley

But those days are long gone. I have worn glasses now for more years than I care to remember. Wouldn’t be able to read or to function without them. Do a lot of reading, close work, essential work, law reports, contracts, deeds, wills, witness statements, lots of small print. And novels, and history, my life is furnished with books. But a few years ago I began to notice my eyesight was getting worse. I wasn’t reading quite so much, avoiding newspapers, needed a lot more light to focus. Started using Kindle because I could increase the font size.
It was the TV that caused me to do something about it.

If I didn’t sit exactly the right distance from the screen then it was not quite in focus. Text on the TV screen was even worse. I was developing a sort of predictive vision – if I could make out the first word or so, or the first few letters, then I could make a fair guess at the rest. But it was a bit hit or miss. One particular incident remains, to my embarrassment, a rather poignant reminder of how bad it got. I was home alone, Sunday evening. Treated myself to a glass of whisky and settled down in front of the TV for the night. I was going through the SKY programme index, on screen, looking for something interesting to watch and I saw that there was an old film about to start, I’d seen it before, when I was a very young soldier; “Emmanuelle”. Ah Emmanuelle, I remember her well. Most men reading this will remember Emmanuelle. A bit of nostalgic erotica? Just the job, so I pressed select.
What came up was Emmerdale farm.
Actually it was quite a good episode of Emmerdale farm. But it persuaded me to go and get a new pair of glasses.
I went to Tesco. We have one of those mega stores. It’s got a pharmacy and a phone shop, a barber shop, they even sell motor-cars by the tills, and it has a very impressive opticians. They do free eye tests and as opticians tend to be extraordinarily expensive, I went to Tesco.
Very nice man the optician, put me through the usual tests and recommended a new prescription for my lenses. Then he told me I should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist because he thought my problem was not the prescription but a developing age related macular degeneration.
Never heard of it But given my experience with Emmanuelle I thought it prudent to follow his advice and so it was I ended up in the eye clinic, in the consultation rooms of the very distinguished Dr. Louise O’Toole.
What they like to do there, those eye clinic people, is photograph your eyes. They are probably all failed photographers really. They love to snap your eyes. They put drops in  and photograph them. They inject you with dyes and photograph them. Sometimes they just photograph them because you happen to be sitting  in the waiting room. They send these photographs to various computers and spend hours looking at them. I suspect that when they meet socially, at dinner parties or discotheques, they exchange interesting eye photographs with each other.
have you seen this one, such depth of character and a lovely cloudy blue”
well I can beat that, look at this for a psychotic stare, a former pupil of mine you know
They probably all have their own eye selfies. On their iPhones.
Dr. O’Toole always asks me if I want a copy of the latest photograph of my eye. I have to confess I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I suppose I could put it on the piano with the family photographs. Might be interesting to visitors.
This is our wedding in Cork, these are the boys growing up, And this is my eye, one of a pair actually
Or I might enter it for the Turner prize.   I  ought to be grateful its an eye clinic and not a penis clinic.
The other thing they do at these eye clinics is to clamp your eyes open and  stick needles into your eyeball.   Inject your eye!   Sounds absolutely terrifying. But in reality, well, it’s absolutely terrifying.  It’s the thought of it that is so terrifying. The actual injection hurts no more than a flu jab or an injection into the bum, but the thought of it makes you tense up, bite your lip and hold on to the operation bed for dear life.   On one occasion a nurse asked me if I wanted to hold their hand while the injection was going in.    I said OK but don’t tell the wife.  From beneath my wet clamped anesthetised blurry eyeball I had not noticed the nurse was a bloke.

If the CIA ever discover the terror of it all  then it might persuade them to abandon water boarding, or just add it ot their list of tortures.
And then they photograph your eye again.
But it works. I have not the slightest doubt that Dr. O’Toole and her team have either saved my eyesight or ensured that it will remain stable for far more years than would ever have been the case without them. Indeed I think my eyesight has improved. I noticed at the Opera in Edinburgh, (the magic flute, in German), that I was able to follow the subtitles without any difficulty at all. That wasn’t the case a few years ago. I read a bit more now, and am much more comfortable in front of the T.V.  No danger of me ever watching Emmerdale Farm again..
So I owe a great debt to the three persons who intervened to identify my age related macular degeneration, to Emmanuelle, to the man from Tesco and to Dr. O’Toole. Not necessarily in that Order.

Steve Larkin’s retelling of Tess of the D’Ubervilles – George Square Underbelly

tesYou get a bit nervous when there are only a dozen or so people queuing for your chosen show. Great flows of festival folk are streaming past to go to something much more popular at a much bigger venue just round the corner, and you wonder, have I made a mistake here?
But what happened inside the small dark theatre at the George Square Underbelly was so powerful that any doubts were quickly set aside as you become completely absorbed in Steve Larkin’s brilliant prose and powerful poems as he re-imagines Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles, taking it away from the West country to the North East of England, to Newcastle and to Leeds, in a dark contemporary recreation of the Hardy tragedy.
He catches you by your emotional nerve ends and doesn’t let go for the hour or so of astonishingly good story telling. It may have gone on for slightly too long, but a small price to pay for a proper good festival theatrical experience. I shall seek out more of this bloke.

Sam Simmons – Spaghetti for Breakfast – Underbelly at Potterrow

1381-Sam_Simmons_Spaghetti_for_Breakfast_511_274_60_c1Sam Simmons is billed as being weird, surreal, absurdist and producing comedy that feels like it was created while drunk on absinthe. It’s a billing that is pulling in the festival audiences up at the Potterrow Uunderbelly but I suspect quite a lot of them, like me, leave thinking that was basically a load of over billed Australian crap.
He uses one of those head mounted microphones favoured by the likes of Madonna, really trendy. How weird is that? He shouts a lot and swears a lot. How surreal is that? He doesn’t tell too many jokes, now that is weird and he insults and exploits members of the audience sitting in the first two rows. How absinthian is that?
Shouting and swearing a lot is, I am told, a trait common amongst Australians. Not unknown amongst Brits. Even been heard of in Ireland. To make it on the fringe you have to work on your shouting and swearing. As we all know if you say “fuck” a lot then that’s very very funny. If you shout “fuck”, well, the louder you shout it the funnier it sounds. That’s the core value, the central structure around which he builds his act. Oh yeah, the other word he shouts a lot is “shit” Another key element of the shows structure.
The show was dire. There are a probably a couple of swear words that could be used to properly describe it but I wouldn’t want infringe his copyright.
We have had weird surreal absurdest comedians before. The best of them was in fact Anglo-Irish being none other than Spike Milligan. He really merited such a billing.