'Lessons' of History

There ain't any - only interpretations of sources.

For Operational Reasons**

Update 2: The Ian Bailey pre-trial discovery in his case against the state appears to have some connection to the phone surveillance system in Garda stations. In the course of that discovery process, counsel for the state Paul O’Higgins revealed (in November 2013) that the delay in delivering documents requested by Bailey’s legal team related to their ‘electronic’ format which required ‘unscrambling’ due to its age (suggestive of the first generation of recording equipment which was upgraded at some point in the 1990s.) (1)

Update 1: As of an hour after this was published, RTÉ news claimed to have possession of a letter from Commissioner Martin Callinan to Alan Shatter from two weeks ago, informing him of the Garda practice of surveillance in Garda stations. Finance minister Michael Noonan’s best explanation thus far (21:55pm) is that ‘The minister was in Mexico.’ (2)


Bets now being taken on the first* to whitewash the widespread recording of incoming and outgoing telephone calls to Garda stations, apparently endemic from the 1980s to November 2013 last, as being justifiable on the above grounds.

That curious turn of phrase though should be a jump-off point for what we knew by November 2013 (rather than just today) about ‘operational procedure’ in An Garda Siochana. Remember, particularly, that Chief Commissioner Martin Callinan swatted away The Garda Ombudsman’s request for direct access to the PULSE crime database as being likely to jeopardise operational procedures, and the investigation of crime.(3)

Remember too, if sentimentality takes hold of you, that Noirín O’Sullivan, Callinan’s interim replacement, was Deputy Operations Commissioner since 2011. She may not be the best choice for a permanent replacement even though she would be the first woman in the history of the state to hold the position.(4)


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7 thoughts buzzing around my head about arts and humanities research at 6am this morning


1) It is striking how deep the will goes to fulfil idiotic demands from the state. I know of no single department in the UK that refuses to submit Research Exercise responses. In almost every department these exercises are a major consideration in hiring staff too. In every department there are…


When will they think of the children?


We will encourage schools to develop anti-bullying policies and in particular, strategies to combat homophobic bullying to support students.

- Programme for Government 2011

Which resulted in ministers Fitzgerald and Quinn publishing the ‘Action Plan on Bullying’ last year.

In line with the…


Our very own Child of Prague

Secular sainthood seems an appropriate assessment of how a child sick with cancer functions as a Class A discourse-closer. The illness seems to confer ex cathedra speaking rights; he or she who would dissent does so at the peril of being labelled ‘heartless’ or ‘cruel’ or ‘inhumane’.

Whither such authority? It seems to swell in death, per de mortuis nisi nihil bonum, at least in the case of Dónal Walsh. He was a 16 year old from Tralee, Co. Kerry, who succumbed to terminal lung cancer last year. It is a curious case, in how the teenager was vaulted to the level of national talisman with the power to ward off the bogeyman of suicide.

Extravagant claims for the influence of his ‘message’ (and more on that anon) have been made by no less than the coroner for County Kerry, who claimed to record no suicides in a six month period in 2013. (link)

The coroner produced no evidence for this claim, of course (beyond his word), and we can’t easily subject the reports of all inquests to close-reading and cross-reference without making applications to the Circuit Court Registrar for each and every one that took place in the county in 2013. (link)

A cynic might, rightly, recall that anodyne expression, ‘death by misadventure’, however, which is so often the verdict returned to spare family and societal blushes. And in any case - statistical variations over such a short period are dangerous to infer from.

Suicide immediately offers up a complicated, and multi-faceted, psycho-social problematique requiring an inter-agency approach, and, most importantly, state-funding. Psychotherapy and counselling are not cheap (link). A perspicacious reader might already anticipate the snag. 

Which is that the legacy of someone with no apparent experience of mental health issues has been deftly deployed by the HSE, RTÉ and National Office of Suicide Prevention (NOSP) to serve as a basis for crude slogans rather than hard cash for services. This is social media throughput functioning as a substitute for meaningful public policy. (1) A mental health policy, to wit, that ends with talking ‘at’ people rather than listening to them or their needs (or, perish the thought, giving them a primetime documentary at 9pm on New Year’s Day.) (2)

The Church in Kerry speaks of Dónal Walsh’s ‘witness’ (he shares this quality with sainted martyrs) (3); six members of the Munster Rugby squad acted as pall-bearers at his funeral; (4) ex-Rugby player-cum-questionable-social-conscience, Bressie, waxes about how ‘inspirational’ and brave a ‘hero’ he was. (5) He wasn’t alone with that particular brace (or trio) of banalities. (6) 

And herein lies the most grievous fault of all - which is with the message itself. Olivia O’Leary, (7) and plenty of others who show the success of how well it is being communicated, (8) are piously rapt by a paradigm of mental illness as ‘personal choice.’ The corollary of that is personal failure or weakness.

For you see, ‘heroes’ must have ‘villains’. For there to be ‘strong’ and worthy or ‘inspirational’ individuals with (or without) mental illness begs their shadow; unworthy wretches who are ‘weak’, ‘uninspiring’, or who ‘don’t bother to help themselves’. 

A discussion of the structural causes of mental illness (e.g. personal debt, workplace stress, unemployment, racial discrimination, misogyny, homophobia, bullying, learning difficulties, sexual violence, domestic violence, etc.) is noticeably absent - we don’t want to embarrass anyone or any particular institution. For God’s sake, it’s Ireland!

The comparisons between physical and mental illness were implicit, asinine and derogatory to begin with: what right have you to be ‘depressed’ (nothing but your ‘notions’ perhaps) when the ‘amazing young lad’ with all those malignant tumours, pumped full of chemo drugs, and crippled by excruciating physical pain, ‘loved life’ despite it all? Dónal Walsh himself sought to analogise his cancer and the mental anguish of those whom I shall dub ‘Without Cancer (TM)’:

“I realised that I was fighting for my life for the third time in four years and this time I have no hope. Yet still I hear of young people committing suicide and I’m sorry but it makes me feel nothing but anger.

I feel angry that these people choose to take their lives, to ruin their families and to leave behind a mess that no one can clean up.

Yet I am here with no choice, trying as best I can to prepare my family and friends for what’s about to come and leave as little a mess as possible.

I know that most of these people could be going through financial despair and have other problems in life, but I am at the depths of despair and, believe me, there is a long way to go before you get to where I am. For these people, no matter how bad life gets, there are no reasons bad enough to make them do this; if they slept on it or looked for help they could find a solution, and they need to think of the consequences of what they are about to do.”  (my emphases)


What contained above can inspire, rather than chill the blood?

By Dónal’s admission, it is penned in anger (not exactly proven effective in psychiatric interventions - RTÉ’s Morning Ireland rendered it as ‘pleading’ ) with sustained denigration and dehumanisation of those who contemplate suicide as if they offend against amorphous common decency (‘these people … ruin their families’).

It is then rounded out with a shocking lack of empathy (‘there are no reasons’) which less scrupulous interests will be delighted to champion (i.e. don’t blame anybody, save the individual). After all, ‘heroes’ don’t make ‘excuses’ (9)

Consider then that it was this screed of Dónal’s which won for him the laurels of national treasure. 

I think we’ve raised plenty of ‘awareness’ by now that mental illness is real (!); but even to operate at that tawdry level, so often utilised as a vehicle for celebrity aggrandisement, what exactly has Walsh accomplished except precisely the kind of stigmatisation our chattering classes claim to be well since past?

In fact, to judge from how many indulged in the artifice of a ‘good old cry’ watching a documentary of his life, this was about making those in good health feel better about themselves at others’ expense. (10)

I must confess that mental illness is a deeply personal issue: as I am one of ‘those people’ derisorily referred to who seriously contemplated suicide for a very long time, both in my teens and as a young adult. I had even worked out a coherent plan to achieve it (latterly). I was helped by non-judgemental counselling and medication. That counselling focused as much on why I sincerely wanted to end my life as why I shouldn’t. It wasn’t lop-sided; or full of faux-positivity and saccharine good intentions from the self-help genre. Namely, that was because such a course would have been ineffectual rubbish; or medically unsound, if you will.

Yet, who am I, a lowly begrudger I’m sure, to reject The Child of Prague made flesh to save the likes of me from myself? (11) May we kneel before him seeking benediction, and no man jack or woman jill kill him- or herself e’er again. Blessed are the ‘insane’, for they have no agency (that’s ‘cop-on’ to you), Amen. 








http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10238513/ (broadcast 1st Jan 2014)



Dónal’s parents also attended the dedication of a monument to Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty in Killarney earlier this year, where his father drew comparisons between the Vatican WWII-era diplomat and his son: ‘they both saved lives’ and ‘didn’t play by the rules’ 








(This should get special mention: ‘International Hero’)







(The construction industry, implicated in a suicide over Priory Hall - link - decides that this is a good bandwagon as any to get that bad taste out of its mouth:)







ad nauseam - but honourable mention for the death of hyperbole must go to: 



http://t.co/m62CHyYgmj (Irish Times, 14th May, 2013)

A wonderful contra by blogger @HiredKnave over on Twitter gently pulls the legs out from under O’Leary. 






What is this door, and why did I never see one? Guess my betters know best.

And the rest of the passing parade of ‘choose life’ and ‘cop on to yourself’:


















I was particularly amused to read that ‘nobody talked about suicide’ before Dónal Walsh



On Empire.  

The United States of America is a Federal Democracy. It is also an Empire. These two forms of governance; one overt (and domestic), the other covert (and international), are in obvious ideological tension but have more frequently been bedfellows than not in the history of powerful states. A line is ultimately discernible from Ancient Athens’ Delian League to the United States’ NATO. 

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The Curious Case of the Nazi Flag in Cobh

Liam Hogan of “Limerick 1913” (@Luimneach1913), a local history project based in Limerick City Library, today posted a (widely retweeted) photograph of a Swastika flag flying in Cóbh on 11th July, 1938.

This was the date of the return of the “Treaty Ports” to Irish sovereignty under the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1938. The ports (Lough Swilly, Haulbowline off-shore from Cóbh, and Berehaven) had enjoyed extraterritoriality under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 (which released the Irish Free State) for the purpose of hosting British naval vessels. 


Cóbh (Queenstown), 11th July 1938 - Joe Langdon, UCC.

The Irish Museum in Washington D.C. retweeted this image, and the gut reaction of many has been antipathy towards a symbol that rightly triggers revuIsion. However, some contextualisation is required: so I thought I’d share some of my hypotheses, and the subsequent detective work of Liam himself.

The easiest conclusion to jump to is that the appearance of the flag on such an auspicious date as this is a case of us ‘putting it up to the Brits’ and aligning ourselves with the nation that sent us munitions for the 1916 Easter Rising. However, Cóbh has never been known as a stronghold of Nazism which would seem to (intuitively, at least) discount this. Which is not, of course, to say that a sentiment of ‘Better the Germans than the Brits’ was unheard of at this time. (1)

Let’s take a closer look at the photograph.


This appears to be a billboard adverting to both Hamburg-American Line and North German Lloyd, which were jointly represented in Ireland by agents carrying on business for them in Limerick. (2)(3)

North German Lloyd ran a transatlantic passenger service from Bremerhaven to New York, which stopped in Queenstown, (4) and the German government had placed both companies in trusteeship during the Great Depression, in 1932. The German government was thus a majority stakeholder in the company by 1938. (5)

Furthermore, ‘Patrick Street’, which can be made out at the bottom of the billboard, can only be a reference to the offices of North German Lloyd at 92 Patrick Street at that time (today home to J. Barter Travel).(6)

So, the suggestion is that, rather than an active Horst Wessel Cumann Cóbh, the proximity of the Swastika flag to this advertisement (or possibly even a North German Lloyd building) is too much to be mere coincidence.

That flag, although obviously a Nazi party political flag, was also an ensign, or official civil flag of Germany. It therefore would be flown (or displayed) matter-of-factly for reasons of protocol. You can glimpse this on the advertisement for the Ireland v. Germany international football friendly held two years previously at Dalymount Park, in 1936. (7)

Other German government-owned transport concerns at this time, such as Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei (revived in 2001!), were known to display ensigns such as these:


(via wikipedia.org)

Therefore, it should not be controversial to suppose that the Germans, more than the Irish, were responsible for the appearance of the flag in Cóbh on that day.


"I’m keen on Jesus; priests not so much"

Claims that religion is a mere cipher for political (i.e. temporal, earthly) power tend to be stated as follows: ‘Religion isn’t the problem; it’s the guys in charge’, ‘Religion is only about control’ or ‘I only have an issue with Organised Religion, not religion per se’ (small ‘r’.) This is problematic on several grounds, if not plain flimsy.

First of all, recourse to the latter argument in particular removes a near totality (by adherence) of the world’s religions from serious analysis. To take the two largest sects: Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam are, to the very core, organised religions. The former has a thicker hierarchical structure than the latter, to be sure, but this is a mere question of degrees. Simply put, neither religion is capable of being understood except in organisational terms.

Deny the organisation and you effectively deny the existence of the religion at all. It isn’t tenable to say ‘I like Christianity’ in the same breath as ‘I do not like organised religion.’

Defining religion so as to exclude organisation is almost a category error except that some entirely disorganised religions like cargo cults and Pantheism do attract a negligible following (but I’m sure most people do not have these in mind when making the argument which I dispute.)

So why not say simply ‘My problem is religion (full stop)’? For fear of causing offence? To exhibit tolerance? If that is the case then you’re satisfying almost no-one; not theists and not atheists. And strict agnostics adopt apathy.

Let us put it this way too: all ‘divine’ revelation, which is the only basis for these religions, is, as far as we know, the product of human authors enmeshed in these organisational structures, past and present. Even the major religions seem to concede this, while making the untestable punt for divine ‘inspiration’ of human authors and/or prophets.

So we cannot disentangle the ‘pure’ form of, say, Christianity, from all of its accretions. These accumulated with the first second-hand accounts, then translated with nothing like modern rigour. Reliability cannot be assumed when the sources are so corrupted, fragmented and ravaged by the waves of time (and theological intent.) How, then, can one claim to prefer the character of Jesus Christ, say, rather than the Christian clergy, when it is the image of Christ constructed and propagated by this same clergy that one is still relying upon? One would do better to be consistent and disavow both the myth and the mythmaker.

Secondly, despite the intention, statements such as those we began with can actually function to insulate religion from criticism. Much as Reformation era schismatics derived legitimacy by contending that they were ‘truer’ to Christianity, it invites superficial attempts to eschew the appearance of ‘organisation’ while still holding forth the same, perhaps pernicious, ideas.

Really, no drive for ‘pure’ religion is truly an orphan of its forerunner(s). One is being sold a used car that’s had its odometer clocked. And that odometer is dialled back with every refrain of ‘No, *that* is not *true* Religion X’

Finally, we must also consider the subtler possibility that statements such as those above seem to preclude. Yes, it can be observed that in most theologies there is a morality which systematically generates obedience from followers, and through which there is usually material gain for the religious organisation.

However, rather than suppose any elaborate conspiracy, it is more likely that these architects of control (i.e. theologians) earnestly believe they are working towards an ultimate or higher purpose. The object may be to obtain and exert power with which to fulfil a divine will or plan which is utopian in character, such as salvation. Power is a means in this way and not an end in itself.

My hunch is that it would be hard to keep up a pretense so cynically, that is to say without drinking one’s own Kool Aid, and for so long without being found out. Scientology will not grow beyond cult-size and is atrophying right now for this reason. L. Ron Hubbard was not remotely sincere, and this we know because the historical record is embarrasingly non-fragmentary for the 1950s. Education and literacy, likewise, are at historically unprecedented levels so that de novo religions cannot attain critical mass (for now.)

Meanwhile, suicide bombers continue to explode, gay marriage is fought as an existential threat to humanity and, to single one sect out, Mormons go on baptising dead Jews. None is a runner in zero-sum, realist or power-maximising analyses. If religions were only charismatic corporations, there are now more efficient methods of maintaining and winning customer loyalty at their disposal.

Say it sotto voce, but people might just sincerely believe it all. I don’t think that’s too controversial to suggest. That might do for a very partial explanation of the persistence of religion in human societies, and the power still vouched to them.


Conclave 2013

I’m floating this here - an attempt I made to analyse the likely outcome of the 2013 conclave. I was rather close, but not on target. And surely not as tasteless as Paddy Power’s current market on a ‘Year of the Three Popes’ in 2013!

PDF Here


Papal Succession before (and after) Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI’s departure from office at the end of February is not quite a historical anomaly.

  • By James Cussen, IRCHSS PhD Candidate at UCC (2012-2015)

Link to PDF.