Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

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?


Jimmy Gralton

Posted in Jimmy Gralton, only Irishman deported from Ireland, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 30, 2016

James Gralton, 1886-1945  known as Jimmy , was an inspiring Irishman who was deported from Ireland in 1933. he was the one an only Irish person to be deported and he was deported for political reasons as ‘an undesirable alien’. This could be done on the grounds that he had become a naturalised American citizen when he had lived and and worked in New York. It is ironic that it was De Valera’s government who deported him without trial.  DeValera, was Taoseach then, was not shot by the British along with his fellow comrades in 1916 because he HAD American citizenship. He betrayed the ideals of the proclamation. In 1931 the Cumann na nGaedheal government had sought to enlist the support of the Catholic Church in promoting a red scare throughout the country.  The 1932 election campaign saw the government attempt to portray Fianna Fáil as a Trojan horse for communism and  De Valera as an Irish Kerensky who would be swept aside by more radical elements within the republican movement who sought to create an Irish soviet government .

Thanks to the wonderful Ken Loach there is a film about this great socialist Jimmy’s Hall who should be remembered alongside Larkin and Connolly when it comes to the struggle between nationalism, the Catholic church and socialism in Ireland. The film is about his life and the hall that he built for the people for dances, educational classes and political meetings and the agrarian actions against landlords and evictions.

James Gralton was born in 1886 in Effernagh in Co.Leitrim and grew up on a poor farm of just 25 acres. His parents were Micheal Gralton and Alice Campbell. There were four girls and three boys in the family: Winnie, Mary Ann, Alice and Maggie Kate were the girls, and the boys were Jimmy, Charles and a little boy who died young. He was encouraged to read by his mother, who operated a mobile library, but left school at 14. He found local conditions of employment too poor and intolerable to him so he went to Dublin and joined the British army. There he refused to shine the leggings and buttons of officers and received 84 days bread and water. He then refused to serve in India in protest of British polices in Ireland and for this was imprisoned for a year and then deserted. He next experienced the hard life on the Liverpool docks and Welsh coalfields but in 1909 moved to New York where he settled. He had by now seen and been affected by the modern world and had become a socialist. In New York he established the James Connolly Club and became active in the trade union movement there.                                                          James Gralton when younger

In 1922 he made his first visit home and built the Pearse-Connolly Hall in his native Effernagh to replace the previous parish hall which had been burnt down by the British army in reprisal for a shooting of an officer. The hall quickly became an integral part of the community and was used for classes including Irish, English, music, civics and agricultural science. It was also used as a venue to settle land disputes and teach tenants rights. Dances were also held there. He was seen as a major threat to the status quo of the region and the Free State army made a failed attempt to arrest him there in August 1922. Knowing he was ahead of his time and experiencing such opposition he left again for New York.

Please sign petition to have his deportation order rescinded and an apology from the government     

He returned in 1932 to look after his parents after his brother Charlie had died and hoped that the time might at last be ripe for some progressive politics. He founded and led the Revolutionary Workers Party and reopened the hall and began again holding meetings and dances there. He also spoke at many evictions of tenants and joined the local IRA. The establishment of the time felt very threatened by his ideas and ways and the local parish priest called the hall a “den of iniquity” from the pulpit and said that it should be closed. This all resulted in a shot being fired into the hall and an attempt being made to blow it up. It was eventually burnt to the ground on Christmas Eve 1932. Gralton had been home less than a year.

James-Gralton. being deported

Under mounting pressure from the Catholic Church the De Valera led Fianna Fail government ordered Gralton to be deported as an “undesireable alien”. He went on the run for six months and found many willing to protect him but was ultimately found and deported in August 1933, making him the only Irish person to have ever been deported from their own country and the source of a deep national shame.

Back in New York he became a trade union organiser and member of the Irish Workers’ Club. He reprinted James Connolly’s pamphlets, raised funds for the International Brigades in Spain, and for the remainder of his life was an active member of the Communist Party of the USA. He died there in 1945 aged 56.

Shortly before his death from stomach cancer, in New York on 29 December 1945, he married Bessie Cronogue (d. 1975), a woman from Drumsna,  County Leitrim, only a few miles from where he had been brought up.

Jimmy gralton plaque sign

A plaque to him has also been erected in Carrick-on-Shannon in more recent years. The site of the hall, opposite the Swan Lake bar in Effernagh, which is marked by a plaque, has become something of a point of pilgrimage for many in the socialist movement and otherwise who would today share his progressive ideas.




Filmed in the village of Drumsna which is only a few kilometers from Gralton’s birthplace in Effrinagh.                                           Jimmys hall


Here is a link to a blog by Donal O Drisceoil who was historical advisor on “Jimmy’s Hall.”

Dr. Donal Ó Drisceoil   He is a Senior Lecturer in History at University College Cork and has published widely on Irish political, labour and radical history. This article is reproduced with permission of Sixteen Films, where is was first published in the production notes for “Jimmy’s Hall,” the studio’s latest film.

Jimmy Gralton returned to Leitrim from New York in June 1921, just as the Anglo-Irish war was coming to a close. That conflict between the Irish independence movement and the British state had largely sidelined unresolved issues of land ownership, workers’ rights and class power in general within Irish society. These now briefly emerged more clearly. Gralton’s radical class politics, particularly the challenge to local landowners posed by the land courts based in his Pearse-Connolly Hall, made him powerful enemies. As civil war loomed over the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in the early summer of 1922, he was driven out by the pro-Treaty Free Staters, who would soon take power in a partitioned Ireland.

While Gralton enjoyed the relative political freedom and socio-cultural vibrancy of New York in the ‘roaring twenties’, the Free State government of Cumann na Gaedheal, in alliance with the Catholic Church, ruled over an economically stagnant Irish Free State that was socially restrictive and culturally repressive. Inequality worsened, policies favoured bankers, business owners and cattle-exporting big farmers, and the urban working class and rural poor fared badly. The Labour Party was a weak and ineffectual opposition. In 1926 anti-Treaty republican leader Eamon de Valera and his followers split from Sinn Féin, who refused to sit in the Free State parliament, and formed the Fianna Fáil party, which entered parliament in 1927. It took advantage of the weakness of the Labour Party and the left to win the support of workers and small farmers in the depression after 1929. At the same time, it reassured elites, including the bishops, of its adherence to Catholic and capitalist principles. Fianna Fáil’s promise to release political prisoners, undo the Treaty and actively seek an end to partition ensured the initial support of the IRA and, despite red-scare mongering, it won power in 1932.


The victory of Fianna Fáil coincided with Gralton’s return to Ireland to help his elderly parents run the farm following the death of his brother. This was a honeymoon period for progressives in Ireland following a decade of repression and conservatism. The socialist republican and novelist Peadar O’Donnell summarised it thus: ‘the bright world of 1932, when Cosgrave’s Government was smashed, and bitter years of defeat and defamation were avenged… “executions” and “excommunications” denounced and disowned.’ These were ‘days of brave music’, wrote O’Donnell, when Fianna Fáil’s victory promised ‘Land, Work, Wages, the Republic.’ Gralton threw himself back into agitation – aimed mainly at maintaining pressure on Fianna Fáil to deliver on its progressive promises, such as land for the landless. He rebuilt the hall, bringing music and dance to the youth and hope to the struggling poor.


But dark clouds hovered above this new political landscape. The Catholicisation of the state was crowned in June 1932 when over a million Catholics attended the Eucharistic Congress. Censorship and ecclesiastical condemnation of ‘evils’ such as dancing, jazz and ‘immodest fashions in female dress’ intensified, and new laws would soon restrict social freedom even further, especially for women. The tariff war with Britain initiated by de Valera hit the pockets of large farmers hardest, which helped to radicalise the prosperous pro-Treaty constituency in a fascist direction, symbolised by the adoption of the ‘blue shirt’ uniform by the Army Comrades Association (ACA) in 1933. Anti-communism became violent, with attacks on socialist meetings and buildings and the silencing of the left within the IRA. Gralton’s socialism, combined with the challenge his hall presented to Church control, made him a prime target for a coalition of enemies: the Church, local big farmers and businessmen (organised in Catholic societies such as the Knights of St Columbanus, as well as in the fascistic ACA), the police Special Branch and conservative elements of the local IRA.

In December 1932 the rebuilt Pearse-Connolly Hall was burnt to the ground by rightwing IRA men and in February 1933 (following the example set by the Northern Irish government in deporting British communist Thomas Mann in October 1932) Gralton was served with a deportation order, based on his naturalised US citizenship. It was signed by de Valera’s first minister for justice, James Geoghegan, a right-wing Catholic with strong connections to the reactionary power nexus in Gralton’s area. Jimmy went on the run but, despite local support and a national ‘Gralton Defence’ campaign, he was eventually tracked down and deported to the USA in August 1933, never to return. The national Committee which formed had such notables as Barney Casey of the Workers Union of Ireland, Seamus McGowan of the Transport Union, Patrick Flanagan of the National Union of Railwaymen, Donal O’Reilly of the plasters Union, Peader O’Donnell, Sean Murray, George Gilmore, Mrs Despard, Frank O’Connor and others.  Despite the campaign of the Defence Committee the De Valera government refused to rescind the deportation order. The ‘brave music’ faded, along with the glowing embers in the ashes of Jimmy Gralton’s hall.

Here is a link to clip of Jimmy’s Hall

Jimmys hall photo

Jimmys hall priest

There is a really good documentary on him.



Such severe punishment for his ‘crimes’ seems improbable 81 years on. A dissident voice, Gralton was victimised by the political and religious establishment after daring to establish a dance hall in rural Ireland. A self-educated, community-serving man, Gralton’s hall was built to serve as a venue for the local people of Leitrim.

Community dances, singing lessons, poetry appreciation sessions, boxing classes, and debates about workers’ rights were held there. It sounds innocuous. But for the Catholic Church and the Irish ruling class, the hall and the man who built it represented something dangerous and subversive — the fact that the people were beginning to think and act for themselves.

There is a booklet about Jimmy with a preface by Declan Bree Your Socialist representative in Sligo. In 1996, Bree, then a Labour TD for Sligo/Leitrim, requested to see the Irish government files relating to Gralton, but after an ‘extensive’ search he was told by then justice minister Nora Owen that they were missing. It all adds to the feeling that the State would rather forget the whole affair.
They hunted you Jim Gralton from your fathers ancient home.
And shipped you like their cattle across the ocean foam
Those rich men are so holy they decreed that you must fly.
So in their Christian charity you are left alone to die.
The Connolly Association Australia website


Jimmy Gralton memorial

Jim set up the Irish Worker’s Group in New York. He became a trade union organiser, encouraging the involvement of women within the unions, and set about promoting, republishing and distributing the works of James Connolly. During the Spanish Civil War, he raised funds for the International Brigades who were going to Spain to fight against fascism and in defence of the Republic.

A committed and unrepentant communist up to his last breath, Jim Gralton died in exile in New York on December 29 1945 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx area of the City.

Byrne, speaking at Gralton’s graveside in the Bronx in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his death, Charlie said:“Let all of us who believe in the principles for which Gralton stood, pledge ourselves anew to the continuation of the fight for the complete political, cultural and economic rights of the working classes in all lands, no crying, no weeping over his grave at Woodlawn. There is work to be done, so let us carry on; Gralton would have it that way.’

This is one Irishman who deserves to be remembered, commemorated and his deportation to be rescinded. He was the only one who was shamefully deported by the powers of the Catholic church and the gombeen Irish state set up by De Valera. ( His daughter Maureen was my botany lecturer at University College Galway and was a somewhat dour woman!) But many, many more were forced into exile and had to emigrate because of those same conditions that pertained in Ireland after partial independence.

So, please sign the petition and remind people of the Jimmy Gralton story whenever you can.

He deserves to be remembered as do all those who were forced to emigrate from Ireland because of those awful, repressive and conservative elements in Irish society after partial independence of Catholic Church, corrupt politicians and the greed of the wealthy elite.


Jimmy Gralton memorial and flags

Chad Varah founder of Samaritans and vicar of St Paul’s church St John’s Hill SW11

Chad Varah

Chad Varah was a clergyman who founded the Samaritans, was vicar of St Paul’s Church on  St John’s Hill Battersea SW11 from 1949-53 and scrptwriter/visualiser for comics through his friend and fellow vicar Marcus Morris who described Varah as “the wild card of the Church of England”

He was never a conventional clergyman. His chief concern from the start was to help individuals rather than spreading the gospel. In his autobiography Before I Die Again he said”Church people were all too often narrow-minded, censorious , judgemental intolerant, conventional”

I think he is another strong candidate to receive a Battersea Society blue plaque. I’ve  got a little list!

Edward Chad Varah, the eldest of nine children, was born on November 12 1911 at Barton-on-Humber, where his father, Canon William Edward Varah, was the vicar (he named his son after the founder of the parish, St Chad).

chad plaque2

From Worksop College he went on an exhibition to Keble College, Oxford, to read Natural Sciences, but he changed horses midstream and achieved only modest success in PPE, getting a third class degree..

He was, however, secretary of the university’s Russian and Slavonic clubs, thus beginning a lifelong interest in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and was also founder-president of the Scandinavian Club (not least because of the access it gave me to long-legged, blue-eyed blondes).

He married Susan Whanslaw in Wandsworth in 1940 and they had five chidren including triplets. She later became a key figure in the Church of England as world president of the Mothers’ Union during the 1970s, steering through important changes in the organisation’s statutes.

Chad Walbrook

The Samaritans website › About us › Our organisation › The history of Samaritans  explains how he came to establish The Samaritans and  dedicated his long life to providing emotional support, caring for people, and teaching others how to do so..

“I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t at a loose end. I was busy and needed as Vicar of St Paul’s Clapham Junction, Chaplain of St John’s Hospital Battersea, Staff Scriptwriter/Visualiser for Eagle and Girl strip cartoon magazines and Scientific and Astronautical Consultant to Dan Dare!

eagle comic

When I wasn’t running an ‘open’ youth club, or bawling prayers at geriatric patients, or teaching in my Church School, or cycling around giving Holy Communion to the sick, I was pounding my typewriter up to 2 or 3am earning my living, as my stipend was only enough to pay my secretary. There was no time to discover whether I was happy or not, and I’ve managed to keep it that way.

A lightbulb moment

It had been 18 years since I made my debut in the ministry by burying a 14 year old girl who’d killed herself when her periods started because she thought she had a sexually transmitted disease – which had a profound affect on me.

I read somewhere there were three suicides a day in Greater London. What were they supposed to do if they didn’t want a Doctor or Social Worker from our splendid Welfare State? What sort of a someone might they want? Well, some had chosen me, because of my liberal views. If it was so easy to save lives, why didn’t I do it all the time? But how would I raise the funds to offer this kind of support and how would they get in touch at the moment of crisis.”

When he was offered charge of the parish of St Stephen Walbrook, in the summer of 1953 he knew that the time was right for him to launch what he called a “999 for the suicidal”. At the time, suicide was still illegal in the UK and so many people who were in difficult situations and who felt suicidal were unable to talk to anyone about it without worrying about the consequences. A confidential emergency service for people “in distress who need spiritual aid” was what Chad felt was needed to address the problems he saw around him. He was, in his own words, “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone”. 15 years after the emergency 999 number was set up, the number MAN 9000 was chosen for the helpline that was  number of the church!

In February 1954, Chad officially handed over the task of supporting the callers to the volunteers and Samaritans, based on the principles that it is today was born.


Chad Varah and volunteer Samaritans

From then Chad became known as the ‘Director’ and he continued to be in charge of many aspects of the service such as selecting and training volunteers until 1974. His involvement with Samaritans has continued through the years, primarily working on developing a network of international support services to mirror Samaritans’ work in the UK but also in shaping the organisation.

Varah revelled in the extensive travel which his work involved. He soon became familiar with airports of the world, seized an opportunity to fly from Bahrain to London on Concorde, and wherever he went gave classes on dealing with sexual problems.Language problems did not hinder him — he was fluent in French and knew some Russian.

Befrienders International now operates in more than 40 countries, including some where there is no easy access to phones or emails, and where people will walk for hours to receive emotional support. As an inveterate traveller, Varah visited continuing these journeys into his nineties.

It was only as The Samaritans’ 50th anniversary in 2003 approached that he felt it necessary to express his disapproval of, and disappointment with, some of the ways both The Samaritans and Befrienders International were being directed.

However, in the summer of 2005 a rapprochement was reached when he enjoyed a particularly happy meeting with the new chief executive and the then chairman of The Samaritans, listening enthusiastically to news about all those people who continue his original enlightened and essential work. Varah was delighted when, in 2006, his eldest son, the late Michael Varah, was appointed to sit on the organisation’s newly created board of trustees.

Varah was a man of immense intellect and linguistic skills, of eclectic interests, originality and practicality. He engaged in consultancy work for the sex education magazine Forum for 20 years till 1987 – in that year, in recognition of this efforts, the aids charity The Terrence Higgins Trust made him its patron, a role he held till 1999.

Only in 2003, at the age of 92 and 50 years after he had founded the Samaritans in its crypt, did he finally retire as rector of his beloved church, St Stephen Walbrook, and prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral. He was, at the time, the oldest incumbent in the Church of England.

The desire to speak his mind and take on contentious issues never left him: some would say that it was what had kept him going. He would not easily drop an issue in which he believed.

Among many awards, Varah was made a Companion of Honour in the Millennium Year honours list. His wife died in 1993, and he is survived by four of his children. He died November 8 2007.

In 2012 three trains were named after him .Felicity, his daughter,  said of the honour:
“My father never drove a car, he believed in public transport, especially trains.  In his lifetime he would have travelled thousands of miles visiting Samaritans branches up and down the country. He would say it is the best form of transport and would have been delighted that both he, and Samaritans, is being recognised in this way.”

I think Battersea should commemorate Chad Varah , one time vicar of St Paul’s church and founder of such an important organisation worldwide and which has been so influential in the understanding of suicide and mental health.

St Paul’s Church, St John’s Hill, Battersea, SW11 1SH now developed as a nursery on the ground floor and four residential  units and a house at the back.St Pauls Battersea