A quick pic from my place of birth

Four Courts Dublin, November 2009

There was I wandering about on the Quays in Dublin by the River Liffey. It was sodden brass-monkey weather as I had to keep dodging the rain, like effing April showers that creep up on you and drench you with cold injustice. My camera was with me and I was holding a banjaxed umbrella in my left hand while attempting to snap away. I must have looked a sight in the dampened surroundings. All of a tic, I was resting against a wall on Merchant’s Quay opposite this well-known grand yoke of a building, you know, old and fancy-looking like them big places over the water in England. I was staring at this Georgian edifice when a well-dressed woman approached me saying “I think you need this more than I”. She thrust something into my hand and with that she was gone this fancy one with her confident Anglo-Irish tone to match her sensible, old-fashioned outfit. I glanced at my unexpected gift, a creased bit of paper that looked like it had been torn from a notebook with the date, 1937 inscribed on it. It read:

“To many an Irish person looking at this image of the Four Courts, it is redolent of ‘home’, of Ireland’s capital city, with the River Liffey flowing nearby. And yet the Four Courts (Chancery, King’s Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas) based on a classical Palladian blueprint of James Gandon, a London-born architect who went to live in Dublin and designed a number of important public buildings in one of Europe’s largest and thriving cities at the zenith of British (colonial) rule there in the late 18th century.

“The benign aesthetic appeal of this landmark belies a turbulent past where colonial domination, religious and political marginalisation, historical loss and national resurgence are part of Ireland’s cultural texture.

"After the disastrous fire in 1922 during the Civil War, the newly-installed Free State government of the time had neither the inclination nor the money to restore the Four Courts to its former glory imbued with the influence of a foreign power in occupation of Ireland for over 700 years. To this day you can still see evidence of Ireland's recent bloody past in the form of bullet holes in the fabric of the building." 

My mind was on other things so I stuffed the paper into my coat pocket and decided to take advantage of a dry spell as I stood there on the Quays. I took a photo of the reflection of the Four Courts in the slow-moving River Liffey. But instead of being satisfied with an upside-down image, I flipped the thing round to come up with a (right-way up) picture which was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, in 2010 -  as attached to this article.

But as it happens, I've kept this weird, A5-sized battered manuscript gifted to me from this chance encounter with an unknown lady by the River Liffey and despite its air of stilted officialdom, this snapshot of history resonates with me as I lost something of great value - as did many other Irish people - in the catastrophic fire of nearly a century ago at the Four Courts. We Irish lost much of our (official) history. You see, the inferno took with it many of the nation's government records prior to 1922 and delving into our past is now made that bit more difficult because of the actions of some warring Irishmen fighting amongst themselves - not that of a foreign power, mind you.

The quirks of Irish history that make us, er, Irish, I suppose.

 

  

Comments 8

 
Katherine Gregor on Monday, 25 July 2016 11:10

Very interesting, Nicholas.

Very interesting, Nicholas.
Nicholas Mackey on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 09:49

Thank you, Katia for reading and your comments are always appreciated.

By the way, 1937 (the date written on the document mentioned in my article) was a very important year in modern Irish history as the country's (written) constitution came into force and where many of the vestiges of foreign colonial rule were stripped away in a youthful Irish Republic that was only 15 years old then.

Thank you, Katia for reading and your comments are always appreciated. By the way, 1937 (the date written on the document mentioned in my article) was a very important year in modern Irish history as the country's (written) constitution came into force and where many of the vestiges of foreign colonial rule were stripped away in a youthful Irish Republic that was only 15 years old then.
Rosy Cole on Monday, 25 July 2016 13:30

A powerful story of how a chance encounter can bring so much revelation into the lens and crystallise it . I think the spirit of William Butler Yeats lingers about this image of your birthplace. What would he have made of such an incident, I wonder?

A powerful story of how a chance encounter can bring so much revelation into the lens and crystallise it . I think the spirit of William Butler Yeats lingers about this image of your birthplace. What would he have made of such an incident, I wonder?
Nicholas Mackey on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 10:33

I've noticed that over the many years I've been taking photos - since the early 1970s, in fact - that there is now a tale attached to each image. I could probably produce a book with such anecdotes behind the pictures shown. Maybe that's an idea for a future project!

Interesting that you quote W.B. Yeats as Ireland being the small country that it is, when I was a student at Trinity (in the early '70s) two of my contemporaries were the granddaughters of Yeats and around the same period when I attended French classes at the Alliance Française de Dublin, one of my 'classmates' was the son of Ireland's illustrious poet, Senator Michael Yeats.

Thank you for your kind words about my writing on an event which revolved around the simple act of taking a photograph.









I've noticed that over the many years I've been taking photos - since the early 1970s, in fact - that there is now a tale attached to each image. I could probably produce a book with such anecdotes behind the pictures shown. Maybe that's an idea for a future project! Interesting that you quote W.B. Yeats as Ireland being the small country that it is, when I was a student at Trinity (in the early '70s) two of my contemporaries were the granddaughters of Yeats and around the same period when I attended French classes at the Alliance Française de Dublin, one of my 'classmates' was the son of Ireland's illustrious poet, Senator Michael Yeats. Thank you for your kind words about my writing on an event which revolved around the simple act of taking a photograph.
Rosy Cole on Thursday, 28 July 2016 14:57

A book of pictures and anecdotes sounds like an inspired idea. I really hope you will pursue it, Nicholas.

Some time ago, I lamented the introduction of images on Twitter, but there can be no doubt that they snag attention, impart information and conjure atmosphere. (It's up to users to make sure they get the kind of feed they want.) It's true shares and retweets may sometimes be on account of the picture alone - in your case that's got to be good! - but it's one way of getting posts into timelines they wouldn't reach...and, coupled with (recognised) hashtags, this can make quite an impression on the hit counter overall.

A book of pictures and anecdotes sounds like an inspired idea. I really hope you will pursue it, Nicholas. Some time ago, I lamented the introduction of images on Twitter, but there can be no doubt that they snag attention, impart information and conjure atmosphere. (It's up to users to make sure they get the kind of feed they want.) It's true shares and retweets may sometimes be on account of the picture alone - in your case that's got to be good! - but it's one way of getting posts into timelines they wouldn't reach...and, coupled with (recognised) hashtags, this can make quite an impression on the hit counter overall.
Barbara Froman on Monday, 25 July 2016 18:59

I loved reading this...the glimpse into the past. There's so much I didn't know. Thank you, Nicholas, for the history and your reflections. :-)

I loved reading this...the glimpse into the past. There's so much I didn't know. Thank you, Nicholas, for the history and your reflections. :-)
Nicholas Mackey on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 10:49

Thank you, Barbara for taking the time to read and to comment - I'm very grateful.

Being the son of an historian, I was extremely fortunate to be exposed to so many ways of viewing the past and thankfully my father always held to the view that history was to be presented without bias.

Thank you, Barbara for taking the time to read and to comment - I'm very grateful. Being the son of an historian, I was extremely fortunate to be exposed to so many ways of viewing the past and thankfully my father always held to the view that history was to be presented without bias.
Nicholas Mackey on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 07:01

I don't know about you, fellow writers, but I am never satisfied with what I write. And this morsel about the Four Courts Dublin is no exception. I am truly grateful for the time people have taken to read and even to make the additional effort in commenting on what I have written. It does lift my heart when I see that some thoughtful person has said something in response to my attempt at describing an event on a truly awful winter's day of nearly seven years ago in connection with the fairly mechanical operation of taking a photo - such comments really do 'add value' to my existence and I am buoyed up by it. Thank you.
As an aside, I revised this article 19 (yes, you read correctly, nineteen) times before it became partly acceptable to me. More about this later.

I agree entirely with the sentiments so ably expressed by Barbara in her recent article about plagiarism in which she goes on to describe the challenges experienced in writing. When reading this I said to myself, "That's exactly how I feel. Barbara has hit the nail on the head of the remorseless struggle when writing." If it reads well, then probably the author shed blood, sweat and tears in the creation. Other writers have talked openly and cogently about their battles to tease out the correct word, the well-formed sentence, the smooth-flowing paragraph and then the page that sits well within the tale being conjured up from the imagination. But the truth is that writing is a bit like a wrestling match with a sullen opponent who is of inexorable strength ready to cast aside your nebulous inspiration, your fragile dreams, your nervous first attempts at drafting those incomplete ideas on paper for the very first time. So easily our first endeavours into this magical and wonderful world of the creative can be thrown off course and wrecked on the needle-sharp rocks that represent the reality of our daily existence. English teacher admonitions about mixed metaphors come to mind all of a sudden - I can't imagine why!

And the above reference to numerous revisions relates to how I try to put down my ideas on paper as it were - not always successfully I hasten to add - but here goes: often ideas for writing come to me visually, a bit like a film or video that plays out a single short episode - often with dialogue and varied angled views - or even a complete story unfolds in the realms of my filmic imagination and I rejoice in its fluency, the scintillating precision of the story as it clips along at a fair pace and I enjoy the 'ride' so much. Then I awake from my (day)dream and very quickly the finely-textured fabric of my story begins to unravel. As fast as I can, I begin to write, often in vain, attempting to recapture the excitement and magic of the story I had swirling around so effortlessly in my head perhaps just moments before. So I write and I write and I write and I write endeavoring to recollect the finely-tuned clarity of my dreams where I hope a story worth telling can be brought to the attention of readers in search of a decent tale.

But the truth is that it really takes stickability to see the whole process through from that first draft to the nirvana of publication.

I don't know about you, fellow writers, but I am never satisfied with what I write. And this morsel about the Four Courts Dublin is no exception. I am truly grateful for the time people have taken to read and even to make the additional effort in commenting on what I have written. It does lift my heart when I see that some thoughtful person has said something in response to my attempt at describing an event on a truly awful winter's day of nearly seven years ago in connection with the fairly mechanical operation of taking a photo - such comments really do 'add value' to my existence and I am buoyed up by it. Thank you. As an aside, I revised this article 19 (yes, you read correctly, nineteen) times before it became partly acceptable to me. More about this later. I agree entirely with the sentiments so ably expressed by Barbara in her recent article about plagiarism in which she goes on to describe the challenges experienced in writing. When reading this I said to myself, "That's exactly how I feel. Barbara has hit the nail on the head of the remorseless struggle when writing." If it reads well, then probably the author shed blood, sweat and tears in the creation. Other writers have talked openly and cogently about their battles to tease out the correct word, the well-formed sentence, the smooth-flowing paragraph and then the page that sits well within the tale being conjured up from the imagination. But the truth is that writing is a bit like a wrestling match with a sullen opponent who is of inexorable strength ready to cast aside your nebulous inspiration, your fragile dreams, your nervous first attempts at drafting those incomplete ideas on paper for the very first time. So easily our first endeavours into this magical and wonderful world of the creative can be thrown off course and wrecked on the needle-sharp rocks that represent the reality of our daily existence. English teacher admonitions about mixed metaphors come to mind all of a sudden - I can't imagine why! And the above reference to numerous revisions relates to how I try to put down my ideas on paper as it were - not always successfully I hasten to add - but here goes: often ideas for writing come to me visually, a bit like a film or video that plays out a single short episode - often with dialogue and varied angled views - or even a complete story unfolds in the realms of my filmic imagination and I rejoice in its fluency, the scintillating precision of the story as it clips along at a fair pace and I enjoy the 'ride' so much. Then I awake from my (day)dream and very quickly the finely-textured fabric of my story begins to unravel. As fast as I can, I begin to write, often in vain, attempting to recapture the excitement and magic of the story I had swirling around so effortlessly in my head perhaps just moments before. So I write and I write and I write and I write endeavoring to recollect the finely-tuned clarity of my dreams where I hope a story worth telling can be brought to the attention of readers in search of a decent tale. But the truth is that it really takes stickability to see the whole process through from that first draft to the nirvana of publication.
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