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Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh: A tribute in text and sound

September 15, 2016

(This piece was first written and published in 2010.)

IN THIS era of wall-to-wall sport coverage, where every hack commentator turns to the US or wherever for a gimmick to set them apart in a crowded market, one man (and one voice) has set himself apart – Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh.
A Kerry man who has been one of the key voices of Irish GAA sports on RTE radio since 1949, he has, mercifully, never been one to let his own opinions intrude in the key job of a radio commentator – vividly describing a match for those who can’t get to see it.
While British soccer commentators are seemingly in thrall to imparting their own op-ed opinions on what is going on – step forward Alan Green, no cares what you think, you boor – Ó Muircheartaigh, 80, has established himself as a real time storyteller and, if I may be excused a cliché, a painter with words. Read more…


September/ October books: cycling, football and hard boiled masterpieces

October 28, 2015


Didn’t get through so many books in September and October given the return to teaching, writing two journal articles (and a bastard research grant application) which took an enormous amount of reading, and taking on a James Ellroy monster doorstop of a tome.

David Winner, Brilliant Orange: the neurotic genius of Dutch Football. 2000. Bloomsbury.

One of those 1990s/ 2000s serious evaluations of football as having something in common with the (high) arts. A pleasing journalistic affair full of brilliant interviews with the key people in the Dutch footballing renaissance of the late 1960s.

It’s rich in detail about the roles of Rinus Michels, Vic Buckingham, Johann Cruyff and Luis Van Gaal in the rebirth and sustenance of the modern era of Dutch football. With hindsight, the stuff on Cruyff also tells us much about his role the recent renaissance of Barcelona.

However, all the ascribing of inherently Dutch national characteristics in modern art and architecture as influencing its football culture all seems a bit Private Eye Pseuds Corner. At one point he notes that, because the Dutch need to hold back the water that threatens the low lying nation with dikes, they are spatial neurotics, and thus this obsession with space makes them revolutionary thinkers about football positions and led to Total Football (pp47-50).

That is pseudo-intellectual pish, but this book is well worth a read for its interviews with some remarkably prescient and important figures in the development of modern football. Read more…

PODCAST: Dr Stuart Borthwick discusses his love for the political murals of Northern Ireland and his book, The Writing on the Wall

October 18, 2015

Stuart Borthwick has produced The Writing on the Wall, a beautiful book of photographs of Northern Irish wall murals which tell the turbulent history of the country from 1900 to the present day.

It takes the story from the foundation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912 and the 1916 Easter Rising, each key historical events for unionists and republicans respectively, through the Troubles, to the current Peace Process which began in the 1990s.

The book, published by Bluecoat Press, is being launched on Wednesday, October 21 at the Bluecoat Arts Centre as part of both the Liverpool Irish Festival and the Writing on the Wall Festival, of which Stuart is a trustee.

Among other things, Stuart tells the fascinating story of how he, a man who moved to Liverpool from the south of England in 1989, eventually came to find himself sitting in Armagh waiting for the sun to rise so he could photograph the most beautiful artwork he’s ever seen.

PODCAST: Dr Diane Urquhart and Dr Deaglán Ó Donghaile on their great lost Irish books in Liverpool Central Library

October 11, 2015

A couple of good friends, Dr Diane Urquhart of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, and Dr Deaglán Ó Donghaile of Liverpool John Moores University, are giving talks this week on their great lost Irish books in Liverpool Central Library.

The event, handily titled ‘Lost Irish Books at Liverpool Central Library’, is on Friday, (October 16th) in the recently redeveloped Victorian Central Library, and is part of the Marginal Irish Modernisms strand at this year’s Festival, curated by Dr Gerry Smyth of LJMU.

Deaglán will be discussing The Secret History of the Fenian Conspiracy (1877) by John Rutherford, and Diane will address Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy (1934) by Pat O’Mara. Professor Shaun Richards completes the line-up of top academics and is discussing Patriots: A Play in Three Acts (1912) by Lennox Robinson.

Diane and Deaglán gave me a few minutes to discuss their chosen books and why these texts remain relevant for the modern world.

Further details of the full programme at the Liverpool Irish Festival are available here.

PODCAST: Dr Frank Shovlin on “Yeats in Liverpool, Perhaps” at the Liverpool Irish Festival

October 10, 2015

The Liverpool Irish Festival starts this week and will see a celebration of Irish culture and arts.

As part of my role as board member for the festival, I interviewed Dr Frank Shovlin, head of department at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies, about his lecture on W.B. Yeats and his links to Liverpool.

Frank has a forensic eye for detail which has allowed him to become one of the foremost scholars of Irish literary culture and James Joyce and John McGahern in particular. We are immensely lucky to have him living and working in our city.

The opening chapter of Don DeLillo’s Underworld might be the single best thing I have ever read

September 13, 2015

“He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.”

The opening line of underworldDon DeLillo’s 1997 novel Underworld signals a panoramic investigation of the beginning of the end of the American century, that period from 1950-2000 where the USA transformed global economics and politics and exported an optimism and faith in the future through popular culture and sports. It also juxtaposes the paranoia and uncertainty of America during and after the Cold War, the lurch to the right and the horror of the late 60s onwards.

It is also one of the greatest opening lines of any book I have read.

The opening chapter, ‘The Triumph of Death’, originally published as the novella Pafko at the Wall, is a bravura 60 page exhibition of descriptive narrative which is almost unequalled in any literary novel I have read. It vividly introduces the great themes of the novel: American optimism, popular cultural mythology, mass production, cultural and material waste, and collective popular memory framed within a description of a baseball  match in 1951. Read more…

August (early September) books

September 7, 2015

August_September books

Books read in August and September

HOLIDAY reading was off the scale with great weather in Brittany allowing for prolonged periods of lounging in the sun.

Rod Kedward, La Vie en Bleu, (Penguin, 2006).

This brilliant history of 20th Century France by an eminent professor was primarily read for an article I am writing on Brittany and Breton nationalism. Typically, as a man of a certain age, I ended up engrossed in the Second World War history of France. Although the Breton nationalism section is quite short, there is a brilliant evocation of the development of regionalism in France and how new French identities have been forged in the post colonial era. (On loan from Steve Corkhill.) Read more…



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