Darn Leprechauns

Never take mushrooms from a fairy ring.

Never take mushrooms from a fairy ring.

One of the things that really annoys me about living in Ireland is all the feckin’ fairy folk.  Anyone would think they owned the place the way they take over at times.  I nearly ran over a gang of them tonight on my bike.

They are contrary little gits.  If you cross them the wrong way they are liable to curse you something rotten.  It may sound funny but it’s no picnic to find maggots in your sandwich and thorns in your bed.  And those are the mild curses.

I knew a guy who fell asleep in the wrong ditch, and woke up ten years later.  He felt like a right eejit.  All his friends had grown up and left him behind.

I suppose they are good for the tourist trade, the Americans seem to like them.  Europeans are more wary.  They have bad experiences with Gnomes and such like over in France and Germany so they keep their distance.

The worst is around this time of year when they start gearing up for the St Patrick’s Festival.  The shower of heathens don’t even belong to the Catholic Church, and they have turned St Patrick’s Day into a festival of debauchery and drunkenness.  Still, they are some men for a party.  They go straight from fox hunting in January to Trooping in February, preparing for the big day out at the parade.  There was a five car collision on the M50 yesterday at dawn because some driver was rubbernecking at trooping Fairy Folk.

The Fairies ; by William Allingham

Up the airy mountain
Down the rushy glen,
We dare n’t go a-hunting,
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather.
Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home,
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.
High on the hill-top
The old King sits;
He is now so old and gray
He’s nigh lost his wits.
With a bridge of white mist
Columbkill he crosses,
On his stately journeys
From Slieveleague to Rosses;
Or going up with music,
On cold starry nights,
To sup with the Queen,
Of the gay Northern Lights.
They stole little Bridget
For seven years long;
When she came down again
Her friends were all gone.
They took her lightly back
Between the night and morrow;
They thought she was fast asleep,
But she was dead with sorrow.
They have kept her ever since
Deep within the lake,
On a bed of flag leaves,
Watching till she wake.
By the craggy hill-side,
Through the mosses bare,
They have planted thorn trees
For pleasure here and there.
Is any man so daring
As dig them up in spite?
He shall find the thornies set
In his bed at night.
Up the airy mountain
Down the rushy glen,
We dare n’t go a-hunting,
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather.

Enid Blython Summers

Five go mad in Dorset (Comedy Club Presents)


Here is a poem that neatly sums up how I spent most of my summers in Ireland in my teen years.

Cycling around North County Dublin and up to Cloherhead with my brothers Rory and Cormac.

Cycling to Aughavanagh in County Wicklow with all my brothers and sisters, a long trek that takes you through South Dublin to Kilmacanogue which is unpronounceable to the uninitiated , up the mountains to the Calary filling station at the Sugar Loaf, on to Roundwood, beyond Glendalough and deep into the Wicklow Mountains.

Touring Melifont, Slane, Monasterboice, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth with my cousin Stephen.

Cycling to Foulksrath Castle in Kilkenny and back through Wicklow on my own apart from a couple of companions along the way.

Cycling to Crossmolina in Mayo to meet John Dermody and then round Sligo where Yeats is buried, north to Donegal and out to Aranmore Island, though Derry on into Antrim with the Causeway coast, Belfast,Down and back to Dublin again on my own except for those I met on the journey.

Cycling from Dublin to Rossbeigh Strand in Kerry to meet my family who were camping down there.  Cheating by getting the train back.

All very Enid Blython stuff, good healthy outdoor exercise, piles of buttered toast, lashings of hot buttered scones and bottles of ice cold soda pop.  Only we called soda pop “minerals”.  All praise to An Oige and the Youth Hostel Association who were such an encouragement and support to the outdoor adventures of my youth.

Chrysalides; by Thomas Kinsella

Our last free summer we mooned about at odd hours
Pedalling slowly through country towns, stopping to eat
Chocolate and fruit, tracing our vagaries on the map.

At night we watched in the barn, to the lurch of melodeon music,
The crunching boots of countrymen — huge and weightless
As their shadows — twirling and leaping over the yellow concrete.

Sleeping too little or too much, we awoke at noon
And were received with womanly mockery into the kitchen,
Like calves poking our faces in with enormous hunger.

Daily we strapped our saddlebags and went to experience
A tolerance we shall never know again, confusing
For the last time, for example, the licit and the familiar.

Our instincts blurred with change; a strange wakefulness
Sapped our energies and dulled our slow-beating hearts
To the extremes of feeling; insensitive alike

To the unique succession of our youthful midnights,
When by a window ablaze softly with the virgin moon
Dry scones and jugs of milk awaited us in the dark,

Or to lasting horror: a wedding flight of ants
Spawning to its death, a mute perspiration
Glistening like drops of copper, agonized, in our path.

À la recherche du temps perdu*


Involuntary memory is the serendipitous recollection of past events through an unexpected stimulus.  In Proust’s novel* it is famously the eating of a Madeline dipped in tea which triggers the protagonist’s memory.

Current thinking on the structure of the brain is that it operates somewhat like a watershed.  Instead of rain falling on hills, carving a stream which becomes a river and flows to a meeting with the sea, we have a set of stimuli which react in the brain, following established links and connections to come to a certain conclusion.

When we have a particularly happy event, our levels of neurotransmitters are high.  Patterns are laid down by Dopamine, Seratonin and Norepinephrine in our brain.  These patterns are associated with a pleasurable experience (or sometimes with a traumatic one).

The patterns act like the watershed of a river.  A little rain falls on one side of a hill in County Cavan, and it will flow to the sea via the Shannon River.  With a small gust of wind that rain falls on the other side of the hill.  The water will enter Lough Erne and reach the sea at Sligo bay.  Once the watershed is established that rain can go nowhere else but down the established flow.

In the same way the smell of cookies in the oven may trigger memories of your grandmother.  A particular floor polish smell may bring back the memory of visiting your father at work.  A certain taste combination may open up a memory of a very special night of moonlight and romance.  One neurotransmitter sets off another and another in sequence until the memory is fully formed.

Involuntary memory is as good as it gets!

Sonnet XXX; by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

Self-inflicted death


Warning:  if you have suffered a bereavement by train, or a suicide in your family, don’t read any further.

So, last Friday I left work to get home for the weekend and ended up sitting for hours on the train.  I was about 4 hours late getting home.  And all because of a “fatality” on the line.  It got me thinking about how we choose to die.

Suicide is always an option for most of us.  But it can’t be an easy option.  How hard must it be to make that final push to meet the end: To leap off the cliff, to jump in front of the train, to pull the trigger, or kick over the stool?

People who suffer from depression would probably commit suicide if it just came along while you were sitting there moping around.  But suicide is an active act.  You have to decide to do something about it, make plans, and actually carry them out.  What are the impacts of this very final act?

There is the grief we leave behind.  Family and friends deprived of our presence, and always wondering if there was something they could have done or said to have made a difference in our lives, to have made us want to live on.  Parents, spouses, siblings and children left with a gaping hole in their lives, in their hearts.  Do suicides take their lives for purely personal reasons, or are there some who are making a statement?  “Look what you made me do!”  Those are pretty dreadful last words to close an argument.

Then there is the train driver involved in the collision, or the poor person who finds the body at the foot of the cliff, or dangling from the rafters.  Do those who take their lives also take account of the trauma they leave in the lives of others?

Are there those who want to go out with a bang, get on the front page, maybe take along some innocent bystanders?  What is the motivation of the “school shooter” who wants company on their journey into the great unknown?

Is a self-inflicted death a cowards way to escape from life, or a final act of bravery?

Send your answers to these questions on a postcard to “Great Philosophical Questions of Life, PO Box 42, The Great Beyond, Hereafter.”   The winner will receive a copy of both of our ever popular publications  “101 ways to kill yourself” and “Killing yourself better:  Second time around”.

If you find any of this material upsetting, and you would like to talk to someone try http://www.samaritans.org/

Finally, if after all of this you still find the need to throw yourself in front of a train, can I ask you to consider the East Coast line?  And if it simply MUST be the Dublin-Cork line, how about midday on a Wednesday?

Let me die a youngman’s death; by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death



Soloheadbeg is a small rural townland that lies between Limerick Junction Railway Station and Dundrum village in South Tipperary. On this day in 1919 it was the scene of an ambush.

Local constables James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell were the armed escort for a horse drawn cart containing a load of gelignite from Tipperary Military Barracks for blasting at Soloheadbeg Quarry.

A group of masked men of the IRA’s 3rd Tipperary Brigade, including Dan Breen, Sean Hogan, Seamus Robinson and Sean Treacy, sprang the ambush. The constables raised their rifles and were killed by the IRA men who took the rifles, ammunition and the load of gelignite.

The following day Martial Law was imposed and the British Government offered a reward of £1,000.  Wanted posters for Dan Breen were posted outside every police barracks in the country.

So began the Irish War of Independence.

The song below is evocative of the era.  It describes the plight of one of the IRA men who would not accept the Free State solution and chose to fight the Irish Civil War.  It is very popular with the Tipperary Hurlers, and my son learned to sing it in school in 5th class (age 11).

The Galtee Mountain Boy: by Patsy O’Halloran

I joined the flying column in nineteen and sixteen
In Cork with Seán Moylan, Tipperary with Dan Breen
I’m arrested by Free Staters and sentenced for to die
Farewell to Tipperary, said the Galtee Mountain Boy

We went across the valleys and over the hilltops green
Where we met with Dinny Lacey, Seán Hogan and Dan Breen
Seán Moylan and his gallant men, they kept the flag flyin’ high
Farewell to Tipperary, said the Galtee Mountain Boy

We trekked the Wicklow Mountains, we were rebels on the run
Though hunted night and morning, we were outlaws but free men
We roamed the Dublin Mountains when the sun was shining high
Farewell to Tipperary, said the Galtee Mountain Boy

Oh I’ll bid farewell to old Clonmel, I never more will see
And to the Galtee Mountains that oftimes sheltered me
The men who fought for their liberty — who died without a sigh
May their cause be ne’er forgotten said the Galtee Mountain Boy



The modern cult of the superhero is replete with the concept that every superhero has an arch nemesis.  Where the superhero represents good, the nemesis represents evil.  Lex Luthor to Superman, Green Goblin to Spiderman, Joker to Batman, Ming the Merciless to Flash Gordon.  Some go back even further, such as Loki to Thor.

The Nemesis is an important balancing concept.  Without the Nemesis the superhero would have too much power.  Indeed the superhero might seem like a god, and that is hubris.

In fact the concept of Nemesis arose with the very Greek sin of hubris.  Those who would dare to rival gods were brought rightfully back to earth by the spirit of divine retribution.  A remorseless goddess who deals out inescapable revenge.

Seen in this light we understand that the Lex Luthors of the world are not inherently evil.  Instead they are necessary to keep the world in balance.  If you want superheroes you have to have evil arch villains.

To Licinius Macer Calvus; by Catullus

Just yesterday, Licinius, at leisure,
we played around for hours with my tablets
writing erotic verse as we’d agreed to,
each of us taking turns at improvising
line after line in meter after meter,
adjuncts to wine & witty conversation.
And when I left you, I was so on fire
with all your brilliant & ironic humor
that after dinner I was still excited,
and sleep refused to touch my eyes with quiet.
In bed & totally unstrung by passion,
tossing in agony, I prayed for sunrise,
when I could be with you in conversation.
But when my limbs, exhausted by their labor,
lay on the bed in nearly fatal stillness,
I made this poem for you, my beloved,
so you could take the measure of my sorrow.
I beg you to be kind to my petition,
darling, for if you aren’t, if you’re cruel,
then Nemesis will turn on you in outrage.
Don’t rile her up, please—she’s a bitch, that

Open tuning


I am fiddling around with open guitar tuning at the moment.  Yesterday I tuned a guitar to an open E and messed around with it.  I want to try out a few options, especially open blues tunings, to see what fun I can have.

The open tuning suits some songs, but not many.  You have to suit the song to the key and it takes a bit of messing around.  So I was jumping through a lot of old songs yesterday.  The open E works great with Kinks songs such as “You’ve really got me” and “all day and all of the night”.

On a totally different tack, here are the lyrics of one of my favourite tongue in cheek comeallye’s.

McCafferty (or the Liverpool Recruit)

When I was eighteen years of age
Into the army I did engage
I left my home with a good intent
For to join the forty-second regiment

While I was posted on guard one day
Some soldiers’ children came out to play
From the officers’ quarters my captain came
And he ordered me for to take their names

I took one name instead of three
On neglect of duty they then charged me
I was confined to barracks with loss of pay
For doing my duty the opposite way

A loaded rifle I did prepare
For to shoot my captain in the barracks square
It was my captain I meant to kill
But I shot my colonel against my will

At Liverpool Assizes my trial I stood
And I held my courage as best I could
Then the old judge said, Now, McCafferty
Go prepare your soul for eternity

I had no father to take my part
No loving mother to break her heart
I had one friend and a girl was she
Who’d lay down her life for McCafferty

So come all you officers take advice from me
And go treat your men with some decency
For it’s only lies and a tyranny
That have made a murderer of McCafferty

The Cycle of Life


Took on a new contract last week, and found myself back to commuting on my bicycle.  January in Dublin is not the loveliest time of the year for spinning the pedals.  We are going through a cold and wet snap of weather with cold rain and hard sleet.

That aside, it is great to be back on the bike.  It gives me a great sense of freedom.  When you cycle to work you get a workout in the morning and the evening, so you don’t need to go to artificial environments like Gyms to get exercise.

It has been three years since I did a cycle commute and the break has robbed me of a lot of fitness.  The first two days were torture.  I thought I would have a heart attack.  It’s amazing how quickly you get out of condition if you are not taking regular vigorous exercise.

Today, Saturday, I can feel the pleasant sensation of hard muscles tightening in my thighs.  My cycle yesterday was a vast improvement on the first two days.  I begin to feel in control again.

Going Down Hill on a Bicycle: A Boy’s Song; by Henry Charles Beeching

With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.

Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:—
“O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.

“Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!”

Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
‘Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.

Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.

Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
Shall find wings waiting there.

Mindless racism

In the current emotional climate following the assassinations of French journalists in Charlie Hebdo it is worth pausing to examine the immediate response.  There is a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment washing over Europe and it is a good idea to separate the wheat from the chaff.  If nation states respond by targeting Muslim populations it would not be the first time in history that we aimed a sledgehammer at the wrong walnut.

Step back to the mid 14th century, when the black death was scourging Europe.  Christians noticed that the Jewish population had a lower infection rate and a higher survival rate.  Back in those days there was no appreciation of the importance of hygiene and quarantine amongst the Christians.  The fact that Jews lived apart in Ghettos and that they practiced better hygiene was lost on a population in panic.  Someone decided that it was a Jewish conspiracy and they were poisoning the wells.  On Jan 9th 2015 we can remember the Basel massacre, when the city fathers shackled 600 innocents in a barn and set it alight.  To add insult to injury any surviving children were forcibly converted to Christianity.  Basel was only one of many such massacres, which happened from Barcelona to Brussels.

In more recent times we Irish well remember what it was like to be an Irish person living in Britain in the 1970’s.  On the one hand you were bound to be a terrorist, a member of the IRA and a supporter of bank robberies, murders and bombings.  On the other hand you were an ignoramus from a sub-human culture who could not aspire to the intellectual heights attainable by solid English stock.  No wonder so many Irish people hid in plain sight by adopting English accents and avoiding “Irishness”.

Spare a thought for all the hard working, decent, innocent Muslims in Europe who are now looking over their backs in fear because yet another lunatic Islamist cell has done something atrocious. Just as the Provisional IRA never represented me or my interests, the Islamic State does not represent these people.

Decisions made in times of fear and panic can seem logical at the time, but in retrospect they frequently turn out to be really bad actions.  Spare a thought for the 600 Jews who died in Basel on this day in 1349 simply because they survived the Black Death.  Spare a thought for innocent Muslims, who are the greatest victims of Islamist terrorists.  Instead of discussing reactionary policy we should be discussing the roots of the problem and the potential for long term sustainable solutions.