“Operation School Burning”. National Fire Protection Association (1959).
In 1958, an abandoned school building (part of the Robert Louis Stevenson Junior High School) was handed-over to the Los Angeles Fire Department as a test-bed for modelling the effects of smoke on the survivability of fires in large institutions.
“Operation School Burning” was chiefly notable for being one of the first studies to show the benefits of installing smoke and heat detectors.
Seeing the day that’s in it, I’m reminded of a passage in Robert Lloyd Praeger’s wonderful autobiography-cum-travelogue ‘The Way that I Went‘ where he ponders the correct botanical identification of the legendary Shamrock of Saint Patrick.
One of the major issues with the identification of the true Shamrock is that the story of Saint Patrick using it to illustrate the nature of the divine Trinity is a very late attestation. It is not mentioned in Patrick’s writings, nor in any of the early biographies such as the Book of Armagh or the Tripartite Life. In fact, the story first appears as recently as 1727 in Caleb Threlkelds ‘Synopsis Stirpium Hiberniacum‘ a.k.a ‘A Treatise on Native Plants‘.
In his search for the true Shamrock, Praeger leans heavily on the work of his friend, the naturalist Nathaniel Colgan, who published his first collection of self-termed ‘Shamrockiana’ in 1896.
In ‘The Shamrock in Literature: a Critical Chronology‘ (JRSAI, vol. 6, pg. 211), Colgan scours the Irish sources for the earliest references to the Shamrock (or Seamróg as Gaelige) and finds a cluster of attestations from the latter half of the sixteenth century from Campion’s ‘Historie of Ireland‘ (‘Shamrotes, Water Cresses and other herbs…’) through to Gerard’s famous ‘Herbal‘ (‘The common Meadow Trefoils, which are termed in Irish, Shamrockes’) where the eating of Shamrocks by the native Irish in times of want is stated to be a widely observed custom.
Seamróg is etymologised as Seamair óg or ‘little clover’ which would suggest it is either identical with, or closely related to, one of the species of Trifolium common in Irish meadows. Seamair however, is the generic Irish term for all clovers and the fact that Shamrocks are mostly collected in early March before any flowers appear means that discrimination by non-specialists of the various native trefoils is not necessarily reliable.
The majority of the historical sources plump for the Shamrock to be Trifolium repens or the White Clover, with a couple suggesting the alternative Red Clover, Trifolium pratense.
However, a curve-ball was played in 1830 by the British botanist James Ebenezer Benecho who proposed in a paper ‘On the plant intended by the shamrock of Ireland‘ (JRI, 1831-32) that the true Shamrock was in fact the Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella. This identification was also raised again in a scurrilous fashion by the Manchester Guardian during the last century.
The identification of the true Shamrock with Wood Sorrel is based on the fact that many of the early sources describe the Shamrock being used as a foodstuff by the native Irish. Clovers, both the white and purple varieties, are bitter and unpalatable, whereas Wood Sorrel has a pleasant, sharp, almost lemony taste and is still eaten today by wild food enthusiasts. There has been continuous, if unproven, speculation since Benecho’s paper that the White Clover, in particular, is an introduced species and so cannot be contemporaneous with Saint Patrick. Benecho suggests that Wood Sorrel was much more prevalent in medieval times before the widespread deforestation and clearance of its natural habitats led to its substitution by the Clovers as the Shamrock of popular memory.
Colgan made a survey of the Shamrocks worn in his day (early 1890’s) to see which plants the modern Irish were identifying as the national emblem (The Shamrock : an attempt to fix its species, Irish Naturalist, v.1, pg. 95-97 & v.2, pg. 207-211). Surprisingly, the result was roughly 50/50 between the White Clover, Trifolium Repens, and the Lesser Trefoil, Trifolium minus/Trifolium dubium. The other contenders: Purple Clover, Trifolium pratense and the Black Medick, Medicago lupulina, were very much disfavoured and the the Wood Sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, is missing entirely. The survey was repeated in 1988 by the botanist E. Charles Nelson for his definitive 1991 Book, ‘Shamrock: Botany and History of an Irish Myth‘ with virtually identical results.
So what does Praeger conclude? He favours the identification of the Shamrock with a ‘clover of small neat leaves – a condition always fulfilled by the Lesser Trefoil, but requiring starved specimens of the White Clover’. Certainly, the Lesser Trefoil is the variety you will most commonly see being sold commercially in Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day and it is the variety used for the traditional Saint Patrick’s day presentations at the White House.
Shamrock: Botany and History of an Irish Myth, E. Charles Nelson, Boethius Press, Kilkenny, 1991
Bess Lovejoy, Smithsonian.com, No one Really Knows What a Shamrock is
It’s strange how historical memory works.
One of the largest and most expensive civic memorials of the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations, the Anna Livia Fountain (a.k.a. ‘The Floozie in the Jacuzzi’), now lies forlorn and unloved in the Croppies Acre Memorial Park on Benburb Street. And yet, every couple of years the Internet will indulge in a frenzy of nostalgia over what was the smallest and cheapest memento of the 1988 celebrations – the humble Millennium Milk Bottle (‘MMB’).
In the late 1980’s, when the majority of people in Dublin still had doorstep milk deliveries, Premier Dairies discovered that the standard Irish Glass milk bottle could be covered in shrink-wrapped plastic allowing it to be over-printed with various adverts such as ‘Do you know you can buy orange juice from your Milkman?‘ etc.
In addition to the adverts, there were a couple of forays into commemorative subjects – Italia ’90 being one example – but the most famous, of course, was the Dublin Millennium in 1988. Even at the time, people were stashing them away as ‘heirlooms’ and it is still said that the definition of true Dubliner is someone who has a Millennium Milk Bottle or two hidden in the attic.
The hype around the bottles took hold fairly early-on. I remember irate listeners phoning in to The Gay Byrne Show complaining that they hadn’t been given their fair quota of MMBs and this included people who didn’t even live in Dublin!
There was a craze for converting them into table lamps for a while and I distinctly remember Rory’s Fishing Tackle in Temple Bar having one on display behind the counter sitting on a finely-turned bespoke wooden plinth. It seems that Dubliners are still holding on to their MMBs in the hope that they will become the Fabergé eggs of the future although the price on the web seems to have peaked at a lofty €10 as of March 2017.
In 2013, Premier Dairies decided to cash-in on the nostalgia-tripping and reissued the ‘25th anniversary edition‘ Millennium Milk Bottle in a bespoke cardboard case. There was some concern online at the time that this would somehow ‘devalue’ the originals as judging by the images in the press release, the reissue seemed to be virtually identical.
Thankfully, by comparing the 25th anniversary reissue bottles currently on sale at adverts.ie with the precious original in my possession, I can confirm that the commemorative inscriptions on the back are completely different so there’s no danger that they could be accidentally confused with each other.
Perversely, the number of people taking doorstep milk deliveries in 2013 would be a fraction of those in 1988 – so I imagine the reissued bottle is much, much rarer.
Milk bottle collectors take note.
It is a sad fact that your average man in the street still thinks that everything inside the Honan Chapel is by Harry Clarke. Thankfully, in recent years, the work of the Oppenheimer family in the stunning floor mosaics is finally receiving the recognition that it so richly deserves.
Just as with the corbel sculptures at St Fin Barre’s, the inspiration for the chancel floor in the Honan Chapel is taken from the Book of Daniel. In this case, Chapter 3:24-90, where all of creation sings God’s praise from ‘everything that moves in the waters‘ through to ‘every kind of bird‘ and ‘all animals wild and tame‘ as well as more abstract concepts such as ‘Light and Darkness‘ and ‘Lightnings and Clouds‘.
Daniel 3:24-90 is one of the so-called ‘Additions to Daniel’ which only appear in the Greek Septuagint Bible and not the Hebrew Masoretic text. As such, it is only accepted as canonical by the Catholic and Orthodox traditions and is usually missing from most Protestant Bibles such as the KJV (although it is included as a devotional hymn in the Book of Common Prayer). Perhaps a somewhat ‘sectarian’ text then, to choose for the Honan’s chancel?
Symbolically, the fish-filled river in the spectacular aisle mosaic is that which ‘flows out of Eden‘ in Genesis 2:10. If we follow the river to its source in the chancel, we see the Garden of Eden itself represented in the central roundel, identified by the two ‘Trees of Paradise’ from Genesis 2:9: the Tree of Knowledge (whose fruit caused such bother for Adam and Eve) and the Tree of Eternal Life.
However, if you look a little closer, you can see a third plant incongruously flourishing amidst the Honan’s Garden of Eden — the humble Shamrock!
Obviously, the Trinitarian symbolism of the Shamrock is a factor, but surely the Oppenheimer’s are also making the touching suggestion that Ireland itself is a little piece of Paradise on Earth.
Bórd Fáilte would be proud!
The exterior of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork is a wonderful, if slightly deranged, bestiary of the weird and grotesque and I would recommend having a good pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens to hand in order to truly appreciate the finer detail of the sculptures.
One series of images on the upper reaches caught my eye the last time I visited. Carved onto corbels at each of the four corners of the main tower, it shows a sequence of bloodthirsty monsters menacing some Roman-style temples and basilicas. I had an vague intuition that the images were referring to the ‘Four Beasts’ from the apocalyptic vision of Daniel in chapter 7 of the eponymous Old Testament book. A quick Google on my phone proved the hunch to be correct.
I quote from the KJV:
Daniel 7: 3-8
(3) And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.
(4) The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.
(5) And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.
(6) After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
(7) After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.
(8) I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
So 10 horns, minus 3 ‘plucked up by the roots’, plus one ‘little horn’ = 8. It might seem like there are only 7 horns on the sculpture, but if you look closely, there is one half-hidden behind the others – so full marks to William Burges for Biblical accuracy.
The last photo was taken at the very limit of my telephoto, but if you digitally zoom in you can just about make out the bizarre ‘horn with a head’ that verse 8 is referring to.
So what about the palaeontological mystery? An avid dinosaur fan as a kid, I had most of the Cretaceous-period fauna off by heart, so when I saw the image of the Fourth Beast, I immediately went “Ah! A Styracosaurus!”.
The problem is that according to Wikipedia, Styracosaurus was first identified in 1913 and the more familiar Triceratops in 1887. Even though tinkering with St. Fin Barre’s exterior carried on well into the 20th century, the designs for Burges’s sculptures must date at the latest to 1881. So do we have a spooky case of precognition or is the Fourth Beast just a bog-standard Rhino to which Burges has added some supernumerary horns? You decide.
From ‘George’s Ghosts: A New Life of W.B. Yeats’ by Brenda Maddox (1999) pp. 209-210.
“Yeats was once more living at the Savile Club in London, working on ‘A Vision’, when George wrote to remind him that Michael had just passed his third birthday. One of the servants had given the boy a clockwork train. Seeing his fascination with it, she suggested that Yeats buy him a mechanical toy. Yeats did as he was told. He took himself to Harrods [. . . ] For his small son, he selected a mechanical duck that waved its wings and chimed when pulled along on a string. Two years later he was to write:
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
‘Sailing to Byzantium’ from ‘The Tower’ (1928)
Did what may be the best-known bird in English-language poetry after Keats’s nightingale come from Harrods’ toy department?”
Very tall by all accounts.
‘A stature so great that she seemed of a divine race.’ W.B. Yeats, Memoirs (pg 40).
But nonetheless, I was taken aback by a statement in a recent Irish Times review of Adrian Frazier’s excellent new biography ‘The Adulterous Muse‘ that Maud was ‘6ft 5in’ tall! Frazier’s biography in fact states that she was ‘six feet two inches’ (pg 5), but this is unreferenced. Later in the book, Frazier quotes a French society journalist (pg 126) that Maud is ‘…huge, she measures at least 1.85m (6ft 1in), which is equivalent to the size of a fine policeman.’
I’m sure somewhere, in Gonne’s police records perhaps, there is an objective record of her height (being the nationalist firebrand that she was, she was arrested at least twice by the DMP and the Free State).
‘Maud Gonne at Howth Station waiting a train/Pallas Athena in that straight back and arrogant head.’ W.B. Yeats, ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’, New Poems (1938).
Two Green Men, ancient symbols of the wild wood, found lurking in the UCC Quad today (window and door finials on the North and West Wings).
I must have walked through the North Tower hundreds of times when I worked at UCC, but somehow never noticed the two gargoyles high up on either side facing the Quad. Admittedly, they’re a bit shy and retiring compared to those on St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral (which has full bragging rights on gargoyles in Cork City), but I’m sure they do the job perfectly well nonetheless.
Similarly, I’d never noticed that the four ‘Guardian Angels’ (two on either side of the North Tower entrances) are all in fact, subtly different from each other. The crowned ‘V’ on their escutcheons presumably represents Queen Victoria, somehow surviving the bout of Republican Iconoclasm which saw the toppling of her statue from the Aula Max in the 1930’s.
I’ve always loved the little owl who lives on the West Wing. At least I think it’s supposed to be an owl – there seems to be more than a trace of parrot in its genetics by the look of it. I assume it’s meant to represent the ‘Owl of Minerva’, the ancient symbol of learning, wisdom etc., but it has a certain, shall we say, lack of gravitas? I can’t help but think of Bubo, Ray Harryhausen’s mechanical owl from ‘Clash of the Titans’.