Category Archives: Current Affairs

Knock-Knock-Knocking on Heaven’s Door

The Man With The Magic Lantern

 

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The Man: Fr Bartholomew Cavanagh ( 1821-1897), Parish Priest of Knock and Aughamore in 1879. This is man who may have engineered an apparition using a magic lantern. The site of the apparition is visible in the background. Photo: Knock Shrine

 

The Pope is going to Knock

where the Blessed Virgin appeared to a group of local people139 years ago on this date (August 21, 1879).

Sceptics have always suspected that some form of optical device was used to trick the villagers into believing that they had been visited by the Virgin Mary, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist. One such sceptic was the Rev Dr Francis Lennon, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Maynooth.

He investigated the possible use of a magic  lantern, an early form of image projector powered by a gas lantern (limelight) or an electric arc light from the 1860s onwards. Lennon was working on behalf of a Commission of Enquiry appointed by the church to collect eyewitness statements and verify that an apparition had occurred.

 

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The Magic Lantern. Photo: Sonya Tyrna

 

The Pope’s endorsement of Knock as a recognised site of Marian apparition is a fairly clear-cut indication of the outcome of that inquiry but, from the very beginning, some people have suspected that (1) the apparition was in fact a photographic slide that was projected unto a wall of the church just as it was getting dark and (2) the event was engineered by the local parish priest.

There is plenty of literature about the so-called “Magic Lantern Theory,” the best texts being an article by Paul Carpenter in the New Hibernia Review (2011) and an academic treatment of the apparition by Eugene Hynes (2009). There is plenty of material online both from a devotional and a hoaxer perspective.

Carpenter is available online and is probably the best place to start. He gives a comprehensive account of arguments for and against the use of a projector.  Hynes, according to Carpenter, is one of the few social historians to critically examine the “Magic Lantern Theory” in an effort to determine what the witnesses actually saw.

 

Apparition Mosaic unveiled at Knock

The Apparition: The Basilica mosaic depicting the apparition of 1879. It was designed by P. J. Lynch and crafted by artisan mosaic makers in Italy. It was unveiled in 2016. Photo: Knock Shrine.

 

This blog deals with two key pieces pieces of evidence that were missed by both Carpenter and Hynes.

The first is an account by James Hack Tuke of a visit to Knock six months or so after the apparition. Tuke is in no doubt that a lantern projector was used.

The second is a story I was told by the grandson of Thomas Mason, the man who rented a projector to the parish priest of Knock at the time of the apparition. Mason couldn’t prove that his projector had been used to create an “apparition.”

Neither account definitively supports or contradicts the “Magic Lantern Theory” but they do add nuance to a story that is bound to surface in response to the current Papal visit to Knock.

 

Tuke Visits The Scene Of The Apparition

Tuke visited Knock in March 1880 in response to reports that ‘an apparition … is stated to have appeared last August, when the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph and a figure dressed as a Bishop (called now St. John) were seen with an altar etc. etc. depicted in the evening upon the east end of the church’ (my emphasis).

Tuke described the visit in great detail in a letter to his daughters at home in England. The Right Hon. Sir Edward Fry, Tuke’s biographer, introduced the letter as ‘a curious bit of narrative’ that would relieve an otherwise unending tale of distress and misery in Ireland.

Tuke had been involved in the distribution of famine relief in Donegal and Connaught during the Great Famine or An Gorta Mór of 1845-9. He was called on again when the agricultural crisis of 1879 tipped the region into famine, the Second Famine or An Gorta Beag as it was called. Tuke arrived in the west of Ireland in February 1880 and spent six weeks organising the delivery of emergency food aid to starving cottiers in Donegal and Connaught.

 

 

relief Tuke

Sketch showing the distribution of relief tickets in the turf market in Westport. From the Illustrated London News, March 6, 1880. The man in the top hat may be Tuke. Photo: Mayo Library

 

The apparition in Knock made the news in January 1880. The first account was published in the Tuam News, a newspaper founded by Canon Ulick Bourke of Claremorris. Bourke’s mother was a cousin of the Archbishop MacHale of Tuam but Bourke is remembered in his own right as an important Gaelic scholar, activist, and writer. The  Knock “story” was written by John McPhilpin, Bourke’s nephew, and can only be read as the archdiocese’s version of what happened in Knock in August 1879.

 

Knock apparitions

Four illustrations, captioned “The alleged apparitions at Knock”, depicting Fr. Kavanagh [sic], Pastor of Knock; Fr. Kavanagh’s house; exterior and interior of Knock chapel. From The Graphic,  July 17, 1880. Source / Caption: Mayo Library

Archbishop MacHale of Tuam, who set up the Commission of Enquiry, found that the words of the witnesses were “trustworthy and satisfactory.”  The status of the apparition was settled and Knock was quickly framed as the site of a Marian apparition, one of 12 recognised by the Catholic church between 1531 and 1933.

Tales of miraculous cures abounded and hundreds of pilgrims descended on Knock. Tuke described the village ‘as a dirty, small cluster of houses, with a church on a hill.’ A thriving ‘fair’ was in progress in which books, images etc. were being sold to crowds of pilgrims who were doing the rounds.

 

Sexton-Image

This photograph was taken in 1880. Pilgrims gathered at the gable where the apparition was seen. The wall had to be covered with a wooden screen to prevent pilgrims from removing the plaster.  Photo: Knock Shrine.

 

Tuke thought that the business of the apparition was a strange affair and ‘impossible to account for, unless in the first some trick has been played …’ Tuke suggests that a lantern slide projector was used to ‘depict’ the Blessed Virgin as if she was appearing in a ‘vision.’

‘I confess’ he wrote’ that as I heard it described the day before by another priest, it gave me the feeling that it was like the effect of a dissolving view, especially as he said there were lights running up and down the wall (just like the last scene in a lantern slide).’ Tuke’s account has to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Father Cavanagh was the only cleric in Knock on the evening of the 21 August 1879 but he did not  witness the event. Mary McLoughlin, his housekeeper, did and testified as much when the Commission of Enquiry convened in October 1879.

She described how she was passing the church and noticed what she thought was a group of statues bathed in a strange light. She continued on her way but returned with a friend and realised that there was something extraordinary about the figures. She sent for other neighbours to witness the scene.

She then went to Father Cavanagh to tell him of ‘the beautiful things that were to be seen at the gable of the chapel’ but ‘He appeared to make nothing of what [she] said, and, consequently, he did not go.’  It was a decision he would struggle with as word of the apparition spread but the main point here is that the event–the apparition–was not witnessed by any priest.

 

operating a lantern Slide

The Magic Lantern in action. Source: Martyn Jolly.

 

Tuke’s suggestion that another, unidentified priest had witnessed the event is, at best, misleading. It is possible that Tuke was talking to a priest involved in testing the theory that a magic lantern or some sort of optical device had been used to create the apparition. The Commission of Enquiry asked Francis Lennon, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Maynooth, to investigate the possibility that a magic lantern was used, presumably by Cavanagh although that is not stated anywhere.

Lennon was a sceptic. He did not believe that supernatural agency was at work in Knock. He conducted experiments with a projector at the site of the apparition and concluded that a lantern could not have been used. The layout of the site, Lennon argued, made a projection unrealistic and he proposed the skillful application of a fluorescent substance to the gable wall as an alternative device.

 

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Knock Map

The site of the apparition. The witnesses stood on the road to the west of the school. The windows in the western wall were the most likely place to put a projector.

 

Despite this, the “Magic Lantern Theory” was quickly adopted by sceptics like Tuke and Michael McCarthy,  an anti-clerical nationalist and author. McCarthy and Tuke were alarmed at the take over of of social institutions by a politically aggressive and increasingly powerful Roman Catholic Church.

They were vocal in their opposition to it and it fuelled their subsequent opposition to Home Rule.  McCarthy published Priests and People in Ireland in 1902. It was a stinging critique of the relation between priests and people in Ireland in which McCarthy claimed (1) that witness testimonies had been filtered by the clergy and (2) that the witnesses had seen a composite image disseminated by a projection device hidden in the sacristy.

There is plenty of circumstantial evidence in the witness statements to support the use of a lantern projector. The vision lasted for over an hour, during which time it remained static and, unlike other Marian apparitions, the Blessed Virgin did not speak to the witnesses.  The figures reminded some witnesses of statues. The light surrounding them sparkled in the rain. It sounds very like a description of an outdoor projection of religious imagery.

Tuke’s statement is, at best, hearsay but there is a bigger problem with it. Tuke was meticulous in terms of the accuracy of his reports of conditions in the west of Ireland. His sources were identified so that their information could be checked. Tuke did not identify the priest he spoke with in Knock and that omission makes his statement far less credible.

 

The Man Who Provided The Priest With A Magic Lantern

The apparition in Knock coincided with the a massive increase in the availability of photographic slides and improved projectors. There was  a corresponding increase in the use of this technology to inform and influence the general public. There was an equally dramatic increase in public demand for photographic slide shows.

The parish priest in Knock might be described as an early adopter of those technologies and the apparition in  Knock may have been the accidental result of an experimental slideshow. The really interesting thing about this is that Thomas Mason, the man who provided the priest with a projector, has left an account of that transaction and its consequences.  This may be the key to understanding the ‘beautiful likenesses’ described by Mrs. Hugh Flatley one of the eyewitnesses.

 

Religious Lantern Slide

A lantern slide depicting a scene from the Bible. A similar slide may have been used in Knock. Mary McLoughlin initially thought that Father Cavanagh had left decorative figures from Dublin standing against the gable. Photo: Pinterest

 

Photographic slides transformed the use of lantern projectors in public as a medium for entertainment, education, and political campaigning. The Langenheim brothers of Philadelphia invented a system for printing positive photographic images on glass in 1848 and, by the 1850s, they were manufacturing and selling “Hyalotypes,” their brand of photographic glass slides.

 

langenheim_lantern_slide

A Langenheim lantern slide of the Smithsonian Institution Building under construction in 1850. Photo: Smithsonian.

 

In the 1870s and 1880s the lantern trade expanded enormously. By the 1890s over 30 companies were engaged in the production of lanterns and slides in London alone (Magic Lantern). 60 commercial photographic studios opened in Dublin between 1860 and 1870.

The Mason firm traded in scientific and optical equipment, including lantern slide projectors. The firm was established in 1780 and predated the invention of photography but, according to Edward Chandler, the Mason name has long been associated with the development of photography in Ireland.

It was, according to Chandler, one of the few firms in Dublin that provided a slide making service and ‘a religious or university lecturer could take a miscellaneous collection of photographs, prints, maps and other documents and have them made into a set of slides for projection.’

 

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The building on the corner of Parliament St., Dublin that was occupied by the Mason optical business between 1780 and 1894. Photo: Edward Chandler.

 

Thomas Mason, who took over the firm in 1887, told his grandson that he had rented a lantern projector to the Parish Priest of Knock around the time of the apparition but, as he had not been in Knock at the time, he would not speculate as to whether the projector was the source of the apparition.

Given the remote location and the relative newness of the technology involved, it was, according to Mason, impossible to prove. Mason may have been referring to Prof Lennon’s experiments with a lantern projector and his conclusion that a projector could not have been used to create the effect described by the witnesses.

Despite that finding, Tuke’s curious little narrative shows that the idea that a lantern projector was the source of the apparition had become well established within a couple of months of the story breaking in January 1880. It has remained a stubborn if unresolved part of the story of Knock.

David Berman, writing in the aggressively anti-clerical Freethinker magazine, raised the issue in advance of Pope John Paul’s visit to Knock in 1979. Berman alleged that the apparition had been engineered by Fr. Cavanagh to deflect from his disagreement with local Fenians over their role in the campaign against landlords and their agents.

In 1994, Melvin Harris claimed to have revealed the secret behind the apparition of the Virgin Mary on a church wall in … Ireland’. Harris was working on TV series in which Arthur C Clarke investigated modern-day apparitions of the Virgin Mary in three distinct locations, one of which was the site of moving statues in Ballinspittle in 1985. Harris recreated Lennon’s experiments with a lantern projector on a set that replicated the site of the apparition in Knock. Despite some complications Harris managed to recreate the “apparition.”

 

That settles that then! Or does it?

Lennon, Tuke, McCarthy and all the other sceptics were, it seems, right all along: the claim that apparition was a fraud perpetrated by the parish priest is supported by the evidence available. So why is Pope Francis visiting Knock and endorsing it as a site of Marian apparition and pilgrimage?

 

ApparitionGable

Photo: Knock Shrine.

 

The first reports of the apparition in Knock sparked a popular religious movement that the church sought to exploit in its bid for power in Ireland. Archbishop McHale and Canon Bourke sought to align the pilgrimage with clerical support for a popular uprising against the landlord class and consolidate its leadership – social and political– of rural Ireland at a local level.

Tuke and McCarthy recognised this and dismissed the apparition as a fraud out of opposition to the increasing power of the Roman Catholic Church in areas like health, education, and public administration in general. The religious/political ambition of the church was manifest in attempts to develop a national Marian shrine on the site of the apparition, replicating the shrine in Lourdes.

John White argues that this caused a public split between  John McEvilly, the Archbishop of Tuam from 1881 to 1902, and the devotional writer Sister Mary Francis Clare Cusack or the Nun of Kenmare as she was known. The resulting scandal set the project back by half a century. The pilgrimage was revived in the 1930s and Knock developed into a major site of pilgrimage for true believers; the ordinary folk who put faith before scepticism no matter how much evidence is produced to support the “Magic Lantern Theory.”

 

And this is the thing: Knock is not about blind faith so much as a popular religious movement. Pope Francis, like Canon Bourke and McHale, before him, is using Knock to visibly align the institutional church with grassroots Catholicism.

The identification of St Joseph as one of the figures in the apparition is interesting in this context. St Joseph was proclaimed  a patron of the Universal Church in 1870 and has served as a model of the ordinary, pious believer; a suitable role model for the pilgrims who have done the rounds in Knock for 139 years.

It looks like the Pope is playing with smoke and mirrors – just as Prof Lennon of Maynooth suspected the creator of the original apparition of doing.

 

Works Cited :

David Berman, 1979, Papal Visit Resurrects Ireland’s Knock Legend, The Freethinker, 99, (October, 1979). 

Paul Carpenter, 2011, Mimesis, Memory, and the Magic Lantern: What Did the Knock Witnesses See? New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua, 15(2), 102-120. JSTOR

Edward Chandler, 2001, Photography in Ireland: The Nineteenth Century. Dublin: Edmund Burke.

Fintan Cullen, 2002, Marketing National Sentiment: Lantern Slides of Evictions in Late Nineteenth-Century Ireland. History Workshop Journal, no. 54 (2002): 162-79. JSTOR

Eugene Hynes, 2009, The Virgin in Nineteenth century Ireland. Cork University Press.

Edward Fry, 1899, James Hack Tuke: A Memoir compiled by The Right Hon. Sir Edward Fry. London and New York: MacMillan.

Michael McCarthy, 1902, Priests and People in Ireland.  London & Dublin: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent / Hodges & Figgis. (archive.org)

John McPhilpin, 1880, Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Chapel of Knock, near Claremorris, Galway Vindicator and Connaught Advertiser, January 14.

John White, 1996, The Cusack Papers; new evidence on the Knock apparition, History Ireland, Issue 4 (Winter 1996), Volume 4. (online)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Skeleton of Cornelius Magrath: the controversy continues …

cornelius_magrath-portrait-de-longhi

Pietro Longhi, 1757, “True portrait of the Giant Cornelio Magrat the Irishman; he came to Venice in the year 1757; born 1st January 1737, he is 7 feet tall and weighs 420 pounds. Painted on commission from the Noble Gentleman Giovanni Grimani dei Servi, Patrician of Venice.” Museo di Rezzonico, Venice. Photograph: Osvaldo Böhm.

The short life of Cornelius Magrath

Cornelius Magrath was born 5 miles from Silvermines in County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1737. During his adolescence, he developed a rare disorder of the pituitary gland that caused some of his bones to grow excessively. Between the ages of 15 and 16 Magrath went from 5 feet to 6 feet 8.75 inches in height. He was later described in the London Magazine for August 1752 as being of gigantic stature, but boyish and clumsily made.

His extraordinary appearance attracted a lot of attention and he was persuaded to exhibit himself. He was put on show in Bristol and London in 1753, before touring extensively in Europe. In 1857 he was in Italy, where his portrait was painted by Longhi (see above). In 1760 he became ill in Flanders and returned to Dublin where he died on May 16th. He was 23 tears of age.

In 7 years Magrath had achieved considerable fame as the ‘Irish Giant’ and his death and dissection quickly became the stuff of legend. In 1833, a report claimed that he died as a result of an injury he sustained while performing as a giant in the Theatre Royal. Numerous other legends grew up around the ‘capture’ of his body by anatomists in Dublin University, Trinity College (TCD).

maag-small-copy

A promotional print engraved by Maag in Germany in 1756 to promote appearances by Magrath. This image has been produced from the negative of a photograph made by Daniel J. Cunningham in 1891. Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

In 1890, Daniel J. Cunningham’s set out to establish the truth about Magrath’s stature and dispel some of the myth’s about his short life. Cunningham presented a report to the Royal Irish Academy in 1891, which remains the definitive account of the man and his skeleton. Cunningham confirmed that Magrath suffered from acromegaly and presented evidence that he was “positively deformed” as a result of this condition.

He was not the “well-built, proportioned, straight-limbed man” with pleasing and regular features as represented by Maag in 1756 (above). Swanzy built on Cunningham’s research and published a report in 1893 that confirmed significant deformation of Magrath’s eye sockets.  This is recorded by  in Longhi in his 1757 portrait, along with the disabling condition of “knock-knee” that was described by Cunningham.

In 1902, huge crowds attended a lecture on his skeleton that was given by Cunningham in Belfast. Curiosity in Magrath remains just as strong today judging by the current controversy over the retention by TCD of his skeleton. The controversy kicked off on the History Show on RTE Radio 1 and was picked up by chat show host Joe Duffy who argued that TCD should bury the skeleton of Cornelius Magrath because it had been ‘body snatched’ and his skeleton put on public display without his consent.

The Skeleton of Cornelius Magrath

The Skeleton of Cornelius Magrath is no longer on public display but is still held by the School of Anatomy in TCD. It is the most famous item in a historic collection of anatomy specimens, records, and instruments that is held in the ‘Old’ Anatomy Building. The building was decommissioned in 2014 and the collection is being resolved as part of post-grad research programme managed jointly by the School of Medicine TCD, Maynooth University, Kimmage Development Studies Centre, and the Irish Research Council.

Anthropo lab 2016 P1180364 600 dpi

Ciarán Walsh reconstructing the skull measuring device developed by Daniel J. Cunningham in the 1890s. The “Dublin Craniometer” is one of a number of anthropometrical instruments that were discovered when the ‘Old’ Anatomy building in Trinity College Dublin was being decommissioned in 2014. The skull, incidentally, is a plastic model. Photo: Ciarán Walsh.

I am employed as a full-time researcher on the project and resolving ethical issues relating to the retention of human remains is a major part of the work in hand. Indeed, the research proposal had to pass rigorous ethical approval procedures in Maynooth University, the School of Medicine TCD, and the IRC before I could get access to the ‘old’ Anatomy building and the collections held therein, which include the skeleton of Cornelius Magrath.

To bury or not to bury, that is the debate.

The Magrath “case” is interesting because there is no evidence that the body snatching story, however entertaining, is true. The only contemporary account of his death states simply that “Upon death, his body was carried to the Dissecting House,” but that account was probably written by either Robert Robinson, Professor of Anatomy in TCD, or Dr. George Cleghorn, the University anatomist (see Cunningham’s 1891 report to the Royal Irish Academy).

What we can say with some certainty is that Magrath died of a wasting disease (phthisis) and it is clear from the Robinson/Cleghorn account that he was receiving medical attention at the time of his death. It records that Magrath’s “complexion was miserably pale and sallow; his pulses very quick at times for a man of his extraordinary height; and his legs were swollen.” Elsewhere, it states that his pulse beat almost sixty times a minutes “on his arrival here.”  It sounds like Magrath was being cared for in the School of Medicine TCD when he died.

The body snatching legend, best described by Hooper,  has it that Magrath was being waked when medical students, egged on by Robinson, spiked the porter and made off with his body, which was immediately dissected in secret. Such a sensational body snatching could not have escaped notice and, furthermore, the dissection was both public knowledge and uncontroversial. Historians of anatomy in TCD have always believed that the body was paid for by Cleghorn and that the acquisition of the body was legitimate and ethical by the standards of the day. The problem here is that there is no documentary evidence of Magrath having consented to dissection or the permanent display of his skeleton.

Comparative Anatomy / Anthropological Museum, MS10961-1_22

The Anthropological Laboratory in TCD in 1891, from a cyanotype or blueprint of a  photograph taken by Charles R. Browne. The laboratory ceased operations in 1903 and its collections were reorganised in 1948. Courtesy of the Board of Trinity College Dublin.

That brings us to the contemporary issue of retention or burial. The report of the Working Group on Human Remains in Museum Collections (WGHR), published in 2003,  set out public policy in relation to British Museums. The authors of the report acknowledged that human remains in collections “represent a unique and irreplaceable resource for the legitimate pursuance of scientific and other research” (p. 28)  but concluded that collections of human remains in museums should be subject to the sort of regulatory frameworks being developed for health authorities and hospitals in Britain (p. 81).

One of its principal finding was the need to remove legislative barriers to repatriation or burial by British museums, effectively making the ethical disposal of human remains in museum collections its default position (p. 20, para. 58). In 2004 the introduction of the Human Tissue Act allowed nine national museums to return human remains under 1,000 years old, where they consider it appropriate to do so. The British Museum rejected an application for repatriation in 2012  on grounds other than those provided for in the legislation, which illustrates the complexity of the issues involved and the need to consider claims for repatriation or burial on a case by case basis.

In terms of regulation in Ireland, the Human Tissue Bill has been stalled since 2013 and the Inspector of Anatomy, appointed by the Medical Council in the interim, has oversight of the ‘Old’ Anatomy collections in TCD. This leaves the burial of Magrath’s remains at the discretion of the college authorities; which means that any decision will have to deal with public perception as to the “morality” of retaining identifiable human remains in collections of scientific material. That is deeply problematic, and Duffy’s attempt to frame the issue in body snatching folklore is distorting what should be a valuable and timely debate.

References: 

British Museum,2012, Request for Repatriation of Human Remains to the Torres Strait Islands, Australia. Online document: http://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/management/human_remains/repatriation_to_torres_strait.aspx

Cunningham, D. (1887). The Skeleton of the Irish Giant, Cornelius MagrathThe Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 29, 553-612. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30078824

Department of the Taoiseach, LEGISLATION PROGRAMME FOR AUTUMN SESSION 2013, Published:  18th September, 2013: http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/irish/Foilseacháin/Foilseacháin_2013/LEGISLATION_PROGRAMME_FOR_AUTUMN_SESSION_2013.html

Hooper, A. (1987). Dublin Anatomy in the 17th and 18th CenturiesDublin Historical Record, 40(4), 122-132. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30100813

Human Tissue Act 2004, UK: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/30/contents

Report of The Working Group on Human Remains, November 2003,Dept. for Culture Media and Sport, Great Britain: http://www.museumsbund.de/fileadmin/geschaefts/dokumente/Leitfaeden_und_anderes/DCMS_Working_Group_Report_2003.pdf

Swanzy, H. (1893). Note on Defective Vision and Other Ocular Derangements in Cornelius Magrath, the Irish Giant. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1889-1901), 3, 524-528. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20490478

Trinity College, Dublin, 2016, The Academic and Artistic Collections – a summary: First produced February 2010; contact and website updates March 2016: http://www.tcd.ie/artcollections/assets/pdf/TCD%20Academic%20and%20Artistic%20Collections%20summary.pdf

In memory of Mick ‘The Iron Man’ Murphy

Mick 'The Iron Man' Murphy by Barry McCarthy from the exhibition 'Blood, Sweat and Gears,' 2008

Mick ‘The Iron Man’ Murphy by Barry McCarthy from the exhibition ‘Blood, Sweat and Gears,’ 2008.

I have just learned of the death of Mick Murphy of Cahersiveen in Co. Kerry. Mick was known fondly as ‘The Iron Man’ because of his exploits in a celebrated bicycle race in 1958. Aidan O’Connor, writing in The Kerryman newspaper described Mick’s extraordinary Life:

Mick made a living as a spalpeen and a circus performer. After winning the 1958 Rás, Mick returned to Kerry to work in local quarry, breaking stones with a crowbar and sledge hammer. All the while, the Iron Man was completing daily training routines of 100-mile cycles.

Aged just 27 years, Mick Murphy retired and took the boat to England where he worked as a builder, road maker, a carnival act, boxer and a wrestler.

Mick’s training was as unconventional as his lifestyle. Having read about the important of a high protein diet, Mick drank cow’s blood and ate raw meat, well aware that this was regarded with “horror” by the people of Cahersiveen. The legend that was the ‘Iron Man’ was the starting point for an exhibition that celebrated the 50th anniversary of his victory in the Rás in 1958. The exhibition consisted of still photography by Barry McCarthy interviews recorded by film maker Chris Hurley. The impact of that exhibition is captured in Sean Mac an tSithig’s report (above) which was recorded for the main evening news.

Mick Murphy was one of the most remarkable people I worked with in Siamsa, a true folk hero. Following the broadcast of Seán’s film a lot of men who had gone through similar experiences came to the gallery and spoke movingly of their lives as emigrants and their love of cycling.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Monumental Errors

The problem with Public Art, Michael Warren's sculpture

The controversial Gateway sculpture that has cast long shadows over the streets of Dun Laoghaire for six years was removed towards the end of April 2009. The monument was dismissed as an eyesore by many. (comment on Flickr)

The problem with “public” art

The above post on Flicker brutally sums up the conflict over contemporary works of art that are placed in public places by local authorities and other agencies. In this case the sculpture, by the respected Irish artist Michael  Warren, was commissioned by “developer Eddie Sweeny under the Per Cent for Art Scheme, and erected in 2002 close to the Pavilion retail and theatre complex and Dún Laoghaire’s 19th-century county hall” ( Irish Times). The Per Cent For Art Scheme allows for a percentage of the cost of public capital works to be spent on an artistic feature.

The sculpture was removed in 2009 during work on the new library in Dún Laoghaire  but it was not replaced when this work was completed. It appears that it is being ‘returned’ to the artist in exchange for another work in a deal brokered by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC), although the Council declined to comment on the exchange” according to the report by Fiona Gartland.

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Richard Serra, 1981. Tilted Arc ( Source)

Part of the problem was Warren’s choice of material. Corten steel is an industrial material that became popular in large scale architectural and sculptural projects in the 1970s. It suited outdoor because it forms a corrosion resistant surface or patina and, its angular, industrial look was an important part of its aesthetic appeal. Its use was pioneered by the American artist Richard Serra  in the 1970s with a series of site specific sculptures that are monumental in scale and strikingly industrial in contrast to their surroundings: in the way that Michael Warren’s scupture contrasts with “Dún Laoghaire’s 19th-century county hall.”

Controversy was inevitable. Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc was erected in the Federal Plaza in New York City in 1981 but, following a public vote, the sculpture was dismantled and the material used for scrap. Serra wasn’t happy: “To remove the work is to destroy it” he said. Warren’s scuplture won’t be scrapped, it’s on its way to an alternative site in the UK and the site specific references implied by the title will be lost.

Eilís O'Connell, Great Wall of Kinsale, 1988 (Photo: Southern Star).

Eilís O’Connell, Great Wall of Kinsale, 1988 (Photo: Southern Star).

Warren isn’t the first artist to run up against local authorities and their idea of “public” art. In 1989 the Arts Council wanted to promote public art as a showcase for contemporary sculpture.  It commissioned The Great Wall of Kinsale from Eilís O’Connell at a cost of £22,000, making it the biggest  public art commission to date. The Arts Council had “awarded” the sculpture to the town in recognition of its recent success in the Tidy Towns Composition.

It was an ambitious project and the influence of Serra was obvious, both in the use of Corten steel and the imposing scale of the piece. This was a bold statement, a statement that was meant to define “public” art in terms of contemporary, professional arts practice.It was lost on the members of Kinsale Urban District Council (KUDC). A campaign was begun to remove the sculpture. It was a nasty, divisive campaign. I was covering it for CIRCA Art Magazine (Issue 46) and witnessed at first hand the bullying tactics of people campaigning against the perceived elitism of the professional art community and its attempts to impose its values on the plain people of Ireland. I was also involved in a public art “education” campaign funded by the Arts Council.  It was a close fought campaign and a decision by UDC to remove the sculpture was narrowly deferred after a  Kathleen Watkins, a member of the  Arts Council, personally addressed the UDC on the evening that it was expected to vote to “destroy” the sculpture.

Protesting Art: Protesters outside Limerick City Gallery of Art, from Sean Lynch's 'rocky Road To Dublin' project 2011/12.

Protesting Art: protesters outside Limerick City Gallery of Art, from Sean Lynch’s ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’ archival project  and exhibition 2011/12 (Sean Lynch).

That’s the good news. The UDC began to treat the sculpture as a public hazard, tampering with the sculpture to prevent people interacting with it (climbing on it)  and carried out changes to make it more acceptable – painting over the Corten steel.  O’Connell has produced  The Contemporary Condition of The Great Wall of Kinsale for Seán Lynch’s Rocky Road To Dublin project in 2011, an exhibition that documents controversies that rocked the Irish art world in the 1970s and 1980s mostly ( an exhibition guide is available here). O’Connell also told the Irish Times that the sculpture was destroyed by Kinsale UDC in contravention of the Berne Convention for the protection of Literary and Artistic Works when it  painted the surface and added water features, railings, flower pots and barriers against the artist’s wishes.

30 years on, little has changed, except for the level of opposition to the destruction of public artworks by leading Irish artists. The campaign to remove what is left of O’Connell’s sculpture continues intermittently and Michael Warren’s “Gateway” has been removed with little or no controversy. Significantly, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) has refused to comment, despite the fact that it has an arts office thats administers a public art scheme and is responsible for promoting contemporary arts in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.

REPRO FREE Haley O'Sullivan 2013 Rose of Tralee with New Zealand Rose Lisa Bazalo , Western Canada Catherine Joyce , Donegal Rose Tamara Payne , Texas Rose Cyndi Crowell , Washington Rose Allison Wetterauw and Perth Sinead Lehan . Roses and minister Donohoe TD arive to officially unveiled the Roses sculpture on the Tralee Bypass today . Photo By : Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus LTD © Tralee Co Kerry Ireland Phone Mobile 087 / 2672033 L/Line 066 71 22 981 E/mail - info@dwalshphoto.ie www.dwalshphoto.com PRESS INFO - Minister Donohoe unveils Roses Sculpture on Tralee Bypass . Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport, Mr. Paschal Donohoe TD officially unveiled the Roses sculpture on the Tralee Bypass on Monday, August 18th 2014.ÔThe RosesÕ sculpture which consists of three red roses on their stems was created by Mayo sculptor, Rory Breslin, as part of the Percent for Art Scheme for the Tralee Bypass. Kerry County Council also provided funding for the project.Situated beside the roundabout linking the Tralee Bypass to the N22 Killarney road, the Roses sculpture highlights the well-known symbol of the Tralee area. It also links to the famous Rose of Tralee song which speaks of William MulchinockÕs love for Mary OÕConnor, who was employed a maid by the Mulchinock family.Speaking at the official unveiling of the sculpture, Minister Donohoe congratulated all involved in both the construction of the Tralee Bypass and also in the creation of the sculpture. The Minister pointed to the success of the Tralee Bypass in diverting through traffic from Tralee town centre and reducing travel times for motorists in the area.Speaking at the unveiling Minister Donohoe said: ÔIt is important that we continue to support our artists through the Precent for Art scheme, which allows for a portion of the cost of a public infrastructure project to be ring-fenced for the commissioning of a work of art. ÒIconic installations such as this very quickly become a symbol of the area, and t

Unveiling the “Roses” sculpture located on the newly opened Tralee bypass .
Photo By : Domnick Walsh / Eye Focus LTD ©

Has Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council turned its back on ambitious public art works like “Gateway”?  Or is it staying quite in the face of opposition from elected representatives? It’s  hard to say but the destruction of Michael Warren’s sculpture raises – again – the issue of what constitutes “public” art.  The experience around the country is that local authorities and their arts offices – effectively operating as subsidiaries of the Arts Council – are promoting a particular type of public art, a populist strategy that has seen the proliferation of monumental works or “statues” that have little to do with contemporary Irish art. You could call it the ‘Molly Malone’ effect, public art that has more to do with tourism than art. The recently unveiled  “Roses” sculpture (a €70,000 commission) is typical of this trend, a trend that goes against the original objectives of the Per Cent for Art Scheme and represents a monumental failure of local authorities in respect of their remit to promote the arts a county level.

Is it art? some monumental errors in Kerry

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Town Park, Tralee.

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Tralee

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Charlie Chaplin in Waterville

Welcome to the Galltacht

The photo shows the cover of the Buntús Cainte record label released by Gael Linn in the 1960s.I - Ciarán Walsh of www.curator.ie - was in the attic the other day looking for records to play on a recently recovered record player when I came across an ancient copy of Buntús Cainte, the Irish language instructional programme that was broadcast by Radio Teilfís Éireann --  the national radio (Raidió) and television (Teilifís) station of Ireland (Éireann) –  from 1967 to 1969. Gael Linn issued the record to complement the series.

Buntús Cainte: So – you wanna save the Irish Language

Welcome to the Galltacht

I was in the attic the other day looking for records to play on a recently recovered record player when I came across an ancient copy of Buntús Cainte, the Irish language instructional programme that was broadcast by Radio Teilfís Éireann —  the national radio (Raidió) and television (Teilifís) station of Ireland (Éireann)   from 1967 to 1969. Gael Linn issued the record to complement the series. It must have been thirty years old not as old as Wish You Were by  Pink Floyd which, if I remember correctly was bought in a second hand shop in Richmond St in 1978 courtesy of my first paypacket from the Dept of Justice.  Nostalgia! Either way I thought that Buntús Cainte might just come in handy – again  given the news. The demise of Irish as a living language had just been announced on the web and people were wondering what could be done about it. Revive Buntus Cainte?

It’s not often that you  browse a story and  see the same headline repeated across all platforms. The breaking news  was that the “Decline of Irish as spoken language was ‘worse than previously thought.’” The Hibernian Brotherhood blog  bucked the trend by boldly declaring “Ireland for the Irish” but really toed the line and posted a link to the a story about the “Decline of Irish as spoken language ‘worse than previously thought.”

The story was as brief as it was predictable. The Irish language is in decline. The “shocking” news was contained in a study commissioned by Údarás na Gaeltachta, the organisation tasked with the economic, social, and cultural development of districts where Irish is spoken more than English, that is Gaeltachts. The study showed that by 67% or more of the population spoke Irish on a daily basis in just 21 of the 155 electoral divisions in the Gaeltacht.  Within 10 years all 155 divisions will have dropped below the 67% threshold of a “living language.”

The reaction was as muted as it was predictable. “The end is nigh. Irish is on last legs as living language” wrote Donal Nolan in the Kerryman while the national version of the Kerryman, the Irish Independent, warned that by 2025 the Irish language  that “will not be used as the primary dialect anywhere in the country” in a piece written by Daniel MacDonald. 

Folklore recording

 Dialect is an interesting choice of wording. The difference between Gaeltacht Irish and School Irish — its poor half-cousin in the towns – has been narrowing for years. Anyone who has worked in the Gaeltachts will have seen the relentless progress of English and despaired of the ability of Irish to handle the linguistic demands made by modern globalised  communications and social media in particular. “Fócasáil an ceamara, lad” sums up the “spotty” language of that developed in the space between the Gaeltacht, the land of the Gael, and the Galltacht, the land of the foreigners where the townies and other non-native speakers live.

The Irish village of Ballymaclinton epitomised the Galltacht and the creeping Anglicisation of Irish society that was denounced by Douglas Hyde in a speech delivered to Irish National Literary Society in Dublin, on 25 November 1892. The Gaeltachts were established by the Free State as a bulwark against, and a cure for Anglicisation. All the resources of the state were devoted to the reversal of Anglicisation and the revival of the Irish language. The Gaeltachtachtaí or Gaeltachts were culturally and, to a lesser extent, economically advantaged (the deontas) in order to advance the ‘Irish Ireland’ project. The rest of us were schooled in compulsory Irish and sent to the Gaeltacht during the summer to learn the real thing. Now that the majority people living in 134 out of the 155 areas currently defined as Gaeltacht districts have given up on Irish, what happens?

More De-Anglicisation? More Resources? More Irish in Schools? More “Spotty” Irish in the media? I heard recently that parents on an island that had always been a stronghold of Irish were speaking English at home and were depending on teachers to teach Irish to their children. The study by published by Údarás na Gaeltachta confirms that but there is worse to come. It follows on other surveys that confirm what 125 odd years of ‘De-Anglicisation’ has shown: you can’t ‘school’ a living language. If in doubt have a listen to Buntús Cainte. If you haven’t got a record player, don’t worry. Its online.  Just googaláil Buntús Cainte.

The War of Independents, The Legacy of Jackie Healy Rae.

Don Mac Monagles classic photograph of Jackie Healy Rae's torch lit procession during the Irish parliamentary election of 2007. Featured by Ciarán Walsh in a review of 100 years of photography by the MacMonagle family.

The War of the Independents, Jackie Healy Rae marches on parliament. Picture by Don MacMonagle, 2007.

Don Mac Monagles’ classic photo of ‘The Healy-Raes On The Move’ was taken during the election campaign of 2007. Jackie Healy-Rae flanked by his sons Danny and Michael (who ‘inherited’ the seat from his father) march through the streets of Killarney with ‘pikemen’ brandishing flaming torches. It was one of 10 photographs that Don Selected for a feature I did in the Irish Independent (27 July 2013 WEEKEND Magazine)  on 100 years of photojournalism by the MacMonagle family.

Don has documented the Healy-Raes since the 1970s. “I would consider myself non-political but I am fascinated by the Healy-Raes,” says Don. He got a tip that ‘Jackie’ was planning an old style rally to make an impact in the final week of the election. The picture went viral and a pundit reckoned that it would get Healy-Rae re-elected. It did.

Jackie Healy Rae Poster

Like Healy Rae, Fox and Blaney were of the Fianna Fáil gene pool. Gildea was a single-issue candidate and didn’t last long in national politics. As for Fox, her father whose seat she ‘inherited’ was a member of Fianna Fáil before he went independent. Harry Blaney got his brother’s seat (briefly occupied by Cecilia Keaveny) who had in turn gotten it from his father. In fact the Blaney ‘dynasty’ ran from 1927 to 2002. It started with Neal Blaney whose son Neil was expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1972. His other son Harry took Neil’s seat after his death in 1995. Confused? Well, there’s more. Niall Blaney, Harry’s son (I think) took the seat in 2002, rejoined Fianna Fáil in 2006 and resigned the seat in 2011. The seat was then taken by Sinn Féin.

The Healy Rae phenomenon may be more recent but it is as complex and dynastic as the ‘Donegal Mafia’ (as the Blaney’s political organisation was called). That’s only part of the point. The really interesting point is the battle between the margins and the centre in Irish politics. The increasing centralisation of the mainstream parties forced the likes of Healy Rae to go independent. When the independents were lucky enough to hold the balance of power they screwed the parties for all they could get in order to consolidate their positions in their constituencies, and lucrative positions they are too. In 2011 journalist Ken Foxe (Irish Daily Mail) calculated that the Healy Raes had earned €8m over 14 years ‘in salaries, expenses and contracts from the public purse.’ That is a side issue and, as Jackie Healy Rae pointed out, it was the system.

What is more interesting is the way the Healy Raes turned the institutionalised clientilism of the big parties into a very localised power base – and turned the entire system on its head in the process. As a young civil servant I was fascinated by the fact that government ministers were provided with elaborate constituency offices within government departments at taxpayers expense, a massive advantage at election time. I learned very quickly that getting around fines, housing lists, planning, education grants and jobs in state agencies mattered more to politicians than policies. As a civil servant I worked under the best/worst of the clientilist politicians of the time – Gerard Collins (FF) Jim Mitchell (FG) and Sean Doherty (FF) – although I did refuse a transfer to Doherty’s constituency office on ethical grounds. It was an interesting encounter and as well that I decided to attend NCAD on a full time basis shortly afterwards.

The nature of clientism was summed up by anthropologist Lee Komito in 1984 (The Economic and Social Review, April, 1984). ‘The political broker who intervenes on behalf of constituents to help them obtain government benefits and the client who rewards the politician with his vote has become an acceptable, and even fashionable, model of Irish political life.’ Healy Rae’s election in 1997 showed just how well that model could work for constituents in a tight Dáil and, very soon, every constituency wanted the same! The assault by independents on the mainstream parties had begun.

Jackie Healy Rae outside Dáil Éireann

from Journal.ie

 

30 years on it seems like the independents and others (32%) now stand in the way of any viable coalition. Fine Gael (19%) has become the incredible shrinking party and Labour (6%) has compromised itself out of existence. It even looks like Fianna Fáil (21%) and Sinn Féin (22%) couldn’t form a government (even if they wanted to) without the support of independents. It’s not all Jackie Healy Rae’s fault. He got lucky but the real lesson of his role in Irish parliamentary politics is that clientilist politics have wrecked a system and the rise of the independent has been driven as much by the mainstream political parties inability to take reform seriously. Political parties how are you, it’s every man for himself and Jackie Healy Rae wrote the manual.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

 

 

The Battle of Jobstown and the return of the anarchic Irish Ape-Man!

Its been a fascinating week as the mainstream political parties try hard to regain the middle ground, the floating vote that has been snatched by the Independents and the Shinners. Bad Boys and Girls.

 

Paul Murphy T.D. byTom Burke shows the newly elected member of the Irish parliament leading a protest outside of the Dáil, the Irish house of parliament, with a classic clenched fist salute.  It was uploaded by Ciarán Walsh, www.curator.ie to illustrate the Ballymaclinton blog onthe similarities between Tennier's Punch cartoon 'Two Forces' and media coverage of Murphy's role in anti-austerity protests.

Paul Murphy T.D. byTom Burke

Paul Murphy has become a political pariah thanks to the assault – and that is what it was – on Tánaiste Joan Burton. She dusted herself off and came out fighting but Fine Gael and Labour ministers continued to be subjected to a new form of Boycott, even as they rushed through half-measures to quell the rising level of protest over water charges. Sinn Féin took a back seat, regrouping ahead of a renewed 32 county campaign to undermine Adams and MacDonald over allegations that they were complicit in covering up sex abuse by republicans. It paid off. The polls (taken prior to the 10 point plan/u-turn) have put the Shinners and the Blueshirts neck and neck followed by a mob of independents, with the unruly and unrepentant Paul Murphy leading the charge.

And that is the nub of it. As battles go, the anti-austerity protest in Jobstown was a small affair but it has pitched a small gang of disenfranchised and revolting citizens against the establishment with a political violence that has not been seen in this country for nearly a century probably. This caught a lot of people by surprise and, in the pause that followed, the government began spinning like mad. True to form Murphy was demonised in the media with the Indo even reverting to good-ole ‘red-under-bed’ scare tactics.

An illustration by Tenniel entitled 'Two Forces' that was published in  the satirical magazine Punch in  188. It is a classic piece of anti-Irish propaganda, show the anarchic Irish ape-man threatening Hibernia who is protected by a stern Britannia upholding 'The Law' and keeping the Land League suppressed underfoot.It was uploaded by Ciarán Walsh, www.curator.ie to illustrate the Ballymaclinton blog onthe similarities between Tennier's Punch cartoon 'Two Forces' and media coverage of Paul Murphy's role in anti-austerity protests.

Tenniel, Two Forces, Punch 1881.

I decided to look up the Tenniel cartoon entitled ‘Two Forces’ in which a distraught Hibernia is threatened by an anarchic Irish ape-man (published in Punch on 29 October 1881). I was struck by how well the cartoon suited the construction that was put on events during the week. Take Britannia out and substitute Enda Kenny as upholder of ‘The Law’ (even Britannia’s stern profile is a perfect match for Kenny, whom Martin Turner described as a difficult character to caricature in a wonderful radio interview during the week). Replace the Land League (which is being stepped on … hard) with the Anti-Austerity movement and you have it.

However, pride of place has to go to ‘Pat.’  He’s back and, it seems, the hated Punch bogeyman has being resurrected by the establishment as it tries to maintain the loyalty of a fractious people.