The Irish Dáil and Seanad
A Reporters Reminiscences
It is just on forty years since I
left the service of Oireachtas Éireann, the Irish Parliament, where I was
employed as an official reporter of the debates in the Dáil and Seanad, the two
houses which, with the President of the State, comprise its three constituent
parts. Emigrating to Canada I followed the same vocation in its House of
Commons. There I was privileged to become the Editor of Debates and to publish a
book, "The Hansard Chronicles", outlining the history of parliamentary reporting
in various countries.
A recent visit by the current Editor of Debates in the Dáil, Liam
Fitzgibbon, has prompted me to set forth a brief account of my time in the Dáil.
It is a purely personal recollection of events and people, in no way to be taken
as an academic study, and I hasten to add that Mr. Fitzgibbon is not to be held
responsible. The colouring is my own. Should it have merit, it is because this
monograph comes from a unique perspective, that of a shorthand reporter whose
presence in Dáil or other assembly blends into the woodwork, seen but unnoticed,
a piece of the furniture as it were.
These are the recollections of one particular piece of furniture, offered
in the hope that they trigger fond memories of the Dáil in the late 1950s, its
members and, not least, the colleagues who made up the official reporting staff
to whom it is respectfully dedicated. Their stories, lively and fresh in memory,
shed light on a Dublin that is rapidly passing into the mists of living
Click for larger image
The Chamber of Dáil Éireann looking down from Press Gallery. The table in
centre is where the Official Reporters work.
(Photograph courtesy of the Public Relations Office, Leinster House,
Listening to George W. Bush daily stumbling over the correct articulation
of words in the current (2000 AD) United States presidential election
campaignthe examples are so many and so well highlighted by the media that they
need no elaborationcalls to mind one memorable visit by a Deputy to the office
of the Editor of the Official Report in Dáil Éireann to question why the
reporting of his speeches varied in quality when published in print.
"Sometimes it bes good, and sometimes it bes not so good. How come?"
The pseudo literate may smirk at the Deputys apparent mangling of the
English language, but the man was only using an Irish tense for which there is
no English equivalent. He was both right and wrong simultaneously, and his query
was a valid one.
The unfortunate in the editors chair that day was Eamon OFaolain. His
chief, and mine, Paddy ODonnell, was on vacation, it being during the summer
parliamentary recess, and it fell to Eamon to explain, as diplomatically as he
could, that it was the job of official reporters not only to report in shorthand
what Deputies said in the Dáil Chamber, but also to transcribe it grammatically.
He didnt add that the latter task was almost an impossibility in that
particular Deputys case, hence the unevenness in quality in the printed version
of his speech.
Whether the Deputy was satisfied or not I cannot say. He was defeated in
the next election. In charity one may record that Cavan lost a unique voice to
represent its people, but his visit to the editors office remains part of the
institutional lore of that particular branch of parliamentary services in
Leinster House, the seat of Oireachtas Éireann, the Parliament of Ireland, or at
least of twenty-six of the countrys thirty-two counties.
In his own way, Eamon had defined the role of official reporters, Hansard
reporters, and other like-named record keepers of debates in the national
assemblies of nations around the globe. In my own case I prefer their
description as valets to the verbally challenged. And, having had the chance to
work in two national parliaments, Ireland and Canada, and having studied their
profession as practised in most of the English-speaking democracies, I can
attest to their devotion in following their vocation courageously.
Theirs is no easy task. Elected representatives come in all shades and
sizes, from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds. The individual
reporter never knows what each election may produce. Maiden speeches in
parliament may provide a clue. One example: a new member of Canadas parliament,
an Innu, spoke with pride of his ancestry, which included a Hudson Bay factor,
and his maternal grandfather, whose name he gave as Dingy Joe. Having grown up
with Robert Service and Jack London as reading material, the reporter felt here
was the equivalent of Dangerous Dan McGrew and other characters of that ilk, and
thought no more about it. Fortunately, during transcription, the little warning
bell that each parliamentary reporters carries internally, went off, and he
decided to check. Sure enough it was Dingy Joe. But the bell rang again. "Please
spell". "D-i-n-j-i C-h-o-u". I felt like a complete eejit, sorry, idiot!
In addition to dealing with mangled syntax, mixed metaphors, fluctuating
tenses, and the switching of plural and singular in sentences, sometimes even in
phrases, the keepers of the record must familiarise themselves with the style of
individuals in order to preserve the flavour of their speaking. A lifetime spent
reporting public figures, first at the local level of the Ballyshannon Town
Commissioners and Bundoran Urban Council, then the Donegal County Council,
candidates on the hustings during general election campaigns, followed by Dáil
Deputies and Senators, Canadian Members of Parliament, United Nations delegates,
not omitting members of other international organizations such as FAO (Food and
Agriculture Organization), ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), and
ILO (International Labour Organization), a scattering of State presidents, even
one Pope, John XXIII, has convinced me that there are three main types, those
who speak in the abstract, those who speak in pictures, and those who speak in
absolute terms, to whom the reality of things is an abiding factor.
Then, quite apart, are those who are orators.
Among the first category were two leading figures in Irish parliamentary
life, Eamon de Valera and General Richard Mulcahy. They were leaders on opposite
sides in Irelands Civil War and on opposite sides in party politics in the
Dáil. Both spoke in abstract terms. What they articulated may have had meaning
to each, but in print was obtuse to the point of meaningless. The first, de
Valera, particularly in later years, had a habit of "beginning sentences that
started yesterday and wont end until tomorrow". They were so filled with
qualifiers that they could be interpreted at will. Reporters transcribing them
filled shorthand notebook pages before reaching what they hoped was a fullstop
between sentences, only to find the venerable gentleman had merely paused to
draw breath before continuing. But that was only the start of their
difficulties. When it came time to transcribe their ten-minute segments they
Well, use your own imagination.
The hunt for an elusive, on occasion non-existent fullstop, taxed all
It was of de Valera that the one true orator in the Dáil once said, as
quoted in the Dáil Debates, May 28 1936, p.1250:
.if there was a possible method for the President [de Valera] to say
anything so that it could be interpreted in six different ways, he would
certainly choose that way of saying it."
At the risk of sounding presumptuous, de Valera never presented that
difficulty to me. Using what experience I had as a newspaper reporter and
editor, accustomed to dealing with local correspondents, especially reports
furnished by school teachersit was a never-ending source of wonder why they had
such difficulty writing reports of their meetingsI would chop my segment into
manageable pieces of prose, complete with verbs and fullstops. Nobody
complained, nobody questioned, and eventually de Valera left the post of
Taoiseach (Prime Minister), was elected President of the State, and went to live
in Aras an Uachtaran He was succeeded by Seán Lemass, of whom more later.
Mulcahy, whatever may have been his style of speaking in the early years
of the Dáil, had become even more proficient in the art of the abstract. He was
wont to speak of the spirit of things, but what he meant by spirit was
frequently an insoluble conundrum.
"When the Spirit moves Mulcahy, look out." That was the advice, warning if
you will, that I was given by the aforementioned OFaolain who was my mentor for
the first month I spent as an official reporter. Mightily did we strive to
skewer the obscure, to penetrate the mists of the Spirit, to find out what in
Heaven or on earth moved the General when he addressed the Chamber. Making
grammatical sense of his spiritual musings was a hellish task. But somehow we
managed, and felt we fully deserved our pay for the day, and the relaxing pint
afterwards. There I go, using singular for plural when I know better.
Pausing briefly to treat with the flavour of a speaker, there was one
well-known Labour member who predated the "like", "you know" linguistically
impaired younger generation of present times by, like, five decades. His
speeches were dotted with the phrase "less alone". It could be taken to mean
several things, depending on context. It could mean "let alone", or "in spite
of", or "in addition to". No doubt it had other connotations as well. By
limiting ourselves to one "less alone" per segment we rendered him good service
without rendering him flavourless.
The class who can best be classified as speaking in pictures was
exemplified by a member of Seanad Éireann. He was a farmer, elected as a member
of the Agriculture Panel.
A word of explanation may be in order for those unacquainted with the
Irish electoral system. The Seanad was/is intended to be a vocational
representative institution, with members elected from a number of panels,
agriculture, labour, industry, the professions, the universities, with the
addition of eleven "buckshee" members nominated by the Taoiseach of the Day.
Contrasted with a huge country like Canada whose Senate is composed totally of
unelected members, all nominated by one man, the Canadian Prime Minister, the
Irish Senate is a model of democracy, save for the intrusion of crass party
politics buttressed by the "buckshee" nominees of the Taoiseach.
Because of its composition, the Senate can be a place of serious debate.
It has been graced with some truly outstanding figures, perhaps the most
world-wide known member having been the poet, playwright, W. B. Yeats. Those
wishing to study its origins may be advised to read "The Irish Free State and
its Senate" by Donal OSullivan, publishers Faber and Faber, London 1940.
To return to the unnamed farming representative, he had a truly wonderful
gift. When he was speaking his words came through as mental pictures. Listening
to him, and in our case reporting him, we could see the pasture land, the crops,
the cattle. I have no doubt that he himself saw them as he spoke. In a chamber
given to hearing the more frequent contributions of legal types he stood alone.
He brought the very landscape of his subject before us. I wish I could remember
Samples of the type who spoke in absolute terms included Seán Lemass,
mentioned previously, and Patrick McGilligan. They were both doers and planners,
with the vision and the drive to give that economic foundation to the State upon
which successive generations have built, culminating for the nonce in what has
been dubbed the Celtic Tiger, outperforming the economic growth of countries
many times the size of the Twenty-Six Counties.
Lemass was a plain speaker. The contrast with his leader, de Valera, was
stark. Reporting him was a straightforward task. No orator he, but a man who
knew his subject and could talk about it in sentences that made sense.
McGilligan, in physical appearance, was a wisp of a man, slight,
slender--"if you looked at him sideways you could miss seeing him at all"--but
he possessed an intellect that magnified the man. And he was the divil in all to
report. I have heard fast speakers in my time, but none faster than Paddy
McGilligan. To boot, he was a Derry man and had the accent to prove it. To me it
was like listening to a neighbour from the next county; to colleagues from
Leinster and other unfortunate places, he presented problems. And, no matter
where we were from, we were taxed to the utmost to keep up with him.
It was McGilligan who inspired the construction of the Shannon
hydro-electric scheme in the early years of the State, and Lemass who pushed the
Erne hydro-electric scheme to completion twenty years later. These contributed
greatly to rural electrification and industrial growth in Ireland.
As an aside, in terms of perspective Lemass has grown in reputation as the
years have gone by, compared with the status accorded his political leader. It
was he who signalled a change in public recognition of the sacrifices made by
the 200,000 Irish men and women who volunteered to serve in the Great War of
1914-1918. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin, he
"In later years it was commonand I was also guilty in this respectto
question the motives of those men who joined the new British armies formed at
the outbreak of the war, but it must in their honour and in fairness to their
memory be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose."
Somehow Seán Lemass seems to have an increased personal consciousness for
this Internet scribe with the passage of time. He has kept popping up in the
most unlikely places, but one of them has a direct connection with the official
Dáil Debates and in a most unlikely way. In 1950 Clonmore and Reynolds, the
Dublin book publishers, brought out a new title, "Italy and Ireland in the
Middle Ages", by Italian diplomat Vincenzo Berardis. In the preface, written in
Ireland in 1944, the author wrote: "This book was planned during my residence in
Dublin as the minister of Italy to the Government of Ireland."
It carried a laudatory introduction by the Irish Jesuit John Ryan.
A copy of the book was bought by my wife as a discarded item from the
Ottawa Public Library in 1986. On examination I found it to have been printed by
Cahill & Co, the same firm that printed the Official Dáil Debates. I
remember poor Paddy ODonnell tearing over to Cahills in the early hours of a
morning to make late corrections to copy just minutes before its being printed,
but that is only by the by. What is pertinent to this anecdote is the spine of
the volume. Its glue had failed and the spine had broken open. I at once
recognised the packing strip beneath. It was the familiar format of the selfsame
Official Dáil Debates, with the speaker Seán Lemass on the topic of Bord na
Mona. How the mighty had fallen! The Official Debates, which we had laboured so
long and hard to produce, were reduced to packing strips. The only consolation
was that Seán Lemasss speech still made sense.
As an aside, on November 30, 2000, it was reported that a 1,000 year old
book containing a copy of Archimedess treatises is about to be treated by new
high-tech means to render it readable once more. Much of the original work has
been found in the books spine where it had been transferred sometime during the
course of the centuries. It is extremely doubtful if the Cahill book will last
that long. Archimedes and Lemass--there's a conjunction worth conjection.
I have mentioned orators. They are rare. An earlier reference to the one
true orator in the Dáil, at least during my tenure, may surprise some, given the
universal association of the Celtic race with language. "They have the gift of
the gab." Indeed they do. "Sure they like nothing better than an evening of good
craic." "Beware of Irish blarney!" All true, but searching for an orator in
todays Ireland is like Diogenes going around in daylight with a lit candle
searching for an honest man. I had better stop there!
There have been well documented Irish parliamentary orators in earlier
ages. Burke and OConnell spring readily to mind. Not for them the prepared
texts written by faceless and nameless bumboys in back rooms. At the most a few
subject headings on a card are sufficient to guide the true orator through a
Quintilian put it aptly when he taught that preparation and delivery are
among the essentials. Delivery is of the very essence. The public speaker who
drones through a speech in numbing monotone quickly loses an audience. A speaker
with modulated tone, pauses well timed, can captivate. It is an art which can be
learned--listen to any good actor--but only the gifted few transcend art. They
I can count on the fingers of one hand the few natural orators whom it has
been my pleasure to hear, report, and transcribe. James M. Dillon was the first
of them, and the only Irish parliamentarian. John G. Diefenbaker, David Lewis,
and surprisingly, Colin Cameron (Nanaimo-Cowichian-The Islands), are three
others. They served in the Parliament of Canada.
"Diefs up!" When that word spread through the corridors, the public
benches quickly filled. Even in his late years, suffering from a form of
Parkinsons disease, the silver haired, silver voiced populist from the
Prairies, had a magnetic pull. He had presence.
While this effusion may have its roots in my experiences in Dáil Éireann,
I digress for a moment to focus on things Canadian. Lewis and Cameron never
occupied ministerial rank. They were members of what purported to be the party
of labour, the New Democratic Party. Others in the party were outstanding
speakers. When I asked Stanley Knowles, its elder statesman, popularly known as
"Mr. Parliament", why this was so, he explained that in order to achieve
prominence its younger members had to learn how to impress the rank and file in
labour halls across the country. It was an apprenticeship for them, and those
who learned well later won seats in parliament.
James M. Dillon. I was there when he was once asked what the "M" stood
for. He replied "Mary". This was by no means strange. In the Ireland of my
youth, and earlier still, the christening of boys with the middle name Mary was
a common custom. The poet, James Mary Plunkett, executed by Englands army in
1916, is one notable example. I know that Dillon has been given a middle name
other than Mary by other authorities. All I can attest is that the man himself
once gave it as Mary.
Mention of Plunkett cannot fail to recall the opening verse of his most
I see his blood upon the rose,
Dillon was from Monaghan. As a young man he had spent some years in the
United States, mainly with one of the big meat packing houses in Chicago. He was
well-read, knew agriculture, dairying, and business. Once when pleading in the
Dáil for a greater emphasis to be placed on the manufacture of Irish cheese, I
was "on the floor"--the reporter at the time taking his speech in shorthand--and
he took me through a list of cheeses manufactured in various European countries,
cheeses that he believed could be manufactured just as well in Ireland. In my
ignorance I had never heard of half of them. Sure, I had the sounds of their
names in shorthand, but again what of the spellings? Colleagues helped with
some, but there was no way to verify others. In Dillons absence, he having left
Leinster House to attend an engagement elsewhere, it was worrisome.
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
A blinding flash. A week or two previously I had noticed a cheese shop
which had opened recently on Dame Street. I had no interest in it at the time,
but I suddenly remembered its main window had been filled with a great variety
of imported cheeses, with tags bearing their prices and, more importantly, their
names. A dash by foot to Dame Street and, shorthand notebook in hand, standing
in front of the store window I matched the phonetics to the actual spellings.
The day was saved. Me too.
One of the contemporary Irish parliamentarians who later achieved
world-wide status was Seán MacBride. He was the son of Major John MacBride, a
veteran of the Boer War in South Africa, fighting on the side of the Boers. Who
now remembers the ditty, "Come on the Boers, come on the Boers, the British will
never win"? He, like Plunkett, was executed for participating in the 1916
Rising. The son was educated mainly abroad, and had acquired the lingering trace
of a French accent which he never lost. He was, if the term may be used, a
refined speaker, not suited to inspiring an election audience to great
enthusiasm. Once one became accustomed to his accent, he was easy to report.
Elsewhere in this Home Page I have recounted an earlier contact with
MacBride before I joined the Dáil staff.
(See "The Vindicator Story"), and now
I should add a personal anecdote. He had founded a new political party, Clann na
Poblachta, and had come to Donegal to address a meeting in support of a local
candidate. He stopped in Ballyshannon overnight, as a guest of Maurice Foley in
his house on The Mall, and next day, at a meeting in Glenties, delivered his
speech. He also supplied copies of it to local newspaper reporters. At the time
I was also local correspondent for a Dublin daily newspaper. His speech was
several closely typed pages in length, and there was no way I could, or would,
dictate it in full by phone to Dublin. In all innocence I approached him after
the meeting and naively asked which was the important part of the speech that he
wished sent to the Dublin paper. He appeared startled. "Its all important", he
said. Eventually he settled on the reafforestation section. In hindsight, his
foresight of the importance of reafforestation cannot be questioned. Alas for
him, trees didnt vote, and by the time public consciousness became aware of the
importance of environmental issues, his days in the Dáil had ended. The world,
however, benefited. He went on to become a global advocate of peace, and his
efforts were rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize.
Stories of his personal piety and charity remain to be chronicled by
others. Be it known, however, that as a member of the one institution, indeed
select club, whose members submitted themselves to the public judgment of the
people, Seán MacBride respected his opponents in that club, where personal
friendships frequently crossed party lines. When Seán MacEntee, a strong
political foe, was seriously ill in hospital, MacBride visited him regularly, as
friend to friend.
It was a relatively scandal-free era during which it was my privilege to
be a Dáil reporter. It was a time when observance of propriety was expected of
the peoples representatives, and a time when the majority adhered to the
precepts of their religion. I then lived at No. 99 Stephens Green, beside the
Clarence Hotel, and well remember daily walks to and from work in the company of
a rural Deputy who stayed in that area during Dáil sessions. He was a daily
communicant. He neither paraded the fact nor acted the part of a Holy Joe. It
was just a part of his everyday living, like breathing, talking, reading. There
were many others like him. Many in that little group charged with reporting the
debates, daily made it their duty to pop into Clarendon St. Church to say a few
prayers before popping into work.
Unfortunately the Church, in the person of John Charles McQuaid,
Archbishop of Dublin, was unconstrained in its intrusions into the public life
of the State, and certain Dáil Deputies suffered grievously, the most notable
being Dr. Noel Browne. Almost single handedly the good doctor was responsible
for the eradication of tuberculosis from Ireland. Before Browne, TB was the
scourge of the country. Anyone of my generation can tell of its devastating
effects on whole families, but especially on young people. Three daughters in
one family, a single son in another, cousins by the score, TB claimed them
Having demonstrated his worth, Browne moved on to tackle social issues,
most famously with what became known as the Mother and Child Scheme. Radical at
the time, it was condemned by McQuaid as State intrusion into the life of the
family, and Browne was cast as an anti-Catholic villain. He became a political
outcast, was forced to resign from his position as Minister for Health, from his
party, Clann na Poblachta, and became an Independent. As such he rarely had
opportunities to address the Dáil. From the vantage of an official reporter this
was also a loss. He was an articulate man, spoke in sentences, and to us that
was a great advantage.
Browne had the support of another Independent, Jack McQuillan of
Roscommon, who had an aura of menacing directness in speech and manner, and
together they were a prickly pair for any minister of any party to face.
A most colourful personality to burst on the parliamentary scene was the
young Oliver J. Flanagan, irrepressible, witty, with a folksy turn of speech
that ensured heavy press coverage. He, too, sat as an Independent, though he
first campaigned under the banner of Monetary Reform. The story is well known
throughout Ireland, but bears retelling. Nobody was quite sure what was meant by
monetary reform, but its proponent, Oliver, was passionate. He had no funding,
and cycled from one venue to another with a wooden box strapped to the back of
his bicycle. Following Sunday Masses, he would mount the box and proceed to
enthrall his audience at a chapel gate with a much more captivating sermon on
monetary reform than that which they had just heard from the pulpit. By sheer
dint of perseverance and pedal power his preaching reached into every town and
village, and Oliver was elected to the Dáil.
When some six months had passed, a constituent asked him, "Oliver, we
never hear any more about monetary reform. Why?"
"Thats easy to answer", came the reply. "When I was a carpenter
the most I earned was five pounds week. As a TD Im paid twenty pounds a week.
Thats monetary reform in action!"
Oliver Flanagan, from being one of the youngest TDs in the Dáil went on to
become the longest serving member, in parliamentary terms the Father of the
House. In that capacity he was once introduced to the Canadian Parliament when
sitting in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Later, I saw him walking by
himself out the back door to view the statue of DArcy McGee, once the subject
of a British "hue and cry" following the abortive 1848 rebellion in Ireland.
McGee later became a Canadian patriot, noted parliamentary figure, and
compelling promoter of Canadian Confederation, the first step on the road to
Canadian statehood. I hurried down from the Hansard office to let him hear a
friendly voice. Having introduced myself and told him I had been an official
reporter in the Dáil twenty-five years earlier, without batting an eyelid he
took me by the hand and said, "Arragh, John, I remember you well!" Indeed.
It was his second visit to Ottawa. Twenty years previously he had startled
a meeting of the Inter Parliamentary Union when he addressed it in Irish. His
"cupla focail" on that occasion were the only time I heard him speaking the
One memory leads to another. Jack Smith, Clerk of Seanad Éireann, was a
member of an even earlier parliamentary delegation to Canada, and my friend,
Wilf OMahony, and I had the pleasure of hosting him at the Manderley Golf and
Country Club. He had a decided hurley swing but managed to win his fair share of
holes. And he had his fair share of tales about the Dáil and the Seanad. Jack
Smith later went on to join the bureaucracy in the European Parliamentary
Having wandered into another reference to Seanad Éireann, wandered being
the operative word, it, like its Canadian counterpart, was supposed to give
legislation "a sober second thought", a duty it carried out leisurely if one
were to judge by the few sitting days it spent annually in session, a
reminiscence of its denizens, or of a few at least, may be of interest. Now
theres a sentence containing seven commas, in keeping with the subject matter,
because dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s, and keeping the punctuation
under control, formed part of its function when examining bills before they were
sent to Aras an Uachtaran for signature by the President.
During my years the official reporting staff had an assigned complement of
twelve shorthand writers but frequently operated with fewer. There was very
little committee work. On double-duty days when both Dáil and Seanad sat, the
staff was divided into two, six for the Dáil and six for the Seanad. If the
Seanad rose early, the reporters covering it returned to help their sorely
pressed colleagues in the Dáil. Since the Senate chamber was at one end of
Leinster House and the Dáil at the other, it was not uncommon to see reporters
whizzing through the central corridor exchanging cryptic messages as they
passed. "Irish" one might say, and get the reply "less alone". In that way each
knew the others good or bad fortune.
What did "Irish" mean? Simply that whoever had the floor was speaking in
Irish, and it was usually uttered by the reporter who was reporting the Seanad.
There graced the membership of the Seanad at that time a number of an earlier
generation who had devoted their lives to the preservation of the Irish language
in both speech and writing. One in particular whom I recall was "Torna", another
"An Seabhac". These were their pen names in Irish, which they had adopted early
in life. They were the only names by which they were known among certain
circles. They followed the example of one of the more prominent players in the
Irish revival movement, Dr. Douglas Hyde, who wrote under the pen name of "An
Craoibhin Aibhin", and who became the first President of Ireland. Talk about
tangling a tale. Time to move on and leave elucidation to others. For present
purposes it suffices to say they spoke in different dialects, Connacht or
Munster, or in sub-dialects of either.
It was always safest to assign reporters who had a proficiency in Irish to
the Seanad, and it was my hapless lot to be cast as one of them We suffered one
great disability. There was no fully professional system of Irish shorthand, and
we had to cope as best we could. I will go further into detail later, and for
now will deal only with my experience.
I knew Irish, could understand it, speak it and read it, but floundered
when attempting to write it at speed in Gregg shorthand. Time and Torna wait for
no man, and I had to find a solution in a hurry. I did. Mentally I translated
the speaker into English as he spoke, wrote the translation down in Gregg, and
when it came time to dictate my notes, put the speech back into Irish. Its
called being schizolingual. Brilliant! But it had one drawback. OBuachalla, or
whoever it might be, would appear in text speaking beautiful Connacht or Munster
Irish, and in the middle appear to break into equally beautiful, if not more so,
Donegal Irish, courtesy of you know who. My friend Eamon OFaolain had the
unenviable task of trying to mollify the unmollifiable.
Tommy Mullins was a dedicated political party partisan and often stirred
things up during otherwise quiet debates in the Seanad. Any criticism, however
oblique, of his partys legislation was enough to raise a rant. Somehow the
advent of Fidel Castro to power in Cuba had a powerful effect on him. Even
today, his pronunciation of Fidel Castros name in the most scathing way is
fresh in memory. What inspired such denunciation remains a mystery to me.
Irish-Cuban relations were practically non-existent, and may be so to this day.
In any event, Castro remains alive and still in power more than forty years
later, unscathed by Tommys invective and, I am sure, unaware of it, while Tommy
has laid down this mortal coil and with it his one-sided feud with Fidel. In the
words of the present generation--go figure.
The Seanad, because of its unique composition, had many members from the
universities and the professions who elevated its deliberations to a very high
level. I mention but two of its more outstanding, Professors Tierney and
OBrien. An evaluation of their many contributions to learned discourse lies
beyond my compass.
On a personal level, I could never square the idea of a vocationally
elected legislative body such as the Seanad with the prerogative of the
Taoiseach to appoint eleven unelected members to it. These appointments cut at
its democratic roots. Defeated Dáil candidates of a Taoiseachs party often
composed the largest numbers of such appointees. I remember one such appointee,
veteran of many Donegal election campaigns, tired mentally and physically, who
slumbered quietly through many sessions, being awakened only to cast votes, and
returning to the arms of Morpheus until a sitting ended. Whatever may have been
his many worthy accomplishments in his early political life, his final role was
to vote when wakened, and to sleep without snoring, faithful servant to the very
There was another group of dedicated toilers in the Dáil who rarely, if
ever, received the official recognition that their work warranted. They were the
typists to whom reporters dictated their notes. They worked long hours during
Dáil sittings, and much longer during extended sittings. And, when both houses
sat, theirs was truly a herculean task. If they were lucky on such occasions,
they were joined by staff from outside departments anxious to earn a little
In Canada they were known as parliamentary amanuenses, a title which
reflected a higher status and respect. It was my pleasure to record their names
for posterity during Hansards centennial celebrations in Ottawa. Regrettably I
am unable to recall the full names of all those who served the Dáil. Chief among
these ladies was Maureen OConnell, a longtime stalwart, who took new typists
and reporters under her care and gave them the benefit of her long years of
experience. She invited me to one memorable New Years Eve celebration at her
home on the North Circular Road, and I remember her fathers admonition against
drinking straight whiskey. "No matter how much water you put in, you never take
any of the whiskey out." People were always giving me sound advice.
Among the others there were Jane Matthews, Dolores Strong, and Gretta
Chambers. Whether any are still alive I cannot say. They are probably
grandmothers, with their own stories to tell of Leinster House. Maureen is dead
these many years. But, dead or living, I wish to honour their names in this
belated tribute. They worked under what today would be intolerable conditions,
all in one room, with manual typewriters pounding out a cacophony of sound all
day long, and reporters vying with each other to dictate directly to them over
the noise. Their desks were relics of a bygone age, their chairs little better.
Maureens long-standing, one might say long-seated, request for their open desks
to have "modesty panels" attached in front, was routinely ignored. They had no
recognised meal breaks, and no rest room of their own. The reporters were
blessed to have one big office to which they retired when proofreading their
"takes", and where the sound of typewriters in the adjacent office was muted.
Ergonomics? They were unheard and undreamed of in the workplace of the
Having an unpredictable disposition to insert asides whenever the mood
strikes me, I should mention another group of employees who performed a
multitude of tasks, the Dáil ushers. They were most helpful in tracking down
Deputies in order that reporters could check on facts, names of people or
places, and any other item that might trigger their mental bells. Remember the
story of Dingy Joe?
The ushers might man the kiosk at the entrance gate to Leinster House on
Kildare Street, the front office in the main foyer, serve as messengers between
offices, or sit on the most uncomfortable stools designed by man, beside the
elevated chair of the Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil chamber, waiting to carry out
all and any tasks assigned to them. Those stools were agony for those with
hemorrhoids, piles, and other assorted lumps on their rumps.
The ushers fell under the jurisdiction of the Sergeant at Arms. At the
time of which I speak that office was held by Mick Loftus, a fastidious person
of neat habits, who believed in maintaining a well ordered universe. That
universe, however, was also inhabited by Harry Burke. Harrys service went back
a long way, and he had powerful patrons. In the world of Irish politics there
was always room for Harry Burkes, fierce partisans of one party or another, but
so much part of the scene that they were endured, sometimes enjoyed, by members
of whatever party was in power.
Harry over the years had developed a taste for a wee drop of the craythur
to sustain him during his long hours on duty. Loftus would banish him from duty
in the Chamber. For a time he would serve behind the desk in the foyer. There he
might utter a few words that made some visitors cringe. Loftus would banish him
to the kiosk at the entrance gateway. When sufficient time had elapsed, his
banishment would end, and Harry would be back on duty in the Chamber. Poor
Loftus. He could never discover where Harry stashed his pick-me-up.
I had been an official Dáil reporter for some time when, one day, the
usher on duty at the entrance kiosk phoned to say I had two visitors and asked
should they be admitted. One was my niece Carol, daughter of my brother Charlie
and his wife Mary, and the other was a school friend of hers. Told yes, they
were instructed to present themselves at the foyer desk. I arrived there just in
time to hear Carol announce in ringing tones that she wished to see her uncle,
Mr. John Ward. All that was lacking was the sound of trumpets. I had never felt
more important before, and for that matter not since. Anyway, to cut a long
story short, I thought no more of the matter.
A year or so later, on a pleasant summer afternoon, Eamon OFaolain and I
were leaving by the centre door as Bob Briscoe, Dáil Deputy and first Jewish
Lord Mayor of Dublin, was sitting on a bench seat to the left-hand side. He had
a scarf or some such on his knee. Eamon, who had a speaking acquaintance with
the gentleman, asked what it was. He invited us to sit with him, and explained
that it was prayer shawl which had been presented to him as a gift earlier that
day by Jewish ladies from the United States. He demonstrated how it was worn,
and told us something of its history. It was a pleasant exchange, and to cut a
long story short, I thought no more of the matter.
Now I have the pleasure to record that my niece Carol still visits the
Dáil, not as a young schoolgirl but in her capacity as the wife of Ben Briscoe,
long-serving Dáil Deputy, the second Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the son of
his revered father, Bob Briscoe. Earlier this year Carol visited me again, this
time in Ottawa, accompanied by her husband Ben who was a delegate to a meeting
of the Inter Parliamentary Union. We talked and we talked, and I enjoyed every
minute of it.
One member of the Dáil staff with whom I had a very close association,
both in Ireland and Canada, was Lorcán O hUiginn. "Fortunate is he/she who has
one good friend." Lorcán was a friend, a very good friend. He had been a member
of the staff for many years before I joined it, but when I joined it Lorcán
wasnt there. He had resigned to go a-wandering, first to Toronto to join a
freelance firm which reported the debates in the Legislative Assembly of
Ontario, and later the House of Commons Committee Reporting Staff in Ottawa. His
wandering took him next to Venezuela with the International Civil Aviation
Organization Association, and from there back to Dublin to rejoin the Dáil
staff. His journeying tells something of the man.
As a staunch proponent of Esperanto, the easily learned easily spoken
language devised by the Polish linguist, Zamenhof, he attended annual meetings
of the Esperanto Association in many, many countries.
Lorcán didnt fit into the traditional mold of civil servant. He had
interests that lay far outside the constricting bonds of the civil service, and
he broke those bonds when he deemed it prudent and in the interests of himself
and family to do so. His wife, Sheila, is happily still alive and well, in
Ottawa. As Sheila McGahan, a member of the Dáil staff, she was wooed and won by
Lorcán, gave him two sons and a daughter, and managed the household when Lorcán
was away on his various forays. At times it could not have been an easy
This whole monograph could be devoted to Lorcán and his doings. I shall,
however, be ruthless, a word he himself used to describe one trait of a
To mention but a few of them, first he devised a new version of Pitman
Shorthand for use in reporting proceedings in Irish. He submitted it to An Gum,
the government sponsored publisher of all things Irish. It had its offices in
the Arcade off Henry Street, and up to a few years before his death Lorcán made
an annual pilgrimage there to see what progress was being made. It must have
established the record for manuscripts under consideration, for it still lies
there, mouldering in its file, but Lorcáns spirit goes marching on, touching
all who knew him.
At that time the salary paid official reporters was good, but not equal to
the money that could be earned by freelance work in the courts or in reporting
departmental inquiries. Part-time work was the norm for many. Ned Power, another
Dáil colleague, and I worked mornings as subeditors for "The Evening Press",
before taking up our duties in the Dáil. But for Lorcán, the Dáil in a sense
also became part-time. During recesses he frequently called on me to assist him
in his freelance reporting work, and here comes another digression.
Ireland is an ancient country, and has ancient graveyards to prove it. At
the time the Department of Local Government was assigned the job of closing
overstocked graveyards, but was required to hold public hearings before issuing
orders for closure. Lorcán had the contract for making the official report of
such hearings. He had contracts for other reporting jobs as well, and when they
conflicted he called on me to take the graveyard shifts. Sheila would drive me
in their GM roadster to whatever town the Local Government inspector was holding
an inquiry, and one such occasion proved memorable.
As a prerequisite the Department was obliged to publish notification of
public inquiry hearings, and invite interested parties to give notice in turn of
their intention to appear and lodge objections. It was a fair enough process.
Sometimes the inspector would make an exemption to closure if a good case was
The inspector on this occasion had received numerous prior representations
by and on behalf of an elderly lady, the last surviving member of her family,
who wished to be buried in the family plot in the particular graveyard
threatened with closure. She herself gave notice that she would appear in
When the good ladys name was called to plead her case, up stood a gnarled
old man at the back of the room. "Your Honour, Miss Linda died on Monday and
shes buried with her own ones. She bate you to it!"
Back to Lorcán. There was one time he had two outside jobs and the Dáil
was sitting the same day. There was no chance that the Dáil would postpone its
meeting in order to facilitate him, but Lorcán was one resourceful man. He had
Jim Doyle of the "Cork Examiner", a relation of Sheilas, cover one of the jobs,
hired a taxi for the day, and kept it running between the Dáil and the second
job, a meeting of the Customs Officers Union. I remember it very well. The
"Press" in the morning, and taking turns with Lorcán reporting the Dáil and the
customs people. It was a veritable whirlwind of activity. When it was done, I
politely told Lorcán "No more."
If I thought that was the end of it, I was greatly mistaken. A year after
emigrating to Canada I got a message from Lorcán telling me to meet him at the
Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa on the evening of March 17th, St. Patricks Day.
He had decided to move permanently to Canada, and he did, and again I became
embroiled in his overloaded schedule of freelance work. He joined the Canadian
Senate Hansard staff, and I worked in the Commons. Under the name Esperanto
Services he took an office on Sparks Street, and in addition to reporting
offered a translation service. One of his clients was the Department of External
Affairs. When he applied for a Canadian passport, he was obliged to submit a
copy of his birth certificate. He did, thought no more about, but a week later
Esperanto Services was requested by External Affairs to provide the translation
of a document which they deduced was in Irish. It was Lorcáns birth
certificate. He duly complied, submitted his bill, was paid, and made a small
profit on the transaction. On the strength of having provided translation
services to the Department of External Affairs he was then in a position to
canvass work from other government departments.
I could go on and on about Lorcán. He published a book, "The Longford
Parliament Proposal", in which advocated transferring the site of the Dáil in a
Thirty-Six County Ireland to Longford. He kept up his promotion of Esperanto,
and his rented post office box was crammed full three times over whenever he
left town on one of his jaunts.
I have said he was a good friend. He flew to London in 1980 to accompany
me back to Dublin on an Aer Lingus plane, with the body of my brother Brian in a
coffin in the freight section, and the cremated ashes of my brother Charlie in
an urn sitting on my lap in the passenger section, just being there, just being
a friend, just being Lorcán.
One final note. Since this effusion deals with the reporting profession,
at the risk of offending colleagues still living I must say, that in my opinion,
Lorcán was one of the fastest shorthand writers I have known. Another was Roger
White in the Canadian Commons. They were "naturals". Roger is now best known as
the Poet of the Bahai Faith, but thats another story. I miss them both. Lorcán
himself used to say "I came in with Haileys Comet in 1910; Ill go out with
Haileys Comet in 1985." And he did. He had one last laugh before he went,
reading his own prematurely published obituary in an Esperanto magazine!
Thanks to Lorcáns wife I can add a little to Leinster House lore by
recounting tales of two earlier members of the reporting staff, Paddy ODriscoll
and Joe Begley. ODriscoll was there from the beginning.
It may trouble some to recall that at the beginning of Dáil meetings of
the Irish Free State there was still civil unrest. Shootings of politicians were
not at all unknown. The gunning down of Kevin OHiggins, minister of Justice in
the Free State Government, was one of the more appalling crimes. Soldiers were
assigned to guard prominent figures. No one knew where or when assassinations
might occur. Even the Dáil Chamber was not a safe place. And the reporters desk
was quite exposed. Paddy ODriscoll coped with the situation by bringing his own
protection with him. When he sat down at the desk, and before starting to write
a note, he placed a revolver openly on the desk beside him. Today the story may
sound fictional. Unhappily it is true. When the Civil War ended and de Valera
consented to take his seat in the Dáil, no such situation presented itself
again. Paddy was a Cork man who, according to Sheila OHiggins, "had a brogue so
thick you couldnt cut it even with a slean".
Joe Begley was a personal friend of Eamon de Valera. Joe fitted into the
Harry Burke mold in that he was an untouchable. He had accompanied de Valera to
the United States on one of Devs fund-raising trips, and was privy to what may
be termed classified information. He disclosed none of it, but regaled later
staff members with stories of his extra-curricular activities. It was during the
Prohibition era in the States, a great time of trial for Joe who, unlike his
boss, had a fondness for demon rum and all its cousins. Come evenings Joe sought
out or was led to one speakeasy or another, and claimed that he got rid of the
warts on his hand squeezing lemons in those joints, lemon juice being necessary
to mask the taste of what passed for liquor served in them.
Joe became thirstier and thirstier with the passing years, but that did
not impair his ability as a shorthand writer. He could still report the fastest
speaker, but couldnt dictate his notes immediately afterwards. That he would do
on his return to the office next morning, and without missing a single word.
There were others of my own generation who could do much the same thing,
as will be told later. The Dáil had its own legalized bar, shared by TDs and
staff alike. When I went to Canada I was amazed to find the only such facility
on Parliament Hill was a shebeen operated for years by the well liked and
trusted George Gagnon, in the Press Gallery offices. Even the Parliamentary
Restaurant was "dry". The breakthrough came from an extraordinary source,
Maurice Ollivier, the Law Clerk to the House of Commons. He marched in one
evening, carrying a bottle of wine, placed it on his table in full view, ordered
his dinner, opened the bottle, filled a water glass, and drank his wine. The ban
on spirits was lifted in a matter of days, and eventually a small liquor store
was opened in the West Block, tucked well away from the view of visitors.
Since this is my story and I can choose to ramble off in any direction, I
am happy to record that Dr. Olivier jealously guarded the independence of the
office of Law Clerk, designed to serve all Members of Parliament no matter what
their political persuasion might be. He was ably followed in that tradition by
his successors, Joe Maingot and Marcel Pelletier.
Other members of the Dáil reporting staff of whom Sheila has fond memories
were Paddy Duffy and Charlie Fallon. I shall leave it to others to compile a
more extensive list.
Without further ado I should like to list the names of those friends and
colleagues who made up the Dáil reporting staff during my years there. Three
have already been mentioned, Paddy ODonnell, Eamon OFaolain, and the in, out,
and in again Lorcán OhUiginn. The others were Bob Kelly, Assistant Editor; Linda
Derby, Margaret Moloney, Peggy Fitzgerald, Pat Tierney, Marie OKeeffe, Ned
Power, Ned Symes, Hugh Madden and Harry Lawlor.
There is a peculiar phrase used in the Irish language to designate persons
who have passed on to their eternal reward, "nach maireann", which simply means
"not living", and those to whom it applies as this is being written include
OFaolain, ODonnell, Kelly, Moloney, Fitzgerald, Madden and Lawlor. Those of us
to whom "ta beo", meaning "living", applies, have our individual recollections
of events and people, and I encourage them to place those recollections at the
service of their successors. When I wrote "The Hansard Chronicles" to celebrate
the centennial of Hansard in the Canadian Parliament, I found the preservation
of contemporary accounts to be a most valuable research source. Need it be said
that a similar centennial lies not far ahead in the Irish Parliament. May I
gently remind them "verba volant, scripta manent".
Since I feel it only fair to describe events of which I am personally
aware, or for which there exists credible testimony from others, I hasten to add
that none of those "a ta beo" need feel the slightest concern that I may
trespass on their privacy. To quote my fellow townsman, the poet Willy
Allingham, "I wish no one any hurt".
Linda Derby was a gracious lady. As I recall, she supported an aging
mother who was in poor health. She had a tranquillity of character that made her
a steadying influence on colleagues in the most hectic of circumstances. She
coped wonderfully well with whatever fate threw her way.
I well remember the day Eamon OFaolain, who was following Linda on the
duty roster, missed his turn not once, not twice, but three times in a row. This
meant that Linda had to do three times her regular share of the work. To fail to
relieve a colleague once happened infrequently, twice was really stretching
matters, but three times in succession was unheard of. Whatever her inner
feelings, Linda calmly carried on, but Eamon was a mental wreck by the end of
the day. He simply couldnt explain how it kept happening to him. He and
everyone else knew it was not done by intent. Perhaps he forgot to drop into
Clarendon Street that day.
It gives me the greatest pleasure to report that, at the time of this
writing, Linda Derby, now approaching her ninety-second year, retains the same
calmness and graciousness of spirit that she displayed throughout her career in
Linda was a golfer, and her enthusiasm for the sport was shared by Pat
Tierney, still a playing member of St. Annes club by the sea, on the north side
of the city. Pat is one of those fortunate few to whom the passage of years has
been kind. When I last saw her in 1980, she was the same young lady of twenty
years earlier, dark haired, dark eyed, with an infectious chuckle. She was also
a damn good reporter in English or Irish, and was the pioneering first female to
occupy the topmost position of Editor of Debates, a position well earned and
Margaret Moloney. Every office should have one. Not much over five feet,
she dominated by dint of personality. She had a cutting voice, made cutting
comments, had no time for what she called "clots". And she had a heart of gold.
Long after I left the Dáil she made me the beneficiary of a lengthy
correspondence, keeping me up to date on the various affairs of the day. I am
informed that she served a full five years after the normal date for retirement,
and was as feisty as ever before finally laying down her pen.
Peggy Fitzgerald was another lady for whom I had great respect. Her name
appears briefly in "The Hansard Chronicles". She was assiduous in her attention
to detail, and if asked for help dropped everything she was doing to trace a
long lost quotation or reference. She and I were members of a film group which
held its showings on Saturdays. The offering were mainly foreign films, which in
those days had a risqué connotation, totally undeserved. One singular film
depicted daily life in a village in India. The director just trained his camera
on the dusty road running through it, and let it run, silently. For three hours
we sat watching in silence. Believe me, the most action we saw was a hen
crossing the road. "Exciting." "Splendid." "Artistic." On emerging I had a
headache that was anything but splendid. Peggy left us and went to heaven all
Marie OKeeffe worked in the Dáil for ten years as a transcriber before
making the change to reporter. "Ten wasted years", she often said. She made the
transition with the help of Bob Kelly, who was her mentor. Marie didnt golf,
but on the occasion of Arnold Palmers first, and possibly only participation in
a tournament staged in Ireland, joined the huge crowds who followed him around
the Portmarnock links course outside Dublin.. It was a sunny day, a blistering
hot day, and Marie, who had the fair complexion of an Irish redhead, turned up
the next day with her skin peeling, in agony, but ready for work. She
exemplified the spirit of dedication that all reporters shared. The job came
first, no matter what the cost.
Golfers who followed the recent (2000) World Cup tournament staged in
Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the winning team were Tiger Woods and David Duval
of the United States, will know that the World Cup originally was known as the
Canada Cup, and it was under that name that Palmer, with his partner Sam Snead,
captured it for the United States at Portmarnock in 1960.
In the Irish Civil Service of the day, the cost came in many harsh forms
for women employees. Two of the most severe forms of sexual discrimination
practised against them included a lower pay scale even though doing the exact
same work as men, and forced retirement on entering the holy stage, some might
say strife, of matrimony. The ladies on the Dáil staff suffered the same fate as
their sisters in all other government departments.
Ned Power was a father figure to me. And to his family he was a real
father in fact and in deed. As I recall, he and his wife had eleven children to
rear. A tall man, prematurely bald, inveterate pipe smoker, he was rooted in his
faith and devoted to the well-being of his family, hence his freelancing as a
sub-editor with the "Irish Press" newspapers in order to provide for such a
Such was his good example to others, he once attracted me to a weekend
live-in retreat conducted by one of the Orders, the name of which escapes me. I
understand he has been in poor health in recent times. Should a friend give him
a copy of the anecdote I am about to relate, Ned can vouch for its accuracy.
Now it so happened that in those days the Clerk of the Dáil was one Peadar
OConnell who, for many reasons, did not possess an engaging personality. And it
worried him. In an effort to gain the esteem of public servants of similar rank
in the various departments of government, he offered them the services of the
Dáil reporters during times of summer recess, to provide verbatim transcripts of
all sorts of meetings and inquiries, something clearly beyond the terms of their
employment. Disregarding their protests, he sent them here, he sent them there.
I remember one such mission when all were dispatched to an inquiry held in a
building up near the old Broadstone Railway Station. As Peadars reputation rose
with his peers, staff morale declined sharply.
Came the day Ned Power and this scribe were told by Paddy ODonnell that
we were being ordered down to Cork to report a naval court martial, courtesy of
Peadar. It was bad enough to be sent to the Broadstone, but to be sent to Cork,
far away from the fleshpots of life in DublinClearys department store
restaurant comes to mindwas too, too much. We signed a joint letter of protest.
Peadar pissed on our protest, and off to Cork we sallied, silenced and sullen. I
suffer the national affection for alliteration, as if you hadnt noticed.
We spent the night in a Cork hotel, and had been instructed to be pierside
at 0800 hours next morning. It turned out that this was naval talk for eight
oclock. We arrived about half an hour late, to the great disapproval of the
chap in charge of what we learned was called a launch. It was a boat,
specifically sent to ferry two civilians across the harbour to Spike Island, and
land them at 0830 hours in time for the court martial opening at 0900 hours.
Since we were late, and were strangers in a strange environment, we had knocked
the establishments timing completely out of whack.
Hurriedly we were taken to the room set aside for the court, and ordered
to rise when the President entered. This gentleman had been kept waiting, and
seemed liverish in temperament. What happened next upset his kidney and lights
By prior arrangement, when the President called the court to order, up
rose a civilian no less, my colleague Ned Power, while I remained seated to make
a shorthand record of what transpired.
"We are official Dáil reporters. We are here under protest--" "You will
sit down, sir. These are a court-martial proceedings. If you persist, I will
have you removed and placed under arrest!"
Leaving aside the question of the constitutional rights of civilians in
peacetime, Ned had managed to get our protest into the official record of the
proceedings. It was a courageous step to take for a man with a large family to
support. Whatever the consequences might be, he had made his case.
When the proceeding broke for lunch, the gallant officers of the States
navy, who were as uncomfortable with matters as we, went all out to be
hospitable. Apparently their chosen quencher was pink gin, a service tradition,
which was lit with a live match before being drunk. When we showed interest in
just how it was properly done, they insisted on repeatedly demonstrating the
correct method. Had the court-martial lasted a week, the reporters would have
felt liverish too.
Have you ever seen the movie "The Winslow Boy" starring Robert Donat? The
Spike Island saga was of the same genre. A young rating was charged with
misappropriating a very small sum of money, less than thirty shillings. For this
he was court-martialed, for this all the panoply of naval law and justice was
assembled, for this the Clerk of the Dáil had offered the services of two Dáil
reporters, and for this Ned Power and John Ward were threatened with
incarceration on Spike Island. Alexandre Dumas could well have turned the
episode into a modern-day "Count of Monte Crest". Myles na gCopaleen could have
had a field day.
Hurry up and tell the rest of it!
The rating was found guilty and sentenced to four weeks in the jig, brigg,
lock-up, or service equivalent, and under naval regulations the court
proceedings and sentence had to be reviewed before his release. Accordingly, we
were ordered to produce the transcript well in time.
Ned and I went back to Dublin and applied for our four weeks annual leave
next day. Paddy ODonnell okayed our applications, and we promptly took off, Ned
to his ancestral Waterford, I to London. Somehow in all the hurry we forgot to
tell Paddy that the navy brass, in the form of the President presiding over the
court-martial, had ordered that the transcript be delivered in within a
specified time. Paddy, to give him his due, did not mention the omission when
our holidays were over. We set right to work and with the application of due
diligence managed to produce a transcript a few weeks later, a transcript to
which we did not attach our certification.
I often wonder about the young rating's fate. Is there a skeleton shackled
to a dungeon wall on Spike Island? Has anyone checked?
Peadar is long gone, Ned, more power to him, is still with us, and my pen
name is definitely not Patrick OBrian.
Our colleague, Hugh Madden, was cut from different cloth. A native of
Connemara, he was a hard worker and a prodigious drinker. He, too, held down two
jobs, sub-editor with the "Evening Press" and Dáil reporter. In the Dáil he was
fully at ease reporting both Irish and English speakers, and had the respect of
his peers. His imbibing had not the slightest effect on his work, a gift,
talent, metabolism granted to few. On Burgh Quay his favourite stand was in the
upstairs bar of the White Horse where he spent a lot of time, so much so that,
if right were right and justice done, a bronze plaque should be set in the bar
counter, engraved "Madden drank here".
Hugh could down a pint of porter faster than any other human being I have
seen, and without the need for anabolic steroids or other enhancers. One minute
a glass would be sitting in front of him, filled to the brim, a thick foam head
on top of black creamy nectar. Turn your head away, and in seconds the glass was
empty. There are people like that. They dont swallow. They open their gullet
and pour the Guinness or beer straight down.
There was one day in the year when Hugh forsook Guinness. Every December
24, the day before Christmas, the only drink that passed his lips was Grand
Marnier. Maybe it had something to do with the goose.
Every December 24 Madden bought a goose. Something in his Connemara past
dictated goose for Christmas dinner. Turkey might satisfy most, only goose could
First things always came first with Hugh. Down in Moore Street he would
buy the goose. Then he began his pilgrimage. From McDaids in Henry Street, to
the Palace Bar in Fleet Street, Nearys in Molesworth Street, the Sign of the
Zodiac, back to the Moira in Trinity Streetno, it couldnt have been the
Moiranot Hughs cup of tea--the Pearl Bar, and various other ports of call
which I have some difficulty recalling.
The goose, wrapped in brown paper, he carried tucked under one arm. At
each station, slap, down would go the goose on the counter, and it was Grand
Marnier for everyone he knew. They, of course, were obligated to return in
Then on to the next pub. Slap went the goose on the counter. Grand Marnier
Five pubs later the brown wrapping paper was showing the worse for wear.
The head of the goose would be stretched out on the counter, its dead eyes
looking straight at you. By now friends would be ordering Grand Marnier for the
goose as well as for Madden.
By closing time both the goose and Madden, would, as the saying goes, be
feeling no pain. The wrapping paper would be gone, some of the feathers
It was Maddens way of preparing marinaded goose a lorange. He did it
only once a year, and once was enough.
Like Lorcán, Hugh once felt he should leave the Dáil, and Dublin, at least
for a spell. He resigned, to take up a position as parliamentary reporter in
Fiji. For anyone else but Madden it seemed like an odd sort of place to go. We
didnt know much about Fiji, but if the Isle of Man could have a parliament, the
House of Keys, even if it met but once a year, there was no reason to suppose
Fiji hadnt one too. Some other time Ill tell the tale of Maddens farewell
when Eamon OFaolain and I saw him off, in abstentia, mind you, and throw in the
Dalai Lama for good measure.
Six months later, Hugh returned and rejoined the staff. The farthest he
had reached on the road to Fiji was Taunton, in Somerset, where he worked on the
local newspaper and savoured the questionable delights of scrumpies, a very
Harry Lawlor was a contemporary who was a quiet man, the very opposite of
Madden. He did his work, went home to his wife, and his one bad habit was the
smoking of cigarettes. He smoked incessantly, and even when ordered by his
doctors to stop, continued to smoke. In my humble opinion, cigarette smoking in
Ireland has caused the deaths of more people than any other form of ingestion.
Tobacco manufacturers have a lot to answer for, but outside rising taxes, have
had free rein for far too long. Harry was but one victim of their products.
I am forever indebted to Ned Symes, a colleague who stayed and, like Pat
Tierney, later became Editor of Debates. One night, when the Dáil was scheduled
to rise at its normal time, it unexpectedly continued in session. Having
completed what I thought was my last "take" I adjourned to the bar, and had a
jar, strictly for medicinal purposes. My cold was so bad that I had another jar,
or another tumbler miraculously appeared in front of me. I cant say which. Came
an urgent summons, "Its your turn", and I discovered the House was still
sitting. Knowing I felt the effect of the cold medicine, I asked Ned to sit in
the Gallery while I took my turn on the floor, and check my notes. He very
kindly did so. I dont remember dictating them, but apparently I did, and Ned
next morning affirmed that not a word was lost, not a gem of wisdom, not a
single pearl cast before the listening host. It was a lesson I took to heart.
Never afterwards did I take a medicinal jar while officially reporting Dáil or
Parliament. Thank you, Ned.
As this monograph draws to a close you may well ask, "What about the fifth
finger?" Well, I can only allocate half of it, and it goes to another Canadian,
of Celtic ancestry, the Hon. Alan MacEachen, long-time Minister for the
Maritimes, in the Government and Commons of Canada. When he roused himself he
could be a compelling orator, a joy to hear when in full flight. His
multitudinous other duties kept him tied down, and there is little oratory in
making mundane announcements of proposed government business.
MacEachen will always be remembered for one utterance. "There are very few
saints in parliament, Mr. Speaker."
Ireland was once known as the Island of Saints and Scholars. If there are
few saints in its recent parliamentary history, mores the sorrow. Ireland, its
Dáil and Seanad, are in sore need of higher standards from its representatives
in all political parties. May I survive to see that.
© John Ward
Addendum: All reporters have their favourites. Here are two of mine.
"Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the day when, once again, the lion of
progress marches arm in arm with the floodgates of prosperity down Royal
"Mr. Speaker, I was paired with the hon. Member for Moose Jaw. Had I voted
I would have abstained."
Life does have its lighter moments.
| Canadian Vindicator