The Return of Gulliver

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Dublin’s Millennium celebrations. The milk bottles remain, and so do the memories.

Among the most enduring images from 1988 are those of the giant Gulliver who was beached on Dollymount Strand, before floating on the River Liffey. An impressive “fibreglass, aluminium and plywood” tribute to the central character of Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver was the work of Macnas, the much-loved Galway street performance company. It was a fitting tribute to one of Dublin’s finest writers, the great satirist Jonathan Swift, in a year that celebrated all things Dublin.

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Gulliver on the Liffey (Image Credit: Dublin City Photographic Collection, Dublin City Council)

In January 1988, it was reported that the relatively new Macnas (they were founded two years earlier) intended to “travel to Dublin in March and liaise with different communities to capture volunteers all willing to help build the massive Gulliver model.” In keeping with the spirit of the year, they hoped that “the different parts of his body will be assembled at workshops throughout the city, with the help of 35 young craftspeople on a Fás scheme.”

The primary funding for Gulliver came from the National Lottery, who put an impressive £50,000 towards the project. The giant made his way onto the front of almost every daily newspaper in the country when he finally arrived on Dollymount Strand in July, with journalists getting into the spirit of things. The Evening Herald reported that “chaos broke out on Dollymount Strand this afternoon when a giant was spotted floating in the sea off the north Dublin beach…Experts called to the scene finally revealed that the huge man was in fact Dr. Lemuel Gulliver, direct from Dean Swift’s masterpiece story.”


Evening Herald, 12 July 1988.

This RTÉ report likewise played along, asking the children of Dublin where they felt the giant had come from. One child believed ‘Heaven’ to be the answer, and all were transfixed by the model and the pageantry that surrounded it. The captured Gulliver was freed and given a civic reception by Lord Mayor Ben Briscoe, before being placed in the Liffey between the Ha’penny Bridge and O’Connell Bridge, drawing huge crowds of the bemused and curious for a look.

The episode is recalled in recent literature, thanks to Frankie Gaffney’s novel Dublin Seven:

It only seems like yesterday ye were born, said his ma, getting misty-eyes. 1988…Dublin was a kip back then.But the week you were born, they’d big celebrations on for Dublin’s Millennium. They made these…special 50p pieces, cause Dublin was a thousand years old or somethin’, and when we were bringing ye back from the Rotunda they had a big huge giant floatin in the Liffey! Something to do with yer man Gullible’s travels it was!

Fittingly, Macnas also displayed Gulliver in their home city, where he drew big crowds on Grattan Beach. It was one of the first acts by a street performance company who have been captivating audiences ever since.


Gulliver in Galway (Image Credit: Macnas)

See the forthcoming Dublin Inquirer for an article examining the Millennium in more detail.


Poster for the 1922 film Nosferatu.

In December 1878, Bram Stoker married Florence Balcombe in St Anne’s Church on Dublin’s Dawson Street. Once pursued romantically by Oscar Wilde, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe of Clontarf was instead smitten by the future author of Dracula. A bust of the author can be found in the church today, celebrating the connections between the historic church and one of the most celebrated writers this city has produced. During a memorial service to mark the centenary of Stoker’s death, a copy of Dracula was carried to the altar of the church. I doubt that’s happened anywhere else!

Florence would outlive her husband by some twenty-five years, and lived to see Dracula become something of a classic. She also became entangled in a very bitter legal battle in 1922 over Nosferatu, the ground-breaking German Expressionist horror film. An unauthorised adaptation of  Stoker’s work, Florence achieved a court ruling which ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. Thankfully, this didn’t quite happen.

Nosferatu is a pioneering work of cinema, described by screenprism as “a film historian’s dream movie. It is a foreboding and influential picture that helped define German Expressionism and set a precedent for a century of horror cinema.” The work was directed by F.W Murnau, who would be responsible for an impressive twenty-one films over his career. The production company, Prana Films, was established in 1921 by the Occultist Albin Grau, who intended to produce many films centered on themes of the supernatural and the occult.

Promotional material for Nosferatu openly admitted that the work was “freely adapted” from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It premiered in the beautiful Marble Hall of the Berlin Zoological Gardens, and a review in the Berlin Lokal-Anzeiger reported on how “the room darkened as the projectors began to whir and a title announced that a symphony of horror should roll across the screen.” The launch was lavish, a little too much so. As Nosferatu scholar Cristina Massaccesi has noted, “the launch of the film had cost Prana more than the feature itself”. Another problem was that nobody from Prana had sought any permissions from Florence and the Stoker Estate to utilise Dracula in the manner in which they had.

In April 1922, Florence received a programme and promotional material for Nosferatu in the post. Approaching the British Incorporated Society of Authors, they then commenced legal action against Prana. When Florence sued for copyright infringement, Prana believed the best course of action was to proclaim bankruptcy.  Rather than financial compensation, her legal team sought the handing over of all copies of the film, and in July 1925 a Berlin court ordered the very same. Florence had never actually seen the film, but that mattered little to her. As David J. Skal has noted:

…in the case of Nosferatu we have one of the few instances in film history, and perhaps the only one, in which an obliterating capital punishment is sought for a work of cinematic art, strictly on legalistic ground, by a person with no knowledge of the work’s specific contents or artistic merit.


Florence Balcombe (1858-1937)

Thankfully for cinema lovers, Florence’s demand that the film be destroyed was not carried out entirely. A print of the film had already made its way out of Germany, and Massaccesi notes that “the German court did not provide any concrete evidence of the film’s obliteration and, although the original negative never resurfaced, Nosferatu reappeared almost immediately in England.” Skal has asked an intriguing question, “did Florence Stoker ever actually see Nosferatu? After seven long years of doing battle, and finally capturing the enemy, it would be strange indeed if she didn’t insist on looking the thing in the face.” By 1929, the film was even being screened in New York City.

Florence believed that Dracula had a life away from the printed word. She would grant the right for a stage adaption to Hamilton Deane, a Dubliner and a neighbour once upon a time in Clontarf. Actor,playwright and director, Deane first brought Dracula to the stage in June 1924. Much of the popular image of Dracula today – down to cape and evening clothes – is owed to Deane’s interpretation.

Nosferatu refused to die. In time, it would even make its way to the big screen in Bram Stoker’s home city, playing to packed crowds at the Irish Film Institute’s Horrorthon. It thankfully escaped the dustbin of history, and a place among the ‘lost films’ of the past.


IRA men, including Tom Barry, pose with ‘The Mutineer’ at the Four Courts, 1922 (Image Credit)

There is a growing body  of excellent scholarship on the Civil War, including Gavin M. Foster’s masterful The Irish Civil War and Society: Politics, Class, and Conflict and John Dorney’s recent The Civil War in Dublin: The Fight for the Irish Capital 1922-1924. The floodgates of research may open now in the run up to the centenary of the disastrous event, but the bar has been set very high indeed by these and other works.

While the majority of the IRA’s General Headquarters staff supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which gave birth to the Irish Free State, the opposition of the majority of IRA fighters across the country ensured an inevitable confrontation. Still, beyond men, there was a phenomenal disparity in weaponry between both sides. A tiring volunteer guerrilla army could never compete with the forces of a new state that was – quite literally – backed by Empire. Without the (often reluctant) military assistance of London, the forces of the new Free State would have faced a much sterner military struggle. As Dorney has noted:

Between January and June 1922, when the Pro-Treaty authorities were trying to build up an army, principally from their supporters in the IRA, the British supplied them with nearly 12,000 Lee Enfield rifles, 80 Lewis machine guns 4,000 revolvers and 3,500 grenades.

Correspondence between Dublin and London was often tense in the early stages of the Civil War. Winston Churchill questioned the need of the Free State for mills bombs and rifle grenades, on the basis that “these are the weapons far more of revolution than of Government. If they fall into bad hands they become a most terrible means of aggression on the civil population.” Tellingly, Churchill also alluded to how “we have already issued you one armoured car, which has unhappily fallen into bad hands.” That car, which sat defiantly in the grounds of the occupied Four Courts, became known as ‘The Mutineer’.

The term ‘Mutineer’ was, like ‘Irregular’ or ‘Trucileer’, leveled against those who opposed the Treaty. The later stemmed from a believe that the ranks of the IRA had been swollen by men who were absent during the 1919-21 fight, but joined amidst the relative calm of the Truce period for glory. Sometimes, these terms were utilised in Republican propaganda too:


Republican handbill from Civil War (Dublin City Library and Archive, Birth of the Republic Collection)

Acquiring ‘The Mutineer’:

Ernie O’Malley’s memoir of the Civil War, The Singing Flame, remains one of the definitive first-hand accounts of the conflict. O’Malley perfectly captures the confusion in the months leading up to the outbreak of Civil War,as both Republican forces and Pro-Treaty forces sought to seize upon the chaos of the British evacuation, taking control of abandoned barracks positions across the country.  On an inspection tour of Munster, he recalled visiting Templemore Barracks in Tipperary, finding men with divided loyalties who “courted the Beggar’s Bush Headquarters one minute, the Four Courts the next.”

O’Malley was informed of the arrival of an armoured car which had been sent by the Free State forces in Beggar’s Bush, but sensing the loyalties of the men he requested it for the Republicans in the Four Courts:

We inspected the car.  It was covered with heavy plates of bullet-roof steel. The engine was long, a Rolls Royce. On top was a revolving steel turret which contained a Vickers gun, capable of long sustained fire without overheating; the ammunition was in strips, side by side, in narrow belts.

The morale boost of such a vehicle arriving into the grounds of the occupied Four Courts must have been tremendous; O’Malley remembered how it “was a piece of luck. To think I would return in an armoured car, the only one our men possessed. The car was stuffy at first, but the day was cold. We were soon warm and cosy.” The day after its arrival, O’Malley watched as one of the garrison painted “a name below the turret with white enamel”, and ‘The Mutineer’ was born.

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The Bells of Dublin (1991)

There are few things as magical about Dublin as a New Year announcing itself through the bells of Christchurch Cathedral. Ideally, you have a pint from the Lord Edward in your hand or someone in your arms as you take it in.

A visit to the belfry is possible, and is an experience we Dubliners shouldn’t leave entirely to visitors. The oldest of the bells in usage today dates from 1738, with a number coming from the time of the Roe whiskey distillery funded restoration of the cathedral in the nineteenth century.

One place you can hear the bells is The Chieftains remarkable Christmas album, The Bells of Dublin. Released in 1991, it both begins and ends with the sound of the church bells ringing. As John Glatt writes in his biography of the band, “intrepid sound engineer Brian Masterson crawled out on to the roof of Christchurch and set up various microphones to record the majestic peels of the bells. For the recording Moloney [Paddy Moloney of the band] joined the bell ringers in the belfry to play his part.”


The Bells of Dublin cover (RCA Victor)

Coming four years after The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl gifted the world Fairytale of New York, it once again demonstrated that Irish traditional music could hold its own when it came to Christmas magic. The Chieftains had been a mainstay of the Irish music scene since the 1960s, though unlike The Pogues who followed they were much more about the tradition. Paddy Moloney would recall:

I had great faith that one day what we did best– playing traditional Irish music– was going to soar, and I wasn’t going to be stepping down the ladder by changing the style. Our first concert in the Albert Hall was just music– no flashing lights or smoke screens, and we didn’t have dancers or singers– so to see the crowd dance around the theatre, coming back for encore after encore, was just magic. There were tears in our eyes that night. We didn’t realize that people from the rock world were listening to us, like The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull and Paul McCartney, so the whole social thing started to develop and word got out. We were taking our time and gradually creeping in. Then in ’75, we were on the front page of Melody Maker as Group of the Year. That was huge!

The album included guest appearances from Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull,  Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Jackson Browne among others. Browne’s contribution, which he wrote, is a rejection of the crass commercialisation of Christmas as he sees it, and a reminder of what he feels Jesus stood for:

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

The St. Stephen’s Day Murders, on which Elvis Costello appears, captures the cabin fever of the season with great wit:

I knew of two sisters whose name it was Christmas
And one was named Dawn, of course the other one was named Eve
I wonder if they grew up hating the season
Of the good will that lasts till the Feat of St. Stephen
For that is the time to eat, drink and be merry
Until the beer is all spilled and the whiskey has flowed
And the whole family tree you neglected to bury
Are feeding their faces until they explode.

The album was recorded primarily at the Windmill Lane Studios. Though primarily associated with U2, ,acts as diverse as David Bowie, New Order, Erasure and Sinead O’Connor have also recorded there.

The Chieftains output includes an acclaimed collaboration with Van Morrison, a tribute to the heroic fighting men of the San Patricio Battalion and the story of the 1798 rebellion. For me, The Bells of Dublin remains their finest hour, and it should be essential listening this week.

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Evening Herald, 2 October 1920.

In the early twentieth century, some of the most interesting voices in Irish public life, including Socialist leader James Connolly, expressed their support for the idea of an international language.

A constructed international auxiliary language (differing from natural languages, which develop over time), Esperanto was the brainchild of Polish inventor L. L. Zamenhof. In 1887, under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (Doctor Hopeful) he published Unua Libro, in which he introduced and described this new international language. Zamenhof did not believe that his constructed language would replace existing national tongues, but that it could exist alongside them and make human communication easier. The father of this ambitious project was twelve times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and there are streets named in his honour all over the world, including in Israel, Italy, Brazil, Catalonia, the UK and Poland. Zamenhof’s vision of international parity was certainly a romantic one, telling one gathering in 1905:

In our meeting there are no strong or weak nations, privileged or unfavoured ones, nobody is humiliated, nobody is harassed; we all support one another upon a neutral foundation, we all have the same rights, we all feel ourselves the members of the same nation, like the members of the same family, and for the first time in the history of human race, we -the members of different peoples- are one beside the other not as strangers, not like competitors, but like brothers who do not enforce their language, but who understand one another, trustfully, conceitedly, and we shake our hands with no hypocrisy like strangers, but sincerely, like people.

Writing to the Freeman’s Journal in 1902, E.E Fournier expressed a belief that “it is high time that the attention of the Irish people should be directed to a language which appears to have completely solved the problem of providing an international means of communication without prejudice to the use and study of an existing national language.”  Anyone curious about “a movement so full of possibilities for good” was encouraged to attend classes at the offices of the Celtic Association, 97 Stephen’s Green. Fournier, a distinguished intellectual and physicist, was at the very forefront of the Celtic Revival in Ireland and an early champion of Esperanto.

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James Connolly

Even earlier that this in 1899, James Connolly used the pages of his weekly The Workers’ Republic to outline his own belief in the need for a universal language, though not one that stood in conflict with existing languages:

I believe the establishment of a universal language to facilitate communication between the peoples is highly to be desired. But I incline also to the belief that this desirable result would be attained sooner as the result of a free agreement which would accept one language to be taught in all primary schools, in addition to the national language, than by the attempt to crush out the existing national vehicles of expression.

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Number 98 Parnell Street (previously Great Britain Street) is a “terraced two-bay four-storey house” built in circa 1810. It served as the Healy family grocers from the mid 1800s until the early 1960s.

Unusually the proprietor James Healy was a Dublin-born publican as can be seen here for the 1901 census for the family.

1901 Census Return form for James Healy and family, 98 Parnell Street.

It was taken over  by well-known Dublin hurler Mick Bermingham and was under his stewardship until around 1982.

An advertisement for Mick Bermingham’s, 98 Parnell Street. Credit – Munster Express, 3 September 1971.

The pub was known as The 98 in the late 1980s; The Thornbush in the 1990s and then operated as Zagloba for the growing Polish community in the mid 2000s.

Its most recent carnations – the Dublin Supporters Bar and The Dubliner- were known for its cheap drink offers and all-day karaoke.

Dublin Supporters Bar, 2011. Credit – Paolo Trabattoni.

Dublin Supporters Bar, 98 Parnell Street pictured in 2013. Credit – Broadsheet.ie

In the last couple of months, it has closed, revamped and re-opened as The Luggage Room Bar. Going for the budget hipster look, it offers ‘student nights’, ‘pitcher Wednesdays’ and ‘Brazilian parties’.

The Luggage Room Bar, Halloween 2017. via Facebook.


Evening Herald, 4 September 1978.

In a former life, one of my great areas of academic interest was the so-called ‘Animal Gangs’ of 1930s and 1940s Dublin, and some of that research was eventually published. I was fascinated more by the folk memory around the gangs than anything else I think, and enjoyed delving into the newspaper archives and Garda intelligence files.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about Dublin in the 1970s (before my time, but by considerably less than the Animal Gangs). Just as the media panicked in the 1930s about the Animals, the so-called Bugsy Malone Gang of the north inner-city frightened the powers that be and the press. Taking their name from the hit 1976 gangster comedy film, the gang was comprised of very young teens who made a name for themselves primarily through a series of daring ‘jump overs’ in the city, that is leaping over bank counters before making off with their takings. In time, the name seems to have been applied more widely to all youth crime by some journalists. The gang have warranted passing mentions in studies as diverse as Diarmaid Ferriter’s Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s, Garry O’Neill’s Where Were You? and several histories of Dublin crime gangs. The primary reason for their passing mentions in the later is the alleged involvement of Gerry Hutch, or ‘The Monk’, in the gang. A 2000 article in the Irish Examiner went as far as to claim that “in the 1970s, the Bugsy Malone gang was effectively led by Hutch. This gang of Dublin inner city youngsters were in to all kinds of crime, especially so called jump overs.”

The first most people would have heard of any such gang was a report in the Sunday Independent in late January 1978, which noted the presence of a young gang “being compared to the mini Chicago criminals in the box-office film hit, Bugsy Malone“. It detailed how the gangs 13-year-old “Godfather” had been arrested in the aftermath of a raid on the O’Connell Street Northern Bank, during which £1,400 was snatched after “the daring raid was carried out by hurling a bottle through a plate glass door.”


Sunday Independent, 23 January 1977.

Reports of the gang sometimes appeared only pages away from advertisements for the film of the same name. By the early months of 1978 the movie was out of the picture houses, but the gang remained, now being refereed to as “infamous”. The Minister for Defence bemoaned how an organised gang of juvenile criminals was “roaming the streets of Dublin, openly cocking their noses at the Gardaí and courts.”

It all took place against the backdrop of an explosion of cases in the Children’s Court, where the number of charges brought against juveniles had reportedly soared from some 5,000 to  25,000 in just a decade. While not excusing the actions of any gang, the Irish Democratic Youth Movement, aligned with Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party (SFWP), rightly pinpointed “appalling housing conditions, inadequate education and the total lack of recreational facilities” as issues which “create an environment which breeds crime and violence.”

The sheer volume of bank robberies in the city in the late 1970s was remarkable in itself – spanning everything from paramilitary organisations to organised crime groups. Some went unreported until court dates (if there were any) but the youth of this particular gang ensured their escapades were always covered in the press. It was even suggested that they’d established something of a headquarters on Lower Gardiner Street in a former trade union building, which the Independent christened the “Bugsy School.” The gang were sometimes pinpointed by the press for other criminal activity, such as arson:


Irish Independent, 1 June 1978.

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