The Icon Walk

Merchant's Arch, Temple Bar

Merchant’s Arch, Temple Bar

Temple Bar is an area with narrow, cobbled streets on the south bank of the Liffey in central Dublin. It’s famous the world over for its lively nightlife, but that’s not high on my list of reasons to visit it. There are better places in Dublin to experience Irish food and music, ones where you’re more likely to encounter people who actually live in Ireland. However, the area does offer much that’s special, such as the Irish Film Institute.

One that we just discovered is The Icon Walk, a project of The Icon Factory. It’s located just off Fleet Street, along Aston Place, Bedford Lane, and Price’s Lane. Local artists have transformed the lanes into an open air gallery of Irish culture. It’s recently been awarded approval as a UNESCO City of Literature site.

Someone described the Walk as a twenty minute activity, but it deserves more than that. There’s a great collection of photographs, drawings, paintings accompanying sayings of famous writers and artists, descriptions of moments in the history of sports, movies, fashion, and more.

Arriving at the Playwrights section, we read,

Around 1610, Shakespeare wrote the “The Tempest” and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1613. Queen Elizabeth I having completed the conquest of Ireland was dead. The last of the great leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain and Ulster planted with Crown subjects.

Between 1613 and the War Of independence in 1922, which won back self rule for most of Ireland, no play of real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer.

The selected icons–Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Oscar Wilde–won’t be enough to convince everyone of that claim, but their collective oeuvre is amazing.

Along the walk, you can see many great images produced by a wide variety of artists. A few of those are on the website, but the majority are visible only on the walk itself. They’re best seen that way, in any case, in the context of the other artworks and Temple Bar itself.

One of the best parts for me was the individual quotes, both from writer’s works and from their lives. For example, we read,

Beckett went on to live with an older woman who was not exactly a barrel of laughs. She took the phonecall that informed them of Samuel’s Nobel Prize. “This is a disaster, our lives are ruined” she responded.

In the eighties, Beckett was invited to Germany to direct “Waiting For Godot”. When presented with the script which he had not read in many years he exclaimed; “This thing needs a good edit”.

John Hume, third from left

John Hume, third from left

(Again, however, most of these texts exist only on the walls. I hope there will be an exhibition book at some point.)

One thing I learned was that in 2010 John Hume was chosen in an RTÉ survey as Ireland’s Greatest. He was also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), the Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King award. He had modeled his own work for equality in citizenship on that of Gandhi and King. Unfortunately, his peaceful work was disrupted by violence and the “troubles” began. Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Through speeches, marches, hunger strikes, dialogues, and long-term negotiations, Hume was behind many of the developments and agreements toward peace in Ireland, and later for European unity.

You can get a sense of the walk from the video below (only part of which is in English):

Green oats in June

An Irish day on Cape Cod: It began with a 5K walking race along Nantucket Sound in South Yarmouth (Cape Cod Irish Village Road Race). At the conclusion of the race we enjoyed Irish music at the Irish Village. Unfortunately, any loss to our waistlines from the race was fully counteracted by hamburgers and pints of stout.

The day ended with listening to Celtic Sojourn on WGBH. That program featured a beautiful poem by Patrick Kavanagh, which is appropriate for Mother’s Day, or for remembrance on any loved one.

But I don’t read the poem as being only about remembrance; it’s more about valuing the “earthiest” aspects of all our daily interactions–walking “together through the shops and stalls and markets” or among the “green oats in June.” Kavanagh reads the poem in the video below.

When we lived in Dublin in 2007-08, I remember walking many times along the beautiful Grand Canal, which was near our apartment. You can see a statue of Kavanagh there (“The Crank on the Bank”). It’s also shown in the slide show and below.

The bronze Kavanagh is sitting on a bench as the flesh and blood one once did. It was inspired by his “Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin”:

O commemorate me where there is water
canal water preferably, so stilly
greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
commemorate me thus beautifully.

If you were to visit Dublin, I recommend sitting beside him to contemplate the people walking by, the ever-present swans, and the stilly, greeny water.

Patrick Kavanagh, Royal Canal

Patrick Kavanagh, Royal Canal

In Memory of My Mother

by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday–
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle–‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life–
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.

A house concert with RUNA

Moving to Wellfleet, I wondered whether I’d be trading cultural life for nature. With the National Seashore, ocean and bayside beaches, 17 ponds in Wellfleet alone, walking and biking trails, forest and dunes, I was prepared to make that trade, assuming that we’d seek out music, art, and so on, in Boston or other places. But the reality has been the opposite. Yes, the natural world feels especially close at hand, but cultural events seem more, not less accessible.

I do miss the human diversity of the university or the large city, but there’s been more on that score than I expected. In terms of public events, we’ve been to many galleries and art shows, enjoyed the Saturday Tea and Music concerts in the Wellfleet Public Library, book talks, and just saw the Blind Boys of Alabama in the recently renovated Provincetown Town Hall.

About a week ago we attended a wonderful house concert by RUNA, a Celtic music group. They’re an international ensemble comprising vocalist Shannon Lambert-Ryan, guitarist Fionán de Barra, percussionist Cheryl Prashker, and fiddler Tomoko Omura. They play both traditional and more contemporary Celtic songs and instrumental pieces from Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the US.

The performances were excellent. I especially enjoyed the traditional songs, but some of the more recently composed ones, too. The video here is not from the concert we attended, but we did hear Fionnghuala there.

Technologies to improve the quality of life

Gary McDarby was one of many very impressive people I met during my stay in Ireland during 2007-08. If you watch this short video, I think you’ll understand why.

It’s amazing how he manages to introduce several important projects in a short time, including Camara, SMART, and the Computer Clubhouse.

Prepare yourself for some tears.

Gary writes:

as many of you know, on the 7th of August 2009 Stuart Mangan and Robert Stringer passed away. I had been working with Stuart on technologies to help improve his quality of life (he had suffered a severe spinal injury in 2008) and Robert Stringer had been taking a holiday after volunteering with Camara in Tanzania when he was killed. In a strange twist of fate they died on the same day.

I have been giving a series of talks on these events with the sole of intention of trying to create something positive out of what was a very sad and challenging time. First and foremost I want to pay tribute to these two wonderful young men.

Recently I gave an IGNITE talk in the Science Gallery on what happened. It’s a short, 5 minute format which is quite a challenge to do, especially if the subject matter is non trivial.

I wanted to try and create something meaningful in this short format so it could be passed around in the viral ways we are all so used to. Its by no means perfect but please feel free to pass it on. The talk is here:

Inside NCI

During 2007-08, I held a Fulbright Chair position at the National College of Ireland, located in Dublin.

It was a great experience for me at a place, which is very different from the University of Illinois in scale, but with surprisingly many common interests, especially in areas such as community studies, learning, and computing. In case you’d like to see more about the College, you could look at the February issue of Inside NCI, just out.

Inquiry Based Learning interview

Michael Hallissy recently interviewed me from Dublin, Ireland for a podcast on Inquiry Based Learning. I can’t bear to listen to my recorded self, so I’m not sure why you would, but in case you’re a masochist, the link above should be just what you need. Extra credit if you can spot the two factual mistakes we made, one by Michael and one by me.

The bottom line in health care

healthIn my previous post on Single-payer health care: Why not?, I talked about our family’s experiences with health care in France, UK, Ireland, Italy, China, Australia, and other places in comparison to that in the US. This included health care for children and the elderly, and both minor (blood donation, physicals, skin growth removal) and major (broken hip, eye infection) procedures.

Thinking a bit more about this I realized that there were four essential facts that emerged from this wide variety of experiences. In every industrialized country except the US,

  1. Equitable: Everyone has the right to health care.
  2. Effective: People live longer, healthier lives.
  3. Economical: They spend less on health care, as much as 50% less.
  4. Efficient: There is much less bureaucracy, fewer forms, less running around, less waiting.

dollarI might add a fifth point, too: The scare stories that we hear (“you have to wait forever!” “you can’t choose your doctor!”) are simply false, or they index issues that are the same or worse in the US. The information we get about health care promotes profit, not health.

There are many issues–changing demographics, new technologies, new medical knowledge, changing standards, globalization, and more–which affect health care. But the fundamental difference in the current US situation is that health care is driven by the bottom line. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, media corporations, hospitals and clinics, doctors and other health care professionals, and all others involved in health care operate in a system in which rewards bear little relation to the overall quality of care or efficient use of resources.

One can debate each of the points above, but the evidence from OECD, UN, WHO, WTO, and other international organizations is overwhelming in support of them. Other systems offer health care that is more equitable, more effective, more economical, and more efficient.

So, why is single-payer, or national health care not even worth discussing? Why does the Obama plan dismiss it? Why does even public broadcasting ignore it?