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The Irish Dáil and Seanad A Reporter’s Reminiscences

It is just on forty years since I left the service of Oireachtas Éireann, the Irish Parliament, where I was employed as an official reporter of the debates in the Dáil and Seanad, the two houses which, with the President of the State, comprise its three constituent parts. Emigrating to Canada I followed the same vocation in its House of Commons. There I was privileged to become the Editor of Debates and to publish a book, "The Hansard Chronicles", outlining the history of parliamentary reporting in various countries.

A recent visit by the current Editor of Debates in the Dáil, Liam Fitzgibbon, has prompted me to set forth a brief account of my time in the Dáil. It is a purely personal recollection of events and people, in no way to be taken as an academic study, and I hasten to add that Mr. Fitzgibbon is not to be held responsible. The colouring is my own. Should it have merit, it is because this monograph comes from a unique perspective, that of a shorthand reporter whose presence in Dáil or other assembly blends into the woodwork, seen but unnoticed, a piece of the furniture as it were.

These are the recollections of one particular piece of furniture, offered in the hope that they trigger fond memories of the Dáil in the late 1950s, its members and, not least, the colleagues who made up the official reporting staff to whom it is respectfully dedicated. Their stories, lively and fresh in memory, shed light on a Dublin that is rapidly passing into the mists of living history.

The Chamber of Dáil Éireann looking down from Press Gallery
Click for larger image

The Chamber of Dáil Éireann looking down from Press Gallery. The table in centre is where the Official Reporters work.

(Photograph courtesy of the Public Relations Office, Leinster House, Dublin.)

Listening to George W. Bush daily stumbling over the correct articulation of words in the current (2000 AD) United States presidential election campaign—the examples are so many and so well highlighted by the media that they need no elaboration—calls to mind one memorable visit by a Deputy to the office of the Editor of the Official Report in Dáil Éireann to question why the reporting of his speeches varied in quality when published in print.

"Sometimes it be’s good, and sometimes it be’s not so good. How come?"

The pseudo literate may smirk at the Deputy’s apparent mangling of the English language, but the man was only using an Irish tense for which there is no English equivalent. He was both right and wrong simultaneously, and his query was a valid one.

The unfortunate in the editor’s chair that day was Eamon O’Faolain. His chief, and mine, Paddy O’Donnell, was on vacation, it being during the summer parliamentary recess, and it fell to Eamon to explain, as diplomatically as he could, that it was the job of official reporters not only to report in shorthand what Deputies said in the Dáil Chamber, but also to transcribe it grammatically. He didn’t add that the latter task was almost an impossibility in that particular Deputy’s case, hence the unevenness in quality in the printed version of his speech.

Whether the Deputy was satisfied or not I cannot say. He was defeated in the next election. In charity one may record that Cavan lost a unique voice to represent its people, but his visit to the editor’s office remains part of the institutional lore of that particular branch of parliamentary services in Leinster House, the seat of Oireachtas Éireann, the Parliament of Ireland, or at least of twenty-six of the country’s thirty-two counties.

In his own way, Eamon had defined the role of official reporters, Hansard reporters, and other like-named record keepers of debates in the national assemblies of nations around the globe. In my own case I prefer their description as valets to the verbally challenged. And, having had the chance to work in two national parliaments, Ireland and Canada, and having studied their profession as practised in most of the English-speaking democracies, I can attest to their devotion in following their vocation courageously.

Theirs is no easy task. Elected representatives come in all shades and sizes, from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds. The individual reporter never knows what each election may produce. Maiden speeches in parliament may provide a clue. One example: a new member of Canada’s parliament, an Innu, spoke with pride of his ancestry, which included a Hudson Bay factor, and his maternal grandfather, whose name he gave as Dingy Joe. Having grown up with Robert Service and Jack London as reading material, the reporter felt here was the equivalent of Dangerous Dan McGrew and other characters of that ilk, and thought no more about it. Fortunately, during transcription, the little warning bell that each parliamentary reporters carries internally, went off, and he decided to check. Sure enough it was Dingy Joe. But the bell rang again. "Please spell". "D-i-n-j-i C-h-o-u". I felt like a complete eejit, sorry, idiot!

In addition to dealing with mangled syntax, mixed metaphors, fluctuating tenses, and the switching of plural and singular in sentences, sometimes even in phrases, the keepers of the record must familiarise themselves with the style of individuals in order to preserve the flavour of their speaking. A lifetime spent reporting public figures, first at the local level of the Ballyshannon Town Commissioners and Bundoran Urban Council, then the Donegal County Council, candidates on the hustings during general election campaigns, followed by Dáil Deputies and Senators, Canadian Members of Parliament, United Nations delegates, not omitting members of other international organizations such as FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), and ILO (International Labour Organization), a scattering of State presidents, even one Pope, John XXIII, has convinced me that there are three main types, those who speak in the abstract, those who speak in pictures, and those who speak in absolute terms, to whom the reality of things is an abiding factor.

Then, quite apart, are those who are orators.

Among the first category were two leading figures in Irish parliamentary life, Eamon de Valera and General Richard Mulcahy. They were leaders on opposite sides in Ireland’s Civil War and on opposite sides in party politics in the Dáil. Both spoke in abstract terms. What they articulated may have had meaning to each, but in print was obtuse to the point of meaningless. The first, de Valera, particularly in later years, had a habit of "beginning sentences that started yesterday and won’t end until tomorrow". They were so filled with qualifiers that they could be interpreted at will. Reporters transcribing them filled shorthand notebook pages before reaching what they hoped was a fullstop between sentences, only to find the venerable gentleman had merely paused to draw breath before continuing. But that was only the start of their difficulties. When it came time to transcribe their ten-minute segments they groaned aloud.


Well, use your own imagination.

The hunt for an elusive, on occasion non-existent fullstop, taxed all their powers.

It was of de Valera that the one true orator in the Dáil once said, as quoted in the Dáil Debates, May 28 1936, p.1250:

"….if there was a possible method for the President [de Valera] to say anything so that it could be interpreted in six different ways, he would certainly choose that way of saying it."

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, de Valera never presented that difficulty to me. Using what experience I had as a newspaper reporter and editor, accustomed to dealing with local correspondents, especially reports furnished by school teachers—it was a never-ending source of wonder why they had such difficulty writing reports of their meetings—I would chop my segment into manageable pieces of prose, complete with verbs and fullstops. Nobody complained, nobody questioned, and eventually de Valera left the post of Taoiseach (Prime Minister), was elected President of the State, and went to live in Aras an Uachtaran He was succeeded by Seán Lemass, of whom more later.

Mulcahy, whatever may have been his style of speaking in the early years of the Dáil, had become even more proficient in the art of the abstract. He was wont to speak of the spirit of things, but what he meant by spirit was frequently an insoluble conundrum.

"When the Spirit moves Mulcahy, look out." That was the advice, warning if you will, that I was given by the aforementioned O’Faolain who was my mentor for the first month I spent as an official reporter. Mightily did we strive to skewer the obscure, to penetrate the mists of the Spirit, to find out what in Heaven or on earth moved the General when he addressed the Chamber. Making grammatical sense of his spiritual musings was a hellish task. But somehow we managed, and felt we fully deserved our pay for the day, and the relaxing pint afterwards. There I go, using singular for plural when I know better.

Pausing briefly to treat with the flavour of a speaker, there was one well-known Labour member who predated the "like", "you know" linguistically impaired younger generation of present times by, like, five decades. His speeches were dotted with the phrase "less alone". It could be taken to mean several things, depending on context. It could mean "let alone", or "in spite of", or "in addition to". No doubt it had other connotations as well. By limiting ourselves to one "less alone" per segment we rendered him good service without rendering him flavourless.

The class who can best be classified as speaking in pictures was exemplified by a member of Seanad Éireann. He was a farmer, elected as a member of the Agriculture Panel.

A word of explanation may be in order for those unacquainted with the Irish electoral system. The Seanad was/is intended to be a vocational representative institution, with members elected from a number of panels, agriculture, labour, industry, the professions, the universities, with the addition of eleven "buckshee" members nominated by the Taoiseach of the Day. Contrasted with a huge country like Canada whose Senate is composed totally of unelected members, all nominated by one man, the Canadian Prime Minister, the Irish Senate is a model of democracy, save for the intrusion of crass party politics buttressed by the "buckshee" nominees of the Taoiseach.

Because of its composition, the Senate can be a place of serious debate. It has been graced with some truly outstanding figures, perhaps the most world-wide known member having been the poet, playwright, W. B. Yeats. Those wishing to study its origins may be advised to read "The Irish Free State and its Senate" by Donal O’Sullivan, publishers Faber and Faber, London 1940.

To return to the unnamed farming representative, he had a truly wonderful gift. When he was speaking his words came through as mental pictures. Listening to him, and in our case reporting him, we could see the pasture land, the crops, the cattle. I have no doubt that he himself saw them as he spoke. In a chamber given to hearing the more frequent contributions of legal types he stood alone. He brought the very landscape of his subject before us. I wish I could remember his name.

Samples of the type who spoke in absolute terms included Seán Lemass, mentioned previously, and Patrick McGilligan. They were both doers and planners, with the vision and the drive to give that economic foundation to the State upon which successive generations have built, culminating for the nonce in what has been dubbed the Celtic Tiger, outperforming the economic growth of countries many times the size of the Twenty-Six Counties.

Lemass was a plain speaker. The contrast with his leader, de Valera, was stark. Reporting him was a straightforward task. No orator he, but a man who knew his subject and could talk about it in sentences that made sense.

McGilligan, in physical appearance, was a wisp of a man, slight, slender--"if you looked at him sideways you could miss seeing him at all"--but he possessed an intellect that magnified the man. And he was the divil in all to report. I have heard fast speakers in my time, but none faster than Paddy McGilligan. To boot, he was a Derry man and had the accent to prove it. To me it was like listening to a neighbour from the next county; to colleagues from Leinster and other unfortunate places, he presented problems. And, no matter where we were from, we were taxed to the utmost to keep up with him.

It was McGilligan who inspired the construction of the Shannon hydro-electric scheme in the early years of the State, and Lemass who pushed the Erne hydro-electric scheme to completion twenty years later. These contributed greatly to rural electrification and industrial growth in Ireland.

As an aside, in terms of perspective Lemass has grown in reputation as the years have gone by, compared with the status accorded his political leader. It was he who signalled a change in public recognition of the sacrifices made by the 200,000 Irish men and women who volunteered to serve in the Great War of 1914-1918. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin, he recalled:

"In later years it was common—and I was also guilty in this respect—to question the motives of those men who joined the new British armies formed at the outbreak of the war, but it must in their honour and in fairness to their memory be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose."

Somehow Seán Lemass seems to have an increased personal consciousness for this Internet scribe with the passage of time. He has kept popping up in the most unlikely places, but one of them has a direct connection with the official Dáil Debates and in a most unlikely way. In 1950 Clonmore and Reynolds, the Dublin book publishers, brought out a new title, "Italy and Ireland in the Middle Ages", by Italian diplomat Vincenzo Berardis. In the preface, written in Ireland in 1944, the author wrote: "This book was planned during my residence in Dublin as the minister of Italy to the Government of Ireland."

It carried a laudatory introduction by the Irish Jesuit John Ryan.

A copy of the book was bought by my wife as a discarded item from the Ottawa Public Library in 1986. On examination I found it to have been printed by Cahill & Co, the same firm that printed the Official Dáil Debates. I remember poor Paddy O’Donnell tearing over to Cahill’s in the early hours of a morning to make late corrections to copy just minutes before its being printed, but that is only by the by. What is pertinent to this anecdote is the spine of the volume. Its glue had failed and the spine had broken open. I at once recognised the packing strip beneath. It was the familiar format of the selfsame Official Dáil Debates, with the speaker Seán Lemass on the topic of Bord na Mona. How the mighty had fallen! The Official Debates, which we had laboured so long and hard to produce, were reduced to packing strips. The only consolation was that Seán Lemass’s speech still made sense.

As an aside, on November 30, 2000, it was reported that a 1,000 year old book containing a copy of Archimedes’s treatises is about to be treated by new high-tech means to render it readable once more. Much of the original work has been found in the book’s spine where it had been transferred sometime during the course of the centuries. It is extremely doubtful if the Cahill book will last that long. Archimedes and Lemass--there's a conjunction worth conjection.

I have mentioned orators. They are rare. An earlier reference to the one true orator in the Dáil, at least during my tenure, may surprise some, given the universal association of the Celtic race with language. "They have the gift of the gab." Indeed they do. "Sure they like nothing better than an evening of good craic." "Beware of Irish blarney!" All true, but searching for an orator in today’s Ireland is like Diogenes going around in daylight with a lit candle searching for an honest man. I had better stop there!

There have been well documented Irish parliamentary orators in earlier ages. Burke and O’Connell spring readily to mind. Not for them the prepared texts written by faceless and nameless bumboys in back rooms. At the most a few subject headings on a card are sufficient to guide the true orator through a resounding speech.

Quintilian put it aptly when he taught that preparation and delivery are among the essentials. Delivery is of the very essence. The public speaker who drones through a speech in numbing monotone quickly loses an audience. A speaker with modulated tone, pauses well timed, can captivate. It is an art which can be learned--listen to any good actor--but only the gifted few transcend art. They are naturals.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the few natural orators whom it has been my pleasure to hear, report, and transcribe. James M. Dillon was the first of them, and the only Irish parliamentarian. John G. Diefenbaker, David Lewis, and surprisingly, Colin Cameron (Nanaimo-Cowichian-The Islands), are three others. They served in the Parliament of Canada.

"Dief’s up!" When that word spread through the corridors, the public benches quickly filled. Even in his late years, suffering from a form of Parkinson’s disease, the silver haired, silver voiced populist from the Prairies, had a magnetic pull. He had presence.

While this effusion may have its roots in my experiences in Dáil Éireann, I digress for a moment to focus on things Canadian. Lewis and Cameron never occupied ministerial rank. They were members of what purported to be the party of labour, the New Democratic Party. Others in the party were outstanding speakers. When I asked Stanley Knowles, its elder statesman, popularly known as "Mr. Parliament", why this was so, he explained that in order to achieve prominence its younger members had to learn how to impress the rank and file in labour halls across the country. It was an apprenticeship for them, and those who learned well later won seats in parliament.

James M. Dillon. I was there when he was once asked what the "M" stood for. He replied "Mary". This was by no means strange. In the Ireland of my youth, and earlier still, the christening of boys with the middle name Mary was a common custom. The poet, James Mary Plunkett, executed by England’s army in 1916, is one notable example. I know that Dillon has been given a middle name other than Mary by other authorities. All I can attest is that the man himself once gave it as Mary.

Mention of Plunkett cannot fail to recall the opening verse of his most famous poem:

I see his blood upon the rose,
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
Dillon was from Monaghan. As a young man he had spent some years in the United States, mainly with one of the big meat packing houses in Chicago. He was well-read, knew agriculture, dairying, and business. Once when pleading in the Dáil for a greater emphasis to be placed on the manufacture of Irish cheese, I was "on the floor"--the reporter at the time taking his speech in shorthand--and he took me through a list of cheeses manufactured in various European countries, cheeses that he believed could be manufactured just as well in Ireland. In my ignorance I had never heard of half of them. Sure, I had the sounds of their names in shorthand, but again what of the spellings? Colleagues helped with some, but there was no way to verify others. In Dillon’s absence, he having left Leinster House to attend an engagement elsewhere, it was worrisome.

A blinding flash. A week or two previously I had noticed a cheese shop which had opened recently on Dame Street. I had no interest in it at the time, but I suddenly remembered its main window had been filled with a great variety of imported cheeses, with tags bearing their prices and, more importantly, their names. A dash by foot to Dame Street and, shorthand notebook in hand, standing in front of the store window I matched the phonetics to the actual spellings. The day was saved. Me too.

One of the contemporary Irish parliamentarians who later achieved world-wide status was Seán MacBride. He was the son of Major John MacBride, a veteran of the Boer War in South Africa, fighting on the side of the Boers. Who now remembers the ditty, "Come on the Boers, come on the Boers, the British will never win"? He, like Plunkett, was executed for participating in the 1916 Rising. The son was educated mainly abroad, and had acquired the lingering trace of a French accent which he never lost. He was, if the term may be used, a refined speaker, not suited to inspiring an election audience to great enthusiasm. Once one became accustomed to his accent, he was easy to report.

Elsewhere in this Home Page I have recounted an earlier contact with MacBride before I joined the Dáil staff. (See "The Vindicator Story"), and now I should add a personal anecdote. He had founded a new political party, Clann na Poblachta, and had come to Donegal to address a meeting in support of a local candidate. He stopped in Ballyshannon overnight, as a guest of Maurice Foley in his house on The Mall, and next day, at a meeting in Glenties, delivered his speech. He also supplied copies of it to local newspaper reporters. At the time I was also local correspondent for a Dublin daily newspaper. His speech was several closely typed pages in length, and there was no way I could, or would, dictate it in full by phone to Dublin. In all innocence I approached him after the meeting and naively asked which was the important part of the speech that he wished sent to the Dublin paper. He appeared startled. "It’s all important", he said. Eventually he settled on the reafforestation section. In hindsight, his foresight of the importance of reafforestation cannot be questioned. Alas for him, trees didn’t vote, and by the time public consciousness became aware of the importance of environmental issues, his days in the Dáil had ended. The world, however, benefited. He went on to become a global advocate of peace, and his efforts were rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize.

Stories of his personal piety and charity remain to be chronicled by others. Be it known, however, that as a member of the one institution, indeed select club, whose members submitted themselves to the public judgment of the people, Seán MacBride respected his opponents in that club, where personal friendships frequently crossed party lines. When Seán MacEntee, a strong political foe, was seriously ill in hospital, MacBride visited him regularly, as friend to friend.

It was a relatively scandal-free era during which it was my privilege to be a Dáil reporter. It was a time when observance of propriety was expected of the people’s representatives, and a time when the majority adhered to the precepts of their religion. I then lived at No. 99 Stephen’s Green, beside the Clarence Hotel, and well remember daily walks to and from work in the company of a rural Deputy who stayed in that area during Dáil sessions. He was a daily communicant. He neither paraded the fact nor acted the part of a Holy Joe. It was just a part of his everyday living, like breathing, talking, reading. There were many others like him. Many in that little group charged with reporting the debates, daily made it their duty to pop into Clarendon St. Church to say a few prayers before popping into work.

Unfortunately the Church, in the person of John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, was unconstrained in its intrusions into the public life of the State, and certain Dáil Deputies suffered grievously, the most notable being Dr. Noel Browne. Almost single handedly the good doctor was responsible for the eradication of tuberculosis from Ireland. Before Browne, TB was the scourge of the country. Anyone of my generation can tell of its devastating effects on whole families, but especially on young people. Three daughters in one family, a single son in another, cousins by the score, TB claimed them all.

Having demonstrated his worth, Browne moved on to tackle social issues, most famously with what became known as the Mother and Child Scheme. Radical at the time, it was condemned by McQuaid as State intrusion into the life of the family, and Browne was cast as an anti-Catholic villain. He became a political outcast, was forced to resign from his position as Minister for Health, from his party, Clann na Poblachta, and became an Independent. As such he rarely had opportunities to address the Dáil. From the vantage of an official reporter this was also a loss. He was an articulate man, spoke in sentences, and to us that was a great advantage.

Browne had the support of another Independent, Jack McQuillan of Roscommon, who had an aura of menacing directness in speech and manner, and together they were a prickly pair for any minister of any party to face.

A most colourful personality to burst on the parliamentary scene was the young Oliver J. Flanagan, irrepressible, witty, with a folksy turn of speech that ensured heavy press coverage. He, too, sat as an Independent, though he first campaigned under the banner of Monetary Reform. The story is well known throughout Ireland, but bears retelling. Nobody was quite sure what was meant by monetary reform, but its proponent, Oliver, was passionate. He had no funding, and cycled from one venue to another with a wooden box strapped to the back of his bicycle. Following Sunday Masses, he would mount the box and proceed to enthrall his audience at a chapel gate with a much more captivating sermon on monetary reform than that which they had just heard from the pulpit. By sheer dint of perseverance and pedal power his preaching reached into every town and village, and Oliver was elected to the Dáil.

When some six months had passed, a constituent asked him, "Oliver, we never hear any more about monetary reform. Why?"

"That’s easy to answer", came the reply. "When I was a carpenter the most I earned was five pounds week. As a TD I’m paid twenty pounds a week. That’s monetary reform in action!"

Oliver Flanagan, from being one of the youngest TDs in the Dáil went on to become the longest serving member, in parliamentary terms the Father of the House. In that capacity he was once introduced to the Canadian Parliament when sitting in the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery. Later, I saw him walking by himself out the back door to view the statue of D’Arcy McGee, once the subject of a British "hue and cry" following the abortive 1848 rebellion in Ireland. McGee later became a Canadian patriot, noted parliamentary figure, and compelling promoter of Canadian Confederation, the first step on the road to Canadian statehood. I hurried down from the Hansard office to let him hear a friendly voice. Having introduced myself and told him I had been an official reporter in the Dáil twenty-five years earlier, without batting an eyelid he took me by the hand and said, "Arragh, John, I remember you well!" Indeed.

It was his second visit to Ottawa. Twenty years previously he had startled a meeting of the Inter Parliamentary Union when he addressed it in Irish. His "cupla focail" on that occasion were the only time I heard him speaking the native tongue.

One memory leads to another. Jack Smith, Clerk of Seanad Éireann, was a member of an even earlier parliamentary delegation to Canada, and my friend, Wilf O’Mahony, and I had the pleasure of hosting him at the Manderley Golf and Country Club. He had a decided hurley swing but managed to win his fair share of holes. And he had his fair share of tales about the Dáil and the Seanad. Jack Smith later went on to join the bureaucracy in the European Parliamentary Union.

Having wandered into another reference to Seanad Éireann, wandered being the operative word, it, like its Canadian counterpart, was supposed to give legislation "a sober second thought", a duty it carried out leisurely if one were to judge by the few sitting days it spent annually in session, a reminiscence of its denizens, or of a few at least, may be of interest. Now there’s a sentence containing seven commas, in keeping with the subject matter, because dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s, and keeping the punctuation under control, formed part of its function when examining bills before they were sent to Aras an Uachtaran for signature by the President.

During my years the official reporting staff had an assigned complement of twelve shorthand writers but frequently operated with fewer. There was very little committee work. On double-duty days when both Dáil and Seanad sat, the staff was divided into two, six for the Dáil and six for the Seanad. If the Seanad rose early, the reporters covering it returned to help their sorely pressed colleagues in the Dáil. Since the Senate chamber was at one end of Leinster House and the Dáil at the other, it was not uncommon to see reporters whizzing through the central corridor exchanging cryptic messages as they passed. "Irish" one might say, and get the reply "less alone". In that way each knew the other’s good or bad fortune.

What did "Irish" mean? Simply that whoever had the floor was speaking in Irish, and it was usually uttered by the reporter who was reporting the Seanad. There graced the membership of the Seanad at that time a number of an earlier generation who had devoted their lives to the preservation of the Irish language in both speech and writing. One in particular whom I recall was "Torna", another "An Seabhac". These were their pen names in Irish, which they had adopted early in life. They were the only names by which they were known among certain circles. They followed the example of one of the more prominent players in the Irish revival movement, Dr. Douglas Hyde, who wrote under the pen name of "An Craoibhin Aibhin", and who became the first President of Ireland. Talk about tangling a tale. Time to move on and leave elucidation to others. For present purposes it suffices to say they spoke in different dialects, Connacht or Munster, or in sub-dialects of either.

It was always safest to assign reporters who had a proficiency in Irish to the Seanad, and it was my hapless lot to be cast as one of them We suffered one great disability. There was no fully professional system of Irish shorthand, and we had to cope as best we could. I will go further into detail later, and for now will deal only with my experience.

I knew Irish, could understand it, speak it and read it, but floundered when attempting to write it at speed in Gregg shorthand. Time and Torna wait for no man, and I had to find a solution in a hurry. I did. Mentally I translated the speaker into English as he spoke, wrote the translation down in Gregg, and when it came time to dictate my notes, put the speech back into Irish. It’s called being schizolingual. Brilliant! But it had one drawback. O’Buachalla, or whoever it might be, would appear in text speaking beautiful Connacht or Munster Irish, and in the middle appear to break into equally beautiful, if not more so, Donegal Irish, courtesy of you know who. My friend Eamon O’Faolain had the unenviable task of trying to mollify the unmollifiable.

Tommy Mullins was a dedicated political party partisan and often stirred things up during otherwise quiet debates in the Seanad. Any criticism, however oblique, of his party’s legislation was enough to raise a rant. Somehow the advent of Fidel Castro to power in Cuba had a powerful effect on him. Even today, his pronunciation of Fidel Castro’s name in the most scathing way is fresh in memory. What inspired such denunciation remains a mystery to me. Irish-Cuban relations were practically non-existent, and may be so to this day. In any event, Castro remains alive and still in power more than forty years later, unscathed by Tommy’s invective and, I am sure, unaware of it, while Tommy has laid down this mortal coil and with it his one-sided feud with Fidel. In the words of the present generation--go figure.

The Seanad, because of its unique composition, had many members from the universities and the professions who elevated its deliberations to a very high level. I mention but two of its more outstanding, Professors Tierney and O’Brien. An evaluation of their many contributions to learned discourse lies beyond my compass.

On a personal level, I could never square the idea of a vocationally elected legislative body such as the Seanad with the prerogative of the Taoiseach to appoint eleven unelected members to it. These appointments cut at its democratic roots. Defeated Dáil candidates of a Taoiseach’s party often composed the largest numbers of such appointees. I remember one such appointee, veteran of many Donegal election campaigns, tired mentally and physically, who slumbered quietly through many sessions, being awakened only to cast votes, and returning to the arms of Morpheus until a sitting ended. Whatever may have been his many worthy accomplishments in his early political life, his final role was to vote when wakened, and to sleep without snoring, faithful servant to the very end.

There was another group of dedicated toilers in the Dáil who rarely, if ever, received the official recognition that their work warranted. They were the typists to whom reporters dictated their notes. They worked long hours during Dáil sittings, and much longer during extended sittings. And, when both houses sat, theirs was truly a herculean task. If they were lucky on such occasions, they were joined by staff from outside departments anxious to earn a little extra money.

In Canada they were known as parliamentary amanuenses, a title which reflected a higher status and respect. It was my pleasure to record their names for posterity during Hansard’s centennial celebrations in Ottawa. Regrettably I am unable to recall the full names of all those who served the Dáil. Chief among these ladies was Maureen O’Connell, a longtime stalwart, who took new typists and reporters under her care and gave them the benefit of her long years of experience. She invited me to one memorable New Year’s Eve celebration at her home on the North Circular Road, and I remember her father’s admonition against drinking straight whiskey. "No matter how much water you put in, you never take any of the whiskey out." People were always giving me sound advice.

Among the others there were Jane Matthews, Dolores Strong, and Gretta Chambers. Whether any are still alive I cannot say. They are probably grandmothers, with their own stories to tell of Leinster House. Maureen is dead these many years. But, dead or living, I wish to honour their names in this belated tribute. They worked under what today would be intolerable conditions, all in one room, with manual typewriters pounding out a cacophony of sound all day long, and reporters vying with each other to dictate directly to them over the noise. Their desks were relics of a bygone age, their chairs little better. Maureen’s long-standing, one might say long-seated, request for their open desks to have "modesty panels" attached in front, was routinely ignored. They had no recognised meal breaks, and no rest room of their own. The reporters were blessed to have one big office to which they retired when proofreading their "takes", and where the sound of typewriters in the adjacent office was muted. Ergonomics? They were unheard and undreamed of in the workplace of the 1950s.

Having an unpredictable disposition to insert asides whenever the mood strikes me, I should mention another group of employees who performed a multitude of tasks, the Dáil ushers. They were most helpful in tracking down Deputies in order that reporters could check on facts, names of people or places, and any other item that might trigger their mental bells. Remember the story of Dingy Joe?

The ushers might man the kiosk at the entrance gate to Leinster House on Kildare Street, the front office in the main foyer, serve as messengers between offices, or sit on the most uncomfortable stools designed by man, beside the elevated chair of the Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil chamber, waiting to carry out all and any tasks assigned to them. Those stools were agony for those with hemorrhoids, piles, and other assorted lumps on their rumps.

The ushers fell under the jurisdiction of the Sergeant at Arms. At the time of which I speak that office was held by Mick Loftus, a fastidious person of neat habits, who believed in maintaining a well ordered universe. That universe, however, was also inhabited by Harry Burke. Harry’s service went back a long way, and he had powerful patrons. In the world of Irish politics there was always room for Harry Burkes, fierce partisans of one party or another, but so much part of the scene that they were endured, sometimes enjoyed, by members of whatever party was in power.

Harry over the years had developed a taste for a wee drop of the craythur to sustain him during his long hours on duty. Loftus would banish him from duty in the Chamber. For a time he would serve behind the desk in the foyer. There he might utter a few words that made some visitors cringe. Loftus would banish him to the kiosk at the entrance gateway. When sufficient time had elapsed, his banishment would end, and Harry would be back on duty in the Chamber. Poor Loftus. He could never discover where Harry stashed his pick-me-up.

I had been an official Dáil reporter for some time when, one day, the usher on duty at the entrance kiosk phoned to say I had two visitors and asked should they be admitted. One was my niece Carol, daughter of my brother Charlie and his wife Mary, and the other was a school friend of hers. Told yes, they were instructed to present themselves at the foyer desk. I arrived there just in time to hear Carol announce in ringing tones that she wished to see her uncle, Mr. John Ward. All that was lacking was the sound of trumpets. I had never felt more important before, and for that matter not since. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I thought no more of the matter.

A year or so later, on a pleasant summer afternoon, Eamon O’Faolain and I were leaving by the centre door as Bob Briscoe, Dáil Deputy and first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, was sitting on a bench seat to the left-hand side. He had a scarf or some such on his knee. Eamon, who had a speaking acquaintance with the gentleman, asked what it was. He invited us to sit with him, and explained that it was prayer shawl which had been presented to him as a gift earlier that day by Jewish ladies from the United States. He demonstrated how it was worn, and told us something of its history. It was a pleasant exchange, and to cut a long story short, I thought no more of the matter.

Now I have the pleasure to record that my niece Carol still visits the Dáil, not as a young schoolgirl but in her capacity as the wife of Ben Briscoe, long-serving Dáil Deputy, the second Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, and the son of his revered father, Bob Briscoe. Earlier this year Carol visited me again, this time in Ottawa, accompanied by her husband Ben who was a delegate to a meeting of the Inter Parliamentary Union. We talked and we talked, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

One member of the Dáil staff with whom I had a very close association, both in Ireland and Canada, was Lorcán O hUiginn. "Fortunate is he/she who has one good friend." Lorcán was a friend, a very good friend. He had been a member of the staff for many years before I joined it, but when I joined it Lorcán wasn’t there. He had resigned to go a-wandering, first to Toronto to join a freelance firm which reported the debates in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and later the House of Commons Committee Reporting Staff in Ottawa. His wandering took him next to Venezuela with the International Civil Aviation Organization Association, and from there back to Dublin to rejoin the Dáil staff. His journeying tells something of the man.

As a staunch proponent of Esperanto, the easily learned easily spoken language devised by the Polish linguist, Zamenhof, he attended annual meetings of the Esperanto Association in many, many countries.

Lorcán didn’t fit into the traditional mold of civil servant. He had interests that lay far outside the constricting bonds of the civil service, and he broke those bonds when he deemed it prudent and in the interests of himself and family to do so. His wife, Sheila, is happily still alive and well, in Ottawa. As Sheila McGahan, a member of the Dáil staff, she was wooed and won by Lorcán, gave him two sons and a daughter, and managed the household when Lorcán was away on his various forays. At times it could not have been an easy task.

This whole monograph could be devoted to Lorcán and his doings. I shall, however, be ruthless, a word he himself used to describe one trait of a competent editor.

To mention but a few of them, first he devised a new version of Pitman Shorthand for use in reporting proceedings in Irish. He submitted it to An Gum, the government sponsored publisher of all things Irish. It had its offices in the Arcade off Henry Street, and up to a few years before his death Lorcán made an annual pilgrimage there to see what progress was being made. It must have established the record for manuscripts under consideration, for it still lies there, mouldering in its file, but Lorcán’s spirit goes marching on, touching all who knew him.

At that time the salary paid official reporters was good, but not equal to the money that could be earned by freelance work in the courts or in reporting departmental inquiries. Part-time work was the norm for many. Ned Power, another Dáil colleague, and I worked mornings as subeditors for "The Evening Press", before taking up our duties in the Dáil. But for Lorcán, the Dáil in a sense also became part-time. During recesses he frequently called on me to assist him in his freelance reporting work, and here comes another digression.

Ireland is an ancient country, and has ancient graveyards to prove it. At the time the Department of Local Government was assigned the job of closing overstocked graveyards, but was required to hold public hearings before issuing orders for closure. Lorcán had the contract for making the official report of such hearings. He had contracts for other reporting jobs as well, and when they conflicted he called on me to take the ‘graveyard’ shifts. Sheila would drive me in their GM roadster to whatever town the Local Government inspector was holding an inquiry, and one such occasion proved memorable.

As a prerequisite the Department was obliged to publish notification of public inquiry hearings, and invite interested parties to give notice in turn of their intention to appear and lodge objections. It was a fair enough process. Sometimes the inspector would make an exemption to closure if a good case was presented.

The inspector on this occasion had received numerous prior representations by and on behalf of an elderly lady, the last surviving member of her family, who wished to be buried in the family plot in the particular graveyard threatened with closure. She herself gave notice that she would appear in person.

When the good lady’s name was called to plead her case, up stood a gnarled old man at the back of the room. "Your Honour, Miss Linda died on Monday and she’s buried with her own ones. She bate you to it!"

Back to Lorcán. There was one time he had two outside jobs and the Dáil was sitting the same day. There was no chance that the Dáil would postpone its meeting in order to facilitate him, but Lorcán was one resourceful man. He had Jim Doyle of the "Cork Examiner", a relation of Sheila’s, cover one of the jobs, hired a taxi for the day, and kept it running between the Dáil and the second job, a meeting of the Customs Officers Union. I remember it very well. The "Press" in the morning, and taking turns with Lorcán reporting the Dáil and the customs people. It was a veritable whirlwind of activity. When it was done, I politely told Lorcán "No more."

If I thought that was the end of it, I was greatly mistaken. A year after emigrating to Canada I got a message from Lorcán telling me to meet him at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa on the evening of March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. He had decided to move permanently to Canada, and he did, and again I became embroiled in his overloaded schedule of freelance work. He joined the Canadian Senate Hansard staff, and I worked in the Commons. Under the name Esperanto Services he took an office on Sparks Street, and in addition to reporting offered a translation service. One of his clients was the Department of External Affairs. When he applied for a Canadian passport, he was obliged to submit a copy of his birth certificate. He did, thought no more about, but a week later Esperanto Services was requested by External Affairs to provide the translation of a document which they deduced was in Irish. It was Lorcán’s birth certificate. He duly complied, submitted his bill, was paid, and made a small profit on the transaction. On the strength of having provided translation services to the Department of External Affairs he was then in a position to canvass work from other government departments.

I could go on and on about Lorcán. He published a book, "The Longford Parliament Proposal", in which advocated transferring the site of the Dáil in a Thirty-Six County Ireland to Longford. He kept up his promotion of Esperanto, and his rented post office box was crammed full three times over whenever he left town on one of his jaunts.

I have said he was a good friend. He flew to London in 1980 to accompany me back to Dublin on an Aer Lingus plane, with the body of my brother Brian in a coffin in the freight section, and the cremated ashes of my brother Charlie in an urn sitting on my lap in the passenger section, just being there, just being a friend, just being Lorcán.

One final note. Since this effusion deals with the reporting profession, at the risk of offending colleagues still living I must say, that in my opinion, Lorcán was one of the fastest shorthand writers I have known. Another was Roger White in the Canadian Commons. They were "naturals". Roger is now best known as the Poet of the Baha’i Faith, but that’s another story. I miss them both. Lorcán himself used to say "I came in with Hailey’s Comet in 1910; I’ll go out with Haileys Comet in 1985." And he did. He had one last laugh before he went, reading his own prematurely published obituary in an Esperanto magazine!

Thanks to Lorcán’s wife I can add a little to Leinster House lore by recounting tales of two earlier members of the reporting staff, Paddy O’Driscoll and Joe Begley. O’Driscoll was there from the beginning.

It may trouble some to recall that at the beginning of Dáil meetings of the Irish Free State there was still civil unrest. Shootings of politicians were not at all unknown. The gunning down of Kevin O’Higgins, minister of Justice in the Free State Government, was one of the more appalling crimes. Soldiers were assigned to guard prominent figures. No one knew where or when assassinations might occur. Even the Dáil Chamber was not a safe place. And the reporters’ desk was quite exposed. Paddy O’Driscoll coped with the situation by bringing his own protection with him. When he sat down at the desk, and before starting to write a note, he placed a revolver openly on the desk beside him. Today the story may sound fictional. Unhappily it is true. When the Civil War ended and de Valera consented to take his seat in the Dáil, no such situation presented itself again. Paddy was a Cork man who, according to Sheila O’Higgins, "had a brogue so thick you couldn’t cut it even with a slean".

Joe Begley was a personal friend of Eamon de Valera. Joe fitted into the Harry Burke mold in that he was an untouchable. He had accompanied de Valera to the United States on one of Dev’s fund-raising trips, and was privy to what may be termed classified information. He disclosed none of it, but regaled later staff members with stories of his extra-curricular activities. It was during the Prohibition era in the States, a great time of trial for Joe who, unlike his boss, had a fondness for demon rum and all its cousins. Come evenings Joe sought out or was led to one speakeasy or another, and claimed that he got rid of the warts on his hand squeezing lemons in those joints, lemon juice being necessary to mask the taste of what passed for liquor served in them.

Joe became thirstier and thirstier with the passing years, but that did not impair his ability as a shorthand writer. He could still report the fastest speaker, but couldn’t dictate his notes immediately afterwards. That he would do on his return to the office next morning, and without missing a single word.

There were others of my own generation who could do much the same thing, as will be told later. The Dáil had its own legalized bar, shared by TDs and staff alike. When I went to Canada I was amazed to find the only such facility on Parliament Hill was a shebeen operated for years by the well liked and trusted George Gagnon, in the Press Gallery offices. Even the Parliamentary Restaurant was "dry". The breakthrough came from an extraordinary source, Maurice Ollivier, the Law Clerk to the House of Commons. He marched in one evening, carrying a bottle of wine, placed it on his table in full view, ordered his dinner, opened the bottle, filled a water glass, and drank his wine. The ban on spirits was lifted in a matter of days, and eventually a small liquor store was opened in the West Block, tucked well away from the view of visitors.

Since this is my story and I can choose to ramble off in any direction, I am happy to record that Dr. Olivier jealously guarded the independence of the office of Law Clerk, designed to serve all Members of Parliament no matter what their political persuasion might be. He was ably followed in that tradition by his successors, Joe Maingot and Marcel Pelletier.

Other members of the Dáil reporting staff of whom Sheila has fond memories were Paddy Duffy and Charlie Fallon. I shall leave it to others to compile a more extensive list.

Without further ado I should like to list the names of those friends and colleagues who made up the Dáil reporting staff during my years there. Three have already been mentioned, Paddy O’Donnell, Eamon O’Faolain, and the in, out, and in again Lorcán OhUiginn. The others were Bob Kelly, Assistant Editor; Linda Derby, Margaret Moloney, Peggy Fitzgerald, Pat Tierney, Marie O’Keeffe, Ned Power, Ned Symes, Hugh Madden and Harry Lawlor.

There is a peculiar phrase used in the Irish language to designate persons who have passed on to their eternal reward, "nach maireann", which simply means "not living", and those to whom it applies as this is being written include O’Faolain, O’Donnell, Kelly, Moloney, Fitzgerald, Madden and Lawlor. Those of us to whom "ta beo", meaning "living", applies, have our individual recollections of events and people, and I encourage them to place those recollections at the service of their successors. When I wrote "The Hansard Chronicles" to celebrate the centennial of Hansard in the Canadian Parliament, I found the preservation of contemporary accounts to be a most valuable research source. Need it be said that a similar centennial lies not far ahead in the Irish Parliament. May I gently remind them "verba volant, scripta manent".

Since I feel it only fair to describe events of which I am personally aware, or for which there exists credible testimony from others, I hasten to add that none of those "a ta beo" need feel the slightest concern that I may trespass on their privacy. To quote my fellow townsman, the poet Willy Allingham, "I wish no one any hurt".

Linda Derby was a gracious lady. As I recall, she supported an aging mother who was in poor health. She had a tranquillity of character that made her a steadying influence on colleagues in the most hectic of circumstances. She coped wonderfully well with whatever fate threw her way.

I well remember the day Eamon O’Faolain, who was following Linda on the duty roster, missed his turn not once, not twice, but three times in a row. This meant that Linda had to do three times her regular share of the work. To fail to relieve a colleague once happened infrequently, twice was really stretching matters, but three times in succession was unheard of. Whatever her inner feelings, Linda calmly carried on, but Eamon was a mental wreck by the end of the day. He simply couldn’t explain how it kept happening to him. He and everyone else knew it was not done by intent. Perhaps he forgot to drop into Clarendon Street that day.

It gives me the greatest pleasure to report that, at the time of this writing, Linda Derby, now approaching her ninety-second year, retains the same calmness and graciousness of spirit that she displayed throughout her career in Dáil Éireann.

Linda was a golfer, and her enthusiasm for the sport was shared by Pat Tierney, still a playing member of St. Anne’s club by the sea, on the north side of the city. Pat is one of those fortunate few to whom the passage of years has been kind. When I last saw her in 1980, she was the same young lady of twenty years earlier, dark haired, dark eyed, with an infectious chuckle. She was also a damn good reporter in English or Irish, and was the pioneering first female to occupy the topmost position of Editor of Debates, a position well earned and well merited.

Margaret Moloney. Every office should have one. Not much over five feet, she dominated by dint of personality. She had a cutting voice, made cutting comments, had no time for what she called "clots". And she had a heart of gold. Long after I left the Dáil she made me the beneficiary of a lengthy correspondence, keeping me up to date on the various affairs of the day. I am informed that she served a full five years after the normal date for retirement, and was as feisty as ever before finally laying down her pen.

Peggy Fitzgerald was another lady for whom I had great respect. Her name appears briefly in "The Hansard Chronicles". She was assiduous in her attention to detail, and if asked for help dropped everything she was doing to trace a long lost quotation or reference. She and I were members of a film group which held its showings on Saturdays. The offering were mainly foreign films, which in those days had a risqué connotation, totally undeserved. One singular film depicted daily life in a village in India. The director just trained his camera on the dusty road running through it, and let it run, silently. For three hours we sat watching in silence. Believe me, the most action we saw was a hen crossing the road. "Exciting." "Splendid." "Artistic." On emerging I had a headache that was anything but splendid. Peggy left us and went to heaven all too early.

Marie O’Keeffe worked in the Dáil for ten years as a transcriber before making the change to reporter. "Ten wasted years", she often said. She made the transition with the help of Bob Kelly, who was her mentor. Marie didn’t golf, but on the occasion of Arnold Palmer’s first, and possibly only participation in a tournament staged in Ireland, joined the huge crowds who followed him around the Portmarnock links course outside Dublin.. It was a sunny day, a blistering hot day, and Marie, who had the fair complexion of an Irish redhead, turned up the next day with her skin peeling, in agony, but ready for work. She exemplified the spirit of dedication that all reporters shared. The job came first, no matter what the cost.

Golfers who followed the recent (2000) World Cup tournament staged in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the winning team were Tiger Woods and David Duval of the United States, will know that the World Cup originally was known as the Canada Cup, and it was under that name that Palmer, with his partner Sam Snead, captured it for the United States at Portmarnock in 1960.

In the Irish Civil Service of the day, the cost came in many harsh forms for women employees. Two of the most severe forms of sexual discrimination practised against them included a lower pay scale even though doing the exact same work as men, and forced retirement on entering the holy stage, some might say strife, of matrimony. The ladies on the Dáil staff suffered the same fate as their sisters in all other government departments.

Ned Power was a father figure to me. And to his family he was a real father in fact and in deed. As I recall, he and his wife had eleven children to rear. A tall man, prematurely bald, inveterate pipe smoker, he was rooted in his faith and devoted to the well-being of his family, hence his freelancing as a sub-editor with the "Irish Press" newspapers in order to provide for such a large household.

Such was his good example to others, he once attracted me to a weekend live-in retreat conducted by one of the Orders, the name of which escapes me. I understand he has been in poor health in recent times. Should a friend give him a copy of the anecdote I am about to relate, Ned can vouch for its accuracy.

Now it so happened that in those days the Clerk of the Dáil was one Peadar O’Connell who, for many reasons, did not possess an engaging personality. And it worried him. In an effort to gain the esteem of public servants of similar rank in the various departments of government, he offered them the services of the Dáil reporters during times of summer recess, to provide verbatim transcripts of all sorts of meetings and inquiries, something clearly beyond the terms of their employment. Disregarding their protests, he sent them here, he sent them there. I remember one such mission when all were dispatched to an inquiry held in a building up near the old Broadstone Railway Station. As Peadar’s reputation rose with his peers, staff morale declined sharply.

Came the day Ned Power and this scribe were told by Paddy O’Donnell that we were being ordered down to Cork to report a naval court martial, courtesy of Peadar. It was bad enough to be sent to the Broadstone, but to be sent to Cork, far away from the fleshpots of life in Dublin—Cleary’s department store restaurant comes to mind—was too, too much. We signed a joint letter of protest. Peadar pissed on our protest, and off to Cork we sallied, silenced and sullen. I suffer the national affection for alliteration, as if you hadn’t noticed.

We spent the night in a Cork hotel, and had been instructed to be pierside at 0800 hours next morning. It turned out that this was naval talk for eight o’clock. We arrived about half an hour late, to the great disapproval of the chap in charge of what we learned was called a launch. It was a boat, specifically sent to ferry two civilians across the harbour to Spike Island, and land them at 0830 hours in time for the court martial opening at 0900 hours. Since we were late, and were strangers in a strange environment, we had knocked the establishment’s timing completely out of whack.

Hurriedly we were taken to the room set aside for the court, and ordered to rise when the President entered. This gentleman had been kept waiting, and seemed liverish in temperament. What happened next upset his kidney and lights as well.

By prior arrangement, when the President called the court to order, up rose a civilian no less, my colleague Ned Power, while I remained seated to make a shorthand record of what transpired.

"We are official Dáil reporters. We are here under protest--" "You will sit down, sir. These are a court-martial proceedings. If you persist, I will have you removed and placed under arrest!"

Leaving aside the question of the constitutional rights of civilians in peacetime, Ned had managed to get our protest into the official record of the proceedings. It was a courageous step to take for a man with a large family to support. Whatever the consequences might be, he had made his case.

When the proceeding broke for lunch, the gallant officers of the State’s navy, who were as uncomfortable with matters as we, went all out to be hospitable. Apparently their chosen quencher was pink gin, a service tradition, which was lit with a live match before being drunk. When we showed interest in just how it was properly done, they insisted on repeatedly demonstrating the correct method. Had the court-martial lasted a week, the reporters would have felt liverish too.

Have you ever seen the movie "The Winslow Boy" starring Robert Donat? The Spike Island saga was of the same genre. A young rating was charged with misappropriating a very small sum of money, less than thirty shillings. For this he was court-martialed, for this all the panoply of naval law and justice was assembled, for this the Clerk of the Dáil had offered the services of two Dáil reporters, and for this Ned Power and John Ward were threatened with incarceration on Spike Island. Alexandre Dumas could well have turned the episode into a modern-day "Count of Monte Crest". Myles na gCopaleen could have had a field day.

Hurry up and tell the rest of it!

The rating was found guilty and sentenced to four weeks in the jig, brigg, lock-up, or service equivalent, and under naval regulations the court proceedings and sentence had to be reviewed before his release. Accordingly, we were ordered to produce the transcript well in time.

Ned and I went back to Dublin and applied for our four weeks annual leave next day. Paddy O’Donnell okayed our applications, and we promptly took off, Ned to his ancestral Waterford, I to London. Somehow in all the hurry we forgot to tell Paddy that the navy brass, in the form of the President presiding over the court-martial, had ordered that the transcript be delivered in within a specified time. Paddy, to give him his due, did not mention the omission when our holidays were over. We set right to work and with the application of due diligence managed to produce a transcript a few weeks later, a transcript to which we did not attach our certification.

I often wonder about the young rating's fate. Is there a skeleton shackled to a dungeon wall on Spike Island? Has anyone checked?

Peadar is long gone, Ned, more power to him, is still with us, and my pen name is definitely not Patrick O’Brian.

Our colleague, Hugh Madden, was cut from different cloth. A native of Connemara, he was a hard worker and a prodigious drinker. He, too, held down two jobs, sub-editor with the "Evening Press" and Dáil reporter. In the Dáil he was fully at ease reporting both Irish and English speakers, and had the respect of his peers. His imbibing had not the slightest effect on his work, a gift, talent, metabolism granted to few. On Burgh Quay his favourite stand was in the upstairs bar of the White Horse where he spent a lot of time, so much so that, if right were right and justice done, a bronze plaque should be set in the bar counter, engraved "Madden drank here".

Hugh could down a pint of porter faster than any other human being I have seen, and without the need for anabolic steroids or other enhancers. One minute a glass would be sitting in front of him, filled to the brim, a thick foam head on top of black creamy nectar. Turn your head away, and in seconds the glass was empty. There are people like that. They don’t swallow. They open their gullet and pour the Guinness or beer straight down.

There was one day in the year when Hugh forsook Guinness. Every December 24, the day before Christmas, the only drink that passed his lips was Grand Marnier. Maybe it had something to do with the goose.

What goose?

Every December 24 Madden bought a goose. Something in his Connemara past dictated goose for Christmas dinner. Turkey might satisfy most, only goose could satisfy Madden.

First things always came first with Hugh. Down in Moore Street he would buy the goose. Then he began his pilgrimage. From McDaid’s in Henry Street, to the Palace Bar in Fleet Street, Neary’s in Molesworth Street, the Sign of the Zodiac, back to the Moira in Trinity Street—no, it couldn’t have been the Moira—not Hugh’s cup of tea--the Pearl Bar, and various other ports of call which I have some difficulty recalling.

The goose, wrapped in brown paper, he carried tucked under one arm. At each station, slap, down would go the goose on the counter, and it was Grand Marnier for everyone he knew. They, of course, were obligated to return in kind.

Then on to the next pub. Slap went the goose on the counter. Grand Marnier for all.

Five pubs later the brown wrapping paper was showing the worse for wear. The head of the goose would be stretched out on the counter, its dead eyes looking straight at you. By now friends would be ordering Grand Marnier for the goose as well as for Madden.

By closing time both the goose and Madden, would, as the saying goes, be feeling no pain. The wrapping paper would be gone, some of the feathers also.

It was Madden’s way of preparing marinaded goose a l’orange. He did it only once a year, and once was enough.

Like Lorcán, Hugh once felt he should leave the Dáil, and Dublin, at least for a spell. He resigned, to take up a position as parliamentary reporter in Fiji. For anyone else but Madden it seemed like an odd sort of place to go. We didn’t know much about Fiji, but if the Isle of Man could have a parliament, the House of Keys, even if it met but once a year, there was no reason to suppose Fiji hadn’t one too. Some other time I’ll tell the tale of Madden’s farewell when Eamon O’Faolain and I saw him off, in abstentia, mind you, and throw in the Dalai Lama for good measure.

Six months later, Hugh returned and rejoined the staff. The farthest he had reached on the road to Fiji was Taunton, in Somerset, where he worked on the local newspaper and savoured the questionable delights of scrumpies, a very strong cider.

Harry Lawlor was a contemporary who was a quiet man, the very opposite of Madden. He did his work, went home to his wife, and his one bad habit was the smoking of cigarettes. He smoked incessantly, and even when ordered by his doctors to stop, continued to smoke. In my humble opinion, cigarette smoking in Ireland has caused the deaths of more people than any other form of ingestion. Tobacco manufacturers have a lot to answer for, but outside rising taxes, have had free rein for far too long. Harry was but one victim of their products.

I am forever indebted to Ned Symes, a colleague who stayed and, like Pat Tierney, later became Editor of Debates. One night, when the Dáil was scheduled to rise at its normal time, it unexpectedly continued in session. Having completed what I thought was my last "take" I adjourned to the bar, and had a jar, strictly for medicinal purposes. My cold was so bad that I had another jar, or another tumbler miraculously appeared in front of me. I can’t say which. Came an urgent summons, "It’s your turn", and I discovered the House was still sitting. Knowing I felt the effect of the cold medicine, I asked Ned to sit in the Gallery while I took my turn on the floor, and check my notes. He very kindly did so. I don’t remember dictating them, but apparently I did, and Ned next morning affirmed that not a word was lost, not a gem of wisdom, not a single pearl cast before the listening host. It was a lesson I took to heart. Never afterwards did I take a medicinal jar while officially reporting Dáil or Parliament. Thank you, Ned.

As this monograph draws to a close you may well ask, "What about the fifth finger?" Well, I can only allocate half of it, and it goes to another Canadian, of Celtic ancestry, the Hon. Alan MacEachen, long-time Minister for the Maritimes, in the Government and Commons of Canada. When he roused himself he could be a compelling orator, a joy to hear when in full flight. His multitudinous other duties kept him tied down, and there is little oratory in making mundane announcements of proposed government business.

MacEachen will always be remembered for one utterance. "There are very few saints in parliament, Mr. Speaker."

Ireland was once known as the Island of Saints and Scholars. If there are few saints in its recent parliamentary history, more’s the sorrow. Ireland, its Dáil and Seanad, are in sore need of higher standards from its representatives in all political parties. May I survive to see that.

The end.

© John Ward

Addendum: All reporters have their favourites. Here are two of mine.

"Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the day when, once again, the lion of progress marches arm in arm with the floodgates of prosperity down Royal Avenue."

"Mr. Speaker, I was paired with the hon. Member for Moose Jaw. Had I voted I would have abstained."

Life does have its lighter moments.

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