A quote widely misattributed to Fredric Jameson goes something along the lines of: “in these postmodern times, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” with the upsurge in the number of post-apocalyptic scenarios portrayed in films and books being a stark metaphor for the global failure of emancipatory politics.
I had thought that this communal death wish had peaked sometime in the early Noughties with the cinemas stuffed to bursting with the likes of I am Legend, 2012, The Day after Tomorrow and umpteen zombie invasion scenarios.
Well, it seems things have not quite peaked yet.
I’ve noticed quite a few bus shelter adverts recently for Horizon Zero Dawn, a new role-playing video game for the Sony PS4. HZD is set in a post-apocalyptic earth where nature has taken control of the cityscapes after the urban collapse. As I grew up in the age of ZX81s and Atari Pong I’ll not presume to know any more about it than that.
I had passed by the poster several times before I realised that it in fact shows a ruined O’Connell Street (complete with GPO and Spire) overrun with rampant tropical vegetation: presumably the result of the out-of-control climate change which triggered the collapse of civilisation. The scenario reminds me somewhat of Hothouse by Brian Aldiss (one of my favourite SF novels) although the idea that the godawful Spire will outlast civilisation pains me deeply.
In my younger days, the anxiety of nuclear holocaust was the principal driver of post-apocalyptic visions and I still have harrowing memories of being shown the BBC drama Threads in RE class at school. Indeed, who can forget Charlton Heston screaming at the ruined Statue of Liberty in the original Planet of the Apes:”You maniacs, you really did it!”
The question of whether Dublin was ever on a Russian nuclear hit list is something I’ll address in another blog entry, but the idea of Dublin being the epicentre of some earth-shattering apocalypse has never seemed to catch the Irish imagination not even at the height of cold-war paranoia or the ongoing threat from Sellafield. Surprising really, given the historical memory that the city centre was devastated twice in quick succession in 1916 and 1922.
The idea of trashing Dublin city centre to promote a video game is nothing new. In 2011, Come Here To Me highlighted another poster (of much less artistic merit) for the game Infamous 2 – which in small print at the top says ‘is not set in Dublin‘! A poor excuse really, for zapping Jim Larkin off his pedestal.
Kevin Barry’s recent novel ‘City of Bohane‘ is set in a post-collapse Irish city which is a recognisable amalgam of Cork/Limerick, but I’m not sure if Dublin has ever received the same literary treatment. A quick Google of ‘Post-apocalyptic Dublin’ did however turn up the evocative work of Owen Forsyth, a digital artist who is publishing an ongoing series of ‘after-the-Apocalypse’ images of famous Dublin City landmarks.
It was with great sadness that I learned this week of the passing of Avalon Brantley.
I had a small personal connection, having shared the pages of the anthology ‘Sorcery and Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen‘ with her wonderful story ‘Great Seizers’ Ghost’. A story which to my mind encapsulates all that made her such a peerless writer: a sense of complete mastery of the sources be they esoteric, historical or literary coupled with a prose style of effortless complexity and beauty.
No journeyman years for her, Avalon seemed to spring forth onto the scene like Athena from the head of Zeus, fully-formed and at the height of her powers. I will always be in awe of ‘Aornos‘ that strange and unclassifiable piece of Greek tragedy redivivus which was her first published work.
Avalon the person was an enigma to many: modest and self-effacing, yet always willing to engage with her readers. I have a sense of someone who had read and thought deeply about the world and was still exploring how our human experience could be annotated and examined via the written word. And if the reader sometimes felt challenged by her works, it was because the profound nature of the questions they addressed demanded more than a simple casual engagement.
Her only collection ‘Descended Suns Resuscitate‘ appeared in 2014 with her recent output scattered amongst various anthologies from Ex Occidente, Egaeus and others. I do hope that these uncollected stories can be assembled at some point by a publisher into a fitting tribute to her legacy.
Perhaps her writing was of such a refined character that it was destined to appeal only to the few. But to those few (of which I count myself as one) her talent was held in the utmost regard.
Requiescat In Pace.
Note: A heartfelt appreciation by Alcibiades Diniz can be found at Bibliophage.
Back in 2012, while on holiday in the North of England, I was wandering around York Minster when one memorial in particular caught my eye, bearing as it did, the name of a familiar Dublin location.
I assumed this meant Lieutenant Henry Lees was buried somewhere in the Minster and left it at that. However, I later discovered that this assumption was (as usual) completely wrong and that Lt. Lees is, in fact, still buried in the country of his death – Ireland.
I was curious to find out a bit more about Henry Lees and the Irish Times has a brief report on the coroner’s inquest which was held a couple of days after his tragic accident.
From ‘The Irish Times’, – Thursday, October 3rd, 1876.
The Death of Lieutenant Lees
Dr N. C. Whyte, City Coroner, held an inquest yesterday at Steeven’s Hospital, on the remains of Lieutenant Henry Lees, who, as was reported in yesterday’s Irish Times was killed through a fall from his horse in the Phoenix Park on Saturday evening.
Richard Henry Baine of Lowerton, Castleknock, deposed that on Saturday evening he observed the deceased riding near the railings enclosing the cricket ground. He neared a hurdle which was placed to prevent horses going onto the reserved ground, and attempted to jump over it, but through the horse’s forefeet getting into contact with the hurdle, both horse and rider fell over, deceased being underneath. Witness rushed to the assistance of the deceased, but after the fall he never moved. Aided by Constable 123D, witness placed the deceased gentleman on a car, and had him conveyed to Steeven’s Hospital where it was ascertained that life was extinct.
Greville McClelland, Lieutenant and Adjutant 3rd Dragoon Guards, the regiment to which the deceased belonged, identified the remains. Witness added that Lieutenant Lees was considered one of the best riders in the regiment, and that the horse which he had been riding on Saturday evening was a remarkably quiet animal.
Dr. Tweedy, Steeven’s Hospital, deposed to the deceased having been admitted to hospital in a state of unconsciousness from which he never recovered. He died a few minutes after his admission, death being the result of internal injuries.
The jury found that Lieutenant Henry Lees died in Steeven’s Hospital on the 30th September in consequence of internal injuries caused by his horse having accidentally fallen upon him in the Phoenix Park on the same day.
A few weeks later, The Freeman’s Journal of October 20th, 1876, advertised the sale of five horses (‘Jenny’, ‘Thomastown’, ‘Socks’, ‘Jack’ and a ‘Dun Pony’) by Sewell’s Horse Repository in Lower Mount Street on the orders of the ‘executors of Lt. Henry Lees’. Wisely, it fails to mention that one of them is probably the unfortunate animal who occasioned the death of its owner.
An online transcription of Dublin graveyard records revealed that Lees is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross and so on a wet and windy winter’s day last week, I spent a fruitless hour scouring the avenues for his grave. Luckily, the cemetery office was open and the very helpful attendant was able to find Lees’ original burial records from 1876 which contained the plot number (specifying an area roughly 50×100 ft square) and the cryptic direction that his grave was ‘8ft South of Bradshaw’s small Portland tomb’.
Needless to say there was no sign of ‘Bradshaw’s small Portland tomb’ which had either been removed or become illegible and so I had to methodically check each of the 100 or so graves in the rather ill-defined and muddy plot to find the one I was looking for.
Lees’ grave is an inscribed limestone plinth topped with a broken column of polished red granite. Rather than being the result of wanton vandalism, the broken column is, in fact, a common Victorian funerary symbol which melodramatically represents a life cut short. Indeed, the inscription confirms just how tragically young Lees was when he died – only 28 years old.
The inscription is not that clear in the photos and I transcribe it as follows:
To the Memory of
of Aspenshaw, Derbyshire
Lieutenant 3rd Dragoon Guards
who was killed by an accident
while leaping his horse
in Phoenix Park
September 30th 1876
aged 28 years
Man cometh up
and is cut down like a flower
The burial record states that the plot was purchased by Lees’ brother-in-law, ‘Graham’ (?) Hall. The inscription on the monument gives the additional information that Lees’ place of origin is ‘Aspenshaw’: a small village in Derbyshire near Chapel-en-le-Frith. I haven’t done any genealogical searches, but a small bit of Googling reveals that Lt. Henry Lees is likely to be the son of another ‘Henry Lees’: a solicitor from Stalybridge who purchased Aspenshaw Hall in 1860. Aspenshaw Hall is located in Thornsett outside New Mills in Derbyshire (thanks to Andrew Lees for the additional information). Why Heny Jr. chose the army over the family business, we’ll probably never know.
A trawl through the following week’s Freeman’s Journal turned up an account of Lees’ funeral and it paints such a vivid picture of the pomp and majesty of the British Military establishment in Ireland at the very height of its power that I’ve transcribed it in full below with the text paragraphed for ease of reading. One suspects that in the troubled years leading up to the first Land War, Lees’ funeral was deliberately used as an occasion to display the full panoply of British Imperial might to the populace.
As we know, just six years later, the Phoenix Park will be the scene of another tragedy with far more wide-reaching implications for the British regime – the murders of Cavendish and Burke by the ‘Invincibles’.
From ‘The Freeman’s Journal’ – Thursday, October 5th, 1876.
THE FUNERAL OF LIEUTENANT LEES
Yesterday the remains of Lieut. Henry Lees, of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, who was crushed to death by his horse in the Phoenix Park last Saturday, were buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery with more than the usual pomp of military mourning. The officers and men of his regiment, to whom his frank and popular manner had endeared him extremely, were to a man around his coffin, and the procession of officers, four deep, that closed the line, numbered representatives of every corps in garrison here or at Newbridge.
The funeral train was formed at Island-bridge Barracks by eleven o’clock, and left by way of the South Circular-road for the cemetery. In front marched a firing party of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, in charge of Lieutenant Belwood, with crapes on their arms, and muskets reversed. Then came four regimental bands with muffled drums, which in turn supplied the funeral music–those of the 3rd and 8th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, who played in concert, and those of the 23rd Fusiliers and 93rd Highlanders.
Immediately in front of the coffin walked the Rev. Charles Hort and Rev. W. H. Ballock, Chaplain to the Forces. The remains were enclosed in a massive oaken coffin, heavily mounted, and simply engraved with the poor young fellow’s name and the age (28) at which he met his mournful fate.
A black and white velvet pall shrouded the coffin, and outside it was wrapped around in the folds of a war-worn Union Jack, while on top were laid the sheathed sword and plumed helmet of the dead soldier. Four of his brother officers, wearing broad black scarves and draped helmets–Lieutenants Park, Cole, Wardrop and Yatman, of the 3rd Dragoons–walked at either side as pall-bearers. A gun-carriage of the Royal Horse Artillery, drawn by six horses, formed the hearse. Behind walked Lieut. Lees’ favourite charger (not the animal that occasioned his death) caparisoned in a flowing pall of rich black velvet, broadly bordered with white, with the Prince of Wales’ triple plumes. the cognisance of his regiment, embroidered on each side, and the deceased officer’s military boots dangling mournfully at the saddle-girths.
A single mourning carriage followed, in which rode his brother-in-law, Mr. Hall, the only one of his relatives who could arrive in time from their distant English home. Then commenced a long column of dismounted dragoons, marching four deep, with trailed sabres, a troop of the 6th Inniskilling, under Capt. Bolitho, occupying first place in the line, the mass of which was composed of the privates and non-commissioned officers of the 3rd.
Finally came an immense array of officers, walking in fours, according to their seniority in garrison, the junior officers in front, all in their bright and many-coloured uniforms, with mourning badges on the left arm. The officers of the 3rd Dragoons, under Col. Rawlinson, wore special emblems of sorrow–broad crape scarves, and mingled black and red plumes in their helmets.
Among the other corps numerously represented were the 6th Inniskillings, the 7th Dragoon Guards, the officers of the garrison, and field batteries of Royal Artillery, 23rd Fusiliers, 93rd Highlanders, 60th Rifles, and engineers, the whole line brought up by Major-General Herbert C.B., commanding the Dublin district, and the officers of the staff.
As this vast military column poured along to the solemn music of the bands, an immense civilian contingent gathered in its train. On reaching Harold’s Cross the band of the 23rd struck up a German funeral hymn. Around the cemetery gates the bands and firing party formed in double line, through which the gun-carriage with its mortal burden passed on towards the church, while the combined bands of the Dragoons burst out into the Dead March.
A fatigue part of Lieutenant Lees’ own troop unveiled the coffin at the church door, where the clergy in cassock and surplice awaited it and the Rev. Mr. Ballock recited the burial service of the Church of England. The dragoons were massed in a double line along the great central passage as the coffin was again borne from the church on men’s shoulders, and, with the murmured music of the bands and the column of officers ranked behind, conveyed it to its last resting place.
The final prayers were said over the grave, three volleys of musketry rang out among the peaceful abode of death, and then, with re-formed ranks and merry music, the soldiers bade farewell to their dead comrade and marched away.
How James Martin became a Poet
Mrs K. Monahan
“This happened in a fort. The fort that I am telling about is owned by Mr. Harman. There is a ring of trees around a hill and a big tree in the middle. One night when it was dark, a man named Martin was sleeping under a tree when he heard a fiddle playing around him. He opened his eyes and looked up and he saw a crowd of people round him. They had stars in their caps which showed a lot of light. They asked him which would he prefer – a book or a fiddle, and they said ‘we will have to get something in return from you’.
Martin said ‘give me the book’ and they gave it, and they told him to see if he would like it.
He opened it and immediately lost the sight of one eye. They said altogether then ‘we have our swap now.’
This Martin never went to school. Later on he was known as James Martin the poet, so it is thought he learned all he knew from the book given him by the ‘good people.'”
Note: James Martin (1783-1860) was a self-taught antiquarian, poet and ‘unconquered controversialist of his day’ who farmed near Oldcastle, Co. Meath in the early 19th century. ‘Well read in Irish, Hebrew and continental languages’ according to Cogan’s History of the Diocese of Meath, Martin was the author of over twenty verse satires on national and religious topics. Now largely forgotten, except perhaps for the strange tale of how he acquired his gift for poetry. See the entry at Ricorso.ie and also ‘James Martin of Millbrook’, Riocht Na Midhe; Vol II, no. 1; pp 64-68; 1959.
Some lines on the ancient remains at Loughcrew, Co. Meath, by James Martin from ‘The Dublin Penny Journal’ vol. IV, no. 199; 1834.
On this high mountain now in ruins, stands
A pagan altar, rear’d by Druids’ hands—
To Baal erected, who, as authors say,
Was once here worshipp’d as the god of day,
When superstition held her gloomy throne,
Before the Gospel in Hibernia shone,
The Druids here the people would convene,
That god to worship at their lofty fane —
Soon as bright Sol appeared to mortal view,
Or ting’d the mountain with a golden hue,
The priests, arrayed in robes of vivid white,
Consumed sweet incense to the orb of light;
Then offered praise, and hymns unhallow’d sung,
And in the flames the destined victim flung;