View of beach near Gormanston Co.Meath from train window Photo: © Michael Fisher

View of beach near Gormanston Co.Meath from train window Photo: © Michael Fisher

It was a beautiful morning for a journey and no better way to travel than by train. A great opportunity to see the sunrise over the sea as the train passed along the coast just after Gormanston in County Meath. My thirteen hour odyssey began at Newry station in County Armagh (it’s closer to Bessbrook!) with the departure of the 06:45 Iarnród Eireann commuter train to Dublin Connolly, a train that goes as far as Bray. Try planning a journey to Dundalk on the Translink website and you won’t find this particular service. It picks up at various stops as far as Donabate, by which time it’s a case of standing room only, then runs non-stop to Connolly. On arrival the place was buzzing with the sound of music, including the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Miriam O'Callaghan prepares to go on air with The John Murray Show at Connolly Station Photo: © Michael Fisher

Miriam O’Callaghan prepares to go on air with The John Murray Show at Connolly Station Photo: © Michael Fisher

A great start to the Big Music Week at Connolly Station with an hour long John Murray Show presented by Miriam O’Callaghan. Among the crowd (some of whom had joined the music train at Bray) was RTÉ’s Director General Noel Curran. Although he comes from a county (Monaghan) where the railway lines were dismantled over fifty years ago, he still has a love of trains having made the journey many times between Dublin and Dundalk, where I was writing this as I headed back to Newry on the Enterprise.

RTÉ Director General Noel Curran at Connolly Station

RTÉ Director General Noel Curran at Connolly Station Photo: Michael Fisher

The hour-long show at Connolly finished with the Artane Boys Band. The BIG MUSIC WEEK entourage then boarded the special three-carriage Iarnród Éireann train to Newbridge for the next stage of the proceedings.

Entertained on the Music Train by the Bugle Babes Photo: RTÉ ten

Entertained on the Music Train by the Bugle Babes Photo: RTÉ ten

On board we were entertained by the Chattanooga Choo Choo from the Bugle Babes. Other stars  travelling included the Northern duo of Paul Brady from Strabane and Bronagh Gallagher from Derry, who made a special mention of Eamonn McCann when she sang Midnight Train to Georgia for Miriam, a broadcast that went out simultaneously on 2FM and Lyric FM.

Bronagh Gallagher on board the RTÉ Music Train Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bronagh Gallagher on board the RTÉ Music Train Photo: © Michael Fisher

Christy Moore joined the fun at the Patrician Seconday School at Newbridge in County Kildare. After a three hour stop that included a parade along the mmain street of the town led by the Army No.1 Band, it was time to head for the next stop in Carlow. More performances on the train and then in the station car park where Tullow native Selina O’ Leary was among the entertainers. After that the Music Train headed to Waterford for a concert at the Theatre Royal, a benefit gig in aid of Barnardos for whom collections were made along the way. The broadcast schedule for tomorrow, Tuesday 1st October, and other information can be found on the RTÉ Big Music Week (in association with Iarnród Eireann) website here.

9:30, 12:35 & 16:10 RTÉjr The Beo Show This Big Music Week join stage manager Donie and wardrobe lady Gerty Gúna  as they prepare the Beo Theatre for children from across the country Various
10:00 & 14:35 RTÉjr Hubble Hubble is going musical so watch and listen as Emma and Ogié discover a musical world full of fun and interesting sounds. Various
16:00 RTÉ Two elev8 Follow Diana Bunici’s progress as she picks up the guitar for the first time with the promise of a performance by the end of the week. Various
17:30 RTÉ Two Two Tube Throughout RTÉ Big Music Week Two Tube will be  on a quest to find the next big music act, as well as bringing great interviews from well-known Irish talent. Various
20:00 RTÉ Radio 1 The John Creedon Show For day two of RTÉ Big Music Week, John Creedon presents a live performance from Killarney’s INEC, featuring John Spillane, Ger Wolfe, Lumiere, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, I Draw Slow & others. John Spillane, Lumiere, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, I Draw Slow & others.


RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week at Dún Laoghaire Photo: IE website

RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week at Dún Laoghaire Photo: IE website/Maxwell

Starting on the DART service in Dublin tomorrow morning from Bray to Dublin, the fifth RTÉ Big Music Week will be on the rails from 7:45am. Commuters at Bray will be entertained on the platform by a number of well-known musicians including The Benzini Brothers featuring Liam Ó MaonlaÍ, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Peter O’Toole;  Luan Parle; Lisa O’Neill; The Lost Brothers and Eleanor McEvoy. Here is the advertisement currently running on RTÉ television:-

The musicians will then board a train to bring them to Connolly Station, where there will be more music live on the John Murray Show with Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1 from 9am. I hope to join the event there to cover it for my blog, travelling on the special train to Newbridge. From there it will be a case of “Follow Me up to Carlow”, where I will return Northwards to write my report and hopefully bring you some photographs.

The Big Music Week in association with Iarnród Éireann features the very best of home-grown musical talent by bringing live performance to audiences in Ireland and all over the world; on radio, on television, on line and on mobile with plenty of opportunity to catch-up on the latest action with RTÉ.ie, RTÉ Ten, RTÉ YouTube and @rte (not forgetting @fishbelfast) on twitter.

RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week at Dún Laoghaire Photo: Maxwell Photography

RTÉ presenters launch Big Music Week       Photo: Maxwell Photography

This year, the RTÉ Big Music Week Train, consisting of three carriages, will travel to some of Ireland’s best-loved venues and best-travelled stations, bringing performances from Kodaline, Paul Brady, Damien Dempsey, Christy Moore, Lumiere and Julie Feeney and much more to radio listeners across the island. The schedule for the Irish Rail special train is as follows:-

Monday 30th September – Dublin Connolly to Waterford

Stay on the train for the day, join in the music and fun as the train stops at Newbridge and Carlow and ends the day in Waterford.

Tuesday 1st October – Waterford to Killarney

Entertainment and Music on board all the way to Mallow.

Wednesday 2nd October – Killarney to Westport

Entertainment and music all the way plus a stop at Limerick Station to join in the fun at the 2Fm Ryan Tubridy Show onboard.

Thursday 3rd October – Marty in the Morning

Attend a live radio programme (breakfast included!) from Westport Station.

Friday 4th October – Boyle to Dublin Connolly

Final show in Maynooth with Ronan Collins at 12pm.

RTÉ’s Big Music Week will finish on a high note with an All-Star Charity Concert in aid of Barnardos. It will be presented by Kathryn Thomas and feature several headline acts and surprise guests. Finbarr Furey, the Irish chart topper who outsold Avici and Katy Perry after winning RTÉ’s The Hit with The Last Great Love Song, will perform his latest chart topper and other songs from his extensive repertoire. Also on the bill are Sharon Shannon and Paul Walsh from Royseven. Jerry Fish will perform his well-known song True Friends with The Lost Brothers. Other acts include Heathers, Scullion, Robbie Overson and Philip King.

The show will also feature a brand new song written by Brendan Graham, which will be performed by Eimear Quinn, Celine Byrne and others. The new song will be premiered on The Late Late Show on October 4th. Tickets are available now at Ticketmaster priced at €25, with all funds going to Barnardos.


Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada working on the land-art project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

Artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada working on the right eye of the project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

There has been a lot of talk recently about certain politicians in Northern Ireland drawing lines in the sand over the controversial Maze peace centre project. So it’s great to find an artist at work drawing lines in the sand quite literally as part of a “Wish” for Belfast which will be a major attraction for visitors to the Titanic Quarter next month.

A design for 'Wish' by Jorge-Rodriguez-Gerada Photo: Belfast Festival

A design for ‘Wish’ by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada     Photo: Belfast Festival

Internationally acclaimed Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada is working alongside volunteers and communities from all over the city to create a giant land-art portrait that will transform five acres of land in the Titanic Quarter. The unveiling of this work of art will open the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s on Thursday 17th October.

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada at his land-art project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada at his land-art project at Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

During a visit to the Titanic Centre at lunchtime, which I am glad to say was very busy with visitors, I happened to meet Jorge. He was taking a short break from the project to grab a sandwich. I was taking some photographs of the project for this blog. I had been watching him in action earlier from my vantage point in the upper floors of the Titanic building. The first picture shows him (on the right of the group of three)  working on what will be the right eye of the face (left in the second picture). The area of the eye can also be seen in the above picture.

Expectation by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada

Expectation by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada 2009

Rodriguez-Gerada has created poignant land-art portraits all over the world such as this sand painting of President Barack Obama he created in Barcelona in 2009 entitled Expectation. It embodied the immense sense of hope felt by Barack Obama’s supporters following his inauguration and raised a mirror to reflect the source of that hope.

Jorge told me his grandparents were Cuban and he lived there for a time. The biography on his website describes him as a founder of the New York Culture Jamming movement and an innovator in the international urban art scene. Since the late 90´s he has been replacing the faces of cultural icons chosen by advertisers with the faces of anonymous people to question the controls imposed on public space, the role models designated and the type of events that are guarded by the collective memory.

Rodríguez-Gerada´s unique direction was mentioned in Naomi Klein’s book No Logo and was a precursor of the use of anonymous portraits now common in street art. His spectacular interventions are created for the sake of bringing awareness to relevant social issues. His large scale time base works avoid negative impact on the environment, challenge the conformity in contemporary art and allow for a reflection that goes beyond the completion of the piece to focus in its concept, process, and the metaphor that comes forth because of the material chosen.

Bobcats at work spreading the topsoil Photo: © Michael Fisher

Bobcats at work spreading the topsoil Photo: © Michael Fisher

His latest piece represents his first land-art work in the UK or Ireland. The final piece will be created using sand, topsoil and other materials sourced solely from the land. Entitled ‘Wish’, the portrait of an anonymous local child gazing towards the future will represent a new face for Belfast on the old face of the city.

Wish is situated on 11 acres of land (about six times the size of the nearby Odyssey complex) and can be viewed by the public once the festival opens from high up in one of the adjacent buildings on specially escorted tours, as well by walking through the art itself. Visitors flying in and out of George Best Belfast City Airport will also get a bird’s eye view of this transformative contemporary art installation. Jorge tells me that for those taking off (usually heading away from Belfast Lough and towards the city centre), the seats on the right hand side of the plane will offer passengers the best views. I can’t say for sure how it will work out for those landing!

Lunch Break at the site Photo: © Michael Fisher

Lunch Break at the site Photo: © Michael Fisher

Public viewing from W5

At 30 minute intervals between the following times: Thurs 17th 12pm – 3pm Fri 18th 12pm – 3pm Sat 19th 11am – 4pm Sun 20th 1pm – 4pm Mon 21st – Fri 25th 12pm – 3pm Sat 26th 11am – 4pm Sun 27th 1pm – 4pm

If you would like to book a time to view Wish from W5, please click here.

Public viewing from Belfast Met

At 30 minute intervals between the following times: Thurs 17th 12pm – 4pm Fri 18th 12pm – 4pm Sat 19th 10am – 12pm Sun 20th 1pm – closed Mon 21st – Fri 25th 12pm – 4pm Sat 26th 10am – 12pm

If you would like to book a time to view Wish from Belfast Met, please click here.

Public viewing from Titanic Belfast (LIMITED AVAILABILITY) Sat 19 Oct: 11am / 12noon / 1pm / 2pm / 3pm Sun 20 Oct: 11am and 12noon Sat 26 Oct: 11am and 12noon Sun 27 Oct: 11am and 12noon

If you would like to book a time to view Wish from Titanic Belfast, please click here.

Looking towards Belfast Met and SS Nomadic Photo: © Michael Fisher

Looking towards Belfast Met and SS Nomadic Photo: © Michael Fisher


Jim White in the Daily Telegraph reports today (September 27th 2013) on the plan by AFC Wimbledon to return to the club’s spiritual home in the London Borough of Merton: 

Wimbledon FC Crest

Wimbledon FC Crest

“This week AFC Wimbledon began the process to build a new stadium. The fan-owned club, fourth in League Two, announced their intention to construct a new home on the site of Wimbledon’s greyhound stadium. What makes the plan particularly poignant for those who founded the club 10 years ago is that the new building will be just 250 yards down the road from the old Plough Lane ground where Wimbledon FC plied their trade for 79 years before they were notoriously sold into exile.

“Standing in this place, talking about building a stadium here is incredible,” says Eric Samuelson, AFC Wimbledon’s chief executive. “From where we came, now to go back and have an address at Plough Lane, there’s no other word: this is romantic. We are completing the circle. What a story this is.”

AFC Wimbledon Chief Executive Eric Samuelson Photo: © Michael Fisher

AFC Wimbledon Chief Executive Eric Samuelson Photo: © Michael Fisher

Not that romance is the first thing that springs to mind when surveying the site. Across the dishevelled car park from where Samuleson is speaking, a pop-up market is in place. Shouty traders are attempting to flog tired-looking office furniture from the back of transit vans. A row has broken out about the best position, and shouts echo across the scuffed tarmac.

The greyhound stadium itself, a fading hodgepodge of tumbledown stands, looks so unkempt, so flimsy, if the row gets any louder you fear the noise might open up cracks along its grubby side. Yet, while it might not look much, this is a place with huge emotional resonance for many thousands of Wimbledon fans who helped establish the country’s most successful football start up. Not least because it stands right in the heart of the community from which the club sprung.

“My wife always says to me when I can’t find something, go back to the place you last saw it,” says Samuelson. “That’s what we’ve done. This is where it all started.”

In many ways AFC’s story began the moment the old Wimbledon FC vacated Plough Lane in 1991. The club’s owners sold the ground for a development of flats. Unfortunately they had not secured a better place to go. So began 10 years of peripatetic ground-sharing which ultimately led to the decision to transfer the club to Milton Keynes, the theft that encouraged disgruntled fans to form AFC in 2002.

Which makes you wonder, if sourcing a site for a new stadium was what caused more than a decade of trauma, why did no one think of using the extensive spaces of the greyhound stadium next door before?  “They did,” says Samuleson. “I believe there was an attempt to groundshare with the dog track when they were still in Plough Lane. But it was never practical.”

What changed things was that the site was bought by developers Galliard Homes. They believed the best way to use what is a large, albeit shambolic area was to build a new sporting stadium in its core, fringed by a housing development. It went into partnership with AFC and has now submitted a report to the council to suggest the site be designated as ideal for this purpose.

If the independent inspectors agree and the council adopts the idea, the club will then apply for planning permission for an 11,000-seat stadium, with the potential to rise to 20,000. It will cost some £16 million.

“We’re a very prudent operation. We don’t want to put ourselves into hock. But we’re confident we can do it,” says Samuelson of the cost. The naming rights will be valuable, we’re putting in place foundations for a share ownership plan, we will make some money from the enabling development. Yes, we can do it.”

More than that, Samuelson believes they must do it. Not just because the club’s 4,100-capacity home in Kingston is too small to meet their ambitions. But because a return to Wimbledon is central to their founding ethos: after all it was the abrupt eviction from home that led them to be formed in the first place.

“About 18 months ago, we did extensive fan consultation about what should be our core aims,” he says. “The two biggest things that emerged were: one to stay in fan ownership; and secondly go back to Wimbledon.”

And though any redevelopment will inevitably lead to the end of dog racing on the site, AFC’s man insists that the new project will be of huge benefit to the local area.

“This will be a community asset, with dozens of things from street gyms to entertainment suites that people will want to use every day of the week. It will transform this part of the borough. It will make everyone proud. When we play another well-known fan-owned club in our first game in our new stadium, I’ll be fit to burst. Yes, it will be great to welcome Barcelona here.”

In the London borough of Merton, football is about to come home.”

AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow, Norbiton Photo: © Michael Fisher

AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow, Norbiton Photo: © Michael Fisher

However Dublin businessman Paschal Taggart has a different vision for the dilapidated greyhound stadium. He knows how significant the greyhound industry is, particularly in Ireland and has been lobbying greyhound breeders and trainers for support for his vision for a 21st Century dog track and a modern Wimbledon Stadium with many of the same community facilities such as a gym that Eric Samuelson speaks about.

Mr Taggart gave an interview last weekend to Philip Connolly of the Sunday Business Post, based in Dublin, another very influential newspaper. It has reported extensively about the state-owned (Irish) National Asset Management Agency, which effectively has the major say in the future of the Plough Lane site. So I am reprinting Mr Taggart’s comments here.

“Irish businessman Paschal Taggart’s bid to develop a €37 million greyhound racing stadium, on a site in London effectively owned by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), has been put under pressure from a rival bid by AFC Wimbledon. AFC Wimbledon last week submitted an outline of its plans to develop a stadium at Plough Lane, as the club seeks to return to its traditional home. Nama holds the debt on Plough Lane, which is currently occupied by a greyhound racing stadium.

Taggart, a former chairman of Bord na gCon, the greyhound racing board, remains confident that his plan to redevelop the site and build a new greyhound stadium with a capacity for 6,000 spectators is the most viable.

“I don’t see us being beaten, but that could be famous last words,” Taggart told The Sunday Business Post. “It will always come down to the best bid, and we intent to submit the best one.”

Taggart, who chaired Bord na gCon from 2000 to 2006, submitted plans to Merton Council for the €37 million track at Plough Lane, but since expressed concern about his bid to retain a greyhound racing stadium in Wimbledon.

In a letter to newspapers earlier this summer, Taggart expressed his concern over the support behind the return of AFC Wimbledon to the Plough Lane area, but less obvious support behind the greyhound stadium and the plans that go with it.

AFC are working with Galliard Homes, which also wants to develop housing on the site, to win approval for an 11,000-seater football stadium. According to Taggart, a lease deal struck earlier this year between Nama and Galliard Homes has no effect on his plan and he has not given up on his bid for the stadium.

The council and local mayor’s office could decide the fate of the site early next year, which could result in Nama selling the site shortly afterward. Taggart has indicated his willingness to buy the site from Nama at market value.

The old Wimbledon Dons moved away from Plough Lane before the start of the 1991-92 season to share the Selhurst Park ground with Crystal Palace, before relocating to Milton Keynes in 2003 – a controversial move which took the team from London, where they had been based since their foundation in 1889, to Milton Keynes, about 90 kilometres from their original home. They were also renamed MK Dons, much to the anger of most of their original supporter, who formed AFC Wimbledon in 2002 as a “phoenix club” protest. AFC began in the ninth tier of English football, but are now only one division below MK Dons.”  (Sunday Business Post, Sunday 22nd September 2013)




Martin O'Hagan at Belfast May Day March: Photo © Kevin Cooper

Martin O’Hagan at a Belfast May Day March: Photo © Kevin Cooper

The National Union of Journalists has given a guarded welcome to the announcement that the police handling of the murder of Sunday World journalist and Belfast and District Branch member Martin O’Hagan is to be reviewed by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman. The union says the circumstances, which have led to the review, are “deeply disturbing” and highlight major defects in the original investigation and are cause for public concern.

Martin O’Hagan, a leading NUJ activist, was murdered in 2OO1. No one has been convicted of the murder. The Public Prosecution Service announced that it is not in a position to review the prison sentence handed down to so-called supergrass Neil Hyde. He had received a lenient prison sentence in return for co-operation with the RUC/PSNI investigation into the murder of the former Secretary of the NUJ Belfast and District Branch.  nujlogo_burgundy

NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley said:-

The announcement that the Director of Public Prosecutions has referred the investigation to the Police Ombudsman is a depressing reminder of the failure of the police to investigate properly and impartially the murder of Martin O’Hagan. A deal was done with Neil Hyde and he received a three years prison sentence in February 2012 for a range of offences. The judge made it clear that he would have received an 18 years sentence if he had not agreed to identify those involved. It subsequently emerged that his uncorroborated evidence was not sufficient to secure the conviction of suspects. The PPS now says there is no basis to refer Hyde’s sentence back to the court. The 75 per cent reduction in his sentence for his co-operation under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005) will not be reversed and we are still waiting for justice. The director of the PPS is referring the investigation under section 55 of the Police (NI) Act 1998. We would give this development a guarded welcome but do not believe the Ombudsman is capable of delivering the justice which Martin, his family, his co-workers and his union colleagues have been demanding since his brutal murder.” PPSNI

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed that it is no longer in a position to ask the court to review the sentence it imposed on Neil Hyde for his involvement in the murder of Martin O’Hagan and other offences. In a statement (Wednesday 25th September 2013) it said that based on the initial evidence, the specified prosecutor in this case had concluded that the assisting offender had knowingly breached his agreement under section 73 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and that it was in the interest of justice that the case should be referred back to the original sentencing court.

However, following further examination of the evidence previously made available by police, extensive police enquiries and PPS consultation with the relevant witness, it is considered that the evidence which is now available is not sufficient to establish a breach of the agreement by Neil Hyde to the requisite standard. Accordingly there is no longer a basis to refer the matter to the court.

The court has therefore been informed that the PPS no longer seeks the review of the sentence. The Director (of Public Prosecutions) now intends to exercise his power under section 55 (4A) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 to refer the matter to the Police Ombudsman for investigation.

This story was covered in various media outlets, including RTÉ News, BBC News Northern Ireland, UTV News, by Gerry Moriarty in The Irish Times, Lurgan Mail by Carmel Robinson, News Letter, Belfast Telegraph and by Roy Greenslade in his blog in The Guardian.


New ICTU Mural Belfast complementing statue of Jim Larkin Photo: © Michael Fisher

New ICTU Mural Belfast complementing statue of Jim Larkin Photo: © Michael Fisher

This was an important occasion for trade unionists in Belfast. The unveiling by the ICTU President John Douglas of a new mural complementing the statue of Jim Larkin at the ICTU (NI) office at Donegall Street Place. The Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir attended the ceremony. The work was commissioned from well-known Belfast muralists Danny Devanny and Mark Ervine. It depicts banners, signs and logos of the constituent unions, including the National Union of Journalists.

Michael Fisher (NUJ), Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, ICTU President John Douglas, John O'Farrell ICTU Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Michael Fisher (NUJ), Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, ICTU President John Douglas, John O’Farrell ICTU Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

I represented the NUJ at the unveiling in my capacity as Chair of the Northern Ireland sub-committee of the Irish Executive Council. The artwork tells the story of organised labour from the Dockers’ and Carters’ Strike of 1907 and the struggle of women in the factories and mills, up to the current campaigns against austerity and for social justice.

Mural detail with NUJ logo beside BECTU and RMT Photo: ©  Michael Fisher

Mural detail with NUJ logo beside BECTU and RMT Photo: © Michael Fisher

Afterwards the proceedings moved to the nearby John Hewitt Bar. The Lord Mayor unveiled an item of particular significance for the Belfast Trades Council. It is a bell and commemorative plaque which were presented to Samuel Munro in 1893 when he was President of the Council.

TUC 1893 Congress Belfast

TUC 1893 Congress Belfast

The same year the former Northern Whig employee who came from Lurgan in County Armagh and represented the Typographical Association was elected as President of the Trades Union Congress then encompassing Ireland and Britain. On September 4th to 9th 1893 the TUC held their 26th annual Congress over six days at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. At the time there were 380 delegates from 226 unions, representing 900,000 members.

The Chair of NIC-ICTU Pamela Dooley gave a short speech followed by remarks from Paddy Mackel, Secretary of the present Belfast Trades Council which Munro had led. The story of this committed trade unionist who rose through the ranks and held the top post in the TUC was related splendidly by Francis Devine of the Irish Labour History Society, who finished with a poem he wrote himself in honour of Munro. He explained how Munro came from the old craft section of the trade union movement and was conservative and cautious by character. “Defence not defiance” was his way of operating.

Munro’s address to the TUC on the second day of Congress (September 5th 1893) was illuminating, according to Devine, and demonstrated radical foresight, with demands that were very advanced for their time for the organisation of women, factory reform and protective legislation, labour representation and temperance.

Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir & Brian Bingham at unveiling of bell at John Hewitt Bar Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Belfast Lord Mayor Cllr Máirtín Ó Muilleoir & Brian Bingham at unveiling of bell at John Hewitt Bar Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

It was a shade ironic therefore that the memento of Munro should now be displayed in a pub! Brian Bingham from Belfast was present, a friend of Munro’s last known relative, his granddaughter, who lives in London and who presented the bell to the ICTU.


Mary O'Rourke at the William Carleton summer school Photo: © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Rourke at the William Carleton summer school Photo: © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Rourke’s speech in August at the William Carleton summer school in Clogher, County Tyrone, made headlines when she proposed a coalition between her party Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She also gave an interview to Lise Hand of the Irish Independent. This is her speech which can now be viewed on youtube in three short sections of about six minutes each. Her main proposal can be found in Part 3, “To think the unthinkable”.

(I was very pleased to accept Michael Fisher’s invitation to come here today to Clogher and to talk on the theme “How Differences Can Be Accommodated”.  I appreciate that the theme and the speakers to it will be mostly reviewing the Northern Ireland situation.  I have chosen to talk about my own mixed political background to the theme of the Summer School.)

Mary O'Rourke at the William Carleton summer school, Clogher Photo: © Michael Fisher

Mary O’Rourke at the William Carleton summer school Photo: © Michael Fisher

PART 1 Family History: to watch the video click here

“I talk in my book “Just Mary” of my parents’ mixed political backgrounds. Not many people know that: until I put it in my book. My father was from Kilfenora County Clare where his father was of the very…a great follower of the old Irish Party and in time a follower of Michael Collins. My father, the young boy, imbued that from him. And indeed my cousin is here today Dr Dudley Edwards through my father’s mother late lamented and early lamented. But he was imbued with that kind of politics. He went off the UCG (University College Galway), where he met my mother and she was Ann Stanton from Drumcliff, County Sligo. Now she mixed and she was from a strongly republican background. Indeed my grandmother, her mother, was left with a clutch of six children when her husband was brought over to her mortally wounded, on the door of a pub at a local skirmish in Sligo and he died three or four days later and she was left…I think it was the era of no great big social welfare or anything like that…she was left with a clutch of children to bring up and to educate and they had twelve acres of land (of not great land) at the foot of Benbulbin. Now she was very lucky. She had a cousin who was very central in the nuns’ community in the Ursulines in Sligo and she took each one of the girls one by one and educated them, brought them into school, clothed them, fed them, made them boarders and they got (a) powerful education, so much so that three of them got scholarships directly to university out of the Ursulines in Sligo. So I went back there some time ago to look at the records and I was amazed. They have a wonderful woman there an elderly nun who’s looking after all of that. But she had it beautifully collated and ready for me and I thought to myself I don’t learn from a background like that what my mother was: it was a great feat to get to college and to do her BA and all of that. But along the way anyway she met my father Patrick Joseph Lenihan from Kilfenora County Clare. And when they met their different…their varied political background went out the window because love came in. And once it did, that was that. They fell for one another very heavily and they decided that they would get married. And going back to my grandmother she was so republican, instead of minding her business when she was herand knowing that she should be going careful she made her a safe house I heard one of the other speakers talk about the term “a safe house” she made the same house of her little farmhouse and everyone who was on the run or who was in trouble or whatever was welcome there. I’ve often thought of her spirit: instead of saying to herself ‘how am I going to manage now? I’ve no money and I’ve to manage and do she went out and she and in fact one of her sons Roger  Roger Gandon who was the boy soldier on the mountain in the skirmish when there were six of them taken Michael McDowell”s uncle, Eoin MacNeill’s son, Brian (MacNeill). He was the one who alerted that they were coming for them. The bodies were brought down and my mother   and the bodies were laid out…the six bodies…as they are called now Noblel Six. So that was the background of my mother and as I say the background of my father. My father fought in the Free State Army     He fought in Athenry when he was a student then after that he fought in many other skirmishes of that war. We were always conscious growing up my two brothers and my sister we were always conscious of our mixed political background. But when my father first went…Sean Lemass was the Minister in the Fianna Fáil government…had met my father in the old civil service and ike thought well he’s a good guy and he sent him to Athlone to set up an enterprise called General Textiles Limited. It was an embryonic cotton factory. There were about five or six of them set up around Ireland at the time to give employment state investment  but it was a time for that and he sent him to Athlone. And he came home and said to my mother one day “Pack your traps Annie we’re going to Athlone!”   Now she was glad she was halfway to Sligo and he was halfway to Clare I suppose. They came to Athlone with three children and I was…my mother was pregnant with me, so I’m the only Athlone person out of that clutch of people. But when the local elections came in 1943 in Athlone town my father went as a Ratepayers’ Association candidate. It was another title for Fine Gael so he was (true to his) roots and he went on that occasion as a Ratepayers’ Association and he had poll. Now later on Sean Lemass got at him: ‘Hey, I didn’t send you to Athlone  to be running Fine Gael’ but he went for Fianna Fáil and in time he became Mr Fianna Fáil Athlone. In 1965 he went for the Dáil and got in and for five short years. He died in 1970.”

Frank Brennan introduced Mary O'Rourke Photo: © Michael Fisher

Frank Brennan introduced Mary O’Rourke Photo: © Michael Fisher

PART 2 Brian Lenihan’s speech at Beal na mBláth 2010: to watch the video click here

“So you say why am I telling you all this? Fast forward to Sunday, the 22nd August 2010 in County Cork when Brian Lenihan, the then Minister for Finance, spoke at the Annual Commemoration of the life and legacy of Michael Collins. Brian Lenihan was greatly honoured to havend  August 2010 in  Béal  na mBláth received this “quite unexpected offer from the Collins Family and the Commemoration Committee” and he expressed so publicly on that occasion. I have spoken to Dermot Collins since then, who initiated the invitation to Brian and he was quite emphatic that he and the Committee were unanimous in wanting Brian Lenihan to have this privilege.

I went to Béal na mBláth on that occasion with two friends from Athlone and will always be glad that I did so as I have the eternal memory of Brian standing clear and tall and confident but humble as he spoke at that hallowed spot.  I quote directly now from his Speech:

“The differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael today are no longer defined by the Civil War nor have they been for many years.  It would be absurd if they were. This period of our history is  graadually moving out of living memory. We ask and expect those in Northern Ireland to live and work together despite the carnage and grief of a much more recent and much more protracted conflict. Nevertheless, keen competition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael remains as I am very aware every time I stand up in the Dáil but the power of symbolism cannot be denied, all the more so as we move towards the centenaries of the Easter Rising and all that follows. If today’s commemoration can be seen as a further public act of historical reconciliation, at one of Irish history’s sacred places, then I will be proud to have played my part”.

Brian went on to say in his talk that he had taken:

a particular interest in Michael Collins’ work as Minister for Finance between 1919 and 1922.   In a meeting room in the Department of Finance, where I have spent many hours over the last two years, hang pictures of all previous Ministers.  They are in sequence.   Eoin Mac Néill’s portrait is the first because he was actually the first to own that office in the first Dáil though he served for less than ten weeks.  The picture of Collins is placed second and regularly catches my eye.   He is the youngest and I dare say, the best-looking, of us all”.

Brian went on to say “there is no substantive connection between the economic and financial position we come from today and the totally different challenges faced by Collins and his contemporaries. But as I look at those pictures of my predecessors on the wall in my meeting room, I recognise that many of them, from Collins through to Ray MacSharry, had in their time to deal with immense if different difficulties.  I am comforted by what their stories tell me about the essential resilience of our country, of our political and administrative system and above all of the Irish people.

That is why I am convinced that we have the ability to work through and to overcome our present difficulties, great though the scale of the challenges may be, and devastating though the effects of the crisis have been on the lives of so many of our citizens.” Brian’s closing lines on that memorable day in Béal na mBláth were ‘the spirit of Collins is the spirit of our Nation and it must continue to inspire all of us in public life, irrespective of Party or tradition’.”

Frank Brennan with Mary O'Rourke & Mary Kenny Photo: © Michael Fisher

Frank Brennan with Mary O’Rourke & Mary Kenny Photo: © Michael Fisher

PART 3 Time to Think the Unthinkable: to watch the video click here

“Well here we are now in 2013 and here I am too, somebody who was in successive general elections elected on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and proudly representing my constituency of Longford/Westmeath. And yet and yet and yet surely it is not too fanciful for me to put forward today as the theme, my theme, for this Summer School that it is time that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would bridge the political divide between them and give serious thought to coming together in a political coalition come the next General Election. I know quite well that there are plenty who will dismiss my reflections here today as ‘Summer School Speak’ or even the wild rantings of somebody who has left the political system. No, no, no, there are no wild rantings. It is very easy to dismiss my thoughts in that cavalier fashion. We, as a people, have long forgotten that the bone of contention between us as Parties since the Civil War is the Treaty signed in London in those far off days. I put the thought out there conscious that I can do so coming, as I do, from a lifetime of observing the tribal political theatre that is Dáil Éireann – coming, as I am, from someone who has reflected in historical terms long and hard on the thoughts I am putting forward today and coming as I am from a mixed political background. We are in the end the products of our background. And though growing up we knew all that about my mother and my father, it didn’t somehow come in on us. It didn’t kind of weigh upon us, but yet, of course, it had a bearing.

I was inspired to do so by the generous thoughts and reflections in the speech Brian Lenihan made in Béal na mBláth.  It is, to my mind, one of the most generous non-tribal speeches ever made by anyone in either Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour. But I am most of all inspired by what has been able to be done in Northern Ireland, of the differences which have been overcome and  accommodated. Is it not time to bury the totem poles and fly the common flag of Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera? I quote finally from the last sentence of Brian Lenihan’s speech:

But even if we can never know how the relationship between Collins and de Valera might have evolved, surely now we have the maturity to see that in their very different styles, both made huge contributions to the creation and development of our State. Neither was without flaws but each had great strengths. Each was, at different periods, prepared to operate with the constraints of the realities facing him without losing sight of his greater vision of a free, prosperous, distinctive (and dare I say it here in Clogher: some time) united Ireland.”

Is it not time now in this year of 2013 to note the similarities and to forgo the differences?   Is it not time for us to think the unthinkable – to allow our minds to range over the possibilities which could emerge from the voices of the electorate in two to three years’ time. It is enough that the mind is engaged and that is all I ask for. To engage the mind on this possibility and to reflect on the courage and vision of those who have gone before us.

Now I don’t usually…very rarely…do I actually speak from scripts. I like to talk naturally. But I did feel that this was an important occasion. I did feel that the theme and the principle of what I had to say was very important, so that’s why I actually sat down with Brian’s script there (left hand side) and my own black pencil (right hand) and I thought and wrote and thought  and wrote. And I hope you…I am sure you will accept it in the way in which I have prepared it and that

A little funny interlude to us all. I forgot to say that when I started to make my way in politics..

and I used to say ‘And what about my mother? Is she not important’

Women in politics…no no…they’re not top dog.

So that used to be the taunt I would get. You’re not really Fianna Faíl…..But of course we are…

and if you ask me something I will be delighted to answer and thank you for listening closely to me. Thank you”.


Example of High Speed Rail Track Photo:

Example of High Speed Rail Track Photo:

Earlier this month I wrote about the British government’s plans for a new HS2 high speed rail service in England. The first stretch would be between London Euston and Birmingham. Future development by 2033 would provide for two branches, one heading towards Manchester, the other an East Midlands hub through Nottingham to Leeds. The trains would operate at speeds up to 250mph. The estimated cost is £42.6 billion. Consultation on phase two began in July and is open for submissions until the end of January 2014.

HS2 Route through Parliamentary Constituencies: BBC News

HS2 Route through Parliamentary Constituencies: BBC News

So is all this just a dream? It is apparent from this map produced by BBC News that the routes go through constituencies mainly represented by Conservative MPs, particularly in areas such as Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Political pressure is mounting on some of these Conservative MPs, who have indicated they might vote against the government’s bill when it reaches Parliament, including former Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan, Andrea Leadsom and Dan Byles.

Ed Balls MP (Labour Party)

Ed Balls MP (Labour Party)

Now BBC News reports that with so many Tory MPs opposed to the plan, it might need the support of Labour. After today, that cannot be guaranteed, according to Political Editor Nick Robinson. This is because Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls told the Labour Party conference in Brighton although the party still backed the idea of a new north-south rail link, it would cancel it if costs rise:-

Conference, we support investment in better transport links for the future. And we continue to back the idea of a new North-South rail link. But under this government the High Speed 2 project has been totally mismanaged and the costs have shot up to £50 billion. David Cameron and George Osborne have made clear they will go full steam ahead with this project – no matter how much the costs spiral up and up. They seem willing to put their own pride and vanity above best value for money for the taxpayer. Labour will not take this irresponsible approach. So let me be clear, in tough times – when there is less money around and a big deficit to get down – there will be no blank cheque from me as a Labour Chancellor for this project or for any project. Because the question is – not just whether a new High Speed line is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether it is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country. And Conference, in tough times it’s even more important that all our policies and commitments are properly costed and funded.”

Supporters say the project will provide much needed extra rail capacity. The Labour leader of Manchester City Council criticised his party for raising doubts about its viability, accusing Mr Balls of a “cheap shot”. Sir Richard Leese said the high-speed line was “essential” to prevent the North and Midlands “slowly grinding to a halt”. “There are better ways for the shadow chancellor to demonstrate fiscal responsibility than take a cheap shot at HS2,” he added.

Earlier another of Labour’s frontbench team, shadow treasury chief secretary Rachel Reeves, said the party would cancel it “if we don’t think it’s good value for money and costs continue to rise”. The estimated cost of the plan has risen in the past few months from £34.2bn to £42.6bn – plus £7.5bn for rolling stock – and some senior Labour figures such as Lord Mandelson and Alistair Darling now oppose the project.

The Stop the HS2 campaign said Mr Balls was “dead right”, adding that it was “only the vanity of politicians which is keeping this white elephant on life support”.

Bob Crow RMT General Secretary Photo: RMT

Bob Crow RMT General Secretary Photo: RMT

But the RMT union general secretary Bob Crow said ditching HS2 would set back for a decade the modernisation of the railways. “Britain is already in the slow lane when it comes to the railways and RMT will fight any plans by Ed Balls and the political class to leave us stuck there,” he said.

A Department for Transport spokesman said HS2 was right for the future of the country and had the support of civic leaders across the North and Midlands. “HS2 will free up vital space on our railways for passengers and freight, generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and deliver better connections between our towns and cities,” a spokesman said.

While a “tight lid” must be kept on costs, the CBI urged politicians to focus on the big picture. “HS2 will connect eight of our 10 biggest cities, boost regeneration projects across the country for years to come, and will avert a looming capacity crunch on the West Coast Main Line,” it said.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said it was a big shift in Labour’s stance. It meant the party would not commit to cancelling HS2 before the election, but would review it if they won. He said Labour would look at whether it was the best way to spend £50bn, or whether they should look at other options, like different routes or big improvements to existing lines.


Leinster Regiment Memorial in Birr Photo: © Ray Hayden

Leinster Regiment Memorial in Birr Photo: © Ray Hayden

Having written yesterday about the Menin Gate I am continuing the theme of the involvement of the British Army in the First World War. Courtesy of Ray Hayden who was honouring the memory of relatives, I am publishing these pictures from the ecumenical service in County Offaly where a new memorial was unveiled to the members of the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians) based at the former Crinkill Barracks near Birr.

Irish & British Army veterans on parade at Crinkill Photo: © Ray Hayden

Irish & British Army veterans on parade at Crinkill Photo: © Ray Hayden

The regiment was formed in 1881 and their depot was based at Crinkill barracks. The Leinsters occupied one square of the barracks whilst the second square was occupied by visiting regiments. The average length of stay was one year. During the first world war recruitment in Birr resulted in a constant flow of recruits from the surrounding area for the first eighteen months. After that there was a steady decline. Nearly 6.000 men in total were recruited. In 1917 an aerodrome was built on the 14 acres site and three planes were kept there.

Irish & British Army veterans on parade at Crinkill Photo: © Ray Hayden

Irish & British Army veterans on parade at Crinkill Photo: © Ray Hayden

Leinster Regiment Cap Badge

Leinster Regiment Cap Badge

The Regiment raised seven battalions for service with the British Army during World War I, which saw action on the Western Front and in the Middle East. The 1st Battalion served with the 27th Division and the 10th (Irish) Division. The 2nd Battalion with the 6th Division, 24th Division, 16th (Irish) Division and the 29th Division. The 6th Battalion served with the 10th (Irish) Division, 14th (Light) Division, 34th Division and 66th Division. The 7th Battalion with the 16th (Irish) Division.

Leinster Regiment soldiers prepare to set off for WWI Archive Photo via Ray Hayden ©

Leinster Regiment soldiers prepare to set off for WWI Archive Photo via Ray Hayden ©

The Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in December 1921 and on March 11th 1922 the British Army issued orders for the disbandment of the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment along with five other corps and infantry battalions. The regimental colours were laid up at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Soon afterwards the IRA 3rd Southern Division took control of the barracks and on 14th July 1922 they set fire to the barracks.

Paul Kehoe TD and Maj Gen The O'Morchoe at the unveiling Photo: © Ray Hayden

Paul Kehoe TD and Maj Gen The O’Morchoe at the unveiling Photo: © Ray Hayden

The ruins became dangerous and in 1985 all internal buildings were demolished, including the landmark clock tower. All that remains today are the perimeter walls and gates. The new memorial is situated beside one of the walls. Among those who attended the ceremony at Crinkill were the government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe TD and Major General The O’Morchoe CB CBE, President of the Leinster Regiment Association and President of the Royal British Legion (Ireland) and local Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

Stained Glass Window at St Brendan's Church Birr for Leinster Regiment Photo: © Andreas F. Borchert

Stained Glass Window at St Brendan’s Church Birr for Leinster Regiment Photo: © Andreas F. Borchert

This was part of a weekend of events in the Birr area marking the connection with the Leinsters. In Birr there is a memorial window for the Leinster Regiment at St Brendan’s church. A delegation from the Belgian town of Ledegem in Flanders came to Offaly and laid a wreath at the new memorial. On October 14th 1918 in a fierce engagement resulting in the award of two Victoria Crosses to Leinster Soldiers,  the 2nd battalion Leinster Regiment led the advance into Ledegem on the  first day of what is now known as the Battle of Courtrai. In that advance the  Leinsters, supported by the 4/Worcesters, cleared the town of enemy forces and  in so doing ended the four year occupation of a community that had become a  major supply depot for the German occupation in West Flanders.

Lord Rosse of Birr Castle and Kevin Myers Photo: © Ray Hayden

Lord Rosse of Birr Castle and Kevin Myers Photo: © Ray Hayden


Meeting at Menin Gate at the MAC arts centre Belfast (flyer)

Meeting at Menin Gate at the MAC arts centre Belfast (flyer)

This new play by Belfast writer Martin Lynch, Meeting At Menin Gate, is the final instalment of The Ulster Trilogy series which explore the state of Northern Ireland today. Presented by Green Shoot Productions, Sam Millar’s Brothers In Arms looked at the views of republican dissidents. Ron Hutchinson’s Paisley And Me examined the loyalist position post-conflict. This third play deals with the issue of victims and survivors, a very topical subject at the moment with politicians at Stormont unable to agree what exactly constitutes a “victim” of the Troubles. The final performance was tonight at the Mac centre in Belfast and I saw it last night (Friday) during Culture Night Belfast, although it was not one of the 250 free events which were part of that festival. Meeting at Menin Gate will now be touring throughout the North. The title comes from the Menin Gate in Ypres in Flanders, Belgium, where a last post ceremony is held every night to remember the tens of thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.

Martin Lynch: Photo © Bobby Hanvey

Martin Lynch: Photo © Bobby Hanvey

A powerful and insightful drama, Menin Gate explores the world left behind by the Troubles. In the small Belgian town of Ypres Liz, a Protestant nurse and daughter of an RUC man and an ex-IRA man from West Belfast, Terry, meet during a cross-community trip to WWI battle sites to promote reconciliation and become romantically involved. It transpires that Terry was one of two gunmen who had shot dead Liz’s father at his home which for the purposes of the play is said to be Dromore, County Down but is based on a true story.

Act One is very witty throughout with plenty of Ulster humour. The second act however strikes a very different note which some patrons will find hard to deal with as the