A hateful son


Now that the Covid-19 media apocalypse is upon us here in Ireland I am taking a moment to think about the boy who gave us the name for next month.

The painting above is the Benjamin West 1795 “Death on a pale horse” which depicts the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, riding successively horses coloured white, red, black and pale.

In the ancient world disease killed more armies than battle, and was a constant companion of any assembled army.  Famine followed in the wake of every army as they stripped the land bare of food, like a plague of locusts.  Death of course is the bride of war.

So it is interesting to look at the parallels between the apocalyptic horsemen and the earlier Greco-Roman depictions of the Roman Mars (for whom we name March) and his Greek origination as the God Ares.

Homer, in the Illiad, quotes Zeus as calling Ares the god most hateful to him.  Such a thing to say to your own son!

The Greeks, for all their warlike tendencies, had a suspicion of unbridled passion.  They saw Eros (uncontrolled love) as a form of madness.  In Ares they saw the passion needed to succeed in battle, but they also saw the brutality.  Untamed aggression was achieved by letting slip the reins of mental discipline.

Like the later four horsemen Ares travelled in a gang of four.  Himself, the God of war, accompanied in his chariot by his two sons Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror) and his daughter/lover Enyo (Discord).  Indeed it was Enyo who started the Trojan war.  But that’s a different story.

Ares had four sure-footed, gold bridled, immortal horses who pulled his chariot; Aithon, Phlogios, Konabos and Phobos (same name as his son).

The Greeks saw Ares as a destabilising force, and saw war as a necessary evil, both to be avoided if possible.  Ares is often ridiculed or embarrased in Greek mythology.

Rome took a different line.  Rome placed Mars in the top 3 of their Gods.  The Romans viewed War as the means to Peace and they treated their god of war with reverence and dignity.  Instead of being incestuously linked to Discord like Ares the Roman Mars is married to Nerio, the Goddess of Valor.

So we can see that the four horsemen of the bible have more in common with the Greek god of war than they do with the Roman Mars.

And now back to the painting.  In a twist of fate it carries its own apocalyptic tale.  When the first American Academy of art burned down a volunteer fireman cut the painting from its frame and saved it from the conflagration.

Why read History?


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“, George Santayana.

Remember Northern Ireland?  Remember how the British tried to fight the terrorists?  Remember how they used “Peace Walls” to separate the Catholic and Protestant communities?  Remember how effective that was?

How in this world can a fool like Donald Trump pontificate about building walls and sending Muslims home and have anyone, anyone at all, listen to him seriously?  Like, seriously guys, what have you been reading?

Remember that fateful day when Ronald Reagan stood in West Berlin and said “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall”?

Hate begets hate.  Fear begets fear.  If you want to listen to someone say something useful I suggest you listen to the Dalai Lama.  We need to build bridges instead of walls.  We need to open doors instead of locking them and barring them.  We solve no problems or differences if we refuse to communicate.

Peace begins with mutual respect.  A taco truck on the corner is a good thing.  A falafel truck on the other corner is even better.  Instead of shutting down taco trucks in Texas wouldn’t it be better to open American diners in Aleppo?

Besides, Trump seems to hate America.  He keeps saying it is not great.  When exactly was it “better”?  What year would Donald Trump like to go back to?  Does he want to re-open the committee on un-American activities?  Does he want to re-introduce the Jim Crow laws?  Maybe he wants all women to return to the home and become good little housewives?

It just seems to me that Donald Trump is one of those people who cannot remember the past.



Gusto: by Brendan Kennelly
The Catholic bombed the Protestant’s home

The Protestant bombed the Catholic’s home

The Protestant castrated the Catholic

The Catholic castrated the Protestant

The Protestant set fire to the Catholic Recreation Centre

The Catholic set fire to the Protestant Recreation Centre

The Catholic cut the tail of the Protestant dog

The Protestant cut the tail of the Catholic dog

The Protestant hanged the Catholic

The Catholic hanged the Protestant

As they dangled like dolls from the freshly-painted

Protestant and Catholic gibbets

They held hands in mid-air and sang

With spiritual gusto, ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers!’

Fear as a motivator


The image above is taken from the Fritz Lang film “Metropolis” and represents the factory in the form of a demon eating up the lives of the workers.  Despite expressions from the likes of Jeff Bezos  that he wants “paid volunteers” working in Amazon the simple truth is that most people work because they have to.  Entrepreneurs may be doing what they love, but most employees work to pay the milk bill.  They will tell you they love working for you, because that’s what you want to hear.

At some level in every organisation fear exists as a motivator for work.  In simple terms if the employee does not work they will be fired.  The higher the likelihood of being fired the more productive workers are.  Private sector workers are more productive than public sector workers.  They take shorter breaks, less sick leave and work longer hours.  Short term contractors are more productive than permanent staff.  Let’s face it, fear works.

I had an interesting conversation with a young intern this week.  She looks forward to becoming a manager and being able to “boss staff around”.  This cracked me up.  I have  tried to boss staff around, in my youth.  It was a disaster.  Fear may work on the basis of institutional motivation, but it is a failure in the modern work environment at a personal level.  There may be some remote corners where bosses can shout at staff and get away with it, but they are few and far between.  In return all you get is lots of energy when you are visible and resentment as soon as you turn your back.

If you want to motivate people to throw themselves into their work you need to find ways to enrich and reward.  The time you see this plainest is when a staff member is in the departure lounge.  They have handed in their notice and are serving it out.  In that period, be it a week, a month, three months, you no longer control them with fear.  They will work because they want to, at the things that please them.  If you can get to a situation where the things that please them are also the things that you need to deliver then you are in a good place.

Staff in this situation are also the most honest staff in the business.  They no longer need to tell you what you want to hear.  They can tell you the truth.  As a boss these are the most valuable and revealing conversations you can have.  Don’t leave it until the last day, and hold a 30 minute “exit interview”.  Use that last week or month to uncover the truth of the day to day workings of your team.


Out of work; by Langston Hughes

I walked de streets till
de shoes wore off my feet.
I done walked de streets till
de shoes wore off my feet.
I was lookin’ for a job
so’s that I could eat.

I couldn’t find no job
so I went to the WPA.
Couldn’t find no job
so I went to the WPA.
WPA man told me:
you got to live here a year and a day.

A year and a day, Lawd,
in this great big lonesome town!
Year and a day
in this great big lonesome town!
I might starve for a year but
that extra day would get me down.

Did you ever try livin’
on two-bits minus two?
I say did you ever try livin’
on two-bits minus two?
Why don’t you try in, folks,
and see what it would do to you?

The Hope-Trust Foundation

Stage 1:  Trust V Mistrust


They feed me when I call,

They change me when I bawl,

They hold me when I cramp,

They quickly resolve crises

such as hunger, cold, wind and damp.

I trust these large things

To do what I want

When I want

How I want

For me


I shall be great.


They feed me when I hunger,

They change me when I need,

They hold me when they can,

They deal in time with annoyances,

Such as hunger, cold, damp and wind.

I trust these large things,

To stand beside me,

When I need,

A friend,

With me,


Life shall be great.


They do not feed this thing,

They leave it wet and cold,

They do not pick it up,

however hard it screams,

for food, for warmth, for gentle touch.

Trust no one,

Trust no thing,

Do not hope for things,

Do not hope,

Better to fear,

Don’t care,



D. Clancy, 2015

Tom Foolery


We have this bomb shelter in our garden.  It is a silly thing, built in the second world war out of concrete.  Who ever thought that County Tipperary would be a target for bombers?  But it is very hard to go back in time and understand the motivations of those who built it.  I guess it is a small indication of the very real fear that people felt during World War 2, even those in supposedly neutral countries like Ireland.

This bomb shelter floods every autumn when the water table rises, and remains flooded all winter, drying out only in late spring.  It is pretty much a useless endeavor.  The entrance is steep, claustrophobic, slippy, dark and clammy.  A perfect nightmare.

What I find funny is how it has lodged in the childhood memories of so many of my wife’s cousins.  The house has been a constant fixture in the folk memory of her Tipperary family.  As kids they were paraded out here on Sunday afternoons to visit their terrifying Aunt Babe.  Strapped into uncomfortable Sunday best they were expected to behave, to be seen and not heard.

When released from the parlor and set loose in the gardens they made for the Air Raid Shelter.  Boys dared each other to descend into this dark, damp and frightening hole.  So it became a rite of passage for them to dare the horror and emerge unscathed, proud and just that little more grown up.  Any of the male cousins I have met have asked if the air raid shelter is still there.  It looms large in their memory of the house.

In a small way it reminds me of the entrance to Dwimorberg and the men of Dunharrow.  I thought I should stick a sign on it saying;

The way is shut.

It was made by those who are Dead.

And the Dead keep it.

The way is shut.

Lament for Eorl the Young; by JRR Tolkien
Where now is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the deadwood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?