The “Pan Celtic Bug”

(written July 2016)

Who and what are “the Celts”? This is an old question, or debate. A common view in the humanities is that the idea of “Celts” is a cultural construct referring to a primitive pagan and rural people that have not made any contribution to the world. This perspective was rooted in the medieval Italian proverb that “civilisation is inseparable from the city”. It has been reflected in Bill McCormack’s judgement that the invention of an academic discipline called “Celtic Archaeology” is a nonsense because whoever the Celts were, they did not have “the logical or mathematical brains” necessary to construct architectural icons of civilisation such as the classical columns of Greece and Rome (‘the eternal city’). It has also been reflected in the judgement of Sean Connolly of Belfast that Gaelic society in Ulster and Scotland was “barbaric” because it was “Celtic” and rural, not urban.

“Pan Celticism” was an idea that developed in the 1880s in response to the idea that a “Celtic fringe” existed within the United Kingdom: that “fringe” being Scotland, Wales and Ireland. As an example, the English poet Matthew Arnold decided around this time that he was really a “Celt” because, being a poet, he was more interested in nature and rural life than maths or cities. For a time, I grew curious about the writings of a Cork journalist turned mawkish (sentimental) poet named Eugene Davis. He was an only child of a second marriage in an old Catholic family tied in with the local landed gentry and, to this day, I am not entirely sure if it was he, or Michael Davitt, who acted as an intermediary with the Irish College in Rome in Irish politics during the mid-1880s (a curious development, albeit a separate issue to the theme of this “blog”). I remember spotting, however, that Davis wrote in 1877 that he believed that the fact that he had a Welsh surname, like Thomas Davis, was a reason why he identified particularly with Irish sensibilities because he had a natural cultural affinity with “the purely Celtic Cymric [Welsh] race”. Some literary scholars love this type of talk. Historians are more inclined to view it as the type of irrational nonsense that only poets could speak.

Historically, there certainly was a cultural tendency to view the divide between urban and rural as one between the literate and the “not-so-literate” for without the possibility of leisure time that develops from urban dwellers liberation from the 24-7 challenge of subsistence living off the land, nobody would have the time to think about books, let alone read them. What the poets seemed to highlight, by contrast, was the issue (if there indeed is an “issue”) is not one of levels of literacy but one of a preoccupation with “nature” (including sensuality) or “maths” (a non-sensual matter). This philosophy (if it can indeed be called a “philosophy”) was, I think, central to muse of W.B. Yeats, who liked nothing better in his later years than attempt to sum up life in a few lines. His definition of the relevance of Statistics to modern life, for instance, was
‘Those Platonists are a curse’, he said,
‘God’s fire upon the wane,
A diagram hung there instead,
More women born than men.’

In other words, abstract logic (including philosophy) means nothing in the face of the reality that life exists in the realm of the senses more than it does in the realm of maths, and such are the simple truths of life that poets like, even if it causes them to go (according to conventional logic) just a little mad (or even ‘pagan’).

Yeats was led to pursue this type of sensual reasoning not least from his involvement with theosophy, which was the 1880s equivalent in Europe of the 1960s hippie new age/yoga movement in the USA. Eastern mysticism was seen to be at the roots not only of “classical” civilisation but of human civilisation as a whole, and that included, last but certainly not least, “the Celts”. Hence, the druids of poetry were now offering an alternative world vision to that of the priests of Rome (if not, perhaps, to that of the orthodox priests of Byzantium, although somehow I doubt that western European theosophists knew all that much about “that” world, which considered everything west of Constantinople, including the Protestant religious tradition of England, as an outgrowth of Rome).

From the mid-1920s onwards Yeats adopted a public profile of being critical of the Irish state, which has led many a historian to typify him as an antithesis to ‘official Ireland’ but his attitude towards Irish culture was actually very similar to Sean O’Riada, author of Our Musical Heritage and the composer of an anthem of official Ireland (‘Mise Eire’) not too long after Yeats’ death. This was that Irish culture, as reflected in its traditional music, was more ‘Oriental’ than ‘European’ in nature because unlike the European classical music tradition it was not written in the language of maths. Instead, it is “a voice of nature” in the same way as music is considered in the Far East. Was O’Riada, the composer of that old Irish Catholic Hymn ‘Ag Criost an Siol’ (Jesus Christ, The Seed), really a ‘decadent’ sensualist like Yeats? Or was he, quite simply, just an intelligent guy? Let the world decide.

And what has all this to do with the world of history? Should historians, those paragons of logical social science, allow themselves to become infected with the “pan-Celtic bug”? I think not. I think the conclusion that can be drawn from this broad perspective is that the history of humanity and the history of culture is actually quite a different thing from the history of politics, which is based on all those forms of logic that are rooted only in maths (be it architecture, construction, economics and all things monetary, including government). The more historians can perceive that issue of the two separate fields of human endeavour, the better for each, and yet all balanced minds should be able to understand the logic behind each. If there is a “great divide” in life, it is not between nations, or between male and female, or between logic and illogic. It is between the urban and the rural; the commercial and the natural. All students of the arts, no matter how that noun ‘art’ is defined or perceived, perhaps need to perceive this reality, which means an equal reliance upon instinctual as much as abstract reasoning; to be “at home” in the reality of the country as much as in the reality of the city. In truth, this may not be so difficult a challenge.

Where And When The Buck Stops

The Americans have a good old saying about the nature of responsibility: “the buck stops here!” It is, perhaps, less a celebration of the golden rule than a reflection of its significance. As we well know, responsibilities for employments, welfare and so much more depend upon funding. One could well include research projects under the same umbrella, this being an area where I have experienced countless disappointments over the years (and still do…the breadline beckons), as no doubt have many others. Where should “the buck” stop, or start, for research? A popular answer might be “who cares!” and that one should just go along with some desired research project regardless. Where there is a will, there is a way…and so on. But contexts can be a strange thing.

Over the last few years, as I have grown more fascinated with economic history, it has become a refreshing thing to hear economic historians and (some) economic commentators speak. Why? I think the primary reason is that they evidently believe in “straight talking”. I remember a teenage girl surprised me many years ago with an observation that Aristotle said (and I’m taking her word for this one) that the only sign of an intelligent person is that they invariably profess their own complete ignorance. Why? Because we all know far less than what we do not know. Consider that and witness how some economic historians “take on” their subjects. They make fearless judgments about international and national affairs, while equally admitting that they can get things entirely wrong. And yet they have researched their subject more intensely than anyone. It seems that economists pass the “Aristotle test” very well indeed.

What a difference that tone can make from that of so many political historians, who sometimes speak as if to disagree with a particular consensus would be a sign of “embarrassing” ignorance. I think it was Shakespeare who said that “all is vanity” but the particular vanity of this breed of political historian may be a unique thing in itself. Maybe he (or, indeed, she) is not as common as it may seem. The only consensuses that generally exist in life and in many branches of science are that there are no consensuses or, at least, these are perpetually open to change. I think it is for that very reason economic historians are often so incredibly well informed and yet also so admirably fearless. They are, perhaps, an example of the old Christian adage that it is wise to have the grace to “accept the unknown”.

Witness this following talk by Kevin O’Rourke, one of Ireland’s finest economic historians today. He sums up a century of trade statistics in about ten minutes and then comes to a conclusion, drawn from a children’s fable, that it is all a question of whether one acts like an oak tree or a branch:

Great stuff! O’Rourke also gave a rather brilliant lecture on the century since the 1916 rising from an economic perspective last year and helps to sustain a blog on the Irish Economy. Do I agree with everything he says? I am not sure if even he agrees with everything he says, but I am certain that he is a scholar from which one can learn because his enquiring mind is literally wide open. He expresses and revises his theories constantly without fear.

Another Irish “straight-talker” is a man who somehow shouldered a large part of the burden of steering Ireland through a recent financial crisis: Patrick Honohan. How anyone managed that responsibility is beyond me. But witness here his lecture on the role of the Central Bank of Ireland:

In just half an hour, he explains simply and directly the respective roles of European monetary policy and Irish national fiscal responsibility in shaping the Irish economy and why these are not one and the same thing. Personally, I think I could have read a hundred newspaper articles or half a dozen contemporary (political) histories and not once come across such cogent and illuminating analysis on the theme, all expressed in such a “straight talking” manner. Which just serves to remind me of a comment that Garret Fitzgerald once made, that political and economic history writing in Ireland do not seem to have ever met. I think Fitzgerald tried to do a bit of that, through writing a few essays in retirement, without necessarily believing that he succeeded in any fashion. I attempted to do a bit of that in my study of Arthur Griffith, and I know “now” that I failed in a few angles taken therein, but one can always try again…and again…on any subject one likes, surely?

For now, though, I feel like simply throwing out an idea: that perhaps it is the very fact, identified by Fitzgerald, that economic and political histories of Ireland (or maybe even “in” Ireland) have not met that has made many hypersensitive on the theme, perhaps most of all out of a sense of insecurity? I recall a British imperial historian, one of the best of his trade, giving a talk when he gave as a frank judgment that….“yeah, I think was right about a fair few of those things, but as to the rest…nah, on reflection that was just bullshit. I got that wrong”. Did this mean that he lost his job or his writings lost any of their credibility? Not in the slightest! To some extent, it may have even done him a favour (career wise, or otherwise). But in Irish academic circles, I am not so sure that the “Aristotle test” is quite so socially, or professionally, acceptable. Then again…let us hope that I am wrong.

Whole World In His Hands

Music addicts like me can be particularly prone to having a long-forgotten tune resurfacing in their minds any given day for no apparent reason. An old song, which I remember was used for group-singing in primary school, suddenly jumped into my mind this morning. Where did it come from? Wikipedia explains that it is an American spiritual dating from 1927 and you can ever hear the melody here: He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands. It is a simple little tune with an evidently big idea behind it, so big that its title may even seem to have unpleasant connotations to some. How on earth can anyone have “the whole world in their hands”?

Well, it seems some people do by one special means: the use of statistics. Witness the World Trade Organisation’s internet site, which impressively hosts a “trade and tariff map” of the globe: World Trade Organisation. What a wonderful reference this map is for any of us who may have an idea of wanting to know “what is going on in the world” in terms of politics. Click on any country or region on this map and one can see a statistical breakdown of that state’s performance.

The creation of such information maps is nothing new. Some of the best historians have done so for many a year. A brief look at this map reminds me of a point that a great old Irish economic historian, Louis Cullen, made in print a decade or two ago: that the worlds of banking and commerce began to change beyond all recognition in the 1950s. Reduced to essentials, in history, every country judged its effectiveness on its ability to maintain a positive balance of trade, with more exports than imports. Striving for this goal, or maintaining this standard, was the essence of what governments did or “do”. But if one clicks on any of the regions on this map, one can see that states have become more concerned with maintaining a positive balance in the export or import of “commercial services” than they are with merchandise or goods. In fact, many have a negative trading balance in terms of goods, including the United States. Indeed, the alpha and omega of the politics of the current American president may lie in that statistic. A desire to create, or maintain, a positive balance of trade is neither an isolationist nor a (inherently) protectionist policy: in history, it has traditionally been seen as an essential component of good government. This is reasonable.

So what can a map such like that of the World Trade Organisation tells us “today”? Well, reduced to essentials, it indicates that the international economic order has been governed by financial services industries for quite some time far more so than it has been by regular trade. This may be nothing “new”. Whether or not it interests us, we have probably all been aware of this, more or less, for many a year, just from “hearing the tone of the news”. Is this changing? And what do the historians have to say about all this? The short answer, I am inclined to think, is “not a lot”. And why? Because it is not an easy historical trend to understand. It is too recent or too “new”. One is more likely to find reflections on these trends in broader studies, such as works on international relations theory. But, even there, one will find that these theorists evidently do not have any greater inkling of how to describe evident trends than the use of a litany of banal adjectives such as “globalisation” or “liberalism” (particularly, “Anglo-American liberalism”, if such a thing can be said to exist) that are likely to leave one with a blank perception by virtue of their blanket application.

So, one does not need individuals like me to point out that if, or when, one comes across theorists or even historians who write or speak as if they, or even evident “world leaders” in politics or business, have “the whole world in their hands”, they are telling you little more, or possibly even far less, than what can be heard in that simple little tune referenced at the beginning of this blog. This is not an act of reticence or deception. It is a reality because the truth is economic history can only provide indicators rather than a complete picture. Having said that, I guess this is all the more reason for enjoying the completeness of a well-formed melody and to be “content with that”, which returns my mind to an original idea…

Atlas of the Irish Revolution

If various forms of popular entertainments can be believed, it seems that American teenagers, along with inverting the meaning of the word “sick”, have become particularly fond of using the adjective “awesome” in a truly superficial manner. To describe something as “awesome”, therefore, may imply something that is banal or of only momentary entertainment value. There is no other adjective that springs to mind this morning, however, to describe my thoughts and feelings upon examining a copy of a new publication, the Atlas of the Irish Revolution. Literally speaking, to be “in awe” of something means to behold something for which one can only feel a sense of reverential wonder. I would be surprised if any individual did not feel similarly upon picking up a copy of this publication, which is truly gargantuan both in terms of content and proportions.

Containing 364 original maps, as well as over 700 top quality and rare images, it visualises Irish history with a depth that even the most ambitious of web-host designers of digital history projects, such as have recently won national awards from the American Historical Association, could only dream of. On top of that, it contains no less than 150 chapters of text from appropriately 100 authors. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that it weighs approximately 5 kilograms. Its weight and scale is such that, not unless one has biceps the size of Hulk Hogan’s, it needs to lie “flatbed” on a table to peruse its contents.

This could be one potential drawback for the publication, for some people avoid “coffee table” size books. In addition, many potentially great reference books of this kind, such as the Penguin Atlases of World History, are designed to be pocket-book sized. One wonders, therefore, if this publication, to achieve its deserved level of attention, should also be made available online or if the contents of its 150 chapters, here subdivided into ten sections, could be made available as downloadable PDFs for a variety of educational or cultural purposes. It is really like 150 books in one. Although it is available to buy online, I fear that postage costs for a volume like this, to use a clichéd old historical joke, could cost more than a ransom for a deposed Hapsburg monarch.

As to its contents, in keeping with the Sean Keating “men of the south” image on the front cover, this publication could well be described as the most detailed and comprehensive history of the army of Irish republican volunteers of the day that has ever been assembled. Even if French scholars spent a decade detailing down to a community, or individual, level all available information of the parameters of the French Resistance movement, it is doubtful that it could result in such a comprehensive picture. There is an effective combination of local and national analyses in this book. Similarly, the recent, seemingly paramount, interest in personal stories of the revolution is reflected in the contents of this volume in such a way that it serves to illuminate rather than obscure national factors. The equal emphasis in later chapters upon historiographical debates is certainly in keeping with scholarly norms, although I personally think this is a theme that can be overdone. Call me a cynic if one wishes, but it often seems to me that there are a hundred-time-more individuals who enjoy arguing about Irish history than there are individuals who really have an open mind about understanding Irish history. A volume such as this, however, will certainly expose any reader to a myriad of perspectives, as much as unfamiliar subject matters, that may encourage a fuller spectrum of understanding.

There are some good chapters here on the international dimension of the Irish revolution, although these are not as comprehensive as they may become in the future because this is an area that is only beginning to be researched. For those interested in women’s history, there are several interesting pieces in this volume although I personally missed any reference to Katherine Hughes. She was a Canadian-born writer, whom Eamon DeValera relied upon, from 1920 onwards, to create Irish diaspora movements in Canada, Australia and America with a view to creating a non-governmental organisation to be affiliated with the nascent Irish government. Together with Thomas Hughes Kelly and Michael MacWhite, she was also the organiser of the Parisian World Conference of the Irish Race, upon which the Irish government spent several thousand pounds, that (amongst other things) was first responsible for introducing Irish artists such as Harry Clarke to a continental audience, while she was also planning a Dictionary of Irish Biography before she was tragically struck down by cancer in 1924. Such individual stories are fascinating, but they tend to slip from our notice because such individuals were neither born in nor lived in Ireland. Can they be included in Ireland’s “revolutionary story” or should one sceptically dismiss these activities on distant shores as a meaningless form of “paddy-whackery”? I am definitely of the former opinion, although the day when historians can conceive of an effective manner of encompassing such a broader story is perhaps not yet upon us.

A valuable chapter in this current volume, however, that certainly points in precisely this direction can be found in editor Donal O’Drisceoil’s study “moral force, humanitarianism and propaganda”. This details the type of vision and organisational methods that inspired the approach of individuals like DeValera to placing Ireland’s cause before the world at large. The Irish civil war, which is detailed well here, is often seen to have sent these aspirations to the wall, although perhaps the true issue was the complex challenge of organisation? Of late, a pet theory of mine is that if Michael Collins adopted unorthodox methods of organisation within Ireland that ultimately backfired, his “fenian-alter-ego” Harry Boland made virtually the same mistake among the Irish abroad (including in Paris and London) for essentially the same reason, which could be the ultimate justification for arguing that the old Irish Republican Brotherhood’s fondness for “wire-pulling” networks, confined to a small circle, was a liability rather than an asset to Irish nationalist organisations of the day. But that is another story.

Along with its pioneering use of sophisticated mapping techniques, the greatest merit of Atlas of the Irish Revolution is the sheer breadth of subjects and authors within this one single volume. For this very reason, I think it would be fair to say that there is no historian on earth that could not learn something new from the contents of this volume. This Atlas literally deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, although the extent and diversity of its contents are such that readers may have difficulty in processing it. Nevertheless, it is self evidently the ultimate reference guide for Ireland’s revolutionary era.

The Bold Fenian Pen

How much in life is determined purely by a vantage point? That is a perennial question one might be inclined to ask whenever one is exposed to speech or print. Historians are naturally disposed to ask such questions on a particularly regular basis. I have rarely had the honour of being a part of a collective historical work, the principal exception being a couple of occasions, about a decade ago, when I was able to make a small contribution to the quite wonderful Dictionary of Irish Biography. Irrespective of the authors, behind every entry in that dictionary could be said to be the worldview of each of its subjects. That is a lot of different vantage points (about 9,000 to be exact, across countless generations). Historians will try (or, at least, should try) to understand as many as they can, but that is a considerable challenge. The principal editor of the dictionary wrote many entries on mid-nineteenth century Irish nationalists and later produced the first study in a few generations of the Young Ireland movement, which also gave rise to many of the first Fenian activists, particularly in the United States. A remarkable fact about these men is that most of them became newspaper editors. Some may associate such men with songs such as ‘the bold fenian men’ but they might better have been described as the progenitors of a ‘bold fenian pen’ and the worldview they championed is not necessarily one that is familiar today.

The first point that can be made is that these men had become American republicans that were inclined, as Irish exiles, to champion what might be described as an international republican perspective. As an example, Thomas Devin Reilly championed European republican figures such as Mazzini and Garibaldi but argued that they were mistaken to identify their cause with that of English liberalism. Instead, he argued, they should look to the cause of the United States. Associated newspaper editors such as John Mitchel or John Savage evidently reasoned likewise and encouraged Joseph Brenan to do the same. This was the type of vantage point that Irish-born founders of the American Fenian Brotherhood such as John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny came to adopt, although their initiative soon took second place to the American civil war in more ways than one. With the encouragement of figures in the government of the state of New York, another one-time newspaper editor Thomas J. Kelly took over their movement and together with Gustave Cluseret, a French adventurer who had fought under Garibaldi and later in the Union Army, made the grandiose gesture of drafting an Irish republican proclamation in London and staging an abortive one-day (5 March) protest rebellion in Ireland. Why on earth did they do this? Although they identified themselves as American patriots with an internationalist republican mentality, their motive would seem to have been primarily to find some means of annoying Britain in return for the latter’s perceived actions during the American civil war. When amnestied from prison with some encouragement from the American government, these would be Fenian rebels (with the exception of Cluseret, who returned to France, still declaring himself an enemy of all aristocracies in every country) were given jobs in the civil administration of New York. Savage, a one-time president of the American Fenian Brotherhood, even received an honorary doctorate for his services to American literature, although by the time of his death in 1888 the notion of an international radicalism had begun to acquire more socialist than republican overtones, even if the essential stimulus for this trend may have been the same: the communications revolution of trans-continental, or trans-Atlantic, telegraphic, postage and public transport networks. During the Land League era, many would-be Irish republican radicals, in common with those in 1867, also identified themselves in internationalist terms.

What, therefore, was the meaning, or punch line, of the ‘bold fenian pen’ that these men practiced? The easy assumption is the starting point that most Irish writers adopt: these were men who were prepared to contemplate an Irish nationalist rebellion. It would seem, however, that the story is much more complex and essentially quite different to that. As much as men like Mitchel resented their status as Irish exiles, they soon became determined primarily to apply the vantage point they acquired abroad to Ireland and international affairs generally. The ‘fenian story’ was defined not least by men who acquired an alternative experience of the wider world than the sole one that was supposed to be open to Irishmen of the time, which was service in the British imperial administration. How they were to apply that alternative vantage point was the essential question that preoccupied them. Not all came up with the same answer, but the perpetual proliferation of hangers-on who became associated with Fenian circles over each decade, from would-be artists to writers of various hues, testified to the existence of this particular contemporary counterculture. This was not necessarily an underground phenomenon either, even if this world often included a few members of that most murky and well-travelled guild of contemporary adventurers: that of war-correspondent journalists. This experience evidently served to politicise ex-French Foreign Legionnaires in the fenian movement, such as John Devoy and especially James O’Kelly, and it was also a feature of the careers of some ‘purely American’ fenian figures, such as John Finerty, who travelled in Central America and whose contemporary account of his travels with the US army in its campaign against the Sioux Indians has, it seems, been in print ever since.

Of late, there appears to have been fresh studies, the first in many years, of men like Mitchel and Thomas Francis Meagher, the latter being the designer of the Irish tricolour who ended up dying in mysterious circumstances as the governor of Montana. I have come across colourful stories of other less well-known figures, who founded Texan Land Leagues and Californian trade unions, long before such American states were truly on their feet, or else cavorted with strange eccentrics on the back-streets of Paris, long before old friends of these men back in Ireland had the means to travel even a few miles from their birthplaces. It is no wonder that art historians such as Niamh O’Sullivan have typified the trajectory of careers of men like James O’Kelly as being worthy of some boys-own-adventure-story-books-of-yore; an almost cinematic and potentially juvenile picture of ‘fenian’ activity. Perhaps one might say that such an idea is a variation of the notion of ‘bold fenian men’: the story of some remarkable and, at least potentially, daring individuals. My own inkling, however, is that it would be well for historians to focus instead on the idea of a ‘bold fenian pen’. What these men offered was an alternative way of seeing the world and, quite often, Ireland’s place within it, to what was familiar or acceptable to most others. If this phenomenon is seen as the story of many separate individuals, it becomes impossible to separate their vantage point purely from their own individual experience. However, if a common cultural or political vantage point can be read into many of these individual experiences we may come much closer to understanding what was the true meaning or parameters of the ‘bold fenian pen’.

A Long Forgotten Art

I noticed on RTE today a piece about a little-known American music composer Amy Beach who wrote a composition that was nicknamed the “Gaelic symphony” in 1894. Such features about “long forgotten artists” can be fascinating. It is often said that if arts or artists have been forgotten, this is inevitably for a good reason. Similarly, if only one of a circle of a dozen writers is remembered a century later “there is a [justifiable] reason” for this. Or so it is said. One has to wonder sometimes, however. Niamh O’Sullivan’s rediscovery of the works of Aloysius O’Kelly seems a notable example of an Irish artist of yesteryear who “fell through the cracks”, or did not get noticed “at home”, by virtue of the fact that they spent most of their time abroad. They were artists that existed between two societies rather than being fully at home in either one.

Amy Beach does not appear to have had any Irish connections, while in her day (and frequently since) the use of the word “Gaelic” had no greater connotations in the USA than to refer to vague folk customs of the British Isles or the believed origins of the genuinely American folk music that is bluegrass. She is remembered now for being one of the first American “women composers” of classical music. A contemporary woman composer was Augusta Holmes of Paris. Her father was from Youghal, Co. Cork, and she composed various pieces on Irish themes. I remember noticing negative press reviews of her work when it was given a seemingly once-off performance in Dublin c.1900, along the lines that she was no Charles Villiers Stanford. Having heard some of Stanford’s music performed in his stomping ground of Cambridge university once upon a time, I am inclined to speculate that it is a good thing that she was not. But it is fascinating that she composed works on Irish themes that have long since been forgotten. These were written and performed in Paris, which also served as the home of an Irish-American composer Swan Hennessy.

I was fascinated to read a newspaper report recently dating from 1922, which stated that Arthur Darley introduced Hennessy to Eamon DeValera and others at the Parisian World Conference of the Irish Race (January 1922). Thereafter, as part of a Parisian festival of Irish music, drama and visual arts, there was a premiere performance of a string quartet that was composed by Hennessy in memory of Terence MacSwiney. Where is this music now? Was it ever performed again? I honestly do not know. Neither will you find mention of artists like Holmes, Hennessy or Darley in any standard Irish cultural histories. However, if one doubts the value of internet sites such as Wikipedia or YouTube for scholarly or other purposes then consider how remarkable it is that Wikipedia entries exist for these long forgotten artists that one might never find in scholarly compendiums, published in book format, with only one or possibly two authors or editors.

I notice from Wikipedia that Holmes had children by Catulle Mendes who, somewhat bizarrely, seemed to appeal to (semi-fenian) writers in Ireland at the time. In addition to being commissioned to write a piece marking the centenary of the French Revolution (she was a prominent socialite in Parisian musical circles, according to the research of Brian Rees), she wrote at least four compositions on Irish themes. Amazingly, some of these are on youtube. This includes her (self-evidently patriotic) symphonic poem Irlande; a musical form that was popular at the time and essentially inspired the later development of film music.

Remarkably, the research of Alex Klein indicates that Holmes decided in 1897 that all financial proceeds from any future performance of her symphonic poem Irlande should be given to the Gaelic League in Ireland; a probable indication that she followed Irish developments throughout her life, as well as the likely explanation why this piece of programme music (a rare thing, in Irish musical circles, up until, including and after the days of Sean O Riada’s film scores) was evidently performed in Dublin c.1900 with the patronage of the Feis Ceoil. Also on youtube, there are performances of two of her vocal pieces, including an “Irish Christmas” ode Noel d’Irlande (1896) and the rather prosaically titled Chansons des gars d’Irlande (1891), which literally means “the song of the Irish guys”, which sounds almost soldier-like. I’ve yet to discover the existence of a performance or recording of her “L’Aubepine de Saint Patrick” (1892), which literally means St. Patrick’s Rabbit, but…who knows…it may well pop up on the net someday.

There are probably a thousand and one long forgotten composers, painters, writers and various forms of artists from yesteryear that may have been forgotten primarily because they never gained admittance into some scholarly compendium of “important artists”, for one reason or another. But, in time, perhaps it will be the case that many of these artists will find a home on the internet so long as someone, somewhere, either knows about them already or else “rediscovers” them. I think that to get a sense of a historic time and place, it is often advisable to see not only the good and the bad but also all points in between to get a complete sense of the time. It remains to be seen whether or not the Internet will serve to either “democratise” the history of art or else simply greatly expand the parameters of the history of art. Personally, I think the second development would be welcome as well as a probable result, “in the fullness of time”, of the existence of the open forum that is the Internet. In addition, provided that there are authors with a fully informed imagination there is no doubt ample scope for expanding the parameters of many existing Irish cultural histories. In terms of music, a positive example of this trend can be found in the work of Alex Klein, Ann Heymann, Barnaby Brown and many others.