Sunday, December 30, 2012


Christmas Day Swim 2012
Blackrock, Salthill, Galway

As always the New Year is a step into the unknown even if the landscape 
seems unchanged, seems familiar. 

Is not that the frisson of existence?

Have a happy New Year and an fulfilling 2013. 

Monday, December 17, 2012


Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This rihla is about ADARE, Co. Limerick, Ireland.

Adare village in Co. Limerick, Ireland, is a vibrant, surviving urban phenomenon of an otherwise Famine-blighted, fogbound, stone-rot landscape of Ireland of the 1840s with its wide boulevards, well built houses, pointed walls, cared-for thatch, generous public spaces, muted providence, an august trinity of friaries, and the brash haughtiness of a true manorial town that once serviced the needs of Adare Manor (commissioned in 1832 by Windham Henry Quin, the 2nd Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl with the spirited encouragement of his wife Caroline and finished by his son Edwin Wyndham-Quin, the 3rd Earl in 1862 in the midst of a social and economic disaster that existed elsewhere) but is now almost smug in its continuing exuberance that has seen it regularly voted as Ireland’s most beautiful town.

The Quins of Adare were the hereditary chiefs of the Hy Ifearnan (Heffernan) clan, of the Cineal Fearmaic sept of the Dál gCais kingdom of Munster (c.1000CE), and were originally from Muintir Ifernain in central County Clare (the later barony of Inchiquin). Windham Quin’s father Valentine, one of the last titular Gaelic tribal chiefs elevated to a peerage, was made an Earl in February 1822.

But Adare is much older a place than the Quin’s manor and its original Irish name was Áth Dara meaning the Ford of the Oak and this brings me to the connection to mistletoe. In the small, walled orchard garden of Adare Manor that now serves as the practice putting green for the championship golf course there are 5 or 6 apple trees that produce a really succulent fruit. But it is in December, when the apple fruit and foliage has withered away that the trees are at their most majestic. For it is then that they are covered in most wonderful green and white berry medley (like hollies only the female mistletoe has berries) that is the mystical and magical mistletoe. There are few, if any, places in Ireland that you can see, never mind touch, the plant in all its glory.

Adare Manor Garden Orchard Mistletoe

Mistletoe, a hemi-parasite plant that is transferred as a sticky seed excrement by the Mistle Thrush from deciduous trees (oak, apple sometimes lime) to tree, is not a native Irish plant yet does have an ancient Irish name: drualas. This is a derivation of Druidh las, the Druid’s herb. Very little is written down concerning the Druids but Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historie (c79CE) states,

 "The Druids (so they call their Magi) hold nothing in such sacred respect as the mistletoe, and the tree upon which it grows, provided it be an oak. 'Omnia sanantem appellantes suo vocabulo.' (They call it by a word signifying in their own language All-Heal.) And having prepared sacrifices, and feast under the tree, they bring up two white bulls, whose horns are then first bound; the priest, in a white robe, ascends the tree, and cuts it off with a golden knife; it is received in a white sheet. Then, and not till then, they sacrifice the victims, praying that God would render His gift prosperous to those on whom He had bestowed it. When mistletoe is given as a potion, they are of opinion that it can remove animal barrenness, and that it is a remedy against all poisons."

Beyond the pale of the manor Adare’s medieval ecclesiastical history is still visible with the presence of three Abbeys: Augustinian, Trinitarian and Franciscan.

Mosaic from 1218 above door of Trinitarian Church of 
San Tommaso in Formis in Rome.

The Trinitarian establishment (now the Roman Catholic Parish church) for me holds the most fascination, as the Trinitarian Order of Friars, who dedicated their lives to raising ransom money to redeem Christian captives on the Barbary Coast (as well as running hospitals in the slave banos of Algiers and Tunis), featured strongly in my first novel, The Simurgh and the Nightingale about Barbary Pirates in the 1600s. The Trinitarian Order, founded by St. John de Matha, was approved of by a Bull of Pope Innocent III, Operante divine dispositionis clementia, issued on the 17th December 1198. Other early Christian captive redemptionist orders were the Spanish Military Order of Santiago (1175), The Order of Montegaudio (1178), and the Order of the Merced (1218).  

The Adare abbey was the only Trinitarian establishment in Ireland and they had been invited there around 1229 by a second-wave archtypical Anglo-Norman robber-baron Geoffrey de Marisco. Geoffrey’s full name was Geoffroi de Montmorency de Marisco, Lord of Thorney and Huntspill in Somerset (Marisco being a derivation of Marsh). Geoffrey was well connected to Ireland as his sister had married Thomas Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald the founder of the House of Desmond. He became the Justicar or Lord Chief Justice of Ireland from 1226-28 and in addition to his connections also inherited extensive lands in Ireland from his uncle-in-law John Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin in 1192. He subsequently expanded his holdings by marrying as his second wife, Eve de Bermingham, the daughter and heir of Robert de Bermingham, Baron of Offaly.

In addition to the Trinitarian Abbey Geoffrey also invited the Knights Hospitaller to establish a commandery in 1215 in nearby Aney (now Hospital). The advantage of settling military and religious orders by the Norman barons on their properties was not entirely pious but guaranteed that associated (and tithe paying) lands would be held safe and their value increased. Geoffrey was to take part in many Norman attacks on the Irish in Connacht. This too was to leave a legacy as the Morris family, one of the famous Tribes of Galway, owe their descent to him.

It was not to end well for Geoffrey however. In 1238 an attempt was made to assassinate Henry III of England and suspicion fell on William (Geoffrey’s son– executed by being drawn, hung and quartered in 1242 for piracy and murder) and Geoffrey. Some time between then and 1242 he fled to Scotland where he was sheltered by a kinsman, Walter Comyn. In 1244 he was forced to leave Scotland, possibly as part of the agreement reached in that year between Henry III and Alexander II and he died in France in the following year.

Mathew Paris in Vol iii of his Chronica Majora of 1250 (with a side drawing of the execution of William) said unlovingly of Geoffrey that he was,

"a man who formerly been a noble and not least amongst the magnates of Ireland, who had incurred an indelible stain by the treacherous murder of Richard Earl Marshal, and who was now an exile, a wretched and hunted man, having been expelled from Scotland deported from England, and disinherited in Ireland, after the ignominious death of his son and the loss of all his friends, banished from public view, finally ended so many deaths with his own. (Obit Galfridus de Marisco, exul, pauper et profugus).”

Mathew Paris self-portrait

As you turn your back on Geoffrey’s Trinitarian edifice and walk back up the street and through the imposing gates of Adare Manor, you stare up at the oaks, and think of druids and ritual, pagans and sinners, slaves and free, normans and celts, exile and homecoming, and the perpetual timeline of change.

Adare Manor Mistletoe (7th December 2012)

And yet at the end of your journey, in a quiet walled-garden, you stand and wonder at the exuberance, the magic and mystery, and timelessness of mistletoe. That alone will always bring me back.

Druids cutting mistletoe with a golden sickle from an oak.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I wanted my sight of you,
When it came,
As a summer morn,
On gentle sea;
To sway.

I wanted my scent of you,
When it came,
As a summer breeze,
Of honeysuckle;
To surround.

I wanted my words to you,
When they came,
As a summer shower,
On taut canvas;
To sparkle.

I wanted my touch of you,
When it came,
As a summer sun,
On bare rock;
To scorch.

I wanted my love of you,
When it came,
As a summer night,
On still warm grass;
To surrender.

©R Derham 2012

Thursday, December 06, 2012


This is my adaption of James Jacques-Joseph Tissot's circa 1894 Journey of the Magi, which I feel best captures the probable reality of the Biblical story.

I would like to wish every visitor to the blog the very best of good fortune in the coming year. May some of your dreams come true.

Roger Derham

p.s. See also:

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


The United Nations continues to be our 
best hope for creating a fairer 
and more just world. 
God bless the Republic of Nauru, 
and God bless the United Nations.

Marcus Stephen, President of the Republic of Nauru

General Assembly UN 64th Session
25 September 2009 (UN Doc. A/64/PV.7)

The Republic of Nauru, the smallest Republic in the world, is a small island of about 21 square kilometres, inhabited by 9500 people in the middle of the South Pacific. A long way from everywhere (especially Nablus) the centre of the island was a once deep repository of millennia of bird-shit which provided the phosphate mother-load subsequently plundered by Germany, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Gaining independence in 1968 it had one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world until the phosphate ran out (estimated at one point to last about 300 years the commercial exploitation by Australia in particular reduced that to about 30) and Nauru was reduced to earing its crust by allowing Australia build a detention centre for migrant boat-people and allowing illegal money laundering.

Nauruans suffered severely in the Second World war (1500 were transported to the island of Truk for slave labour) and fully understand the exploitative potential of a more powerful neighbour backed by “Superpower” consensus (see Judgement on Preliminary Objections. Nauru v. Australia. International Court of Justice. No 92/18 26 June 1992) and yet in the General Assembly vote taken in the 67th Session on the 29th November 2012 to accord the Palestinian Authority non-Member Observer State status (UN Doc. A/Res/67/19) at the UN, Nauru voted against the adoption of the resolution (along with the USA & Israel of course, but also Canada, the Czech Republic, Marshal Islands, Micronesia, Palau and Panama).

I am not entirely certain what the people of Nablus ever did to Nauru. It is not clear from the debate as to why they voted against the resolution as I can find no record of a verbal or written submission. Being generous I might conclude that Nauru’s stance might have because of similar concerns to those expressed by Canada and the Czech Republic about the ‘watering-down’ of the impetus to achieve a true Two State solution but I suspect it was more likely part of a South Pacific game plan to force a greater ‘climate change’ dialogue by flexing their voting rights.

It is true that the non-Member Observer State status might allow a ‘back-door’ access to other organs such as the International Criminal Court but in the realpolitik of complete Israeli and American intransigence to progressing the Two State solution it perhaps is the only way at present.

I have a problem with Nauru and its political posturing, who without explanation, and who only two months previously on the 26th September 2012 had ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, would then ignore the inhuman and degrading treatment perpetuated by Israel on the people of Nablus and would decide to deny them and all other Palestinians some avenue of hope in trying to rightly achieve the independent statehood that Nauru has already gained for the sake of some ‘great game’.

There is nothing as sad as a collective amnesia of hope.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012


“A way a lone a last a long the…. riverrun past Eve’s and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation to Howth Castle and Environs.”

The last unfinished sentence of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake merges into the first uninitiated sentence thereby establishing the premise and purpose of a recurrent dream, with all its layers of distortion in human behaviour, desires, beliefs and expression. The only constant is a carefully constructed almost classical architecture, is the room, the street, the city, as counterpoise to otherwise fleeting images of self and language and to the old adage which states, “No man steps in the same river twice".

Finnegan’s Wake, named for a remembered tune of Joyce’s youth about a drunken bricklayer who fell to his death but who at his wake was splashed with whiskey and startling to life exclaimed ‘Soul to the devil, do ye think I’m dead?’, is a resurrection odyssey.

Finnegan’s Wake is the night to Ulysses’ day.

You might think from the above, if you were being generous, gentile, and game, that I have read FW but confess I must, I have not, at least not beyond about the first and last few pages and the iconic final chapter of Book I where two washerwomen across the Liffey discuss the sexual failings of the publican and dreamer Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and where Joyce manages to include the names of more than 500 rivers. I found Finnegan’s Wake, even with the best will in the world, impenetrable, as is often the case when you try to walk in someone else’s dream.

The departure in 20th century literature that FW represented opened as many doors as it closed and in a strange way, and this brings me shortly to the Via Frattina in Rome, echoed the response in the early 1500’s to another dream sequence book which also invented and reinvented language (this time Latinate Italian as the core rather than Hiberno-English) called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna, and first published in 1499.

Title Page of English Translation of Hypnerotomachia 1599

For Poliphilo (translated as either ‘friend of many things’ or ‘city lover’) read HC Earwicker and their respective dream transits through the night are similar in pursuit of their respective lovers Polia (many things) and Anna Livia Plurabelle (many beauties). Poliphilo wakes up just as he is to take Polia in his arms and Earwicker fails in trying to have intercourse with Anna Livia.

Was Joyce aware of the Hypnerotomachia? 

This is uncertain. I have searched many of the references to Joyce’s voluminous notebooks and not yet found a concrete connection or even a ‘commodious vicus of recirculation.’ And yet I feel there must be and that that connection must be linked to Joyce’s unhappy stay in Rome between 1906-1907. A recent personal trip to Rome and the happenchance stumbling-upon a sculptural representation from the Hypnerotomachia got me wandering or wondering, for sometimes in my case they are one in the same.

Via Frattina is a narrow road that links the Via del Corso and the southern end of the Piazza Spangna where the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide (an extraterritorial property of the Holy See which houses the Congregation for the Propagation of the Catholic Faith in non-Catholic countries) and the church of Sant Andrea delle Fratte are situated. Sant Andrea, dedicated to St Andrew of Scotland, was first built in 1192 was called infra hortes or ‘between orchards’. Later it became known as Fratte, an old roman word for woods.

Across from the hotel where I was staying was No: 52 Via Frattina. On the wall is a plaque, which acknowledges that this was the address that Joyce first stayed during his short sojourn in Rome between August 1906 and March 1907.  Joyce then 24 arrived in Rome, already fluent in French and Italian and able to read Ibsen in the original Norwegian. Typical however of his previous stay in Trieste Joyce was continually penniless, was forever leaving debts and was drinking heavily. So heavily that his landlord Signor Dufour was to evict Joyce, Nora and baby Giorgio out onto the Via Frattina on the 1st December 1906 having taking a severe dislike to his late-night revelries.

Via Frattina at Dusk looking east towards the Spanish Steps. 
Joyce's digs are in house to right of picture at No 52.

Leaving Austrian Trieste Joyce had obtained a position in the private German bank of Nast-Kolb & Schumacher, which was located in the Palazzo Marignoli further down the Corso (but entered from no 87 Via S. Caudio), and moved his family into Via Frattina. To all intents and purposes Joyce appears to have hated the city ('Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother’s corpse’), the bank clerks he worked with ('When I enter the bank in the morning I wait for someone to announce something about either his cazzo, culo or coglioni’), the postal service (‘insolent whores’) and in a later letter was to call his stay in Rome a ‘folly’.

And yet the city must have influenced his subsequent writing and this brings me to the link to the Hypnerotomachia.

I suppose if you were to discuss Joyce’s religious affiliation you probably best describe him as a ‘lapsed drunk’ whereas in contrast Brendan Behan was faithful to the end. And yet the catholic tradition kept a hold on him, a fascination. On his evening and night-time perambulations (Joyce claimed he used drinking as a form of family planning!) he would have walked on many occasions past the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and I am certain that its history would have pulled him in.

Tombstone of Cardinal Juan de Torquemada
Sancta Maria sopra Minerva

The church was commissioned about 1275 by the Dominican Order on the site of the former Temple of Isis (it should have been called Sancta Maria supra or sopra Isis and not attributed to Minerva as the former temple to Minerva was on what is now the Piazza Collegio Romano). In 1628 the Congregation of the Holy Office responsible for the Inquisition was moved to the attached Convent of Minerva and it was here that Galileo was tried for heresy and forced on pain of torture to ‘abjure, curse and detest’ his defence of Copernican astronomical heliocentrism. Indeed Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, the uncle of the infamous Grand Inquisitor in Spain Tomás de Torquemada, both Dominicans, is buried in a small side chapel.

Once back into to the light however, and onto the Piazza Minerva, it is the 1667 Bernini sculpture of an elephant, surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk that captures one's attention. The obelisk, found in 1665, is one of the many pairs of Egyptian obelisks erected at the Temple of Isis (Obeliscus Isei Campensis) in the first to third centuries. 

Elephant & Obelisk Piazza Minerva 1667

The Minerva obelisk is attributed to Pharaoh Apries (Wahibre Haaibre) the 4th pharaoh (589 -570 BCE) of the 26th Dynasty. Apries was the Egyptian monarch who failed to prevent the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar sacking Jerusalem and carrying off the Jewish people into captivity. The obelisk was originally erected at Sais on the lower Nile Delta, where there was a famous medical school for women attached to the Temple of Isis in the 6th century BCE, and moved to Rome by the Emperor Diocletian (retired 1 May 305).

Bernini’s sculpture is particularly fascinating as it is almost an exact imitation of one of the woodcuts in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili from 150 years earlier.

Woodcut of Elephant & Obelisk from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili 1599

The smiling elephant is thought to be about to defecate and in a strange way it reminded me of one of Joyce’s other literary influences, Alfred Jarry the inventor of so-called Pataphysics. Jarry a French absurdist/surrealist contemporary of Joyce who died from drugs and alcohol use at the age of 34 in November 1907 (shortly after Joyce had retreated from Rome back to Trieste), was the author of yet another hallucinatory voyage, his post-mortem published Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician (Paris instead of Dublin, Faustroll instead of Earwicker), whose infamous play Ubu Roi opens with the word “Merdre!” And whose last wish was for a toothpick!  I cannot but surmise than Joyce, with a greater curiosity than mine must in addition to Jarry's Faustroll also have embraced the elephant and later the dream journey of Poliphilo.

Alfred Jarry on his Bicycle ("that which rolls")

For my own responses all I could think of as I recirculated round the Piazza Minerva statue on an October afternoon was of a childhood joke: What do you give an elephant with diarrhoea? Answer: Plenty of Room.

Finnegan’s Wake is a bit like that Bernini elephant, and like that childhood elephant joke it must be given plenty of room, a Lucretian swerve as it were, avoiding like any good dream lover real engagement lest you fall into the void.

….from swerve of shore to bend of bay brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation….