Sailors, Servants, and Strangers: Norwegians in the 1901 and 1911 Irish Census

Recently I set about exploring people of Norwegian origin on the 1901 and 1911 census. As you can probably imagine, when the census was taken, the vast majority of Norwegians who showed up on the census were not actually resident in Ireland at all, but crew members of boats and ships docked in Ireland on the night the census was taken.

These included people like 16 year old Lars Larsen, one of three apprentice sailors of that age, docked in Belfast.

belfast ship 1901
A ship with Norwegian and Swedish crew docked in Belfast in 1901, when the census was taken.

In total, there were 296 Norwegian men in Ireland in 1901 when the census was taken. Most of them based in Belfast, Larne and Dublin. Not all were sailors however. Some were most likely the sons of sailors. Take John Wellington, born in Norway, according to the census but living on Strand Street in Malahide and working as a boat builder. He is listed along with his wife, Margaret, from Co Dublin and a nephew, Christopher Farrell.

Or consider Olaf Haaland, married to Margretta J Haaland, daughter of John Giffard of Rathmines, a man who lists his occupation as “Dividends”. A large family, who appear from their internationalism (another daughter is married to a London man) and their address, to have been fairly well-heeled. Olaf was not the only Haaland then living in Dublin. Sixty-five year old Lars Olsen Haaland, a Scandinavian interpreter, lived on Lower Leeson Street with his two daughters, Bertha and Marie. Bertha was a shopkeeper at a chandlery, and Marie worked as a book keeper at the Singer sewing machine shop.

Another unusual family was the Stromsoe family in Queenstown, now Cobh, Co. Cork. Fredrick was a naval store labourer married to Cork-born Mary Ann with whom he had five children. The Stromsoe family werent alone in settling in Ireland in these years. In 1911, we find the Gulbransen family in Belfast. There is Ahavoh Gulbransen and his wife Elizabeth,  both Belfast natives. Ahavoh’s father Paul Fredrick, 78, and born in Norway lives with them. Son,  like father, lists himself as a watchmaker.

At the house of eighty year-old Agnes Warden in Sneem, Co. Kerry there were among her large retinue of servants (14 in total), four Norwegian men: Andreas Williamson, 43, a sailor and carpenter; Ernst Christiansen, 30, also a sailor by occupation; Conrad Christiansen, 25 and presumably Ernst’s brother who was a carpenter and Peder Johannesen, 37, and also a carpenter.

While there were in both years more men on the censuses from Norway thanks to sailors on board ships, the women who lived in Ireland from Norway were by and large young, presumably unmarried women who worked in domestic service of one kind or another. We’ve already seen the daughters of Lars Olsen Haaland,  but therec was also girls like Anna Ganda Berger send,  a 22 year old from Stange, Norway who worked as a cook for the Couser family in Armagh.

Or the Ganserod sisters who worked in a house on University street in Belfast. They worked for Anna Hunter, a 52 year old school principal.  The sisters,  Anna and Elisabeth, were 23 and 19 years old respectively. Anna, the elder of the two, had duties including being cook while Elisa was listed as a house maid.

The Wellwood family of Pottinger Co. Down had Sigrid Christiansen, 23, working as a nurse and domestic servant for them.

However, it wasn’t just young Norwegian girls employed as domestics by irish families, as the case of Nicoline Engelsen Lund illustrates.  Lund, 50 at the time of the 1901 census,  was one of four servants working in a house in Whitechurch, Kilkenny. The head of the house was Mabel Bryant, a 30 year old with a newborn son.

As ever, such discoveris raise as many questions as they seem to provide Anderson.  Through what networks were these young women in their twenties finding work in Ireland as domestic servants being key among them?  Is it sheer coincidence?

And what to make of the various Norwegian and part Norwegian dailies this cursory research brings to light? So small and scattered were they that they could scarcely be said to form a coherent group in Ireland at the time. And yet, one must wonder to what extent they maintained links with Norway as a country as it, a few years before Ireland,  became independent?

Perhaps the only thing that can be said for certain at present about these apparently anamolous Norwegian enclaves is this: between the sailors, servants and strangers to Ireland it is clear that there was some networks between the countries which are now perhaps lost to us. It is a reminder,  healthy and not a little timely, to recall that Irish life is as much a part of the world of the North Sea as it is a product of the Atlantic world. Indeed much the same point is made by Daryl Leeworthy in his work on Cardiff’s Norwegian Sailor’s Church.  It is a reminder to us that Ireland’s  historical interactions with the outside world see us not confined to our antagonisms with Britain or our emigration to the USA.

There are other stories we can tell about early twentieth century Ireland that frame us differently. An Ireland where Norwegian girls came to work as domestic servants, where interpreters lived and brought up their families, where our docksides were enlivened with the conversation and camaraderie of Norwegian and Swedish  sailors.



Story of Waterford’s first Jewish wedding in 1894 to feature alongside Representations of Jews in Irish Literature exhibition

I am delighted to say some of my research on the history of Waterford’s Jewish community will feature as part of an exhibition at Waterford Institute of Technology’s Library for the month of February. Below are full details of the exhibit:

Ulster University and the National University of Ireland Galway are pleased to announce a partnership with Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) which will see the Representations of Jews in Irish Literature exhibition being brought to Waterford. Representations of Jews in Irish Literature will be launched by poet Simon Lewis, who has recently published a collection of poetry Jewtown. Lewis was the winner of the Hennessy Emerging Poetry Prize and runner-up in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2015. The exhibition will be hosted by WIT for the month of February and will feature a complimentary display of materials relating to Jewish culture and identity including an exploration of the lives of Miss Fanny Diamond and Mr Jacob Lappin, the first Jewish couple married in Waterford on 14 November, 1894.

The exhibition is the first major output of a three-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council which charts the representations of Jewish identity, culture and life in Ireland from medieval through to modern times. It examines the portrayal of Jews in the literary record alongside the contribution of Irish-Jewish writers to Irish literature and celebrates this unique hyphenated identity.

A Jewish wedding takes place at the Waterford Courthouse in 1901. Source: wikicommons.

Mr Kieran Cronin, Developmental Librarian, WIT, welcomed the collaboration: “WIT is delighted to be partnering with Ulster University and the National University of Ireland Galway to bring this illuminating and pioneering exhibition to the south east of Ireland. We share the curator’s vision that the exhibition works best when accompanied by primary local artefacts which shed light on Ireland’s Jewish history, which has largely been overlooked.”

“The WIT Libraries’ research into Waterford’s Jewish history has also opened up an exciting collaboration with San Francisco-based Valerie Lapin Ganley, producer of the documentary ‘Shalom Ireland’; to narrate the fascinating story of her great-grandparents’ wedding in Waterford in 1894.” This will include artefacts relating to the couple in display cases including copies of the wedding invitation and marriage certificate amongst other documents that can be found. Having a very successful debut in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin on 30 June 2016, the travelling Representations of Jews in Irish Literature exhibition toured a number of key venues during the year including Armagh Public Library, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Coleraine Town Hall and the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Principal Investigator for the project, Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Registrar and Deputy President of NUI Galway, commented: “The exhibition is testament to the fact that Irish literature reveals a cultural diversity that goes far beyond narrow stereotypes, and I would encourage everyone to come here and see for themselves what such diversity has meant in Irish literature.”

Director for the Centre of Irish and Scottish Studies at Ulster University and Project Team member, Dr Frank Ferguson also said: “This is a very significant project for Irish literary studies and one which shall make a major contribution to our understanding of the history and the cultural expression of Jews in Ireland. It is marvellous to see the interest that the project has already gained since its first official launch last summer and we are very pleased to be partnering with Waterford Institute of Technology to allow the exhibition to travel to the South-East.” The launch is due to take place at Waterford Institute of Technology on Wednesday, 1 February 2017.

The exhibition and launch are free to attend but booking is required. Those seeking further details and to attend the exhibition in February and its launch on 1 February should contact Peggy McHale by email or by telephone at: +353 51 302877 and email:

Representations of Jews in Irish Literature Exhibition – Waterford Institute of Technology will run for the month of February and will be launched on Wednesday, 1 February, 2017 at 6pm.

Smash Nazism: Public Sculpture and Politics

Every day as I head to work, my train pulls into Oslo Sentralstasjon invariably at platforms 15 or 16. This means I either swing round the station entirely on the walk to work, or if I go through it, I go through the Østbanehallen. Exiting the Østbanehallen, I am confronted each time with a large silver hammer smashing a swastika.

This sculpture, erected last year, and titled Knus nazismen, “Smash Nazism”, is unsubtle in conveying its message perhaps, but such unsubtle responses to present fascist tendencies are exactly what are required. It is a big silver hammer shattering a swastika on a black plinth. Many regard it as ugly, but it’s the bluntness of the message – and the fact that it helps to recognise the efforts of some of Norway’s less celebrated but often most daring resistance members that mark it out as an important public art work.

The artist behind the sculpture, Bjørn Melbye Gulliksen, from Sandefjørd, was born just one year after the Second World War came to an end. He himself was  leader of the visual artists’ trade union in Norway in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In a piece of apt symbolism, the new sculpture was revealed outside of the train station on 1st May – traditionally the day to celebrate international labour.

The sculpture is controversial not only artistically but because of those whom it commemorates: the Osvald Group. A resistance group led by Asbjørn Sunde, a committed communist, he was convicted in 1954 of spying for the Soviet Union. Sunde was a sailor and later fought in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the international brigades and a leader of the NKP – Norway’s Communist Party. The communist-leanings of Sunde’s Osvald Group (so-called because Sunde went under the alias of Osvald Pettersen in this period), meant that their role as resistors to Nazism and Quisling’s puppet regime went unrecognised for many years in Norway.

Five members of the Group are still alive and when the statue was unveiled last year, one of the five was quoted as saying:

“I think the unveiling was dignified and fine,” Anne Marie Malmo, who was part of the Osvald Group in Bergen, told Aftenposten. “What’s most important is that those who gave their lives (to the resistance effort) will be remembered.”

The base of the sculpture has two plaques: one to NSB workers who died during the Second World War, including two members of the Osvald Group.

The second plaque, specifically for Osvald Group members, see those two names appear again. The base of the sculpture also contains a quote from Sunde which translates as:

“It was worth fighting for the freedom—for all nations, for all races, for all classes, for all people”.

In times when we are faced with the prospect of emerging forms of ethno-nationalism throughout Europe, and fascism under the Orwellian name of the “alt-right” in the United States, such public sculpture and the story of resistance fighters like NSB workers and the Osvald Group become more important than ever to remember.The bluntness of a hammer smashing a swastika is a clear message: there should be no place in our world for such hate.

The Return of History (but not as we know it)

As the world reacts to the news that Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States following an unprecedented upset in polling to see of Democratic Party nominee Hilary Clinton, I have been struck by the nature of how people keep referring to this as “setting the clock back fifty years” or seeing his victory as a “return to the 1930s”.

Some have noted that today is the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event and the collapse of Communism in the USSR which followed on, was hailed at the time by champions of liberal democracy and capitalism as “the end of history”. The phrase is a much used (and occasionally abused one) but has become popular again in the years since the recession of 2008. Many saw the revived interest in left-wing thinking and writing as a sign of change.

That late capitalism’s crisis was proof that the late 1980s and early 1990s triumphalism of hawkish American commentators that history had ended in a decisive victory for the liberal and neo-liberal project had been proven as nothing more than hubris. The rise of left-wing populism in Greece with Syriza, Podemos in Spain, and the choice of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of British Labour was seen as a sign of things changing. So too did the prospect of a Bernie Sanders Democratic run.

This was the strand of hope that Greece’s Golden Dawn, Farage’s UKIP, Le Pen’s Front National and more besides throughout the world who used capitalism’s crisis to push a right-wing populist agenda would ultimately be beaten. But earlier this year, we saw British Labour all but tear itself apart over Corbyn and the leadership contest when the Tories took Government for themselves. We have seen what happened to Syriza. UKIP helped drive and succeed in achieving Brexit which the Tories now seem intent on pushing through (the recent High Court decision notwithstanding).

The election of Trump seems to have put the nail in the coffin of any such hopes for now. The possibility that a man so uniquely unqualified, so evidently unfit to be President should convince so many people otherwise says something about the failure of traditional politics to be convincing to huge numbers. It also says something about the failure of the various strands of left-wing politics from capitalising on global capital’s single greatest crisis. Whatever message of hope the left offered, it isn’t what the majority seems to want right now.

This is a historic day. It is a watershed moment in the history of the United States and the western world. What it isn’t is a return to the past. It is, as well as the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the anniversary of the Eighteenth Brumaire, when Louis Napoleon ended the First French Republic with a coup.

While it might be tempting to ring out the phrase “first as tragedy and then as farce” from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, this is more than a farce. This is a crisis – of democracy and the belief that we have been making our societies better now for the past century and more. As Marx wrote in 1852:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

Trump’s victory will weigh heavily too. History is made by understanding it. Teaching history, warts and all, needs to be done. Hearing it’s warnings is important if we are to avoid this date entering infamy in the same way that another anniversary of November 9th has done.

Reading History: Preventing the Future by Tom Garvin


As this year’s budget is released in Ireland, I think it is timely to reconsider this book by Tom Garvin.

Garvin, a professor of political science at UCD for most of his professional career, wrote the book in 2004 at a time when – they tell us – we were all partying. Or at least, that’s what they would tell us once the hangover set in late 2008. I read this book while studying at UCC, and so far as I can recall, I didn’t read it until post-crash, sometime in late 2008, early 2009, in the final year of my degree.

The book, I recall, had an extraordinary impact on me at the time. Despite being written at the height of the boom, one reviewer notes that although “there is some discussion of later periods, this is not the place to look for an explanation of the “Celtic Tiger” era.” True enough, but that it was written in that era is not insignificant for how Garvin looked at the 40s and 50s, the period which receives the most sustained attention.

In essence, the argument of the book – and one which at base  I continue to think is nearly impossible to refute in most ways – is that the combined emergence of a new political elite from the revolutionary generation of the 1920s who were largely quite socially, economically and intellectually conservative combined with the rising power of the Catholic Church actively attempt to prevent the modernisation, and indeed secularistation of society in Ireland which was the hallmark of the postwar consensus across much of western and northern Europe. They were intent, as the books title suggests, to prevent the future.

And in some ways we live still with the success of their attempts to prevent the future, whether that be the future represented by the emergence of social democracy or something else entirely.

As the complainers on social media about a €5 increase to social welfare – miniscule in itself when we consider the same government just weeks ago sought to actively refuse €13 billion euro of owed taxes from Apple – indicate, Irish society sees social welfare safety nets not in terms of a collective responsibility to care for the vulnerable in our society. Emigration has rocked Ireland in the past eight years as it did during the period Garvin examines in Preventing the Future. Our homelessness crisis continues and looks set to continue as rent increases in our major cities show no sign of abating. The resistance to repeal the 8th amendment and finally provide women living in Ireland with the right to choose how to live their lives without fear of criminalisation and stigma remains. The idea that some are deserving of our sympathy and charity and others not persists. Ireland has yet to move beyond this.

Whatever future might have been imagined for Ireland once, it is hard not to feel that any number of these futures have been prevented. In many cases, this has been a mixture of the active insistence of Irish elites that the country works just fine as it is, and the passivity of the population in general not to change its own habits in terms of voting. This has meant the continued acceptance that our elected representatives have more often than not completely failed us as a people in making the choices that will actively make Ireland a fairer, more equal society. That is “just how it is”.

It is further evident from the mean-spirited attitude of those who see the €5 increase as a sign that life on the dole is better than working that many members of the Irish population, rather than reflecting on the experience of the past eight years that has seen services slashed, emigration rise and homelessness reach unprecedented levels, they have swallowed the rhetoric that pits us against one another. The deflection away from the staid thinking of economic policy in Ireland, away from the continued failure to account for the fact the current generation of under 30s have inherited a social and economic mess largely not of their making but for which they have paid the heaviest price, suits those who continue to espouse the orthodoxies of the market as king. In other words, as they did in the 1940s and 1950s, those with power in Ireland continue to prevent the futures of many as those many had imagined it. The longer we continue to accept that that’s “just how it is”, then eventually we will be culpable for preventing our own futures.

From Cork to Christiania: A Postcard

Yesterday in Oslo, myself and herself took a look at the Salgshallen brukthandel (literally the used shop) on Storgata. A veritable Aladdin’s cave of old records, postcards, stamps and books – too many to work through in a single sitting – I quickly made use of the system laid out by the shops owner to take a look at the things that interested me most: chiefly, postcards related to sport and postcards related to places I knew. Rifling through the stacks, I came across several from Prague, and also a handful from Dublin and Cork. The Cork ones were two views of King’s Street (now, of course, MacCurtain Street), the view from Donovan’s Bridge, better known as the Shaky Bridge, and one which showed the opulent houses of Sunday’s Well, including the well-known pink house that runs along the river bank.

The postcard is dated 27th May 1905, and was addressed to Nicoline Bjørnstad who lived at No.9 Inkognito Terrasse in Christiania (now Oslo). The building at No. 9 Inkognito Terrasse, a beautiful redbrick villa is now home to a Christian mission.

No.9 Inkognito Terrasse as it looked in 1910. Photo: Oslo Museum.

The note on the card is written on the front, with just the address across the back as you can see in the scans below.

The postcard itself is part of the “Emerald Series, Printed in Ireland”. A little disappointingly, the actual stamp has been removed – presumably by some avid philatelist before it ended up in the brukthandel, and their use for it had evaporated. Oddly enough, the card says on the back that it is “For INLAND Postage only”, although clearly is was perfectly possible to use it abroad as well.



The front of the card contains a message from what looks like someone signing off as Dr. Emil, but it is difficult to say for certain. The handwriting is not very clear on the card, but seems to suggest that they will stay in Cork for a long time. It also mentions Falmouth in England where perhaps they were going next on a steamer. Whoever wrote the card, and whoever Nicoline Bjørnstad was, they were not resident at Inkognito Terrasse 9 for many more years. The 1910 Census for Norway shows Adolph Wendel, originally from Iceland, living there with his Christiania-born wife, Esther.

Intriguingly there are a great many photographs of the interior of Inkognito Terrasse 9, on the Oslo Museum website with some showing people inside them. The photos are dated to ca. 1910, so they are most likely members of the Wendel family and not the two people in the postcard exchange. These photos offer an extraordinary glimpse inside the building in its pomp showing tea parties, music playing, and plenty more life and activity:

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Per Ung’s Mannen med Sykkelen

As you walk up through Oslo city centre along Karl Johans gate, the street opens out into a big wide boulevard. On your left will be Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, and the boulevard stretches all the way up the hill to the King’s Palace, taking in the National Theatre, and the magnificent Law Faculty of the University of Oslo.

In the most central part of the city, which is busy with tourists and locals, there are many public statues but one kept catching my eye, and it’s Per Ung’s Mannen med Sykkelen, Man with Bicycle.


I passed it a few times, bookmarking it in my mind to take the time to examine when I had a chance. I took the time to do so yesterday. Per Ung was a sculptor who was educated in his craft in part by Per Palle Storm, the man who’s work adorns Oslo’s Rådhuset which I wrote about before.

In fact, the style of Ung’s Mannen med Sykkelen  struck me as being so similar to the Rådhuset figures that Storm did, that I actually took notice of it mistakenly in the belief that it was more of Storm’s work.

One of the captivating things about Mannen med Sykkelen is that the figure has a certain insouciance about him, a confidence in his cycling abilities. I wondered before examining closely who it represented.

For the figure the sculpture represents, despite the name, is not just an everyman plucked from Ung’s imagination. In fact, the figure standing proudly next to his bike is Gunnar Sønsteby. Sønsteby, nicknamed “Kjakan”, or “the chin”, was a Norwegian resistance fighter during the Second World War. He was also codenamed No. 24 and took part in a wide range of resistance activities throughout the course of the war, spending time in Sweden and the UK. He is Norway’s most decorated citizen, and he died in 2012.

Ung’s sculpture of him with his bike was originally installed at Solis Plass when it was unveiled in 2007. However, after some 17th May celebrations got out of hand and the front wheel of the bike was stolen (and later put back), the sculpture was moved to its more discrete current location along Karl Johans gate, near to Spikersuppa among the trees.


From the Archives: Ireland 3 – 3 Norway, November 1937

In 1937, Irish football was in fairly healthy state, and had in many respects weather many of the worst storms of the decade. Domestic football had mixed fortunes in the 1930s, growing in popularity and casting off its image as the foreign game. At the same time, the games newfound popularity and the growth of the Free State League faced many difficulties as a result of the deep depression that Ireland, and the world, found itself early in the decade following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. 1937 saw a first for Irish soccer, as we played Norway in our first competitive fixtures against one another at the end of the year which would be forever famous as the year that our new constitution came into force.

While most people will probably recall the game between both countries at USA ’94 in the group stages, our history of competing against one another goes back much, much further. Back in 1937, over the course of a month, Norway and Ireland played each other twice, in a pair of games for World Cup qualification – the new competition which had begun at the start of that tumultuous decade in 1930. The first game was played in Oslo at Ullevål Stadion, which I wrote about yesterday, and saw the Norwegians beat Ireland by three goals to two. Two of the winning goals were scored Reidar Kvammen, then a young policeman playing for Vikings in Stavanger where he would spend his whole career. Kvammen would also go on to be the first Norwegian player to reach fifty international caps, and he scored a career total of 17 international goals. The game was played in front of Norwegian king Håkon and Prince Olav.

The journey to get to Oslo was a gruelling one – the players went firs to Newcastle by boat and then onwards to Bergen, before a twelve hour journey from Bergen to Oslo. (Evening Herald, October 6 1937) However, the trip was not all travelling, with the Irish Press reporting that the players would be brought to see the viking ships at Bygdøy and dine at Frognersæteren Restaurant in Oslo before heading back to Bergen to begin the return leg of their trip. They even managed while in Newcastle, and waiting to head to Bergen, to catch Celtic take on Sunderland at Roker Park. (Irish Press, October 9 1937)

While there was disappointment with the loss from Irish officials, the trip was a success from a cultural exchange point of view. The Norwegian Fotballforbund (NFF) gave the Irish team a silver replica of a Viking ship as a gift, while the FAIFS gave their Norwegian counterparts a Belleek statue representing the figure of  Eire. (Irish Press, October 14 1937)

The return game v Norway, and the prospect of getting to the World Cup proper was seen as an opportunity to get one up for the FAIFS against all the other home nation sides who were not taking part in the newly minted competition.

When the Norwegians came to visit Dublin, they stayed at the Gresham Hotel, and were received at Government buildings by President Eamon de Valera. Their post match dinner was at the Royal Hibernian Hotel.This game was a draw, with the Irish team getting a late equaliser to make it 3-3, however this wasn’t enough and Norway progressed. Remarkably footage of the game survives:

Not only footage, but here you can hear the Norwegian state broadcaster, NRK, radio coverage of the game, including a brief few words from then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne. The Evening Herald, in a colour piece about the second game in Dublin, made some reference to the longer history between the countries, with a correspondent writing that:

Once again the Norsemen have carried out a raid. It was vastly different from those perpetrated by their forefathers in the distant past, but even the modern Norsemen did not go away empty handed – they took away with them Ireland’s hopes of remaining in the World’s Cup competition.

There was a definite feeling that this was a bit of a missed opportunity since the the Irish team came back from 3-1 down to draw the game 3-3, though it was too little too late. Ireland would have to wait until 1990 before finally reaching a World Cup final competition, starting an era on unprecedented success for the national team but in 1937, they came very close indeed against Norway.

Oslo Rådhuset

Since moving to Norway, each time I am in Oslo I am captivated by the extraordinary two-towered city hall, Oslo’s Rådhus. Today, while in the city centre, I finally went and took some photos of the Rådhus, to share.

The current city hall is of course far from the first. There were apparently several different town halls within Christiania (as Oslo was known from 1624-1924). The old town, hall now marked with a blue plaque, is at 7 Rådhusgata and shares a corner with Dronningens gate. It was town hall from 1641-1733, and is today the home of Den Norsk Forfattersforening (the Norwegian Authors’ Union).

The present city hall was designed by Arnstein Arneborg and Magnus Poulsson. Arneborg, as well as designing the Oslo city hall, also designed the interior of the UN Security Council in New York and the Viking Skipshuset on Bygdøy, which houses the Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune viking ships. The idea for a new city hall on the waterfront at Pipervika came from Hieronymus Heyerdahl, and Arneborg and Poulsson’s functionalist design won the competition in 1918. However, it would take a long time before the Rådhus was completed. The foundation stone was laid in September of 1931, but the real work would not begin on the building until February 1933. Writing in 1948, Karen Larsen, in A History of Norway, noted that “the idea of functionalism was, of course, as old in Norway as her oldest log hut, but in its modern application this principle meant a break with all old forms, as every detail that had no utilitarian purpose was sloughed off… before long it was demonstrated, however, that the new materials, such as concrete, steel, and glass, lent themselves especially to large-scale buildings of substantial durability and real beauty.” These two qualities sum up neatly what is so powerful about Oslo’s Rådhus.

The building of the city hall from the waterfront necessitated the knocking of many older buildings, which were to be replaced by new office buildings surrounding the city hall which apparently went some way in financing the project. The second world war put a stop to the building but it was resumed after the war and finally was officially opened on 15 May 1950, to coincide with the city’s 900th anniversary.

Additions were made to the steps that ran down to the seafront in 1960 when several sculptures by Per Palle Storm were added, showing a variety of workers.

Another of Storm’s additions in the garden near the city hall was of a man drinking from a fountain, as you can see below.


On the side away from the seafront at Fridtjof Nansen’s plass, there are also wooden carvings in large panels which take their inspiration from the Icelandic sagas of Snorri Sturluson, including these two which show the Norns watering Yggdrasil – the tree of life in Norse mythology – and Embla (Elm), who along with Ask (Ash) was one of two tress given life by the Norse gods and who were the first people. These panels are the work of Dagfin Werenskiold:

There is also at present a metal sculpture which in honour Fridtjof Nansen, an arctic explorer and leader of the team that first crossed Greenland’s interior in 1888:

Oslo’s Rådhus is a functionalist building which thanks to additions speaks of Norway’s social democratic practices and its penchant for adventure and myth. It is an extraordinary piece of architecture and should be on any visitor’s list.


In defense of the Rose of Tralee poem

The Rose of Tralee was on this week, and caused not a little stir for a number of good and bad reasons. Two of the main causes were the commendable efforts of the Sydney Rose to raise an issue that is fundamental to women in Ireland: the need to have a referndum on (and hopefully see the repeal of) the 8th amendment to our constitution. There was also the ill-judged and utterly failed attempt by Fathers for Justice to hijack the event briefly. The competition, like almost all beauty contests of one shade or another, ismore or less completely out of whack with contemporary progress views of what it means to be a woman, and to be valued as one. There are people (chiefly women) who are far more qualified to offer their take on the Rose of Tralee as something that enforces gender stereotyping. Which it definitely does. Why else would it have been caricatured twenty years ago in Fr. Ted as The Lovely Girls Competition? But that’s not what I want to write about in this post.

Rather, I want to offer a very brief defense of the poem as party piece in the competition. First and foremost, it needs to be said that I can rarely recall a poem I heard recited at the Rose of Tralee contest over the years that could be by any objective measure of the form be considered good. Most poems would be filed under what is known as doggerel. But that’s okay because, while the poems were rarely up to much,  I heard plenty of good recitations of bad poems. The take-away for me is this: I heard poems. On a show that was such a part of Ireland’s own bizarre culture of packaged Irishness for the diaspora that is watched by hundreds of thousands, presumably millions, of people annually for more than 60 years, I heard poetry. I can think of few places where one did not have to go and actively seek the poetry that might be found on the airwaves of RTE – on obscure radio and tv programmes. Or at state funerals. Poetry as part of the competition surely has some role in normalising the hearing of it. Sure, I wish the standard of poetry was better. And while many will no doubt object that no poetry is better than too much bad poetry for you, I’m not so sure.

As talents go, reciting a poorly crafted poem is no better or worse than doing a “hip hop dance” – surely that should be breakdancing, and that Rose the other night was not breakdancing – or rapping. After all poetry and rap are cousins. And as for making a breakfast roll… If getting rid of poetry is an attempt to make this contest seem more in touch with the yoof, well then, the contest hardly grasps its main demographic – i.e. the one that doesn’t hate tweet it live or watch it with dollops of irony. Basically, getting rid of the poem as part piece probably doesn’t do anything to speed up the show, nor make it more attractive.  Modernity would be more of what the Sydney Rose offered, not less poems with an abab rhyme.