Big Albert shines his light/ casts his shadow across the pond

I knew nothing of Under the Albert Clock  until I spotted a review of the  podcast in the New York Times no less.  Creativity and performance defies the lockdown. American sponsorship and other interest is very welcome. Any reaction? The New York-based Origin Theater Company commissioned the series, asking five female playwrights in Northern Ireland to use as inspiration Belfast’s landmark Albert Memorial Clock (a monument to Queen Victoria’s husband, and thus a symbol of Britishness), and to place their …

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How Derek Mahon caught our attention

Derek Mahon struggled with an intellectual ambition unexcelled by his Ulster contemporaries, elevating the commonplace into grandeur and striking the contemporary notes of recognition that draw us in. It’s uncanny how that late poem “Everything is Going to All Right,”    has shed light on darkness during the pandemic, just as it has been adopted to ease the first shock of suicide for the bereaved.   In hands such as Mahon’s, the commonplace phrases are the hand holds that begin to pull …

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What is to be the message of Northern Ireland 100?

Ulster 71 (archive) Does anybody out there know how plans to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary are progressing?  To try to find answers, I’ve been combing the websites and having a few chats, without much luck. Last month, following a few bumbled sentences from Boris Johnson it seemed that the UK government with due regard to the “sensitivities”, were taking the initiative, thus avoiding the potential for another Stormont deadlock. The SoS Brandon Lewis looked forward to.. Following formal acceptance of …

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Shared or united island? The Greens called it right.

The new banter coalition in the Republic has got off to a dramatic start. Ministerial sackings! A tax ruling from the ECJ! Infighting! It’s everything we could have hoped for. Among the chaos of this week came an interesting titbit from Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. According to Ryan our own Clare Bailey, the party leader in Northern Ireland, was behind the decision to rename the ‘united island’ unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to the ‘shared island’ unit. …

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How much of the extra £33m dividend from UK Culture Secretary will be spent on NI arts? (updated with response from Communities Minister and Arts Council NI)

A major injection of £1.57bn into the cultural sector by the UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden may prematurely raise the hopes of Northern Ireland artists that their industry is finally set to receive the relief and attention that many other areas of business have already enjoyed. The question for the NI Executive is how much of the expected £33m (via Barnett consequentials) will be spent on the cultural sector? Northern Ireland already spends less than half what England, Scotland and Wales spend on arts per head of population.

Anti-racism must not become a new form of cultural oppression

Laurence Oliver’s Othello ( 1965) Although from today we in England can create our own family bubble of different households, it’s still not too late to enter the lockdown confessional. I am not for a moment  about to challenge the central aims of Black Lives Matter, or persistent discrimination at work or even what seems to me to be the intractable problem of race as an identifier of knife crime suspects in stop and search. I hope I’m sensitive to  …

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Removing statues is a revolutionary gesture. Is that what’s needed?

Queen Victoria being removed from the front of the Dail     Fergus on Monday nailed it.  In the current atmosphere the statue of Oliver Cromwell speaks for itself.  Perched in front of Westminster Hall the Victorians who erected it were celebrating the victory of Parliament over the royal tyrant Charles 1. But even leaving aside the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford, this distorts Cromwell’s record. He sent the troops in to expel Parliament not once but twice and instead ruled …

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Normal People depicts an Irish generation to appreciative millions that is at last growing up normally

Irish pornhub or a touching rite of passage? Critics are divided and that may be an age thing. But there’s no doubt that the TV series based on Sally Rooney’s rather minimal novel about the relationship between Sligo teenagers is a smash hit. This boomer old enough to be their grandparent is still getting over the fact that a drama about relationships set in a C21 Irish high school and small town has not a hint of Girl With Green …

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The RIC commemoration is off. Was it a bridge too far to unionists?

Newstalk If you’re going to do a U turn, getting it over quick  limits the damage (even to bloggers like me). It’s remarkable how long politicians usually take to face up to the inevitable. Wisely not this time. With only 10 days to go, it had to be quick, with only a weasel word “ “deferred” substituted for “ cancelled.”   Was holding a commemoration in Dublin Castle for the RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police a revisionism of history  too …

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Commemorating the RIC and allowing an Irish Language Act are opposite sides of the same coin

 RTE The Irish government’s decision to commemorate the RIC in a major state ceremony is the right one precisely because it is as controversial as it is fundamental. There is no point in filling an entire decade with an orgy of self congratulation. The modern Irish state was born in insurgency and revolution is always controversial. But it is s also a reminder of that the state born out of revolution was part of a much longer continuum that is …

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Royal Portrush: our biggest ever event, worldwide appreciation, old school nostalgia.. it’s got it all. Let’s give ourselves a big break

Amid all the  and doom  and gloom over Brexit, I can’t let this week pass without a hefty mention of the Open at Royal Portush.  Here surely is a  piece of British exceptionalism all can enjoy, the  un-neurotic side of identity.  Note that it’s called  “the Open”. No “British” prefix is needed (although I see the Irish Times wouldn’t you know it has added it, just in case somebody thinks it’s the Uzbek Open).  This piece of swagger was pointed …

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“À la Bastille!”

One more time, then… with continued apologies to Pierre Ranger… [It’s a tradition, we know… – Ed]  Indeed!  And with Alaphilippe in yellow again!  Play La Marseillaise!   Pete Baker”As explained in detail to Sinn Féin and previously…”NI Executive Office acting unlawfully in delaying introduction of victims compensation schemeNI deputy First Minister “choosing to ignore the requirement to comply with the rule of law to express a political advantage”Set your Author Custom HTML Tab Content on your Profile page

Cracking the deadlock over an Irish language Act will test whether a new political order is emerging

If a Tele article by Nelson Mc Causland and Newsletter reports are anything to go by, agreement on an Irish Language Act and therefore the return of Stormont are as far away as ever. The problem remains over an acht na Gaelige that stands alone. As unionists perceive it, this constitutes a claim superior to their cultural needs. It was supposed to have been sorted by the draft agreement of February last year but the DUP refused to sign off, …

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What would a Festival of Britain and Northern Ireland say? “Politics and ceremonial are not separate subjects, the one serious, the other superficial. Ritual.. is itself a type of power”

Ulster 71 Exhibition BBC Image  The headline quote is from David Cannadine in “Rituals of Royalty etc..”  in “Traditional Societies”, ed. Cannadine and Simon Price, CAP 1987 p3, quoted by Gillian McIntosh (below)  Anniversaries like death and taxes are always with us. Perhaps they’re even sent to challenge  us.  Politicians are tempted to lay on  bread and circuses to show up the better face of things. Could it really work for Brexit?  The Irish Times believes not. The paper has …

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Doing our part: Dealing with bonfires

Greater Shankill Alternatives, which is part of a co-ordinating initiative on restorative justice across Northern Ireland, hosted a workshop session that explored various aspects of the tradition of bonfires and the organisation’s approaches of engagement with groups who construct these structures for annual celebrations. The event was supported by Belfast City Council and its DiverseCity good relations programme.

Leading human rights expert challenges Sinn Fein on “rights” stance

Brice Dickson, normally a sober sounding academic lawyer and a former head of the NI Human Rights Commission  was first famous  for recanting on his recommendation for an  “all singing,  all dancing”  NI  Bill of Rights.  In the Newsletter today Brice has boldly entered the fray of the all party talks at Stormont to point out flaws in Sinn Fein’s starting position.   Sinn Fein has abused the concept of human rights by setting up such rights as pre-conditions for …

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RIP Heather Harper, from East Belfast to Glyndebourne

The great Belfast born singer Heather Harper has just died at the fine old age of 88.  Heather, Barry Douglas and James Galway were the most acclaimed classical musicians Belfast  produced  in the twentieth century.   As Alf McCreary writes, Heather  never forgot her Belfast roots. I remember her performance – and his warm words afterwards –  at the 50th anniversary concert for BBC Northern Ireland  at the height of the Troubles. “She was the daughter of an Ulster lawyer, Hugh …

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The catastrophic fire of Notre Dame gives us a poignant message for Easter, that our heritage is as much about renewal and rebirth as death and destruction

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times brings  an American  perspective to the catastrophic fire at Notre Dame. Like him I immediately thought of the place accorded to the great cathedral by Kenneth Clark in his monumental BBC series Civilisation I saw when broadcast in the 1970s, and then kept in an old fashioned box set of  VHSs  for viewing by children as an essential part of their education. Like Kimmelman, I think of other fires and destruction of the …

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Emma DeSouza: None of us benefit from the Home Office’s position

In 2015, Emma DeSouza married her American husband, Jake, in a ceremony in Belfast. Later that year, the couple applied for an EEA residence card. Their application relied on the 2006 EEA Regulations and was grounded in Mrs DeSouza’s Irish citizenship. In September 2016, to the couple’s surprise, their application was declined. In giving its reasons for refusing Mr DeSouza’s residence card, the Home Office referred to Mrs DeSouza’s citizenship. She was born in Northern Ireland and, in the Home …

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Misha Glenny, famed expert on lethal clashes of identity in Europe, discovers his own roots – in Newry

Misha Glenny I knew Michael “Misha” Glenny  as a young BBC correspondent  reporting the tragedies of the  disintegration of Yugoslavia  from the  eighties  and more recently as the author of the book and executive producer of the smash hit TV thriller series McMafia, about the spread of global crime into politics and  the world of  billionaire finance.  Misha’s interest is in part hereditary. His father Michael senior was a student of Eastern Europe and a famed translator who legend has …

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