Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Galway Women part 2

Here are the next three of fourteen profiles celebrating Galway Women.

4)Garry Hynes award winning theatre director.

According to Vanity Fair

For three decades, Garry Hynes has been Ireland’s most dynamic and fearless theater director. With her company, Druid, based in Galway, in the West of Ireland, she has used her vast imaginative energy to re-interpret the national classics, such as the plays of John Millington Synge and Sean O’Casey. She has also put her talent at the disposal of contemporary writers. She was the first to stage the plays of the young Martin McDonagh, and in 1998 she became the first woman to win a Tony Award for direction, of McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Since the 1980s, Hynes has had a close working relationship with Tom Murphy, ranked with Brian Friel as among Ireland’s greatest living writers. Murphy has been the most restless imagination at work in Irish theater since his second play, A Whistle in the Dark, hit London’s West End, in 1961. He is the artist most of us Irish writers look to for inspiration and example. Thus, it will be fascinating to see three of his plays directed by Hynes at the Lincoln Center Festival, July 5 to 14. The plays deal with loss and emigration, and dramatize illusion and self-delusion. Hynes’s method as a director is forensic: she strips away, using her sharp sense of the abiding power of the theatrical image, cajoling actors toward the emotional and intellectual core of a play. In the past, Hynes and Murphy together have produced the very best of Irish theater. Re-united, they are likely to cause sparks to fly.

Gary Hynes we remember from the very early days when she and friends started to stage plays in the tiny room at the back of The Coachman in Dominc Street now forever associated with Galway and the Druid.  Her Playboy of the Western World was unforgettable.

I was born in Ballaghadereen, in county Roscommon, in Ireland. When I was 12 years old, I moved to Galway, my father’s native county. I was the eldest child. My father was a passionate Gaelgóir (Irish speaker). My parents spoke to me in Irish and I spoke mostly Irish until I went to school. Most of the other children spoke English and there was some sort of distance (between us) at school, I wasn’t able to say the Hail Mary. I rebelled against (the language) in an ignorant way and I’m probably the least fluent Irish speaker in my family now. As a child, I cherished my own imaginative hinterland. We are all creatures of our imagination. As a young person, I was taken to see amateur plays; there was, and still is, a very vibrant amateur theatre circuit in Ireland. When I was 18 or 19, in the early 1970s, I went to work on a student visa to New York. I saw theatre off Broadway. Those were great influences.

She was educated at St. Louis Convent Monaghan, the Dominican Convent Galway, and UCG.

She is a co-founder of the Druid Theatre company with Mick Lally and Marie Mullen in 1975 after meeting through the drama society of U.C.G. where they studied.

She was Druid’s artistic director from 1975 to 1991, and again from 1995 to date. Hynes directed for the Abbey theatre from 1984 and was its artistic director from 1991 to 1994, and also the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exchange Manchester, the Kennedy Center and the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Mick Lally theatre

After 15 years with Druid, I began to feel that it was better for me to leave and I accepted an offer to become artistic director of the Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s national theatre, where Hynes was employed from 1991 to 1994). I moved to Dublin and bought a house there, where I still live. Four years later, Druid asked me to return on a temporary basis and somewhat reluctantly I agreed. I’m still here. Druid has kept me in Ireland. I fell in love with New York when I went there at 18 or 19 – it’s still my second home – but then, with time, and from the outside, I began to see better the kind of supportive place to make theatre that Druid was.

When I came back to Druid, I asked to see the plays that had been submitted while I was away. I was trawling through the backlog when I found Martin McDonagh’s work. He had sent in three of them, including The Beauty Queen of Leenane. All of them stood out. I met his agent and optioned all three of his plays. I thought, “Here was a real writer for the theatre” – he could write brilliant dialogue and he tell a story. The Beauty Queen of Leenaneis an international story and it is a timeless story; it’s about a mother and daughter who are closely tied, a love-hate relationship – it’s a fundamental human story. When I first read the play, I knew immediately that Marie would be right for the part of Maureen. Now she’s playing Mag, the mother. We’re privileged, Marie and me, to have had such a long life together.

We were so glad to get to see the Druid production directed by Garry of Bailegangaire in the Donmar Playhouse in 1986 when Siobhain McKenna and Marie Mullen starred in Tom Murphy’s play. Marie Mullen played Mommo in the later production and , of course, for many she is seen as Siobhain’s successor as Ireland’s greatest stage actresses.

Garry and film producer Martha O’Neill became civil partners at a private ceremony in Galway in 2014.  A small group of family and close friends attended the ceremony at the Mick Lally Druid Theatre in Galway city. Afterwards, the couple hosted their guests at Nimmo’s Ard Nia restaurant alongside Galway’s famous Spanish Arch.

Garry and partner

5)Alice Perry was Europe’s first female engineering graduate. Alice was top of her class in civil engineering, was the first female county surveyor on these islands and fought to protect women workers’ rights. How come we have hardly heard about her until recently, especially in Galway?

Born in Wellpark Galway in 1885, Alice was one of five daughters of James and Martha Perry (née Park). Her father was the County Surveyor in Galway West and co-founded the Galway Electric Light Company. Her uncle, John Perry, was a Fellow of the Royal Society and invented the navigational gyroscope.

After graduating from the High School in Galway, she won a scholarship to study in Royal University Galway later UCG in 1902. Having excelled in mathematics, she changed from studying for a degree in arts to an engineering degree. She graduated with first class honours in 1906. The family appear to have been academically gifted. Her sisters Molly and Nettie also went on to third level education; a third sister Agnes earned BA (1903) and MA (1905) in mathematics from Queen’s College Galway (later UCG then NUIG), taught there in 1903-1904, was a Royal University of Ireland examiner in mathematics in 1906, and later became assistant headmistress at a secondary school in London.

Following her graduation she was offered a senior postgraduate scholarship but owing to her father’s death the following month, she did not take up this position In December 1906 she succeeded her father temporarily as county surveyor for Galway County Council. She remained in this position for a few months until a permanent appointment was made. She was an unsuccessful candidate for the permanent position and for a similar opportunity to be a surveyor in Galway East. She remains the only woman to have been a County Surveyor (County Engineer) in Ireland.

Her work then took her all over this rugged county in all weathers, inspecting roads, walls, piers, footpaths, bridges, courthouses and county buildings and arranging for repairs and upkeep where necessary. This massive workload and her amazing diligence prompted the local newspaper, the Connaught Champion, to note: “The many and arduous duties of County Surveyor have never been better or more faithfully discharged than since they were taken over by Miss Perry.”

After a period of unemployment Alice took stock of her life. Rural Galway provided limited employment opportunities for educated women like herself and her sisters. Her options were limited, but there was one obvious choice if she wanted a professional career: in 1908, she and her sisters emigrated from Ireland to seek work in England.

In 1908 she moved to London with her sisters, where she worked as a Lady Factory Inspector for theHome Office. From there she moved to Glasgow. She met and married Bob Shaw on the 30 September 1916. Shaw was a soldier who died in 1917 on the Western Front.

Perry retired from her inspector’s position in 1921.Perry returned to Ireland on three occasions and visited the Department of Civil Engineering in her old Alma Mater during her 1948 visit. It is unknown if she was shown, or if she remembered, the demonstration theodolite still being used in the department up to the 1950s.

This beautiful, accurate and precisely made surveying instrument had one very special feature. Part of a rib of hair from Perry’s head formed the cross hairs in its reticule – a fitting token of Ireland’s first female engineer who smashed through not one but two glass ceilings and who dedicated a large portion of her life to protecting women’s rights in the workplace.

Britain had the highest number of industrial accidents in the world, with an average of 35,000 workers dying every year with multiples more sustaining injuries. Perry’s engineering training meant she had the technical knowledge to see these dangers and this made her highly effective at this role.

Perry and the other inspectors enforced the law on women’s working hours and the ‘Truck Acts’, which forbade employers paying their employees in kind rather than money, e.g. food in place of money. They battled bravely to reduce industrial poisoning, accidents, ‘bullying’ (sexual harassment), unfair dismissal, and unfair and illegal wage deductions, as well as encouraging better health and safety and proper toilet facilities.

These women proved to be highly motivated and courageous, facing intimidation and risks to their own health and safety while fulfilling their roles.

She became interested in poetry, first publishing in 1922. In 1923 she moved to, the headquarters of Christian Science. Until her death in 1969, Perry worked within the Christian Science movement as a poetry editor and practitioner, publishing seven books of poetry.

She died in Boston on 21 August 1969. The year before her death she placed a plaque in memory of her parents in Galway Presbyterian church.Alice perry church

An All-Ireland medal has been named in her honour, The Alice Perry Medal, with the first prizes awarded in 2014 and on 6th March, 2017, NUI Galway held an official ceremony to mark the naming of the Alice Perry Engineering Building.

Alice Cashel 1878 – 1958) was an Irish nationalist and founding member, with Annie McSwiney, of the Cork Cumann na mBan who became a Galway Co Councillor.


Galway Nationalist activists.

She was born in July 1878 in Birr, Co. offaly. Alice’s sister was married to James O’Mara,
who became a Home Rule MP in 1900 and resigned in 1907 to join Sinn Féin. Alice
became an early supporter of Sinn Féin in Cork and was a co-founder of Cumann na
mBan’s Cork branch circa 1914-15. she campaigned for Sinn Féin in the by-elections in
south Armagh in February 1918 and east Cavan in June 1918.
On 15th August 1918 she held a meeting in Clifden which was banned by the authorities
and broken up by the police. She went on the run for a time. During the war of
independence 1919-21 she went to live at her sister’s house, Cashel House in Connemara
(now a hotel); the house was raided in April 1920 and she was arrested. She was jailed
for one week and her release was celebrated with the lighting of a bonfire at Cashel hill.
The Bureau of military History statement recounts other adventures while she was
hiding from the authorities at Cashel.on June 7th 1920, she was co-opted onto Galway
County Council and was elected Vice-Chairman on 18th June 1920; she held the position
until 1921.
Alice like many involved in the republican movement made a witness statement. in the
fifties. They make interesting reading.
I cycled to Galway where I continued my organising work. The bicycle used on these trips
was one belonging to Countess Markievicz. on the morning of the Clifden meeting, I had a
letter from her from Holloway Jail in London telling me that she was sending me her
bicycle as she knew mine was decrepit – she had used it in the Armagh election. It arrived
that morning, just in time for me to go ‘on the run’. I left it, later on, to the Connemara
Volunteers. Father Tom Burke,who had got Liam Mellows away disguised after the Rising,
brought me away from Galway – as his sister – to his home in Headford.



Christine Cozzens has written about Alice                           

Alice M. Cashel (1878-1958) was one of these revolutionary women. A committed and energetic supporter of rebellion in Ireland from the moment she joined the Sinn Féin party in 1907, she gave her whole life to the cause of Irish independence. To name just a few of her roles, she served as a political organizer, a spy, an educator, a Sinn Féin judge, a finance specialist, vice-chairwoman of the Galway County Council, and author of a pro-rebellion young people’s novel The Lights of Leaca Bán that was taught in schools in the early years of the fledgling Irish Free State.

In the course of supporting an independent Ireland, Alice worked beside many of the leaders and notables of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence including Eamon De Valera, Constance Markievicz, Terrence MacSwiney, Arthur Griffith, Erskine Childers, Bulmer Hobson, George Nobel Plunkett, Sean Heggarty, Alice Stopford Green, Ada English, Kevin O’Higgins, Seán MacEntee, and W. T. Cosgrave. Given the times, she was remarkably mobile. Her activities took her all around both southern and northern Ireland, often on a bicycle and very often on the run from the police or the infamous Black and Tans, auxiliary soldiers the British employed to quash revolutionary activity in Ireland. From reading her own account of what she did during this period, I was intrigued by Alice’s sense of humor, her initiative and toughness, and her indomitable spirit.

Her roles on the council and in the courts were all part of the Republic which had been declared in Dublin. Eventually her home was raided by the Black and Tans. She escaped and made her way to Dublin. Once there the family business had reason to send her to France where she was able to confer with Sean T O’Kelly in Paris. She returned to Galway where she over turned an agreement known as the Galway resolution which had repudiated the authority of the Dail. Cashel was arrested in January when she tried to attend a council meeting. Dr Ada English One of my chosen 14) was also arrested on the same day, 19 January 1921. They were imprisoned with Anita MacMahon of Achill  Alice was detained until 25 July 1921.Galway County Council.

In summer 1918 she went to Connemara to organise Cumann na mBan.

Once released Alice moved to Dublin where she worked for Erskine Childers’s office (a Fianna Fail politician and President whose father Robert  was a leading republican, author of the espionage thriller The Riddle of the Sands, and was executed during the civil war). At that time she used the name Armstrong since her own name was too well known. She predominately worked in propaganda offices until the treaty was signed. She returned to Galway and was appointed to roles in the council there. She tried to resign on the grounds of being against the treaty they had just signed in London.

In 1935 she published a young adult novel called The Lights of Leaca Bán, which soon became a widely taught text in Irish schools.  The very readable but didactic tale offers a highly idealized version of the national struggle, and by extension, a vision for the new Irish state.  novel which was widely used in Irish schools. The story is set just before and during the 1916 Easter Rising through a family in the west of Ireland.

Alice Cashel novel

Alice lived in St. Catherine’s, Roundstone Co. Galway. Her house should have a commemorative plaque. Alice died 22nd Feb 1958 at the Regional Hospital, Galway and was buried with honours on the 25th in New Cemetery, Bohermore, Galway.

Alice Cashel gravestone

Galway Women part 1 Nora Barnacle, Augusta Gregory and Rita Ann Higgins.

Posted in Galway Women part 1 Nora Barnacle, Augusta Gregory and Rita Ann Higgins by sheelanagigcomedienne on June 6, 2017

I am writing this piece in reaction to the two songs entitled Galway Girl – one written by Steve Earle and the latest by Ed Sheeran in the Irish tradition of songs about women from a male perspective. They are often fetishised descriptions of hair colour, wearing black velvet band, rosy cheeks or lily white skin, wearing bonnets, carrying baskets, tripping along called Mary, Rose Eileen and , of course, placenaming Galway, Tralee, Mooncoin etc.  This fetish is exemplified by the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant where the Roses parade in front of the Prime Minister – an Taoseach ogling the cailini.

My original blog was in response to the blow-in Earle who has returned to the states but when I heard that Sheeran had written one also with the same title, was happy to admit that 400 million people of Irish descent would be interested in it, shamelessly acknowledging that he did it for financial reasons and not bothered by a plagiarism challenge.

The hype in Ireland, particulaly in Galway,  about it was OTT especially when the video starring Saoirse Ronan as the Galway Girl appeared.  saoirse ronan

The Earle black-haired/blue-eyed disappeared after the one night fling after they had a walk on the Salthill prom presumably because she didn’t fancy him in the sober light of day. Stewart Lee, cynical comedian, has sung it on the grounds that his wife’s folk – comedienne Bridget Christie – hail from Galway.

There is a version as ghaeilge.  A cover version of the song by Mundy and Sharon Shannon reached number one and became the most downloaded song of 2008 in Ireland, and has gone on to become the eighth highest selling single in Irish chart history.

So Ed Sheeran thought he could cash in the popularity of a song called Galway Girl.   The Sheeran Galway girl it turns out was based on fiddle player Niamh Dunne who is a member of Antrim-based folk group Beoga that collaborated with Sheeran on the track.  However, she is not his love interest nor married to an Englishmen and is from from Limerick. But they did spend a night on the tiles in Dublin Irish dancing, Guinness, two Irish whiskeys – Jameson and Powers, Van the Man, a rendition of Carrickfergus, Grafton Street – the usual kind of ingredients of a commercial modern Irish song.  Of course, he is eligible for an Irish passport, ginger hair etc. And that makes him Irish. He even has a photo of him as a teenager busking in Galway next to the statue of Oscar Wilde.Ed Sheeran in Galway



So now I feel compelled to write about Galway women. The first thing to note about Galway women is that they are women not girleens. I am one.  There is some interesting imagery of women in Galway songs. For a start, you had the women making hay and probably in the uplands digging pratees speaking a language that the English do not know. The woman featured in the song a Galway Shawl wears ‘a bonnet with a ribbon on it’ but ‘she wears no paint nor powder,  no none at all’.

Further name check of Galway songs produces the Queen of Connemara which transpires is a boat, Sweet Marie refers to the name of a horse in the Galway Plate race of the Galway Races. There’s the Lass of Aughrim which featured in James Joyce’s Dubliners. There is Pegeen Litir Mor telling how she attracts not only the poet but men from different districts. And so it goes on.

Even our bard Seamus Heaney got in on the act with his Girls Bathing Galway.

No milk-limbed Venus ever rose
Miraculous on this western shore;
A pirate queen in battle clothes
Is our sterner myth.

…in swimsuits, Brown-legged, smooth-shouldered and bare-backed
They wade ashore with skips and shouts.

This will always remind my generation of the proclamation of disapproval by the very conservative Bishop Browne about women in Salthill wearing two piece bathing costumes which prompted a letter in response from some Galway women inquiring which piece of the swim suit did his Lordship wish them to remove.

Galway women come in varying shapes, sizes, temperaments, ages and colours. They are emigrants, daughters, mothers sisters, wives, lovers, poets, authors, entrepreneurs, singers, dancers, artists, politicians, teachers, workers, lawyers, doctors, nurses scientists, administrators, shop assistants, etc

I would like to introduce you to a few Galway women.  I have decided on fourteen reflecting the number of the tribes of Galway. It is a random choice from poets, to Nationalist activists. I emigrated in 1965 when I was still a teenager and so my choice of women of Galway reflects that as I am now an old pensioner, pagan stranger in the City of Tribes. I have selected Nora Barnacle, Rita Ann Higgins, Michelle Sheehy Skeffington,  Siobhain Mac Kenna,  Lady Augusta Gregory, Patricia Burke Brogan, Garry Hynes, Alice Perry Civil Engineer, Ada English psychiatrist 1903 UCG, Alice Cashel. Margaretta Darcy, Maureen Kenny, Dolores Keane and Frances Rehel. A younger person would have chosen a different set of Mná na Gaillimhe and it would go on fb and I hope they do.

I will divide this into five separate blog posts.

1)Nora Barnacle is a favourite Galwaywoman role model.

Nora Barnacle

Nora Barnacle the muse and lover of James Joyce and the inspiration of some and his greatest works — Greta Conroy in The Dead, Bertha the common law wife in Exiles and Molly Bloom in Ulysses — all share some of Nora’s character and experiences. Molly’s soliloquy.  Please do read it out loud whether there is anyone there or not.

Nora Barnacle was born in Galway Workhouse 21 March 1884 father, Thomas Barnacle, a baker in Connemara, was an illiterate man who was 38 years old when she was born. Her mother, Annie Healy, was 28 and worked as a dressmaker.

Between 1886 and 1889, Barnacle’s parents sent her to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Healy. During these years, she attended the Convent of Mercy .In the same year, her mother threw her father out for drinking and the couple separated. Barnacle went to live with her mother and her uncle, Tom Healy, at 4 Bowling Green, Galway.Nora barnacle's home

Nora Barnacle left Galway early in 1904. She worked as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel She was 20 years old, a strong-willed girl running from a tyrannical uncle who disapproved of her latest boy friend. Within weeks of her arrival in Dublin she would become the muse and lover of James Joyce.

“I mistook him for a Swedish sailor – His electric blue eyes, yachting cap and plimsolls. But when he spoke, well then, I knew him at once for just another Dublin jackeen chatting up a country girl.”

The numerous erotic letters they exchanged suggest they loved each other passionately. Joyce seems to have admired and trusted her, and Barnacle clearly loved Joyce and trusted him enough to agree to leave Ireland with him for the Continent

In October of that same year Nora and Jim would elope to Europe and in due course step on to the pages of literary history. She would return to her native city only twice during her 47 years of exile.

This is from an article by Padraic O Laoi in The Galway Advertiser.     

In Galway, Nora visited her mother and sisters in Bowling Green where the precocious Lucia charmed the Barnacle ladies and their neighbours with her Continental exoticism. Joyce meanwhile, feeling lonely in Trieste with their son Georgio, decided on a whim to join Nora in Galway.

They watched the regatta at Menlo, went racing in Ballybrit and sailed to the Aran Islands. Joyce was eager to see where Synge had conceived his great western plays. Joyce who was prone to sickness in Trieste, was healthy and content, even cycling to Oughterard and back.

All the while the children were fussed over by the Barnacle girls and their Uncle Tommy, a tram conductor on the Salthill route. Nora also showed the writer where she had courted Michael Bodkin, Michael Feeney and the Protestant William Mulvaghy the relationship that had so enraged her guardian.

Nora with her children visited the nuns in the Presentation Convent where she had been a laundress after leaving school at 12. The Nuns welcomed her and her children, unaware that their parents were unmarried.

Joyce and Nora married in a civil ceremony in London, after they had been living together as man and wife for nearly 27 years in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. After Joyce’s death in Zurich in 1941, Nora decided to remain there and she died in of renal failure in 1951, at age 67


It took many years before the significance she played in the life of one of the most  influential and important authors of the 20th century was recognised. Joyce’s adult life was spent abroad,  his fictional universe centred on Dublin, and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. But Nora was the adaptable cosmopolitan one of this couple. Nora governed a succession of unruly households in Trieste, Paris, and Zurich, holding him and the family together through the force of her own formidable pluck. Most importantly for Joyce’s work, Nora served as his “portable Ireland,” his living link to the homeland he used as the basis for his masterpieces.

His short story The Dead which was made into a film by John Huston was based on what Nora told Joyce about the two young lads whom she had courted Michael Feeney and Michael Bodkin both of whom died very young and were buried in Rahoon cemetery. Joyce wrote his poem She weeps over Rahoon which features in the Galway Poetry Trail  on the entrance to the cemetery. ( My parents Tommie and Eithne Egan are also buried there).

Rahoon She weeps.jpg

Nora, the muse, was a down-to-earth woman whose devotion was always total and never blind, whose deep rich voice was heard in cafes across the Continent scolding her drunken husband, ”Jim, you’ve had enough.

2) Lady Augusta Gregory.

Lady Augusta Gregory

Lady Augusta Gregory née Persse 1852 – 1932 was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager.

Gregory was born at Roxborough, which was  a 6,000-acre estate located between near Gort, the main house of which was later burnt down during the Irish civil war. She was educated at home, and her future career was strongly influenced by the family nurse/nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native Irish speaker, who introduced the young Augusta to the history and legends of the local area.

She married Sir William Gregory , a widower with an estate at Coole Park, near Gort 1880. He was 35 years her elder, had just retired from his position as Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), having previously served several terms as Member of Parliament for County Galway. He was a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole housed a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory was eager to explore. He also had a house in London, where the couple spent a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons  frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day, including Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson John Everett Millais and Henry James.

Barely two years into her married life, and a young mother, she fell totally in love with a serial seducer, Wilfrid Scawn Blunt. The affair lasted a year, and ended by a mutual pact in the summer of 1883. On the morning after their last night together she gave him 12 perfectly composed sonnets outlining her utter passion and complete surrender to him.

Their only child, Robert, was born in 1881. He was killed during the First World war, while serving as a pilot, an event which inspired Yeats’s poems “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” and “Shepherd and Goatherd.”

With Yeats and Edward, she co-founded the Irish Literary theatre and the Abbey theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produced a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish mythology. Born into a class that identified closely with British rule, her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, was emblematic of many of the political struggles to occur in Ireland during her lifetime. George Bernard Shaw , John Millington Synge and Sean O’Casey. They and many others carved their initials on the Autograph Tree, an old Copper beech still standing in the walled garden today. The Yeats poem The Wild Swans at Coole was inspired by the beauty of the swans in the turlough at Coole Park. Yeats’s home at Thoor Balylee was just 3 miles away; he also wrote “Coole Park, 1929”, a poem that describes the park as a symbol for the revival of Irish literature. The “big house” at Coole was demolished in 1941. In the late 1960s, Coole was opened to the public for amenity use (which my uncle Canon Quinn was later instrumental in developing), served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre’s development as her creative writings.

She bequeathed Arus na nGael in Dominic Street where I attended Irish dance classes in the fifties when Mrs Simpson from Athlone taught there and spawned so many dancers and choreographers like Peggy Carty and Celine Hession.



Her first publication was Poets and Dreamers (Dublin, Hodges & Figgis/London, John Murray, 1903), containing translations of Raftery, folk-tales, and translations of short plays by Douglas Hyde. This was followed by Gods and Fighting Men (With a Preface by W.B. Yeats. London, John Murray, 1904), based on mythological cycle of the Irish Kings; A Book of Saints and Wonders (1906), which narrates in Kiltartanese the lore of St Brigit, St Patrick, St Columcille, the voyages of Maeldun and Brendan, and the Old Woman of Beare.

Lady Gregory book

She began writing plays by helping Yeats with the peasant dialogue of his plays and in effect co-authored his early plays, including Cathleen Ni Houlihan.

Her first play was Twenty Five (Dublin, The Abbey, 1904). Altogether she wrote nineteen original plays and seven translations for the Abbey between 1904-1912, including as The Doctor in Spite of Himself (1906), The Rogueries of Scapin (1908), The Miser (1909), and The Would-Be Gentleman (1923), included in Irish Folk History Plays (1912); her comedies include Hyacinth Halvey (1906); The Image (1909); Damer’s Gold (1912), and MacDonough’s Wife (1912), written aboard ship en route to America.

She published The Kiltartan History Book (Dublin, Maunsel & Co, 1909); The Kiltartan Wonder Book (Maunsel & Co, 1910); and issued a history of the national theatre as Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter in Autobiography (New York, G. Putnam’s Sons, 1913).

On a second tour of America in 1915, she wrote Shanwalla (London, Putnam, 1915); and Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, 2 vols. (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920).

Her monologue, An Old Woman Remembers (1923), was recited by Maire O’Neill in the Abbey. Her late plays include The Story Brought By Brigid (Abbey 1923); Sancha’s Master (1927) and Dave (1927).

Lady_Gregory by Judith hill

Landlord, nationalist, entrepreneur, stage manager, playwright, poet and patron, stoical in enduring operations for breast cancer under local anaesthetic, a woman whose life, as she said, was “a series of enthusiasms”, she died after walking for the last time through the rooms of the house she loved so much in May, 1932.

3) Rita Anne Higgins poet.


Rita Ann Higgins is a native of Ballybrit, Galway. She was one of thirteen children in a working-class household. She married in 1973 but following the birth of her second child in 1977, contracted tuberculosis, forcing her to spend an extended period in a sanatorium.

While confined, she began reading, and took to composing poems. She joined the Galway Writers’ Workshop in 1982. Jessie Lendennie, editor of Salmon Publishing, encouraged her and oversaw the publication of her first five collections.

Jessie herself is another Galway woman to be lauded as she supported, nurtured and published the poets of the city.







The first book of her poems I bought was Goddess on the Mervue Bus and I got her to autograph it when I gigged with her 20  years ago in Derry when I was performing as Sheela-na-Gig. I told her she was a comedienne but she denied it. The reference is about where I got my name – born on the feast day of  St John of the Latin Gate. (probably didn’t exist as he got pushed off the calendar by St Martin De Porres on May 6th).

From her poem Ireland is changing mother.ore this mother,

your sons were Gods of that powerful thing.

Gods of the apron string.

They could eat a horse and they often did,

with your help mother.

Even Tim who has a black belt in sleepwalking

and border lining couldn’t torch a cigarette,

much less the wet haystack of desire,

even he can see, Ireland is changing mother.

Listen to black belt Tim mother.

One of Rita Anne’s poem is included in poems for Galway.

-Rita-Ann-Higgins-plaque 13-150x150


Higgins’s voices are so distinctive and real that a whole world of semi-rural Irish poverty rises around the reader with the jolting acuity of an excellent documentary…an hilarious, absorbing and thoroughly disturbing experience’ – Kate Clanchy, Independent





Galway was jubilant after being awarded 2020 European City of Culture, but it is unclear if the EU jury that awarded the €1.5m prize got sight of an explosive poem about the City of the Tribes that was commissioned as part of the bid process.

But the organising committee got more than they bargained for when Rita Ann sent them her work. They had, perhaps, been expecting a paean to the many glories of Galway extolling its manifest virtues as a gateway to the Atlantic coast, and an unrepentant bastion of the arts, the native language, music, dance, theatre and literature.

What they got instead was a devastating critique in which she rips into her native city.

Ms Higgins has always been an anarchic and provocative voice, but the poem Our Killer City is perhaps her most inflammatory.

Her poem rails against the car parking charges in the city hospitals, events in the local courts, the whiff of sewage on city streets and bias against Travellers.”This is pity city, sh**ty city. Sewage in your nostrils city. This is Galway. City of expert panels. City of Slickers and slackers who name call Travellers knackers.”

And she also casts a cold and angry eye on the treatment meted out to local artists using irony and sarcasm in equal measure to describe their exclusion.


Galway’s bid to win capital of culture
is all twenty twenty give the horse plenty.
We’re in with a great chance.
until they hear about
the legionnaire’s disease outbreak
in the fire station,
where our life savers need saving.

The birds are tweeting
about the arrival of the jury this July .
The word is out they’ll rule on the bid.
Best to keep them councillors out of sight,
with the malarkey they go on with, in city hall.
Govern, govern my arse
they wouldn’t govern a sly fart on a runway.
We’ll end up crowned the capital of fools.
Accusations of nepotism, potassium .
a host of other isms chisms, chasms and schisms.
I sent you that letter by mistake
said the CEO, buckling under pressure.
You are not actually co-opted
onto those committees ,
FYI, you are co-workered off .

My ogyny, your ogyny, misogyny.
We laugh about it at bus stops.
We say, aren’t some of our
elected representatives a laughing stock.
We’ll never get Capital of Culture
if they look through that window.

Some people live their lives
so they can die on a trolley
in Galway’s A&E.
Just wait and wait and wait
and you’ll die waiting.
Eighteen million on a new block
and not a new bed in site or on site.
The car park police in the hospital grounds
are a culture shock unto themselves.
Don’t die on a trolley in the bidding city
the forbidding city
before you have paid your parking
or we will kill your next of kin
with the weight of their parking ticket.
Culture capital or no culture capital.

The swans in the canals all know,
we underpay our nurses
we underpay our teachers.
We overpay our consultants
and we don’t know why.
This is fair-play city, or unfair play city
if you are a woman working for years in NUIG
and hoping for a promotion.
They’ll sue the blog off ya,
but won’t they look silly,
don’t they look silly.
This is pity city, shitty city.
Sewage in your nostrils city.
This is Galway
city of expert panels.
City of slickers and slackers
who name call Traveller s’ knackers.

If you want the odour of outrage
ask the students at GMIT
who have to re-sit exams.
Allegations of cheating.
Oh no not this again.
They are coming in July to rule on the bid.
We’ll hide that bit of news about the GMIT
and the gender discrimination in NUIG
In the parlour that never gets used,
to that we’ll throw the new block,
the bedless block at University Hospital Galway.

This is Galway slicker and slacker.
Have your home burgled
by your favourite nephew,
while you are at his other aunts funeral.
He didn’t know it was her house
and he didn’t know taking her jewelery
without her permission was stealing.

This is Galway the bidding City
the forbidding city.
Where the woman in court apologised
to her man for putting him through this.
The judge asked her, did he apologise to you
when he was sticking that screwdriver
in your forehead?
No but he wasn’t feeling himself that day
your honour.
Someone in City hall, not a councillor this time,
is yowling about the capital of culture bid.
If the bid book isn’t ready on time
says the yowler,
I’ll send you all to the fire station
or the picture palace.
She is pepping and prepping and side stepping.
Her side -kick got side kicked. No impact.
Complaining is the devils work.
Stick in a few more theatres’ there
that we don’t have, stick in a gallery or two.
How will they know if it’s true?
How will they know if it’s not true?

This is Galway, city of tools.
A man brings a cleaver into hospital with him.
The judge coming down with a migraine,
reached into her bag a yokes.
What got into you, she said,
pleading with the plaintiff?
I heard the chops were tough your honour,
nothing more, nothing less.
But you were seen chasing the back
of a poor man’s head, with a cleaver.
It wasn’t me your honour, and he wasn’t poor.

What about local artists?
Someone dared to ask,
not the yowler from city hall
or her side-kicked side-kick.
To hell with local artists
what do they bring the city?
nothing but scruffy dogs
and ripped jeans,
hippies with hobbies the lot of them.
As for the buskers, wanting to fit in
with the odor of outrage.
Move them on, hide them in GMIT,
or the picture palace.
Don’t mention local artists at all.
Let it be like they don’t exist
Raise the rents is the best way
to keep the ripped jeans gang out,
like it’s always been.
Artists me arse.
This is Galway, the bidding city
the forbidding city.
City of thieves or is scribes or is it tribes?
The jury are coming this July,
the word is out they’ll rule on the bid,
for capital of Culture
twenty twenty
give the horse plenty.
We have a great little city here,
a pity little city, a shitty little city.


Tongulish, her 11th book of poetry, finds Higgins as intensively inventive and deliciously subversive as ever… The rebellious, innovative Higgins is one of his [James Joyce’s] distinctive heirs. Like Joyce, she knows just how to beat up the English language and her use of mythology, Irish language and Ireland’s past put her own inimitable stamp on her bang up-to-date present.’ – Martina Evans, The Irish Times

Rita Anne- Galway’s prolific and honest bard-should become our poet Laureate some day.

Sir George Shearing plaque unveiling

Sir George plaqueThe Battersea Society commemorative plaque to Sir George Shearing on Northcote Lodge School 26 Bolingbroke Grove London SW11, formerly Linden Lodge School for the Blind, which he attended for four years was unveiled by Alyn Shipton on Saturday 22nd April 2017. I enjoyed organising it. It is like what I do in my day job as a Humanist celebrant except I don’t usually have an autobiography to help me.

The programme began with a welcome from Sir Malcolm Colquhoun, Alyn unveiling interspersed with excerpts from George’s autobiography and with musical tributes from three of the boys and Charlotte Kirwan ex-pupil of Linden Lodge who played a duet with George in 1962 when he visited the school and was also taught by Mr George Newell. Tributes  were read that had been sent by Lady Ellie Shearing,  Brian Kay of the King Singers and friend, Lord David Blunkett , Roger Legate OBE Principal of Linden Lodge and James Pearson resident pianist and musical director of Ronnie Scotts.

Alyn Shipton, jazz presenter, critic, author and bassist was editor of George’s autobiography Lullaby of Birdland. 

Alyn and george

The programme for the unveiling began when Sir Malcolm Colquhoun the Principal of Northcote Lodge School made a welcome speech. Sir Malcolm is the 9th Baronet of Luss.

Malcolm Coquhoun

Then Alyn spoke and unveiled the plaque by pulling the red cord! His daughter and grandaughter were in the audience.

Alyn Jane and I

Jane Ellison MP, Jeanne Rathbone and Alyn Shipton in front of the plaque on the music department

The following is an extract from Alyn Shipton’s speech at the unveiling, reproduced by by kind permission of the author:
George Shearing – a pianist, jazz musician, bandleader, composer, and as all who knew him will testify, a great wit as well – is being commemorated today, not least because he was the first British instrumentalist to become a household name in the United States – the birthplace of jazz. That’s an achievement in itself, but particularly so as George was blind from birth, and learned many of his skills as a pianist here in this very building in the 1920s and early ‘30s, when it was the Linden Lodge School for the Blind.

It was a privilege to know George and to work with him on his autobiography, but it all began when we met in 1998 in the now long-vanished BBC music studio at Pebble Mill. The piano tuner had had a good lunch – so much so that it had somewhat affected his work. George said, “We’ll begin when the tuner has been to sort out this piano.” A sleepy voice from the corner said, “I have done!” George was by no means happy, and borrowed the tuner’s toolkit to get the central octaves properly in tune. And then we began. The idea was for George to play pieces from across his long career, but as he began with “Mighty Like the Blues”, the first piece he had ever played on the BBC 60 years earlier, it quickly became apparent that he was going to tell me his life story in music. And so he did, with pieces from his days with Claude Bampton’s All-Blind Orchestra, and from the time in World War 2 when George was playing alongside Stephane Grappelli. One piece I particularly remember was George’s solo “Delayed Action”, a musical portrait of the terrifying time-delay bombs that had fallen on London during the blitz, with a seemingly impossibly endless pause leading to a furious explosion of stride. I suggested it was a reworking of Fats Waller’s “Alligator Crawl”, and George laughed, eased into “Keeping out of Mischief Now” and then said, “Fats! I met him in London in 1938. He had hands like a bunch of bananas. When I shook hands with him I felt his fingers and they just kept going on and on…He could stretch a 13th!”

The programme was recorded, and afterwards George and his wife Ellie took me aside and said, this has been so much fun, how would you like to come over and turn these conversations into a book? And so for the next three summers, when George was at his UK home in Stow on the Wold, I’d pop over between his beloved radio broadcasts of test matches (which could not be interrupted) or his occasional concert dates in Britain, to carry on working on the book.

I learned of his life with Stephane Grappelli’s quintet during the war, and his subsequent move to the USA. Of the clubs of 52nd Street, of the particular kindness and generosity of Charlie Parker, the encouragement of Lennie Tristano and the harmonic adventures of Monk and Powell. And of the formation of his famous quintet, whose record of “September in the Rain”, George told me, had sold “upwards of 900,000 copies”. Of course by the time we met, it had passed the million, but he was always too modest to say so directly.The band was a landmark in so many ways, not just for its popular success, but for featuring a female instrumentalist, Marjorie Hyams, and a racially integrated line-up with John Levy and Denzil Best, both African-American, joining the rhythm section. George always said he was colour and gender blind when it came to jazz – and as his line-ups over the years suggest, he always just chose the finest players, including Gary Burton, Toots Thielemans, Al McKibbon, Louis Stewart, and a host more. And in his long and dazzling recording career, there were some great highlights, including work with Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Joe Williams, the Montgomery Brothers, the Kings’ Singers (remembering George’s abiding love of classical music) and – above all Mel Tormé, whom George always said was the other half of his musical brain.

It is great to see so many people here today, including members of the Shearing family, and his many friends from the music world, including the most wonderful singer Ian Partridge, who, like George has given so many of us so much pleasure through the power of music. And so now it is my most pleasant duty to unveil this blue plaque to remember one of the most distinguished musicians this country has ever produced.”

lullaby-of-birdland-autobiography-of-georege-shearingHere is the excerpt I read from the chapter headed Linden Lodge from George’s autobiography.

The greatest boon to, as far as learning to be blind and to live with blindness, was the 4 years I spent at Linden Lodge residential school between the ages of 12 and 16. I always got the feeling that the place was an old house, with balconies and things on the outside and there seemed to be a lot of glass in the internal decorations.

There was a big garden which seemed to us to cover a lot of ground. There was a gardener who was there on a Friday when we had our weekly bath and I can recall his voice saying ‘Come on shearing Scrub those knees’. When we went to church on Sundays we had to put our ties on. Each of us kept our ties in a tin that we kept in our lockers our bedrooms. There were 17 boys in one dormitory.

He talks of handball which was devised for blind lads using a football in the gym but all done with hands and the cricket adapted with a rubbery ball with a bell on it and stumps with a different sound to the ball of the bat.

George was a picky eater. No fish, cheese, few sauces, mainly roast meats and omelettes and was indulged by his parents who would bring him jam tarts, sponge cakes and pots of jam to the school.

 He mentions roller skating being popular at school and recalled visiting the school in the fifties and being impressed at their whizzing around on the asphalt at top speed and to know how far they could go when they need to turn a corner.

He said; ‘The whole experience of Linden Lodge was good for me. It was at school that I really mastered the art of typing. I started really serious piano lessens getting an hours practise a day often played for an hour or two to play piano in the sitting room during the evening. I went through a period of learning classical pieces, or diligently practising scales and exercises which I continued to do at home.

I was already experimenting with playing jazz things I’d heard on disc or the radio. What touched me most about it was the spirit of the music. It wasn’t the sweetest sound this side of heaven but I loved the American sound of jazz bands with no smooth vibrato, whose brass and reeds cut right through the ensemble.

By the time I was 16 the music teacher George Newell had said to my parents ‘It is obvious this boy is going to become a jazz pianist and any further  study of classical music would be a waste of time’.

When George visited the school in 1962 he told Mr Newell that he had learned some classical music in the interim to play full length concertos by Bach and Mozart with symphony orchestras across the United States. And asked if he would have given the same advise he said ‘I suspect your main dollar still comes from playing jazz.’ He was a very wise man that Mr Newell and a very accomplished musician

The Survey of London Battersea tells us

Appleby sold a large plot on Bolingbroke Grove of 100ft frontage to Marjory Jane Peddie, a wealthy spinster and retired headmistress, for whom Robson designed the biggest of all his houses here (now No. 26). Appleby offset the £900 purchase price against his mortgage debts of £10,000, and Robson had a perspective view and a puff published in the Building News, which the two men must have hoped would excite interest. Miss Peddie’s house was described as the ‘first of a series of houses in the old English Style, somewhat incorrectly called “Queen Anne”’.

Named  Linden Lodge by Miss Peddie, the house was set back elegantly some 120ft from the roadway behind a carriage drive, and enjoyed over an acre and a half of garden and grounds. Inside, her accommodation included, on the ground floor, a library, dining-room and large L-shaped drawing-room with a bay window; upstairs were four bedrooms, a dressing-room and bathroom, with further rooms on a smaller second floor. Kitchen facilities and servants’ quarters were provided by Robson in what was essentially a separate two-storey cottage attached to the west wall of the main three-storey house.

On Peddie’s death in 1879, the building was purchased by the School for the Indigent Blindf  then located at St George’s Fields Southwark, which opened a school for junior pupils. In 1902, the entire school moved to Leatherhead, Surrey and the house was put up for sale again. The building was subsequently taken over by the London School Board and Linden Lodge School (as it is still known today) opened on 10 December 1902. The school educated around fifty blind boys aged between 13 and 16, of whom around forty were boarders. A similar school for visually impaired girls was opened at Elm Court in  West Norwood the same year.

During the Second World War the children of both schools were evacuated away from London. The boys returned to Bolingbroke Grove in 1945. Elm Court School had suffered considerable bomb damage during the Blitz and after several years at temporary locations the girls were moved to North House in Wimbledon which was designed by Luteyns in 1934 now the main school site and from 1949 onwards Linden Lodge operated as a single coed school split between two locations, under the control of one headmaster.

Linden Lodge School Lutyens In 2006 Sprunt Architects extensively refurbished the original Lutyens House, designed a new residential building for the students and restored the original Gertrude Jekyll garden. The senior girls were transported by bus each morning to join the older boys for lessons on the Bolingbroke Grove site. The Bolingbroke Grove site was closed in 1964, when the senior boys moved to a purpose built school in the grounds of North House. Today, 26 Bolingbroke Grove is Northcote Lodge School.

From Lady Ellie Shearing:   First of all, I would like to extend my personal thanks to both the Battersea Society and to Jeanne Rathbone for their diligence in having the Battersea Society commemorative plaque placed on the Music Department building of Northcote Lodge, formerly The Linden Lodge School for the Blind.  This honor ranks among the highest of the many honors that have been bestowed upon my late husband, Sir George Shearing.

Sir George spoke often of the early education he received at Linden Lodge for the Blind.  He especially felt that it was a member of the music faculty, Mr. Newell, who gave him his start.  Though talented, George could be exasperating!  For instance, the word, PRACTICE, was never in George’s vocabulary……not at Linden Lodge nor even when he became world-famous!  He told me that Mr. Newell would assign him 12 bars of music to memorize for his next piano lesson in a week’s time.  George would agree.  But, when it came time for George to play those 12 bars at his next lesson, he made a complete hash of it.  Mr. Newell, in total frustration, would scold George saying, “You foolish boy, it goes like this” and then would play it for him again.  George would listen.  And, then he would sit down at the piano and, immediately, play it back perfectly.  What could Mr. Newell say?

I witnessed a rather extraordinary afternoon many years later during a Master Class that George was giving at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the City of London.  Three or four students were assigned to play for George, who would then critique them and offer helpful suggestions on how to improve their performances.  The first student, this particular day, was a young pianist.  He announced that he would play one of his own compositions.  He then sat down and tore into it with amazing agility.  It was loud.  It was fast.  His hands flew over the keys from top to bottom…never missing a note.  When he finished, the room erupted in applause.

While this impressive performance was going on, George stood at the bass end of the keyboard, listening.  When the applause ended, George asked the young man, “Why do you hate the piano?”  I must admit that I gasped along with the rest of the audience.  It was a shocking question.  George continued, saying, “You attacked that piano.”  He then asked the student to move off the bench and George sat down to play.  He astonished the entire room by playing this young man’s entire composition back to him but in a style totally opposite from what we had just heard.  George played it softly, slowly and brought out melodies that we hadn’t heard because of the young man’s bravado.  George used that same ability that Mr. Newell had witnessed at Linden Lodge.  And, he showed that he still didn’t need to practice!  However, I can testify that George did practice once in a while.  He practiced a little bit before a recording session.  He practiced a bit more if he were going to play a concert with an extraordinary American jazz pianist by the name of Dick Hyman.  George referred to him as “Mr. Perfect” because he warmed up every day with finger exercises……which George thought was just too much work!

Mr. Newell, at Linden Lodge, gave George the encouragement that George did not receive at home.  In fact, Mr. Newell got George his first audition at the BBC. However, when George appeared for his next piano lesson, Mr. Newell asked him why he hadn’t shown up for the audition he had arranged for him.   It was then that George found out that his father and brother had turned down the audition.  When George confronted them, he learned that because his father and brother both had to work and his mother had an ulcerated leg, there was no one to take him to the audition.  Mr. Newell managed to set up another audition and this time George appeared, played, and was given a weekly 15-minute BBC music program.

Now you know why this blind kid from Battersea, who became so well-known, never forgot his early days at Linden Lodge for the Blind.  If he were with you today, he would thank you from the bottom of his heart for providing him with a teacher who believed in him.  He would also tell you how proud he was in receiving this wonderful honor that you all have given him today.   Because of his absence, please allow me to give you his heartfelt thanks in his stead.

With my warmest regards, Eleanor, Lady Shearing
george_and ellie

Roger Legate OBE Principal Linden Lodge School 

It is with regret that I cannot be with you this morning to join you in the celebration and appreciation of George Shearing as a renowned musician and champion of disability and visual impairment.

We are so very proud of George who is a former Linden Lodger and who has been such an example of someone who overcame his sensory disability and made such an amazing contribution to the world of music ; bringing so much joy and appreciation as a pianist.

Linden Lodge has a long standing reputation and history as a specialist school for visual impairment.  I am so very fortunate in that I have been the Principal at Linden for the last 22 years.  It has been a privilege and honour to work with the children and families to maximise opportunity and enable the children to be as independent as possible.

George was such a great role model for demonstrating total independence as well as excellence and talent in the field of music and performing arts.  George was such a rare talent, however his legacy will live long at Linden Lodge.  The school has a reputation for music and performing arts.  We are an Artsmark Gold Award winner on 3 occasions over 8 years and we are currently striving for a Platinum award.

We have a wide sensory programme of individual music teachers which is part of the specialism for complex needs children.   As George did so very well we champion all of our children.  However now at Linden Lodge the profile of Special Educational Needs is very different to when George was a pupil at the school.

Linden Lodge now has 141 children, of which 38 board.  They come to us from 33 local authorities across London & the South East, mainly living within the M25 ring.  Our profile now is for children who are multi disabled visually impaired, (MDYI) children with more profound learning needs (PHLD) and a high proportion of children with life limiting conditions.

Pupils such as George would now be supported in mainstream Primary and Secondary Schools.  We support a further 700 children through our outreach services and our Hearing Support Team provide the Auditory Implant programme at St Georges Hospital.

We continue with our regional and national specialist reputation and we are very highly regarded.  I could say so much about how proud I am of children at Linden Lodge and that parents and carers strive very hard to gain a place at the school.   We have a fantastic campus in Southfields, but the school’s roots stem from Battersea, where the school started its journey.

I hope the marking of George’s contribution in Battersea and the local area goes well.  George is much respected as a former Linden Lodger and I am sure those gathering today will share many experiences and very fond memories.  George is embedded in the history of the school and his music legacy live on with the current and future generations of children coming to Linden.

We have a remarkable Performing Arts Centre, a water therapy centre and we are now building a new £1.5m Family Centre which will be the hub of our organisation.  I have said too much, but in many ways can only pay a small tribute to a remarkable and talented Linden Lodger ,who has given so much too so many.

I hope you have a wonderful day.

Roger Legate

Roger Legate OBE Principal of Linden Lodge School



I was intrigued and pleased to read about George’s visit to Ireland and finding the aeroplane safety notices in Braille. This 2nd excerpt is about this visit to Ireland for the Cork jazz festival and how, on the plane over for the first time, he found the safety notices in Braille and then when he got there he was taken to a convention for blind people where the hotel handed clients a map of their bedroom. He was very impressed and asked where the signs had come from and was told Arbour Hill prison had a Braille making rehabilitation programme in Dublin.

Apparently, prisoners had watched when George was by Michael Parkinson and had mentioned the lack of safety notices in Braille. They went to their governor and said ‘We don’t want Mr Shearing to say that about Ireland’ so they successfully lobbied Aer Lingus. George decided he would like to play for them which he did a few years later. He recalled the sinister sound of the outer gate slamming. He was given a tour of their library of Braille books. At the tea with the governor he spoke to one of the prisoners who specialised in Braille music. George said he would love to see more of his music next time and the chap replied that he was getting out in a fortnight and had a job as a music Brailler. George concluded that he and Ireland had a minor role in making the world safer for blind people.

Brian Kay

Brian Kay of the King Singers.

Brian Kay’s tribute was read by one of the Northcote pupils.

Now, sadly, I cannot be with you on the day, much as I would LOVE to have been. A dear friend and neighbour is getting married that day in Burford church and I have long since agreed to direct the music. As even I am not able to be in two places at once, I can be with you only in spirit.

‘I first met George back in the early 80s, when we King’s Singers were performing at the Metropolitan Museum, just round the corner from their apartment in New York. He and Ellie came to the concert and we were introduced afterwards. When I told them I lived in the Cotswolds, they told me the story of George’s agent, who kept being told to leave space in a European tour he was organising, for them to visit the Cotswolds. George and Ellie were so insistent that in the end, the agent said: “These Cotswolds must be really good friends of yours”!

The next year they did indeed visit the Cotswolds and loved them so much that they came every year for the next fifteen years, treating it as their second home and allowing us the constant joy of their incomparable company. George would lie on a lounger in the garden listening to Test Match Special (one of the great loves of his life) and would join us whenever possible for his favourite meal – roast lamb, with fresh garden peas, new potatoes and mint sauce! As Ellie always said: he was ‘British to the bone’! And all those outrageous puns and limericks … he was unstoppable! 

Of course he was a natural genius and it is with enormous pride that I now wear several of George’s jackets and sweaters, so generously bequeathed to me by Ellie after his death. The richly deserved Knighthood he was awarded was the icing on the considerable cake of his remarkable life and the sound of his playing will fortunately be with us for ever: a truly great man and a very dear friend. 

George and stephane

George, Stephane and Michael Aspel

Brian and the King Singers were amongst the contributors to the George Shearing edition of This is Your Life in 1992.

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television’s Famous Big Red Book…

One of the most unusual pick-ups in the history of the Life was at Ronnie Scott’s world famous Soho jazz club on 17 December 1991. Very unusual: the ‘This Is Your Life’ message on the Big Red Book was in braille.

This was so that blind jazz pianist George Shearing could trace the message when Ronnie Scott invited Michael Aspel on to the club’s stage.

Mel Torme, Peggy Lee, Henry Mancini, the King’s Singers, John Dankworth and Stephane Grapelli  paid their tributes to this Battersea coalman’s son. Blind from birth, George had played his way from local pub pianist to international stardom.

George and birdland

James Pearson resident pianist and musical director of Ronnie Scott’s is big fan of George’s and has held a tribute concerts to him. f

James Pearson wrote: Alas, I will not be able to come in person as I am performing in Manchester with the Halle orchestra. Ironically I am the soloist in a concert called ‘Giants of Jazz’ and we are actually playing George’s original version of Lullaby of Birdland… which is quite apt.

I often perform a concert called a ‘portrait of George Shearing’ which honours the man and his music and I always mention the Linden Lodge School.

My best wishes to you and all on Saturday and it’s great that you have managed to honour George in this way.

Lord David Blunkett’s tribute was read by Giles in the school Library after we had to take refuge when an April shower arrived.

From Lord David Blunkett     “It was my pleasure and privilege to contribute along with so many, to the recognition of George, his life and his music, in obtaining a knighthood which properly acknowledged the pleasure he brought to so many.

I also had the privilege after the award of the knighthood in meeting and having tea with George and his immediate friends and talking a little about his remarkable life.

One of the twists of fate is that the site you are now on which used to be Linden Lodge, transferred to Southfields (Wimbledon) and for some considerable time I occupied a small house literally across the wall from the school!

Unfortunately, I am not a great musician although I love music and I’m so glad that George was able to develop and bring his talent to offer such a remarkable contribution of his lifetime.

From playing in the local pub to be knighted in the Palace, is something to be proud of.”



Armando Peraza London 1999

Peraza was introduced to British pianist George Shearing and joined George’s band for the next 12 years and was a collaboration that found Peraza at the forefront of a new wave of popularity for Afro-Cuban music. Shearing’s music is now regarded as “light” in jazz terms, but the rhythms and harmonic structures Peraza introduced to the pianist’s music were unerringly authentic. It was during his time with Shearing that Peraza emerged as a composer, writing and recording twenty-one songs for Shearing, such as “Mambo in Chimes”, “Mambo in Miami”,”Ritmo Africano”, “Armando’s Hideaway”, “This is Africa”, “Estampa Cubana” and many others.

I read this tribute that he wrote when George died.  During most of my time with George, touring the U.S. was always littered with racial land mines, not always in the South.

When we would travel by car, it didn’t matter what part of the country, we would constantly get stopped and ticketed by the cops because of the mix of colors inside the car.

It was against the law in a lot of States for race mixing and the Shearing band was one of the first integrated groups in the business. Many times we’d show up at a gig and the club owner, promoter or manager would freak out because they didn’t know we were a mixed race band and would refuse to let us enter the club. That’s when George would mess with these people. He would ask them what was the problem. The offender would say he can’t have Black people in his club and George would then ask “What is a color?”

Since George was blind from birth, technically it was true that he didn’t know what the hell a color was, but George wanted to make the person explain their own racism to a person who couldn’t see. The person would try and always fail to logically explain it and would eventually give in and let us play, especially when George would say “If my musicians can’t enter, then neither will I.”

The rain stopped and we went out for tea and cake in the front of the school. I took this photo of the thirteen relatives of George’s who attended through contact with Les Pethybridge via Battersea Memories Facebook website.

Shearing relatives

George’s relatives who attended the unveiling of the commemorative plaque.

Jeanne and Dave’s 50th anniversary party with poetry

Posted in Jeanne and Dave's Golden wedding anniversary with poetry by sheelanagigcomedienne on March 22, 2017

Here are some photos and poems from our Golden Wedding Anniversary ‘do’.

50th cake

We got married on 27th March 1967 in Moycullen Church County Galway in the west of Ireland. We were married by my uncle George Quinn who was the parish priest there. We then drove in convoy across to Spiddal which is on the coast. Our wedding reception was in the Bridge Hotel owned by the Clancy’s  which no longer exists. It was chosen because of the barter system as Daddy had designed their extension. Dave used to like to cite this in his economics class.

moycullen church

We had to attend an ‘instruction course’ with the local priest in St Vincent De Paul church in Altenburg Gardens with Fr. Smith who was from what was then called Rhodesia who believed in UDI- unilateral declaration of independence for Rhodesia – which became Zimbabwe. I did not like the man and Dave was amused at how I had theological discussions with him. As Dave was not Catholic ours was called a ‘mixed marriage’.

We were told later that it was an embarrassment for my uncle with authoritarian  Bishop Browne whom I would have encountered at confirmation when we had to kneel and kiss his ring. Ugh! By then I was an atheist.

Our wedding photo in the car

So, fifty years on and we are celebrating our anniversary with an afternoon ‘do’in Omnibus Art Centre on 18th March 2017. This was formerly a library. We held it on that Saturday because Dave was singing in The Messiah in St Luke’s with the Festival Chorus on 25th March.

The Omnibus Art Centre 1 Clapham Common Northside,  Old town opposite the Holy Trinity Church which was frequented by the Clapham Sect – the anti slavery abolitionists lead by William Wilberforce and his cousin Henry Thornton who lived nearby in Battersea Rise House. This featured in EM Forster’s reminiscence about his great aunt Marianne Thornton who also had lived there.50th invite

We were in the Greene Room which was named after Graham Greene who wrote The End of the Affair. Set in London during and just after WW2.His own affair with Lady Catherine Walston  played into the basis for The End of the Affair. Greene’s own house at 14 Clapham common Northside was bombed during the Blitz.

The last exhibition held here in 2012 was commemorating Pamela Hansford Johnson who also lived on Battersea Rise and I organised a talk on her for the Battersea Society with her biographer Wendy Pollard and her daughter Lady Lindsay Avebury.…/pamela-hansford-johnson-battersea-.

We have been to some charming concerts and shows here.

50th group headmans

We are grateful to John Garrett for talking photos because we were not organised enough ourselves.

We had said no present/cards but invited guest to send a favourite poem. We have held a few poetry parties in recent years which seem to work well. As usual there was variety in the choices and none were repeated. Maya Angelou’s chosen were Phenomenal Woman, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Still I Rise, Old Folks Laugh, Today in Prison by Dennis Brutus (June 1967 South African Freedom Day) chosen by Trevor and Jill, Sunlight by Seamus Heaney chosen by Carol MacDougall, THE DOOR by Miroslav Holub  chosen by Anne Reyersbach, Warty bliggens, the toad chosen by Tony Tuck and Judy McKnight, A Time to Talk by Robert Frost, Follower by Seamus Heaney.

We did have a half hour of poetry readings. I started with one chosen by Ann Pettifer and Geoff by Billy Collins American Poet Laureate and ended with The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Yeats – a London emigrant’s poem ‘while standing on the roadway or on the pavements grey’


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

50th tony and oPenny

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal read by Penny and Tony


Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;

Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;

Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.

The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,

And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,

And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves

A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,

And slips into the bosom of the lake.

So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip

Into my bosom and be lost in me.

50th Barbara

Barbara read these two chosen by Anne and Geoff

Siegfried Sassoon – Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;

And I was filled with such delight

As prisoned birds must find in freedom,

Winging wildly across the white

Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;

And beauty came like the setting sun:

My heart was shaken with tears; and horror

Drifted away … O, but Everyone

Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done

Sonnet – William Shakespeare

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold,
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d,
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceiv’d;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceiv’d:
For fear of which, hear this thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead

50th John 2

John Rathbone read one written by him and Marie.

Ode to David and Jeanne on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary

We are gathered here to celebrate

An auspicious and momentous date

For ‘twas in 1967 on Easter Monday

That David and Jeanne were married in fair Galway.

Barbara, Aonghus, and Fingal too

All were born and the family grew

And while talking of children ‘twould be remiss

To neglect to mention the wee lassie, Grace.

We’ll not allow this day to pass

Without a call to raise a glass

To Jeanne and David’s two score and ten,

Hoping to see you all, for their sixtieth, again.

(In the style of William McGonagall, best recited in an over-the-top Scottish accent)

Anahorish  chosen by Clare and Christy

My ‘place of clear water,’
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps
swung through the yards
on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers
go waist-deep in mist
to break the light ice
at wells and dunghills.

50th ClareClare, our niece, reading

Anahorish  chosen by her and Christy

My ‘place of clear water,’
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps
swung through the yards
on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers
go waist-deep in mist
to break the light ice
at wells and dunghills.

50th Dave
Dave read his brother Colin’s poem and chose one written by his brother Michael who does write poetry.
50th Mike poem
 Yes, I do remember Galway                             by Colin Rathbone
The week of the wedding day
Very cold with sleet and hail
And loud the wind did wail
But distant views across the bay
Were sometimes very clear
And the mountains of Clare
In that clear air
Sometimes seemed so near
The day itself went well I think
Plenty of food and plenty to drink
So I’ll raise a glass
And just say cheers
We’ll done for fifty years.

50th group Srah, trev, John Alanah

Donald Hall, chosen by Christine who is on the right then Allana, Evelyn behind Sarah,Col Smith behind, Trevor, Ian John Spencer and Marie and Aoife and Peter standing.

Pale gold of the walls, gold

of the centers of daisies, yellow roses

pressing from a clear bowl. All daywe lay on the bed, my hand

stroking the deep

gold of your thighs and your back.

We slept and woke

entering the golden room together,

lay down in it breathing

quickly, then

slowly again,

caressing and dozing,

your hand sleepily

touching my hair now.

We made in those days

tiny identical rooms inside our bodies

which the men who uncover our graves

will find in a thousand years,

shining and whole.

50th Jen

Jen reading

Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney

Masons, when they start upon a building, 

Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points, 

Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

 And yet all this comes down when the job’s done 

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

 So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be 

Old bridges breaking between you and me

 Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall, 

Confident that we have built our wall.




50th denise

Never go Back by Felix Dennis chosen by Denise

Never go back.  Never go back.

Never return to the haunts of your youth.

Keep to the track, to the beaten track,

Memory holds all you need of the truth.


Never look back.  Never look back.

Never succumb to the gorgon’s stare.

Keep to the track, to the beaten track,

No-one is waiting and nothing is there.


Never go back.  Never go back.

Never surrender the future you’ve earned.

Keep to the track, to the beaten track,

Never return to the bridges you burned.


Never look back.  Never look back.

Never retreat to the ‘glorious past’.

Keep to the track, to the beaten track,

Treat every day of your life as your last.


Never go back.  Never go back.

Never acknowledge the ghost on the stair.

Keep to the track, to the beaten track,

No-one is waiting and nothing is there.


50th John spencer

John Spencer read an excerpt from Peace by Michael Longley after Tibullus.

I want to live until the white hairs shine above
A pensioner’s memories of better days. Meanwhile
I would like peace to be my partner on the farm,
Peace personified: oxen under the curved yoke;
Compost for the vines, grape-juice turning into wine,
Vintage ears handed down from father to son;
Hoe and ploughshare gleaming, while in some dark corner
Rust keeps the soldier’s grisly weapons in their place;
The labourer steering his wife and children home
In a hay cart from the fields, a trifle sozzled.

50th Ian readingThe Rolling English Road read by Ian Smith
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
50th Joan
Joan read the poem from her card but kept showing it to explain it.
50th Joan poem
50th John B
John Bartholomew read Poem on the Underground by D. J. Enright chosen by John and Pauline BartholomewProud readers

Hide behind tall newspapers.

The young are all arms and legs

Knackered by youth.

Tourists sit bolt upright

Trusting in nothing.

Only the drunk and the crazy

Aspire to converse.

Only the poet

peruses his poem among the adverts.

Only the elderly person

Observes the request that the seat be offered to an elderly person.

50th cards and flowers


 En famille and Mummy and Daddy’s wedding photo from 1939.

 We had a lovely day.


Posted in Britain is a theocracy by sheelanagigcomedienne on March 12, 2017


I wrote this back in 2009 but flagging it up again.

I signed an epetition to the Prime Minister about the need for the monarch to be head of state OR head of the Church of England but not both and got their reply on 21st December 2009 which proves that Britain is a theocracy.

The Queen is extremely hardworking especially for a person of her great age and much more so than Queen Victoria ever was.

Queen grimacingQueen vic.jpg

Monday 21 December 2009  Secular Monarchy – epetition response

We received a petition asking:

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to relieve the monarch of one of the duties: EITHER as Head of the Church of England, OR as Head of State.”

Details of Petition:

“In the modern era of human rights, it is quite untenable [except in a theocracy] for a constitution to require an individual to fulfil both secular and religious roles. Current concern that the 1701 Act of Settlement discriminates against Roman Catholics affects just one family directly. However, the oath and affirmation of allegiance to “bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law” must surely grate severely with all non-Anglican immigrants: and is therefore inconsistent with anti-terrorist goals.”

Read the Government’s response :

The Government supports the Monarchy and the continuation of The Queen as Head of State as fundamental elements in our constitution, personifying both national and Commonwealth unity.  It is continuing to assess the scope for amending the laws on succession including the Act of Settlement 1701, but it has made clear that change cannot happen overnight and that it has no immediate plans to legislate.  No changes are contemplated to The Queen’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England nor to the Church of England’s established status; disestablishment would only be considered if the Church itself indisputably favoured it.  The wording of the oath or affirmation of allegiance taken by new British citizens and members of certain professions relates to the supremacy of the Sovereign, which is fundamental to our system of government, and the Government has no plans to change it.

I sent a letter to the Guardian. They did not publish it. Only a very small number from women are published- I regularly do a gender count. Sometimes when I have sent a missive to the Guardian I add, after my name – not Keith Flett- but it doesn’t seem to make any difference! Here is what I sent.
21st December 2009.
Dear Editor,
I have received a response from Number 10 on Monday 21st December to a petition I signed about relieving the “‘the monarch of one of the duties : either as Head of the Church of England, or as Head of State” adding that it is untenable except in a theocracy.It states “No changes are contemplated to The Queen’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England nor to the Church of England’s established status; disestablishment would only be considered if the Church itself indisputably favored it”
So, it is official that we live under a theocracy and not a democracy and that the Church of England alone has the power to alter this not the Government. It seems that “God save the Queen” is really a campaign slogan of the unelected theocratic party, the Church of England. You don’t have to be a republican, anti-monarchy, religious or Humanist  to be concerned about this,  just a democrat.
Yours Sincerely,
Jeanne Rathbone
Humanist Celebrant.


Isn’t it ridiculous and undemocratic that it is Government policy that only the Church of England , not Parliament, can decide to withdraw all the powers and privileges of the Church and remove its established status. The Church will not voluntarily give up its power and status and will cling on desperately as its congregations dwindle and people turn away from the Church.  I believe that that the position of the established Anglican Church with the Queen as its Supreme Governor is farcical and divisive. It is silly to have a monarch as a titular Church leader.  She is not an ordained vicar. At least the Pope has moved up the priestly hierarchy. As Monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and northern Ireland we are all her subjects but as Supreme Governor she is only the leader of English Christians. It would seem that her Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish subjects escape her supernatural dominion. It is only in England that her roles of religious and constitutional leadership overlap which is a constitutional mess. I bet that she would be quite glad to relinquish her religious title if only Parliament asked her. They are just too timid to ask her Majesty.

Great Britain isn’t very united as Scotland has its own parliament which upsets the English and the Welsh and it is laughable that the Queen is monarch of a fraction of the island of Ireland –  6/32 of its counties where, in due course,  the majority of those subjects will not want to be her subjects. Seamus Heaney, who identifies himself as Irish, objected to being included in a British anthology of poetry in 1982 wrote;”Be advised, my passport’s green, no glass of ours was ever raised to toast the queen”.

I come from a Republic. Ireland fought for its independence from British colonisation and exploitation and like most republics has no wish to become a monarchy. Monarchies are so anachronistic. They should only occur in fairy stories. Keeping an institution for the sake of tourism makes it a tourist attraction. The pomp associated with the monarchy really is rather embarrassing to its subjects and is rather tawdry and demeaning. I don’t think it is nice for her majesty to behave like a performing monkey. Oh dear, I hope that is not deemed to be treason felony. My uncle Stanley was holed up in Brixton prison on a charge of treason felony. Sin sceal eile.

The Queen is only the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She couldn’t be the Supreme Head of the Church according to the Act Of Supremacy as this would imply that she was claiming divinity or usurping Jesus who is, apparently Head of the Church of England. So it is blasphemous to call her the Head of the Church.  As the head of the Catholic Church is called the Pope why not call the Queen the Mome of the Church of England?

This cartoon by Trog I got from the wonderful cartoon museum.

No one should be forced to be a supernaturalist but the monarch has to pretend to be a deist – to believe there is a  daddy god who sent his only son, Jesus, down to earth to be killed  as a sacrifice for the naughty people.  Jesus, was Jewish, and he said he was God. He had to do that to annoy the hell out of the people to ensure that he would be crucified. You see, if he hadn’t been crucified there woudn’t be any Christianity. It doesn’t make sense that they make a big fuss about it at Easter time.

It did it the trick, allright, because anyone who claims to be  God is deemed to be schizophrenic and back in those days they killed people for that. Of course, if it was nowadays he would have been given medication after he was sectioned but then it was death by torture and crucifixion. The result is we are lumbered with the religious sect Christians and logo of a a dead man on a pole. They say he was a nice chap, a bit of wimp even, but by pissing off the Romans and getting himself killed and becoming a martyr has given the world so much grief.

Getting back to the Queen – we can never know what any religionists actually do believe but the Queen has to pretend to believe in all the Christian stuff. I don’t know why we still indulge religionists/supernaturalists. Within the mental health field it is accepted that you shouldn’t endorse the crazy beliefs and delusions of patients. We should not indulge the credulity of any believers and certainly we should not accord them any special respect for having these beliefs. It is both ridiculous and insulting to ask us to ‘respect’ those who have supernatural beliefs let alone give the Church of England, its leaders and followers special privileges. One of the worst aspects of this is the existence  of Faith schools.

To segregate  children into different schools according to their parents supernatural beliefs is so wrong.


It is is is the new poster of the British Humanist Association campaign. This was very much in response to popular demand and is allied to the campaign against faith schools. If you are concerned and interested you could subscribe to the campaign by going through the BHA website.

I had a comment from a member of the SW London Humanists.  He takes the usual position of Cof E Humanists/atheists which is that other religions are worse –  the usual suspects are Catholic, Muslim and American evangelicals. He cited Iran and 20th Century Ireland as examples of ‘real theocracy’. As an Irish person in the BHA I am well used to comments and jibes about Catholic Ireland and how the ‘troubles’ in the north were entirely religious and not as result of British imperialism.  The majority of BHA members, inevitably, are a product of their culture which is that of a colonial power and the Church of England. The Church of England, having being formed from the libidinous proclivity of an earlier king wanting divorce, is seen as a hobbity, Vicar of Dibley quaint, harmless institution. This national treasure with the Queen, as its Supreme Governor and ‘Jerusalem’ its anthem, is being sentimentally preserved and  and now regarded as ‘a bulwark against fundamentalism’.


This is similar in tone to the view of Giles Fraser the once ‘trendy vicar of Putney’ now the Loose Canon with the Guardian as his pulpit. writes:“The Church of England is fundamentally a theological peace treaty. As the Reformation plunged continental Europe into an ideological bloodbath, with Catholics and Protestants murdering each other by the million, England created a church that made the most remarkable claim for itself: both Catholic and Protestant. Sick of religious warfare, it invented the original big tent philosophy. Those of widely different philosophies could kneel together and worship God through the appropriately named Book of Common Prayer.

It was a pragmatic arrangement that came to shape our national character. The English didn’t do doctrinal dispute, we frowned on the public exploration of ideological differences characteristic of those hot-headed Continentals. Instead, we agreed to differ and muddled along. We became the world’s natural compromisers”.

Sure, the Church of England gained a reputation for not believing in anything and being shy in speaking about things that really mattered. But it was a brilliant way of creating an inclusive church. The parish church was to be a place where, under God, the English would find an oddly workable unity.

Two things have undermined this vision: the British Empire and the internet. In the days of the Empire, missionaries from the English church made faith our most successful export. Global Christianity mushroomed in the 20th century, with Anglicanism leading the way. There are now 77 million Anglicans. But what did not get exported was the very idea of Anglicanism as a peace treaty. Transplanted into different soil, Anglicanism grew hotter and more ideological, re-exposing deep theological fissures between believers that the C of E had agreed to set aside for the greater good. With the growth in communications technology, these differences could no longer be hidden.

The man said ‘the Cof E  is fundamentally a theological peace treaty’…..  It was a pragmatic arrangement that came to shape our national character…….. We became the world’s natural compromisers….Two things have undermined this vision: the British Empire and the internet.”

That arrogant, imperialistic, anglocentric view is the cultural heritage of those brought up in that Anglican tradition and that includes the majority of  British Humanists. The BHA membership is so very middle England and not at all demographically representative.  However, as people who have distanced themselves from their earlier conditioning,  they probably do not see themselves in this way.

I was not at all surprised at this response from a Humanist in defense of the monarchy and the C of E, which has become the epitome of Englishness and must be protected from extinction. The assertion by the Government that the Church ‘would not be disestablished unless the Church indisputably favoured it’ he did not comment upon – evidently he did not see this as a problem for democracy. That is like taking the   ‘Don’t ask the turkeys to vote on Christmas’ position. This country is in need of constitutional reform but Parliament itself will not take any action. It is only the will of the people that can do it.  We will have to wait and see what the general election throws up

The phallic tie

Posted in The phallic tie is a symbolic penis by sheelanagigcomedienne on December 1, 2016


The tie, a superfluous piece of male attire, is a phallic symbol. It replaced the more overt codpiece as a symbolic penis exhibit centuries later.


Wikipedia › wiki › Codpiece
A codpiece (from Middle English: cod, meaning “scrotum”) is a covering flap or pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men’s trousers and usually accentuates the genital area. It was held closed by string ties, buttons, or other methods.

Only briefly in vogue, the codpiece has left a rich legacy in art, literature and – most recently – in televised costume drama. In focusing her attention on this ostentatious male accessory, PhD candidate Victoria Bartels has developed some new ideas about its evolution (and demise) as a symbol of virility.…/what-goes-up-must-come-down-a-brief-history-of-the-codp.

A review of my show in the Connaught Tribune in 1996 added a postscript advising against the wearing of ties

A Norwegian film crew, rain drumming off the marquee and rivulets running underfoot set the bizarre scene for Jeanne Egan’s opening performance of “Sheela-na-Gig’ at Taylors Bar.

Perhaps none other than a Scandanavian TV crew could dwell upon the incongruities of two millenia of western development as brought out here . They just happended to be exploring the Sheela-na-Gig phenomenon after discovering some figures in their home country.

P.S. Wearing ties not recommended.


I never did find out if any clips of my show were broadcast on Norwegian TV.


It is preposterous and decidedly kinky that it is also an essential part of enforced school uniforms in Britain. Why don’t schoolchildren rebel against this infringement of their civil liberties?

The tie is a piece of cloth that men wear around their necks. It serves no useful purpose except as an inadequate bib or dribbler especially when eating curries. They are so PHALLIC, silly and pointless.

“If men can run the world, why can’t they stop wearing neckties? How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a noose around your neck?” Linda Ellerbee (US journalist

The tie is always longer than twelve inches and it points down to a man’s genital equipment or as I prefer to call it -call it their blunt instrument- as it is a three-in-one tool. It is used for urination, procreation and sexual gratification whereas we have our clitoris-our exquisite bud- just for sexual pleasure alone.

Men continue to wear one because they believe that it gives them an air of intelligence and authority far greater than they actually have. If a tie gets you the job, it says a lot about the people who hired you.

St.Patrick should have used his willy, instead of the shamrock (which is gaelic for little clover) to explain the weird idea of the Holy Trinity, the three-Gods-in-one which is the basis of Christianity.

 Freemasonry might have something to do with this, the first ritual you do involves having a noose around your head.

I am certain that the Irish Free State would not have adopted the male organ as a national symbol – imagine a penis on the side of an Aer Lingus aeroplane or tourist tea-towels full of pinkish pricks. This would have made Ireland a gay destination and there is now an  alternative Gay Matchmakers Festival in Lisdoonvarna, as well as the hetero bachelors  seeking  any female at all but usually American women seeking Irish husbands and craic.


From wikipedia  you learn that originally the piece of fabric around the neck was called a cravat derived from the French for Croat. This  Croatian crack regiment came to Paris in 1660 after a victory over the Ottomans and its officers wore colourful silk handerchief around their necks and Louis IV loved this new fashion accessory and even established a regiment named The Royal Cravattes.

With the Industrial Revolution came the forerunner of the modern tie which was long, thin, easy to knot and for daily use.Then in 1926 a New York tie maker, Jesse Langsdorf came up with a method of cutting the fabric on the bias and sewing it in three segments. Before the Second World War ties were worn shorter than they are today; this was due, in part, to men wearing trousers at the natural waist. Around 1944 ties started to become not only wider, but wilder. This reflected the returning GIs’ desire to break with wartime uniformity. Widths reached 5″. The typical length was 48″.The 1960s brought about an influx of pop art influenced designs. The first was designed by a chap called Michael Fish-the term Kipper was a pun on the name because there was a chap called Michael Fish who was a weatherman. michael-fish

The use of coloured and patterned neckties indicating the wearer’s membership in a club, military regiment, school, professional association (Royal Colleges, Inns of Courts) et cetera, dates only from late-19th century England. The immediate forerunners of today’s college neckties were in 1880 the oarsmen of Exeter College Oxford, who tied the bands of their straw hats around their necks.

Health and Safety hazard  according to wiki. Necktie opponents cite risks of wearing a necktie as argument for discontinuing it. Their cited risks are entanglement, infection, and vasoconstriction. Entanglement is a risk when working with machinery or in dangerous, possibly violent, jobs such as police officers and prison guards, and certain medical fields. The solution is to avoid wearing neckties, or to wear pre-knotted clip-on neckties that easily detach from the wearer when grabbed. Vascular constriction occurs with over-tight collars.

(Another possibility is to tuck a tie into the shirt through the buttoning, but this protects only against the tie being caught and pulled taut.) Studies have shown increased intraocular pressure in such cases, which can aggravate the condition of people with weakened retinas.There may be additional risks for people with glaucoma. Sensible precautions can mitigate the risk.

Paramedics performing life support  remove an injured man’s necktie as a first step to ensure it does not block his airway. Neckties might also be a health risk for persons other than the wearer. They are believed to be vectors in disease transmission in hospitals. Notwithstanding such fears, many doctors and dentists wear neckties for a professional image. Hospitals take seriously the cross-infection of patients by doctors wearing infected neckties, because neckties are less frequently cleaned than most other clothes. On September 17, 2007, British hospitals published rules banning neckties. In such a context, some instead prefer to use bow ties due to their short length and relative lack of hindrance.

In the UK, it is a popular prank to pull someone’s tie so that it tightens. This prank, known as peanuting or “squatknotting”, is often used to embarrass the victim and can also be used for more severe bullying. In March 2008, a 13-year-old boy from Oxted, in Surrey, was rushed into hospital with spinal injuries after being “peanuted”. He was kept in hospital for three days.

An example of anti-necktie sentiment is found in Iran whose theocratic rulers have denounced the accessory as a decadent symbol of European oppression. To date, most Iranian men in Iran have retained the Western-style long-sleeved collared shirt and three -piece suit, while excluding the necktie. The majority of Iranian men abroad wear neckties according to wiki!

Neckties are viewed by various sub- and counter-culture movements as being a symbol of submission and slavery – having a symbolic chain around one’s neck to the corrupt elite of society, as a “wage slave”.Among those who have expressed this sentiment is the entrepreneur Richard Branson.


Novelty tie etiquette or When to wear one.

Wearing a novelty tie on casual Friday is a perfect way to liven up an otherwise strict office dress code. The day of an office party. Office parties are meant to be a distraction from the normal workday. Wear a fun tie to remind yourself – and everyone around you – that the day is a special one.On a special occasion. Upcoming special occasions make perfect opportunities to break the norm with a novelty tie. Holidays, sporting events, and other occasions are good reasons to bring a little light-heartedness into the workplace.

Novelty ties, as worn by Prince Harry are for people trying to be sexier than they actually are, while bow ties, as sported by actor and comedian Bill Murray, right, are for creative types and eccentrics.

Read more:

Anytime you need a pick-me-up. Work can be a drag, and we all have days where we’d rather be at home. On these days, a novelty tie may be just the thing you need to cheer yourself up. Whether your favorite tie is funny, outrageous, or says something fundamental about who you are, it can be a source of good humor and strength when you need those qualities most.

Anywhere you can manage it. For some people, novelty ties are not just a style – they are a way of life. These people are adept at finding ways to work yet another fun tie into the dress code. With a little daring and flair, you can make novelty ties a fundamental part of your own personal style.

The Dicky Bow. A bow for the dick. Sheela-na-Gig says it is worn by men who have had a vasectomy because they they have had a little knot put on their genital equipment. When Dave dresses up for concerts I remind him of this.

Why is  a bow tie called a Dicky bow? A  bow  could, effectively be worn with anything. A hat, a dress or even on a parcel.So to distinguish the bow tie worn with a shirt, it was called a Dicky bow, following the cockney rhyming slang, ‘dicky dirt’ for shirt.

To its devotees the bow tie suggests iconoclasm of an Old World sort, a fusty adherence to a contrarian point of view. The bow tie hints at intellectualism, real or feigned, and sometimes suggests technical acumen, perhaps because it is so hard to tie. Bow ties are worn by magicians, country doctors, lawyers and professors and by people hoping to look like the above. But perhaps most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think.
– Warren St John in The New York Times.

Anna Wheeler Irish radical Feminist and Socialist

Posted in Anna Wheeler Irish radical feminst and socialist by sheelanagigcomedienne on December 1, 2016


Anna Wheeler 1780–1848,  was a writer and advocate of political rights for women,  a socialist, feminist and promoter of the benefits of contraception . She was very much part of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. I will sprinkle quotes from the treatise on Women’s Emanicipation and Equality which was written jointly with William Thompson.

Anna Doyle was the daughter of the Rev. Nicholas Doyle, a Church of Ireland  clergyman, Rector of Newcastle, County Tipperary. She had no formal education, but learned French, geography, reading and writing at home. Her brother Sir John Milley Doyle John  was a commander of British and  Portuguese forces in the Peninsular War.

Women of England! women, in whatever country ye breathe–wherever ye breathe, degraded–awake!

In 1795, at about the age of fifteen, she married Francis Massey Wheeler, of Lizard Connell, heir to an estate at Ballywire, who proposed to her at a ball. Her family opposed the marriage and invited her to London as a diversion to stay with her uncle Sir John Doyle. But she was stubborn and married him. He was himself only nineteen and was a grandson of Hugh Massy, 1st Baron Massy. They set up home in County Limerick. According to the autobiography of her daughter Rosina, Wheeler had five daughters but only two survived into adulthood Rosina and Henrietta and Rosina remembered being told about the wrath of her drunken father on the birth of another girl.

First, as to the pleasures of the senses. So notoriously are wives and all women restrained, that equal enjoyment of these pleasures with men, particularly eating and drinking, is esteemed immoral in them, while to men it is freely permitted. Sexual pleasures, in husbands, involves no punishment at all; in wives, punishment, legal and moral, only short of death.

She continued to read widely, taking refuge from her abusive husband and cut off from her friends. She read the French Age of Enlightenment thinkers and Mary Wollstonecroft whilst her sister read romantic novels, beside her on the couch, according to Rosina.

Sleeps there an infant your bosom, to the level of whose intellect the systematic despostism and pitiful jealousy of man have not sought, and for the most part successfully sought, to chain down yours?

She eventually separated from her abusive husband after twelve years.

Although women, like men, as soon as adult, are in most civilised countries protected in civil and personal rights, against their fathers as against other individuals; yet, no sooner are they married, than by the marriage code, notwithstanding their experience, they are again deprived of all these inefficient rights, and thrown back into the class of children or idiots.

Anna, with her brother John and sister Bessie left her bad marriage by moving to Guernsey to live with her uncle General Sir John who was by then the Lieutenant Governor of the island.

The marriage codes of all nations, even the most civilised, render women in effect the slaves of men.

general-sir-john-doyleHe had a distinguished career in the British Army  which he joined in 1771. He served with distinction in the American War of Independence, in the French Revolutionary Wars and served in Holland, Gibraltar and Egypt. His efforts were greatly appreciated by King George who wrote to the Earl Marshall.. “so that his [Doyle’s] zeal and exertions in our service may be known to posterity”He was elected MP for Mullingar in the Irish House of Commons in 1783.He was appointed Private secretary to George 1V , Prince of Wales.

In Guernsey she was feted by the aristocratic mainly French royalty especially the aged Duc De Bouillon who courted her for twelve year.

Real and comprehensive knowledge, physical and moral, equally and impartially given by education and by all other means to both sexes, is the key to such higher enjoyments.

In 1815 she moved to London, to benefit the education of her daughters. By 1816 she had started journeying through France, leading a peripatetic life. She was described as The Goddess of Reason.

In 1820 Francis Massey Wheeler died. Anna is in financial difficulties. Friends and family help out. She earns some income as a translator of works from France, especially the works of the French Owenites and Charles Fourier.

She also began, what became a life long habit,  visiting various family members and friends as a means of support because she did not have a home of her own. For the rest of her life she moved between London, Dublin, Caen, and Paris and in doing so she became a means of spreading political and feminist ideas.

Women then might exert in a free career with men their faculties of mind and body, to whatever degree developed, in pursuit of happiness by means of exertion, as men do. But this would not raise women to an equality of happiness with men: their rights might be equal, but not their happiness, because unequal powers under free competition must produce unequal effects.

As a staunch advocate of political rights for women and of equal opportunities in education, she was a friend of the French feminists and socialists Flora Tristan and  Desirée Veret  becomes associated with the Tribune des Femme. the journal established by working class women in France in 1832. Originally named La Femme libre it only published articles by women and aimed for the freedom of women. Her other friends and associates included Henri Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, Suzanne Voilquin , Marie-Reine Guindorff and Jeanne Deroin.Suzanne Voilquin


In other words, the treatment of the individual members of the family, – sons, daughters, breeding-women, servants, slaves, and all other denominations of sentient beings, – may be improved by the prosperity of the affairs of the master, or deteriorated by his reverses or change of character. (This reminds us of the neo-liberal notion that prosperity for the few improves life for everyone whereas we see that it increases inequality between the uber wealthy and the poorest  and has made the rest of us despondent)

William Thompson  was an Irish political and philosophical writer and social reformer, developing from utilitarianism into an early critic of capitalist exploitation whose ideas influenced the Cooperative, Trade Union and Chartist  movements as well as Marx. Born into the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy silver spoon life of wealthy landowners and merchants of Cork society, his attempt to will his estate to the cooperative movement after his death sparked a long court case as his family fought successfully to have the will annulled.


In 1825, provoked by James Mill’s dismissal of political representation for women, Thompson wrote Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and Hence in Civil and Domestic, Slavery.Thompson described the book as the “joint property” of himself and Anna Wheeler

Thompson’s work contained an, ‘Introductory Letter to Mrs. Wheeler’ which credits her as the source of many of the ideas in the work. In ‘The Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other’, the formidable pro-feminist text, he acknowledges the enormous contribution made by Mrs. Wheeler in an introductory letter to her. he emphasises that the ‘Appeal’ was the product of collaborative work undertaken by  them both and he notes that ‘A few only therefore of the following pages are the exclusive produce of your mind and pen, and written with your own hand.  The remainder are our joint property, I being your interpreter and the scribe of your sentiments.’

You look forward, as I do, to a state of society very different from that which now exists, in which effort of all is to out wit, supplant, and snatch from each other; where interest is systematically opposed to duty; where the so-called system of morals is little more than a mass of hypocrisy preached by knaves, and practised by them, to keep their slaves, male as well as female, in blind uninquiring obedience


Dr Dolores Dooley, ( retired from the Philosophy Department in University College Cork) has written. Equality in Community: Sexual Equality in the Writings of William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler (Women’s studies/philosophy). She seeks to show Anna’s involvement in it.

Women are one half of the human race, and as much entitled to happiness on their own account, for their own sakes, as men. Just as necessary would it be to inquire whether the possession of political rights by men would tend to promote the happiness of women. The happiness of every individual, and of all classes, of the human race, ought to be promoted for the sake of such individual or individuals, and not in subservience to the happiness of any other individuals or classes whatever. When every individual is made happy, the happiness of the whole is promoted.

Dale Spender also in her book  Women of Ideas (and What Men Have Done to Them) (Ark, 1983) 385–398 in a discussion of women’s rights and feminism in eighteenth century Britain, with a particular focus on Anna Wheeler  critiques Roger Fulford’s treatment of Anna  in his 1958 book (title presently unknown, probably Votes for Women)

Spender is critical of Fulford’s portrayal of Ann Wheeler, stating that it is contrary to the view of Thompson himself, and to the views of Bauer and Ritt or those of Richard Pankhurst in William Thompson (1755–1833): Britain’s Pioneer Socialist, Feminist and Co-operator (1954); ‘but it bears many resemblances to the standard portrayal of women in a male-dominated society, and a striking resemblance to the portrayal of Harriet Taylor, another acknowledged co-author with a male of intellectual stature.’

In 1829 Anna gives a lecture on the “Rights of Women” in a chapel near Finsbury Square, London.She sometimes spoke at the South Place Chapel “a radical gathering-place” then under the leadership of the Rev William Fox and now better known as  Conway Hall where I was for the 120th anniversary of the British Humanist Association on 26th November 2016 when we awarded Lord Alf Dubs with the Humanist of the Year award.

In 1833 William Thompson died leaving Anna an annuity of £100, which was then enough to maintain a modest household.

She retires from active work in the feminist movement because of her poor health around 1840. She does continue corresponding with her friends, especially those in France. She was invited to participate in the revolution of 1848 – but she declined this invitation. Her health was poor.She died in 1848  at the age of 63.

Anna’s daughter Rosina Bulwer Lytton ( who had a scandalous marriage) was a novelist and outspoken public speaker. Her grandson Robert Bulwer-Lytton 1st Earl of Lytton served as Viceroy of India and two of her great grandsons became the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Lytton. One of her great-granddaughters was the sister-in-law of the Prime Minister Balfour, while another, Lady Constance Lytton, became a leading suffragette protester, hunger striker and writer, and a third, Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton, dismayed her parents by successfully proposing to the architect Edwin Lutyens and later became a Theosophist. The biographers Mary Lutyens and Jane Ridley are descendants of that marriage. So, she seems to have continued to inspire further generations.

Anna Wheeler is undoubtedly another woman whose contribution to women’s and socialist thinking has been neglected. Obviously, as an Irishwoman she should be acclaimed in our struggle for emancipation and equality that continues with the campaigns on violence against women, pay parity and abortion rights.

There is no doubt that she would have been at the forefront of our ongoing struggle for bodily control and equality and would be leading us on it. She would be saying Repeal the 8th Amendement.…/england-speaking-of-i-m-e-l-d-a-speaking-of-ireland-makin.


IMELDAs outside King’s Cross Station

George Shearing, Battersea boy, jazz pianist composer

Posted in George Shearing, Jazz supremo- a Battersea boy., Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on November 8, 2016

George Shearing was a boy from Battersea who became an international giant of jazz. I am delighted that there is a proposal by the Battersea Society to commemorate  him with our next blue plaque on Northcote Lodge School Bolingbroke Grove which was previously Linden Lodge School for the Blind which he attended from when he was twelve till he left at sixteen. His autobiography Lullaby of Birdland was edited by Alyn Shipton.


Lullaby of Birdland was one of his most famous compositions named after the eponymous club he played in early on in his career in America. He had a huge influence on jazz and the ‘George Shearing Sound’ became very familiar to jazz afficianados.


The youngest of nine children, George was born into a poor, working-class family. His father delivered coal for the same company Cockerell’s ( coal merchants to the Queen) for nearly fifty years and his mother cleaned trains by night at the nearby depot , having cared for her children during the day.George used to joke about how his Dad’s occupation got translated as a ‘coal miner’ An inveterate punster, he sometimes referred to his father as “Not the Cole Porter, but a coal porter’He also quipped about his brother Jim being a conductor  ‘Really?’ ‘Yes.on the 49 bus’

George mentions his four sisters and brother who still lived at home when he was born  Margaret, Dolly, Mary, Lily and Jim. They lived at 67 Arthur Street, later renamed Rawson Street now demolished. The railway ran at the back of their house near Latchmere Road. He described it as almost a cul de sac. His Dad bought him the piano for £5 and paid £3 for a few lessons with Mrs Dearsley when he was aged 5 but she said he was already too advanced for her.


Blind from birth, George showed musical aptitude, memorising tunes he had heard on the radio and picking them out on the family’s piano, taking lessons from a local teacher. He attended Shillington  Street Primary School which had a department for blind children which was nearby and then continuing his studies for four years at the  Linden Lodge School for the Blind in Bolingbroke Grove, Sw12 facing Wandsworth Common. (This was erroneously described as in the countryside on an American website)

He talked about how he played cricket on the street and was given a bicycle and the toys and games played which included braking bottles. He described how from when he was about ten his father would enter the horse that he used for delivering the coal into the annual horse show in Regents Park and he would help him prepare the horse and livery and they would set of at six in the morning and George would play the harmonium. He won fifteen first prizes over the years.Although his mother worked hard bringing up nine children and cleaning trains she also became an alcoholic. He admits that he didn’t feel so close to his parents or family because of his education.

He wrote about his Linden Lodge School days and Mr Newell his music teacher and how he would practice for two hours in the piano in the school sitting room.It was Mr Newell who suggested to George’s parents that there wasn’t much point in him studying classical music as his  preference was already evident for jazz.

He was offered a university musical scholarships, he turned them down in favour of paid work as a solo pianist in a pub when 16 at the Mason’ s Arms, in Lambeth Walk later renamed the Lambeth Walk in 1951 and opened with fanfare by pearly Kings and Queens  now residential flats.

George concentrated first on popular songs and then branching out into jazz. He tells how he used to go on to posh hotels like the Mayfair or the Hyde Park Hotel and started to wear tuxedo and tails till Lou Jaffa the pub governor said that he had to choose between the pub or the hotels.


The Lambeth Walk formerly the Mason’s Arms where George had his first paid job

He achieved a degree of prominence with Claude Bampton’s newly formed, all-blind stage orchestra in 1937, joining as second pianist: press coverage of the time describing this as “a phenomenal venture”.

He made his first solo radio broadcast in 1938 and began to record regularly, either as a soloist or with groups led by Vic Lewis and the top players of the day.

During the war years he toured with the violinist Stephane Grappelli and worked in London throughout the Blitz. The trumpeter Tommy McQuater remembered playing and drinking with Shearing in London clubs and then coming out into the total blackout. Shearing would lead the sighted musicians through the pitch-black, rubble-strewn streets and set them on their respective routes home. A case of the blind leading the blind-drunk, as McQuater had it.


George and Grappelli during This is your life with Aspel

George had met Trixie Bayes and thee got married in 1941. They had gone to live in Pinner. Their daughter Wendy was born in 1942 and they had a son David George who was born blind but sadly died before his first birthday.

He was encouraged to emigrate to the States by American visitors to Britain like Fats Waller, Mel Powell, Glenn Miller and Coleman Hawkins.In 1946 they went to the States without Wendy to see for themselves and emigrated in 1947.”I expected to slay everyone when I got here, because I could play in the style of Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Bob Zurke,” he said. Well, the people started to say ‘Oh, that’s nice. What else can you do?’ My wife at the time was kind of annoyed and she’d say, ‘What do you want him to do, stand on his head?

His recording of “September in the Rain” became an international hit. Its success established him as a hot property on the jazz nightclub and concert circuit. It established something else as well: the signature sound of the George Shearing Quintet sound which was not quite like anything listeners had heard before — or have heard since.“When the quintet came out on 1949, it was a very placid and peaceful sound, coming on the end of a very frantic and frenetic era known as bebop,”

In the 1950s, George  pursued an interest in Latin-inflected jazz. He had another hit record with Mambo Inn (1954) and appeared leading a Latin ensemble in the 1959 film Jazz On A Summer’s Day. In the same year he recorded the hugely popular album Beauty and the Beat with the singer Peggy Lee


George and Neil Swainson in tandem

During the 1960s Shearing began giving concerts with symphony orchestras, usually playing a concerto in the first half and leading the quintet with orchestral backing in the second. He derived particular satisfaction from this demonstration of technical accomplishment.

Shearing’s musical partnership with the singer Mel Torme, which lasted almost a decade, had begun in the early 1980s, and brought out the best in

George and Trixie divorced and George met and fell in love with Ellie Giffert a singer he had met and they were married in 1984 by Ellie’s brother Melvin who was a minister in the Lutheran Church in Harvey Illinois.

George was the subject of the BBC programme broadcast in February 1992 of This is Your Life. He was performing at Ronnie Scott’s on the night.


George with his sisters on This is your Life

George remained fit and active well into his later years and continued to perform, even after being honoured with an Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. In 2004   his memoir, Lullaby of Birdland, which was accompanied by a double album “musical autobiography”, Lullabies of Birdland. Shortly afterwards, however, he suffered a fall at his home and retired from regular performing.

George was invited by three Presidents to play at the White House –  Ford, Carter and Reagan. He was appointed OBE in 1996. In 2007 he was knighted. “So,” he noted later, “the poor, blind kid from Battersea became Sir George Shearing. Now that’s a fairy tale come true.”


He was quite a prankster and had a punning sense of humpor I liked the Nat King Cole story about ‘smelling the money’ trick  and telling an audience,  if they had got held up getting to a gig to blame him as he was the driver.

One of the great loves in his life besides his family was his seeing eye dog, a Golden Retriever named Leland whom he called “Lee.” The two traveled together for well over ten years and after the dog’s death, Shearing devoted himself to the cause, by doing benefit appearances on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind,  the organization which had provided him with Lee originally.

alan-shiptonAlyn Shipton, who grew close to Shearing in his later years, said that Shearing was a uniquely warm, funny and straightforward man. “Being blind, he always said he had no knowledge of racial or color issues,” explained Shipton. “He listened to musicians and accepted them for how they played, not who they were. When we agreed to write the book together, we did it on a handshake, no contract, just mutual trust. And George was also extremely generous. When the book we wrote together was finished, and we’d just signed off the proofs, he treated me to an hour’s solo recital in his Manhattan apartment. Just me, George and his piano. I wondered if he recalled a particular Teddy Wilson solo, and he played it to me note for note from memory, even though it must have been years since he heard it. It was a privilege and pleasure beyond words.”

George and Ellie used to come to their home in the Cotswolds in the summer with visitors like neighbour Brian Kay whom he had played with in his King’s singers days, visiting and going to jam with the Dankworths in their Stables studio Wavendon Bucks.


George and the King Singers rehearsing

One thing that that especially touched him was when the George Shearing Centre for people with learning and multiple disabilities in Este Road Battersea was named in his honour.


I was impressed by his anti racist stance and found this reference .

A Final Word On Pianist George Shearing From A Former Bandmate …

During most of my time with George, touring the U.S. was always littered with racial land mines, not always in the South.

When we would travel by car, it didn’t matter what part of the country, we would constantly get stopped and ticketed by the cops because of the mix of colors inside the car.

It was against the law in a lot of States for race mixing and the Shearing band was one of the first integrated groups in the business. Many times we’d show up at a gig and the club owner, promoter or manager would freak out because they didn’t know we were a mixed race band and would refuse to let us enter the club. That’s when George would mess with these people. He would ask them what was the problem. The offender would say he can’t have Black people in his club and George would then ask “What is a color?”

Since George was blind from birth, technically it was true that he didn’t know what the hell a color was, but George wanted to make the person explain their own racism to a person who couldn’t see. The person would try and always fail to logically explain it and would eventually give in and let us play, especially when George would say “If my musicians can’t enter, then neither will I.”

I loved the section about his trips to Ireland. In the 70s Louis Stewart  began his lengthy association with George Shearing (with whom he has toured America, Brazil and all of Europe and recorded eight albums). George was invited over for the Cork International Jazz festival. On the way over , for the first time , he found the safety cards on the Aer Lingus aeroplane were in Braille.Then when he arrived he was met by a group of people who asked if he would join them at blind convention at a hotel which catered for blind people.On check in you were handed a map of your room telling where the furniture was etc. He enjoyed meeting the people there and played a little on the upright piano there. When he asked where they got all the Braille material he was told Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin and how it came about when prisoners were watching Parkinson interviewing George when he had mentioned the lack of Braille safety cards. They went to the eit Governor and said ‘They didn’t want Mr shearing to be able to say about Ireland and so with some lobbying  on their behalf Aer Lingus was persuaded to act on the sugestion.

George was so impressed that he said to Ellie ‘I’d like to go and play for them sometime’ He duly went to the prison to give a concert a few years later with his bass partner Neil Swainson, was given a guided tour, met the piano tuner who said it was ‘Like shooting ducks in a fog’ as the atrium was so echoey. He was presented with a Braille version of Irish folktales, met a prisoner at the tea party who specialised in Braille music. George said to him “Next time I come I’d love to see more of your handiwork” “Mr Shearing I won’t be here.I am getting out and I have a job as a music Brailler” which really heartened George. and he concluded that he may have played a minor role in making the world a safer place for the blind.

I do recommend his autobiography and I hope that we will be seeing a Battersea Society plaque honouring one of our international artists who hailed from Battersea and that I will be giving details of when.

Tom Taylor, dramatist, editor of Punch

NPG Ax7534; Tom Taylor by Southwell Brothers

by Southwell Brothers, albumen carte-de-visite, 1863

I was intrigued to learn that the house opposite ours, at 84 Lavender Sweep, contains a fanlight over the door which came from the demolition in 1880 of the house which had been owned by Tom Taylor and it had been called Lavender Sweep. Tom Taylor had quite a CV. He was a playwright, critic, editor of Punch, Professor of English Literature at London University, a barrister, a civil servant and friend to many writers and theatrical people who visited him in Lavender Sweep.  He was busy man.

I don’t think this house will get a blue plaque but nevertheless we should remember Tom Taylor, his connection to Battersea and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln which I tell any visitors to our house.


Probably his most famous play was Our American Cousin being the play Abraham Lincoln was watching the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C by  actor and Confederate  sympathizer John Wilkes Booth on April 14th 1865. He also injured Major Rathbone who had accompanied the President and his wife.

Taylor, who previously satirised Lincoln in PUNCH wrote a poem  about the assassination  in tribute to him.

Abraham Lincoln foully assassinated

You lay a wreath on a murdered Lincoln’s bier,
You, who with mocking pencil wont to trace,
Broad for the self-complacent British sneer,
His length of shambling limb, his furrowed face,

His gaunt, gnarled hands, his unkempt, bristling hair,
His garb uncouth, his bearing ill at ease,
His lack of all we prize as debonair,
Of power or will to shine, of art to please;

You, whose smart pen backed up the pencil’s laugh,
Judging each step as though the way were plain;
Reckless, so it could point its paragraph
Of chief’s perplexity, or people’s pain:

Beside this corpse, that bears for winding-sheet
The Stars and Stripes he lived to rear anew,
Between the mourners at his head and feet,
Say, scurrile jester, is there room for you?

Yes: he had lived to shame me from my sneer,
To lame my pencil, and confute my pen; —
To make me own this hind of princes peer,
This rail-splitter a true-born king of men.

My shallow judgement I had learned to rue,
Noting how to occasion’s height he rose;
How his quaint wit made home-truth seem more true;
How, iron-like, his temper grew by blows.

How humble, yet how hopeful he could be:
How in good fortune and in ill, the same:
Nor bitter in success, nor boastful he,
Thirsty for gold, nor feverish for fame.

He went about his work, — such work as few
ever had laid on head and heart and hand, —
As one who knows, where there’s a task to do,
Man’s honest will must Heaven’s good grace command;

Who trusts the strength will with the burden grow,
That God makes instruments to work his will,
If but that will we can arrive to know,
Nor tamper with the weights of good and ill.

So he went forth to battle, on the side
That he felt clear was Liberty’s and Right’s,
As in his peasant boyhood he had plied
His warfare with rude Nature’s thwarting mights,—

The uncleared forest, the unbroken soil,
The iron-bark, that turns the lumberer’s axe,
The rapid, that o’erbears the boatman’s toil,
The prairie, hiding the mazed wanderer’s tracks,

The ambushed Indian, and the prowling bear; —
Such were the deeds that helped his youth to train:
Rough culture, — but such trees large fruit may bear,
If but their stocks be of right girth and grain.

So he grew up, a destined work to do,
And lived to do it: four long-suffering years’
Ill-fate, ill-feeling, ill-report, lived through,
And then he heard the hisses change to cheers,

The taunts to tribute, the abuse to praise,
And took both with the same unwavering mood:
Till, as he came on light, from darkling days,
And seemed to touch the goal from where he stood,

A felon hand, between the goal and him,
Reached from behind his back, a trigger prest,—
And those perplexed and patient eyes were dim,
Those gaunt, long-laboring limbs were laid to rest!

The words of mercy were upon his lips,
Forgiveness in his heart and on his pen,
When this vile murderer brought swift eclipse
To thoughts of peace on earth, good-will to men.

The Old World and the New, from sea to sea,
Utter one voice of sympathy and shame!
Sore heart, so stopped when it at last beat high;
Sad life, cut short just as its triumph came.

A deed accurst! Strokes have been struck before
By the assassin’s hand, whereof men doubt
If more of horror or disgrace they bore;
But thy foul crime, like Cain’s, stands darkly out.

Vile hand, that brandest murder on a strife,
Whate’er its grounds, stoutly and nobly striven;
And with the martyr’s crown crownest a life
With much to praise, little to be forgiven.

NPG Ax30385; Tom Taylor by John & Charles Watkins

Tom Taylor 1864 by John and Charles Watkins

TAYLOR, TOM (1817–1880), dramatist and editor of ‘Punch,’ was born at Bishop-Wearmouth, a suburb of Sunderland, on 19 Oct. 1817. His father, Thomas Taylor  was self-educated, having begun life in early boyhood as a labourer on a small farm in Cumberland. By thrift, industry, and intelligence he became  head partner in a flourishing brewery firm at Durham, and, on that city being incorporated, was one in the first batch of aldermen in the new municipality. Tom Taylor’s mother (1784–1858), though born in Durham, was of German origin.

Tom was educated first at Grange school in Sunderland, and afterwards at the university of Glasgow, where he carried off three gold medals. Finally, in 1837, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. There he graduated B.A. in 1840 as junior optime in mathematics and in the first class of the classical tripos. In 1842 he was elected a fellow of Trinity, and proceeded M.A. in 1843. For the next two years Taylor pursued the career of a ‘coach’ at Cambridge, and met with great success. In the interests of his younger brothers he declined the ample annual allowance hitherto placed at his command by his father, and resolved thenceforth to support himself on his fees as tutor and upon the income of his fellowship.

During 1842, Taylor, together with his Cambridge friends Frederick Ponsonby who was Earl of Bessborough. (Fred Ponsonby, a Battersea Labour Party member was the fourth Baron but is now a life peer. He sings with the Festival Chorus that Dave sings in), Charles G. Taylor and William Bolland, formed the Old Stagers, which is recognised as the oldest amateur drama society still performing.


Taylor left Cambridge and in 1845 was appointed professor of English literature and the English language in the London University. He held the post for two years. Meanwhile, having kept his terms as a law student at the Inner Temple, he was called to the bar in  November 1846. For a while he went the northern circuit. But a new opening was offered him in 1850, when, consequent on the passing of the Public Health Act, the board of health was called into existence, and Taylor was appointed assistant secretary under the presidency of Sir Benjamin Hall.

He married,  Laura, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Barker, vicar of Thirkleby in Yorkshire on 19 June 1855. Mrs. Tom Taylor, a skilled musical composer, contributed the original overture and entr’acte to her husband’s ‘Joan of Arc. They had two children Lucy and Wycliffe, who became an artist.

In August 1854 he was promoted to the position of secretary. When the board of health was absorbed in the local government board his post became that of secretary to the sanitary department. He eventually retired 1871, when his office was abolished.

But Taylor owed his fame and the greater part of his income to other occupations. From his first settling in London he had engaged in journalism working on the ‘Morning Chronicle’ and the ‘Daily News’ as a leader-writer. He had also started his lifelong connection with ‘Punch,’ and until 1874 he was an active member of the staff becoming editor in that year he succeeded Shirley Brooks as editor, and he held that office till his death six years later.



Caricature of Tom Taylor by Sir Leslie Ward

In art criticism Taylor also made some mark, and for many years was art critic for the ‘Times’ and the ‘Graphic.’ He numbered C. R. Leslie, W. P. Frith, and other artists among his closest friends, and among his miscellaneous works was a valuable biography of Benjamin Robert Haydon . He also edited ‘Charles Robert Leslie’s Autobiographical Recollections’, completed Leslie’s ‘Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ and edited as ‘Pen Sketches by a Vanished Hand’ (1879) the essays of his friend Mortimer Collins. He had already translated ‘Ballads and Songs of Brittany’ from the Barsaz-Breiz of Hersart de la Villemarqué, and in 1874 he published an entertaining volume called ‘Leicester Square: its Associations and its Worthies’ .

NPG x18489; The Green Room by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company

The Green Room cast signed copy. Tom is seated right.

Taylor, however, found his true vocation as a playwright. From his early boyhood he had written and acted plays, and as soon as he settled in London he worked assiduously for the theatre. A self-confessed populist, his intention was to create plays his audiences would enjoy, and many of his works were adaptations of existing French plays, or dramatisations of the novels of Charles Dickens or other popular novels of the time. He was also a prolific writer of dramatic works and in thirty-five years he supplied more than seventy plays to the principal theatres of London. His mastery of stage-craft was great, and many of his pieces still keep the boards; but he lacked dramatic genius or commanding power of expression.Taylor was fond of theatrical life in all its aspects. He played several parts as an actor, and is said to have been successful as Adam in a performance of ‘As you like it’ at Manchester.

The first piece of Taylor’s that signally attracted the public was ‘To Parents and Guardians,’ a farce at the Lyceum.  ‘The Fool’s Revenge,’ an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s ‘Le Roi s’amuse,’ ‘’Twixt Axe and Crown,’  ‘Joan of Arc’ ,‘Lady Clancarty,’ and ‘Anne Boleyn,’ which was produced at the Haymarket in March 1875, and was Taylor’s penultimate piece and only complete failure. Other successful plays by Taylor ‘Diogenes and his Lantern’, ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’ , ‘The Philosopher’s Stone.’, ‘Our Clerks’, ‘Wittikind and his Brothers,’ ‘Plot and Passion’  ‘A Nice Firm’,‘Two Loves and a Life,’ in conjunction with Charles Reade,‘The King’s Rival.’  ‘Helping Hands’, ‘Retribution,’ from Bernard’s ‘Loi du Talion’,’Going to the Bad’ . ‘Barefaced Impostors’, ‘Nine Points of the Law,’ ‘Up at the Hills’, ‘The Babes in the Wood’  ‘Sense and Sensation’ , ‘Henry Dunbar,’ ‘The Sister’s Penance’  ‘The Hidden Hand’,‘Settling Day’  A collection of his early pieces appeared in 1854. He published a collected edition of his historical dramas in 1877.


Photograph taken By Lewis Carroll

Much of his archive material is now housed in the V and A collection thanks to Jack Reading (1916-2004)  who pursued an interest in theatre and theatre history. It includes original working drafts and final drafts of play-texts, notebooks, sketchbooks, images and scrapbooks and personal ephemera. Jack was a founder member of the Society for Theatre Research and the International Federation for Theatre Research and helped to spearhead a campaign for the establishment of a Theatre Museum in the UK and later became a trustee of the Theatre Museum Association.

Tom Taylor’s home which he had built was one of four grand houses between Lavender Hill and  Battersea Rise.Among his friends and visitors to Lavender Sweep were Dickens, Thackeray, Henry Irving and Lewis Carroll , who took a number of photographs of the house.Ellen Terry, who was another of the many visitors to the house, ‘to us he was more than this he was an institution‘. In her autobigraphy she said ‘it clearly became the home from home for the people from all the walks of literary, artistic and theatrical life that Taylor was part of”. 


Ellen Terry

Lavender Sweep was a sort of house of call for everone of note…At Lavender Sweep, with the horse-chestnut blossoms strewing the drive and making it look like a tessellated pavement, all of us were always welcome…Such intimate friendships are seldom possible in our busy profession, and there was never another Tom Taylor in my life….The atmosphere of gaity which pervaded Lavender Sweep arose from his kindly, generous nature, which insisted that everyone could have a good time….I have already said that the Taylor’s home was one of the most softening and cultural influences of my early life…his house was a kind of mecca for  pilgrims from America and from all parts of the world….. Yet all the time occupied a position in the Home Office and often walked from Whitehall to Lavender Sweep when his day’s work was done….lavender is still associated in my mind with everything that is lovely and refined. My mother nearly always wore the colour and the Taylor’s lived at Lavender Sweep.This may not be an excellent reason for my feelings on the subject, but it is reason good enough.   

Taylor died at his home Lavender Sweep on 12 July 1880.That was when Lavender Sweep and surrounding roads were developed.

Laura died in March 1905 and had gone to live in Porch House Coleshill Berkshire with Lucy and two servants, Barbara Nugent and Jane Elizabeth Blake, both of whom had worked for the Taylors in London before the family moved to Coleshill. Lucy Taylor died in 1940. Apparently, in 1962 Mary Ure, who had been married to playwright John Osborne, lived here with her second husband actor Robert Shaw where they entertained their theatrical friends. A nice bit of serendipity.


Porch House Coleshill where Laura and Lucy Taylor lived after Tom died


Laura and Lucy Taylor at Porch House

Mary Devenport O’Neill poem GALWAY

Posted in Mary Devenport O'Neill Irish poet and playwright, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on July 28, 2016
This is a brief letter I sent to the Galway Advertiser about the poem GALWAY by Mary Devenport O’Neill suggesting that the first verse be included in the Galway Poetry Trail which was initiated by Tom Kenny of  Kenny Books.
Mary devenport o neill

Galway Poetry-Trail-smA series of commemorative plaques featuring the writing of well known Irish and International poets  have been installed around the City of Galway.

Often with a Galway twist, this series has become known as the Galway Poetry Trail and has so far included James Joyce, Mairtín Ó’Direáin, Seamus Heaney, Pádraic Ó’Conaire, Walter Macken, Louis MacNeice, Kevin Faller, Moya Cannon, Patricia Burke Brogan, W.B.Yeats, Gerald Dawe, Rita Ann Higgins, Gerard Hanberry, George Moore, and this year Máire Holmes and Arthur Colahan have been added

Dear Editor,

I think the first verse of Mary Devenport O’Neill’s poem should be commemorated in The Galway Poetry Trail. I think she has been unfairly neglected.

I know a town tormented by the sea,
And there time goes slow
That the people see it flow
And watch it drowsily,
And growing older hour by hour they say,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play’
She was born in Loughrea in 1879 she attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art for teacher trainings and boarded at The Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Dublin and went on to write poetry and established herself as a writer and one of the literati of the Irish Free State.
The  O’Neills’ salon was attended over a period of years by all of the major literary figures of the time including Æ, Jack B. and W.B. Yeats, Sibyl le Brocquy, Lennox Robinson and Austin Clarke.
Yours sincerely,

I had sent Tom Kenny, whom I know of old, an email when I was in Galway on holiday in July.
and he replied:
Dear Jeanne,

Thanks for your note. Mary Davenport O’Neill has been on our list from the beginning,but we can only do so much with our limited budget. The poem is fine but it is a bit long so we have to think carefully about where to place it.

The project is ongoing, we are now up to seventeen plaques, and it will always be a balance between living and deceased writers. We are also hoping that poets will start to write specifically for the trail.

I hope you are well. Things are good in sunny Galway and we are all anxiously waiting for The decision of the European Capital of Culture 2020 judges. We will know tomorrow.

Beatha agus Sláinte


(Galway’s bid was successful. Yea.)

I don’t accept the excuse as women are so unrepresented in the Poetry Trail. And I think Galway- a town tormented by the sea is a punchy epiteth for Galway. We’ll see!

Here is the poem. I used to have a handwritten copy of it in any bedsit I had when emigrated to London along with the Louis Mac Niece Galway poem.

GALWAY by Mary Devenport O’Neill


I know a town tormented by the sea,
And there time goes slow
That the people see it flow
And watch it drowsily,
And growing older hour by hour they say,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play,’
And their tall houses crumble away.
This town is eaten through with memory
Of pride and thick red Spanish wine and gold
And a great come and go;
But the sea is cold,
And the spare, black trees
Crouch in the withering breeze
That blows from the sea,
And the land stands bare and alone,
For its warmth is turned away
And its strength held in hard cold grey-blue
And the people are heard to say,
Through the raving of the jealous sea,
‘Please God, to-morrow!
Then we will work and play.’

And here is MacNiece’s which was written in Galway when he was told about the outbreak of war when Poland was invaded. He was on Nimmo’s Pier at the time where the plaque is.
.Mac Niece Galay Poem
Galway by Louis MacNiece.
O the crossbones of Galway
The hollow grey houses,
The rubbish and sewage,
The grass-grown pier,
And the dredger grumbling
All night in the harbour:
The war came down on us here.Salmon in the Corrib
Gently swaying
And the water combed out
Over the weir
And a hundred swans
Dreaming on the harbour:
The war came down on us here.

The night was gay
with the moon’s music
But Mars was angry
On the hills of Clare
And September dawned
Upon Willows and ruins
The war came down upon us here

Mary Devenport O’Neill was born in Loughrea in 1879. She attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art for teacher training and boarded at The Dominican Convent, Eccles Street, Dublin and her address is recorded as Sea Road Galway. She moved to Dublin with her mother and sister. She married Joseph O’Neill in 1908. He was also from Galway and was an author and Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education.
They lived at 2 Kenilworth Square, Rathgar Dublin
The  O’Neills’ salon was attended over a period of years by all of the major literary figures of the time including Æ, Jack B. and W.B. Yeats, Sibyl le Brocquy, Lennox Robinson and Austin Clarke.

Mary Devenport O’Neill has been forgotten and neglected in a way that many women writers and achievers have been. The backdrop to this was the prevailing puritan streak in Church and State, the same smothering conservatism that had driven the nation’s greatest cultural figures to take refuge abroad (Joyce, Wilde, Beckett, Yeats) or, for the men, to escape to the relative freedom of the bars of Dublin frequented by the likes of Behan, Kavanagh and O’Brien.

The vision of the new Irish State as promulgated by the narrow-minded, sexist President DeValera which was broadcast over the radio to the nation on St Patrick’s Day 1943 sticks in the craw of so many Irish women.

A land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths and the laughter of comely maidens, whose firesides for the wisdom of serene old age.

She worked with W.B. Yeats on  A Vision . This short poem is from her one book, the 1929 Prometheus and Other Poems. Her work is all out of print and does not appear in many of the numerous anthologies of Irish verse.


It seems to me
I live perpetually
On the cloudy edge of the sound of a bell
For ever listening.
I cannot tell
If it is memory
Of something that rang beautifully
Or if a bell will ring.

She published three verse plays,Bluebeard (1933), Cain(1945) and Out of The Darkness (1947). Her final play War, The Monster was performed by the Abbey Experimental theatre Company in 1949 but was not published. When she was fifty, she published a collection of poetry Prometheus and other poems (London: Jonathan Cape 1929)- thirty-three lyric poems, four “dream poems”, one long poem, and a verse-play. This was the first collection of poetry published by an Irish poet, besides Yeats, which could be considered modernist

.Mary devenport o neill and husband Joseph

She published regularly in The Dublin Magazine and contributed reviews to The Bell and The Irish Times. Two of her plays were performed by Austin Clarke’s  Lyric Theatre Company. She engaged in lengthy correspondence with Clarke from 1929-48 concerning the production of her work and combining choreography with verse for these productions. Bluebeard, a ballet based on her play, was choreographed by Dame Ninette De Valois  as one of the final productions of the Abbey School of Ballet.

There is an interesting article about her poem entitled  A Crooked Slice of Bread

A Crooked Slice of Bread

A convent parlour with a floor

Of shining boards and a glass garden door,

A wide ring of slippery chairs,

Saints on the wall – a young saint with a skull,

An old saint thin with prayers –

Sea-shells upon mats of coloured wool;

An oval table set with bread

And wine the colour of foxglove

And little vases,

Such as children dress their altars with in May;

In these I poured the wine,

But why did he who got the first vase shove

His vase away?

I stopped pouring the wine;

And then as if a rain-cloud spoke he said,

‘You’ve given me a crooked slice of bread.’

I turned and found a loaf so stale and dried

‘Twas hard as sandstone, and a knife

As thin and waving as a blade of grass;

And then while centuries seemed to pass

All things had faded but the task I tried.

Do I in some less palpable life

That slides along one side of this

(Using the force and strength I miss

In this life here) work hard instead

To cut that straight smooth even slice of bread?