St Valentine at Whitefriars’ Street

St Valentino of Whitefriars’ Street

Johnny Spratt he took the bones, 

He  brought them back to Whitefriar Gate: 

A Saint who once had laid in Rome, 

And made his mark on one blind date. 

Valentino was his name 

The Saint of roses, cards and bling ;

A dab hand at the the lovers’ game, 

At one night stands and high-hand flings. 

Now business has him by the balls,

The great bonanza —flowers and cards!

The shy, used doggerel that appalls

The timid words of ‘best Regards”!

They wait in slippers, in the hall

The postman’s shadow comes not there,

Someone else has got the call

Roses are red, and thorns will snare.

And Valentine? Well he got done!

And poor Lucia, in the dark;

The little letter that he wrote

Brought its light, its vital spark.

Love’s worth dying for, they say;

The vital spark that it bestows

Can light the heart or make it pay —

Where love resides? There’s no one knows.

— © Frank Callery.

Doctor Spratt and the Bones of Valentine

Dr. John Francis Spratt, D.D. 1796-1871.

 In 1835 an Irish Carmelite by the name of John Spratt was visiting Rome. He was well known in Ireland for his skills as a preacher and also for his work among the poor and destitute in Dublin’s Liberties area. He was also responsible for the building of the new church to Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Whitefriar Street. While he was in Rome he was asked to preach at the famous Jesuit Church in the city, the Gesu. Apparently his fame as a preacher had gone before him, no doubt brought by some Jesuits who had been in Dublin. The elite of Rome flocked to hear him and he received many tokens of esteem from the doyens of the Church. One such token came from Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) and were the remains of Saint Valentine.

When the Reliquary arrived in Dublin it was accompanied by a letter, in Latin, which reads:

St Valentine

We, Charles, by the divine mercy, Bishop of Sabina of the Holy Roman Church, cardinal Odescalchi arch priest of the sacred Liberian Basilica, Vicar General of our most Holy Father the Pope and Judge in ordinary of the Roman Curia and of its districts, etc., etc.

To all and everyone who shall inspect these our present letters, we certify and attest, that for the greater glory of the omnipotent God and veneration of his saints, we have freely given to the Very Reverend Father Spratt, Master of Sacred Theology of the Order of Calced Carmelites of the convent of that Order at Dublin, in Ireland, the blessed body of St Valentine, martyr, which we ourselves by the command of the most Holy Father Pope Gregory XVI on the 27th day of December 1835, have taken out of the cemetery of St Hippolytus in the Tiburtine Way, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood and have deposited them in a wooden case covered with painted paper, well closed, tied with a red silk ribbon and sealed with our seals and we have so delivered and consigned to him, and we have granted unto him power in the Lord, to the end that he may retain to himself, give to others, transmit beyond the city (Rome) and in any church, oratory or chapel, to expose and place the said blessed holy body for the public veneration of the faithful without, however, an Office and Mass, conformably to the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, promulgated on the 11th day of August 1691.

In testimony whereof, these letters, testimonial subscribed with our hand, and sealed with our seal, we have directed to be expedited by the undersigned keeper of sacred relics.

Rome, from our Palace, the 29th day of the month of January 1836.

C.Cardinal vicar

Regd. Tom 3. Page 291

Philip Ludovici Pro-Custos

The Legend of the Two Valentini

The Roman Martyrology commemorates two martyrs named Valentine (or Valentinus) on February 14 which seems to indicate that both were beheaded on the Flaminian Way, one at Rome the other at Terni which is some 60 miles from Rome. Valentine of Rome was a priest who is said to have died about 269 during the persecution of Claudius the Goth (or Claudius II Gothicus). The other Valentine was allegedly Bishop of Terni, and his death is attested to in the Martyrology of St Jerome. Whether there were actually one or two Valentines is disputed. One possibility is that is two cults – one based in Rome, the other in Terni – may have sprung up to the same martyr but that in the mists of time his true identity became confused.

In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno – the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia. At the time the lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and they would then be partners for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Claudius had also ordered all Romans to worship the state religion’s idols, and he had made it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christians. But Valentinus was dedicated to the ideals of Christ, and not even the threat of death could keep him from practicing his beliefs. Valentine and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this kind deed Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, in either 269 or 270.

This is one legend surrounding Valentine’s martyrdom. The second is that during the last weeks of his life a remarkable thing happened. One day a jailer for the Emperor of Rome knocked at Valentine’s door clutching his blind daughter in his arms. He had learned of Valentine’s medical and spiritual healing abilities, and appealed to Valentine to treat his daughter’s blindness. She had been blind since birth. Valentine knew that her condition would be difficult to treat but he gave the man his word he would do his best. The little girl was examined, given an ointment for her eyes and a series of re-visits were scheduled.

Seeing that he was a man of learning, the jailer asked whether his daughter, Julia, might also be brought to Valentine for lessons. Julia was a pretty young girl with a quick mind. Valentine read stories of Rome’s history to her. He described the world of nature to her. He taught her arithmetic and told her about God. She saw the world through his eyes, trusted in his wisdom, and found comfort in his quiet strength.

One day she asked if God really existed and Valentine assured her that He did. She went on to tell him how she prayed morning and night that she might be able to see and Valentine told her that whatever happened would be God’s will and would be for the best. They sat and prayed together for a while.

Several weeks passed and the girl’s sight was not restored. Yet the man and his daughter never wavered in their faith and returned each week. Then one day, Valentine received a visit from the Roman soldiers who arrested him and who now destroyed his medicines and admonished him for his religious beliefs. When the little girl’s father learned of his arrest and imprisonment, he wanted to intervene but there was nothing he could do.

On the eve of his death, Valentine wrote a last note to Julia – knowing his execution was imminent. Valentine asked the jailer for a paper, pen and ink. He quickly jotted a farewell note and handed it to the jailer to give to his blind daughter. He urged her to stay close to God, and he signed it “From Your Valentine.” His sentence was carried out the next day, February 14, 269 A.D., near a gate that was later named Porta Valentini (now Porta del Popolo) in his memory.

When the jailer went home, he was greeted by his little girl. The little girl opened the note and discovered a yellow crocus inside. The message said, “From your Valentine.” As the little girl looked down upon the crocus that spilled into her palm she saw brilliant colours for the first time in her life! The girl’s eyesight had been restored.

He was buried at what is now the Church of Praxedes in Rome, near the cemetery of St Hippolytus. It is said that Julia herself planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.

In 496 Pope Gelasius I named February 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day. On each Valentine’s Day, messages of affection, love and devotion are still exchanged around the world. This could be because of Valentine’s work in marrying couples against the law, or because of the miracle worked for Julia and the message he left other. Others believe that people in medieval times sent love notes during February because it was seen as the mating season of birds and that Valentine’s feast falling in the middle of the month became the principle day for this.

St Valentine’s casket containing the remains lies beneath a marble altar protected by an iron and glass gate. A life-sized statue of St Valentine is in a frescoed niche above the altar.  On top of the casket are the arms of Pope Gregory XVI and two gold plates on which Cardinal Odescalchi’s letter is inscribed in English. On a smaller plate is the inscription “This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood”.

Your Own Valentine

(a song for all lovers, based on the legend of Julia and Valentinus)

Near the Porta del Popolo

The lovers walk through the snow 

Of the almond flower as it blows across the skies.

In the shade of that almond tree 

The crocus flowers cast their seed

And the light of a yellow dress reflects in each eye.

She planted the almond there —

Her love was beyond compare —

For the saint who had brought the light of love to her eyes.

And the centuries set them apart

As the symbols of love — of the heart —

The Valentine, whose words were the font of her sighs.

“O Julia,” that’s what the note said:

“You’ll read when I’m dead, 

May you never pine 

For your Valentine —

And Julia, the light of my soul

May it make your sight whole

As the Crocus unfolds

Its saffron heart.

In the chapel where Valentine lies

Young lovers raise up their eyes

To the saint whose words filled the font of Julia’s heart.

As they kneel there in silent prayer 

At the shrine where his bones lie bare

Their hopes like the buds on the almond she placed in the earth.

“O Julia,” that’s what the note said:

“You’ll read when I’m dead,

May you never pine

For your Valentine —

And Julia, the light of my soul

May it make your sight whole

As the Crocus unfolds

Its saffron heart”.

“O Julia, remember my name

Say it soft, and again

Through the ages of time — 

Your own Valentine”.

— © Frank Callery

The Song of the Mad Prince


(Eb Major)

Who said, ‘Peacock Pie’?
The old King to the sparrow;
Who said, ‘Crops are ripe’?
Rust to the harrow.

Who said: ‘Where sleeps she now,
‘Where rests she now her head?
‘Bathed in eve’s loveliness?
That’s what I said.

Who said: ‘Aye, mum’s the word’?
Sexton to willow:
Who said:
‘Green dusk for dreams,’
Moss for a pillow’?

Who said:
‘All Time’s delight
Hath she for narrow bed;
Life’s troubled bubble broken’?
That’s what I said.

‘I am The Mad Prince now,
My father, and my mother
Ponder, and ponder how
My madness is like no other.
Dressed in my finery,
I mourn her, now she’s dead
No riddle will word her to me’
That’s what I said!

Walter de la Mare / additional verse and song setting: Frank Callery, Wed 22nd January, 2020.

I wrote this song looking at Harry Clarke’s most exquisite stained glass work, “The Song of the Mad Prince,” in the National Gallery of Ireland. The subject of this beautiful panel is derived from a poem of the same name included in Walter de la Mare’s collections Peacock Pie (1913). In Clarke’s panel, the Prince, wearing exquisitely embellished, Elizabethan-style clothing, stands in front of his mother and father.

Harry experimented in the production of this work, etching and plating together two double pieces of glass of different colours to achieve a variety of colours and tones. Housed in a bespoke walnut cabinet by James Hicks, ( with has the text of the poem engraved in the plinth base of the cabinet, made in 1927. The panel was originally made for Thomas Bodkin, Clarke’s friend and patron and later Director of the National Gallery of Ireland. It was purchased by the gallery in 1987. It is NCI.12074. This is considered a nonsense poem but it does not fit the genre and is actually about the ‘she Ophelia and the I of Hamlet, with many allusions to the text of the play. I wrote an additional Chorus to round off this song by a fascinating writer, Walter de la Mere.

Harry Clarke’s beautiful stained glass piece, The Song of The Mad Prince, 1917.

Callery’s Musings

What lies beneath

Frank Callery writes on the origins of the site of NCBI’s head office on Whitworth Road, Drumcondra, Dublin, and its developments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The site of NCBI’s head office at Whitworth Road has a colourful past and Whitworth Road was not always Whitworth Road, it was first called Belvedere Street and came about in this manner.

With the increase in population and the growth of north Dublin city, it was necessary make new parishes for the Established Church. Under an act of Parliament passed in 1698, the old parish of St. Michan’s was divided into three separate parishes: St. Michan’s, St. Mary, and St. Paul; each independent of the other, and to have parochial rights as separate parishes — as from the 20th November, 1697.

St. Mary’s was again divided into the new parish of St. Thomas, and, in 1762, a newer parish of St. George’s was formed. In 1793 an Act of Parliament was passed to take in lands in the north east district adjoining the City of Dublin which had been extra-parochial. By this act, a piece of ground was laid out on the east bank of the Royal Canal, a short distance north of Binns’ Bridge and it was vested in trustees, for the purpose of erecting a new church and making a cemetery for the new parish.

The trustees erected a temporary chapel on portion of this new site, and in the old Dublin Directories, from 1794 till 1809, this temporary chapel is described as the “Church of St. George, “Belvidere” Street. In 1802 The trustees abandoned this site in favour of the newer Hardwick Street site and plans were prepared by Francis Johnston for the beautiful St. George’s, as we know it today — The one made famous in Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses, in the Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy section. Francis Johnston died on the 14th March, 1829, and was buried in St. George’s Burial-ground, east side, (Behind NCBI) where a sarcophagus monument was erected over his grave. Francis Johnston had a peel of bells in his Campanile in the ground of his house at 64 Eccles Street Dublin. He gave these to St. George’s — the first time on which then rang was for his funeral. This peel of bells (in Bb, are now in the Church of Ireland, Taney, Co. Dublin)

St. George’s burial Ground, Belvidare Street

The plot of ground originally selected by the trustees for a cemetery, was situated on the north side of the Royal Canal, It was a narrow strip containing only three roods and four perches and it ran parallel to the Canal bank, from about a perch above the boundary, northward, of the present NCBI building, to the third lock above Binns’ Bridge. It had  formerly been laid out as a nursery garden by the Huguenot community of Dublin.

In the beginning of Queen Anne’s reign, the Huguenots encouraged floriculture; and in George I’s reign, they, together with other French citizens formed a club, called the “Florists’ Club,” for the purpose of furthering the cultivation of flowers in Ireland. They held their meetings for many years at the Rose Tavern in Drumcondra Lane (now Dorset Street), where they adjudged premiums to the members who produced the most beautiful flowers.

“Whitworth Road”, as we know it, was not then formed. Luke Gardiner (afterwards Viscount Mountjoy, created 1st Nov., 1795), whose lands adjoined those of the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church — had plans to open such a thoroughfare. With the Rebellion of 1798, this fell through. Viscount Mountjoy was killed at the Battle of New Ross, on the 5th June, 1798, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles John, 2nd Viscount Mountjoy (born 19th July, 1782), who was advanced to the dignity of Earl of Blesington, County Wicklow,  on 22nd January, 1816.

The piece of ground at the northeast corner of the new burial-ground, given for the site of the new church, was, in 1816, given by the Rt. Hon. John Ormsby Vandeleur for the purpose of erecting a fever hospital, which was opened on the 1st May, 1818, as The Whitworth Fever Hospital. The proprietors found that there was no convenient approach to it, either from Drumcondra or Glasnevin, except by a narrow lane leading as far as the hospital only, which, in former times, had been the only approach to the old nursery garden. To give a better entrance, the trustees gave their proposed new burial-ground  (‘A’ on the attached Tercliart or map) in exchange for the present one, and a new road was made, named “Bishop’s Road,” (after The Bishop of Kildare, Charles Dalrymple Lindsay, D.D. (1760-1846) last Titular Bishop of Kildare, prior to the amalgamation of the Diocese of Kildare and Dublin in 1804 whose lands adjoined these) which was later changed to “Whitworth Road”  — after Charles Earl Whitworth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, 1813-1817.

The Earl of Blesington availed himself of the opportunity for carrying out the improvements which his father had planned and gave, in exchange, the piece of ground on his own estate to the trustees of the parish, in lieu of that which they purchased under the Act of 1793. This was conveyed by an Indenture of Agreement duly executed on May 14th 1818. It mentioned “All that parcel of ground within the said intended parish thereinafter described, that is to say, that piece of ground at the north corner of a new intended street to be called Belvedere Street.

“That piece or parcel of ground situate on the north of the new road leading from Glasnevin-road to Drumcondra-road and containing by survey three roods and four perches of land, in the possession of Mr. James Sullivan or his undertenants, on the west to ground belonging to the Dean of Christ Church, and on the south by another part [now the Whitworth Hospital] demised to the Right Hon. John Ormsby Vandeleur and Thomas Burton Vandeleur, Esqs., together also with the use of the lane or passage, of twenty feet wide, leading from the said new road to the hereby granted and re-leased premises, situate lying and being in the parish of Saint George, Barony of Coolock, and County of Dublin, and are more particularly laid down and described in the map or tercliart delineated on these presents, and marked ‘B’ on the said map”. The new cemetery was opened for interments in 1817, but apparently not consecrated until the 20th of May, 1824.

The adjoining property (at North) was then known as “The Bishop’s Fields,” after the Right Rev. Charles Lindsay, to whom a lease of the lands was made on the most favourable terms. That part of the “Bishop’s Fields,” the northern boundary of the old Cemetery of St George’s, was later let during the small-pox epidemic to the Guardians of the north Dublin Union, for erecting hospital sheds. This Bishop, Charles Lindsey the last Protestant Bishop of Kildare, had given his beautiful house at Glasnevin to the Dublin Harp Society, (where the blind harper Patrick Quin was to be instructor). This harp school, which like that at Belfast (conducted by the blind harper Arthur O’Neill) was one of the early schools for blind people in Ireland.

Tercliart or map of the two burial grounds and the hospital site.

Whitworth Fever hospital

The Hospital (erected on the proposed site of St. George’s Church and on which had been erected the temporary church) was opened on the 18th of March, 1818, for the reception of persons labouring under infectious fever, and residing in the north side of the city. It was built, and was entirely supported, by voluntary subscriptions. It was capable of supporting fifty patents. Mr. Thomas Burton Vandeleur of Gloucester Street, mentioned above, was on the management committee. The Vandeleurs were lawyers who had property dealings with Luke Gardiner. They were members of a prominent landowning family of Dutch origin who settled at Kilrush, Co. Clare, in the 1680s.

An early photograph of Drumcondra Hospital.

Let Your Words

I wrote this poem today, Let your Words (which you will find at the end of this post, together with my song My Love in Barcalona Lay) while again looking at Francisco Rizi’s depiction (1683) of the auto-da-fé held on June 30th., in the reign of Carlos II. in the Plaza Mayor, Madrid, in 1680.

I remember we were sitting having a beer in the Plaza Mayor in 2016 and I was thinking of the many ghosts who have voiced their truths in the cobbled echoes. I had scribble down some almost unreadable jottings, which now came to hand. In trying to decipher my own scribbles, the phrase “let your words” came to mind. I had been impressed with the square back then and the surrounding remains of the old city. The people coming and going: walking their own walk, thinking their own thoughts, voicing their own truths, appealed to me as a great contrast to Rizi’s time, and the claustrophobic embrace of the religion-drenched walls and tapestry of his depiction. I wondered did he ever voice his own words to his own heart either here, in Madrid, or at El Escorial, where he died.

The square which Francisco depicted is a far cry from what it is today, to that which Francisco Rizi featured in his depiction of the Auto-da-fé held on June 30th., in the reign of Carlos II. in 1680. It is one of those paintings which give us a vast amount of detail, of people wrapped in the social and religious bindings of the period.

Its origins and many changes speak to the long endurance of built places. Philip II commissioned the architect Juan de Herrera to remodel the whole area, and construction did not commence until the reign of Philip III, in 1617. The work was continued by architect Juan Gómez de Mora and it was finished in 1619. The square was devastated by three fires, in 1631, 1670 and again in 1790. Its current architecture is credited to Juan de Villanueva who, following the 1790 fire, lowered the then five-storey surround to three, over the colonnade.

The Plaza Mayor was not the original name. It was first named the Plaza del Arrabal, which was the site of the most popular marketplace, until the end of 15th century. The name was changed several times over the years to Plaza de la Constitución (following the Constitution of 1812); when the Borbón king was restored in 1814 it became known as Plaza Real. In 1873 it was renamed Plaza de la República, and at the end of the the Spanish Civil war, it was finally given its current name, The Plaza Mayor.

Today the square measures 1229 m by 94 m. with ten entrances — and nine gates; each with a name, such as Arco de Triunfo. The equestrian statue at the centre of the square depicts Philip III and it was placed there in 1848. Besides the auto-da-fé, this square has been the scene of public executions, bull fights and football matches.

Above: Images from around the Plaza Mayor

Madrid became the symbol of liberty for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War which began with a failed coup d’état (or Pronunciamiento) against the Popular Front Government of the Spanish Republic, by right-wing Spanish army officers let by the fascist General Franco, on July 18th 1936. The great republican slogan “No pasarán”, coined by the communist leader, Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria, who worked for gender equality and the rights of the working classes) in a radio broadcast on July 18th, which urged resistant to the coup, was to become the watchword for the defense of Madrid, and the Republican cause in general. I suppose in a strange way with the coming to power of Franco, Rizi’s auto-da-fé, like that “rough beast”, came round again.

Dolores giving her farewell speech to the International Brigades on November 1st 1938 in Barcelona.

A banner displaying the famous Republican slogan: ‘No Pasarán’

Madrid became the mythic centre in the popular imagination during the war when it held out for four years and became the subject of songs, such as Los Emboscados ( a version “Si me quieres escribir” and the poem by Rafael Alberti “Madrid corazón de España which begins:

Madrid, corazón de España,
late con pulsos de fiebre.
Si ayer la sangre le hervía,
hoy con más calor le hierve.
Ya nunca podrá dormirse,
porque si Madrid se duerme,
querrá despertarse un día
y el alba no vendrá a verle.
No olvides, Madrid, la guerra;
jamás olvides que enfrente
los ojos del enemigo
te echan miradas de muerte.


Madrid, heart of Spain,
Throbbing with the beats of fever.
If yesterday her blood was boiling
Today it boils with more heat.
She will never be able to sleep,
Because if Madrid falls asleep,
She will wish to wake up one day
And dawn will not come to meet her.
Don’t forget, Madrid, the war;
Never forget that in front
The eyes of the enemy
Are throwing at you looks of death.

The full poem can be read in Romance de la defensa de Madrid — Poesia española — at

Let Your Words

Let your words go out to play,
They are not meant to sit in silence.
Let them jeer the auto-da-fé
Let their potency be violent!

Let them speak out from the heart,
Don’t pull your punches nor your meaning;
Here equivalence has no part,
And there’s no space for in-betweening!

Do not fear the listener’s ear,
Do not fear the lector’s pause,
Let your words be loud and clear
Shun indifference, shun applause.

And having let your words run wild
Among the dangers of the street,
Let their truth be simple, as a child’s,
Let them speak to all they meet;

And say “I am!” and “This is me!”
No fudge, no crass hypocrisy.

— © Frank Callery, August 9th., 2019.

My Love in Barcelona Lay

My love in Barcelona lay
Under a cloth of golden sky
Where she composed his fatal day
With her dark hair and her dark eye
She tempted him with her deep sigh
Her long dark hair, her moist dark eye.

Her breasts were soft arpeggios
Her smile a symphony of joy
And in her hair, a black, black rose
Consumed the blood of my dear boy;
And as she pressed him to her heart
Her hunger tore his soul apart.

My love to Barna* made his way
Among the youth who heard her call
And on a hill he heard her say
If you love me, give your all.
If you would my beauty save
Lie beside me in this grave.

My love in Barcalona lies
Far from the hearts he could console
He gave his youth for her dark eyes;
His name upon her honoured role.
An Irish boy who tuned his poem
To wring the blood from olive stone.

My love in Barcelona stayed
Beneath her cloth of golden sky
While we who loved him wept and prayed
She would not tempt him with her sigh,
Her black rose, and her red lips:
Las flores de la muerte where he sipped.

— Frank Callery ©

Barna is the local pet name for the city, it is a placename which is also common in Ireland. The most famous of which is in Co. Galway. Willie Callery a Dubliner, one of the subjects of this song, embarked from Galway to travel to fight in the Spanish Civil War. the reference to Olive Stone is to the Irish republican poet Charlie Donnelly who died in the war.

A Plague of Gullibility

Mind yer Burger, Missus!

Dublin, like most cities has become the new home to thousands of seagulls. In fact it is a plague of gullibility. Here is my song on the subject.

(A Song for Our Times)

Oh! A gull got me burger in Grafton Street,

He left me the bread but he swiped the meat,

And the fucker was gone, and I felt put upon,

For the swoop of his wings knocked me offa me feet.

Ah! Says I,  Oh the next time I’ll load on the sauce

And he’ll swipe me burger, but at his own cost!

But he made such a mess of me Dunne’s Stores white vest

That me pride, and me poise, and me presence was lost.

In the M&S cafe I sat to observe,

As the gulls took their turns at patrolling the kerb,

And I watched the hoors swoop, and counted each scoop!

Near 300 a day — oh! ’tis they had the nerve!

On the roof tops of Dublin they’re making their nests

And their shiteing on shirts, bras, knickers and vests

At the ole washing lines, the women are crying

As they fuck from a height, these deplorable pests.

From four in the morning they’re screaming and bawling

Every citizen now from no sleep, is wall-fallin’

And they’re dreamin’ up schemes to get rid of the screams,

If it’s not sorted soon, with their guns they’ll be callin’!

O my brother Paul he devised an ole plan

He wired up the roof, has the switch in his hand

And if ere a gull landed, he be dusted and sanded —

But McCarthy’s ole cat got a terrible land!

In less than five minutes he’d cut down the wire

And like Dublin bus, what then should transpire

Along came the gulls, till the roof it was full,

That once was as black as a Belfast used tire.

Now the guano is thick and the roof it is white.

O these ain’t just gulls, they’re factories that shite,

And soon the whole city, that once looked so pretty

Will be drowning in guano — the new urban blight.

O what is the cure for the fuckers we ask

Are the Polis or Corpo not up to the task?

For they’re raiding the bins with their red-spotted grins

And yer drink is not safe, if its not in a flask.

To the Corpo there came a Pied Piper of sorts,

He said he could rid them, with humane resort

He’d need money up front, O his manner was blunt!

But if he succeeded, O what a report!

When they gave him the money, they were quite woebegone,

Trust me, my dear fellows, my word is me bond!

Ten minutes I’ll need, then come as agreed —

When they came round the corner,  Ah! there he was, gone!

Gullibility runs in the nation, my dear,

When it comes to the Corpo it gallops, I fear,

On a throwaway trick? Ah! Bejaysus they’re thick —

Ten grand in the red and the reason’s quite clear.

And we still haven’t sorted the plague of the gulls

It’s not pigeon shooting, when you hear them ‘Pulls!’

The new Citizen Army, who some think are barmy,

Have set their ‘Wish’ sights, and there isn’t a lull.

They’re falling like snowflakes around every street,

You can’t walk the pavement for gulls at yer feet.

And now there’s a crisis, and the best of our choices:

Recycle, until your green bin is replete.

— © Frank Callery, August 8th., 2019.

below is the audio file.

Blind Lanes, Stables and Circus Clowns — through the Glass Darkly

While in the Thomas Street Area of Dublin recently, I visited the Augustinian Church of John’s Lane to view the beautiful Harry Clarke windows, and gazed at the afternoon light came darkly to light this wonderful narrative in glass. The church is built on the site of the medieval hospital, erected by Aelred the Palmer, a Norman living in Dublin, after a safe home-coming from an arduous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He founded a monastery of Crossed Friars under the Rule of St. Augustine who would also manage the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. The monastery was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and stood just outside the city walls, and so was known as St. John’s church without Newgate. It was in this vicinity that the Molyneux family had their Dublin residence.

In 1316 Edward Bruce marched towards Dublin at the head of his army, with the intention of besieging the city. The Dublin citizens, to prevent any danger from his approach, by common consent set fire to Thomas Street, but the flames laid hold of St. John’s church and burned it to the ground, together with all the nearby suburbs.

At the start of the 18th century an Augustinian Prior rented for their use as a chapel a stable on the western side of St. John’s Tower, a surviving fragment of the Hospital. Circa 1740, on the site of part of the Hospital, they erected a small church 60 feet (18.3 m) by 24 feet (7.3 m), which was considerably extended 40 years later. In 1860 they decided to build a new church. Construction on the modern church was commenced at Easter 1862 under the leadership of Fr. Martin Crane, but it took 33 years to complete. One factor was that the foreman and many of the workmen were Fenians, who got into trouble with the authorities in 1865 and afterwards — for this reason the church was nicknamed “The Fenian Church”. Building of the new church was begun when many of the senior citizens of the congregation could still vividly recall the events of 1798 and the trial of Robert Emmet in 1803 and his execution, just up the street. Many of them had lived through the dreadful times of the Great Famine.

Standing in the Sun

Later, across the street, I happened to see a white horse standing in the sun, down Molyneux Lane which runs to the right of and parallel with Vickers Street. The horse is owned by Mark who has four other horses stabled here. On the wall in the stable is a photograph of the former owner (of many years) pictured in the uniform of a Cavalry man, on Duty at Dublin Castle, before Irish Independence — A long continuum of horse lovers in Dublin. Molyneux Lane recalls the famous Molyneux family of Dublin  of whom William and Thomas were most famous. They had considerable property in this area. Given this and the lovely church building of John’s Lane, facing Molyneux Lane, where the blind organist, Dal McNulty played for many years, my mind turned to matters equestrian and to blindness and the associations of these with this part of old Dublin.

In 1815 The Molyneux Asylum for Blind Females (1815-2015) was founded in the house of Sir Thomas Molyneux in Peter Street Dublin. This house had previously been let to the Famous equestrian circus man, Philip Astley, in the grounds of which he conducted his famous theatre — the origins of circus in Ireland.

The Molyneux family had made great contributions to Irish science and letters and their connection with blindness, whether personally or professionally, is unusual, to say the least. Sir William Molyneux (1656-98), patriot and philosopher, was the founder of The Dublin Philosophical Society in 1684 after the model of The Royal Society (London). Its first President was Sir William Petty of The Down Survey of Ireland fame (himself vision-impaired). William Molyneux too was famous for his political treatise ‘The Case of Ireland being bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated’. He had been incensed by the suppression of the Irish wool trade by the English parliament when he wrote this treatise, published in 1698 and condemned as seditious and burned at Tyburn by the public hangman — it became the text-book of the American Independence pioneers. Like many of the Molyneux family, he was highly interested in optics and in the psychology of sight. He married Lucy, daughter of Sir William Domville in 1678. ‘In November, a few months after their wedding, she took ill when leaving morning service at Christ Church Cathedral. By December she found her eyes were affected and by January 1679 she was blind. On three different occasions William took her to London and other English cities to consult the best eye specialists, but the condition was untreatable’.

William is, perhaps, best known for his ‘Molyneux Problem’ which is still debated by philosophers today. The problem in question (which he addressed [though not initially] to the English philosopher John Locke) is, ‘if a man is born blind and learns to distinguish a sphere and a cube using his sense of touch; and then is granted sight, could he recognize the two shapes using vision?’ The Molyneux problem was first proposed to John Locke by William Molyneux in a letter dated from Dublin. March 2nd 1692/3 (as was the style of dating the early months of the year before the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar in  September, 1752 as a result of the Calendar Act of 1751).

He was writing in answer to Locke’s letter of January 20th. Molyneux had been ill and had not answered immediately on receipt of this letter: “Yours of jan. 20 came to my hands just as I lay down on a bed of sickness, being a severe cholick, that held me nigh fives weeks, and brought me very weak”; He was only now returning to health. His reading matter had been Locke’s Essay concerning  humane understanding (sic). He had parsed this minutely, page by page, and in this long letter addresses  many of the issues raised in the Essay, offering his agreement or proposing a different view to some of them.

The “Molyneux problem” arises in the course of his deliberations in this way, when Molyneux says: “Pag. 96. Sect. 9. you assert, what I conceive is an error in fact, viz. That a man’s eye can distinguish a second of a circle, wherof its self is the centre. Whereas ’tis certain, that few men’s eyes can distinguish less than 30 seconds, and most not under a minute, or 60 seconds, as is manifest from what Mr. Hook lays down in his animadversions on the first part of helvelii machina caelestis”. Having given his view, Molyneux moves on to discuss and caution Locke on a possible misreading of his ideas on The “existence of all things without us (except only for God) is bad for our senses’. Here, Molyneux gives his sense of the meaning and states: “This to me, seems your sense,  yet perhaps every reader  may not so readily conceive it; and therefore, possibly you may think this passage pag. 341. worth your father consideration and addition. I will conclude my tedious lines with a jocose problem, that upon discourse with several concerning your book and Notions I have proposed to divers very ingenious men, and could hardly ever meet with one, that, at first dash, would give me the answer to it, which I think true; till by hearing my reasons they are convinced. ’Tis this:
“Suppose a man born blind, and now adult, and taught by his touch to distinguish between a cube and a spere (suppose) of ivory, nighly of the same bigness, so as to tell when he felt one and t’other, which is the cube, which is the sphere. Suppose then, the cube and the sphere placed on  a table, and the blind man to be made to see; query whether  by his sight, before he touch’d them, he could now distinguish and tell which is the globe, which the cube, I answer, not; for tho’ he has obtained the experience of how a globe, how a cube affects his touch; yet he has not yet attain’d the experience, that what affects my touch, so or so, must affect my sight so or so;  or that a protuberant angle in the cube that press’d his hand unequally, shall appear to his eye as it does in the cube. But of this enough: perhaps you may find place in your Essay, wherein you may not think it amiss, to say something of this problem”. … I am,
Worthy Sir,
Will. Molyneux.

This is the earliest philosophical notion in the psychology of sight. It has remained a fundamental question argued over from its inception. We know from Molyneux’s letter that he had put this problem in circulation long before he addressed it to Locke. Locke however, did address this ‘Problem’ in a later edition of the Essay,  in Chapter IX: Of Perception,
8. Sensations often changed by the judgment.
he states: To which purpose I shall here insert a problem of that very ingenious and studious promoter of real knowledge, the learned and worthy Mr. Molyneux, which he was pleased to send me in a letter some months since; and it is this”. Here Locke restates the ‘Problem’, and continues “I agree with this thinking gentleman, whom I am proud to call my friend, in his answer to this problem; and am of opinion that the blind man, at first sight, would not be able with certainty to say which was the globe, which the cube, whilst he only saw them; though he could unerringly name them by his touch, and certainly distinguish them by the difference of their figures felt. This I have set down, and leave with my reader, as an occasion for him to consider how much he may be beholden to experience, improvement, and acquired notions, where he thinks he had not the least use of, or help from them”.

William’s only surviving son Samuel succeeded to his father’s estates (20 in all, from Kerry to Armagh) except the family seat, Castle Dillon in Armagh. He married Elizabeth Capel, the eldest sister of the 2nd Earl of Essex in 1717 and died on April 13th at the age of 38, leaving no issue. His uncle Thomas, who had been his guardian, inherited the family estates. Thomas (1661-1733) was born on April 14th 1661 in Dublin probably near Ormond Gate, at the end of Cook Street, where it adjoins Bridge Street. He entered Trinity College Dublin at the age of 15 and became a doctor with an M.A. and M.B. in 1683, at the age of 22. Following further study in Britain and Europe he practiced medicine in Chester in 1690 but returned to Dublin in 1692 and was elected a Fellow of the Irish College of Physicians. He was appointed the first State Physician and also Physician General to the Army in Ireland. In 1701 he made an inquiry into the outbreak of virulent ophthalmia, an eye disease, in some of the midland counties of Ireland, particularly in Westmeath.

In this inquiry we learn that ‘a strange affection of the eyes raged in the parish of Castletowndelvin in the county of Westmeath in 1701. From the effect produced and the members who were attacked, together with the time of year at which the attack was most violent, we have little doubt in our minds that it was some virulent inflammatory epidemic, some form of ophthalmia and not improbably that known under the name of Egyptian. Dr. Molyneux proposed a list of queries to John Hill, curate of Castledawson in the County of Westmeath, concerning the extraordinary distemper which took away the sight of many in that parish. This set of questions forms a most important statistical document, as the name of each person is given, their age, sex and the exact effect on the sight, whether total loss of vision in one or both eyes and the whole number who were affected’.7 He was one of the original trustees of Dr. Steeven’s Charitable Hospital in Dublin (where many of the Irish pioneers of ophthalmology — such as Jacob and Wilde began their careers). From 1717-33 he was Professor of Medicine at TCD and became the first Baronet in 1730. He married (perhaps his second marriage) Catherine Howard in 1694, a daughter of Ralph Howard, at that time Regius Professor of ‘Physic’ at Dublin. They had four sons and eight daughters and he died in 1733 at the age of 72.

Sir Thomas erected the mansion which was to become the Molyneux Asylum in Peter Street in 1711. Its modillion cornice and central pediment was a new departure, in architectural style, from the gable-type house common in Dublin at that period. Sir Thomas Molyneux inherited the site of Molyneux House through the Domville connection — he had been living in Peter Street from 1698. The Domville family owned a sizeable plot of land in the Bride Street-Peter Street area and it was Sir William Domville Knt., of ‘Bride’s Street, who opened this (Peter) street from Bride’s-street to Whitefriars’-street soon after the erection of St. Peter’s new Church in Aungier’s-street. The ground through which it runs was part of the Commons of St. Patrick’s (Cathedral) Church, and was leased to him on the 19th of March 1660, by the Dean and Chapter, for the term of 60 years’. The Domville family still owned many houses in Peter Street up to July 1874, when ‘the estate in fee-simple of the Domville family (Peter-street and environs) came to be sold in the Landed Estates Court’. The tenants’ interest in portions of this property, numbers 24, 25 and 26 Peter Street, which was held on lease for ever under the Domville family, subject to an annual head-rent of £15, had been acquired in 1858 for the erection of the Adelaide Hospital (which had first been established at 43 Bride Street in 1839).

On the death of Sir Thomas in 1733 the house was left to his widow Catherine. It later passed to his second son Sir Capel Molyneux who moved to Merrion Square in 1778. He leased the Peter Street mansion to William Lane and later portion of it to Philip Astley the equestrian. Astley, a native of Newcastle-under-Lyme, had left his trade of cabinet-maker and enlisted as a dragoon, serving under General Elliott at the battles of Emsdorff and Friedburgh. He rose to the rank of sergeant-major. On his discharge he opened an equestrain exhibition at Lambeth, London. He subsequently travelled all over England and finally opened a wooden theatre, with roofed seats and an open ring, at Westminster. This was gradually improved and enlarged and in 1781 it was thrown open for evening performances. Two years later he obtained a licence from the London authorities and named his theatre The Royal Grove. He took his company of performers on tour throughout England and, encouraged by the reception, crossed over to Ireland and opened his amphitheatre in the rear gardens of Molyneux House. Letters Patent were granted by the Privy Council on March 8th 1788, authorising the performance of “the several feats and entertainments of horsemanship, musical pieces, dancing, tumbling, and pantomime of what nature or sort whatever”. Thus giving rise to the tradition of circus in Ireland and elsewhere in Great Britain. Astley also performed  in a theatre beside the School for the Indigent Blind, St. Georges Fields London — The Royal Surrey Theatre.

Astley’s Dublin amphitheatre was opened on January 13th 1789. The entrance to the pit and gallery was from Bride Street. The affluent patrons entered their boxes by way of the main house which he also used as his residence. Astley was described as ‘a man of violent temper,  peremptory of speech and rude of manner’ but he appears to have pleased the Dublin populace. It is likely that the Irish Reel Peter Street, still played today by traditional musicians, came with Astley from Northhumbria where it was known as  The ‘Blanchland Races’ — its playing in Ireland originated at this venue. In January, 1794, ‘a Dublin Journal, referring to the expiration of Astley’s patent says: “Places of this kind tend to the refinement of morals of the lower classes of mankind, and are not less necessary to the instruction of the younger branches of families, the chiefest object of our care. As Harlequinade in Ireland is so great a favourite with the town, it is with no small degree of regret that we announce its last appearance”.

With business badly effected by the post Act of Union slump in Dublin, in 1805 the Peter Street establishment fell into the hands of Charles and Thomas Dibdin, who had been connected with Astley for some time in Dublin and in London (at the Surrey Theatre (1816), the successor to the Royal Circus built by Charles Dibdin at the cost of £15,000; this was an amphitheatre near the Obelisk in Blackfriars Road, which opened in 1782. It was here that the equestrian drama, made famous by Philip Astley, actually started). In 1809 Astley left for London, selling out for £6,000 to a Scot, Henry Erskine Johnstone. This Scottish ‘Roscius’, a famous actor, obtained possession of the house ‘heretofore occupied by Sir Capel Molyneux, with the theatre, and all other buildings and improvements, and with all such machinery, scenery, wardrobe, and all other implements and substances”.  Johnstone opened it as the Royal Hibernian Theatre in November of that year. He fell into debt and absconded in 1812 with judgements against him for the debts. The information in this blog is from My forthcoming: History of Blindness in Irish Society.

Captions for the pictures below:

  1. Mark’s horse standing in the sun in Molyneux Lane, and
  2. The beautiful Harry Clarke window in the Augustinian church, Thomas Street.