Tag Archives: Ireland

April 24th

On this day in 1704, the first regular newspaper in the United States, The Boston News Letter, went into publication.

First issue of the Boston Newsletter. Even the layout was "super-exciting"

It’s a shame that an earlier newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick only lasted for one issue in 1690, because it was a much better name for a newspaper and would have been more fun to look back at. It’s opening sentence was to let the readers know that it would be published monthly or “if any Glut of Occurrences, oftener”. Unfortunately, the paper was shut down by the government who were mighty displeased that no one had asked them permission to publish it and that it had printed things that they didn’t agree with.

The Boston News Letter was government approved and must have been a really great read for all the colonists, containing, as it did, lots of news about London, the British Parliament, the royal family, wars in Europe and all sorts of stuff that didn’t matter a damn to people living thousands of miles away.  The first issue concentrated heavily on Papist threats to England, Scotland and Ireland and had lots of warnings about the “bloody designs of the Papists and Jacobites”. There was also some mention from a Dublin newspaper of November 27th (yep, not only was the news all about stuff they weren’t interested it was months out of date to boot!) about bad Catholics “beginning to form themselves into bodies, and to plunder the Protestants of their arms and money.”

To be fair there was one whole column dedicated to “local news”, like which ships had arrived, how some judge had got appointed as Judge of the Admiralty and a report on the “excellent” sermon of Rev. Mr Ebenezer Pemberton of Old South Church, Boston. He’d taken 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “And do your own business” as his lesson. Nothing about real local issues, like whether or not Mistress Goheavily was indeed stepping out with Master Snoresum, or if in fact, as Mistress Breams suggested, the lady’s troth was already pledged to Midshipman Crozier. Ships, appointments and a dull sermon that most of the readers had probably already slept through the previous Sunday. With so much stimulation now on hand, it’s a wonder the good people of Boston didn’t all just fall into a coma through sheer excitement.

It took about fourteen years for there to be something vaguely worth reading in the paper, but an account of how Blackbeard was

Ebenezer sending everyone to sleep with his shit sermons

killed in hand-to-hand combat on his own ship must have almost been worth waiting for. From 1722, the paper was under new ownership and gave more space to local events, but given that it was all a bit prissy in Boston, it was many years before there were thrilling accounts of naughty behaviour and illicit goings on. I am left wondering what exactly the Rev. Mr Ebenezer Pemberton had to say about doing your own business. Try as I might I can’t figure out how I could do somebody else’s business without the sort of efforts that I’m pretty sure are physically impossible. Maybe that first issue wasn’t so boring after all!

Today’s shared birthday is a rum one. A chap called Enda Kenny was born in 1951 and another one called Eamon Gilmore was born in 1955. The names will mean something to my Irish readers, but little to anyone else. Well Enda is the Taoiseach of Ireland and Eamon is the Tánaiste, in English, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland.

Look at me, I'm the Taoiseach!

This strange coincidence makes me wonder if there wasn’t a conspiracy to only have men with the same birthday in power, but rather than go through the whole Irish cabinet to see if it was true, knowing full well that all I’d find was a variety of birthdays, I decided to leave it at these two and just make “hmm” type noises with a knowing look on my face.

I doubt either man is having much fun at the moment, what with Ireland being broke and all, but Enda has had a visit with Barack Obama in which he (Enda) looks like just the sort of man I would trust only as far as I could throw him (I throw very badly and he’s a fair-sized man). Eamon looks a bit more trustworthy, but who can tell. I’ve seen no photos of him with the American President.

So this pair of likely lads are from Mayo (Enda) and Galway (Eamon) and now they run Ireland.

Eamon's a great man for the cake

I shall wish them both a happy birthday, because if they have miserable ones they’ll only make sure the rest of Ireland suffers, probably, and I shall rely on one of my cousins to comment here and tell us whether or not I’ve got it right about either of this pair.


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April 7th

This day in history is a most auspicious one, so it pained me to look through the annals and find events that bored me or stuff about fucktards (hello Savonarola) who we’d already covered and quite frankly had enough of.  Anyway, given that nothing can quite compare to an event that happened at 4am in the Royal Free Hospital in Liverpool Road in 1965, I did uncover something that appears to be completely fictitious, but is too wonderful to consign to the dustbin of made-up history.

And then she hit me right here on the nose!

All around the web, it is stated that on this day in 1926, Mussolini’s Irish wife broke his nose. There is no further detail, because, well Mussolini never had an Irish wife. The terrible bald fucker had two wives, both of them Italian, one discarded and all records of their marriage destroyed because he wanted to pretend he’d never been married to her. The second stuck with him until the end. Neither, as far as history shows us, broke his nose. Perhaps the history of WWII might have played out a bit differently if one or both of them had, preferably on a regular basis.

Of course, I am not advocating mindless violence, but given the circumstances I’m sure they could have found a way to break his nose mindfully. It’s a shame that this story is so clearly a fake, because I can picture it all in my head. Benito at the table complaining that his stupid Irish wife hasn’t cooked the spaghetti properly and all she knows her way around is potatoes and cabbage like a stupid bog-trotting peasant. And up she gets. Small in stature but a mighty

Cover your nose, Benny, the bitch is back!

warrior all the same. Her eyes are green and sending out sparks of anger. Benito is too self-satisfied and stupid to sense the danger. Her hair is loose and a symphony of red and gold and orange and copper and rich sweet-smelling ginger. It seems alive as she moves closer toward her target. He still goads her, he holds up his spaghetti in his fork and mocks her like the pompous wee shite he is. And then she is in front of him, finally he feels a little fear. She is still, but her hair still seems to be moving, her eyes still spark and her nostrils flare. He is silent as she stares him straight in the eye. He gulps. And then it comes. Her fist moves as if in slow-motion but he can’t move away from it. He is rooted to the spot as though his wife has become Medusa and he is turned to stone. And. And. And. BAM! Right in the fucking conk. “Shitehawk” she throws over her shoulder as she walks away. His blood mingles with the tomato sauce and he cries quietly with the pain.

Ah, Maureen McMussolini, where were you when we needed you!

Today is and was the birthday of many a great and grand person. And Russell Crowe. Russell Crowe is one year older than me and I am glad he exists because when I am feeling like a haggard old crone, I look at him and say “thank fuck I look better on it than he does.” The truth is, I look about a million times better than the big fighty git who gets all precious when people say “Oh Russell, why did you do an Irish accent for Robin Hood?” Well, Russell, I’ve seen some of that film and you did do an Irish accent, you great fat lummox. I’ve only seen some of it because I was on a plane and it was so shit I fell asleep. Here’s the thing, on the way out, I’d watched Sex and the City 2, which is one of the worst films ever and an abomination to womankind, but I did not fall asleep. That’s how shit Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood was. He stands as a reminder that however great a day April 7th is, some right shitters were born on this day too (see also David Frost).

Billie as a lovely wee girl

But, let’s move on to the sublime, the beautiful, the troubled, the big old skag head with a voice that could tickle your spine in a way that felt slightly obscene: Billie Holiday. She was born 50 years before I happened down onto the earth and had left it before  I  joined it.

Her life was never easy from the start. Born Eleanora Fagan, her thirteen year old mother was thrown out of her parents’ home for being pregnant. Young Billie was looked after by relatives while her mother worked on the trains. She was troubled, played truant and was in a Catholic reform school for this before the age of 10. She was then released into her mother’s custody to live and work in a restaurant she had bought. At the age of 11, Billie was raped and sent back to the reform school to be kept safe while they waited for the trail to come to court.

And then it all went  a bit more downhill. You all know that she and her mother then lived in brothels, that that’s where Billie started to sing and also to turn tricks as an under age prostitute at $5 a time.  And she learned to drink, to take drugs, to favour men who would beat her and hurt her over men who would love the beautiful soul she was. She went to prison, she came out, she took more drugs and she sang, oh how she sang. Even toward the end when she had all but destroyed her voice with drug and alcohol abuse she still sang and it was more beautiful in its ruin than most people can  hope for in their own version of perfection.

Lady sings the Blues

She died in 1959 and her death was described on sleeve notes by the NY Times journalist, Gilbert Millstein, who had been a narrator at her 1956 Carnegie Hall concerts:

Billie Holiday died in the Metropolitan Hospital, New York, on Friday, July 17, 1959, in the bed in which she had been arrested for illegal possession of narcotics a little more than a month before, as she lay mortally ill; in the room from which a police guard had been removed – by court order – only a few hours before her death, which, like her life, was disorderly and pitiful. She had been strikingly beautiful, but she was wasted physically to a small, grotesque caricature of herself. The worms of every kind of excess – drugs were only one – had eaten her … The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning. She would have been, eventually, although possibly not that quickly. In any case, she removed herself finally from the jurisdiction of any court here below.

She was no lady, but she was Lady Day. Happy birthday my birthday twin. You know how much I’ve always loved you and thrilled to share your birthday, and I’d like you to know that I always will. We’ll both just forget about that cunt, Crowe. He ain’t our sort of peoples.

Oh and she loved dogs too!


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March 17th

On this day in either 461 or 493 a chap by the name of Patrick died. Today we know him as Saint Patrick and his feast day is generally celebrated by people getting mortal drunk and dressing like escapees from Planet Green. But what of the man himself, what do we really know about him?

Some people have no shame

The answer is quite simple: not much. One or two things we do know. Probably. The first is that Patrick was probably around later in the fifth century than originally thought. The second is that his story is almost certainly a mixture of stuff about him and another chap who was around before him called Palladius who’d also ventured over to Ireland to get them all Christianised. Amazingly, for someone who lived such a long time ago and who many people think was a made up person anyway, there are two surviving letters which historians are 99.9% certain were written by Patrick himself. It’s from these that we get the definite things we know about him. These are: he was born in Britain to pretty well-to-do parents. He got kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland where he was a slave to a Druid chieftain. After six years of being a slave, during which time he did an awful lot of praying, he claimed that God’s voice told him to go in search of a boat that would take him back to Britain. God was right about finding a boat, although it was a bit rough of him to have the boat 200 miles away from wherever it was that Patrick was in Ireland (some think Mayo others think Antrim, one thing is sure; he was definitely in Ireland). Then he had a bit of hassle getting on to the boat having no money or anything to recommend  him, but he got on, had a bugger of a voyage back to Britain – this I can well believe having sailed from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, the Irish Sea is an utter bastard – and eventually found his way back to his family.

He didn’t stay with them for long. He had a calling that took him to France where he joined a holy order and became a priest and probably a bishop too, before he decided that he needed to go back to Ireland to get all proselytizing on their Druid asses. The pope agreed and off he went on a date that no one can agree on. Once there, and with the advantage of speaking the Celtic tongue, learned while he was a slave, Patrick set about finding friends, avoiding angry Druid chieftains, preaching and converting the remaining heathens on the island. But here’s the important thing to remember. He wasn’t the first – Palladius had been there before him – he wasn’t the last and he was far from unique in his ministry. I guess the question is, if all of this is true (and it is) why is Patrick this big old saint and no one gives a wet fart for the others. There’s a simple answer for this as well; no one really knows. He was a man of strong belief, who went to Ireland to ensure that Christianity thrived and somewhere along the way he got to be a saint.

And then there are the legends. Driving the snakes out of Ireland would have been pretty easy, given that there were none, you or I

Cheer up!

could have done it. Nowadays we realise that this was probably metaphoric and referred to his driving Druidism (one symbol of which is a serpent) out of Ireland. Of course he didn’t do this all alone, but never let the truth get in the way of a reasonably dull story. The whole shamrock thing. Now, we can never know if he did use it to teach the trinity, but if he was canny he may well  have done. The shamrock was pretty important to the Druids as well, it represented life, death and rebirth, so by appropriating it for a Christian use he’d have been giving them a link to their beliefs and making the task of conversion a little easier. And there we have it. There are less pleasant stories that accompany Patrick, stories that he felt compelled to deny in his letters. Rumour had it that Patrick wasn’t averse to a little payback and the odd sale of indulgences and the like. We only know about this because he mentions it. If he did get involved in that sort of thing, he wouldn’t be alone in it, but given the things we do know about him, it seems reasonably unlikely.

So, there it is. Patrick went to Ireland to convert the remaining Druids, but not the whole of Ireland which was pretty Christian already. He wasn’t unique, but for some reason not long after his death he was declared a saint. Getting to be a saint in those days didn’t need to involve canonisation and Patrick, although recognised in the list of saints, has never been canonised. His feast day became a  holy day of obligation for the Irish back in the 17th century, an Irish public holiday in 1903 and before that the first St Paddy’s day parade took place in  – where else – New York – in 1762. Nowadays it’s celebrated all over the world and people do the oddest things. Chicago’s been dying its river green for Paddy’s day since the 1960s and for the past two years the fountain at the White House has been green as well. And of course people dress like giant leprechauns and get stocious. He probably wouldn’t approve, but to be fair he’s hardly the point anyway. Hail Glorious St Patrick and all that, onwards and upwards to a man who really excites my passion.

Today was the birthday of probably the greatest dancer ever to have lived. His name was Rudolf Nureyev and when he defected to the west in 1961 he was a new Russian revolution, this time in the world of ballet.

Did I mention that he was beautiful?

A brief outline of Rudolf’s life would make a great pitch for a film, but no one would want to make it because it seems a little unreal. Nureyev was born on the Trans-Siberian express, he saw his first ballet at the age of eight and decided that was his future. He battled against poverty, his father’s refusal to allow him to do something so unmanly as dance and with his mother’s connivance learned to dance, took as many classes as he could and finally, at the age of 17, was accepted by the Kirov ballet school. He started ballet far too late to become great, his contemporaries at the Kirov had all entered the school seven years earlier; Rudolf should have been nothing, but he became one of the greatest stars the ballet world has ever known.

He managed this because of his determination, his commitment, his passion and a talent that bordered on genius. All of this lived in a body that was perfection in terms of dance and pretty damn fine whatever way you want to look at it. At this point, dear readers, I will give you a tip. If you like the male form and would like to see what Rudi looked like butt-naked and full frontal, do a Google search with the “safe search” off. There are a few photos there that will show you why he was able to carry himself with such confidence and at times arrogance. Not to put too fine a point on  it, Rudolf was packing heat. To any of my male readers who are at all insecure, please do not follow the above instructions. And now to move on!

Nureyev found a champion in Leningrad in his teacher Alexander Pushkin who recognised the brilliance of the raw dancer in his class. With his help and with Rudolf’s own determination to work harder than most of us could contemplate, Rudolf soon surpassed his contemporaries and was dancing leads with the Kirov ballet. In the years before he defected,  he danced the lead in among others, Don Quixote,  Giselle, La Bayadare and Swan Lake. He also had many fans whose reaction to him was similar to the one that awaited him in the West. Nureyev defected because he realised, when he was asked to go back to Russia for a gala performance, while on tour with the Kirov, that once back he would never be able to leave again and he would be demoted in the company so not able to dance leads. His choice was really very simple.

We all know that he exploded onto the scene soon after his defection in 1961. By 1962 he was partnering Margot Fonteyn at the Royal Ballet, a partnership which would bring the best out of both and crown both their careers. He gave the 43-year-old a new lease of life,

The body

she gave him stability; to each other they were everything. As much as either could earn as a dancer separately – and they were large sums – they could earn more than their combined individual values together so magical was their partnership. You can see just a tiny piece of that in the video I’ve put at the end of this paean to Mr Nureyev. But there was more to him than his artistry as a dancer. Rudolf had an incredibly good memory for anything he saw danced. Because of this he was able to recreate dances he had seen or performed in Russia, some of which had been lost or unknown in the west. Choreography was incredibly important to him and as his career as a dancer developed so did his career as a choreographer. Through this he increased the role of the male dancer in ballet to become more than just a support to the ballerina. He did this for himself of course, but he also choreographed for the male dancers in the corps de ballet and his influence has meant that men now have a far greater role in ballet. He was also interested in other dance forms, taught himself modern dance and modern ballet and incorporated some of this into classical roles. And all the while he danced and danced and danced, probably more than any other professional had before or has since. Cliché time: he was a bleedin’ force of nature!

Rudolf was also a difficult man. Imperious, arrogant, prone to losing his temper. But, for all this, all of his dance partners have spoken of his gentleness, patience and kindness to them. The same was said of him by the dancers under his directorship at the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s. His imperiousness was saved for those who didn’t understand the driving force of his life or who got in the way of it. I say that’s fair enough and more of us should be like that!

Nureyev's grave. The carpet is a mosaic copy of one of his favourite Kilim rugs

In his final years, Rudolf was often too weak to dance. He was diagnosed HIV positive at some point in the late 80s. He refused to talk about it or believe that it was as serious as it was. Of course he tried the drugs that were around, but to no avail. He died in 1993 at the age of 54, far too soon and far too young.

You can all breathe a sigh of relief now because I’m nearly finished. I just need to say happy birthday to the man I first saw dance on the television when I was a little girl and who I fell in love with. I wanted to dance like the women he danced with, but most of all I wanted to dance with him. I never got to see him live and I’ve never got to dance like his partners, but in my dreams I do. Thank you for the beauty, Rudolf, thank you for the dreams and happy birthday you wonderful, crazy Tartar!


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