Book Review, Communism, Czech Republic, Eastern Europe, France, Uncategorized

In Defence of Kundera’s Absurdity

(Published in Village Magazine, November/December 2015) Portentousness is the word that best describes most Anglo-American literary criticism. The canon seems to demand erudition and a knowing hauteur loaded with an impression of being slightly jaded by the cocktail party circuit. That at least is the tone favoured by the Times Literary Supplement whose reviewers tend to devour books as A. …


Alcohol, Food Politics, Gastronomy, Restaurant Reviews, Uncategorized

Dining in Dublin: the good, the bad and the inedible

(Lecture delivered in the Little Museum of Dublin, December 2013) We humans put a lot of store in food and its symbolic value. In fact our picky and refined approach distinguishes us from other primates who tend to retreat into a hidden corner to devour their fare. But modern technology such as televisions, smart phones and tablets seems to be …


Environmentalists in Denial

(published in thejournal.ie 1/10/13) George Monbiot wrote an article recently opposing a campaign to turn England’s Lake District into a World Heritage site (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/02/lake-district-wildlife-desert-blame-wordsworth). He says we should not celebrate a landscape where ‘the forests that once covered them have been reduced by the white plague to bare rock and bowling green’; by the “white plague” he means sheep which …

Fine Gael did nothing to stop ghost estates

Fine Gael has launched a poster campaign featuring a picture of the ghost estate of Keshcarrigan in County Leitrim. Under it runs the caption: Don’t Let Fianna Fail Come Back to Haunt Us. But such negative advertising reflects an ideological confusion stemming from the failure of a generation of Fine Gael intellectuals in the 1960s and 70s to assert a …

Blight of ghost estates remains three years on

(Published in the Irish Times 9/4/15) We rose before sunrise. A consternation of alarm clocks calling us to action. The first glitch appeared when the motor on the boat intended to ferry us across the lake stubbornly refused to start. Most of the group of about 20 would have to proceed by car. I enthusiastically volunteered to row the short …

From hardcore to hardwood

(Published in thejournal.ie 19/3/12) On the wall outside ‘The Waterways’ Keshcarrigan, Co. Leitrim a series of images with the caption ‘Boating from your back door’ survive. It features families frolicking on marinas and an overhead picture of how the estate will look. This could easily be the work of an artist lampooning the Celtic Tiger. But there is no irony …

The Satements of Osama bin Laden

(Unpublished, 2005) “There is no reason, based on the information at hand, to believe bin Laden is anything other what he appears: a pious, charismatic, gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous Muslim. As a historical figure viewed from any angle, Osama bin Laden is a great man, one who has smashed the expected unfolding of universal post-cold war peace.” This …

It’s all in the mind

(published in the London Magazine, June/July 2012) The ultimate achievement of reason … is to recognise that there are an infinity of things that surpass it. (Blaise Pascal 1623-62)  After reading Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene I was a convert to Neo-Darwinian genetics. In that best-selling work life is traced to individual genes each seeking to confer advantage on the …

Medieval Lessons on the perils of Genetic Modification

(Published in the Sunday Times, September 2015) Dante Algheiri (d.1321) as the pilgrim in his Divine Comedy encounters a soul who warns him: “the vision granted to your world / can no more fathom Justice Everlasting / than eyes can see down to the ocean floor: / while you can see the bottom near the shore, / you cannot out …

Say hello to the Frankenstein-potato

(Published in Village Magazine May, 2012) In 1935 Scientists from Queenland’s Bureau of Sugar Experimental Stations released into the wild what became known as the Cane Toad, a species native to South America. They were attempting to introduce a predator for the native Cane Beetle which was reducing sugar cane yields. The toad has since multiplied, evolving long legs to …