Saturday 30 November 2019

John Toland and Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and John Toland (1670-1722) were two Irishmen whose lives ran almost parallel but mostly, in opposite directions. The fact that they shared a birthday (30 November) is just one of those quaint coincidences. That fact that those birthdays fall today gives us occasion to dwell on the matter further.

With this much in mind, we are reproducing here, an article that appeared earlier this year (19 October, marking the anniversary of Swift's death in 1745) on the website of the John Toland Centenaries Project.

Jonathan Swift has previously been the subject of historical critical appraisal on our own website, as will be noted when you read on:

John Toland and Jonathan Swift

– comparisons and contrasts –

Jonathan Swift, who died on this day in 1745, was a contemporary and compatriot of John Toland with whom he even shared a birthday (30 November) although, Swift was three years older, being born in 1667. Like Toland, his strongly held views earned him a certain reputation for controversy, polemic, satire. Both men ran the gauntlet of political and ecclesiastical authority in their day, for which they both paid a heavy price in terms of how it affected their respective careers and their livelihoods.

Yet, the similarities that one can't help but notice also betray the contrasts that come to the surface as one digs deeper. For, while both men were deeply involved in the politics and public life of the time, it was usually from opposing platforms that they enunciated their views, often having the effect of engulfing them in controversy of one sort or another.

Indeed, Swift was among those who spoke against Toland, in the outcry that ensued from the publication of his seminal work, Christianity not Mysterious, in 1695. He was also among those who called into question Toland's parentage, describing him as a "priest and the son of a priest" in a 'Letter to a Member of the House of Commons of Ireland etc. written on September 3rd 1697' (cited in John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar ... and Heretic by J.N. Duggan)

The price that both men paid included exile although, in opposite directions for, while Toland found himself banished from Ireland, Swift probably felt that he was being banished to the country of his birth, upon finding himself on the wrong side of the fence, politically, in England.

Toland arrived in Dublin sometime prior to the publication of Christianity not Mysterious, after many years studying abroad in Scotland, England, the Netherlands. It is believed that he had hopes of securing a position of some kind in Dublin but, following the furore, it was not even safe for him to remain in Ireland. Thereafter, he spent much of the rest of his life in England (although he was also a regular visitor to the Continent), championing and polemicising on behalf of various Whig causes. This, after all, was the political movement of the day to which he had always been closest.

Swift, on the other hand, started out, politically, as a Whig but, eventually crossed over to the Tories. Hence, while Toland largely welcomed the period of Whig supremacy that followed the ascension of Elector George Louis of Hanover to the British throne (as King George I), for Swift, this was the kiss of death in terms of his own political ambitions.
When he sought a church appointment in England, in reward for his services, the best position his friends could secure for him was that of Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. It seems that Queen Anne had taken a particular dislike to Swift and, made it clear that he would not have received even that position if she could have prevented it. Among other things, she regarded his work, A Tale of a Tub, to be blasphemous. With the return of the Whigs to power in 1715, Swift left England and returned to Ireland, it is said, "in disappointment, a virtual exile [and] to live like a rat in a hole. – from Writing & Literary on the 350th Anniversary of the Birth of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Jonathan Swift, essayist, poet, political pamphleteer and contemporary of John Toland, died on this day in 1745.

– first published Saturday, 19 October 2019 on

Friday 22 November 2019

George Eliot Born On This Day in 1819

Portrait of George Eliot by Frederic William Burton
Sir Frederick Burton
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Ann Evans, the author who would go on to be known by the pen name, George Eliot, was born 200 years ago today, in 1819. Best remembered as a novelist (most notably, for Middlemarch and Silas Marner), she was also produced a substantial body of work through her poetry, journalism and translation.

She was largely self-educated, being a voracious reader in her youth, helped by her having access to the library on the estate (Arbury Hall) where her father worked.
"Because she was not considered physically beautiful, Evans was not thought to have much chance of marriage, and this, coupled with her intelligence, led her father to invest in an education not often afforded women."Wikipedia

Her decision to adopt a male-sounding nom de plume is said to have been down to a combination of personal and professional reasons – e.g. to avoid the gender stereotyping of female authors that she perceived to prevalent at the time but also, to avoid scrutiny of her private life. Though the pair never married, between 1854 and his death in 1878, she was in a relationship with George Henry Lewes, the philosopher and critic. Lewes was already married and their relationship (combined with the fact that they declined to conceal it) was a cause of scandal in the prevailing Victorian climate. However, while public censure may have hindered the couple's access to polite society, it did not dent Eliot's popularity as a novelist, even after she felt obliged to publicly acknowledge her authorship and the true identity of 'George Eliot', against the claims of pretenders.

In public, Eliot was seen as a feminist campaigner. She voiced support for the Union in the American Civil War (said to be "a rare stance in England at the time" – Wikipedia) and also for Home Rule in Ireland.

Her novels are notable for their depictions of the changing face of rural England against the backdrop of rapid, ongoing industrialisation, often from the vantage point of of social outsiders or those suffering under the weight of small-town persecution.

In 2015, her novel, Middlemarch, was voted best British novel by a landslide, in a poll of book critics from around the world, outside of the UK.

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza

Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza

– action-packed, adventure-laden Christmas tale for children and young adults –

The just published, Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza delivers an action-packed, adventure-laden Christmas tale for children and young adults that is perfectly paced and doesn't disappoint. More so, it is a book that will be enjoyed by all ages (with special resonances those who are young at heart) for its universal story about childhood and growing up. Some may even detect echoes of J.M. Barrie's timeless classic.

It is the week before Christmas and Sheila O'Reilly is taking care of the house, bossing her brothers around while her parents are away. As she watches her younger brothers get onto the spirit of the season, she wonders if she ever truly enjoyed Christmas when she was a child.

That night, an unannounced visitor with an unexpected request arrives at the house. One way or another, Christmas is never going to be the same again for Sheila and, maybe not for anyone! The dark forces that have gathered are threatening the very spirit of Christmas itself. Sheila, along with her brothers and her newfound friends, must find a way to prevail.

Will Shelia be able to help save Santa or, will it be too late?

Author, D.T. Ihaza was born in Benin City in Nigeria but he has lived in Ireland for more than a decade. He says that he has always had a passion for creative writing. Operation: Save Santa is his first book but, judging by this tour de force, he surely has many more to come.

Operation: Save Santa by D.T. Ihaza is published by The Manuscript Publisher and available to buy online, in print and e-book editions – RRP €12.95 (print edition). Further information is available from the publisher's website. It is suitable for readers aged 9 years and up.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Press Release: Book Launch – Two Books by Michael Whelton | The Manuscript Publisher

Crawford Art Gallery, in the heart of Cork City, provides a fitting venue for the formal launch of two recently published books by local author, Michael Whelton. The event takes place on Friday, 6 September from 12.30pm and is open to the public.

Portraits of the Past by Michael Whelton - front cover
Michael Whelton, a retired medical doctor who has also dedicated himself to art and literary pursuits, is a native of Cork, having lived and worked there for most of his life. He has also travelled extensively and all of this is very much to the fore in his writings (as well as in the background), providing as it does, the setting for many of the short stories contained in his collection, Portraits of the Past, which was published just last year.

Through the Pages of History: an art, music and medical miscellany is his more recently published collection of essays, which looks at the lives of historical figures and addresses landmarks in human history, scientific achievement, artistic excellence and so on. Subjects covered include events like the Black Death, medieval witch hunts, capital punishment while Mozart, Renoir, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Kings John and Richard III of England, Herod the Great of Biblical fame are just a few of the names that crop up in this engrossing read.
Through the Pages of History by Michael Whelton - front cover

Both books are published by The Manuscript Publisher and available to buy online as well as certain bookshops and, are also available in e-book editions.

Signed copies will be on sale at the launch, which is hosted by Friends of Crawford Art Gallery. Entry is free and refreshments will be served. Make a note in your diary:
Venue: Crawford Art Gallery, Emmet Place, Cork – for directions, see Google Maps
Date: Friday, 6 September 2019
Time: 12.30pm

Book launch invitation - Michael Whelton

Saturday 3 August 2019

SiarScéal Festival 2019 – Friday & Saturday, 11th - 12th October

SiarScéal Festival 2019

- Includes Beneath Western Skies Exhibition and the Hanna Greally International Literary Awards -

SiarScéal Festival 2019 will take place over two days, commencing on Friday, 11 October and continuing through Saturday, 12 October at Roscommon County Library HQ in Roscommon Town. Further information is available from the SiarScéal website.

SiarScéal Festival 2019 brochure
SiarScéal Festival 2019
Friday & Saturday
11th - 12th October
Meanwhile, the closing date for the Hanna Greally International Literary Awards is Tuesday, 10 September and there is every incentive to get your entries in – the Overall Winner will take home a cash prize of €500, with two runners-up each receiving €100. There will also be trophy prizes for Highly Commended entries in the categories of local, national, international. The Ger Hanily Memorial Cup will be awarded to a local writer or school with the best sense of place or identity. Full details of how to enter the competition (including theme, rules of entry and so on) are also available from the SiarScéal website.

Also showcasing at this year's festival is a Beneath Western Skies exhibition, which will be formally launched on Day One of the festival. It will subsequently go on tour and be on display regionally at libraries in Leitrim and Sligo during October and November. The exhibition features photography and poetry by Anni Wilton Jones, who will also host this year's SiarScéal festivities.

Day Two of the festival will include presentation of the Hanna Greally International Literary Awards. Guest poet at this year's festival is Faye Boland, author of Peripheral, who will also adjudicate the Awards. Faye was overall winner in 2017.

Festival-goers will then be treated to a choral recital from the Galway-based Write-On Group.

An open mike session, from 1.30pm to 4.50pm, will close off the festival. People interested in performing their work are asked to send a short text message or SMS to Int+353+(0)86+1649756. This will help the organisers to ensure that everyone is accommodated.

Full details of the festival – including programme of events, how to get there, etc – is available from SiarScéal website. There is also a festival brochure that is available to download and share.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Through the Pages of History by Michael Whelton – an art, music and medical miscellany

Through the Pages of History
by Michael Whelton
Was Mozart really buried in a pauper’s grave? What role did yellow fever play in the construction of the Panama Canal? How did the painter, Renoir cope with rheumatoid arthritis in his old age? Has history been overly harsh towards King Herod?

Just a few of the questions (from among a very broad range of subject matter) that are looked at from historical and medical perspectives in Michael Whelton’s engaging collection of essays. Through the Pages of History: an art music and medical miscellany is written in a lively style and a manner that will intrigue but also satisfy inquisitive minds. It is book that will appeal as much to the general reader as to those with specialist knowledge.

It is also a book that the reader will not find easy to put down, once started on a journey that trawls through medical annals, to probe popular misconceptions or shed new light on the personalities and events that have shaped history. Charles Darwin, Ignaz Semmelweis, Marie Curie, Alexander Fleming, Rosalind Franklin all get more than a mention but, the author also casts his trained medical eye over matters and phenomenon such as diseases and epidemics, medieval witch hunts, tattooing, embalming, 'humane' judicial killings. A firm grasp of the facts is exhibited but, always with an good eye for the story or amusing anecdote connected to landmarks in human history, scientific achievement, artistic excellence and so on.

Portraits of the Past
by Michael Whelton
Most importantly, he brings to bear his own scientific knowledge, as a retired medical doctor and in doing so, amply demonstrates how truth is all too often stranger than fiction. Not that he doesn’t have experience in this area too. His previous volume, Portraits of the Past, a collection of short stories and flash fiction published just last year, reads like Joycean narratives set in his native Cork during the post-war period.

Through the Pages of History: an art, music and medical miscellany by Michael Whelton is published by The Manuscript Publisher and is on sale now. RRP €12.99.

Friday 31 May 2019

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Walt Whitman (1819-1892), America's Shakespeare

Walt Whitman, steel engraving, July 1854
Samuel Hollyer (1826-1919) of a daguerreotype
by Gabriel Harrison (1818-1902)(original lost).
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today's bicentennial celebration of the birth of Walt Whitman (1819-1892) honours the life and legacy of a figure of enduring fascination and appeal. To many, he has come to be seen as the embodiment of American literature of a certain era and, some have even suggested that 'he is America'. He could certainly be regarded as America's Shakespeare.

Whitman was born in New York state to a family influenced by Quakerism. Three of his seven brothers were named after figures of the American War of Independence, while Whitman himself shared the name of his father (Walter), which was shortened to Walt. He completed formal education at the age of 11. What followed was a varied career as an office worker, in printing, journalism, teaching, also writing some early novels. His real emergence on the literary scene however, was announced with the publication of his collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, in 1855, a venture that he financed himself.

During the American Civil War, he sought to rally public opinion to the Union's cause and worked in hospitals caring for the wounded.

Whitman has been been hailed the first "poet of democracy" in the United States. A contemporary and friend proclaimed that "you cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass" while a poet of a later generation, Ezra Pound, called Whitman "America's poet ... He is America."

Not all have been fulsome in their praise of Whitman however, some seeing in his supposed nationalism an America that is "arrogant, expansionist, hierarchical, racist and exclusive".
"... his poetry has been a model for democratic poets of all nations and races, right up to our own day. How Whitman could have been so prejudiced and yet, so effective in conveying an egalitarian and anti-racist sensibility in his poetry, is a puzzle yet to be adequately addressed." – see Wikipedia

His work has also been controversial for its seeming depiction of an overt sensuality that some have found 'obscene'. The subject of Whitman's own life and his presumed sexuality has come under scrutiny, both during his lifetime and right down to the present day.

Walt Whitman, poet, essayist, and journalist, was born on this day in 1819.

Tuesday 30 April 2019

The Much-Maligned Mary Pike and Other Stories

Recently published, The Much-Maligned Mary Pike: The Rebel County and '98 by Kieran Groeger will feature at two events, in Waterford and in Cork, over the coming fortnight.

The Much-Maligned Mary Pike by Kieran Groeger (The Rebel County and '98)
The Much-Maligned Mary Pike
by Kieran Groeger
Mary Pike was a wealthy, young Quaker heiress who was kidnapped in July 1797 by a widowed knight, Sir Henry Brown Hayes, intent on forcing her into marriage and getting his hands on her fortune. She was rescued from his house, Vernon Mount, in Cork city.

He fled the country but, then deciding that public opinion was in his favour, he challenged her to face him in court. He was shocked when Mary Pike won the case and he was soon sentenced to transportation for life in Australia, where the governor was a certain Captain Bligh, lately of the Bounty.

Sadly, the history books tell us that the subsequent ordeal was too much for Mary Pike – she suffered a nervous breakdown and died in a mental hospital.

The author, Dr Kieran Groeger, delights in stripping away the layers of documentation, analysing legends, old newspaper accounts, piecing together the clues to reveal a truly astonishing story.

The 1798 Rebellion of the United Irishmen features as backdrop to these events. It may surprise people who ask, 'did nothing happen in Cork?' to learn that quite a lot took place during this period, as the city is brought to life in this much anticipated volume.

Kieran will be among the line-up for this coming Sunday, 5 May at Dromana House and Gardens, where where a day long programme on the theme of "In Pursuit of the Heiress" will be held. The event runs from 10.30am to 4pm, with breaks for lunch and afternoon tea. Other talks will be provided by Julian Walton, Judy Brittain and Dr. Dagmar O’Riain-Raedel. Enquires and bookings can be made through Dromana House and Gardens website.

On the following Friday, 10 May, the formal launch of The Much-Maligned Mary Pike will take place at the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, starting 12.30am, where originals of illustrations featured in the book are on display. The event is hosted by Friends of Crawford Art Gallery and all are welcome to attend.

The Much-Maligned Mary Pike: The Rebel County and '98 by Kieran Groeger is published by The Manuscript Publisher and on sale now. It is available to buy online as well as in all good bookshops. RRP €14.99.

Kieran Groeger, author of The Trial and Execution of James Cotter, the Little Book of Youghal, along with other books and articles on Irish and local history, is a retired teacher, avid Francophile and regular cyclist.

Monday 18 February 2019

The Compendium by Brian Corvin: something a little different

The Compendium is author, Brian Corvin's third published work. Where his first two – The Dream Journey (2010) and The Unity Project (2016) – were collections of poetry and verse, the present volume offers "something a little different".
The Compendium by Brian Corvin – front cover

The opening section contains of a selection of neohaikus and social verse while, the second introduces the reader to some quirky short stories, taking on tales of the macabre, turning up some strange and unexpected twists. This is followed by a trilogy of related one-act plays that deal with the issue of clerical child abuse, probing the question of whether forgiveness of the kind that can lead to redemption is ever really possible in such a context.

The volume finishes with an autobiographical fragment (Towards a New World Order), in which he describes how he became a Baha'i, while living in Devon, England back in the 1960s.
"I am still a Bahai though, these days, I sometimes describe myself as a Neo-Bahai. I have never regretted my move to Bahai though, when writing about it, I sometimes feel that I can see similarities to Graham Greene's sardonically tinged attitude to Catholic beliefs and practices. I still believe that Bahai offers an unmatched vision for the future of the species, though we seldom live up to its aspirations and, I certainly feel that it is worth considering in this confusing, pessimistic and negative transitionary period."
The author, Brian Corvin, was born in Dublin, Ireland eighty years ago but, he sees himself as a world citizen. He has been inspired by Bahaullah, the prophet of globalisation but, feels that his writing should be grounded in the here and now of the world that he finds around him.

He achieves this quite admirably and with keen insight. His true talent, it might be said, rests in an ability to faithfully convey the views held by those of a particular mindset, irrespective of whether one might share those views or, even sympathise with them. It comes across in his writing whether he is talking about the European refugee crisis, politics in the era of Trump, the motives that drive people to commit desperate acts.

The Compendium by Brian Corvin is published by The Manuscript Publisher. It is on sale now and available to buy online as well as from certain bookshops. RRP €9.99.

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