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Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category

Cork Hill is, to my mind, pretty much unrivaled when it comes to architectural views in Dublin. On one side of it, Thomas Cooley’s City Hall (once the Royal Exchange) has stood proudly since 1779, while opposite it sits the former Newcomen Bank building, now the City Rates Office. The work of architect Thomas Ivory, the building is of great architectural importance, as noted by the Dublin City Architects:

It is an exquisitely made neo-classical building of sharply detailed Portland stone, the material reserved for the best public buildings in the Georgian city. Records show that James Hoban, the Irish architect who went on to design the White House, worked for Ivory on the design for Newcomen.

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The City Rates Office, Cork Hill (Image Credit: Dublin City Public Libraries, Fáilte Ireland Collection)

A more recent addition to the side of the City Rates Office, dating from 1886, is perhaps the most lavish street sign in Dublin, reading ‘Lord Edward Street. A.D 1886’.  A plaque below it notes that the street was ‘opened’ by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, T.D Sullivan MP.

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T.D Sullivan, Lord Mayor of the capital from 1886 to 1888, hailed from Cork’s Bantry. He was a journalist, poet, songwriter and politician. A member of the Parnellite Home Rule League, he was elected to the Westminster parliament in the 1880 general election, “convinced that without self-government there could never be peace, prosperity or contentment in Ireland.”

As a songwriter, he is most famous for penning ‘God Save Ireland’,a song honouring three Fenians hanged for their involvement in the 1867 Fenian year of revolt. The Manchester Martyrs had played their part in freeing captured Fenians from police custody on the streets of that northern English city, only to be hanged themselves. The words ‘God save Ireland!’ were defiantly shouted in court by one of the three men, and their deaths became a rallying call for nationalist Ireland. Sullivan’s song first appeared in print in December 1867, on the eve of the funerals of the men. While buried in an English prison,mock funeral processions were hold all over Ireland in their honour. An empty grave in Glasnevin awaited the men,though their bodies were never returned to Irish soil.

“God save Ireland!” said the heroes;
“God save Ireland” said they all.
Whether on the scaffold high
Or the battlefield we die,
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall!

In a pre-1916 world, when it was eventually eclipsed by ‘The Soldier’s Song’, this song was sometimes refereed to as the ‘Irish national anthem’. Certainly, for Irish separatists, it was nothing less. That it was written by a constitutional nationalist was something of an irony, but when it came to commemorations and the like, constitutional parliamentarians could sometimes turn on the separatist charm, and Sullivan was no exception.

The opening of the new street in 1886 connected Dame Street to Christ Church Cathedral, clearing the warrens there before. Its proximity to Dublin Castle, the historic seat of British rule in Ireland, no doubt influenced the nationalist tone of naming the street in honour of revolutionary leader Edward Fitzgerald. The Freeman’s Journal commented on the new street “lying under the shadow of Dublin Castle, the centre of all that is saddest and most dreary in the bitter page’ of our country’s history.”

The street unveiling drew huge crowds, and it was reported that “many of the residents of the neighboring streets had green flags displayed from the windows of their houses”, a display of nationalism that would have been unwise in Fitzgerald’s own day, but which reflected the changing political atmosphere.It wasn’t all about politics, and Sullivan noted that “it is a work not only of the beautifying of our city, but also a work of great public utility.” The area was long synonymous with severe poverty, and the improvements were widely welcomed. The street, the Mayor noted, was not only named in honour of “a great Protestant Irish patriot”, but “the materials used in the paving of the street are, we have been informed, exclusively Irish products.”

The plaques could easily be missed, a portrait of Edward Fitzgerald can be found just around the corner however gracing the front of The Lord Edward public house (which very much has the CHTM seal of approval), while a plaque in his memory adorns the stunning sandstone facade of St. Werburgh’s Church, his final resting place. If he’d embrace the street name is perhaps open to debate, with Fitzgerald proudly casting aside the title of Lord in favour of citizen. His sister would recall after his death, “he was a Paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.”

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May Day 1919 poster. From John Cunningham’s Mayday! Galway and the origins of International Labour Day.

“Dublin, like three-fourths of Ireland, has spent an absolutely idle day” was one account of May Day here a century ago.

While 1919 has entered our collective memory as the beginning of the War of Independence, with the first shots of the conflict fired at Tipperary’s Soloheadbeg in January, on the ground the early months of the year were defined more by industrial unrest. A ‘general strike’ against British militiarism in Limerick, which the press would label a Soviet, coupled with the remarkable engineering strike in Belfast demanding a 44 hour working week, gave the authorities plenty to worry about.

There was no unanimity on the question of Ireland’s future with the tens of thousands of workers who engaged in such acts of industrial unrest across the island. In Limerick, the death of a local Irish Volunteer, Robert Byrne, was the catalyst for the unrest there. In Belfast, by comparison, many of the workers at the centre of the agitation regarded themselves as Unionists. When asked by a Belfast striker if he was loyal to the King and the Union, the Scottish communist leader Willie Gallacher replied, “That’s a stupid question. I am a revolutionary and my only loyalty is to the working class”.

Things were happening on the Clydeside too, were tanks were deployed on the streets against Scottish workers seeking a 40 hour working week. May Day 1919 witnessed in excess of 100,000 people take to the streets of Glasgow, addressed by a variety of speakers that included Countess Markievicz, now an elected M.P. Along with ‘The Red Flag’, ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was sung with gusto, and tricolours were carried amidst the red flags.

Across the island of Ireland, the day was marked by significant labour processions. The leading industrial union of Ireland, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, called on workers to down tools, to show that “Irish workers join with the international labour movement in demanding a democratic league of free nations.” A combination of factors, including wartime inflation, had swelled the ranks of the union in the immediate years around 1919. A union that had some 15,000 members in 1914 could boast in excess of 102,000 by 1919. The growth, in the words of one leading historian, was simply “Lazarus like.”

ITGWU branches nationwide marched behind red flags, while in some quarters local units of the Irish Republican Army joined them. This said more about local interrelationships that any official statement of political sympathy. In Dublin, many things ground to a halt, leading the Irish Independent to describe the day as “idle, dull and dismal.” The paper reported that:

In Dublin there were no trams, no North Wall sailings, no theatres, no cinemas, no electric power, no taxis, no restaurants or licensed houses open, and no trains, except the Great Northern Railway.

The regional demonstrations were significant in scale. The Irish Independent reported over three thousand parading in Bray,  more than that in Wexford, and noted that “in Killarney, colonial soldiers joined in a procession of about 1,000 headed by banners and Father Matthew’s band.” In Clonmel, they noted “several red flags were carried in the procession…notwithstanding police intimidation on the matter.” These regional demonstrations gave cause for concern to the paper, who noted that through “the displays of the Red Flag by the demonstrators…and the singing of the song associated with that flag there is evidence, unfortunately, that the ideas of the continental Socialists are beginning to penetrate into Ireland….that these doctrines should gain a footing in Catholic Ireland is much to be deplored.”

The song ‘The Red Flag’, which would ring out in so many cities on May Day 1919, had an Irish author, Jim Connell.  He himself proclaimed that the song  “gave expression to not only my own best thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts and feelings of every genuine socialist I knew.” Its impact was truly global; as Ronan Burtenshaw notes in a recent piece for Tribune magazine:

It was sung when the National Guard was sent in to repress striking West Virginia coal miners in 1912, and when Australian workers organised a mass strike in 1917. It closed out a 1918 meeting of radical republicans welcoming a delegation of Bolsheviks to Dublin, and was sung by mutinous British soldiers during World War One. Randian miners in South Africa sang it on their way to their death at the gallows. As Tom Mann would say at Connell’s graveside, “The Red Flag inspired thousands, possibly millions.”

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Liberty Hall, 1919. William O’Brien, Cathal O’Shannon and Nora Connolly are among the gathered leaders of Irish labour. (Image Credit: Century Ireland)

In Dublin, there were no radical demonstrations. Here, military proclamations outlawed any such gatherings, though as the Trade Union Congress Annual Report for the year would note, “In Dublin, where the military proclamation prohibiting public meetings and processions held sway, the workers had to be content with their silent, workless demonstration.” The Evening Herald carried disgruntled letters from members of the public (all anonymous, and thus potentially fake) pouring scorn on the workers for not going to work.

For some Dublin workers, there was punishment for their involvement in the day. Shackleton’s Mill, Lucan, “locked out” some fifty men who had participated in the May Day strike. Shackleton’s had been proactive supporters of William Martin Murphy’s policy during the 1913 Lockout, and the premises would later be attacked by the Irish Citizen Army for breaking the ‘Belfast Boycott’ which was in place.

Ulster too remained largely quiet. While tens of thousands would parade in Belfast, they waited until the following Saturday to gather in Ormeau Park. There was a real fear among some northern workers of being seen to be used by what they perceived to be a nationalist-inclined labour movement.  The Ulster Unionist Labour Association in Derry encouraged their members to boycott May Day, erroneously stating that the day was “of a revolutionary and Bolshevik nature and supported by Sinn Féin propagandists, as already stated at the opening of Dáil Éireann and that honest labour should repudiate such actions.”

Irish Labour in 1919 was nothing if not optimistic. For Republicans, militant Labour could present both opportunities and potential challenges, as the years ahead would show in the interactions between Dáil Éireann, the Labour Party and militant workers. Still, three months on from May Day 1919, the delegates of the Irish Trade Union Congress would be told Labour’s forecast had come true, and the future lay in their hands:

We cannot afford to make many mistakes. The workers of Ireland have shown they are responsive to the call, and this responsiveness on the part of the rank and file makes the responsibility of the leaders the greater. On all sides at the moment we see industrial unrest. And can we wonder at this. We have for the past four years been warning our people that as sure as morning the industrial war would follow the cessation of hostilities on the Continent. Our forecast has proved but too true.

 

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Freeman’s Journal, 22 February 1918.

Reading the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements, it is striking just how much of an impact the popular memory of the ‘Great Hunger’ had on Ireland’s revolutionary generation.

The memory of starvation drove some Irish people to radical politics in the decades that followed the calamity, for others it did the very opposite. Dan Breen spoke of people whose lives were shaped only by the “struggle for existence”, for whom “anything that did not relate itself directly to the business of producing food, or the wherewithal to keep body and soul together, had no meaning for them.” Volunteers and others from rural backgrounds recount the oral tradition of the years of hunger as something that influenced them politically; Ned Broy recalled that “harrowing stories of the Famine of 1847 were told by the old people, of starving wretches eating turnips in the fields and dying of hunger or disease of fleeing to America in the coffin ships. Is it any wonder that Irish people who escaped to America and their descendants should continue to nurse hatred of the oppressor in their hearts?”

Given this consciousness of the ‘Great Hunger’, it is not surprising that fear of Famine and starvation was very real to the revolutionary generation. Against the backdrop of serious war time inflation, and with increasingly large exportation of agricultural produce into war-time Britain, much of 1917 and 1918 was spent worrying about food. Even earlier than this, in the winter of 1916, Thomas Johnson of the Labour Party wrote in the Dublin Saturday Post reminding readers that “in 1846 and 1847 the grain harvest was shipped from Ireland to pay landlords rents; today our food supplies are being sold at high prices for consumption in Britain…What say the people of Ireland to a ‘New Protectionism’,that is, to prevent the export of the necessaries of life until the needs of the whole people of Ireland are conserved?”

In winning the people to the idea of the ‘Republic’, advanced nationalists understood the necessity to be seen to take a proactive stand on the issue of the food crisis. This approach led to remarkable scenes in Dublin on a February day in 1918, when Volunteers intercepted pigs near Dorset Street which were being marched to the docks of Dublin, about to be exported to England. Instead, they were taken to a Dublin Corporation yard in nearby Portland Place, slaughtered and the produce distributed to the people of Dublin. It was an important political demonstration of power, showing the republican movement to be concerned with more than nationalist aspiration. As Charles Townshend notes, “this bit of Robin Hood style social banditry was dismissed as mere criminality by the authorities”, but it had a powerful effect in inner-city Dublin.

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Diarmuid Lynch, Sinn Féin ‘Food Controller’ during the crisis.

Diarmuid Lynch, born in Cork in 1878, had been a participant in the Easter Rising, privy to the plans of insurrection for some time. American citizenship may have prevented his execution in the aftermath of the rebellion, though he was held in Pentonville Prison until June 1917. A respected political organiser, he was appointed ‘Sinn Féin Food Controller’ during the food crisis. Lynch believed that the action of stopping this food exportation demonstrated Sinn Féin to be “the party of action and not of talk.”

The pigs were taken to a Dublin Corporation yard, where two of the Volunteers, butchers by trade, proceeded to slaughter the animals.  While Dublin Metropolitan Policemen arrived on the scene, they were prevented from intervening. Bill Stapleton, a Volunteer participant, remembered:

…crowds of people fathered outside the Corporation yard, and close on one hundred policemen waited for us to come out.The policemen knocked at the door to gain admittance, but were refused. There was considerable excitement in the neighborhood as the news of the capture of the pigs had gone abroad, but in any case the noise caused by the screeching and dying pigs could be heard a considerable distance away.

As the slaughter occurred, a deal was made with the owners of the pigs, with Stapleton remembering “arrangements were made to purchase the pigs.” Satisfied that they had made their money, they made it clear to the authorities they did not want action taken against the Volunteers. With the withdrawal of the police, lorries arrived into the yard, and the carcasses were taken from the Dorset Street area to Donnelly’s bacon-curing factory near Meath Street. Stapleton recalled “there was considerable excitement and cheering, and we were followed by crowds across the city.”

The scene was far from pretty. Volunteer Charlie Dalton remembered that “the yard was strewn with carcasses of pigs…I was given a yard brush and was told to sweep up the blood which was being hosed into the channel. I felt very superior engaged in this work of national importance.” Still, Dalton could see the effect of the move on the local populace, remembering local women bringing tea and bread to the Volunteers: “I drank the tea with great satisfaction, recalling the time I had seen the very same refreshments handed to the British Tommies…the tide had turned. We were now the heroes of the people.”

Lynch had played a blinder in the press, allowing journalists into the yard, and telling a reporter from the Freeman’s Journal that “pigs were leaving Ireland every week by the thousand, and there was no bacon to be had in the retail shops in Dublin, and the same is true of other parts of the country.”

Such an act of defiance would not be tolerated, and Lynch was brought to trial charged with defiance of the Government, theft and gross disorder. The prosecutor maintained in court that the action was “a startling and unparalleled outrage, and if such conduct was allowed to go on there would be no commercial security in the city.” He was firstly imprisoned in Dundalk Gaol, before deportation to the United States. A song, The Pig Push, celebrating the actions of Lynch and his men, quickly became popular:

I met a friend the other day and this is what he said:

Sinn Féiners they are out again, the streets are running red.

The slaughter it was dreadful thirty-four of them are killed.

I never in my life, said he, saw blood so freely spilled

So says I to him “your dreadful tale, it fills with dismay”

And have thirty-four Sinn Féinrs bold in Dublin passed away?

“No it’s pigs, you fool, that’s killed” says he,”myself I saw it done,

‘Twas Diarmuid Lynch that did the work, by the hokey there was fun.

Lynch was elected in the 1918 General Election as a Sinn Féin candidate in his absence. He took no part in the Civil War, but was later instrumental in attempting to gather historical memories and artifacts relating to the War of Independence period. His actions on Dorset Street deserve to be remembered.

 

 

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Plaque on Pearse Street Garda Station

In recent weeks, a new plaque was unveiled on Pearse Street Garda Station, remembering a night of espionage a century ago this very month.

Working away from their base in the Great Brunswick Street station of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (today Pearse Street Garda Station), the job of the ‘G Men’ was to infiltrate and incapacitate radical political organisations in Dublin. Their ‘Movement of Extremist’ files today make for compelling reading, showing that republicans, socialists, suffrage campaigners and others deemed politically subversive were closely monitored as they went about their political and personal lives.

The eyes and ears of British intelligence on the streets of the Irish capital, the G Division had been in place since March 1843. The body were detested by advanced nationalists, with the newspaper Nationality writing in July 1915:

Most people know what a ‘G Man’ means. He is a person, nearly always of Irish origin, who volunteers to look after Irish Nationalists. He is a secret policeman, though in most cases his secret is an obvious one, owing to the size of his general appearance. The members of the ‘G’ Department are countless. They shadow Nationalists, and report the names of those who associate with Nationalists. They follow men and inquire at the houses which they have visited. They travel on railways and report conversations.

And yet, the system could be crippled. Changing political sympathies of men working within state intelligence, as well as interpersonal relationships (impossible to avoid in such a small society) meant that ‘G’ Men and others working in state intelligence could become double agents. There was also a ruthlessness in the Republican movement post 1916, and a determination to strike at intelligence operatives, that transformed the ‘G Men’ from a cocky body of men who had the confidence to literally walk through nationalist gatherings and commemorations in the pre-1916 world, into a body which feared for their lives every time they stepped into the street. Michael Collins, head of the IRA’s Intelligence campaign, understood this perfectly, maintaining that “Our only way to carry on the fight was by organised and bold guerilla warfare. But this in itself was not enough. England could always reinforce her army. To paralyse the British machine it was necessary to strike at individuals outside the ranks of the military.” Soldiers could be replaced easily. When an Intelligence officer  was removed from the picture, it was more difficult for a man to fill those boots.

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The carved heads of DMP men still appear in the stonework of Pearse Street Garda Station.

Crucially important to the efforts of Collins was Ned Broy. Attached to the DMP ‘G’ Division, Broy’s political sympathies rested firmly instead with the political radicals the body was spying on. Broy’s statement to the Bureau of Military History post-independence details his families involvement in nationalist politics in Kildare and the strong feeling locally:

…deep down in the people’s hearts burned strongly a bitter hatred of English rule with its soldiers, police, informers, landlords and followers, who composed ‘England’s Faithful Garrison’. We of the Rising generation hated the very name of England, her shires, towns and rivers, and that hatred was intense before we had yet read a line of Irish history.

In January 1911, Broy joined the DMP Depot. He maintained that by comparison to the Royal Irish Constabulary,  there were nationalists working within the Dublin policing force:

In the Depot we all fearlessly and openly discussed the national question and it was the first place I heard the song ‘The Men of the West’. The majority of us expressed strong national views but there was, to our surprise, a small minority whose views were diametrically opposed to national aspirations. However, we felt that in the event of police opposition to Home Rule, as was forecast, we have no small say in enforcing the national will no matter who would be against us.

That someone of such political sympathies could become the confidential clerk of G Division is remarkable. In this capacity, he allowed Michael Collins and Seán Nunan into the premises. Nunan, like Collins, had been actively involved in Irish republican separatist circles in London, and had partaken in the Easter Rising. He would serve as Secretary to Éamon de Valera, President of the First Dáil, and was someone Collins had great faith in. In the early hours of the morning on 7 April 1919, Broy allowed these men into the police station to pursue the files of ‘G’ Division:

The same key opened the political office and opened the secret small room, built into the wall, which contained the records. I gave Michael Collins and Seán Nunan the candles and, getting them to close the door fairly tightly, I left them to carry on their investigation.

Nunan recounted later that “Collins and I stayed…listing the names and activities of the detectives on political work, until about 4am, when we walked home – Collins to Mountjoy and I to Botanic Road.”

Mere days passed before IRA men on the streets were accosting ‘G’ Men, warning them against zeal in carrying out their duties.  Just as the ‘G’ Men gathered files on Irish republicans, Collins and his team would built a counter-intelligence network that did likewise.C.S Andrews would go as far as to maintain that “for the first time in the history of separatism we Irish had a better intelligence service than the British. This was Michael Collins’ great achievement”.

In late July 1919, Detective Sergeant Smith, known as ‘The Dog Smith’, was gunned down on the orders of Michael Collins. Sergeant Daniel Hoey would be killed outside ‘G’ Division Headquarters at Great Brunswick Street in September. Broy would remain deeply important to the Collins intelligence operation, often leaving documents for him with the librarian at the Capel Street Library on Dublin’s northside. When detected, he would be imprisoned, and released after the Truce. His policing days were far from over, with Broy later serving as Commissioner of the Gardaí. The intelligence body formed on his watch, becoming known popularly as the ‘Broy Harriers’, would continue to monitor the ‘Movement of Extremists’ in a new Ireland.

 

 

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Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s was a very homogeneous and white society but there were a handful of groundbreaking bands that included both black and white musicians. This a work in progress.

In late 1963, black American singer Earl Jordan joined the Waterford showband group The Derek Joys. Jordan, who was born in Elmore, Alabama, had served with the U.S. Army before moving to England where he lived for five years.

The Derek Joys, 1964/5. Credit – Irishshowbands.com

Jordan left the The Derek Joys after about a year to join the newly formed Caroline Showband in December 1964. The band toured for two years together before Jordan made an exit. In the early 1970s, he sang on the Green Bullfrog album, joined the German group Les Humphries Singers and released two solo singles. Jordan returned to Dublin for a series of gigs in the 1978-79 on the back of two further solo singles.

The Caroline Showband, c. 1965/66. Credit – Irishshowbands.com

The Black Eagles, who formed in 1964, were made up of a group of teenagers from Crumlin who played soul, r&b and pop covers at local youth clubs. There are no audio recordings but a silent home video of the band from 1965 has made it online.

Vocalist Phil Lynott (1949-1986) was born in England, went to primary school in Manchester and moved Dublin to live with his maternal grandparents in Leighlin Road, Crumlin at the age of about eight. Phil’s father Cecil Parris, was from Georgetown, British Guiana in the Caribbean. The other members of the band were Alan Sinclair (lead guitar), Frankie Smyth (rhythm guitar), Danny Smith (bass) and Brian Downey (drums).

Phil later played with Skid Row (1967-68 line up) and fronted Thin Lizzy (1969–1983 line up).

The Black Eagles, c. 1965

Skid Row, c. 1967/68. Credit – Irishshowbands.com

Gene and the Gents formed in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in early 1964. The band was made up of four local musicians (including guitarist Henry McCullough) who had all previously played in the Skyrockets. They signed up, as lead vocalist, TCD Law student Gene Chetty who had been born Durban, South Africa of Indian background. The band played together until 1969. Gene went onto form a group called The Flames and later played with The Lions. He returned to Ireland in 2006 to play a number of reunion gigs. A BBC radio interview can be heard here.

The Philosophers were a successful mid 1960s beat-group in Galway who added a brass section and played the showband circuit from the late 1960s onwards. Dave Cazabon, son of Trinidad parents who moved to Galway in the 1950s, joined the band as bass player in 1973. His brother Mike, who used the stage name Samba, became lead vocalist around 1974. The band released a number of singles as Samba and the Philosophers. When Mike left the band, his brother Gerry (d. 1996) took over as lead vocalist. A fourth brother Richard (d. 2010) played in a Galway Thin Lizzy cover band called White Ivy/Nightrider in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Philosophers, mid 1970s.

Following Van Morrison’s departure from Them, band members Tim Armstrong, Kenny McDowell and Buddy Clark re-united in 1969 in Chicago as Truth. They drafted in local drummer Renaldo Smith (known as Reno Smith or Rene Smith) who had previously played with Baby Huey & the Babysitters. The band played together in Ireland for a couple of years before calling it a day. Reno Smith returned to Dublin in 1973 to join the band Chips who he played with for about a year. This article claims that he later played with with funk group Mother’s Finest, various house bands at Chicago blues and soul clubs including the Kingston Mines, and then relocated to Tucson, Arizona where he continued to play blues and R&B.

Chips in c. 1973. Credit – http://www.irish-showbands.com

In circa 1970, Dave Murphy joined a “progressive soul combo” from North Dublin called The Purple Pussycat, who based their sound on the US band Blood, Sweat & Tears. He sang and also played trombone. It was suggested that he was the “city’s second best-known black Irish musician after Phil Lynnott”. He later focused on singer-songwriting and ran a weekly folk music night in The Bailey, McDaid’s, The International and Banker’s throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

The Chicken Fisher Band was formed in 1978 by Martin ‘Chicken’ Fischer, born in London of Swiss parents, guitarist Dave Prim (d. 2018) from Kilkenny and drummer John Forbes of London-Jamaican heritage. In 1979, John Forbes joined soul funk rockers Stagalee who had started life in Tralee, County Kerry three years previously. Stagalee’s 1979 line-up featured Colin Tully (sax/keyboards), Honor Heffernan (vocals), Errol Walsh (guitar/vocals), James Delaney (keyboards) and Tommy Moore (bass/vocals). A contemporary newspaper article stated that John Forbes had recorded two albums with a German group called Black Symphony but I can’t find anymore information online.

Stagalee, 1979 line up. Credit – errolwalsh.com

Zebra, Ireland’s first reggae band, was formed in Dublin in early 1979 by Steve Rekab (guitarist), Bernard Rangel (percussion), Leo Mallon (drums), Brian Narty (bass), Norman Morrow (keyboards) and Pete Deane (vocals). This line up recorded the single Repression which was released on Terri Hooley’s ‘Good Vibrations’ label in July 1979. It featured Marion Woods and Niamh McGovern on backing vocals, was produced by music journalist Ross Fitzsimons and engineered by Johnny Byrne (d. 1997).

The band recorded their song Silent Partners for the compilation ‘Just for Kicks‘ which was released in December 1979. It features the band’s new drummer Mark Thyme who had replaced Leo Mallon (d. 1985). This song was re-released on All City records compilation album ‘Buntús Rince‘ in April 2019.

Bernard Rangel was born in Aden, South Yemen of Indian parents from Goa. He went to secondary school in Blackrock College and studied Economics, History and Psychology in Trinity College Dublin. Steve Rekab was born in Sierra Leone on the southwest coast of West Africa. Brian Nartey’s family background was Jamaican.

Zebra at 24 hour festival Dark Space, Project Arts Centre, Dublin on 16-17 February 1979. Photo – Tracey Clann. Credit – Irishrock.org

Am I missing any bands? Leave a comment or drop me an email.

Thanks to Francis K. (irish-showbands.com), Stan Erraught, Rock Roots and John Byrne for comments and info.

 

 

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Evening Herald, February 1987.

Last weekend, I had the honour of leading a walking tour for the MusicTown festival, exploring the musical heritage of Dublin’s northside. The tour brought us from George Desmond Hodnett (he of ‘Take her up to Monto’ fame) to the Asylum nightclub, and from the anti-jazz crusade to Christy Moore’s anthem for the striking Dunnes workers. One of the more unusual stops on the tour was the O’Connell Bridge. For me, the bootleggers of old were a necessary stop on the tour.

Something has truly entered the folk memory of a city when it begins appearing in fictional accounts of the place.  In Brian Leyden’s book Departures, published in 1992, we read of  a character heading “Over O’Connell Bridge in a head- bobbing current of pedestrians, past bootleg tape and pavement jewellery sellers. Leaping out into the stream of oncoming cars and green, leaning double-deckers at the intersections.” More recently, Rachael English included the bootleggers in her own novel, writing of how “He threaded his way along O’Connell Street, around the queue at the Savoy cinema, past the doughnut kiosk and over the bridge. He nodded at the man selling bootleg cassettes and gave a few coppers to a woman begging for change.”

Recollections of both buying and selling bootleg tapes on the bridge have made their way online in recent times. One seller recounted the manner in which Gardaí would occasionally raid the O’Connell Bridge, leading to frantic scenes:

Gardaí “raided” the Bridge, as if it were some dingy speakeasy, with the impish tactic of approaching from both ends simultaneously and removing their caps so they couldn’t be easily seen. Lads scarpered. Cases of precious C60s and C90 were lost to the evidence room of time. Unless some brave warrior stepped forward and took the fall. Getting arrested with your box meant it was your property and you could get it back. You might have 30 tapes in a case. 3 or 4 pounds a pop? What’s a brush with the law against that kind of cheddar?

Bootlegging on the bridge was at its height in the late 1980s, leading the Evening Herald to proclaim in 1987 that “the bootleg business in Dublin was never healthier than it is now. On O’Connell Bridge…Chris de Burgh, Bruce Sprinsteen, U2, Simple Minds et al line up in cassette cases for £3 and £4 a time.” Following Michael Jackson’s Pairc Ui Caoimh performance in 1988, sellers reported hundreds of copies selling on the bridge in days. At £7 for a two cassette set, it was a relatively expensive investment, when recordings of gigs could be famously poor quality. Still, there was a rush in the purchase and hope in the gamble. As Clinton Heylin notes in Bootleg! The Rise and Fall of the Street Recording Industry, “bootleg collectors the world over will remember their initial ‘hit’ – that first time they stumbled upon a stall or store selling albums you weren’t supposed to be able to buy.”

Mike Scott of the Waterboys was quoted in the press as saying he had no strong objections to bootleggers, and had even bought bootlegs of Waterboys gigs on the bridge. Taking to the stage at Dublin’s National Stadium, Morrissey introduced a new song by saying it was a gift to the bootleggers, as he had yet to record it. Other artists, in particular U2, were less jovial about it all.

The speed with which the recordings would appear on the bridge was remarkable. In a piece exploring the economics of it all, the Irish Press noted in 1991 that “During U2’s Joshua Tree tour, tapes of concerts in the United States of less than one week vintage were available in plentiful supply.” To an extent, Irish artists were generally not too bothered about live recordings of their gigs being sold, but bootlegged copies of studio albums were treated very differently. Gardaí seized more than 4,000 bootleg tapes in raids across the country in October 1992, at a time when the ‘industry’ was beginning to unravel.

By then, things were changing. The dominance of the CD, coupled with the arrival of music megastore Virgin beside the bridge,  didn’t help those flogging tapes on the bridge.  A former customer, in a brilliant memoir piece, recounted:

The last time I clearly remember them on the bridge they were selling the Nirvana at The Point Depot cassette from 1992 with Kurt’s own ‘Rock Star’ signature on the cover (another show I attended). It’s possible this was one of the last big sellers for the traders. Maybe with the increased uptake of CD or the Gardai cracking down on them this business seemed to gradually move into shops from then on but the emphasis was more on unreleased studio recordings.

These tapes remain as interesting mementos of magic nights, sometimes in Dublin venues that are no longer with us, like the SFX Hall or McGonagale’s. The homemade, DIY covers of many of the tapes make them something of a design curiosity too, and while more and more bands are now releasing official live recordings of their shows, these tapes offer a nostalgia that cannot be matched.

 

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Earl Gill plaque, Neary’s.

Dublin’s Palm Court Ballroom had it all, or certainly it had enough to terrify Cornelius Gallagher, one of those who reported to the Vigilance Committee and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. Visiting it in 1955, he wrote that:

 I went to the Mambo Club dance in Palm Court Ballroom last Monday night. Yes! The hall was packed: 100% Teddy Boys, and, I suppose, Teddy Girls. I don’t know if the girls have any particular name, though I could think of a few names which might suit!…The dancing was almost 100% jiving.

It’s likely that on the night Cornelius got himself all hot and bothered by the sight of young people enjoying themselves, Earl Gill was on the stage. By 1955, the Palm Court stage was firmly his.

At the exterior of Neary’s pub, a plaque honours the legendary trumpet-player and bandleader Earl Gill. It has clearly gone on something of an adventure, proclaiming that Gill performed in “this theatre” over many years. While I’m not sure just how it ended up where it has, it honours an figure of great importance in the social and entertainment history of the immediate area. Gill fronted the resident dance band of the Shelbourne Hotel for over four decades, as well as packing various bars and hotels across the inner-city.

Born in Dublin’s East Wall in October 1932, Gill came from good musical stock. His father was a popular pianist at the Queen’s Theatre, while his mother played the cello. His own intention was to follow his father as a pianist, however an accident at the tender age of 12 resulted in the loss of two fingers. Earl switched his musical attention to the trumpet, mastering the instrument by the age of 15, when he was performing almost nightly in the Olympia Theatre. In 1954, a young Gill was praised in the Herald as “one of the finest trumpeters in the country, combining a high degree of musical skill with a sparking style of presentation.” By then, Gill was performing at the Gresham on a regular basis, considered the finest dancing venue in the city.

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The young Earl Gill.

In the pre-Showband world, dance bands packed in the crowds. Eleanor O’Leary traces the rise of the dancehall scene in her study Youth and Popular Culture in 1950s Ireland, noting that Dublin had the pulling power to attract stars like Frankie Laine, Bill Hailey, Tommy Steele, Johnny Ray and Vic Lewis.

Even those who opposed it at first came to recognise its commercial pull, with the Herald writing:

We are in the throes of a transition. Ballroom proprietors who have long frowned on jive and its unconventional offshoots have now begun to accept it for what it is worth.

One Dublin establishment, the Palm Court, which is the babe of our luxury night spots, makes no secret of the fact that a new policy has been launched, to encourage rather than eradicate the modern trend. Here, bandleader Earl Gill, who blows a hotter trumpet than most musicians of his age, has been playing to packed houses.

When musical tastes changed, Gill was able to adopt. In 1965, the Earl Girl Showband, later the Hoedowners, tapped into the new emerging style of music that was popular. In an obituary piece for Gill, Dec Cluskey of popular band The Bachelors recalled that:

He was the first superstar single name showband leader. He bridged the gap between the classy, brass-led, big band style and the brash, showy style of the thousands of showbands trekking up and down the roads of Ireland every night of the week.

The band had a remarkable fourteen charting singles between 1966 and 1973, becoming one of Ireland’s leading showbands in the process. He returned to the Shelbourne in the aftermath of the break up of the band, and remained an active and touring musician until his retirement in 2012, always in demand and always respected. As a producer, he worked on a number of records for The Dubliners, with whom he formed a working relationship and friendship.

I’m not sure how his plaque ended up where it did, but I’m glad he has one.

 

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