A blog inspired by the beautiful County of my birth, Leitrim on the Shannon. I sometimes go off on tangents so be tolerant of my waywardness, I always come back home, eventually. Typically you'll find here a little history, a few short stories, some of my favourite poems, musings, scribblings and travelogues. To summarise – a busy fool beneath an unruly sky. COME IN, WE'RE OPEN
We are all aware of what a cesspit social media can be these days. Idiots spending hours sparring with each other, lambasting everybody from politicians to public bodies, institutions, banks, businesses, airlines, food companies and just about anyone that they feel like having a go at. Its so easy to do, to rant and rave. The one consistency is the ranters all think they are right. It must be great to live in a world of such confident certainty and never be wrong. If challenged we become like them – they can also give it but they cannot take it. When you argue with a fool all anyone sees are two fools arguing. We are all guilty at some point of venting but some people take it to new lows and specialise in vicious, personalised, ill-informed rants on subjects they know nothing about.
In this time of Global Crisis we must adopt a more conciliatory attitude. We need to smarten up and start looking out for each other. I have not been a huge fan of Leo Varadkar the outgoing Taoiseach or his party. This is based on their policies over the last 9 years now and problems such as the lack of affordable housing, homelessness and policies that do nothing to stem rural decline.
However, parking that aside over the last week the said Leo and politicians like Simon Coveney have shown great leadership. Others have not – they continued to play the game they have become used to. Everything exists to be exploited for political advantage. Now many have gone quiet. After the split election we just had last month anyone would see the Taoiseach’s Office as a poisoned chalice.
I sat down last night to watch Leo’s address to the nation. To be honest I was expecting some announcement of new restrictions and measures but instead it was a general, broad address pointing out where we are and where we are heading in this Covid19 crisis. There were no big bangs just a calm, reassuring tone and much more empathy than he has shown since he assumed office. This is what we need right now. We need to know that there is someone in charge, that they are doing their best and that we will come through this. This was Roosevelt and his fireside chats, it was Churchill calling his people to arms. Sure it was cliched mix of “never have so many depended on so few” , “ask not what you can do for your country” and “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Perhaps it is finally dawning on people what a Nation is. We the people are sovereign, the Government don’t have all the answers and it is up to us, each individual, the parts that make up the sum, to stand up and do what is right. We are at War and we need to mobilise.
It is sad then to peruse social media last night and this morning and see stinging criticism of Varadkar. I’m not going to repeat these moron’s angry tweets and posts. I am not and never have been a supporter of Fine Gael but that speech last night was probably a defining moment in Leo Varadkar’s political career. It is worth therefore repeating at least part of the message –
“I know many of you are feeling scared and overwhelmed. That’s a normal reaction. We’ll get through this and we will prevail. We need to halt the spread of the virus, but also the spread of fear. Rely on information from trusted sources. Fear is a virus in itself”
‘Stand where St. Patrick did, as you take a spiritual journey like no other…’ a bold declaration that appears on a website about climbing of the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick in Mayo.
Today is our National Holiday and there is unlikely to be one like it ever again. No Mass to go to, no football, no hurling, too wet to go for a walk. Most of all though there is no Parade, either in town or on the telly. The vintage car and tractor brigade must keep their pride and joys locked up safely in their sheds for now.
A few years ago I overheard an elderly man in our local telling his neighbor how taken aback he was by all the groups there was in the local parade –
‘Sure we had nothing growing up’ he exclaimed, ‘Now there’s boy scouts, girl guides and there’s even ould bucks hanging out a couple of nights a week in a bloody shed’. ‘What do they be at?’ asked the neighbor. ‘I don’t know in the hell, breaking things and fixing them again, mostly breaking’. After a pause he takes up again ‘There a new group the young crowd are going to in the Hall called ‘Thigh Can do’. The neighbor looks puzzled ‘and what do they do?’. The neighbor doesn’t blink ‘They kick lumps out of each other’.
One thing I remember as a kid was the arrival of the American marching bands. I don’t know when they started coming over. They added a bit of exotic flair to the day with their tans, clear sun-kissed skin, beautiful big white teeth and even bigger smiles. They all looked like mini Kennedys. How could anyone be so happy walking around in the wet cold, Irish spring weather. They came from Savannah, Georgia and High Schools from places like Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. Either they were great actors, smiling so much or they genuinely enjoyed being here, the truth is likely somewhere in between. Later bands were better prepared coming with rainwear, ponchos and customized covers to keep instruments and music sheets dry.
A relation, who spent many years toiling in the US, gave me this advice when I was going to work in New York – ‘You can fool a yank once, possibly twice but he’ll come back at you strong’. I found it to be sound advice. They are a very innovative race, sure they even invented the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the first been held in Boston in 1737 and later started in New York in 1775. We native Irish are real latecomers to the party yet feel incumbent to tell our yankee friends and relations that is a sacrilegious sin to ever call our national holiday St. Patty’s.
Now I’ve a sneaking suspicion the marching band tradition in the US may have evolved from the combined musical and walking habits of our Orange brethren from this island. But thankfully St. Pat, Patrick, Patty or Padraig is embraced by all groups of our complicated society. As Fr.Ted said “that would be an ecumenical matter”. So even Orange can be Green on the 17th of March (even though St. Patrick was traditionally associated with blue and his flag is red and white.
The circumstances surrounding St. Patrick’s Day 2020 provide a great a time to reflect. For me this reflection has been enlightening. I have been a vocal critic of the Irish Government but I have to say I think they have done a tremendous job thusfar. There was no panic in the decision making. There was a sense conveyed that decisions were made based on calm dialogue with experts and not knee-jerk reactions. Hindsight will no doubt show there are some things that could have been done differently but there has been firm leadership and this in turn has created an air of calm and encouraged compliance with the steps advised. This is responsible Leadership.
This is in contrast to Bumbling Boris in the UK and the irrational demagogue known as ‘God’s guy in the Oval Office’. Trump trying to buy the research and proto-vaccine from the German company CureVac, exclusively for the US, is disgusting yet so typical of the POTUS. The rebuff by Dietmar Hopp is reassuring and might come as a shock to Donald that not everything can be bought. “If we hope to soon be able to develop an effective vaccine against the coronavirus , this person should be able to reach, protect and help not only regionally but in solidarity around the world,” said Hopp.
Thankfully after initial dithering the US is now starting to take appropriate measures but those lost days cannot be got back. Meanwhile Mexico is left disappointed that Trump has not built the wall.
Social Media has assumed greater significance as people start to self-isolate and physical social interaction decreases. Sure there are plenty of loonies and ignoramuses who think this virus is from a lab in China, designed to overthrow the West etc. This crisis is grist to the mill of the flat earth conspiracy theorists. Me, I’ve gradually learned to ignore them and pity them without engaging. I’m sticking with the science.
This crisis has also once again proved that Charlie Darwin was on the money. If the young, fit people emptying every supermarket shelf last week doesn’t prove the theory of Survival of the Fittest I don’t know what will. But that’s for another day. Such acts are easily countered by all the random acts of kindness we’ve also seen where people care for each and reach out. Humour is in better supply than hand sanitizer – laughter is always a great coping mechanism at times of stress. Our inboxes are full of clever gifs and memes making us smile.
So, on this day dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland, we must, as the website proclaims ‘Stand where St. Patrick did, as you take a spiritual journey like no other…’. for if our favourite Welsh man, who was a Roman, and who preferred Blue over Green, could survive forty days and nights in isolation, alone on the side of a mountain, then why can’t we.
I read with interest that a County Councillor in Laois is unable to attend the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in New York this year because he is too busy with cows calving. People from a farming background will empathise. Farmers find it hard to get help at busy times but they are also terrible delegators.
A fellow councillor in Laois expressed the view “I believe these trips never amount to any extra tourists or jobs into the county from international companies. We would be better sending Homer Simpson of the Simpsons cartoon to represent us”. Firstly, I didn’t know that Homer had roots in Laois but that wouldn’t surprise me and secondly the debate about the merits and benefits of sending politicians local and national abroad at the time of our national holiday continues as it has now for decades.
In 2011 nine government Ministers travelled to eight countries. In 2019 the Fine Gael-led Government sent 37 representatives to 57 countries. Add in the County Council contingents and this is quite a logistical operation.
These trips suffer badly from the portrayal of them as junkets. Many Irish people might have a trip to New York or Chicago on their bucket lists but alas that is where they will remain. What the ordinary Irish person sitting in the M50 car park (who has a visceral hatred of politicians on junkets) might not realise is that most of these ministers and council chairpersons are accompanied by members of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and business people who are promoting Ireland as a place to do business and a destination. The problem is that our carbon foot printing reps in the process of selling Ireland on these far-flung shores are failing miserably at selling the concept at home.
Maybe the message is falling on deaf ears and there might be dose of begrudgery involved also – who wouldn’t envy a compatriot heading off to Australia at this time of year and getting a bit of sun on their neck.
We have heard all the soundbites about connecting with our huge diaspora, using our well-known national festival to market our little country etc. However, it’s getting harder to sell this when our entourages are visiting places like Addis Ababa and Asunción. Last year Damian English TD even visited East Timor where I’m sure he was warmly greeted by the local branch of the Roscommon Association.
There needs to be some semblance of a cost-benefit analysis done to appease the scepticism of much of the taxpayers in Ireland. For the record I support these initiatives. My support is grounded partly on the economics but partly nostalgic. Coming from a County on the Western Seaboard I am acutely aware of the role far flung networks of county associations helped their newly arrived compatriots settle into their new country. These fraternities provided a home from home, a knowledge base, a comfort. Now they were also at times insular houses that perpetuated prejudice (my experience) but on balance they did more harm than good.
I recall a friend and fellow scribe pointing out that Mayo People cling together so much that they even had to create a Mayo Association in Galway. There was even a Leitrim Association based in Sligo.
Now when an invitation arrives addressed to the chairperson of a County Council from such a group, I think it is incumbent on the recipient to do their utmost to attend. It is imperative these bonds are maintained – this is the St. Patricks day junket at its micro level. One can never underestimate how much the presence of the chain of office of a county’s first citizen boosts an emigrant’s event. I believe these bonds will slowly dissolve but we should let them die naturally. One day that invitation will fail to arrive.
On the macro level we have our modern-day St. Patricks, missionaries proselytising all around the World proclaiming low corporate taxation in the emerald isle. The Word is Ireland Inc is open for business. Good luck to them if it brings some good. If there is wastage in Government, there are worse culprits. I just wish they could sell their message at home first.
The Taoiseach has somehow, needlessly, pointlessly snookered himself. “Apologists for the Black and Tans” –Is there a worse insult that could be thrown at Fine Gael? This the party of Michael Collins, the man who devised the strategy of undermining local policing which in turn led to the coming of the infamous auxiliary police force in 1920.
The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is one of the last nettles that needs to be grasped in our comingto terms with the tumultuous events that led to us finally shedding the shackles of Empire. What we’ve learned in the last few days is that such nettles will not be clutched any time soon, not necessarily never, just clearly not right now.
Fianna Fail were quick to smell blood, Cllr Cathal Crowe the Chairperson of Clare County Council was one of the first out of the traps, going full Republican and announcing his decision to absent himself from the proposed Commemoration event. Cllr John Sheahen the current Lord Mayor of Cork soon followed. How could the current office holder possibly attend an event that would celebrate those that burned his city and murdered his predecessor, “I could not commemorate [the RIC] and then commemorate Tomás MacCurtain’s death a few weeks later… it would just not be appropriate.” Michael Martins comments were more measured. Mary Lou didn’t hold back.
The trickle of anger became a stream and now a torrent of opposition politicians are straining for column space to expound their abhorrence of this celebration of Black and Tannery. Social media is ablaze, as hot as any Australian bushfire in. How exactly has Leo, the proclaimed King of Spin, got this so wrong?
Was he blindly led to the sacrificial altar of social media or was it just a case of not having his eye on the ball? Is the whole affair symbolic of revisionism, the gospel of Irish historical academia, the word according to the evangelists Moody and Dudley-Edwards, gone completely awry? The assertion by Diarmuid Ferriter that the Expert Advisory Group (EAG) for the Government’s ‘Decade of Centenaries programme’ did not recommend this event suggests this was simply a huge political gaffe. Even Donald Trump couldn’t tweet his way out of this one but it didn’t stop the Taoiseach trying.
From a historiographical viewpoint we are in a crucial decade, with so many centenaries of events that have shaped the modern island we live on. The outcome of that seminal decade a century ago was the creation of two separate states, one devoutly Catholic, one distinctly Protestant and the genesis of all the necessary creation myths that were needed to provide the foundations for both.
As the revisionists would say “subordinating historical truth to the cause of the Nation”. In the face of such myths how can we know if we really possess the historical truth? For all those who in recent days have attacked “apologists for the black and tans” there is also a need for the people of this island, on all sides, to liberate themselves from the “mental servitude of myth”. Has revisionism by professional historians failed in this regard? Has it contributed to what Minister Charles Flanagan described today as the “disappointing response” by the public to the proposed event? Or is the real disappointing response that of the Government?
For at least forty years now revisionism has been the accepted orthodoxy of history and has produced some amazing tomes. No respectable domestic bookshelf in this country is complete without containing publications such as F. S L Lyons “Ireland since the Famine”, JJ Lee ‘Ireland 1912-85 Politics and Society” and of course T. W Moody’s “New History of Ireland” series.The production line continues. Irish History is thriving in the academic sphere, but what is it having any effect on the general populace, many who are often unwilling to accept the re-writing of “their history” and are more than willing to take to the keyboard (as I am – the irony is not lost!) to protect the edifices of their Nationalist or Unionist mythologies. The message for revisionist politicians is that you cannot tear down an edifice without replacing it with something equally sturdy. These last few days have clearly illustrated how enduring the Irish Nationalist narrative is. It is the accepted truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of the struggle for independence and the formation of the modern Nation. This narrative gives this Republic its Title Deeds, its legitimacy, its sovereignty.
This is a great little country for Commemorations, from the 12th July up North to Arbour Hill, to Bodenstown to more modest annual gatherings at republican plots in local graveyards. These events are important in reaffirming the myths and creation stories, the heroic sacrifice and the struggle, “Lest we forget” as they say in a neighbouring jurisdiction.
This Commemoration is something an increasingly unpopular administration should not have engaged in on the eve of a General Election. We will find out in a few months the extent of the damage caused by this act of Hari Kari. Such incompetence should not completely condemn or derail what is a kernel of necessary reflection and a conversation worth having, but in a week where one of our worst flu seasons choked up an already malfunctioning and over-stretched health system, where homelessness continues to rise and affordable housing non-existent, this has been an extraordinary political own goal.
Political Gaffes do affect Electoral success. One of the most infamous occurred in the early years of the impoverished State, when Ernest Blythe reduced the old age pension. The move is credited with giving impetus to the newly formed Fianna fail at the 1927 election. “When the devil you know was notorious for cutting a shilling off the old-age pension, many voters decided to take a chance with the devil they didn’t know, or at least didn’t know that well”.
The Taoiseach this morning took to twitter suggesting that we should “be mature enough as a State to acknowledge all aspects of our past”. This comment only added fuel to the fire with its implication that we are not mature enough to have a commemoration of a body that did harmless stuff like collecting the census, taking weather readings and prosecuting inebriated men for having no lights on their bikes. My own great grand uncle spent most of his career breaking up Poitín stills in Connemara. That benign RIC is fine and dandy, big, strapping youngest sons of farmers could not be faulted for choosing respectable, pensionable positions when such opportunities were very scarce. But the peelers were also the eyes and ears of Dublin Castle and therein lies the problem. They played a crucial role suppressing the Fenian rebellion of 1867 (which earned the prefix “Royal”), they were Royal and Loyal. This without getting into their role in the revolutionary years. But what about all the many RIC men who turned their backs on their pensions because they could not side with the Empire against their neighbours and friends. At full strength in 1921 only about a fifth of those rostered were from the original pre 1920 force. It was the decision of these thousands of men to reject the crown atop their badge that necessitated the Black and Tans recruitment. Like everything in Ireland all is never as it seems.
Now Taoiseach this is not the time to cajole the Nation, now is not the time to talk down to people. Perhaps we are just not yet ready for this conversation. Pointing that out to us is not going to assist our conversion.
The “disappointing response” has now led to a deferral and doubts as to whether it will ever be held in the future. The toothpaste is out of the tube and it can’t be got back. Fianna Fail have been handed a gift horse to restate their Republican credentials, Sinn Fein have been energised, the radio waves and news feeds are abuzz, #NotMyTaoiseach is trending at number one.
Q. Former Inspector General of the RIC, Colonel Sir Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain invented what game?
It is a question befitting any Table Quiz. The answer is of course Snooker and it also hints at how the Taoiseach must feel right now and not the place his party candidates want to be either with the election on the horizon.
Its been a strange and intriguing summer of Sport and there is hopefully plenty still to come. The sight of a Leitrim Hurling Captain giving a winning speech on the steps of the Hogan Stand was surely a signal that something was amiss, the equivalent of an El Nino in sport. A Dublin lad lead the merry English Cricketers to their maiden World Cup win, more novelty perhaps than surprise. The Boxing world shook when Anthony Joshua got knocked on his backside four times in seven rounds by the unheralded Any Ruiz Junior. We all love the underdog and the mavericks, those who tear up the form book, upsets odds, beat bookies, overcome adversity and in so doing give us all hope.
The popularity of Shane Lowry’s win is as great for his
Sport as much as it is great for the small sport-obsessed island of Ireland. Lowry’s
personality and integrity transcends all the soundbites, barriers, all the spin
and sky-sport-speak. This Open was all set up to be a glorious home-coming for
Rory McIllroy and to a lesser and more local extent GMac.
After the Hollywood man’s disastrous first round the crowd needed a messiah. Lowry came in like an under-study when the lead has suddenly taken ill on opening night. Boy did he grasp the opportunity and as the days went by, boy did the crowd get behind him, Not everyone would be aware of the significance of the ‘British’ Open been played at Royal Portrush but for many on this Island this event had a great significance outside sport. The late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein knew the value of this tournament to Northern Ireland as did Arlene Foster of the DUP. Despite the inclement weather it was a resounding success and to have an Irish winner is the icing on the cake. The genuine warmth in which those citizens of Northern Ireland (those that identify as British) embraced Shane Lowry is evidence again that sport has the capacity to unite this island like nothing else. We’ve been here before, a sample of Jackie Kyle, George Best, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Gerry Armstrong, Barry McGuigan, Wayne McCullough, Darren Clarke – all Ulster men admired throughout the Island for their achievements. Lowry’s approval shows us that it cuts both ways. I’m not sure the few flags waving in the crowd on Sunday were greeted with the same enthusiasm by all, but it certainly was a novelty to see the Tricolour waving unmolested in Portrush in the month of July. The late ‘chuckle brothers’ McGuinness and Paisley would surely have had something to say to each other from the balcony on high.
You can’t help but feel that Shane Lowry can be a victim of his authenticity. His gregarious, humble demeanour and his beefy frame seem to distract us at times from the fact that he is a serious Golfer playing at the peak of his career. Lowry is a fierce competitor, focussed, professional, the product of years and years and thousands of hours of honing his craft. Lowry is no maverick, he is no underdog, he is the real deal.
Amidst all the success it was wonderful that Lowry, in reflecting on victory, was keen to praise others, his manager, his agent, his family and of course his current caddy, Bo Martin. He also reflected back to a time just one year ago in the very same competition when he sat in his car in the car park at Carnoustie, crying in despair, having missed the cut for the fourth year in a row in The Open. As the hordes of supporters and well-wishers descend on the champion’s home town of Clara this evening , we can also reflect on what is probably the greatest gift of his sensational victory – we will never emulate Shane Lowry but somehow he makes us all think that we could if we really wanted to. As the great Merseyside songsmith wrote “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”
Shane Lowry is
about to tee off in the most important round of Golf in his life. The chance
for an Irish winner on Irish Soil of a Major comes around as regularly as
Halley’s Comet, but at the least the latter is almost guaranteed.
Lowry is an endearing, loveable character very much carved in the flat bog lands of Offaly. In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and this small County in the heart of the island of Ireland competed and won All-Ireland Senior Football & Hurling Championships. To utilise the oft used cliché, they punched way above their weight. The Offaly hurlers were renowned for an unconventional approach to training. When asked about their preparations for an important game, one of the Offaly Hurling stars is reputed to have replied – “We’re taking this match awful seriously. We’re now training twice a week and some of the lads are off the beer since Tuesday”.
The Offaly footballers caused the shock of the century when they prevented the great Kerry team completing a five in a row in 1982. They were a tough, uncompromising team but this simplistic view masks the fact that they had some of the greatest footballers of their generation in their ranks. Anyone lucky enough to have seen Matt Connor in his prime will acknowledge that they were looking on a rare talent. These Offaly teams were also very tight knit groups, bands of brothers, cousins, neighbours. You can’t think of those halcyon days of Offaly sport and not think of the Dooleys, the Whelehans, the Furlongs, the Troys, the Connors, the Darbys and of course the Lowrys.
Despite the perception of Offaly teams as unconventional, devil may care, take it or leave it lads there always was this steely side to them, allied with great skill of course. Offaly Hurling was always admired for its style and speed, its footballers for their athleticism. One could argue that these glory days were fuelled by the steady employment given by the ESB and Bord na Mona at times when the rest of the country were taking the mailboat. That the footballers and hurlers in particular are nowhere near the heights they reached in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s would seem to support this but nothing is ever as it seems.
The same could be said about Shane Lowry. Let’s face it he’s definitely no Gym bunny and he has that happy demeanour that the Aussies might describe as a ‘likeable larikin’. The New York times described him as “a bearded and bulky man with soft hands”. It is impossible not to like Shane Lowry – he is the “everyman” in the Irish sense, gregarious yet competitive, serious but self-deprecating, clever, composed, the sportsman strutting on the Global stage yet blending easily into the crowd at a hurling match in Thurles, just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. Joyce created the modern anti-hero in Stephen Dedalus and Lowry at times appears in the same mould. The great English Bard said “All the world’s a stage ….. and one man in his time plays many parts”. Today Lowry can play the super-hero and it will fit comfortably if it happens. It’s what the people want, there could hardly be a more popular champion.
It was a wonderful achievement getting The Open to this Island for the first time in almost 70 years. Many expected Rory McIllroy to be the star and the best bet to have a home winner. That expectation ran aground and sank on the very first day. Lowry though was also sensing this could be his best chance to win a Major. He has played some extraordinary Golf and has the lowest ever Open score after 54 holes. He has played himself into a wonderful position.
I once saw Sean Lowry, uncle of Shane when he had transferred from his native Offaly to play football for Mayo. Sean already had three all-Ireland medals in his back pocket but was very much in the twilight of his career. That wet day in Carrick-on-Shannon in 1985 Lowry lined out at full forward, his debut was the talk of the place. The crowd was giving him lots of abuse behind the town-goal but Lowry was in his element. The insults and barbs just bounced off him. The more the crowd tried to rise him the bigger he seemed to get and he could have carried them all on his broad shoulders. Today in Portrush all Irish men and women will be willing Shane on to victory and hopefully he too can feed off the crowd. Go on the Faithful.
I start the day with some lovely coffee courtesy of
our host. The troops are slow to get roused this morning but have slept well.
We catch the Tram at Andel and get off near the Charles Bridge (Karlov Most)
and walk across amidst the throngs. We really must do this crossing again at a
quieter time of day (or night).
First cultural stop is the Museum of Torture
and if anything proves that modern law enforcement is gone a bit ‘soft’ this is
it. We learn some interesting facts, such as, execution by garrotting stayed on
Spanish Statute Books in Spain until 1975! I read this on the wall in the
museum and haven’t bothered cross-checking that.
The torture tools have very romantic names – the ‘Virgin of Nurnberg’ was basically a sarcophagus with inward facing spikes, all mercifully positioned to avoid the victim’s vital organs – while simultaneously turning them into a human sieve. One recorded internee was inside this thing for three whole days. Another grape-like tool on display is called ‘The Spanish Tickler’, apparently it was useful in peeling skin off people who were unwilling to admit to doing stuff they probably never actually did. There was also the famous limb-pulling Rack and a medieval version of a water board. Most appear to have been reserved for witches and heretics. After this gruesome display we decided the only course was to repair, as quickly as possible, to the nearest Starbucks and once there we appreciated our iced macchiatos with new-found relish.
We wandered around the old quarter through its narrow
streets housing mostly kitschy souvenir shops and over-priced cafes. The Old
square is dominated by the Town Hall and it is a beautiful space if only it was
devoid of the plague of tourists inhabiting every square inch of it. The Town
Hall dates from 1338 making it one of the oldest still in use in the world. The
building has had many changes and expansions in the meantime and been lovingly
restored since its last significant damage in the Second World War.
One of the most common past times of the burghers of Prague
in medieval times was chucking people out windows. These events are better known
as the infamous ‘De-fenestrations of Prague’. Plural because there were
several. The first one occurred in 1419 when a group of reformists (later known
now as the Hussites) marched through the city towards the Town Hall. As
they were doing so some clown threw a stone from one of the upper windows of
the hall and struck the leader. Apoplectic
with rage (one of my favourite words that) the mob / rabble / angry crowd
stormed into the Hall. Harsh words were exchanged, and it appears things got even
more rowdy to the extent that somebody decided the only way of settling things was
to eject the Burgomaster and several members of the City Council by the nearest
exit. It should be pointed out that there not happening to be any elevators
invented yet, the nearest exit was in fact the windows of the main hall. The unfortunate
council members soon found themselves briefly airborne before coming to a shuddering
halt on the hard-cobbled street below. These violent actions started a long and
bitter conflict in Bohemia known as the ‘Hussite Wars’.
The next famous defenestration in Prague took place
almost two hundred years later at the Bohemian Chancellory. This time two
catholic lord regents and their secretary were thrown out a window by some irate
protestant nobles. The falling men survived the 70-foot fall. To their Catholic
supporters oy was a miraculous example of divine intervention. To the
Protestant chucker outs the intervention was believed to be a fortunately placed
dung heap. The event served to highlight the political & religious pressures
in central Europe at the time which would lead to the Thirty Years War, so
called because it lasted 30 years.
Back to the present – Huge crowds are gathered under
the famous astronomical clock awaiting the famous figurines to come out of hiding
on the hour. We walked a bit further into the newer areas around Wenceslas
Square before deciding that this was enough for today’s first cultural walkabout
and we got the underground from Mustek back to Andel. The metro system is impressive,
and transfers are easy to master. Tickets are relatively cheap at less than one
euro for an adult and half that for children for one 30-minute trip.
Cultural Tip – If you do happen to have a disagreement with a
Czech citizen please make sure to do so at ground level (highly unlikely I should
add – they are lovely people, really).
Afternoon session of great cultural learnings expedition
Klementinum is not some newly discovered mineral on
the periodic table. It is in fact a sprawling complex of buildings covering 2
hectares right in the centre of Prague. The place started as a Jesuit College before
becoming merged with the Charles University in 1654. The place is famous for
numerous reasons but the most interesting for me are the Observatory and the
Baroque Library. On a tour you are limited to a small group which is great and useful
as there are some very tight stairs to be manouvered later.
When it advertises a tour of the Library it is not exactly accurate. The Library is a UNESCO site and although still technically in use its not the type of library where you can borrow some books on Yoga & Mindfulness for a month. Many of the books here are first editions and hundreds of years old. The Vyšehrad Codex is also here – it is a Latin Coronation Gospel Book, considered the most important and most valuable manuscript kept in Bohemia. It was probably made to honour the coronation of the Czech King Vratislav II in 1085.
Now the Tour of the library is really only a glimpse into it. A door is opened and four or five of the Group are allowed into a cordoned off area for circa two minutes to savour one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. For Kultur Vultures this is the equivalent of Hamleys Toy Store on Regents Street for kids. The ceiling has amazing frescoes created by Jan Hiebl with the temple of knowledge at its centre symbolizing the raison d’etre of the library. The floor contains numerous globes and astronomical clocks including one map of the heavens. Two minutes is not enough to savour the grandeur and style of this place but hey on with the tour.
Next we all squeeze up (well I squeezed others just ascended gracefully) up into the Observatory Tower – the second part of the Tour. The Astronomical Tower has been here since 1722 and is adorned with a statue of Atlas holding the celestial orb. From the 1750’s the Tower began to be equipped with astronomical instruments. The penultimate floor has a meridian line passing through it which was used for determining the Prague High Noon – which was then announced to fellow Praguers by the waving of a red flag – cue lots of gentlemen removing pocket watches from waist coat pockets and nodding approvingly.
From the top floor balcony the panoramic views of the City are stunning. For €15 I would recommend this Tour for a brief glimpse of the amazing library and the awe inspiring city views from the top of the Tower.
It was too early to head back so I managed another quick visit to the mind curing Wallenstein Gardens. Got a few snaps of the Peacock as well.
We ended up eating noodles in Smichov washed down by thirst destroying homemade lemonade. Quick change and refresh at the Apartment before a final evening stroll. Regretting didn’t get some concert tickets – lots of choice earlier. So much to do, so little time … so Prague