October Evening on Karl Johan

After a long summer hiatus from me, I’m back with a translation of Nordahl Grieg’s Oktoberaften på Karl Johan. The poem comes from his 1925 collection Stene i Strømmen (Stones in the Stream).

October Evening on Karl Johan

From the Norwegian of Nordahl Grieg

 

Dizzy my red heart, as down I come

from Slottsparken’s rain grey mist into

the street fantasy.

Dazzling arc lights a hundred white moons

stiff in flight in the space here

above Karl Johan.

 

Rain sinks streetward

the shine back of the lights

tram lamps stripe wet trees.

Dazzling the letters over the darkness

spelling F R E I A

tigers fanning out in the autumn evening.

 

Phosphorescence dark & sizzling

the fire of youth crawls along the cold coast

of buildings —

The air charged with mockery, light without cease.

 

O,

here our street,

the pining dodging night,

where swirling heart, & fire light burns,

where nerves get played to death, singing violins

pain & it’s own cheering because of

our continuation.

 

 

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A Spectator

Every once in a while you read a book that prompts you to rethink your own ideas that you have about a subject. I’ve just read Joe Kennedy’s Games Without Frontiers from Repeater Books. It’s made me revisit an old essay of  mine which I have been sitting on for a while. I wrote it while living in Prague and spending my time following my local club there, Bohemians 1905. Following Bohemians for little over a season helped mme understand better my ideas about football and its social function. It also helped me better understand my own fandom,  and what it means to be a supporter of a club when you live away. That means finding a new club but also they way it reinforces and changes your relationship with your home club. As Kennedy concludes “football is only ever a microcosm of whatever exists in our broader social settings”. I am still developing and changing my ideas of what fandom looks like here in Norway, but this essay captures a moment when I was trying to find my place in Prague and also at the same time, understand what role, if any, football has to play in social formation. So here it is, the essay, unedited and unupdated as I wrote it almost a year ago. I am sharing it now because I thought and still think it was well written even if the ideas expressed are no longer directly relevant to my lived experience at present. 

As an outsider in a foreign country, all you ever are is a spectator. It is how you are oriented to everything, everyone else, in the city. You have no compass but the one given to you by others. Prague runs east to west, not as I am accustomed, north to south in its orientation. This is a deep form of orientation. Ingrained. Though in their minds this is Central, not Eastern Europe, I am Western. This is resolute. In the map of the city which I am granted by those who live here, those who I talk to, I am always approaching from the west.  This is an orientation I am unable to escape.

I live on the east side of town. Crimea. Sevastapol. Kharkiv. The River Don that runs southeast to Voronezh. My home lies on The River Don, on Donská. From my apartment window I look up the hill Kozácká, named for the Cossacks. Around the corner, runs The Black Sea. The Crimea bleeds seamlessly into Moscow, before it, in turn, encompasses the Caucases. These are my immediate borders. My streets. At my tram stop, the Crimea, there is graffiti which read Včera my, Dneska ty. Our yesterday, your today. It is painted blue and yellow. The colours of the Ukraine. There can be no mistaking the meaning. It is punctuated by a yellow heart. Here, in Vršovice, all of my surrounding streets are named for countries. Estonia runs parallel to Norway runs parallel to Finland. At the foot of each of these is Copehagen. Armenia. Moldova. Murmansk. Deeper into this part of town there is Ulyanov street. A street for the Altai mountains. A street for the Bashkir peoples of Turkey. For the 28th Regiment of the Red Army. Magnitogorsk. Yalta. Lvov. Carpathia. Yerevan. Cuba Square. Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan. Kirgizstan. Here, in Vršovice, these streets all flow from one great avenue, Russia. These streets a map, of Communism, of the East. Their yesterday. Something of which they were once a part. Their addresses a daily reminder of the greater project. It’s ghost lingering in red street signs with white lettering and blue borders.

Prague must be one of the most mapped cities in Europe. There are countless mapped versions of Prague. Cartoonish ones for tourists with giant drawings of the major landmarks, bordered by ads for pub crawls, ghost tours, casinos. In these, the limits of the city are stark. There are maps for the discerning tourist with cool, clean lines. It assumes a certain amount of knowledge is already held by the reader of the map. It is about getting off the beaten track. The unbeaten track is still mapped. There is the map of Prague on my phone, dazzling with the stars of saved places. I am always its centre. Its heart. I am my own tiny blue dot. Each yellow star forming a criss-crossed constellation of my eating and drinking habits. Of haircuts and work. You could with this map trace and traverse my life in this city. You could live as I have lived. It would double over on itself a dozen times, like the accordion folds of any map. You would know my borders, my limits.

My favourite asterism is the starry plough. When I first started seeing Miriam, I would visit her in Tábor, an hour and half south of Prague. As we walked one night around the illuminated, still-standing walls of this medieval city, I noticed the stars in the sky. It was a clear night. October. I mentioned my love of the starry plough. The big dipper she called it. No, the starry plough. Our aims most modest are, we only want the world, from the plough to the stars. When I think of the starry plough, I think of home. In those eight stars, whether on a field of deep blue, or green, I can map a history of Ireland.

The certainties I had about Prague, about the Czech Republic, have dwindled the longer I’ve lived here. Still I am trying to get a grip on it. I watch football from the terraces on Saturdays. There I am a spectator. But every other day of the week I am still one. I watch as this city, this country, my new home, also changes. From afar, I am a spectator of the changes at home. It is election week in Ireland. I wish I could vote from where I sit. I can’t. Instead I watch. I spectate.

One of the many things I love about Prague is its nearly inexhaustible number of antikvariats, or second-hand bookshops. In each one I visit I feel I am a deep-sea diver. There are corals of ex libris cards, discarded photos, postcards, medals, maps, and diaries. I swim through them, the water feels familiar though the language, the colour, is not.  Their stock in trade is second hand Czech books, which I cannot read, but occasionally I buy these if they are sufficiently interesting to me. Among the books I have bought are a range of different translations of 14th Century French poet and troubadour, Francois Villon, evidently considered sufficiently ideologically sound to be translated at the height of pre-Soviet invasion Czech communism.

Just before Christmas, the American poet Steven Rodefer died. I was lucky enough to have heard him read and to have even spoken to him at various times when I lived in Cork and he visited for the annual Soundeye poetry festival. I know the work of Francois Villon entirely because of him. His translations of Villon in the 1960s, under the moniker of Jean Calais is one of my favourite books of poetry. The week he died, in Prague’s Old Town, killing some time, and keeping out of the rain, I spotted on the poetry shelves of one particular antikvariat with which I am especially familiar, a whole slew of different translations of Villon from the late 1940s and the early 1950s. When I heard of Rodefer’s death I was cursing the fact that among the poetry books I brought from Ireland I didn’t bring his Villon. I wished I had.  I saw these three books and thought I had to buy them. They cost maybe a combined total of 150-,Kč. Though I couldn’t read the Czech, I could recognise something of Steven Rodefer’s own versions of Villon in the typography, the artwork of the books. It was a close proximation, across language, time and geography.

My only other substantial purchases in an antikvariat have been two photography books. One, which I got for 50Kč-, was a photographic history of Czech sport from the 1860s to the beginning of the First World War.  The other was a photo essay of the city of Prague. I bought this photo essay book early in my time in the city, when I was still in an exploratory phase and wanted to imbibe the city in as many ways as I could.

In his 1962 collection of photographs capturing Prague and its people, Praha a Pražané, published by the main publishing house of the Czech state since the period of the First Republic, Orbis, Václav Jírů included a number of photographs of sporting scenes. Along with the touching image of a group of young boys walking toward the open-air ice rink with their skates slung over their shoulder for some hockey in winter, there was also the power of the spartakiad, of speedway racing and more besides, but the most resonant images for me are those of football. As was surely de rigueur for a book of more or less vernacular, or at least social-realist photography taken in early 1960s Czechoslavakia, the images of football included almost obligatory jumpers-for-goalpost snaps.

The book of photographs covers a year in the life of the city, beginning in spring and ending in winter. As well as the jumpers-for-goalposts images of the summer months captured by Jírů, there are two other images of football that capture the game in that era in Czechoslovakia. On one page we see a fence, about ten feet in height, riddled with gaps and along the fence there are men, boys and women with prams, all looking on at the footballing action through the gaps – unable to get in either because of cost or because too many had already been let in. Here we have people straining to watch football. On the facing page, we see what appears to be a gate, but with no turnstile, wide open, and a single man standing, briefcase in hand, watching on as the action unfolds on the pitch. We can see, just barely, the packed stands of the stadium. Part of the book’s “autumn intermezzo” the image on the left is titled “One eye on the game” while that on the right is simply titled “A spectator”. In this last title there is the ambiguity of who is spectator and subject, from the camera lens, to the view that Jírů’s spectator sees of the players on the pitch, and the potential view of a spectator at the far end of the ground looking at Jírů’s subject, and finally, at Jírů as he takes the photograph himself. Borders on all sides. Framed, and framing. The page. The picture. The city.

Aside from being a beautifully poised image, constructed and captured so well, this image has helped me understand Czech football and the country at large as I have lived here. If the photography of Jírů showed the sport of the people with the people clambering to get a view – then it would be nearly impossible to compose a similar picture of the game, and of the Czech people, in today’s climate.

So what is the reality in Prague? In a city where the major ideological battles of the twentieth century have been played out – democracy, fascism and communism all creating a palimpsest here through which you can walk, the history mapped and mappable, the city is one that now embraces the neo-liberal consensus. Yet there are in places a resistance to this.

Sparta Prague, the Czech Republic’s biggest and most successful club, play their home games at Letná Stadion, or the Generali Arena as it is officially known. For a club supposedly the darling of the old Communist regime and the worker, the nasty truth is that in a post-Communist state this is manifested in a decided rightward shift of its hardcore fans – the right-wing tendencies of the Sparta ultras manifests itself all around the local area. As you walk around the leafy Dejvice and Letná area generally you are likely to be met with stickers with taglines like “Good Night Left Side”, a play on the usual antifascist slogan of “Good Night White Pride” in part no doubt a result of the large student population in the area, typically the holders of the city’s liberal flame. Thus Letná is a contested zone between on the one hand the hard-right ultras of Sparta and those opposed to an increasingly nationalistic, right-wing, anti-immigrant culture typical of many post-Communist states in central and eastern Europe.

Ironically, Letná, Dejvice and Holešovice, which make up the catchment area of the club are each popular with expats, usually older more settled ones who have been in the city for between fifteen and twenty years in some cases. Happy to take their money at the gate, nonetheless one wonders how welcome these interlopers would be among the Sparta faithful.

When I first moved here, I saw Bohemians as the natural antidote to this as a football club. The bigger question remains for me however: are Bohemians, their fans, and their stadium a space for the exploration of alternatives to the orthodoxy of neo-liberalism that prevails in the Czech Republic or is it like many such alternative clubs – still fundamentally about the football first and the culture second?

The hope has to be that the culture is of real significance, if not the primary raison d’être. It is my suspicion, having attended Bohemians games for most of this season that most fans are just there to follow their team and have a good time while doing so. For many, politics probably doesn’t come into. You sense there is a degree of apprehension among some Bohemians fans in seeing themselves as the vanguard of an increasingly under-threat alternative culture in the Czech Republic’s capital. But for other fans following the club itself is a political act.

In recent times, the last official squat in Prague was forcibly shut down by a heavy-handed police operation. Following the major floods in the city in 2002, the regeneration that was required was used to gentrify a previously vibrant working-class community making it a centre for new office buildings. Karlín, which had been cheap and thus a good place for many in the city’s artistic community, including artist collectives, was increasingly overrun by new office buildings and subsequently by developers looking to build apartment blocks to house the area’s new office working population. This change has seen the spaces available for artists to work in diminish. The best example of this is the destruction of the former factory that housed the Trafačka collective – occupants of the former industrial site for a number of years until the owner of the building decided that the offers being made to him to demolish the site and build new apartments in its stead became too tempting. This has meant the dispersing of a collective that has operated for eight years.

The end of Trafačka means not alone a reduction of these artists’ collaborative potential but the end of one of Prague’s most celebrated artist groups of the past decade – a real loss to the cultural life of the city. This shows that the values driving Prague forward as a city are hostile to such collectives – be they squats or shared artistic spaces. Even the inoffensive Karlín Studios, which has been around for about ten years, is due to close in 2016. This exhibition space is in a former factory warehouse that has been gutted but developers have decided that it ought to be turned into either offices or apartments or some kind of mixed development. It will be erased. Removed from the physical map of the city.

In the suppression of the city’s small number of squats, the demolition of spaces like those occupied by Trafačka in order to make them into profitable developments for business, one notes the same processes at work as the education provided by the neo-liberal tutors identified by Benjamin Tallis. In two recent essays appearing in Abolishing Prague, Tallis reassessed the paneláks which house the majority of the city’s citizens and also the communist-era architecture spread throughout the city.

The view of panelák housing (think late 60s early 70s social housing flats) held by westerners is unremittingly negative in contrast to the actual lived experience of those in them here in the Czech Republic. Likewise, the brutalist architecture of Prague that Tallis argues is occasionally the equal of Berlin goes against increasingly restricted ideas of what Prague as a city ‘is for’; the city as the tourist sees it is only to operate as a kind of real-life Eurodisney devoid of the things that make such places worth living in in the first place. In how read Prague, its architecture, it history, we are told to keep within the well-defined borders of the cartoonish maps your hostel or hotel furnish you with. The beauty of the Baroque is undeniable, objective. Anything else is heretical, subjective, awkward, a posture. No one, we are told, can really love Kotva.

Despite the demolition of places like Trafačka, other spaces are emerging that at least have the potential to act as engines of a subversive culture, in particular Paralelní Polis – a Bitcoin only café, and educational open office space that plays host to Prague’s crypto-anarchist community of hackers and others who are determined to build an alternative culture in the city. It will remain a clique-ish oddity, but its continued existence is a reminder of broader possibilities. It gives us a different way to read the contours of the city.

What does this have to do with me, with my little constellation of stars, my limits, my borders? The fans of Bohemians and the club are widely seen to share an antipathy for modern football’s pursuit of profit over other concerns. Through its development policy and absolute adherence to the logic of the market Prague may be seen to be preventing the emergence of alternative art spaces and squats that have the potential to help establish the city as a receptive one to creative people operating beyond mainstream culture.

It might be fair to say that in fact Bohemians’ home ground, Ďoliček, the dimple, is an alternative space. Not through a conscious cultivation of a politicised alternative but because in a culture largely uncritical of neo-liberal orthodoxies, any space that offers alternative approaches and culture is welcomed, encouraged and celebrated. When I stand watching Bohemians, I like to think of the club, of its fans, as Jírů’s lonely spectator – watching the game, wondering if it might be better. It too offers itself as a map. Perhaps I will save it and make it part of my constellation.

What’s in a mile?

A mile, as many of you probably know, is a unit of measuring distance derived from the Roman period, when it represented a distance of one thousand paces. Earlier today, I went for a hike up to the  Solar Observatory in Harestua (which now acts as a kind of education resource centre about the solar system but also the surrounding countryside), and along the way I noticed a placename sign. It was an area called milsteinbotn. 

Milstein, to my ears, sounded fairly similar to the English compound milestone – a marker of a mile travelled. But a mile – replaced in most places now by the standard measurements of metres and kilometres – is a notoriously unreliable unit of measurement mainly based on the fact that the length of a mile depends on the size of a foot, and this varies from place to place. An old Irish mile was longer than the equivalent English mile: It was said that four Irish miles was equivalent to five English miles – hence placenames like Twomileborris or Sixmilebridge in Ireland. An Irish mile was equivalent to 2240 yards, which is approximately 2048 metres. According to the  Oxford English Dictionary definition of a mile

“The length of the mile has varied considerably at different periods and in different localities, chiefly owing to the influence of the agricultural system of measures with which the mile has been brought into relation (see furlong n.). It was fixed by statute at 1760 yards (viz. 8 furlongs of 40 poles, each pole being 16½ feet) in 1592 (Act 35 Eliz. I, c. 6, s. 8), and in Britain is also called a statute mile. This is also the legal mile in the United States. The obsolete Irish mile was 2240 yards (approx. 2048 metres), and the Scottish mile (obsolete by the late 19th century) was 1976 yards (approx. 1807 metres) although values probably varied according to time and place.

While the differences between an Irish, English or Scottish mile were relatively small, the differences in the use of the term here in Norway are significant. An old Norwegian (or Scandinavian) mile was the equivalent of about 10km today. Despite being a Scandinavian mile, it was a unit of measurement only used in Norway and Sweden, and not in Denmark. The distance of ten kilometres apparently derives from an older unit of measurement of a “rast” or rest, which was considered a fair point at which to stop on a long walk, every 10km or so.

Meanwhile, botn translates as a corrie or cirque of glacial rocks – which were in plentiful supply right by the placename sign. Such glacial debris, which is carried by a glacier or ice sheet as it moves and known in English as moraines, or morene in Norwegian, gives the road I live on it’s name – moreneveien.  So in that simple compound placename we find a history of distance travelled on foot and the ways to measure such journeys, and a much older geological history of the area – this botn, this corrie, of glacial debris that reaches back into a time when probably no human foot left a trace in the land around this valley.

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.

 

What’s in a crest? Waterford FC, Three Lions and history

As you walk down Colbeck Street in Waterford,  with The Mall to your left and Parnell Street to your right you may notice the waterford city arms crest on the corner building.  This comes from a hotel which was previously on this site called the Waterford Arms Hotel.

screenshot_2017-01-23-10-13-27-1

As you can see from the photo the Waterford civic arms contain two main motifs. On a red field there are three lions representing the United Kingdom and below it on a white field,  three ships – the now recognised symbol of Waterford city.

Waterford’s coat of arms, and the city’s motto urbs intacta manet watefordia were gifted to the city for its loyalty to the English monarch Henry VII who faced opposition from two pretenders to his throne in the late 16th century.

I mention this because there was some comment made on social media about the newly unveiled crest of newly rebranded Waterford FC. Much of it focused on the inclusion of the three lions into the crest.

Many saw this as being too close to the three lions coat of England’s football and cricket teams. It sparked a certain amount of knee-jerk armchair (or is it keyboard) republicanism.

img_20170123_102910
The newly unveiled Waterford FC crest which takes the 1930 crest as it’s inspiration.

Of course, the three lions derive from the same source but their inclusion into the new Waterford FC crest reveals something far more interesting than simple West Britonism.

Aside from the link with the Waterford city arms, the use of the three lions and the other elements of the new crests are one more element of the curious nostalgia rebranding of the club under its new owner, Swindon Town chairman Lee Power.

The most important of these includes the dropping of the United from the club name. The club, which until then was Waterford FC, became United in 1983 when it was reforned as a new limited company.

After a decade of poor results and dwindling public interest in the club, the choice to rebrand the club under new ownership to a name from a more successful period in the club’s history is deliberate.

There has also been a trend for some years now in England for club crests to be redesigned in one of twos ways: either hyper modern with contemporary font styles or,  more prominently, hyper retro versions of the club crest with nods to storied pasts. Think of Tottenham Hotspur or Everton. The processes under way  with Waterford FC are the same. There is a certain extent to which this taps into the idea of many fans, especially strong in League of Ireland  circles, of being “Against Modern Football”.

In a city where the past decade has been forgettable on a sporting and civic front, with the city reeling from the effects of recession, deindustrialisation,  youth unemployment and emigration, it is a smart move on the part of the club’snew owner to evoke a more prosperous and successful period for Waterford as part of the preparations for the coming season and new dispensation of Power’s ownership.  The three lions on the new crests then are less a symbol of latent West Britonism, or British royalty , but speak instead to a desire to return to a time when soccer was king in Waterford.

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.

jewish_wedding_at_waterford_courthouse_1901
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: pmchale@wit.ie.

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.

Books of 2016

As I did last year, I am going to list off the ten books I’ve read in 2016 that I think are worth hearing about. Many, if not most, are – like with my 2015 list – not actually necessarily published in 2016. I just happen to have read them in the last year. As it was with 2015, what I’ve enjoyed reading in 2016 has been motivated in part by the fact that I have once again moved countries; this time from the Czech Republic to Norway, and so some books I’ve read since coming here and have been using to help me learn more about my new home are present.

As usual the struggle with reading is tied up in the struggle with writing and the constant struggle to widen the horizons of the kinds of books I read. Such a list is also affected by the fact that it’s easier for me to recall what I’ve read probably in the last 3-6 months of the year than in the first half, but here goes.

Claire Louise Bennett – Pond

I’ve already written a long piece on the blog earlier this year after reading this book. A string of connected short stories, Pond is a powerful examination of secluded living. Absolutely essential piece of fiction.

Karl Ove Knausgård– A Death in the Family

The biggest name in Norwegian literature there is at the moment, Knausgård’s six-volume autobiographical novel, Min Kamp (My Struggle), a title which self-consciously invokes comparison with the title of Adolf Hitler’s screed Mein Kampf, is anything but. A Death in the Family is the English-language title of the first book in the series and, broadly speaking, revolves around Knausgård coming to terms with the death of his father although that hardly begins to do the novel justice. The fifth volume has just come out in English, and the sixth is on its way. The series has cemented Knausgård’s reputation and many more books are available in Norwegian and English of his. I am also currently reading his Home and Away, a series of letters he wrote with a Swedish author friend around the 2014 World Cup.

Neil Gaiman – American Gods

A book I’ve been vaguely aware of for years, I read this in the first few weeks of moving to Norway and I enjoyed it immensely, I read it just after finishing the next book on the list, and the centrality of a character named Wednesday, in homage to Odin, suited my new surroundings well. It is, I think the first piece of fantasy I have read in many years, and it was a thorough page-turner. A party I’m very late to, but glad to have arrived at nonetheless in the end.

Robert Ferguson – The Hammer and the Cross

Ferguson has just released a new book, Scandinavians, which reflects on his many years experience of life in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries. I picked up this book, The Hammer and the Cross, to get some better historical bearings on the viking period and the shifting sands of Norwegian and broader Scandinavian history. An excellent read, it provides a great overview of the impact that Viking invasion had not just on the countries they invaded but also the impact those places had on Viking belief systems in turn. A good companion book is Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World, a history of the world from the point of view of the North Sea.

Mike Savage – Social Class in the 21st Century

This Pelican introduction book, which was based in large part on the recent Great British Class Survey was assembled by a team of sociologists. It is an extraordinary attempt to map class as it appears in modern Britain (with parallels for Ireland and elsewhere). Attempting to define class in an age when someone may be economically less well off while having significant cultural and social capital is difficult but this book makes a fairly successful stab at asking questions around what things like the precariat really are and how it is that new forms of cultural capital actually operate.

Stephen King – On Writing

In an effort to spur myself into writing more again, I picked up this hugely entertaining memoir that while offering advice on writing in parts, is really the story of how to build writing into your daily life regardless of the motivation for that writing. It’s not a style guide or a strategy to write your first novel, but as a well-written book about the craft of writing, it provides its own fine example.

Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Spurred on by the positive experience I had with Gaiman’s American Gods, I finally went on to read this book which has recently been adapted as a TV series by the BBC. Among the most fun aspects of the book are the copious footnotes and the entire world of magical scholarship which Clarke builds into the narrative.

Alberto Manguel – Curiosity

The first Alberto Manguel book I bought a few years ago was The Library at Night, a book which many of my friends will know, is among my favourite works of non-fiction. Here in Curiosity, Manguel uses Dante’s inferno and his guide in Virgil as the basis for an exploration of different forms of human curiosity. As you’d expect from Manguel if you’re familiar with his writing, it is erudite, philosophical, playful and ultimately affirming.

Robert MacFarlane – Landmarks

I had several years ago considered buying MacFarlane’s The Old Ways, his walking tour of Britain’s lost, old or obscured roads and routes but put it off. Living in the Czech Republic and now Norway, my interest in walking, and the kinds of knowledge it gives has only increased. So, when I saw this book by him which considers the words-we-don’t-use-much-anymore to talk about landscape and features of nature while out walking, I couldn’t resist. Although it focuses on words and names related to the British Isles, it is such a treasure trove of writing, and a brilliantly curious book, that it will make walking anywhere – through any place name – a much more interesting experience.

Frederic Gros – A Philosophy of Walking

As I continue to do more walking, and to think more about the pleasures of walking and hiking, this book provides an excellent overview of some of the philosophical aspects of what different kinds of walking mean. Whether you are keeper of assiduous habits always walking the same route at the same pace at the same time daily, are an ambler, stroller, parader or conqueror, this book will give you pause for thought about what it is we are doing, what we are actually after when we go out walking.

Are any of these in your top books of 2016, or any time? Anyway, here’s to a year of good reading and to a year of good reading to come in 2017!

Beyond the Garrison Game at PRONI, Belfast February 2017

Myself and Conor Curran are delighted to announce that on the 17th February 2017 at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast, in association with the British Society of Sports History, there will be a one day symposium to celebrate the publication of a special issue of Soccer & Society which we edited earlier this year.

The talks will take place throughout the day and the full timetable can be found here. The event is FREE but places are limited so be sure to register with eventbrite to secure your place for the day.

football

On the day the talks will take in a wide range of historical, economic and coaching related talks about soccer in Ireland north and south from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day. The line-up is as follows:

Morning Session: The Early Years

9.55 am-10.15 am Paul Gunning (Independent Scholar): The ‘Socker’ Code in Connacht, 1879-1906: Association Football in the Shamrock Shire’s Hy Brasil
10.15 am-10.35 am Aaron O’Maonaigh (Dublin City University): “Who were the Shoneens?”: Irish militant nationalists and association football, 1913-1923
10.35 am-10.55 am Tom Hunt (Independent Scholar): Harry Cannon: a unique Irish sportsman and administrator
10.55 am-11.10 am Questions and Answers

Late Morning Session: The 1960s onwards

11.40 am-12.00 pm Cormac Moore (De Montfort University): Football Unity During the Northern Ireland Troubles?
12.00 pm-12.20 pm Daniel Brown (Queen’s University, Belfast): Linfield’s ‘Hawk of Peace’: pre-Ceasefires reconciliation in Irish League football
12.20 pm-12.40 pm Helena Byrne (Independent Scholar): How it all began: the story of women’s soccer in sixties Drogheda
12.40 pm-12.55 pm Questions and Answers

1.00 pm-2.00 pm              Break for lunch

Afternoon Session: Coaching and Developing the Game

2.00 pm- 2.20 pm Conor Curran (Dublin City University): The development of schoolboy coaching structures for association football in Ireland, 1945-1995
2.20 pm- 2.40 pm Seamus Kelly (University College Dublin): Pedagogy, Game Intelligence & Critical Thinking: The Future of Irish Soccer?
2.40 pm- 2.55 pm Questions and Answers

Late Afternoon Session: Supporters and Governance

3.00 pm- 3.20 pm Mark Tynan (Independent Scholar): ‘Inciting the roughs of the crowd’: Soccer hooliganism in the south of Ireland during the inter-war period, 1919-1939
3.20 pm- 3.40pm Robert and David Butler (University College Cork): Rule Changes and Incentives in the League of Ireland from 1970 – 2014
3.40pm- 3.55pm Questions and Answers
3.55pm- 4.15 pm Closing Comments

It promises to an interesting and enlivening day of discussion and isn’t to be missed. We look forward to seeing you there in the New Year!

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.