When the “New Irish” were fighting for the right to vote, 1991

Published in The Irish Times twenty-four years ago almost to the day, this article dates from the time when “New Irish” referred to native-born Irish emigrants based in the United States. I think it encapsulates some of the community spirit and idealism of the 80s and 90s emigrant generation. Unable to vote in Irish national elections as a result of their non-residency in Ireland – the piece highlights how people came together to address the injustice.  A recent Irish Times article  reported how emigrants still haven’t got the vote, indicating how utterly this country refuses to change in some of the most significant ways.  What would have happened if people hadn’t made the effort to travel home to vote in 2015’s landmark Same-sex Marriage Referendum?  It’s like some perverse Irish joke!



Irish Film Institute launch: “Dublin Capital City 1974-75

A special screening will be held today for the launch of “Dublin Capital City 1974-75′ at the Irish Film Institute, 12:45pm – with an introduction by Brendan Halligan. Please scroll down to read full press release, or click here.


A new version of Capital City Dublin 1974-75, a film by Brendan Halligan and Jim Mulkerns, will be launched on 5 November next, and screened weekly as part of the Irish Film Institute’s “Focus on Jim Mulkerns” Archive at Lunchtime showings this November, 2016.   (more…)

Fives and Twenty Fives: Michael Pitre


From Bloomsbury USA, ISBN: 9781620407547
on Amazon

So, how to describe this debut novel receiving multiple favourable reviews? You can say simply, it’s a good read. It has strong, likeable main characters. It has a well-constructed plot and a solemnly satisfying conclusion. You could say that the dialogue is plausible, and the fact that its author himself served in Iraq makes it ring true.

But the fact Michael Pitre served as a Marine isn’t enough to distinguish this novel – what makes it shine is that this man is a writer that served as a Marine.

Over and above the inarguable power that comes from a writer’s first hand knowledge of his subject, there is a heartfelt craft evident here that proves the dictum, “fiction can be truer than non-fiction.” Freed of the restrictions or embellishments of memoir, Michael Pitre brings us vividly into a world that most readers are not acquainted with and interprets it with accuracy, poignance and humor.

At first seeming like a possible easy read, with its straight prose and dialogue, the novel in fact reveals the stories of its main protagonists through means of alternating chapters, both present day and flashback.

These protagonists are strong, memorable. We meet, dislike and then get to deeply like the misplaced young Lieutenant Donavan. Dodge, a smart young Iraqi engaged as an interpreter is no cardboard cut out, but a witty, complex, passionate young man with a dramatic back story who is thrown into circumstances that have transformed his life utterly. Corpsman Doc Pleasant is a tough guy whose deep flaws are torn open by war. Sergeant Gomez is one of those characters who will fascinate and stay with the reader forever – especially by the end of the novel, when she becomes a symbol of the true meaning of combat. Skillfully portrayed as ruthless Lioness, the author lets her armor down just enough for us to know her as a woman and not just a soldier.

“Fives and Twenty Fives” not only relays the intensity of high-tech contemporary combat, but also the loneliness and confusion of many who return, adrift, to life at home. This aspect of the novel, a little in the style of the classic post-conflict piece, Speaking of Courage by Tim O’Brien, is powerful yet unsentimental.

Following a climactic battle scene that ties together many of the plot’s threads, the novel concludes with a redemptive road trip – an appropriate ending to the book, that answers the last of the reader’s questions about the fate of its characters.

Lastly, one key aspect to “Fives and Twenty Fives” is that, while set in one of the most passionately opposed and disputed wars of recent times, it is wisely free from politics, choosing to focus instead on people and not polemic. Thus, instead of a novel about war it transcends as a study of humans in and post war – with just enough humanity to touch the heart of the reader.



Irishwoman’s Diary, July 1992: New Music Seminar

From The Irish Times – July 1992

By Helena Mulkerns

Sinead cameo

Sinead O’Connor
Pic: John Francis Bourke

Last week, as Uncle Boris Yeltsin posed for happy snaps on the lawn with George and Barbara at the Whitehouse, and Sarajevo shuddered under Serbian mortar fire, a whole microcosm of Western youth culture carried on regardless, at the popular music industry’s annual “New Music Seminar” in New York City.

Emerging from the subway in Manhattan’s Times Square, the brief stretch from the underground exit to the hotel hosting the seminar exposes the walker to the buzz of New York’s glitz and grime. To the backdrop of expensive Broadway theatres and department stores, yellow cabs jostle whizzing messenger-cyclists, teenage homeless pan-handle sullenly on corners and street hawkers flash fake Rolex watches at passers-by.

Once inside the Mariott Marquis, however, umbrage is assured. It is a standard-issue American luxury hotel, futuristic in form, efficient in its operation and designed to accomodate the comfort requisites of both tourist and convention-goer. Normally, family vacationers in pastel-casuals ride the elevator with gray-suited businessmen carrying briefcases. The latter might wear a badge that says “John Doe – National Insurance Representatives Convention”. For the week of the music seminar however, the Insurance reps are upstaged flamboyantly by Babylon’s most shameless upstart, Rock’n’roll. The seminar effectively provides a forum for the big business side of the music scene, becoming the hunting grounds of managers, publishers, promoters, lawyers and other sharks. But it is also an annual chance for performers of all shapes and hues to party and to be seen, as a brief stint of people-watching will prove. Post-punk Japanese Divas in day-glo mini-skirts and platform shoes ride the escalators. Pale Rock’n’roll animals from America’s East Coast contrast starkly with suntanned, muscular surf-babies from Northern California. Rap brothers in spandex and gold jewellery flank slick latino-beat masters from Miami or Seville.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 22.16.26

77 Lucious Babes

The most interesting thing about the “New Music Seminar” is that its very concept is essentially a contradiction in terms: it is a Rock’n’roll Convention. While traditionally Rock’n’Roll claims to be the voice of youthful rebellion, and an alternative artistic force, it is also big business, so you have the rather hilarious situation where hip and trendy managers or members of bands like “The Toiling Midgets”, “Goober And The Peas” or “77 Lucious Babes” have to walk around the lobby of this conservative hotel (complete with Chanel/Waterford glass gift shops) wearing name-tagged convention badges!

The some 50 Irish delagates and musicians, coordinated by The Irish Export Board, convened on a stand among the hundreds of business “boothes” in a main exhibition hall. Most adopted a healthy attitude that combined the seminar’s business challenge with the more easy-going pace of the rock world. Deals would be initially instigated by a form of chat known as “schmoozing”, or initial contact-making, a process which has lead to a whole new vocabulary. For instance, the hotel’s lobby became the “schmoozatorium”, the bar was the “schmoozer”. A certain irrepressible band manager from Dublin earned the title “King Of Schmooze”, and since the field of operations was not confined to the convention hall, it was not unusual to hear one delegate ask another, at a late night rock gig, “will you have a drink or are you schmoozing?” The schmoozing, needless to say, got arguably better as the evenings went on, and indeed, it is not unheard of that a quick schmooze at the back of the hall has led to greater things. Like “doing lunch”, perhaps, another great New York convention.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 22.11.13If the seminar’s daylight ethic is taking care of business (as Elvis himself used to say), the night time idea  is slightly different. With literally thousands of acts from all over the world performing in clubs around the city, the idea is basically to see who can who can catch the most gigs, who can meet the most people, who can drink the most alcohol, and who can remain coherently vertical the longest in any of the after-hours bashes that inevitably follow the night of serious music. It’s a serious rock’n’roll challenge, and one which frequently leads to a sorry malady known unofficially as “schmoozeritis”.

Symptoms include extreme fatigue, involuntary exclamations of epithets such as “Jayzus, I’m wrecked. Musicians suffer temporary lapses of memory: as they crawl offstage they will announce their immediate intention to withdraw to the hotel room, and yet will be spotted four hours later in an after-hours watering hole waxing lyrical on the glories of New York City.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 22.20.21Irish rock hounds tended to descend mainly on two venues for the post-seminar hanging out (“hanging out”, as opposed to schmoozing, involves no business element, and a deal more liquid refreshments). Brownies, once a notorious after-hours bar on Avenue A in the East Village, has become (along with Paddy Reilly’s bar on 28th), Manhattan’s home to the alternative Irish music scene, and it hosted several excellent gigs featuring Irish and Irish American musicians. For post-gig intimacy and atmosphere, however, Sine-é café on St. Mark’s Place probably topped the list, with one post-gig seisúin involving the impromptu talents of no less than The Four Of Us, Marianne Faithful, Sinead O’Connor and the erstwhile king of coffee house performance, Allan Ginsberg.

Yes, it was there in the dawn’s early hours that one and all miraculously forgot about six figure record company deals, national tours and music publishing contracts, and converged into a generous, universal musical community. Schmooze-free, timeless and often slightly out of tune, musicians would play with great abandon and without set lists in that great traditional seisúin spirit, and not a name-tag in sight. “Badges?” As one wit pronounced on the sidewalk outside Sin-é early Saturday morning, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!!”

And the party just went on.


Vintage Tourist Board promo, 1966!

Following an excellent launch on Saturday, 5 November to “Focus On Jim Mulkerns” – November’s Archive at Lunchtime programme at The Irish Film Institute this month, here’s  a novelty preview of one of the films on offer. This excerpt is from Ireland Invites You,  a 14 min promotional film made in 1966, commissioned by the Irish Tourist Board. They were keen to promote the attractions of the Ireland of the day, including golf courses and Bunratty Castle. Note, in this Dublin snippet, the lack of women in the pub. On the other hand, they are allowed grace the “well appointed, sophisticated” cocktail lounge! This tourist board short contrasts sharply with the film, Dublin Capital City 1974-75 made by Brendan Halligan and Jim Mulkerns some years later, which showed the reality of certain areas of Dublin’s capital.  Family and friends will recognise those enjoying cocktails in the lounge scene at .30 secs! Loving the music …

Dublin Nightlife 1966 from Cyberscribe on Vimeo.


Dublin Bay Photo Retrospective, 2015

I thought I’d post a slideshow of some of the photographs that I’ve taken of Dublin Bay, which have been quite popular on Facebook this year. For full screen best effect, click on the title of the post and allow the carousel to move forward by itself. If you save down and use one of these photos, please credit and link my site, thanks.  Happy New Year to all!

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Leonard Cohen: He’s our man

This is my contribution to a piece by Martin Doyle with tributes from John Kelly, Sara Baume, Peter Murphy, Evelyn Conlon and more.  For all writers’ contributions, please click this link.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-15-44-29It wasn’t until the mid-nineties, a decade into the study of Tibetan Buddhism, that I began to listen to the music of Leonard Cohen. A beautiful Chinese artist friend would have no other soundtrack as she painted.  She said he transported her to a richer place than the blank, cold studio she was working in.  I only began to hear Cohen with her, then after she moved away I heard him more clearly by myself on a Buddhist retreat in Vermont.  Along pathways between pinewood trees and incensed shrine rooms, I played him constantly – in defiance of the strict rules of the monastery (no “entertainment”).  The experience was intensified by my fascination at Cohen himself having just retreated from the craziness of the music business to a Zen monastery in California.

Such respite from the turbulence and uncertainty of daily living in today’s world is always ephemeral.  Even Cohen came back into the spotlight when he began to tour again in recent years.  But his music is, in a way, is like a retreat.  It takes you out of the fray and into aural balm and wit and darkness that even while dark, is calming and sensual. (more…)

A first story between covers

Ireland-in-Exile-Cover-WEBWhile entering story competitions and having work appear in publications is very exciting for a young writer, there is something very special about the first time you see one of your stories in an actual book.  Dermot Bolger was someone whose work I deeply admired.  I had not long before read and been blown away by The Journey Home, a stark, tough novel about Dublin in the dark eighties, when he contacted me to see if I had a piece to contribute to a collection of stories written by Irish writers abroad.

At the time, Joe O’Connor  and Emma Donoghue were living in London, Harry Clifton was in Africa, Colum McCann was in Texas, Sarah Berkeley in San Francisco, and Eamonn Wall and myself formed part of the burgeoning New Irish arts community in New York.   The amazing thing was that during the eighties and early nineties, anybody  living abroad, let alone writers, were nothing less than the national black sheep – the cheek of them to have emigrated leaving the rest of the Irish in the badlands of eighties Ireland!   It was a crime that was dealt with by cruel silence.

Enter Dermot Bolger (who had, himself, made a personal decision not to emigrate) with Ireland in Exile, which was, in effect, the first collection and recognition of the contemporary generation of scribes that had left – as many generations had left before.  With its cogent introduction by Joseph O’Connor and daring to present the nascent talents of many who would subsequetly become household names, its a book in which I’m very proud to be included.

To read my very early nineties contribution, The Suitcase, click here.