I have just returned after a couple of days in Dublin and I am amazed at what I saw. By nine o’clock at night there was not a shop doorway or office block entrance available or vacant. The homeless were in command and sleeping in niches that offered only the scantest protection from the incessant rain. There must be some remedy for this disgraceful scene, especially with the thought that there are 300,000 vacant dwellings in Ireland. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Health Service Executive to put two and two together and make four, somehow.
When daylight comes to the streets, the pavements fill with beggers of all nationalities and I am not sure there is a link between the doorstep dwellers and the beggers, they appear different in terms of age and nationality. It is disturbing and sad that such a situation exists. It was always to some extent there, with the women and children of the travelling community but the begger’s numbers have increased tenfold these past few years and it is not just women and children of the travellers now, it is man woman and child of most nationalities known.
A walk down Talbot Street or up O’Connell Street will show you the problem, grotesquely deformed cripples and other limbless unfortunates litter the pavements, saying nothing, but holding up empty plastic coffee cups for us rich or not so rich, to fill up with loose change. Not only is it very uncomfortable to witness and so perplexing to deal with, it can also do no good for the lifeblood of Dublin, it’s tourist industry.
Obviously all these poor people are supported by the state and if not you would wonder how they came to the country. Some will be mentally impaired and somehow or other should be cared for by the authorities. The country cannot wash it’s hands of them and allow them to die like dogs in the street. This is not Ireland of 100 years ago. I might have the whole thing wrong and it might be that the State is falling over itself in caring for these people but I am only expressing the thoughts of the occasional visitor who has this problem thrust in his face.
But enough of rant, I came to Dublin at the invite of O’Brien Press to attend the launch of a new book by a young writer, Neil Richardson. I was interested in attending such an occasion because I had watched a performance of a play by Neil entitled “From the Shannon to the Somme” in March this year in the Little Theatre in Athlone. See my blog of that title posted on 27th March 2010. I was then so impressed not only with the acting and the direction of the play but also with the script and how well it was researched by one so young. Neil is in his mid-twenties.
So I was pleased and proud to attend this launch having spotted the writers talents some months ago. It is his first book and it has taken three years of research and is entitled “A Coward If I Return, A Hero If I Fall” which is a line in the poem “Lament” by the Donegal writer, Patrick McGill, who fought the whole of the First World War with the London Irish Rifles. It tells the same story as the play but this time in facts and figures and explains the anguish of the families on receiving the dreaded telegram and paints pen pictures of the Irish men and boys who volunteered to fight in this atrocious conflict and describes the dichotomy faced by the 200,000 returning Irishmen at the end of the war.
They had enlisted in 1914 into what was then their army and what had become the enemy’s army, by the time they were demobbed in 1919. They were coming home to hatred, social ostracization, unemployment and having to live with this and the inevitable post traumatic stress brought on by the war. Nationalistic zeal was running high and they were shunned and forgotten. We are not talking about a few thousand men here, but something like 30% of the 17-35 year old male population, a vast amount of people. Faced with these difficulties is it any wonder so many of them did not return but chose to try and make a go of it in England, America, Canada and Australia. To quote Yeats, everything was “all changed, changed utterly”
The evening commenced with a eulogy on the writer by Michael O’Brien, the publisher, who was amazed that one so young could write with such maturity. Dr. Tom Conan, former Lt. Colonel in the Irish Army and now Defence Correspondent for The Irish Times amongst other things, followed up, reporting some of the startling facts gleaned from the book. There were 50,000 Irishmen killed in that war, roughly the same amount as Americans killed in Vietnam. Vietnam is seared into the American psyche, these 50,000 Irishmen were forgotten in that surge of nationalism in the 20s and 30s. In Easter Week in Dublin 450 civilians, rebels and British soldiers were killed, in that same week in Loos in Northern France 538 Irish soldiers, mainly from Dublin, met their death, mostly by chlorine gas, a horrible killer. The world knows about the dead in Dublin but nothing about the dead in Loos. His talk was emotional and serious and explained the soldiers lot in conflict.
Neil then spoke of his early interest in the war, his long years of research and his pleasure at seeing so many people at the National Library for this occasion. It was obvious from his easy speech on the subject, while he rattled off names and numbers, facts and fables that his research had been deep, accurate and unique.
I brought the book home and started reading and finished the last of its 350 pages in two days. It is a compelling, eye-opening and easy read. It explains the problems it set itself in its title, in a way that, as far as I know, has never been tried before. It’s uniqueness in this genre is a main reason for buying the book. I was so pleased to have accepted the invitation on behalf of the Connaught Rangers Association and so proud to have been at such an august occasion.
Best of luck Mr. Richardson with this work and may you have continued success throughout your career.