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Pádraic Fiacc – Tribute

April 26, 2010 by  

Poet Pádraic Fiacc is the subject of next Sunday’s documentary on BBC Radio 4, ‘Lost Voices’, presented by Brian Patten. Pádraic Fiacc was born in Belfast in 1924 and is one of Ireland’s greatest living poets whose writing, says Gerard Dawe, “is haunted by a sense of community”.

For more information on the poet see here.

Also see review by Heather Clark of ‘The New North: Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland’ edited by Chris Agee, 2008.

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April 23, 2010 by  

Antony Beevor has a knack of making history really accessible. Before I came to his books, I had read serious and light literature about the French and Russian revolutions, the First World War and the Vietnam War, etc. I have also interviewed protagonists (for example, General Otelo de Carvalho who led the Portuguese Movement of Armed Forces in the Carnation Revolution which overthrew Caetano, the fascist dictator) but regardless of my admiration of courage/bravery, deep down inside I have always been averse to war or conflict. Yet that is a major contradiction because I also understand the necessity of ruthlessness.

I hate descriptions of battles and the details of the ordnance, the shells, the detonators, and this tank and that rocket, and how well we did only to lose 100,000 soldiers, etc. Having said that, I do vaguely recall reading ‘War And Peace’ in Cage 2, Long Kesh, in 1973, lent to me by Ted Howell, and being impressed by Kutuzov who commanded the Russians against Napoleon in 1812 at the Battle of Austerlitz [I think!].

But in ‘Berlin’, we discover, for example, that one army alone, the 1st Belorussian Front, had a stockpile of over seven million shells, of which 1,236,000 rounds were fired on the first day of the offensive! 1,236,000 shells fired in one day!

I read Beevor’s ‘The Siege of Stalingrad’ last year and was mightily impressed. So, here are my observations on ‘Berlin’.

To quote him: “Many Soviet troops, especially the frontline formations, unlike those who came behind, often behaved with great kindness to German civilians. In a world of cruelty and horror where any conception of humanity had almost been destroyed by ideology, just a few acts of often unexpected kindness and self-sacrifice lighten what would otherwise be an unbearable story.”

I actually use a similar theme in my unpublished novel ‘Rudi’: “The stories that attracted Rudi were not the success of great battles or even the contentious triumph of alleged good over alleged evil but those accounts of individuals acting against the tribe, against the rules: the soldier who allowed a prisoner facing execution to escape; the SS man who risked his own life by warning a Jewish former school pal that Jews were being murdered in the camps and that he should flee. Such acts might not alter the course of history but they did ennoble mankind a little.”

I had read before, but never in such detail about the Soviet victory over Germany being sullied by the mass raping of the young, the middle-aged and the elderly. Even Russian women and girls, who had been seized for slave labour by the Reich, were, upon liberation, then subjected to major sexual assaults by their own countrymen that, in a way, would make one despair about how little we are removed from beasts (though beasts would probably be more kind).

I read such books as Beevor’s also for an appreciation of how people survived, how ran the emotions, how love survived.

Beevor quotes Vasily Grossman’s novel ‘Life And Fate’ (another that I must read before I die): “The extreme violence of totalitarian systems proved able to paralyse the human spirit throughout whole continents.”

On the eve of the attack on Berlin the Berlin Philharmonic gave its last performance, playing, despite the electricity cuts, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Bruckner’s 8th Symphony and, appropriately, the finale to Wagner’s Götterdämmerung!

Meantime, the Russian soldiers listened to a song fashioned to the haunting melody of Zemlyanka; ‘Wait For Me’, based on the 1942 poem by Konstantin Simonov; and ‘Blue Shawl’, about a faithful girl’s farewell to her soldier lover… who might well have perished.

Currently, I am reading Hans Falluda’s ‘Little Man, What Now’, published in 1932, the year before Hitler came to power, and I am not sure where it is going, but the main female character, Lammchen, is very naïve, and I doubt if she will turn out to be a fascist. I hope she doesn’t.

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Second Readings

April 13, 2010 by  


Finished ‘Second Readings’, an excellent anthology of summaries of fifty two great novels by Eileen Battersby, literary critic at the Irish Times. Of course, now I have to add several more novels to my list of books I must read before I die which will take their place besides the three dozen patiently awaiting their turn in my bookcase. The search begins for: ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ by William Maxwell; ‘The Expedition Of Humphrey Clinker’ by Tobias Smollett; ‘The Optimist’s Daughter’ by Eudora Welty; ‘Petersburg’ by Andrei Bely; ‘Death In Rome’ by Wolfgang Koeppen; and ‘The Recognitions’ by William Gaddis.

Did interview with a young American student, Geoff Lyszczarz, re what it was like growing up during the Troubles.

1st April. AGM of Féile an Phobail, held in Culturlann. Was re-elected to the management committee.

31st March. Finished ‘Berlin’ by Antony Beevor. The Soviets fought courageously but their heroism was completely sullied by their mass raping of German girls and women of all ages.

29th March. Interviewed by Richard Reed, School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen’s University who is working on a research project, a critical appraisal of the predicaments of contemporary loyalism.

26th March. Visited St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork, in which I hope to set a scene for my novel, ‘Rudi’, which I am currently re-working.

25th March. Introduced speaker Tim Brannigan at a literary event at Cork’s Lifelong Learning Festival (which is now twinned with Féile and Phobail). Tim read from his forthcoming memoir, ‘Where Are You Really From?’.

22nd March. Interviewed by Maylis Konnecke, a second-year PhD candidate at Queen’s University whose project is about the interaction between politics and religion. She is focussing  on the DUP and the Lebanese Forces (LF) in Lebanon and is exploring the notions of compromise and resistance.

21st March. George Galloway, Respect MP, here for dinner. Later took him over to St Kevin’s Hall in North Belfast for ‘The Gerry Kelly Show’ where he appeared as a panel guest of the Sinn Féin MLA.

16th March. Interviewed by by Theresa Crapanzano, a doctoral candidate in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder re her dissertation research on media coverage of the 1981 hunger strikes.

Finished ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin, the story of Eilis Lacey from Enniscorthy who emigrates to the US in the early 1950s but it called home due to a family bereavement. Very nicely paced novel. Deceptively simple. However, it defies the usual admonition to writers that one should ‘show not tell’, yet it somehow works.

9th March. Interviewed by Mike Thomson, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s investigative history series, Document. The topic was publicity/propaganda and ‘news management’ in the early 1970s during the conflict, particularly the activities of the Information and Research Department (IRD) which was sent here by MI6 to defeat the Republican Movement! It was based at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, though it had other people scattered around the place, in a variety of British newspapers, but also in perpetuity in the Horse and Saddle bar of the Europa Hotel! The programme goes out, I think, on Radio 4 on 22nd March at 8pm.