Though mentioned before in passing on the blog, Margaret Gaj and her restaurant on Lower Baggot Street are certainly deserving of greater focus here. Indeed, her restaurant was such an important part of the story of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement that Anne Stopper christened her 2006 study of the IWLM Monday at Gaj’s. At the time of Gaj’s passing in 2011, she was remembered by Mary Maher as being “absolutely fearless in taking on the establishment.”


1965 advertisement for Gaj’s, Trinity News.

Margaret Gaj (née Dunlop) was born in Edinburgh in 1919 to Irish parents. In a 1976 interview with The Irish Times, she remembered how “I felt myself to be Irish. You could not be a Catholic in Scotland without feeling it.” A pacifist to the core, she joined the Red Cross and served as a nurse during the Second World War, and in that capacity she met Polish soldier Boleslaw Gaj, who she would marry. She and her husband arrived in Ireland in the late 1940s, using inherited money to obtain a farm and a restaurant at Baltinglass, though it proved a financial failure. She would joke that she came here “with more money than sense. Now I have more sense than money.”

In the city, she first opened a restaurant in Molesworth Street, but later moved to 132 Lower Baggot Street in the mid 1960s. Politically active from a young age, she had been a member of the Independent Labour Party in Scotland, and joined the Irish Labour Party, attracted by Dr. Noël Browne’s politics despite some political differences. She would drift from the party, but remained politically active across a wide variety of campaigns. She was particularly active with the Prisoners Rights Organisation, which sought to reform Ireland’s prison system, but was also active within the Dublin Housing Action Committee, and a passionate anti-war campaigner; in July 1971, she was brought to court charged in relation to a protest at the U.S Embassy, along with her 19 year old son Wladek.


Margaret Gaj. Notice the political poster, urging people to “oppose internment, North and South” (Image Credit: Memorial page)

One of the earliest references to her restaurant in the mainstream press comes from the Sunday Independent, who reviewed it in 1968, describing it as a hub of conversation. Indeed, references to the restaurant in the press tended to focus on the discussion rather than the cuisine:

In the room over the restaurant you will find people sitting and talking who are rather more concerned with ideas than with good. Supporters of Reform or the Labour Party may well by there or, if it is a Sunday, there may be a wine and cheese party in aid of pacifists or Grille, or a bring-and-buy sale to help the old age pensioners.

The food was affordable, and indeed plentiful. Nell McCafferty has written of food that was “homely, swiftly swerved, accompanied by pots of proper tea. Bacon and pineapple on toast, hamburgers and chips, apple pie and cream to follow.” The writer John Banville remembers the restaurant as “a haven of sanity, freedom and good cheer, and at half-a-crown, the bangers and chips were not only  a bargain but also, as a friend of mine used to say, a great tightener.”

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Chancery Park housing scheme, the work of Housing Architect Herbert Simms.

23 years after the birth of the Free State, a writer in the journal Studies complained that slumdom remained, and that the city was still home to “conditions which are often quite unsuitable for cattle,much less human beings.”

To Professor T.W.T Dillon, things were still dire and not getting better:

…the pattern of dirt, decay and discomfort is everywhere the same. The filthy yard with the unspeakable closet often choked, always foul-smelling,serving the needs of all the families in the house; the single tap,often situated in the basement or even in the foul-smelling yard; the cracked and crumbling walls and ceiling covered with scabrous peeling paper or blistered paint; the leaking roofs and rat-infested floors. There are differences in detail, but in general a drab and disgusting uniformity is unrelieved by any sign of human dignity.

Yet while there was much work still to do in 1945, the previous decade had witnessed some  significant changes and improvements, which we can still see in the urban landscape today.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Oliver Bond House scheme at Usher Street and Cook Street. Just like the beautiful Chancery Park complex across the Liffey, it serves as a reminder of the remarkable architect Herbert Simms, who was to be “responsible for the design and erection of some 17,000 new homes” in his time as Housing Architect from 1932 to 1948. In recent years there has been a great resurgence of interest in Simms and his work, and public housing in Dublin more broadly speaking.


Detail of North Cumberland Street scheme, the work of Housing Architect Herbert Simms.

“Bread for the People” – The coming to power of Fianna Fáil and the issue of slumdom.

The 1932 General Election is primarily remembered for the cynical ‘red scare’ tactics of the out-going Cumann na nGaedheal government. Front page newspaper advertisements from the party warned that “The gunmen are voting for Fianna Fáil. The Communists are voting for Fianna Fáil.” One government publication warned that if de Valera’s party took control, “the extremist minority, as in Spain, as in Mexico, as in Russia, will get the upper hand.”

Fianna Fáil attempted to make the slums an election issue, promising increased public spending on housing. This was one contributing factor in Labour supporting the first Fianna Fáil government, with party leader Willie Norton declaring that “so far as the slum-dwellers are concerned, they need have no regret at the change of government, and the old-age pensioners have reason to be glad that the rich man’s government of the past ten years was not in office at the present time to further reduce them.”

Cumann na nGaedheal had, in truth, delivered some advances in public housing in Dublin. The Free State’s first attempt at public housing was in Marino, well-detailed here by Rhona McCord. The new state looked internationally for influence on occasion; as architectural historian Ellen Rowley has noted, “a collective of Dublin officials took a study tour to Amsterdam and Rotterdam in 1925 so as to examine the Dutch Expressionist housing by Michel de Klerk and Piet Kramer.”

On political platforms and stages, the slums became an issue. One Fianna Fáil candidate, Eamonn Cooney, declared at a 1932 election rally that “in the slum dwellings there would arise a new hope” if the party were elected to power. In Smithfield, a Cumann na nGaedheal candidate was heckled by Fianna Fáil supporters about the condition in local slums, attempting to deflect criticism by asking if people were prepared to see “the red flag flying” in Dublin.

Fianna Fáil’s policies undoubtedly owed more to populism than socialism, but as Brian Hanley has noted, the party did evoke the promise of the revolutionary period:

It talked about putting into practice the “ideas embodied in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil” while de Valera claimed James Connolly as his major inspiration and promised to make “the resources and wealth of Ireland … subservient to the needs and welfare of the people”.

Furthermore, there would be more than simply political independence; Ireland would be “self-supporting economically”. Much mocked now, Fianna Fáil’s commitment to protectionism and native industrial development was fresh and radical in a state whose government seemed content to maintain itself as a giant beef ranch for the British market.

When Seán MacEntee read the first Fianna Fáil budget before the Dáil, he emphasised that this was a new approach to ruling. Now, there would be “bread for the people”. The poor were promised dignity, and that meant pulling down the slums.


Greek Street scheme, completed in 1936.

Throughout the decade, the slums of Dublin were spoken of  as hotbeds of vice and crime. To The Irish Times, the slums were “Dublin’s deepest shame and gravest peril”, and it was “almost a miracle that hitherto Communism has not flourished aggressively in that hideous soil.” In 1936, an Archdeacon Kelleher was reported as saying:

Slums could be called the breeding grounds of potential Communists. The fact that they are not producing the natural destructive effects of typical Communism is to be attributed, in my mind, to the fundamental Christian virtues of faith, charity and humility.

Horace O’Neill, the City Architect, went as far as to tell a 1935 meeting of the Old Dublin Society that “slums are barbarous. If I were born and lived in a slum and unemployed, I would be a revolutionist.”

Herbert George Simms:

The Londoner Herbert Simms entered the service of Dublin Corporation at the age of only 27, a veteran of the First World War who had served with the Royal Field Artillery. A scholarship received in the aftermath of the war allowed him to study architecture at Liverpool University,  and he was appointed temporary architect to Dublin Corporation in February 1925. Seven years later, and after a brief spell working as a planner in India, he was appointed to the position of Housing Architect for the Corporation. There was much work to do; Simms told one 1936 tribunal that “they were now trying to do in one generation what should have been done by the last four or five generations.”

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Thomas Farrelly (20), of 30 Mary’s Lane, was shot and killed by the British Army in Dublin’s North Inner City in August 1920. A neighbour Thomas Clarke (19), of 16 Green Street, was seriously wounded in the attack.

It occurred during a turbulent month within a turbulent year. On 7th August, an IRA Flying Column’s ambushed a six-man RIC foot patrol near Kildorrery, County Cork. Two days later, the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act received royal assent giving Dublin Castle the authority to replace the criminal courts with courts-martial and to replace coroners’ inquests with military courts of inquiry. On 12th August, Terence McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork was arrested and began his hunger strike.

Planned visit of Archbishop Mannix:

During the summer of 1920, the outspoken Cork-born Dr. Daniel Mannix (1864-1963), Archbishop of Melbourne was undergoing a tour of the United States. He shared a platform with Eamon de Valera at Madison Square Gardens in New York telling the audience of 15,000 people that Ireland should be given the “same status in postwar planning as the other small nations of Europe”.

He openly supported the actions and aims of those behind the Easter Rising proclaiming :

I am going to Ireland soon and I am going to kneel on the graves of those men who in Easter Week gave their lives for Ireland.

On 31st July 1920, he boarded the transatlantic liner Baltic at New York for his long journey to Queenstown (Cobh) in his home county of Cork. The ship had made it so close to the Irish coast by 8th August that Mannix could see the lights of Cobh and the flames of huge bonfires of welcome on the hilltops.

But the British government had other ideas and the ship was intercepted by the Royal Navy. Mannix was denied entry to Ireland, arrested and brought to Penzance, Cornwall. Padraig Yeates, in his brilliant book ‘A City in Turmoil‘, wrote that Mannix was prohibited from addressing any public meetings in any part of England with large Irish immigrant populations.

Mannix remarked with characteristic irony: “Not since the Battle of Jutland had the British Navy scored a victory comparable with the capture f the Archbishop of Melbourne without the loss of a single British sailor.”

A summer’s night in Dublin

Bonfires to welcome Archibishop Mannix to Ireland had also been lit across Dublin city including one on Greek Street in the Markets area of the North Inner City.

A large Irish tricolour with the wording ‘Welcome Dr. Mannix’ was draped across the street by supportive locals.

The Evening Herald, 11th August 1920.

Crowds and tricolour to celebrate the visit of Mannix. The Evening Herald, 11th August 1920.

On that summer’s night late on 10th August, a small group of about ten young men were sitting around the dying embers of the bonfire at the corner of Greek Street, Mary’s Lane and Beresford Street. Newspaper articles reported that they were singing Irish nationalist songs. During the singing of ‘The West’s Awake’, a truck full of British Army soldiers from the Lancashire Fusiliers pulled up.

Location of the bonfire and shooting from 1913 Dublin Map.

Location of the bonfire and shooting from 1913 Dublin Map.

At the time, Dublin was under a strict military curfew and people without the necessary permits could not be outdoors from midnight until five in the morning.

At the following inquest, local witnesses like Joseph Eccles of Church Street said : “No challenge was given and nothing was said by the military” before they opened fire.

Thomas Farrelly ran in the direction of his home and was about twenty yards from the front door when he was hit by a volley of bullets. He was carried into his mother’s house and laid on the kitchen floor. According to the Sunday Independent (15th Aug 1920), Farrelly exclaimed “oh mother! oh mother!” and soon died in her arms.

Evening Herald, 11th August 1920.

Thomas Farrell (sic). Evening Herald, 11th August 1920.

Another young local man Thomas Clarke was shot and wounded in the knee. He limped into the same house where he collapsed on the floor but luckily recovered from his injuries.

Farrelly was rushed to Jervis Street Hospital in an ambulance but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Evening Herald, 11th August 1920.

Joseph Clarke. Evening Herald, 11th August 1920.


Dr. Mannix sent a telegraph to the Lord Mayor of Dublin:

Just now I can only use this means of thanking you and all my friends in Ireland for their welcome to Irish waters. Kindly convey my heartfelt sympathy to the relatives of the murdered man Farrell. God rest his soul and comfort those who mourn him” (Irish Times, 13 August 1920)

Thousands attended his public funeral which took place on Friday 13th August 1920. The Evening Herald (13th August) reported that “all shops for a large area around were closed and blinds in private houses reverently drawn”.

The Irish tricolour flag with the message “Welcome Dr. Mannix” was draped over his coffin. Thomas Farrelly apparently had helped to make this flag which was hung near where the shooting took place.

Irish Examiner, 17th August 1920.

Funeral of Thomas Farrelly. Irish Examiner, 17th August 1920.

The hearse was drawn by four black horses from Halston Street Church to Glasnevin Cemetery. Thousands lined the route from North King Street, Church Street, Mary’s Lane, Little Mary Street, Capel Street, Parliament Street, Dame Street, College Green, Westmoreland Street and Parnell Square.

The Herald stated that the scene from Dame Street to the Cemetery was “particularly impressive as the long line of Volunteers, members of the Citizen Army and numerous Trade Unions marched four deep behind the hearse “. A slow, death march was played by the bands of the United Labourers’ Union and the Irish National Foresters.

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To date, we’ve been lucky enough to host four nights in conjunction with our friend Johnny Moy at The Sugar Club.  The Dublin Songs and Stories nights have all been for charity, with the Dublin Rape Crisis, Inner City Helping Homeless and other great causes benefiting. There have been some real moments of magic at the nights to date; poet Stephen James Smith played a blinder in December 2015, while veteran political activist Ailbhe Smith and artist Jim Fitzpatrick are two others that come to mind instantly as special moments. We’ve had rappers, traditional musicians, street artists and historians, and always a very engaged and lively audience!  The common thread between all the various performers has been the city of Dublin, and its importance in their lives and work.

The last night happened in March of this year, and included Will St Leger, Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss) and others. It’s taken us a while to get the wheels in motion again, but I will lay the blame for that on the centenary. There was plenty for historians to be doing this year! Still, we’re going back into it now and seeing the year out with the fifth night.

This night is to benefit a great cause, and a friend of the website who needs life-saving surgery in the United States (click for Gofundme page). Mags lives with multiple conditions which drastically affect her quality of life, and is in a very brave battle with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). The manner in which friends have mobilised around her and her family in recent times in inspiring to see, and this is a small contribution towards a great cause.

Once again, the mix is as eclectic as you’d expect from this blog. Tickets are available in advance from here, at €10 plus booking fee.We recommend getting them in advance. All help in promoting the night is much appreciated.


Brian Kerr  (Image Credit: Amnesty International)

If things had gone differently, Brian Kerr from Drimnagh could have followed his father into boxing. Thankfully for the entire Irish football community, he took a different path. There are few people who have contributed as much to The Beautiful Game in this city and country, from his close involvement with Saint Patrick’s Athletic to his work with the national squad at youth and senior level. He has done wonderful work with Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI) and other progressive campaigns, and is a much-loved broadcaster, not afraid to call out the ruling powers that be in Irish football.


Danny Diamond by Barry Britton (Image Source)

The traditional music dimension of these nights has always proven popular. At the first night, Barry Gleason took the roof off the place when he burst into song, and Landless, Rue and John Flynn of Skippers Alley have all represented traditional and folk music and singing at the nights since. This time, Danny Diamond brings his fiddle along. Majestic stuff always, his 2004 album Fiddle Music is well played around these parts, with echos of the great Tommy Potts. Danny is part of the great Slow Moving Clouds among other musical pursuits, and this promises to be a great set.


Fuchsia MacAree print for the Irish Architectural Foundation, posted to the excellent Dublin Ghost Signs.

We’re delighted to have got Fuchsia MacAree on board for the night, being long time admirers of her work as an illustrator. Her work is often very playful and frequently draws on Dublin itself – her characters, buildings and eccentricities. Formerly NCAD’s Designer in Residence, you have seen her work in a wide variety of Irish publications. Anyone that can make a play on Busáras and dinosaurs is sound in our book. See her website MacAree.ie  for examples of her work.

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Colley and Cole memorial, Yellow Road (Image Credit: Eirigi DNE)

On Yellow Road in Whitehall, a small memorial amidst terraced houses honours the victims of an atrocity. This memorial marks the spot where the bodies of Alfred Colley and Seán Cole were found on 26 August 1922. Cole was a 19 year old electrician, while Colley was a 21 year old tinsmith. They were both members of Na Fianna Éireann, the republican boy-scout organisation, and were killed because of their political affiliations. It happened mere days after the death of Michael Collins at Béal na Bláth, yet unlike that event it has been largely forgotten.

 While history has recorded that seventy-seven political opponents were executed by the Free State during the Civil War (the figure now appears higher),the number of unofficial killings was significantly higher still. Bob O’Dwyer’s study Death Before Dishonour, a labour of love drawing on primary source materials, points towards a figure of more than 120 such killings, with some bodies discovered in ditches and back alleys. There is no denying that the bitterness of this Civil War cast a long shadow over the new state. Dr. Noel Browne remembered the bitterness that still existed in the 1940s, on his entering the Dáil:

I recall my shock at the white-hot hate with which that terrible episode had marked their [older TD’s] lives. The trigger words were ‘seventy-seven’, ‘Ballyseedy’,  ‘Dick and Joe’ and, above all, ‘the Treaty’ and ‘damn good bargain!’. The raised tiers of the Dáil chamber would become filled with shouting, gesticulating, clamoring, suddenly angry men.

The stories that (almost) got away:

 In recent years, family researchers and historians alike have devoured the Witness Statements of the Bureau of Military History. These first-hand accounts of the Irish revolution have proven to be invaluable (though flawed) sources, providing first hand testimonies of key events like the 1913 Lockout, the Easter Rising and the subsequent War of Independence. We have drawn on them quite extensively, for example in this piece on looting during the 1916 Rising. The Bureau was established with the explicit brief to “assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25th November 1913, to the 11th July 1921.”

Some republicans refused to engage with the BMH in any form, believing it to be a project tainted by association with the Free State. Crucially, the BMH stopped short of seeking reminisces of the Civil War, no doubt fearful of opening old wounds. In spite of this however, there are still some references to the Civil War from participants who insisted on discussing those events, which have thankfully been included in the digitisation of the memoirs. One such republican to discuss the Civil War was Alfred White of Na Fianna Éireann. He talked of the deaths of Colley and Cole in the aftermath of events in Cork, describing what happened as murder:

 The unfortunate death of Michael Collins from a stray bullet removed the one man who would have had the strength to control them, and sharpened by their desire for vengeance. Their first victims were two unarmed Fianna boys, Seán Cole and Alf Colley, whom they captured at Newcomen Bridge (the military uniforms were clearly seen by witnesses under the disguise of trench coats), brought away in a car and murdered.

He was not alone in linking the deaths of the young activists to events in Cork. Frank Sherwin, another prominent member of Na Fianna who later served as an Independent TD, detailed in his memoir how he felt histories of the Civil War overlooked these connections:

Several books have been written about the Civil War. They deal largely with events leading up to the attack on the Four Courts and the fighting up to a period when Collins was killed, but they gloss over the remainder of this tragic event. When Collins was killed the ‘Terror’ began.

Sherwin, like White, did not mince his words. To him,”murder gangs” were to blame, while “men were found riddled with bullets all around the outskirts of the city. All over the country, similar murders took place and went on not only for the duration of the war but for months after it ended.”

The Oriel House Gang:

While the republican press presented Colley and Cole as ‘boys’, they were senior figures in Na Fianna. Colley held the rank of Vice-Brigadier of the Dublin Brigade, while Seán Cole was a Commandant. Most sources suggest they had joined the organisation in 1917 and 1918 respectively, in the period between the Rising and the outbreak of the War of Independence. Their senior positioning within the body would have made them political targets, but to whom? The task of monitoring and neutralizing political opponents fell largely on the shoulders of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department), based at Oriel House, a building which stands on the intersection of Westland Row and Fenian Street.


Oriel House today (Image Credit: Wiki Commons)

As Eunan O’Halpin has noted in his study Defending Ireland: The Irish State and its Enemies since 1922, the behaviour of the CID during the Civil War was “highly controversial”:

Allegations soon surfaced not only of widespread ill-treatment of suspects, but of killings – a British army intelligence resume of 9 September [1922] spoke of the “murder of a number of prominent republicans…Certain of these…are laid to the door of Oriel House”

Even among senior Treatyite politicians, there was an awareness that the behaviour of Oriel House was sometimes inexcusable. Ernest Blythe, later a prominent Blueshirt in the 1930s, would use his statement of the Bureau of Military History to acknowledge that while “investigators were somewhat tough with prisoners”, this was justified:
Oriel House was a somewhat doubtful institution, and a good many suggestions were made that its methods were too like the worst we hear of the American police. However, the American police operate under peace conditions, whereas Oriel House at the time was carrying on under war conditions, and if investigators were sometimes somewhat tough with prisoners, I should say that the circumstances were such that tough methods were not only excusable but inevitable.

Padraig Yeates, author of the masterful A City in Civil War: Dublin 1921 – 24, has detailed the manner in which the CID became “probably…the most effective counter-insurgency unit working for the Free State.”  Under the stewardship of Joe McGrath, the body operated on multiple fronts, with a “Protective Officers’ Corps that was dedicated to guarding Ministers, important government supporters, public buildings and some commercial premises.” There was also a “Citizens’ Defence Force…which included about a hundred British ex-servicemen as well as former IRA Volunteers and some women.”  The CID utilised informers and agents in the ranks of the IRA, and unsurprisingly the building was physically attacked on multiple occasions. In the autumn of 1922, four mines were planted in the basement of the CID building, though only one exploded. Simultaneously to this, republicans opened fire on the building, firing “fifty or sixty rounds”, but leaving when the CID returned fire.

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Antonin Artaud (1896-1948)

One of the most puzzling little stories of 1930s Ireland has to be Antonin Artaud’s arrival here in 1937. The French poet, dramatist and theatre director is remembered as one of the major figures of the avant-garde art movement of his time, but to the people of the Aran Islands, and to the confused Gardaí of Miltown in South Dublin, he was a total mystery.

Arriving in the country in August 1937, a troubled Artaud was convinced he carried with him the staff of Saint Patrick, which he felt he had to return to its rightful home. To him, this was a spiritual mission of sorts, and the staff possessed magical qualities. Along with the staff, he carried a letter of introduction from the Irish Legation in Paris, who were unaware of the nature of his pilgrimage. He would end up in Mountjoy Prison for his troubles, before being deported as a “destitute and undesirable alien.”

Who was Antonin Artaud?

While the name Antonin Artaud means little to the Irish public, things are certainly different in France. Born in Marseilles in September 1896, Antonin endured both physical and psychological illness in his youth. At the age of only four he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and as one biographical entry notes:

His health did not improve as he matured and for most of his life he was beset with ill health, pain and nervous depression. He was continually admitted and discharged from hospitals and sanatoria and developed addictions to hallucinatory and pain-reducing drugs like opium. His addiction and abuse of these substances began to have permanent effects and his mental health gradually deteriorated.

He was inducted into the French armed forces in 1916 when war was raging in the country, but quickly dismissed on health grounds. It was in 1920, following the end of the horror show that was the First World War, that a young Artaud arrived in Paris, at a time when the city was redefining culture in its own unique ways.

Ian Buchanan maintains in his Dictionary of Critical Theory that Artaud “never had a proper career. He lurched from one thing to another seemingly at random, but apparently with the constant aim of challenging the perception of reality.” In Paris, he studied under Charles Dullin, theatre manager and bold director, and appeared in a number of French cinematic productions, including La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, a beautifully shot 1928 silent film in which he played the role of Jean Massieu, the Dean of Rouen.


Artaud in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

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Born To Create


ADW At Work. (Image Credit)

This Thursday, our friend ADW is opening his new exhibition, Born To Create, in The Kemp Gallery on South Frederick Street.

If you made it to our ‘Dublin Songs and Stories’ event in September 2015, you would have heard ADW talking about his work. As we said before that event, “He has used the city as a canvas over the years, and his work is thought-provoking and humorous, just how we like it.”

His work has gone from strength to strength since 2008, and this is a chance to see some of his latest offerings. A limited edition screenprint, based on the reworked city coat of arms, will be available on the night and would look good on the wall of any CHTM reader😉


“Happy is the city where citizens obey” – a reworked city coat of arms (Image Credit: ADW)


“I see his blood upon the rose” – A tribute to Joseph Mary Plunkett (Image Credit: ADW)


Car on bricks (Image Credit: ADW)


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