#ChoralMarch, March 15th: “Bogoroditse Devo” from All Night Vigil, Sergei Rachmaninov performed by St Petersburg Chamber Choir

On this day in 1915 Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil was first performed. Back in 2013, I conceived of a grandiose plan that performances of this piece could be held contemporaneously on March 15th 2015. I went to the extent of setting up a Gmail address and cold-emailing various choirs worldwide. Most did not reply, understandably, but many did very graciously and even with some intrigue. However, as I had no infrastructure or experience or contacts whatsoever to bring to the enterprise, it predictably fizzled out.

I have posted already about  UCD Choral Scholars and their influence on my sensibility when it comes to choral music. One of the most memorable musical moments of my life was their performance of “Bogoroditse Devo” from the All Night Vigil at a concert in the Belfield Church in 2000. Magically, the vast panorama of Russian history and culture, the Russian land itself,  and beyond that the world of communion with that which is beyond the finite opened up. I travelled since to Birmingham and Limerick to see live performances of this piece, by the Bolshoi Choir and the Lege Artis Choir respectively, both of which were excellent, but the impact of that day in Belfield stays with me.


#ToTheMoon #OnThisDay #FiftyYearsAgo #Apollo9 was launched #1969

No doubt this summer will see a tsunami of articles looking back fifty years to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first walk on the moon (and Michael Collins’ pivotal role in the mission)

Oft forgotten is the sheer risk involved, and the missions without which Apollo 11 would not have happened. Famously, President Nixon prepared

for the eventuality the moon landing succeeded but leaving the moon again proved impossible. There was also the ultimate sacrifice made by the Apollo 1 crew.

On March 3rd 1969 Apollo 9 was launched. Interestingly, of this writing all three Apollo 9 astronauts are alive, with Mission Commander James McDivitt turning 90 this coming June. David Scott, who is a few weeks younger than my own father would have been if he was still alive, went on to command Apollo 15, and is the only living Commander of a moon landing mission.

Finally Russell “Rusty” Schweickart, the youngest crew member, now 83, around whom the human drama of Apollo 9 focused:

Schweickart spent just over 241 hours in space, and performed the first extravehicular activity (EVA) of the Apollo program, testing the portable life support system that was later used by the 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon. The flight plan called for him to demonstrate an emergency transfer from the lunar module to the command module (CM) using handrails on the LM, but he began to suffer from space adaptation syndrome on the first day in orbit, forcing the postponement of the EVA.[8]

The rather bald language of Wikipedia masks a frightening reality (a feature in the current Sky At Night magazine, not available online, is the source for what follows) That night Schweickart found it difficult to sleep; if Apollo 9 could not demonstrate safe performance of the EVA, the schedule of Apollo missions would be pushed back, and Schweickart worried he would be responsible for the failure to meet President Kennedy’s end of the decade target.

At the very last minute, McDivitt put the spacewalk back on. In 45 minutes rather than the planned hours, Schweickart was able to demonstrate the required tasks could be performed safely; and so another link in the chain that would put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon a few months later was forged.

The lost worlds of Debois and Julieta Guipeal at the Tipperary County Museum

The lost worlds of Debois and Julieta Guipeal at the Tipperary County Museum

This is Portrait of a Man, by Julieta Guipeal:


Apologies for the photo quality – this was taken with my phone’s camera in a well-lit (and thereby reflective) space.

It is currently on display as part of an exhibition called Reflections in Tipperary County Museum, Clonmel. Here is a bit of background on the exhibition:

Earlier this year [2018], Tipperary County Museum initiated a vital research project which focused on the origins of its municipal art collection. Art Historian, Catherine Marshall was appointed Curator in Residence at Tipperary County Museum to oversee this particular project. The result of Catherine’s findings will be documented in a specialised catalogue in early 2019 and the accompanying exhibition ‘Reflections’ will exhibit approximately 65 paintings which have remained unseen by the general public for many years.

This Tipperary Art Collection is the result of active, committed and sustained citizenship by a small group of people, from those who established the South Tipperary Fine Arts Club in the 1940s, to individual donors like William English in the 1980s and more recently Tipperary County Council S.R., South Tipperary County Council and our now unified Tipperary County Council.

Portrait of an Artist and others of the most interesting works (including “F***lands 1982”) are part of the William English Bequest. I haven’t been able to find out much about William English online (possibly because there is an artist of that name) this article:

Subsequently, the original collection was added-to by a number of bequests, the most notable of which came from Clonmel man, William English. This brought relatively modern artists (working in the late decades of the 20th century) into the gallery: Robert Ballagh, Patrick Pye, Leo Hogan, Julieta Guipeal, and the Clonmel-born artist, Martin Quigley.

The above article by Margaret Rossiter is the only online reference to Julieta Guipeal I could find.  The catalogue for the exhibition states “All attempts to find the artist Julieta Guipeal have so far come to nothing. While almost all of the William English Bequest was acquired in the Limerick area, enquiries about Guipeal there have yielded no information, nor have early international searches”:


Here is another, unfortunately blurry, view of Portrait of A Man:

Julieta Guipeal is not the only lost artist on display. Here is a work whose very title is a mystery. Is it  EA or A1/2?  We known it is signed by “Debois”, but who is Debois? Again, apologies for the quality:


Here is the image in a bit more context with a great big stonking reflection of myself hogging the frame:

While in Guipeal’s case one can make assumptions (possibly misleading ones) about gender and possible ethnicity, in Debois’ case we have even less to go on. As the catalogue states “No information has come to light about the artist who signed this work, Debois, and no indications of how William English came across his or his work. That is all the more intriguing since the work itself is so tantalisingly dreamlike and surreal”:



So there you have it – I have posted before here about the amnesia of our supposedly information-saturated age., and here we have two intriguing works, each by an artist apparently unknown for anything else.

You are not alone: the word “sonder”

I recently came across the word “sonder”

Coined in 2012 by John Koenig, whose project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, aims to come up with new words for emotions that currently lack words.[1][2]Related to German sonder- (special) and French sonder (to probe).[3]

(neologism) The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.

I am not that sure how I feel about it. As with solastalgia I am somewhat suspcious of the resort to neologism. I have a nagging sense that there is another, already existing word for this… perhaps I should think of a word for this nagging sense.

Stone lettering from Nelson’s Pillar – exiled from O’Connell Street to Kilkenny

Stone lettering from Nelson’s Pillar – exiled from O’Connell Street to Kilkenny

Recently I came across Butler House, the former dower house of Kilkenny Castle. In its topiaried gardens I came across this:

Not sure how legible that is. I recall Nelson’s Head being exhibited in the Dublin Civic Museum so I am not quite sure if the remains were really so “unwanted” as all that.

Here are some.pictures of the lettering:

The low-key centenary of the Soloheadbeg Ambush

About ten years ago, a friend of mine working in a ministerial department told me about the concern the government had about the “decade of centenaries” marking the anniversaries of the events leading up to Irish (partial) independence. There was a concern to commemorate these properly, so that extreme elements couldn’t hijack them, without alienating Unionism. Thus the lavish 1916 centenary, and associated events in the years before (and since)

A few months ago I wondered what official commemoration would mark the 100th anniversary of the Soloheadbeg ambush, which marked the outset of the War of Independence.  The ambush took place on 21st January 1919, and on 20th January (ie tomorrow) there will be ceremonies to mark the anniversary.

I mean no disrespect to Minister Josepha Madigan by suggesting her presence as the government representative is a little less high profile than that accorded to other events.

I remember as a child visiting Kilmainham Jail, which sold a booklet which went into great detail about the various Fenians and 1916 leaders who had been imprisoned and executed there, and a brief page on the War of Independence. There’s always been an ambivalence about the War of Independence, largely due  to the Civil War which followed, and the ambiguity about the outcome with partition of Ireland. Also, one surmises, while 1916 was a military failure and is therefore something of a blank slate (the commemorations of both 1966 and 2016 reflected contemporary concerns and attitudes as much as anything else), the War of Independence did lead to an Irish state and involved almost all of the main political protagonists of the first few decades of that state.

Clearly the political dynamics of 1919 have not gone away and right now are taking centre stage in not only Irish or British but European politics. On Monday 21st 2019 Theresa May will present (or is supposed to) her “Plan B” after a Brexit plan floundered, to a large extent on the “Irish Question.”  Furthermore, while Soloheadbeg had a far smaller death toll than 1916, there is something much more personal about the killing of two local Catholics who happened to be RIC men. The reality that the Irish state (like every state, pretty much) was born in conflict, and that all the main Irish political parties arose from or were strongly linked with paramilitary forces of various kinds is one that a veil is often drawn over.

All in all, one wonders if the current Government would rather not make much of a fuss about the whole thing, and one wonders if this could backfire somewhat. A whole raft of centenaries – of ambushes and assassinations and of the Treaty and the subsequent debates – is following in the coming years.