His was a remarkable life and a profound journey.

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The year 1667 was a historic one in medicine; French Doctor Jean-Baptiste Denys performed the first ever blood transfusion, in June of that year.

1667 was also a historic year in Ireland, with a transfusion of a different kind, i.e. new life, in the person of one Jonathan Swift, born in Dublin, on 30th November.

Swift was the second child and only son of Sir Jonathan Swift, Attorney, and Abagail Erik. Both Swift’s parents were of English descent, his father came from a place called Goodrich and his mother from Frisby. Swift therefore, could be described as Anglo-Irish.

Sadly, Swift’s father died a couple of months before Swift’s birth. However, Swift was subsequently to be cared for by his uncle, Goodwin Swift.

Swift had arrived from a lofty blood line, with lineage to several personages of note, one of which was none other than the exalted writer, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh.

From the outset, Swift did not enjoy perfect health. By all accounts he was a sickly child who was afflicted by an inner ear condition known as Meniere disease. Meniere disease causes hearing impairment, with accompanying nauseousness. He was to be burdened with this condition, for much of his life.

From an educational standpoint, Swift was well looked after by his uncle, Goodwin Swift. From 1674 until 1682, Swift attended Kilkenny Grammar School and in 1686, he obtained a BA degree, from Trinity College Dublin.

Following his qualification, Swift, who was a member of the Church of Ireland, moved to England for a period and took up employment as a “Statesman’s Assistant”. For at least ten years, Swift worked with Sir William Temple, an English politician, statesman and essayist. Theirs was to develop into such a close working relationship, that William Temple actually became Swifts mentor.

Swift’s growing interest in politics was no doubt augmented by the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. This bloodless revolution and war of English Succession, was to see King James 2nd unseated from the throne and replaced by King William (then Prince of Orange) and his wife Queen Mary. These were unsettling times.

In 1690 Swift returned to Ireland and in 1695 he became an Anglican Priest. It was around this time that Swift began writing. Swift was ultimately to become a foremost prose satirist and under pseudonyms, was to publish many pamphlets, essays, poetry and a couple of books.

However, Swift was also to become a tireless worker and advocate for the poor of Dublin. In 1700 for example, he started The Irish Loan Fund, which provided loans to low-income families.

Given Swift’s keen interest in politics and his developing literary prowess, when the Tories came to power in 1710, Swift, who had an affinity with Toryism, was asked to become Editor of the Tory Examiner.

The next move in Swift’s career in the Church of Ireland was to come in 1713, when he was invested as Dean of Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

It is commonly believed that in 1716 Swift married a lady named Esther Johnston. Esther was fifteen years his junior. While no records actually exist to confirm their marriage, it is none the less believed that Swift and Esther remained lovers, for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps what Jonathan (Dean) Swift is best remembered for, are his writings; chief among which has to be his much beloved book of 1726 i.e. Gulliver’s Travels. In this book Swift introduces readers to one Lemuel Gulliver, an erudite gentleman whose academic achievements include Mathematics, Physics, Medicine and Navigation. Lemuel’s travels include such exotic places as Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, Japan and Land of Houyhmhnms (go check with your travel agent now).

Jonathan Swift seems to have been a man of considerable perception and indeed, a man before his time. Upon arriving to the Land of Houyhnhnms, (phonetics Ho-e-nums), Lemuel Gulliver encountered beings he called Yahoos “who were said to govern the herd”. By all accounts, these beings were a thoroughly dislikeable species. The following brief abstracts from Gulliver’s Travels, will give you some insight into Lemuel’s feelings in relation to the Yahoos:

“The Yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment by percept or example”

“The Yahoos were the only governing animals in my country, which my master said was altogether past his conception.”

“A soldier is a Yahoo hired to kill, in cold blood, as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.”

“Choosing rather to trust myself among these barbarians than live with European Yahoos.”

“And getting to the side of the ship; was going to leap into the sea, and swim for my life, rather than continue among Yahoos.”

“I would suffer the greatest hardships, rather than return to living among Yahoos.”

Pretty conclusive then; Lemuel Gulliver, emphatically could not abide Yahoos.

Jonathan Swift wrote in two modes of satire Horatian and Juvenalian. Gulliver’s Travels is an example of Horatian satire while Swift’s later book A Modest Proposal is an example of Juvenalian satire. Because of his strong support of Irish causes Swift wrote A Modest Proposal, which was published anonymously, in 1726. The full (somewhat lengthy) title of that book reads as follows: A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People from being a burden to Their Parents or Country and for making them Beneficial to the Publick. In A Modest Proposal, Swift suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles, by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. He was of course mocking the heartless attitudes to the poor which prevailed at the time, and striking at British policy towards the Irish, in general.

So potent was Swift’s sharp satiric writing, that it found very little favour with the British establishment and remarkably, eventually led to his printer, being convicted of sedition.

Writing as M.B.Drapier, Swift helped to prevent a debased currency from being imposed by the government, on the Irish people. In gratitude for his remarkable work for the poor, in 1729 Dean Swift was granted the lofty honour, of the freedom of the City of Dublin.

Sadly, in 1742 the great Dean suffered a stroke. The affliction was to see him deprived of speech. He also developed a swelling in his left eye, which rose to the size of an egg and which inflicted upon him the most excruciating discomfort. To the observance of close friends and perhaps directly related to the impact of the stroke, Swift’s behaviour became such, that a friend of his observed there to exist “such definite appearance of madness”. Swift was eventually declared of unsound mind by his closest companions and guardians had to be appointed, to take care of his affairs.

And so, on the 19th of October 1745, in the 78th year of his life, Dean Swift died. His remains were interred, together with those of his beloved Esther Johnston, within the precincts of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Close, Dublin 8.

Ninety years after his death, his body was exhumed by Sir William Wilde, a prominent physician in the city, and Oscar Wilde’s father. Sir William discovered that Swift had a loose bone in his inner ear, and that ‘Menire’s disease’ was at the root of many of Swift’s problems.

Apart from the lasting legacy of Swift’s influential body of literature, we also benefit today from another very significant legacy of his i.e. the existence of St Patrick’s University Hospital, located at James Street, Dublin 8. Swift left the not inconsiderable sum of £12,000.00 in his will, explicitly for the purpose of founding a hospital, for the mentally ill. As a consequence, in 1757, “St. Patrick’s Hospital for Imbeciles”, first opened its doors to the public.

The great man’s obituary reads as follows:

“Here is laid the Body of Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, Dean of this Cathedral Church, where fierce Indignation can no longer injure the Heart. Go forth, Voyager, and copy, if you can, this vigorous (to the best of his ability) Champion of Liberty.”

The year of this writing 2017, marks the 350th anniversary of the birth of Dean Swift. The transfusion of new life in 1667 delivered to us this great man. We shall live long in his literary shadow, and shall be eternally grateful for his continuing support, of our mental wellbeing.

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I give you Hazel; a very special currency.

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It was the year 1880, a year during which the building of the great Panama Canal commenced; that vital shipping conduit, which eventually was to link the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It was also a year, during which the world was to receive a small gift; a gift which was to blossom into one of great beauty and talent.

On Sunday 14th March 1880, a baby girl was born to Chicago couple: Alice and Edward Jenner Martyn. Because of her beautiful brown eyes, the couple named their daughter Hazel.

Little did Alice and Edward realise, that ultimately their daughter Hazel’s beauty, personality and artistic talents would, for a significant period, shine like a bright star with dazzling luminosity and that she would be involved in some of the most momentous political maneuverings of the early years of the 20th Century, involving both Ireland and Britain.

As a young woman, although Hazel’s heart was firmly elsewhere, under pressure from her Mother, on 28th December 1903 at 23 years of age, Hazel married one Edward Trudeau. At the time of her marriage, Hazel was still very much romantically in love with fellow artist: John Lavery whom she had met years earlier in Brittany, France. However, fate was to take a hand and only four months into their marriage, Edward Trudeau, after a short battle through pneumonia died suddenly, as a result of a pulmonary embolism. Hazel was eventually to be reunited with her beloved John Lavery, but not for several years.

In life, as we know, there are givers and takers. Hazel was, without question, to develop firmly in the former mould. Throughout her adult lifetime, Hazel was given to identifying talent among those with whom she associated and by way of carefully considered introductions, assisting such talent on its way. In no small measure, Hazel’s vivacious and gregarious disposition marked her out for particular attention. Such attributes without question, smoothed the way in matters of introduction and social engagement. While living in England, Hazel’s skill as a hostess also contributed hugely, in the development of a significant and influential social circle. Hazel, needless to say, had no shortage of male admirers.

Hazel’s skill as an artist, coupled with worldliness from being well-travelled and her eventual second marriage to renowned portrait artist: Irishman John Lavery, placed her in good stead for her ultimate adopted role. She was to become a London Society hostess and consummate Political Networker. Hazel’s was truly a beguiling, alluring and most potent currency.

They were troubled times, those of the War of Independence in Ireland. For all, that many of us may think we know, about the Irish and British characters who played a prominent political role on life’s stage, in that era, there is so much that we simply do not know.

While some observers of that time, claim that Hazel espoused Liberal Politics, none can be definitive. However, historic papers do reveal that Hazel was liberal in her affections and also, although not stated but implied, perhaps somewhat insecure. The latter is difficult to understand, for someone who seemed to absolutely thrive, on social interaction.

Irrespective of what politics Hazel truly espoused, she was comfortable in engaging with guests of all political hues and none, at her dinner parties. Such openness saw the Lavery household visited time innumerably by both Irish and British Politician over the years, but in particular, visitations were intense, during the Irish Treaty Negotiations of 1921.

It was during the above period that Hazel was reputed to have struck up a romantic relationship with Irish Free State Representative: General Michael Collins. The relationship of course was denied for years, but upon emergence, in recent times, of personal correspondence between Hazel and Michael Collins, it became clear that such a relationship did in fact occur. Sadly and shockingly however, on the 22nd of August 1922, Michael Collins, while visiting his home county of Cork, at a location named: Beal na Blath, was assassinated.

Two years after the death of Michael Collins, Hazel responded to Kevin O’Higgins, then Minister for Justice of the Irish Free State, with her affections. A relationship blossomed and continued until 10th July 1927, on which day Kevin O’Higgins, also became the recipient in Ireland, of an assassin’s bullet.

Incredibly, despite the above relationships, Hazel’s marriage to Portrait Artist John Lavery remained solid until Hazel’s death on 3rd January 1935. John Lavery died, six years later, on 10th January 1941.

During the period of the Irish Treaty Negotiations, John Lavery completed many portraits, of key individuals involved, from all political hues. This process was facilitated, in no small measure, by the magnificent organisational and social skills of his wife Hazel Lavery, who tirelessly networked among the players, ensuring their frequent presence, within the Lavery household. Many of John Lavery’s wonderful portrait works, of that most significant era in Irish History, can be seen today in the Dublin City Gallery Hugh Lane, Claremont House, Parnell Square North, Dublin 1.

When compared with many women of her time, Hazel Lavery (Nee Martyn) experienced an extraordinary and invigorating journey through life. That journey brought her into contact with so many talented movers and shakers in the world of politics and the arts; people, who like herself, would indelibly stamps their towering presence, onto the history maps of both Ireland and Britain.

Hazel, by all accounts was a person whose intellect and unsurpassed influencing charm, was matched only by her disarming irresistible warmth and beauty. To summarise her in modern parlance I would simply say: beautiful networker extraordinaire.

If, in 1880 the Panama Canal was destined to become a conduit for great ships plying the world’s oceans, then Hazel, who arrived in that same year, was also destined to become a conduit through which the key players, in the ship of state of a yet to be formed Irish Republic, would negotiate their way, to its birth.

A new nation needs a new currency. In 1928, the Irish Free State invited John Lavery to “create an image of a female personification of Ireland” for use, on its new bank notes. The personification, which later came to be known as: Cathleen Ni Houlihan, would be the image of his wife Hazel Lavery set against a Killarney backdrop, with her arm resting upon a harp and a black shawl draped over her head. The image of Hazel would adorn Irish bank notes for 42 years, until our national currency was superseded, in the 1970s, by the Euro. It was indeed a fitting tribute to Hazel, who had done so much, on behalf of Ireland, to facilitate interaction between the various negotiating parties, during that critical year of 1921.

For further detailed information in relation to Hazel Lavery and her remarkable life, I would refer readers to a wonderful book entitled – Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery 1880-1935 written by: Sinead McCoole. The book was first published in 1996, with a digital edition published in 2012. Here is a link to the digital version –

As a nation, we Irish have spent an inordinate number of years, suffering under the yoke of imperialism. While the Rebellion of 1916 and the later War of Independence, at huge cost in lives lost and in suffering, did eventually lead to twenty-six of our counties, coming out from under that yoke of imperialism, there still remains much angst among us, in relation to our separated six northern counties. Perhaps such angst could be properly described as either latent trauma or even “malignant shame?”

Dr.Garret O’Connor M.D. one of our number, who has spent over thirty-five years in the U.S., has set out a most interesting analysis of a condition which he describes as: malignant shame. Dr.O’Connor’s hypothesis argues, that we as a nation, have been traumatised by years of subjugation under imperialism and that as a result, probably to this day, in one form or other, suffer from a condition which he has named: malignant shame. Here is a link to his analysis –

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We must reach towards the stars; sooner rather than later

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Newgrange Passage Tomb

Most of us, the lucky ones, live a safe and fulfilling life, cocooned in the bubble of our own private existence. Many of us pass the entirety of life’s journey, with minimum travails, absorbed in earning a living, raising young and interacting within a close loop of family and friends. We have little time, if any, outside our necessary work-a-day self-absorption to contemplate our greater existence; where, as a species we originally came from, or what may be happening in our Solar System, our Galaxy or indeed the vast Cosmos, of which we are but a tiny infinitesimal  but very open part. Maybe now, in our 21st Century, it is time, as individuals, that we gave more consideration, to such matters?

There are of course many specialists who do contemplate extraterrestrial matters; people with much scientific skill and dedication, who seek to advance our knowledge of the vastness of the mysterious environment within which the world we inhabit exists. They seek also to unlock the mysteries of many of the other worlds, which also occupy that same environment. Astronomers, Physicists, Mathematicians, Planetary Scientists, Rocket Engineers and many more, bring their talents to the table, in mankind’s effort to push the boundaries of space science and in so doing, to permanently unshackle human kind, from the bonds of Earth.

Throughout the ages, many have been fascinated by the night sky. On a clear night, the universe puts on a glorious display of various sized twinkling lights. Who could fail to be impressed and indeed mystified, by such a masterful vista filling and seeming endless display? Certainly, here in Ireland, our Stone Age ancestors were impressed. They built stone monuments, which many believe, align with particular star systems. They also built, what many now believe to be, primitive astronomic observatories; one prominent example being, the “Passage Tomb” structure on a high vantage location, 8km west of the town of Drogheda, in an area known as Newgrange.

Newgrange, with its long, internal portal accessed passage, which leads to a central inner chamber, was constructed in the Neolithic period circa 3200 BC. Newgrange therefore, is older than Stonehenge in England and indeed older, by 500 years, than the great Egyptian Pyramids. The builders of Newgrange aligned it with the rising sun in such a manner, so as to ensure that during each winter solstice, the rays of the sun, would enter the passage via the portal and for a sustained period, bathe both the passage and the inner chamber, in light; masterful building indeed. However, with the builder’s obvious awareness of the heavens, it would be hard to credit, that such a gargantuan building effort would be put into something, which would have a use on, but one occasion each year. This is where speculation related to astronomical observation enters the equation. When, on a clear night, inside the darkened passage, our ancestors observing the heavens would enjoy a portal framed view of sections of that magnificent vista as Earth rotated, during the hours of local darkness. The strange thing about Newgrange, is that at some point in its ancient history, it was totally entombed and remained in virtual obscurity, until its re-discovery and excavation by Irish Professor Michael J. O’Kelly, in the later part of the 20th Century.

For all we believe we know about Earth’s history, there is yet so very much we simply do not know. We find sophisticated stone structures around our world and marvel at how the “ancients” could possibly have crafted and erected them. Speculation abounds about “ancient technologies” but, how could such technologies have been acquired? Yes our Earth is old; very old. Chillingly however, we are also aware, of certain significant past extinction events, but we do not yet have any comprehensive understanding of exactly how and why these events occurred. Given the age of Earth, it is of course conceivable, that past human/humanoid civilisations did exist here and having thrived for millennia, created and utilised sophisticated technologies; technologies  now lost to us in time and swept away perhaps, by global extinction events?  So, if we are to survive as a species, it is my simple belief that we need to accelerate our study and understanding of such matters; we need to do so urgently and in a spirit of world-wide open co-operation, nation with nation. We need to stop wasting our precious resources of finance and intelligence on wars of both greed and the destruction of our own kind, but instead focus as much of those resources as possible, towards expanding our knowledge of the history of Earth, its place in our Solar System and its near companion worlds.

As a young person, I had a magnetic allure towards space exploration. It was an evolving new science; an exciting “final frontier” which seemed to hold so much promise for the future of mankind; possibly as a space faring species. I watched, with all-consuming interest; transfixed over the years, as the Apollo Programme unfolded and was broadcast on our then, black and white TV screen. I bore witness to the birth and the ultimate phasing out, of the Moon Landings Programme. I watched in awe as the Space Shuttle Programme was developed. I noted its many successful missions and indeed its number of sad tragedies. I saw the Space Station become a reality, grow and become a permanent human habitation outside of the atmosphere of Earth. I watched with keen interest, as sophisticated robotic exploratory craft were dispatched to many bodies within our Solar System and indeed was profoundly impressed, when at least one, eventually travelled outside our Solar System, into the vastness of interstellar space. However, of all of this, the one point of interest which seems to have really captured people’s imaginations is the now ongoing, tentative exploration of one of our nearest planetary neighbours, Mars.

Many of course would argue that all of this “so called space exploration”, has been one giant hoax, with filming being done at secret locations on Earth and broadcast by complicit media, to deceived masses. Well, while keeping an open mind, I nonetheless believe that we do need some dog and bone type investigative journalism to possibly expose truth here, wherever it is uncovered. However, I tend to lean towards the benefit of the doubt and as such, until I obtain any incontrovertible truth of the situation, will continue to believe that space exploration, is actually occurring.

So, to Mars; in recent years, with the combination of orbiting and surface rover based exploration, we have obtained an unprecedented volume, of pretty good resolution imagery, of the surface of the red planet. At first, on the face of it, it seemed mostly to be a barren desolate and moon like, dead world. However, with the sophisticated combination of scientific feedback from the team of Mars exploration robots, this is now being proven, more and more, to be anything but the truth.

Plumes of methane gas, one of the most common markers of life, have been noted frequently, emanating from the planet’s surface. Carbon based molecules, another indicator of possible life, have been detected within samples of surface soil analysed by the rovers. Flowing water has been observed, at particular times of year, in the Martian northern hemisphere. Evidence of the once existence of ancient oceans and of the presence of standing water, have also been found. The scientific conclusion therefore has been reached, that Mars once hosted an effective biosphere, perhaps identical to that of the Earths and the conclusion reached by the Planetary Science Director of the University of Michigan, Ms Sushil Atreya is: “Mars is currently active”.

Assuming that we actually are, exploring Mars and that all of the images of Mars made public by NASA, in recent years, are authentic representations of the surface of that planet, then, there is a reason, why we need to get archeologists to Mars sooner, rather than later. With the volume of images released by NASA to the internet, significant interest has been generated. Many people have taken the time to examine, oft-times, in the minutest of detail, such images. On a very regular basis, people have noted what they broadly describe as “anomalies”, in these images. There are a myriad of videos now on the internet, featuring such Mars images with anomalies and offering various explanations, as to what people believe, they may be.

I have seen many of these images and can say with confidence and with an open mind, that in so many instances, these anomalies really do look exactly like fragments of ancient archeological runes; statues; temples or bits of buildings, the likes of which we may routinely come across, at ancient sites, here on Earth. So, it would seem that Mars definitely does have a story to tell. In my humble opinion, we need to read that story and we need to understand it, quickly, because our very future survival, as a species, may well depend upon whatever new and wider knowledge, we may glean from the Mars story.

Dr. John Brandenburg PhD, Plasma Physicist and Instructor in Astronomy, Physics and Mathematics at Madison College Wisconsin in his book: “Death on Mars” suggests that there is “evidence of an Earth like Mars in the past”. He further and rather disturbingly suggests, backed by scientific evidence, that there exists: “nuclear data revealing ‘weapons-signature’ isotopes showing two massive nuclear air bursts [in the past] in the northern regions of Mars.”

Dr. Brandenburg’s experience extends to: orbital technologies, space plasma nuclear fusion, and advance space propulsion. He spent many years working both as a contractor and directly for the U.S. Government, in space and military weapons development technologies.

As individuals, we need to breach the bubble of our own private existence and become aware of the startling possibility, that something unsavory may have occurred in the past, on a planet, as close to us as makes no difference. We need to add our voices to a global call for more urgent progress in the matter of getting humans to Mars. We need to read the story which Mars has to reveal and we need to do it very soon.

Dr. Brandenburg’s publication is not a Si-Fi book. It is factually based upon a scientific study of Mars data over many years and was completed in collaboration with several notable scientists and professionals, in the sphere of Astronomy and Space Exploration.

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Spirits rise in Dublin’s Phoenix Park

 

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A warm sunny late August day saw me, once again, within the green wonderland of history, nature and fresh air, which is Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

I have the great privilege, of being able to visit the Phoenix Park very often and once within its welcoming precincts, my heart bathes in a warm glow of gladness and my spirit, no matter how down I may be feeling, invariably rises.

Today’s visit however, I do believe, felt an exceptional one. At its start, as always, I slung my rucksack on, pulled my headphones on, tuned in to some beautiful symphony music, popped on my sun hat and was away walking once again, within my very own paradise.

I love being close to magnificent trees; wandering along trails and meandering bridal paths. I quickly left Chesterfield Avenue behind and headed in a northerly direction among the welcoming oaks, on a winding trail adjacent to the parks perimeter wall. As the crow flies, away off to my right, but well out of sight, was the parallel running, North Road.

Maybe it was the near perfect nature of the weather. Maybe it was the sun allowing its golden shafts of light to glint playfully through the branches of the great oaks and adorn the leaf strewn path ahead of me, with angular brush strokes, like a glowing art work of nature, in progress. Maybe it was the soothing audio balm, of delightful symphonic music as it flowed, like a therapeutic river of joy, deep into my consciousness. Maybe it was all of the above and much more; who knows? All I know is, that in those beautiful moments, I felt at one with nature; a deep deep contentment, the likes of which I do not recall, ever having experienced before.

I walked onward along the path, which eventually led me to the Phoenix Park old School House and there, I crossed the North Road and entered the beautiful arboretum, just inside the periphery of Ashtown Demesne. As always, I lingered for a brief period, in admiration and in awe, of the gloriously lofty sequoia (red wood tree) and it’s many splendid companion tree species.

There were many people in the park, but today, it was as if I was in a different place. As if I had been transcended. Although I could see people, my consciousness was captivated like never before, by the beauty of the nature which surrounded me. I felt so deeply immersed, in the twin glories of the enviornment and the melodic symphonic sound, which was so delightful in combination, that one could almost taste it.

I continued along the periphery of Ashton Demesne, a walking trail which I had enjoyed on many previous occasions. As I progressed, my feeling of transcendence intensified and at one point, having emerged from the trees, small butterflies began to rise from the grass in front of me and flutter playfully, across my path.

As more and more butterflies rose up, to add to the beauty of my path and joined in their wonderful aerial dance, I felt as if I was being transported to the orchestra pit from whence this glorious symphonic sound was flowing; that I was observing myself, on a giant screen, wandering, so contentedly, among those beautiful butterflies. In those moments, I longed for the ability to freeze frame that scene; to set the freeze frame clock for 1000 years. As the scene began to fade, I gave the most grateful thanks to my parents, for having created me and thus allowed me the great privilege of conscious witness, to such immence beauty.

I ended my walk, with an most extraordinary feeling of deep contentment and a wish for many more days like this. My wish was not just on my own account, but also for all of my Brother and Sister humans, as we travel along life’s amazing journey.

Two friends of mine, on two seperate occassions, gave me gifts of plaques which carried the following messages:

  • “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … It’s about learning to dance in the rain”
  • “Life is a journey, enjoy it”

After nature, within the Phoenix Park, whispered to me in such a profound and reafirming way, I now read those words with deeper seeing eyes and with a true comprehension of their meaning.

Now, having read the post; sit back, relax, close you eyes and re-travel that wonderful journey. It may be the very type of theraputic imagining which will deliver to you also, that sense of contrentment which I enjoyed, while experiencing the original moments.

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The Hound of the Irish

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There is a beautiful vast park land, called the Phoenix Park close to where I live. On the occasions when I walk there, which thankfully are many, it never fails to amaze me how many people, with canine companions, also avail of this lovely environment. For canine and walker it’s a win-win relationship. Canine needs exercise; so does human and so, a symbiotic relationship, blossoms. However, there is so much more to the human/canine relationship, than simply the mutual need for exercise. There has to be, because a survey in 2006 discovered amazingly, that there were 640,620 dogs in Ireland.

During one of my recent walks, I got to thinking about the extraordinary special relationship which has evolved over millennia, between canines and humans and the incredible broad family of canine types, which their chosen close contact with humans, has since spawned. I am delighted of course, to be aware of the fact, that one particular breed of canine, both literally and metaphorically, towers over the rest. I am of course referring to the Irish Wolf Hound which when standing on its hind paws, can reach to seven feet tall; without question, likely, the tallest dog in the world. Although the above photo is of a white Wolf Hound, commonly, this shaggy coated breed, would present in a grey colour.

In both real history and in Irish mythology, the Irish Wolf Hound distinguishes itself as a truly extraordinary and capable breed. Amazingly, as with all other canine types, the Irish Wolf Hound’s ancestors are, in fact, Wolves. Wolves roamed freely in the Irish forests, from as far back as 34000 BC. However, Wolf Hounds were not actually bread in Ireland before 3 BC.

In ancient Ireland, as humans settled and began to farm animals, marauding Wolves mainly predating on livestock, became a major problem for the settlers. Hungry Wolves, in hunting packs, were found to be clever, tenacious, fearless and vicious predators which did not differentiate, between live stock and settler. Society therefore concluded, that something significant had to be done, to defend against the menace and threat to their very survival, which the Wolf had become.

It is believed, that the canine ancestor of the species we know today as the Irish Wolf Hound was brought to Ireland circa 7000 BC. It was not until 3 BC however, that the breed seems to have been cultivated as a formidable companion, for the nobility. It was trained for use as a war dog in battle; a sight hound in hunting and a guard dog. Wolf Hounds became valued gifts, given by Irish nobility, to their foreign counterparts. Such was the reputation of these fine beasts, that they merited mention within the writings of no less a personage than, one Julius Caesar.

Under Brehon Law, only nobility could own Wolf Hounds. Legend has it that Fionn Mac Cumhall was the proud owner of no less than 500 hounds. His two favourite hounds being named: Bran and Sceolan. The Gaelic for Wolf Hound is: Cu Faoil.

Elk, wild Boar and Deer were regularly hunted in ancient Ireland and the magnificent canine, later to be known as the Wolf Hound, would have assisted greatly in such hunts. However, its formidable reputation was to be built mainly on it’s unsurpassed prowess in hunting Wolves. During such hunts, Wolf Hounds would typically have been used in pairs; although sometimes, in a small group of up to five. The Wolf Hound was the only dog fast enough to catch a Wolfe and strong enough, to kill its quarry. Other dog species were intimidated by the scent of a Wolf. The Wold Hound however, had been carefully bread not to fear such a scent. Because of its excellent eye sigh, the Wolf Hound (a sight hound), vastly surpassed other canines. Other dogs relied mainly upon their sense of smell, to guide them in tracking. The Wolf however, was renowned for leaving very poor scent markers. In 1571, Wolf Hounds were recorded as being used, in the hunting of Wolves, in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains.

By 1584, the Wolf problem in Ireland was so severe, that legislation was enacted to attempt to address it. Bounties were placed upon Wolves. The amounts varied, depending upon whether the kill presented, was male, female or cub. The magnitude of the Wolfe problem in Ireland was apparently so impacting, that during the Cromwellian occupation, Oliver Cromwell put a blanket ban on Wolf Hounds being given outside of Ireland, as a gifts.

In Ireland, the last Wolfe was reported as having been killed in Carlow, in 1786. Following the elimination of Wolves in both Britain and Ireland, the Wolf Hound breed began to fall into decline. Despite such decline and in testimony to the versatility of the breed, there are a number of recorded instances, where Irish Wold Hounds, have been trained very successfully, in sheep herding. In the 1800s, one Captain George Augustus, set about the challenge of reviving the breed, which thankfully by virtue of his actions, is still around, for us to treasure and enjoy today.

Sadly, despite it’s formidably impressive physique, the Irish Wolf Hound has but a short life span of between just six to eight years. As with many other dog breeds, our Irish Wolf Hound, seem to possess particular systemic physiological weakness e.g heart and bone related issues, which unfortunately typically contribute, to its early passing.

In celebration of this wonderful breed, the Hound of the Irish, it would be nice if there was an annual Irish Wolf Hound Festival. What better venue, for such a festival, than Dublin’s magnificent Phoenix Park? After all, the park is already a much-loved, canine walkers paradise.

At the beginning of this article I intimated that there has to be much more to the human/canine relationship, than simply the mutual need for exercise. Of course, every dog owner will tell you there is. Each dog owner enjoys their own unique relationship with their canine companion. Such relationships are truly exemplified in the life of an amazing Irish Wolfe Hound by the name of: Bally Shannon.

Here is a moving excerpt, from some stories about heroic Wolf Hounds:

“An Irish knight or officer had his Wolf Hound with him at the Battle of Aughrim, and together they slew many enemy. But at last the master himself was killed. He was stripped and left on the battle field to be devoured by wolves. But his faithful dog never left him. He remained at his side day and night, feeding on other dead bodies on the battlefield, but allowing neither man nor beast to come near his master’s corpse until nothing was left of it but a pile of whitening bones. Then he was forced to go farther away in search for food, but from July till January he never failed to return to the bones of his master every night. One evening some soldiers came across the battlefield, and one of them approached the Wolf Hound to see what manner of beast he might be. The dog, thinking his master’s remains were about to be disturbed, attached the soldier, who called loudly for help. The others came running up and shot the faithful dog through the heart.”

To read the balance of the above story and the full story of Bally Shannon, here is the link – Bally Shannon

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“I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen”

 

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When referring to World War One, American President Woodrow Wilson famously remarked: “This is a war to end all wars”. Oh; how wrong was he?

In 2014, we marked the centenary of the commencement, on 28th July 1914, of that terrible global conflict, during which so many young lives, were needlessly and senselessly, wiped out.

Just short of two years later, on 1st of July 2016 we paused once again, this time to solemnly mark the centenary of  perhaps the greatest mass slaughter of human beings, by their own kind, in the history of humanity. I am of course referring to, the commencement of that major World War One action, known as: the battle of the Somme.

Whenever I read history, in relation to the many tragic events surrounding World War One, I never cease to be amazed, by the apparent almost naiveté, on the part of so many unsuspecting young men, as they were being recruited into ranks which were ultimately to become, wave upon wave, of lead stopping fodder. We often read, that so many of those doomed young recruits, saw the prospect of their involvement in that awful conflict, as being one of adventure; an adventure to be shared with friends and perhaps neighbours. So, what an unspeakable tragedy it was, for the reality of their believed adventure, to turn out be, the elimination of whole streets of their friends and neighbours.

Ireland, being part of the British Empire of that time, did not escape the awful slaughter. Over 200,000 Irish men, fought in World War One. If we consider casualties from those Irish who fought not just in the British army, then we discover that 49,500 of our countrymen, never returned to their families. However, they were certainly not alone in spilling their blood in those awful killing fields, as so many other nationalities, were meeting their maker, in those terrible places, too.

During 2014, as part of a commemorative project to mark the 100 anniversary of World War One, organised by Librivox (Free Audio Books), I contributed an audio piece for inclusion within one of their catalogues. My piece was about a young American Air Man named Briggs Kilburn Adams.

In the summer of 1916 Briggs volunteered as an ambulance driver in France. In the autumn of 1916 he went back to America to finish his education and upon graduating immediately returned to France to train as an Airman. Briggs was a prolific letter writer and he regularly sent the most graphic descriptions of his experiences home to his family in America. This is what Briggs College Tutor had to say, upon reading some of the material he sent home:

“They are the most beautiful bits of writing to have come out of the war – beautiful in style and colour and motion. No one else has taken me up in the air and shown me what it must be to fly; no one else has presented so vivid a figure of war as it should be portrayed.”

Listen here to:

Selected Letters by Briggs Kilburn Adams, Lieutenant of the Royal Flying Corp

So, it is now time to transfer from America, back to Ireland.

On 1st July 2016, our national Television Station RTÉ (Radio Telefis Éireann), broadcast a unique, Battle of the Somme, commemorative programme entitled: My Adopted Soldier.

The project, of the same name upon which the  TV programme was based, was the brainchild of History Teacher from Donegal: Gerry Moore.

Gerry’s interest had been stirred by an “old crumpled photograph of a grand-uncle who died in World War One”. Given that the tragic impact of that war, had probably not left a single county in Ireland unscathed, Gerry thought it would be a good educational history project and a respectful tribute, to some of the young men who had lost their lives, for one student from each of the 32 counties in Ireland to adopt a soldier, research the soldiers background and following this, the 32 students would then bring that body of research together and archive it for posterity, within a specially prepared website.

What an amazing idea!  Well done Gerry and well done Student Researchers.

So, this is the background story, to the My Adopted Soldier Project, as introduced  by: Gerry Moore –

My Adopted Soldier – Project History

And here is the link to the archive which tells the stories of the 32 Adopted Soldiers –

My Adopted Soldier – The Archive

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Historical Magazine

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It could be a magnificent augmentation, to the already significant tourist value of Dublin’s beautiful Phoenix Park, but it currently languishes within the half sleep of near dereliction; I am of course referring to the Magazine Fort, which sits atop St Thomas’s Hill, next to the Island Bridge Gate, on the Liffey side of the park.

Like many Dubliners’, throughout my life, I have spent innumerable happy hours in and around the Phoenix Park. As a child, it was my playground and no doubt like many other lucky children with access to the park, we transformed it into many magical imaginary worlds, as we lost ourselves in play. As adults, no such imaginary transformations were required, as we could plainly see the park, for the beautiful natural wonderland which it was and continues to be. Full marks to the OPW (Office of Public Works) staff throughout the years, for maintaining this beautiful public amenity and indeed many other public parks in the Dublin area. However, from as far back as my recollection will go, the Magazine Fort has been locked off from public access and left to wallow in a sad, slow and progressive decline. Such has been it lengthy abandonment and accompanying decline that activities now occur, in regular proximity to it, which let’s say would never form part of any family entertainment (enough said).

You know, there is much to be done in our Ireland of today. Much of which, on a priority basis, needs massive public investment and expenditure e.g. homelessness and child deprivation would be two shameful facets of life in today’s Ireland, which immediately spring into my mind. Without question, such utter and urgent human need must be prioritised above much else and whatever be their manifestations and underlying causes, must be addressed without delay.

In life however, we oft-times are called upon, to attempt to carry out several things, at the same time. So many aspects of the mosaic of our lives, go to make up its quality. One such aspect being the wonderful heritage, in its manifest forms, which surrounds us and which far too many of us, can take for granted. The Phoenix Park’s Magazine Fort to me, is a prim example of our architectural heritage, in neglect.

The Magazine Fort  was built in 1735 (281 years ago, at time of this writing). It stands on a vantage point site formerly occupied by Phoenix House, which in its time, was the residence of Sir Edward Fisher and had been built in 1611. Sir Edward Fisher, at that time, was Viceroy (or Deputy to the King of England). He had been charged with looking after the Kings affairs, in an Ireland which then, was ruled by and from, England.

So, both the Magazine Fort site and the current structure upon it, are hugely historic and hugely significant in terms of Irish national heritage and in my humble opinion, are more than worthy, of effective preservation and transformation into an accessible, educational, entertaining and enjoyable museum, of both military and perhaps, local social history. In fact, such a project, at that site, is way overdue.

It is said, that the longest journey, always starts with a first step. It is also said, that in relation to achieving anything, where there is a will; there is a way. Both truisms.

What we need right now, despite present economic circumstance, is for OPW Management to take a brave initiative. To formulate a plan of development for the Magazine Fort site, perhaps along similar lines to what I have just suggested. To take that plan to Government and to advocate for its part funding and completion, within a reasonable time frame.

Of course funding is likely to be challenging and perhaps to date, has been the singular reason, why this wonderful and most important historic site has languished, year after year, in almost derelict obscurity. We really do need to do something about this, before the structure becomes so unstable, as to crumble before our very eyes.

There are ways and means of funding such a project. There are literally thousands of Irish people out there, both at home and abroad (the latter being our famous diaspora) who, if they were made aware, of a well structured plan of restoration with a realistic timeline, would I believe be willing, in perhaps many ways, to support it, including funding.

Look, the women’s mini marathon took place today: 6th June 2016. Since inception, that great annual event has garnered, over its thirteen year existence, €200m for thirteen charities. Splendid work and congratulations to all organisers and participants. That amazing fund-raising effort amounts to €15m accumulated per year. I read somewhere lately that since inception 958,000 individuals have participated in those marathons. That means that €15.68 was raised per individual participant, over that period. If funding is the big hold back, then why can not something similar be done, in relation to a project to preserve and open for public and tourist enjoyment, the Magazine Fort site in the Phoenix Park.

We are all now well familiar with the concept of crowd funding. It’s almost as common today, as dish water. There is no reason, a cleverly thought out and incentivised international crowd funding programme could not be put together, to facilitate such a worthy project, as restoring the Magazine Fort. Perhaps, for example, on the basis of crowd donations the Government might consider agreeing to matching whatever funds may be generated and in a gesture of start-up good will, might even consider funding the first planning phase, of such a project. There is no question, that such a project would be good for employment, either voluntary of full-time, or both.

Having considered all of this, it is perfectly possible that there were, or are plans already somewhere, gathering dust in relation to such a project. It would of course be inconceivable, that no one previously would have considered the Magazine Forth, worthy of such preservation.

If plans for the Magazine Fort do exist, I believe it is now time to revisit such plans and if they don’t exist, it is certainly past time to draft them and get on with the important work of bringing back to life a hugely important heritage site, for the education and enjoyment of our present and future generations of Irish citizens and for our tourist guests, alike.

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