top

A Letter From Ireland – December 2015

Year’s end and a Happy Christmas to you…so bring on the Figgy pudding; yes, bring on the Figgy pudding; sure, bring on the Figgy pudding and we’ll all have some tea.
In reality, Figgy or plum pudding is more of an English tradition while in Ireland we talk of Christmas cake not to be confused with Halloween Brambrack or just simply Brack. I guess the closest thing to it in the States would be fruitcake.
Traditionally, “The Cake,” like Brack, is a yeasted bread with a generous amount of sultanas, raisins, nuts and spices mixed together, according to your family’s recipe. Finally, it’s topped off with some class of white, sugary icing or marzipan delight. [Brack is similar, but usually minus the nuts, spices and icing.]
Sitting around the kitchen table or cosy hearth, you’d find it often served lightly toasted with lashings of butter and a nice cup of Irish tea, which is usually well fortified with milk, a teaspoon of sugar and may be a whisper or two of whiskey, if you’re so inclined.
As Christmas nears, the talk’ll be whether the main dish on the 25th will be turkey, ham or possibly goose, a traditional favourite in some homes…and yes, as the big day draws ever closer, children will be consumed with talk of “What Santy might be bringing ya….” Among adults, of course, there’s the omnipresent talk of meeting up somewhere for a Christmas drink with friends.
And so, each in our own way, we find the routine of our daily lives changed as we prepare for the rebirth of the Christ child and of dreamy lessons remembered thanks to Charles Dickens’s Tiny Tim and Scrooge.
Here’s hoping you’re able to find comfort in Christmas past as you enjoy the vicissitudes of the day, and the hopes for a healthy tomorrow.
Traditionally, one of my December delights is cracking open a new book while sitting by the fire with a cup of Irish coffee at hand. Predictably, with less than four months ‘til the 1916 Centenary, shop bookshelves are expanding with reads by authors both old and new.
One of my favourites is Tim Pat Coogan. This kindly historian of world acclaim, now in his eightieth year, continues to astound and amaze me. I marvel at his energy and determination to put the record straight about Ireland’s twentieth century. Three years ago, it was his The Famine Plot in which Tim Pat brings to light one of Ireland’s darkest hours as the Irish struggled with a tragedy of epic proportions sadly abetted by England’s less than humane response to this horrendous disaster.
Today, the master wordsmith has done it again. In his 1916: The Morning After, Coogan, “…offers a strongly personal perspective on the Irish century that followed the Rising. He charts a flawed history, marked as much by complacency, corruption and institutional and clerical abuse as it is by the sacrifices, the nation-building achievements and the idealism of the Republic’s founding fathers.”
And what of those founding fathers? What would Pearse and MacDonagh and Connolly and MacBride think with a hundred years of water washed over the proverbial damn? I think we might have had a notion held by some of today’s Irish if we’d been lucky enough to be in Eason Bookshop in O’Connell Street five weeks ago at the staging of Coogan’s latest. [Read his personal comments about the launch on his blog: www. timpatcoogan.com]
To help kickoff the affair, Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, the celebrated artist, painter, designer and political activist, spoke. As Tim Pat noted, some in the audience agreed with Bobby’s words and others found them offensive. I’ll let you judge for yourself as I quote a brief passage for your edification.
“Recently, I was working in my studio on a project sponsored by the trade union S.I.P.T.U.; I was asked to design an extension to the already complete tapestry based on the 1913 Lockout to feature the story of the Easter Rising. As it happened, one of the first panels I began working on featured the execution of James Connolly. I decided to base my design on a poster I had recently discovered that had been published in New York, which featured Connolly’s execution. Now the artist, who was probably American, depicted a firing squad composed of Red Coats, which is understandable enough, considering American colonial history, however I knew this had to be incorrect, and on checking the facts I learned that the firing squads in Kilmainham Jail after Easter week were drawn from the regiment of the Sherwood Foresters. This was a reward given to the regiment because they had suffered serious casualties at the battle of Mount Street during the Rising. Anyway, there I was carefully drawing a firing squad of Sherwood Foresters when I was distracted by something on the radio. It was probably a mention of the name of the regiment that caught my attention. Someone on the radio was suggesting that we should erect a plaque at Mount Street in memory of the fallen Sherwood Foresters. Unbelievable! A memorial plaque to the regiment that shot not only the wounded James Connolly strapped in a chair but also 13 other patriots in the aftermath of the Rising! Self-confident nations would never engage in such nonsense – such national self – abasement! Imagine the British authorities erecting a plaque of the Cenotaph in London to honour those gallant members of the Luftwaffe who perished on bombing raids of London during World War II. I think not! [So] the presentation of the rising as ‘just another event’ is a distortion of our history, a deliberate and desperate attempt to distance citizens from the aims and ideals of a golden generation the likes of which we have not seen since.”
As you can see, Ballagh and I share some of the same opinions about the run-up to March 2016. Hoping to see you in Dublin as we all pay our tribute to the heroes of ’16. Cathal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

top