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Book Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner available at leading bookstores and many public libraries in Australia. Distributors Dennis Jones & Associates Melbourne. ISBN: 1-922086-53-3. EAN13:978-1-922086-53-2

Also available on Amazon POD or as an ebook.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s win is relevant to Anglo-Irish relations

In Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner, I postulated on the commonality that exists between the plain people of Britain and Ireland. Below are some extracts to ponder as we witness a dramatic change in British politics.

“Often throughout history it has not been the people themselves but the arrogant and superior attitudes foisted upon them by monarchy, religion and class that has led to an unfortunate enmity between the plain people of both countries who otherwise have much in common and could, if allowed, get on quite well together. I believe that both countries have dissidents who recognise there has always been as much connection as separation between the ordinary people of Ireland and England”.

Page 4.

“In England, there was a crop of younger writers and playwrights who were challenging the established order of things. John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and Shelagh Delaney were making names for themselves in the theatre. As were John Braine, Alan Sillitoe and later Lynn Reid Banks in literature; all writing stories with working-class heroes as in turn the Beatles would recognise in a song ‘A working class hero is something to be’. The media dubbed them ‘The Angry Young Men’. When I had told Fred I was pleasantly surprised to find so many dissidents in his country, ‘Not nearly enough,’ was his caustic reply”.

Pages 148-149.

“It amused me to hear a Ganger man yell, ‘Tear it out of it, lads. Sure, it’s not our country,’ to a gang of Irish navvies wielding picks and shovels in a trench. But I did not appreciate that they knew nothing of the Irish Chartists and their struggle to better working class lives in this very city. This separatism and lack of integration worked against not only the Irish but also the other immigrant communities from all parts of the Commonwealth. West Indians did not sit with Pakistanis or Indians in the site canteens, nor did their communities mix well in the rundown areas where they could afford to live. And though there was no organised policy of discrimination like there existed in Northern Ireland, the lack of assimilation was not an evident concern of those that ran the major cities of Britain at the time”.

Page 171.

Now a dissident English republican will surely find common ground with those who in George Bernard Shaw’s phrase live on John Bull’s Other Island to the west. And hopefully those that live on that island will find common cause with him.

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Irishman who became the ‘Bard’ of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Songs of the Snowy Mountains
The Settlers
Editor: Shannon O’Boyle

Reviewer: J.A. O’Brien

An important new contribution to the history of Australian folk music and to Australian folklore generally, “Songs of the Snowy Mountains: The Settlers”, tells the story of Ulick O’Boyle a prolific writer of songs poems and ballads. Compiled and edited by his daughter Shannon O’Boyle the handsome book tells the history of the man and his times and includes pages of the words and music of 24 songs together with a superb collage of photographs.

The huge Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme was started in 1949 and completed in 1974. Covering more than 5000 square kilometres it has been described as ‘one of the modern wonders of the world’ –there is only two per cent of the massive project above ground. It was an enormous undertaking that would change not only the landscape of the Snowy Mountains but the very culture of Australia forever.

During its construction, more than 100,000 people from 30 different countries including Australians, worked on its 90 miles of tunnels; drilled and blasted through granite rock. Towns were moved or submerged beneath sixteen large dams and seven power stations; two of which were underground; together with a pumping station were all part of the infrastructure. The project diverted the waters of the Murrumbidgee, the Snowy and the Tumut rivers, to provide irrigation water west of the Great Dividing Range, and to generate hydro-electric power for use in New South Wales, Victoria and the national capital Canberra.

Into this feverish activity in 1962, came a young Irishman, Ulick O’Boyle, from County Roscommon, to work as a concrete worker. During the five years he worked on the scheme, O’Boyle observed the interaction of people from many nationalities that lived in the construction camps and nearby small towns. Working and living together in the freezing cold or stifling heat of the capricious mountain climate these ‘New Australians’ forged a vibrant multiculturalism.

O’Boyle was a very talented man with the heart and mind of a poet. In poetry, ballad and song he wrote his impressions of the places, the people and the work that was being done. His fellow Settler, Paul Davey, says, “Ulick captured the atmosphere of the life of Snowy workers, the diverse nationalities, the loves and heartaches, the dangers and terrors, the comedies and tragedies.”

To perform the songs he had written, together with his wife, Anne Rutherford, and a fellow worker, Peter Barry, they formed a group, The Immigrants, that later became The Settlers. They released their first album on the RCA label in 1966, followed by five more over the next thirty years.

The songs tell the stories of The Big Construction Game, the fate of The Dozer Driver Man, Olaf, and the tragedy of The Ballad of Big Pedro. Interspersed with these gripping tales of the lives of workers are songs of young love, Old Talbingo and the pain of parting/renewing Winter Back in My Heart. Then a change of mood to the ‘colour life and laughter’ of the times with The Cooma Cavaliers, The Thredbo Slop and Friday Night – Long Weekend.

But O’Boyle also reminds us of the price of progress with touching songs and poems like Jindabyne Farewell (one of the old towns submerged) and Jack Bridle’s Farewell to a way of life on the land. A well-informed man he comments on life and social issues with wry humour in Long Gone Pom and Dear Hoffman and poignantly in Paddy Went Home in the Rain, Young Jack Frost-Texan and Hard Rock Drilling-I’ve Done It. There are 24 songs on a CD that comes with the book, or it can be purchased separately.

Ably accompanied by Anne Rutherford, Peter Barry and later Paul Davey, O’Boyle’s instrumental skills match his lyrics to perfection. Behind it all is the admiration he felt for those who came together from so many countries to build the wondrous Snowy Mountains Scheme. The last lines from the song 1949 say it all:

There is something of value left behind
When you come from the breed of the building kind
That built and worked and made the Snowy Scheme

His daughter, Shannon, has made a fitting tribute to her father and has ensured due recognition of a man who in the words of Paul Davey, “will stand in history as one of Australia’s foremost song writers and balladeers.” Ulick O’Boyle’s songs and ballads have become part of the Snowy legend and as such are a significant contribution to the story of Australia. Click on for the full story.

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A tale for Bloomsday – June 16, 2015


By J. A. O’Brien

“A nice thing to find in one of the largest bookshops in the city. And in one of the main streets of Dublin no less,” Dan slammed the book on the manager’s desk.

Mr Molloy looked at the book. “My good man there is no way we would have that book for sale,” he said.

“It was with the Greek literature. Any young student could have picked it out thinking it was by Homer,” Dan snorted. “Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful. Ulysses indeed.”

“I assure you there has been a mistake. We have never ever stocked that man Joyce’s book in our store. We have very strict rules.” Mr Molloy wiped sweat from his forehead.

“It’s a banned book.” Dan pointed to the notice that was prominently displayed around the shop and could be seen through the glass panel of the office. It read:


“So much for that indeed,” Dan snorted. “Not only banned by our own Irish censors but I believe it is on the Index too.”

Mr Molloy went white. “Not the Index. Oh my God, not that.” The Church’s Index of Forbidden Books, carried more weight than the censors’ list so far as he was concerned.

“The same.”

“A filthy piece of work. And it gets worse at the end. A married woman languishing in her bed recounting her escapades and indulging her fantasies. A disgusting soliloquy.” Dan said.

Mr Molloy reached for the book. “As bad as that?” he asked.

Dan detected more eagerness than shock in his tone. “I’ll show you,” he said and opened the book. “Forty-five pages.” He held the last chapter between his fingers.

Mr Molloy licked his lips. He leaned forward as if to try to read the vertically held pages.

“Will I read some of it to you?” Dan asked.

“Yes. Yes of course.”

Still holding the pages together, Dan turned to the last page of the chapter and read:

I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

“My God,” Mr Molloy said. “What a wanton hussy. How could any man write it?”

Dan looked him in the eyes, “A dirty mind, Mr Molloy?”

Mr Molloy’s eyes were wide, his breathing heavy. “Leave it with me then. I’ll burn it this very day. It shouldn’t be held with the tongs.”

“Ah now I think that I had better take care of it. After all you didn’t even know it was on your shelf.”

“It’s just that I wouldn’t want it to be an occasion of sin for any young man. You know what I mean.”

“Or any young woman for that matter,” Dan said, with just the right touch of innuendo.

Mr Molloy flushed a bright red. He licked his lips again. “God forbid and may He keep the women of Ireland pure,” he said. By now he was almost panting.

“I’ll take care of it for you,” Dan said. “After all there is your reputation and that of your store to be considered. You supply most of the schools in the city. And it would never do for this to get out.”

Mr Molloy sought to recover himself. “Perhaps we can come to some arrangement then.”

Afterwards Dan told his delighted friend, Mick, “Brother, I got all the books the kids need at school this year. All free of charge. A very nice little deal, Mick. We can always benefit from the influence of the obscurants in this country.”

“Yeh turned the tables there alright. But I’m glad you didn’t let him keep me book,” Mick laughed. “Brand new and smuggled across the border via Belfast. From one peculiar and closed society to another. Jayus! The bould Joyce himself would be tickled pink at it all.”

This story is based on an incident that occurred in 1950s Dublin that involved two friends of our family. They did not live to see a statue of James Joyce erected close to where the bookshop with the sign once stood. Acknowledgements to the James Joyce Estate for the lines from Ulysses. ©

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Extract from “Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner”

The political and the personal

Truth to tell, it was not economic reasons alone that concerned me. After living in England I found that life in the stifling social and cultural conditions of Ireland was hard to tolerate. I missed newspapers of the quality of the Guardian and although it had dropped the prefix Manchester in 1959 it had not lost its reputation as a quality read. For a weekend treat I had ordered the Sunday Observer from our local paper seller who delivered newspapers door to door. He informed me in tones of disapproval; ‘You’re the only one in the district who reads a paper like that’. In Ireland there were no weekend papers of the quality of the British Sunday paper The Observer at the time.

Throughout the week, of the three biggest Irish morning papers the Irish Times was streets ahead of the other two that were both subservient mouthpieces of the major political parties – The Irish Press to Fianna Fail and the Irish Independent to Fine Gael. On Monday mornings, Da would snort, ‘The Irish Press and the Independent vie with each other to see who can report and publish the most pictures of fawning politicians kissing the ring of some bishop or other’. And for the seven weeks of Lent they would publish verbatim, pages of the pastoral letters of every bishop in the country.

One Sunday morning the paper seller was delighted to tell me, ‘There’s no Observer this week. Banned because of an article on birth control. And rightly so’. This from a father of seven kids was both amusing and at the same time dismaying. I watched as he walked away pushing his small box-cart of newspapers before him and trying to protect them from the gusts of cold wind that was blowing. My father’s words ‘pissing against the wind,’ came to my mind. Christ! The paper seller is not the only one, I thought. He is pushing against the wind. While I am in effect pissing against the wind in this damned country. What chance for my daughters growing up in this bloody place? I asked myself.

True, winds of change were gradually blowing away the crud that had encrusted Irish society for so long and English television was slowly breaking through the customs barrier. But not fast enough for me.

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Taking a stand against the slaughter

The Irish Neutrality League
and the Imperialist War
Published by PANA

Reviewer: Michael Halpenny

In the present commemoration-fest around the First World War you could be forgiven for thinking that no one ever asked the question at the time – “Why should we be involved in this imperialist conflict?”

Yet to their undying credit some, a minority admittedly, including our own union did, and decided to march to a different drumbeat – that of opposition to the war.

This recent publication by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) tells their story.

Some in Europe opposed the war because of their strongly-held Christian values: some because they were pacifists. Others, many of them from the left were not pacifists, and viewed the war as a contest between competing imperial powers in which they and workers generally should play no part.

In Dublin, the banner over Liberty Hall in that autumn of 1914 said it all: “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser, But Ireland”

In England socialists such as Keir Hardie, George Lansbury (grandfather of actor Angela) and the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst campaigned against the war, while thousands of “conscientious objectors were later jailed or forced into uniform at the front. (Though not a pacifist, one of those was war resister and Irish trade unionist, John Swift senior).

In Germany one pacifist, Otto Umfrid, described their endeavours as akin to “fixing a truck rolling into a precipice with a thread of silk”. Other Germans, such as socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, were jailed for treason.

Ireland saw the coming together of a broad but disparate group of socialists, trade unionists, pacifists, feminists, republicans and nationalists under the banner of the short-lived Irish Neutrality League (INL). Its initial meeting, chaired by James Connolly, resolved to respond to John Redmond’s recruitment drive for the British Army and the tsunami of jingoism and war hysteria.

As the editor Roger Cole of Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) notes “… its core ideology was to unite all of those opposed to the imperial war and to promote Irish independence and neutrality”.

Writer, Francis Devine, gives an extensive history of the INL, and notes that in a circular of October 5, 1914, the League warned that efforts were being made by the British government and employers to force young male workers into the army – what they termed “commercial conscription”.

Historian, Margaret Ward deals with the contribution of Countess Markievicz to the INL’s activities. Aidan Lloyd with that of pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington’s while Jack O’Connor points to the relevance of the League’s core principles today as Europe’s ruling elites flex their muscles on both the economic and military fronts.

He argues: “We must hold firm to our union’s traditional policy of support for Irish neutrality and non-alignment…”

This publication shines a light on a little discussed and unfashionable aspect of our history, that of neutrality, but one which in the words of Francis Devine “should not be obscured”, not least because it is certain where Connolly would stand on those same issues today.

Available from PANA at : email

This review is posted courtesy of Liberty Magazine and PANA and with acknowledgement to the reviewer Michael Halpenny.

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Many shades of seduction

Fifty Shades of Grey
By E L James
Arrow Books
Reviewer: Janet M O’Brien

What motivates 100 million readers around the globe to read three installments of an erotic novel that received negative reviews with literary critics giving the style ‘no prizes’ for its prose? It has even been described as ‘poorly written’? But let’s face it; romance sells. Add explicit sexual acts that involve bondage, dominance and submission and we have a formula that traps readers as they are enticed vicariously and seduced. Once the reader is bonded (pun intended) to this intimate interplay, seduction is complete.

Through the ages female sexuality has been the subject of fascination for many male writers. Fanny Hill, Moll Flanders, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the exploits of the notorious Molly Bloom, were all written by men. In more recent years, Anais Nin, Erica John, Linda Jaivin and Nicky Gemmell have evened the score to some degree and now E L James has blown away any traces of male dominance.

Times and women have changed. A recent national survey of Australian women has shown that there is a sexual revolution taking place and that women are very much to the fore when it comes to being adventurous as far as sex is concerned. This cultural shift has led to the burgeoning of erotic romance novels and chick-lit. The survey found that women of all ages now have a more liberal attitude to sex than any group surveyed including men of all ages and teenagers.

This trilogy is a page turner, 1624 pages to be precise; the reader is seduced from the outset with the prolonged sexual sequences. In particular, millions of women are enjoying the uninhibited sexual content. Every sex scene is fresh, explicit and varied. No two scenes read the same. Even so, at times, I skimmed some of the sex scenes to return to the development of the characters and the progress of the relationship.

Anastasia Steele, the narrator, is a young graduate who is introduced to the enigmatic and intimidating Christian Grey when she is persuaded by her friend to interview him for a student newspaper. Grey subsequently pursues Ana and introduces her to his vast wealth and power and the terms he imposes on women that are prepared to be his “submissive”. It turns out that Grey has very explicit sexual tastes and is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy”. And he wants control over every aspect of her life. A complex relationship ensues as Ana considers his list of contractual requirements once she’s been introduced to his ‘play room’. Even though she is shocked, she finds him irresistible and wants to get close to him. So she is willing to expose herself to the extremes of his sexual needs.

Ana is no submissive. Her relationship is one that demands equal power. She yearns for romance in the traditional sense and the challenge for Grey is whether he can let go of his demons; the origins of his inability to love. In turn, he too is seduced by Ana’s independent spirit and quiet intelligence.

This is no Cinderella story, but a narrative of male/female relationships that fits the modern era. Grey seduces Ana, Ana seduces Grey and the author has seduced millions of readers with sales that far surpass novels such as “Justine” and “The Story of O” which so shocked previous generations. With “Fifty Shades of Grey” that goes to “ Fifty Shades Darker” before emerging as “ Fifty Shades Freed” E L James explores the pleasures and pains of romantic love while recognizing that sexuality is the most powerful driving force in human experience.


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