Calumny and obloquy

RobertEmmetArmyGreen

Robert Emmet was born March 4th 1778, when Washington and his troops were wintering and drilling in Valley Forge.  He was 11 years old at the outbreak of the French Revolution.  At age 15 he entered Trinity College Dublin, where he became involved with politics and debating.  Expelled from Trinity at 19 years of age for his political activism he fled to Napoleon’s France.

A rebellion by the Irish under Wolfe-Tone failed in 1796 because a French fleet were denied a landing in Bantry Bay by gales.  A subsequent uprising in 1798 was doomed due to a vigorous counter insurgency program by the British in 1797, by coordination failures and by very limited support from the French, nothing on the scale of the Bantry Bay fleet.

Robert Emmet was a most unlikely rebel leader.  He was no Wolfe-Tone.  His rebellion in 1803 was poorly organised and had to be sparked early because of an explosion in one of his secret arms depots.  The rebellion that took place in Thomas Street, Dublin was described as more of a riot than a rebellion.  The rebels failed to take a weakly defended Dublin Castle.  When the rebels began to pike Dragoons in the streets Emmet was horrified and called off the rebellion.

He could have escaped then, but returned for his sweetheart Sarah Curran.  This endeared him to the “Doomed Romantic” zeitgeist of popular Victorian culture and Emmet was celebrated in verse, on stage and in opera.

To ensure conviction at trial the British bribed Emmet’s Barrister; Leonard McNally who cursed his family for seven generations when he took a traitors pension from the Crown.

For most Irish though, it is his speech from the dock that remains as his greatest legacy.  He may have been a terrible revolutionary but Robert Emmet could write a good speech.  The title of this post is from words in his speech, which have largely fallen out of modern usage.  Though words have changed the structure of speeches has not.  Emmet used his speech to undermine the legitimacy of British Rule in Ireland.  His call for his epitaph to be withheld became largely academic, as his body was lost.  His relatives feared to claim it after then hanging in case they were arrested.  It was subsequently misplaced, so now we don’t know where to place his epitaph!

The full text can be read here:  Emmet’s Speech from the dock

When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.”

Advertisements

Cold Comfort

Icicles

As we wait in this dry Siberian north-easterly airflow for the arrival of Storm Emma here are a couple of poems of cold comfort.

The plan, as I understand it, is for Emma to bring her warm wet Atlantic air from Portugal and feed it into the bitter dry draught from the East.

This will create snow.

A lot of snow they say.

So we were told to stay home today.

They could be invading the country, as we huddle by the fire.

But at least we will be warm.

 

Nineteen Thirty-Eight; by Charles Simic

People worried the world was about to end.
A fish believed to have been extinct for seventy million years
came up in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa.
I lay in my crib as the days got shorter and colder,
and the first heavy snow fell in the night.
Making everything very quiet in my room.
I believe I heard myself cry for a long, long time.

 

He Lit a Fire with Icicles; by Kay Ryan

For W.G. Sebald, 1944-2001

This was the work
of St. Sebolt, one
of his miracles:
he lit a fire with
icicles. He struck
them like a steel
to flint, did St.
Sebolt. It
makes sense
only at a certain
body heat. How
cold he had
to get to learn
that ice would
burn. How cold
he had to stay.
When he could
feel his feet
he had to
back away.

High water mark

Severus210AD

Septimus Severus died on this day, in Eboracum, Britannia, (modern York, England), in 211 AD.  Under his reign the Roman Empire attained its high water mark as he extended borders in Asia, Africa and in Britain.

Had he survived for just one more year the History of Britain could have been quite different.  In 210 AD Severus laid the foundations for the complete conquest of Caledonia. He repaired Hadrian’s Wall.  Then he moved north and carried out extensive repair work on the Antonine Wall and secured the Scottish Lowlands between Hadrian’s Wall and the central belt from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.

He then advanced up the east coast of Scotland, constructing forts along the way.  He advanced through modern Dundee, Aberdeen and around the Firth of Moray near Inverness.  The local clans refused to meet the legions and engaged in guerrilla tactics.  Even so it became clear by the winter of 210 that the Clans would have to make peace with these invaders, who seemed relentless.

How different would the history of Britain have been had Caledonia been romanised?  Clan structures, which endured to the rebellion of Bonny Prince Charles would have been replaced with a Roman administrative structure.

But Severus fell ill and withdrew south to Eboracum where he died.  The momentum of the campaign was lost.  His son, Caracalla, re-initiated the campaign, but within a short time sued for peace with the Caledonian tribes.  The Romans withdrew south of Hadrian’s wall and never again ranged north in conquest.

It would be nice, from a Celtic perspective, to depict this as a victory of Celtic passion over Roman organisation.  The truth though is that the Celts had the sense to steer clear of the legions.  They saw what happened in Britain.  So they withdrew to the mountains, woods and bogs.  They left the Romans to fight the cold, the wet, the relentless damp, the plagues of midges that rise on any sunny day.  Against these enemies the Romans had no defence.

 

Groundhog eve

Spring

Guess what just sprung?

Yes it is Feb 1st, Feast of Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility, or St Brigid if you are a Christian revisionist.  Celtic festival of Imbolc, thought to drive from “i mBolg” which means “in the belly” where all the spring lambs, calves and babies are.

Outside my window I hear a colt nickering in the field next door, full of the joys of the burgeoning summer.

Spring And All: by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital

under the surge of the blue

mottled clouds driven from the

northeast —

a cold wind. Beyond, the

waste of broad, muddy fields

brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

 

patches of standing water

the scattering of tall trees

 

All along the road the reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy

stuff of bushes and small trees

with dead, brown leaves under them

leafless vines —

 

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish

dazed spring approaches —

 

They enter the new world naked,

cold, uncertain of all

save that they enter. All about them

the cold, familiar wind —

 

Now the grass, tomorrow

the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined —

 

It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

 

But now the stark dignity of
entrance —

Still, the profound change

has come upon them: rooted they

grip down and begin to awaken

Happy Birthday John Gould Fletcher

 

MiniDriver

The Irish storm season is in full swing and gale follows gale follows Storm Eleanor across Ireland.  So it is fitting that today is John Gould Fletchers birthday, born on this day in 1886.  First Southern US poet to win the Pulitzer prize, he was a member of the british Imagist movement which rejected Victorian sentimentalism and harked back to the dispassion of what they considered to be classical values.

 

Tide of Storms : by John Gould Fletcher

Allegro con fuoco

Crooked, crawling tide with long wet fingers
clutching at the gritty beach in the roar and spurt of spray,
tide of gales, drunken tide, lava-burst of breakers,
black ships plunge upon you from sea to sea away.

Shattering tide, tide of winds, tide of the long still winter,
what matter though ships fail, men sink, there vanish glory?
War-clouds shall hurl their stinging sleet upon our last adventure,
night-winds shall brokenly whisper our bitter, tragic story.

 

How Green was my valley?

Aberfan_disaster,_October_1966

Last weekend we had ex-Hurricane Ophelia.  This weekend we are being battered by storm Brian.  The north Atlantic jet-stream is feeding us our annual diet of gales and storms to blow away the autumn leaves and cleanse the land for the winter ice.

It’s nothing new, for all the talk of climate change.  Perhaps we have made it worse, perhaps not.  Ireland experienced a stronger storm back in 1961 when Hurricane Debbie struck.

In 1966 it was relentless rain combined with unsafe practices of the National Coal Board (NCB) in Britain that resulted in the Aberfan disaster.

The NCB broke regulations when they placed a spoil tip from the coalmine on a hillside peppered with natural springs.  The tip then broke further regulations by being overused.  It should have been shut down but was not.  In Sept/Oct of 1966 South Wales experienced three weeks of almost relentless rain.  The combination of the rain from above and the springs below liquefied the spoil.

On the morning of Oct 21st, 1966 the children of Aberfan sat at their desks at 9am and were beginning the roll call.  It was the last school day before the mid-term break.  The coal tip slipped, liquefaction occurred and the wall of shale, stone and muck became slurry that flowed in a wave down the mountain.

The ‘dark glistening wave’ broke into the village of Aberfan and engulfed the school.  Half the students were killed.  Twenty eight adults and one hundred and sixteen children died.

The good news is that some of the senior managers in the NCB were promoted for their excellent handling of the PR side of the disaster.  They did trojan work supporting the future of Coal in Britain.  No employee of the NCB was ever disciplined for the breaches that caused the disaster.   Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone.”  Richard Llewellyn (1939)

Where was God? : by Ron Cook.

Where was God that fateful day
At the place called Aberfan.
When the world stood still and the mountain
Moved through the folly of mortal man.
In the morning hush so cold and stark
And grey skys overhead.
When the mountain moved its awesome mass
To leave generations of dead.
Where was God the people cried
Their features grim and bleak.
Somewhere on their knees in prayer
And many could not speak.
The silence so still like something unreal
Hung on the morning air.
And people muttered in whisper tones
Oh God this isn’t fair.
The utter waste of childhood dreams
Of hope and aspirations.
A bitter lesson to be learnt for future generations
But where was God the people cried.
The reason none could say
For when the mountain moved its awesome mass.
God looked the other way.

 

Eulogy for Ophelia

Ophelia.jpg

She came from warm southern waters and wasted our island with her wrath.  Then she flounced away to the north, leaving a trail of death and destruction in her wake.  We expected a lot of hot air, but she blew us away with her powerful delivery.  We cowered before her.  We quaked beneath her wrath and worshiped her as the modern day Morrigan.  She took three lives and passed on, her lust for death satiated.

 

Hamlet Act V Scene 1: A Churchyard

First Clown sings, as he digs a grave:

In youth, when I did love, did love,
Methought it was very sweet,
To contract, O, the time, for, ah, my behove,
O, methought, there was nothing meet.

But age, with his stealing steps,
Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
And hath shipped me intil the land,
As if I had never been such.

A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
For and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.

O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet.
One that was a woman, sir;
but, rest her soul, she’s dead.