Writer and Author

Category: Dublin (Page 2 of 4)

Welcome to the Asylum

I’m going to step away from my normal subject matter for once today.  You’d have to have been living in a hole on the dark side of an utterly deserted island to have missed the fact that Ireland is, not to put too fine a point on it, financially up the creek.

Photo by Michael Stamp

It’s hard to avoid the news that the IMF have hit town and are not even going to lay a wreath on the grave of the Celtic Tiger.  We’ve had the boom times and are now facing the bust.

I don’t write about the economy.  The only stories I cover tend to be the ones that are sparked by the money running out.  Even though both my books are about millionaires, when you’re writing about murder, even a farcical quasi attempt at one, money is never anything more than set dressing.  Death is the same whether it takes place in leafy suburbia or in a squat. It’s egalitarian that way.

But it’s hard to ignore what’s going on in Ireland at the moment.  Ireland’s party is over and the hangover has hit.  We’re left with a shambles of a government and a lot of lessons still to be learnt.  Ireland is the teenager with Europe, caught running up the phone bill and about to be denied car privileges for the foreseeable future.  The recession we’re in the middle of has hit the world but it’s knocked us for six.  Suddenly we discover that when the money was there the bills weren’t paid and the debt collectors are knocking on the door.

But what brought us to this point after so many years of prosperity? Why were the health and education systems left to fall into disrepair while the population bought holiday homes in far flung places and patio heaters bristled in every back yard?  When I think about the situation this beautiful country has got itself into my heart bleeds.  The situation we’ve found ourselves in has a feeling of inevitability and that’s not just because the party went on too long and we all succumbed to a national orgy of excess.  The problems have been there for almost as long as the republic.

Right from the start the writing was perhaps on the wall.  A health service funded by an illegal gambling operation for example.  The Irish Hospital Sweepstakes were famous for a flutter across the world and Ireland ended up with an enviable network of hospitals across the country.  Now those hospitals are closing or scaled down one by one.  The Sweepstakes themselves ended up in a sad little scandal as it was discovered that even when the cause was a noble one corruption wasn’t far behind.

I remember listening to an episode of the old BBC radio comedy show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.  The show starred John Cleese and The Goodies, Bill Oddie, Graham Garden and Tim Brooke Taylor. In an episode from the 60s which involved a skit about a trip to Ireland they made a crack about finding the Irish Government sitting in a woodland glade with brown paper bags full of money.  Now before all my Irish readers jump on me for referencing an Irish joke by a British show I’ll point out that it’s the subject matter of the joke I’m interested in here. The brown paper envelopes in the 60s…so reminiscent of the one businessman Ben Dunne handed former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, eliciting the now immortal response “Thanks a million big fella” back in 1991.

Then there’s the offshore gas deposits that would provide enough money to give Ireland a very nice little nest egg indeed.  But they were sold off to Shell by Minister Ray Burke (who’s since been jailed for corruption in other, unrelated, matters) in the late 1980s.

A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the government (who for most of the independence of the State have comprised of Fianna Fail, with or without a minor coalition partner) have plundered the country for every cent they could get while investing as little as possible of the country’s money into the services that make a functioning economy.  The observer could very well have a mental image of a robbery interrupted.  As the lights come on in a bare wood panelled room the black clad robbers are stuffing as much loot into their pockets as they can before the cops arrive.  There’s a filing cabinet overflowing with rifled papers, some of which are smouldering in the empty grate.  When the cops do arrive our robbers fall back on tried and tested denials.  “It wasn’t me Gov, no one saw me do it.  You can’t prove nothing.”

Of course I’m not the casual observer.  I live here and work here.  It’s hard to build a fantasy scenario when you’re afraid of how much the looming budget is going to dig into your pay packet.  Something really fundamental’s going to have to change here if things are going to get better and stay better.  Ireland is a wonderful country, and don’t let anyone tell you different.  But it’s been run into the ground by a load of people who shouldn’t have been let near a business let alone a whole country. For a republic that was born out of so much idealism it’s heartbreaking to see it brought so low.  Greed and ineptitude has won out and now all that’s left is to pick up the shattered pieces.  Let’s hope something better rises out of the wreckage and Ireland can learn from past mistakes.

Walking Amongst the Dead


A decapitated lion in the Dead Zoo

Escaping from yet another Dublin shower today I found myself in the Dead Zoo.  I’ve fond memories of the Natural History Museum here, a museum of a museum with it’s moth eaten specimens leering out of wooden case after wooden case but it’s been closed for the last couple of years.  A tour of teachers, being shown the academic potential of somewhere that has never been anything other than educational, almost came a cropper when a back staircase collapsed under the weight of years.

It was closed immediately and remained so for years while it was made safe for a modern, and more litigious, public.  It finally reopened in April of this year, although the upper floors, with their cases of bugs and fishes will remain closed until someone can work out how to install wheelchair access to the Victorian building and deal with the problem of railings that are far too low for today’s obviously lemming like masses.

Natural history museums of their nature tend to hark back to an earlier age of discovery.  The golden age of entomological specimen gathering was in a time when people didn’t worry about endangered species and cut a murderous swathe through most of the animal population of the globe.  Bats with desiccated wings like onion skins, baby birds frozen in moth-eaten anticipation of food that never came and elephants with visible stitches fixing a premature disembowelling don’t fit easily with our queasy modern sensibilities.  Death imitating life can be a bizarre and macabre sight with fatal bullet wounds and sword marks carefully patched for display and family groups made up of animals that were born in different corners of the globe.

Dead Zoo zebra

Zebra foal

You won’t find multi media exhibits in the Dead Zoo or interpretive exhibitions aimed at progressive education, Dublin’s Natural History Museum is frozen in time … and all the better for it.

There are few places you can go today where you are effectively stepping back into time, into a different way of thinking, another age.  The museum was set up in 1857 to house the Royal Dublin Society’s growing collection of entomological specimens.   Dr Livingstone himself spoke at it’s inauguration.  The cases of international species on the first floor record, not just a search for knowledge but also the growth of an Empire.  As the British flag crossed more of the globe so the carcasses started to arrive from more far flung places.

I’ve been researching my family tree recently.  My dad’s family were in India before the British Raj working for the East India Company.  Looking into the glass eyes of an Indian deer today I realised it had been alive, had been running away from the hunter across a parched landscape when my grandfather was a small boy somewhere on the same subcontinent.  For a second it was a window into my own history.  Just for a second.  The Indian deer was straddling a stuffed fawn that had made the move from the living zoo to the dead one some time at the turn of the 20th Century.

Elsewhere the Victorian zeal for categorization is exemplified in a wall of glass frames housing the  impressive collection of R.M. Barrington.  Mr Barrington, whose picture sits on the wall beside his life’s work was the author of the snappily titled The Migration of Birds as observed at Irish Lighthouses and Lightships.


Dead Zoo dead chicksIt was a wonder there were any birds left to migrate after Mr Barrington’s thorough investigation.  The cards inside each case read like the shipping forecast.

On the back wall the skeletons of man and his closest relatives quietly proclaimed it’s faith in evolution while a nearby display showed our ascent through a parade of skulls passing through several million years of history.  Incongruously between them was the case of Pepper’s Ghost, a giant fish caught in 1861.  It was thought to be the largest trout ever caught until it was denounced by the Department of Fisheries a century later as an oddly marked salmon.  Pepper’s Ghost was relegated to a corner of the first floor, it’s usurper getting pride of place in the Irish collection of the floor below.

There are very few places like the Dead Zoo left.  Most have moved into the new century with interactive displays for children and the whole multi media experience.  Here in Dublin the most you’ll get are a couple of cabinets with drawers you can pull out, but if you’re looking for video presentations and a cafe you’re in the wrong place.  This is a museum of a different time and it’s a credit to the National Museum that the place has been left as such.  Where else can we step back in time and see things as our grandparents saw them?

An Honourable Mention

I was absolutely chuffed a couple of weeks ago to be asked by Chapters Bookstore here in Dublin to do a Q&A for their blog.  They have a regular post in which writers answer 5 questions.  My answers went up today.

I was honoured to be asked.  Ask anyone in Dublin who loves to read and they will tell you that Chapters is the best book shop in town.  That’s not to say there aren’t other great ones but Chapters is the largest independent book shop in town and is always a treasure trove of both new and second hand finds.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know and I am now going to go and try and shrink my head a little!

Not in Praise of Bloomsday…

Today, June 16th, was Bloomsday.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, June 16th 1904 is the day when all the action in James Joyce’s opus, Ulysses is set.  Every year on that day the great and good and literary and arty gather in Dublin to retrace the route taken by Leopold Bloom on a Sunday morning at the turn of the last century.

Joyce’s book has been heralded as a classic, a work of English unparalleled in the English language.  That’s why he gets his own day.

Now this is probably the point where I should come clean.  I hate Bloomsday.  I’ve lived in Dublin too long not to get profoundly irritated by the marauding crowds of arty types and tourists that clutter up the thoroughfares with glasses of Guinness and dressed up to the nines in approximations of Edwardian dress.  If you wander through the centre of Dublin on June 16th you will find a selection of middle aged idiots acting like undergraduates and giving the book that is on more peoples “haven’t quite got round to reading” list than most others I can think of, the Rocky Horror treatment.

Bloomsday Photo by Michael Stamp all rights reserved

Let me get this straight.  Bloomsday is not just a bit of harmless playacting, it’s irritating, embarrassing and teeth clenchingly awful!  It’s the one day of the year when you get to see people who really should have more self respect, dressing up like complete idiots and hitting the bars like a back of feckless 20 somethings.

I’m aware that by saying this I sound (a) a total ignoramous and (b) rather unsure about where I fall in the whole cool young thing and old fogey scale.  For starters I have read Ulysses.  I read it years ago when I first moved up to Dublin while I was devouring anything that came from the writers that had helped to make the city famous.  I was fairly voracious in my reading in those days and didn’t always check the postal address of my chosen read.

In those days I read Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw…I’m not sure why I didn’t get round to Behan…I think I got side tracked by Lewis Carroll.  Anyway, at the time I was working on an antique stall in the George’s Street Arcade.

My boss at the time was working on a book of postcards all sent on June 16th 1904, that corresponded with the various locations in the book.  He’d written a synopsis of the book to go with the images and, knowing that 19-year-old me was keen on writing, he asked me to check it, casually throwing me a copy of Ulysses to make sure he hadn’t left anything out.

So I read Ulysses.  From cover to cover.  I quite liked Leopold Bloom but preferred his wife Molly and couldn’t stand Stephen Dedalus, who I thought and continued to think was a pretentious little git.  In terms of Joyce’s prose, while I get what he was doing from a technical point of view, it just completely leaves me cold.

I will freely admit that this could have to do with the never ending stream of postcards or my bosses synopsis but Ulysses would not appear anywhere on my list of books I would want with me if I was ever marooned on a desert island and I would be quite pissed off if it found it’s way there ahead of me.

I know that Ulysses is held up as a work of genius.  I just don’t like it.  I’m not denigrating Joyce as a writer in any way…The Dead is one of the best shorter pieces of writing I have ever read.  I just don’t like Ulysses.  I don’t like the fact that the men run the plot while the women are either leched over virgins, prostitutes or adulteresses.  I don’t like the fact that the book that is now synonymous with Dublin is arguably the least accessible.  I don’t like the fact that Bloomsday itself tends to be a rather snobby affair with pantomime overtones.

Dublin has produced many fine writers;  Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, Sean O’Casey, Flann O’Brien, George Bernard Shaw.  Writers who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, writers who deserve to be celebrated each year but who only get a look in for centenaries or on whims.

So I say, let’s give Bloomsday a rest.  Next year let’s have At Swim Two Birds Day to celebrate Flann O’Brien’s lunatic masterpiece.  The day could start in Grogans Pub off Georges Street and there could be cowboys in Ringsend, someone sitting up a tree proclaiming that a “pint of plain’s yer only man”, come to thing of that could the the city’s clarion call.  We could have someone dressed up as the Pooka MacPhellimey and someone or something as Finn Mac Cool.

Instead of having a day where the middle classes dress up in straw boaters and give the day over to cataloguing the eating and drinking in Joyce’s novel, lets have one where the surreal and bizzarre takes over the city. Instead of a daytrip to Sandeymount and Grafton Street, lets see the cattle corralled in Ringsend.

It might actually work.  And it would be a lot less irritating that bloody Bloomsday.

Close Encounters of an Urban Kind?

I was expecting to be writing tonight about the first day of the trial of Thomas Barrett but it’s been put off to a later date so I’m left with a quandary about what to write.

I doubt if anyone out there would be interested in my quest to find the cat a suitable comb to get rid of the prodigious amounts of hair she’s leaving anywhere within a two mile radius at the moment (although I must admit I did tweet about that this afternoon – I’m not usually that inane honestly).

Normally when I check in on my blog the first thing I do is check my stats.  I’m endlessly fascinated by what brings people here and if and why they come back.  Surprisingly not everyone seems to be a true crime buff since that’s my main topic of conversation here.  The search results that have brought people to this blog can be bizarre at the best of times but are often illuminating.

Today for example they gave me an idea about what to write about.  I’d forgotten about the strange lights over Dublin one last night week…until I saw that several people had arrived looking for information into just that.

Now I can’t offer any information.  They were strange lights all right.  Both myself and the husband saw them and watched them for several minutes until they very suddenly disappeared.  At 12.50 a.m on June 12th I sent the first tweet below.

I didn’t get any replies (well it was rather late) so I don’t know if anyone else saw them but I’m guessing from the search terms people used to find this blog we weren’t the only ones who did after all.  If anyone out there knows where the lights were some kind of weather balloon, military test, over-zealous night club lighting or anything with a rational explanation, please let me know.

Maybe there’s a reason, maybe it’s just one of those totally random things that occasionally happen in Dublin.  If you know what they were, or if I find out anything more, I’ll update this post and put everyone’s minds at rest that there is no alien invasion…unless…

The Prospect of a Long Hot Summer Writing!

The courts are on holiday for the next couple of weeks so I’ve had time to think about other projects…not to mention the life outside work.  Unusually for a bank holiday weekend in Dublin the sun has been splitting the stones – in fact today, the Tuesday following, it’s continuing to do so.

Suddenly the prospect of a proper summer is being dangled in front of us.  I should explain, for those reading this that haven’t had the misfortune to spend the last two summers in Ireland, the past two years have been a complete wash out.  We’re not just talking the odd shower here – the summer before last it rained every day for over 50 days, last summer was no better.  When the temperatures hit the mid 20s (Fahrenheit) over the weekend that was the best we’d seen in three years.

Well this year we can at the very least expect a full week of sunshine.  It might seem a rather insignificant thing to blog about but Ireland badly needs a good summer.  We’ve gone spectacularly from boom to bust in the blink of  an eye and if people get another year of grey skies and rain the national psyche will go into a deep depression.  We’re already looking forward to a summer of strikes from the various disgruntled sectors of society…add constant rain and we’ll have rioting on the streets!

Personally speaking a good summer is just what the doctor ordered.  I’ve another book to work on this year and there’s something about writing in the open air.  I’ve always been a great fan of working from coffee shops and there’s nothing better than working outside and being able to people watch when you’re stuck.  Add some decent coffee and I’m a happy girl.

A couple of years ago we finally got around to clearing the back yard of the years of junk that had piled up out there.  It’s now full of growing things, most of which are in flowers now and when the sun’s not directly over head like now, and the temperatures almost at blood heat, with the dappled light falling across the table where I’m sitting.  It’s like a little oasis in the middle of the city and I love it.

Unfortunately the table has been under wraps since it was bought a few years ago…I was beginning to think it was a cursed table that was actually attracting the rain.  But that’s the kind of lunacy that successive bad summers bring.

This year I’m planning a project of a different kind.  I’m going to be concentrating on my novel.  I’ve promised my agent to have it finally finished by the time the courts are back in October…It’ll be a very different writing experience to Devil, the characters I’m working on are my own creations so for a change I get to tell them what to do rather than simply saying what they did.

It also means that I’ll be able to work wherever, without lugging around upteen notebooks ful of research.  This summer it’ll be a case of have pen (or laptop), will travel.  This would be the perfect year to have a bit of sun!

The Lure of Celluloid

I’ve always loved going to the cinema.  Since I was a kid and the expedition to the two screener in Wimbledon a treat for high days and summer days and whenever we had the money to go.  They still had a commissioner in those days (Ashes to Ashes territory), a short man with a lot of gold on his uniform and a hatred of kids.  I can remember my mum getting into a row with him because she was bringing me to see a 15 certificate and I was only 12 or 13.  He called her bluff but my mum was never a person to cross and he ended up backing down.  The film, if I remember right, was The Assam Garden, hardly a riot of violence and torture porn.

When I was in school in Sligo the trip to the flicks was the once monthly treat for boarders.  I went on my first proper date to the cinema.  It was hardly the most obvious date movie…a film called Skindeep most famous for the scene where you see light sabre-like duelling condoms.

Once I’d left school and moved away from home, cinema became a refuge from long days and a strange city.  The cinemas along Abbey Street here in Dublin were my favourites – the Adelphi for the Hollywood blockbusters and the tiny Lighthouse for foreign films and arthouse.  I can remember a friend and I going to see Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves dozens of times during the summer of 1991.  Both of us can still quote most of Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham dialogue by heart.

The Lighthouse was a different experience.  Tiny and red carpeted the screens had an intimate atmosphere I’ve never encountered before or since.  Screen two in particular only sat around around 30 people.  I remember once, during a showing of Tous Les Matins du Monde staring the Depardieu father and son, someone started handing round Maltesers to the whole audience – there were only about six of us.

The Adelphi and the old Lighthouse are long gone, as is the Adelphi’s sister hotel the Carlton which used to be at the top of O’Connell Street opposite the Savoy.  By then the Irish Film Centre had opened up in Temple Bar, showing art house and independent films, retrospectives, foreign films but also providing a hub for a certain section of the cinema going public.  There was a restaurant there, a bar and a shop.  The big airy space in an old glassed over courtyard seemed fresh and modern.  I was working for a community radio station at the time, while I was in college.  I’d got involved with the movie show and used to love going to the IFC in the morning clutching paper cup of coffee and balancing a notebook on my knee in the dark.

I saw so many films in those morning showings, too many to detail here.  I’d always wanted to review movies and was finally living the dream.  I used to sit in the dark listening to the scratching of pens from all the other reviewers around me.  I enjoyed every film I saw, partially because they were free, even if I would sometimes find fault – just for the show of it!

I loved the IFC, now the IFI, but I always missed the Lighthouse.  Even in the early morning press screenings, no one ever handed round Maltesers and there was never the same sense of camaraderie, that you knew you were in the company of like-minded people, or at least, one or two like minded people and quite a few homeless people and pensioners.

So I was delighted, ecstatic even, when I heard that, not only were we getting a local cinema in Smithfield but it was going to be the resurrected Lighthouse.  This time last year it opened and we’ve been going ever since.  In it’s new incarnation it’s a far cry from the tatty seats and cigarette stained red carpet of the old Abbey Street venue.  The new Lighthouse is quite simply the nicest cinema in Dublin and in the top three of cinemas I’ve ever been to.

I love the multicoloured seating in the largest screen and the fact that every screen is different.  I love the fact that it’s designed with lots of interesting spaces and places to sit when you’re not watching films…it cries out to be used for seminars and conferences and talks, and I gather it’s been pulled into service for that very purpose more than once.  But probably the thing I like most about it is that it’s so far underground, deep under Smithfield Square, that mobile phones just don’t work – and anyone who’s had a pivotal cinematic moment ruined by some gimps novelty ring tone will agree that no signal is a good thing in a cinema.

I’ve become positively evangelical about the Lighthouse.  It really is a world class place and worthy successor to it’s Abbey Street predecessor.  It deserves to do well and I really don’t think I could deal with losing the Lighthouse for a second time!

I’ve nothing against the multiplex experience.  There’s nothing wrong with a decent blockbuster when you’re in the mood and multiscreens are great for those.  My favourite in Dublin is Cineworld on Parnell Street…a good selection of films and it’s actually a big enough place that even marauding packs of kids don’t get underfoot while they’re waiting for the latest pre teen sensation to start.  But a small local cinema like the Lighthouse that shows interesting films and champions the titles that would never get a multiplex showing…that wins every time.

I love films and I will always love going to the cinema.  Being able to get lost in another world for a couple of hours knowing that around you there are other people lost in exactly the same world is like nothing else.  It’s a totally different form of storytelling than books, communal rather than solitary and there are times when that simply can’t be best.  Theatre is a local experience.  A play is done performed by a specific group of people in a specific venue and will only be that way with those people and that venue.  Cinema is universal, one vision suits all, the whole world can see the same thing.

The Lighthouse is a cinema for people who love film, run by people who love film.  That can’t be bettered!

Journalism Movies and Bus Shakeups

Weekends are a time to leave work alone if at all possible.  When you spend all day in court listening to the gruesome details of murder after murder switching off is even more important.  If you dwelt on everything you hear on a daily basis you simply wouldn’t sleep at night. And by “you” in this context I do, of course, mean “I”.  So while today might be off the point tomorrow it will be back to normal service and further coverage of the Ronald McManus trial for the murder of Melissa Mahon.

In the quest of a break myself and the husband headed to the cinema this morning.  I love early showings – a throwback to the days I used to get into press screenings while working for a local radio station in college.  This week we went to see State of Play with Russel Crowe and Helen Mirren.  I’m a big fan of the original BBC series written by Paul Abbot and was initially highly dubious of a Holywood remake.  If you haven’t seen the series I’d still highly recommend it but I’m pleased to say that the movie actually does live up to the hyoe it’s receiving and is a damn fine thriller.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that centre around aheroic hack.  I’ve a reasonably comprehensive collection of these journalism movies from 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire to Good Night and Good Luck via Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously and of course All the Presidents Men.  State of Player is a worthy addition to the genre.

The original was one of the best drama series the BBC have produced in the past twenty years with a fantastic cast including John Simm, David Morrisey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Kelly McDonald.  The movie also has a pretty impressive cast with Russell Crowe as journalist Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor, Ben Affleck (well cast for once) as the beleagured congressman Stephen Colllins and Robin Wright Penn as Collin’s wife.  But the best thing about the movie is it’s not just a cracking thriller, it’s also the kind of film that makes you proud to be a journalist (and god knows, those films are few and far between!)

The film version of State of Play sticks pretty close to the plot of the original but the context is now totally up to date, dealing with media ownership, the threats to traditional media and the rise of the blog.  More than any of this though is the championing of good old fashioned journalism.  I remember watching the original series when and cheering at the television when Bill Nighy as the editor stood up for the story and rallied his troops.  Helen Mirren is equally inspiring at the relevent bit but it was Rachel McAdams as blogger Della Frye who was the best line “With a story as big as this, people should have newsprint on their fingers while they’re reading it.” (or words to that effect)

It’s nice to see journalists portrayed as something other than scurrilous muckrakers and unprincipled hacks.  That attitude is prevalent enough as it is.  It’s nice to feel proud of the job I do.

The second thing I wanted to write about today is a little bit of a rant.  Dublin Bus today introduced changes to their timetables in the first stage of their fleet reduction as a cost cutting measure.  Looking at the list of routes that have been affected one thing stands out.  The changes are extensive and affect a wide range of buses.  Some routes have been done away with entirely.  This would be fine if the cuts were made across the board but that’s not what’s happened here.  Looking at the list of bus routes it’s noticeable that the majority go to the north and the west of the city, areas where a large percentage of the population live in local authority housing and who do not have access to DART urban rail services of the LUAS trams.

One of the most frequent services that frequently trundles into town with empty buses at off peak times of day has not been touched.  The 46A goes through the more affluent parts of town, Donnybrook and Dundrum.  During the afternoon buses frequently go past empty, at a frequency of every five or ten minutes.  It’s one of the most over supplied bus routes in the city but because of it’s route I’d be surprised if Dublin Bus reduce the service.  It’s nothing new of course.  Here in Dublin the poor always pay when the powers that be decide to save a few bucks – the recent decision to cut the Christmas bonus for those on the dole is a case in point.  But I’m not here to bang any particular political drum.  There are others who do that far better than me.  Dublin Bus may yet produce sweeping cuts through the posher bits of town in their second volley in May but I’m just saying what I noticed this morning and throwing it out there.

Hmm, reading back over this post it occurs to me that anyone who has issues with the liberal meeja is probably going to have their worst fears confirmed.  Well you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  As I said before, tomorrow I’m back in court and this blog will return to it’s normal subject matter.  Happy Sunday!

Pirates and Paedophiles

I went to see The Boat that Rocked in the cinema today.  It brought back a lot of fond memories.  I started out in radio before moving to print.  I met the husband when we were both working in Anna Livia FM, a special interest station that used to be based on Grafton Street.  I’ve fond memories of working in conditions that would have given a health and safety inspector palpitations – it was always more fun than working in commercial stations.

I never worked for a pirate but you can’t work in radio without meeting an awful lot of people who did. The nostalgia would be rife on late night shifts or Sunday afternoons when the phones weren’t hopping and the pre records were longer.  Here in Ireland pirate radio had it’s heyday for much longer than the UK.  Commercial radio didn’t kick off here until the late 80s so pirate radio had a much higher profile for a lot longer.

I didn’t move to Dublin until 1991 so I missed the glory days of stations like Sunshine, Radio Nova or Q102 (a different operation to the station of that name currently broadcasting although there are some overlaps).  By the time I moved up legal stations like FM104 and 98FM had started broadcasting and the pirates were no more.  I know several people who get decidedly misty eyed when talking about Sunshine’s last night on air.

These days though, my mind tends to jump in one direction when the subject of pirate radio comes up.  One of the drawbacks of doing the court beat is that sometimes what you see down there pushes in front of nicer memories, becoming a reference point to start from even if you’re not consciously dwelling on the details of any one trial.  Some cases just lodge there.  There’s not a lot you can do about it.  The trial of the founder of Radio Dublin (one of, if not the oldest pirate in Dublin) stuck more than most.

Eamonn “Captain” Cooke was a larger than life figure the Dublin radio scene as far back as the mid 1960s.  He ran the station out of his house in Inchicore and weathered garda raids and defections.  The one thing the station couldn’t survive was the Captain’s incarceration for the sexual assault of several underage girls.

One of the first big trials I covered was his second trial after he had been released on a legal technicality.  Two of the four women involved in the first trial had to go through the evidence for a second time.  Over four tedious weeks in the Winter of 2007 the trial stuttered to a conclusion, forced to delay for weeks due to the claims of ill health from the man the local children called the “Cookie Monster”.

We were told how he brought children round to the house to abuse them. The sheer arrogance of the man was absolutely staggering.  To this day he says the allegations are spiteful smears on his good name…despite being twice convicted.

These days you will still hear people talking nostalgically about “Captain” Cooke.  You will even find articles like this one knocking about on-line, calling Cooke “a caring man…who loves children”.  There seems to be an attitude in certain quarters that the music was all that was important.  It didn’t really matter that the man in who’s house the station broadcasted from liked them well before puberty.

It’s a little like saying Hitler was a nice bloke as long as you didn’t bring up the politics!

Eamonn Cooke was convicted for being a predatory paedophile who groomed children as young as 7 for abuse.  The fact that he could be charming or good company outside that doesn’t make it any better.  Once again, I’m not saying that the DJs who worked in Radio Dublin acted improperly but the rumours were around for years.  I had heard stories about Eamonn Cooke’s fondness for underage skirt long before he was arrested.  He’s not a nice man and should have been brought to justice years sooner.  The incidents mentioned in court happened in the mid 1970s.  Maybe we’re just not very good at shopping people who like abusing children in this country.

If you’re reading this and you worked in Radio Dublin with Cooke and have a problem with what I’m saying here please say so.  I sat through all that trial and as I said the details have stuck with me, two years later.  But on certain message boards online he’s talked about as a pirate hero with an unfortunate weakness.  That I don’t understand.

A Family Ripped Apart

David Bourke has been found guilty of murdering his wife, Jean Gilbert.  He stabbed her four times in front of their three children, one morning after making the kids’ breakfast.  It took the seven men and five women in the jury a little over seven and a half hours to come to their decision and when it came it was with one dissenter, a majority verdict.

We’d all been expecting a majority, even a hung jury.  As the trial unfolded over a week even the judge made it abundantly clear that this was a clear case of manslaughter through provocation.  Jean Gilbert had been in love with another man and had made no secret of the fact.  She was planning to leave her husband and her children and run away with a former lover, a musician who shared her Buddhist beliefs.

The phrase Judge Barry White used repeatedly in his summing up to the evidence and his charging of the jury was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  The question the jury had been asked to consider was whether this previously mild mannered, devoted husband and father had encountered this straw and “snapped” or whether he had petulantly murdered the woman he professed to love because she was no longer his.

The two possible verdicts polarised people.  Over the past week I’ve heard particularly dogmatic opinions on either side.  The judge even asked the prosecution (in the absence of the jury) to find out who decided Bourke would face a murder charge rather than manslaughter.  I think in the end what it boiled down to was the verdict that was perhaps technically correct, manslaughter by dint of provocation, to the one that seemed morally correct, that is murder.  The jury went with their hearts.  I’m glad they did.

Bourke was undoubtedly under tremendous stress in the days and weeks leading up to his wife’s death.  She had told him she did not love him, had never loved him.  He read letters and emails written to and from her lover.  The family that he held so dear, that he talked about to anyone who would listen, was being torn apart, a bolt out of the blue that he had never seen coming, a tragedy of the domestic kind.

But did that justify his actions?  The jury certainly didn’t think so.  They obviously asked themselves the question, is it ever justifiable to kill the person you love?  Is a crime of passion a lesser crime than a spur of the moment attack against a stranger? They decided it wasn’t.

It can sound strange when you hear closing arguments to hear the defence of provocation argued.  That being, really, really pissed off because of someone’s actions is an actual defence to murder.  It calls to mind cases of neighbour playing boy bands at full volume in the middle of the night, every night.  Undoubtedly there are times when people are goaded into violent action, unfortunate taste in music doesn’t have to feature.  The law allows for this kind of loss of control and it was this defence that David Bourke was using.

He said in evidence that he had wanted to hurt his wife the way she had hurt him, when he went into the living room brandishing a knife.  He said she looked smug, satisfied and happy, having just returned from an early morning tryst with the man she would leave him for.  He had never raised a hand to her before.  Was this the straw that broke the camel’s back and if so did that make it all right?

David Bourke was a very different man to the wife killers who’ve sat on that bench facing the jury over the past few years.  He didn’t claim a phantom intruder had killed his wife, as Joe O’Reilly and Brian Kearney did before him.  He didn’t deny dealing the fatal blow.  His wife wasn’t threatening to take away the children, only herself.

When the verdict was read out he sat very still.  His face reddened but he stayed composed.  Only when the judge left the court to allow for discussion about his wife’s family’s victim impact statement did he show any emotion.  As people milled around him and the journalists behind chattered excitedly and compared their notes he sat down heavily as his family closed in.  He was quickly surrounded and hidden from view.  He looked in shock, disbelieving.

Jean Gilbert’s family eventually gave their victim impact statement.  Her brother Robert spoke about the sister with infectious laugh and dazzling smile, who brought passion to everything she did. The women who was proud of having created the first jelly bear sweet with no artificial colourings or flavours.

But it was the quoted words of the three children who had watched their mother die that hit hardest. Bourke nodded very slightly as his daughter was quoted “I will never forget my mum.  She was the best, so nice.  I loved you and miss you so much.”  He swallowed as his son’s words were read to the court.  “I just really miss her.  I want my mum.  I want to go home to my mum.”

Speaking outside the courts the family were brief.  They decided to draw a veil over whatever had gone on within that family.  Whatever hurt the parents inflicted on one another it is the children who will have to come to terms with the loss of any normal family.

The more obvious verdict from a legal point of view might have been manslaughter but that verdict never did sit quite right.  It would have meant a jury saying that it’s OK to kill your wife if she pisses you off enough.  They obviously didn’t agree.

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