Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Vintage Sleaze Part 1 The fox in charge of the hen house.


A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday July 9 2014.


Colman's Column3


Last week, I mentioned that I had observed a certain degree of masochism in some Sri Lankans who seemed to find a pride in what they perceived as the sheer bloody awfulness of their native land. One aspect of this is the firm belief that Sri Lankan politicians are the most corrupt in the world. I have repeatedly pointed out that, anywhere in the world, the kind of people who go in to the politics game are the type who are after personal gain and are often not very nice people. One response I get to this is that in other countries, corruption is properly investigated and punished. It is sometimes claimed that in the UK, for example, politicians who are caught out do the honourable thing and resign.



I have just heard the news that David Cameron’s former press secretary, Andy Coulson, has been jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones. Asked about the jailing of his former communications chief, the prime minister, who has apologised for hiring him, said: “What it says is that it’s right that justice should be done and that no one is above the law – as I’ve always said.” That’s OK then. The fact remains that Cameron employed the editor of a sleazy newspaper against all good judgement. Coulson did not own up to allowing his minions to hack the phone of a murdered teenager.

Labour MP Tom Watson was the scourge of Coulson and Murdoch. He is now campaigning for an investigation into long-running allegations that a senior Conservative cabinet minister and well-known celebrities were involved in a paedophile ring. Watson raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on 24 October 2012. A journalist from the investigative news website Exaro passed the information to Watson. Rumours have been flying around the blogosphere for a long time and some of the blogs making allegations are somewhat flaky. There are allegations against many famous people including members of the Royal Family. These bloggers often follow the logic of Beatrix Campbell – stranger things have happened so why not believe this? However, journalists of repute, such as David Hencke, formerly of the Guardian, contribute to Exaro.

Peter McKelvie, a retired child protection officer, has spent more than 20 years compiling evidence of alleged abuse by authority figures. He helped bring the notorious paedophile Peter Righton to justice in 1992 when he worked in Hereford and Worcester child protection team. In a letter to his local MP Sir Tony Baldry last month, Mr McKelvie suggested that a further 20 MPs and Lords were implicated in the “cover-up” of abuse of children. It was as a result of information provided by Mr McKelvie that Tom Watson raised the issue of child abuse at Prime Minister’s Questions in October 2012. He spoke of “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and Number 10” that arose from the Righton case.

Following Mr Watson’s intervention, the Metropolitan Police began Operation Fernbridge, an ongoing investigation into allegations of sex abuse at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south London. At least one witness is understood to have told police in the 1980s that he was abused by a Tory MP at the guest house when he was aged under ten, but the alleged victim has so far refused to give a sworn a witness statement to the police.

When I lived in Putney in the early 1980s, I used to enjoy long walks on light summer evenings down across Barnes Common to the Bull’s Head pub to listen to jazz. Little did I know that Barnes Common was a popular gay cruising site after dark. In the late 1970s, the Elm Guest House on Rocks Lane was a safe, unthreatening meeting place for homosexual men free from the stigma of a sexual orientation  legalised barely a decade earlier.


However, “It became a convenient place for rent boys to take their clients,” says one person familiar with the place. In 1982, the Met’s notorious Special Patrol Group raided the property on suspicion that it was a brothel. As many as 12 boys gave evidence to the police to the effect that they had been abused by men at the house. The police only seemed interested in pressing charges against Carole Kasir, who owned the place. Child-protection campaigners alleged that boys had been taken from a local council-run home and abused by politicians and showbiz entertainers. The real unlawful activity was underage sex, but the police only interviewed the boys a view to them being witnesses against Kasir, not as minors who were abused themselves. In 1990, at the age of 47, Kasir, a diabetic, died of an insulin overdose. Two Naypic (National Association for Young People in Care) employees told the coroner they believed she had been murdered, the victim of powerful people who feared she knew too much.


Chris Fay, a social worker at Naypic, has alleged that a terrified Kasir had shown him about 20 photographs of middle-aged men with young boys, taken at what he said were kings and queens fancy-dress parties, attended by a number of powerful and well-known people.

In the early 1990s, I worked in the child protection field myself. I often attended meetings at the Home Office and came to know a young lawyer named Alison Saunders. She is now Director of Public Prosecutions and has often been in the news relating to the fallout from the Jimmy Savile saga and the subsequent investigation under Operation Yewtree. She is the first lawyer from within the Crown Prosecution Service and the second woman to hold the appointment. Tom Watson said he was writing to Ms Saunders to ask her to examine the evidence relating to an unnamed Tory politician.


A police investigation, Operation Fairbank, started in late 2012. This was a “scoping exercise” aimed at a “preliminary assessment of the evidence rather than a formal inquiry”. The existence of the operation was confirmed on 12 December 2012, after beginning in secret. The secrecy was such that nothing was even put on computers. Cynics say this was because so many of the culprits were police officers. A full criminal investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was launched in February 2013.

Geoffrey Dickens

Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens campaigned against a suspected paedophile ring he claimed to have uncovered. In 1981, Dickens named the former British High Commissioner to Canada, Sir Peter Hayman, as a paedophile in the House of Commons, using parliamentary privilege so he could not be sued for slander. Dickens was an admirable fellow in many ways but he did allow his willingness to believe take him to the wilder shores inhabited by Beatrix Campbell and Valerie Sinason – he took on trust their fantasies about satanic abuse.

In 1983, Dickens claimed there was a paedophile network involving “big, big names – people in positions of power, influence and responsibility” and threatened to name them in the Commons. The next year, he campaigned for the banning of Hayman’s Paedophile Information Exchange organisation. Dickens had a thirty-minute meeting with Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary between 1983 and 1985, and gave him a dossier containing the child abuse allegations. Dickens said he was “encouraged” by the meeting.


On 29 November 1985, Dickens said in a speech to the Commons that paedophiles were “evil and dangerous” and that child pornography generated “vast sums”. He claimed that: “The noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list”. Barry Dickens, the MP’ son later said that about the time when the dossier was given to the Home Secretary, his father’s London flat and constituency home were both broken into but nothing was taken.

Tom Watson asked the Home Office in February 2013 for Dickens’s dossier. A Home Office review in 2013 concluded that any information requiring investigation was referred to the police. Mr Dickens’s dossier was “not retained”. A Downing Street spokesman rejected calls to publish in full the 2013 review of paperwork, saying: “My understanding is that the executive summary reflects very fully the report.” The opposition said the work was carried out by just two officials and took just four weeks.”This is not good enough,” said shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.


Last year Brittan said he could not remember getting the dossier, but recently released a statement saying he could now recollect a meeting with Dickens. He said he had asked officials to look into the claims and could not remembering hearing any more about it. A Home Office review last year found Brittan had written to Dickens in 1984 saying the DPP assessed the material as worth pursuing and passed it “to the appropriate authorities”.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who came to Sri Lanka to seek justice for a murdered constituent, said he had received a dozen new allegations naming the same politician. Danczuk is taking an interest because Sir Cyril Smith used to represent Danczuk’s Rochdale constituency. The late, “larger than life” Liberal MP has been the subject of rumours for decades that he was a paedophile. Liberal party leaders have consistently ignored Smith’s activities with boys in the care of the social services. Danczuk has been pressing Lord Brittan to reveal what he knew about the dossier’s contents.


Barry Dickens said: “My father thought that the dossier at the time was the most powerful thing that had ever been produced, with the names that were involved and the power that they had… “I would like Lord Brittan to name the very next person he handed it on to. And where did it end up? There must have been a person who was the last to handle it.” Former DPP, Lord Macdonald, said the circumstances in which the dossier had gone missing were alarming and recommended an inquiry.

The Prime Minister told Mark Sedwill, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to “do everything he can” to clear up what happened to the file. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who worked for Lord Brittan in Brussels in the 1990s, said the police were in the “best position” to investigate the allegations and he did not want anything – such as a public inquiry – to “cut across that or disrupt that”.

Danczuk responded that another internal inquiry was merely trying to limit damage, and that a public inquiry was necessary to retain public confidence. “The Prime Minister knows that there is a growing sense of public anger about allegations of historic abuse involving senior politicians and his statement today represents little more than a damage limitation exercise. It doesn’t go far enough. The public has lost confidence in these kind of official reviews, which usually result in a whitewash. The only way to get to the bottom of this is a thorough public inquiry.” A public inquiry into historical child abuse in public life, has been demanded by 139 MPs.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism committed an embarrassing blunder when they named Lord McAlpine as the senior cabinet minister in the Thatcher government who had been abusing young boys. He received damages, which he donated to charity, for the false allegation. McAlpine said: “There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.”


The media are wary about naming names again. The Daily Mail is sending coded messages. I know who the alleged culprit is and have done for some time. The other day I received an e-mail from a friend who spent many years as a child protection social worker. He said, “At last, what to every 80s social worker was common rumour.”


Will the name be named or will the cover-up continue?

Delmore Schwartz Part 1



On the fly-leaf of my dog-eared copy of Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems of Delmore Schwartz, I have noted “Oxford, December 1968”. That means that I bought the book just two years after the poet’s sad death. In that same year, I would have become familiar with the first album by the Velvet Underground on which Lou Reed pays tribute to his friend and mentor in the song “European Son of Delmore Schwartz”.

summer knowledge

Early Life

Delmore Schwartz was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 8, 1913. His parents, Harry and Rose, were immigrants from Romania, part of the first great wave of Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe. Delmore grew up in a drab apartment in Washington Heights, which he shared with his mother and his younger brother. His father was only reliable in the pursuit of his own pleasure, although he managed to accumulate a good deal of wealth from his dealings in the real estate business. When Delmore was only six, his parents woke him one night with the demand that he choose between them. They divorced. Delmore’s mother was hysterically self-dramatizing, and more than a little mad. Rose Schwartz threatened to kill herself when Delmore “abandoned” her in order to marry Gertrude Buckman; she also told her younger son that he would have been better off in Buchenwald than married to his non-Jewish wife. When Harry died at the age of 49 in 1930, Delmore only inherited a small amount of his money because of the shady dealings of the executor of the estate.

This was the emotional manure from which grew a young man of startling good looks who had read Blake, Rimbaud, T.S. Eliot, Joyce, and Hart Crane by his mid-teens and all the philosophers by the time he was twenty. Teachers who read Schwartz’s early writing encouraged him to develop his talents. As a teenager, he began to identify with the European avant-garde.

He made his parents’ disastrous marriage the subject of his most famous short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” (a quotation from his hero WB Yeats), which was published in 1937 in the first issue of Partisan Review. Dwight McDonald believed that “It is as good as a story can be, I’d say after reading it again for the fifth or sixth time, comparable with Kafka, Babel, or Through the Looking Glass.”


Boundless Ambition at Mosaic

While at New York University, Schwartz and a group of fellow students founded Mosaic, a literary magazine devoted to Marxist aesthetics. Norman Macleod, R.P. Blackmur, and William Carlos Williams were among the prominent poets and critics who had their work published in Mosaic. As editor, Schwartz used the publication as a vehicle to air his own critical opinions. His essays earned the attention of the New York literary community. William Barrett, whom he met in 1933, when they were both twenty, remembered him as “the most magical human being I have ever known”. Philip Rahv, of Partisan Review, described the “boundless ambition that was part of the precocity that never left him,” of “his singular personal charm and the slight stutter that served only to draw attention to his frequently extravagant speech”. The New York literary world was eager to welcome this “newly fledged eaglet,” as Dwight Macdonald later called him. Schwartz won the extravagant praise not only of the New York intelligentsia but also of such commanding voices of the day as Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Mark Van Doren and Wallace Stevens. His precocious early poems prefigured the flowering of the powerful generation of poets who came to the fore in the ’40s—Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman – of whom I will write in future weeks.

Robert Lowell

One of the earliest tributes to Schwartz came from Schwartz’s friend, another mad poet, Robert Lowell, who published the poem “To Delmore Schwartz” in 1959.

Lowell, reminisced in his poetry collection, Life Studies, about the time that the two poets lived together in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1946, writing that they were “underseas fellows, nobly mad,/ we talked away our friends.”

John Berryman

In 1968, Schwartz’s friend and peer, fellow poet, John Berryman, dedicated his book His Toy, His Dream, His Rest “to the sacred memory of Delmore Schwartz,” including 12 elegiac poems about Schwartz in the book. In “Dream Song #149,” Berryman wrote of Schwartz:

In the brightness of his promise,

unstained, I saw him thro’ the mist of the actual

blazing with insight, warm with gossip

thro’ all our Harvard years

when both of us were just becoming known

I got him out of a police-station once, in Washington, the world is tref

and grief too astray for tears.


(Tref — is the Yiddish word for food that does not conform with the Jewish dietary laws)


Lou Reed

lou reed

Schwartz, who was then a professor at the University of Syracuse, taught Lou Reed in the early 1960s. Reed remembered Schwartz reading from Finnegans Wake and sayingthere “were few things better than to devote one’s life to Joyce.” Lou Reed’s 1982 album The Blue Mask included a Schwartz homage with the song “My House”. In the June 2012 issue of Poetry magazine, Lou Reed published a short prose tribute to Schwartz entitled “O Delmore How I Miss You.” In the piece, Reed quotes and references a number of Schwartz’s short stories and poems including “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” “The World is a Wedding,” and “The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me.” “O Delmore How I Miss You” was re-published as the preface to the New Directions 2012 reissue of Schwartz’s posthumously published story collection In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.

Reed wrote:


My friend and teacher occupies a spare room

He’s dead, at peace at last the wandering Jew

Other friends had put stones on his grave

He was the first great man that I had ever met

Sylvia and I got out our Ouija Board

To dial a spirit, across the room it soared

We were happy and amazed at what we saw

Blazing stood the proud and regal name Delmore

Delmore, I missed all your funny ways

I missed your jokes and the brilliant things you said

My Dedalus to your Bloom, was such a perfect wit

And to find you in my house makes things perfect


“Reading Yeats and the bell had rung but the poem was not over you hadn’t finished reading—liquid rivulets sprang from your nose but still you would not stop reading. I was transfixed. I cried”.

Historical Precursor

Schwartz occupied an important slot as an intellectual, a modernist, and a Jew. He was historically important as a precursor, as a man whose work provided a tantalizing hint of the rich material, which other Jewish writers such as Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow worked so effectively. The protagonist of Saul Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift (1975) was based on Schwartz and revived interest in his career and provided further evidence of his insight into the conflicts associated with Jewish-American identity.

David Lehman: “It is hard not to see Schwartz as an emblematic figure, capable of stirring us in his ravings no less than in his brilliant and original literary creations, meant to reproach and admonish us with the purity and grandeur of his aspirations as well as with the unbanished image of his demise.”

Photographs show that Schwartz was a handsome man but he went into a sad decline. He descended into madness and alcohol and became dishevelled and embarrassing. He drank frequently at the White Horse Tavern, and spent his time sitting in parks. His friends deserted him. In the summer of 1966, a penniless Schwartz checked into the Times Square hotel, perhaps to focus on his writing.

In the pages of this Mosaic, Wimal Dissanayake has expertly guided us through the thought and works of Friedrich Hölderlin. Delmore Schwartz wrote a poem called Hölderlin:

Now as before do you not hear their voices

Serene in the midst of their rejoicing

Chanting to those who have hopes and make choices

Clear as the birds in the thick summer foliage:

It is! It is!

We are! We are!

Clearly, as if they were us, and not us,

Hidden like the future, distant as the stars,

Having no more meaning than the fullness of music,

Chanting from the pure peaks where success,

Effort and desire are meaningless,

Surpassed at last in the joy of joy,

Chanting at last the blue’s last view:

It is! It is!

This is eternity! Eternity is now!


My favourite Delmore poem is Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon along the Seine, which is a poetic evocation and reflection upon Seurat’s pointillist painting.

Next week I will analyse that poem and look at Delmore Schwartz’s poetry and themes in more detail.

Where Are the Prosecutions, Punishments?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday 25 June 2014

Colman's Column3


On Monday 16 June 2014, I went to Badulla to take a dog to the vet. Everything seemed normal in town. I was shocked to see pictures later in the day on Asian Mirror, showing a mob stoning familiar shops on Bazaar Street. The BBS (Bodu Bala Sena) staged a protest in Badulla demanding the release of several suspects who were arrested for attacking a Muslim shop in the town a few days before. The suspects, according to Police, are members of the BBS.

This is a disturbing echo, closer to my own home, of the appalling events at Aluthgama. The Aluthgama riot and bloodshed apparently arose out of a road rage incident or a physical assault on a bhikkhu. The Badulla incident apparently arose out of a sexual harassment allegation.

The Badulla story goes that two Sinhalese girls had entered a Muslim-owned shop and asked to purchase a pair of denims. The girls then allege that the sales clerk videoed them from above the changing room using his cell phone. A variant version was that the shop owners had fixed CCTV cameras in the changing room. The girls’ father recruited a mob and stormed the shop, assaulting the salesman. Police had intervened to maintain the peace and taken the sales clerk into custody. Police investigation into the incident is in progress.

On June 20, Badulla was calm but tense. On every street there were policemen in riot helmets carrying big sticks.

Malinda Seneviratne wrote: “Not only are things lost in narration, lots get added on too in the process. A disagreement becomes dispute, dispute becomes argument, argument raises voices, raised voices lead to in-your-face closeness, proximity tends to contact, contact is read as aggressive touch, touch is blow, and blow is assault.  What happens between two human beings is then an altercation between two persons from two communities, religious communities, that is.”

As a Guardian reader succinctly commented: “What ‘triggered the incident’ was the propensity of stupid people to believe stupid things, especially if the stupid things target a group they are predisposed to hate.” Another viewpoint is that this is becoming a common ruse adopted by extremist organisations to attack Muslim-owned businesses, and that Muslim entrepreneurs need to take adequate precautions to protect their interests. Could that lead to further violence?

These incidents reminded me of a much more serious “trigger”, even closer to my home, a couple of years ago. A Muslim youth stabbed and killed a Sinhalese boy. Their dispute was not about religion and had nothing to do with communal strife. The two boys had been firm friends since childhood. This was a crime of passion – they had fought in rivalry over the affections of a girl. Luckily, BBS were not around to exploit the incident and all sections of the local community sprang into action to dampen any sparks of conflict. All local shops closed voluntarily and the police imposed a curfew. Meetings were held between Buddhist and Muslim clerics, the families of the dead youth and his assailant and the police. There was no further violence, although one still reads about jealous husbands killing wives and vice versa.

Many of my Sri Lankan contacts abroad are bemoaning the moral turpitude of “the average Sri Lankan”. One of my favourite quotations is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All generalisations are dangerous, including this one”. I would hesitate to judge “the average Sri Lankan”. I am would like to take a more optimistic line. I do not like headlines about “communal strife”. I live in a poor village, which has many Muslims and Tamils. It sometimes feels as though the Sinhalese are the minority. I am not saying that it is an idyllic paradise. There are often disputes but they are not on an ethnic basis. Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese generally get on OK and even intermarry- a woman who works for us is a Tamil married to a Muslim and they have an adopted son who is Tamil (but does not know it). We have Sinhalese workers who live in the Tamil lines. Many Tamils are Christian rather than Hindu. The broker who arranges our car insurance has a Muslim name but is a staunch Catholic. There could be harmony if the BBS would allow it.

Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese seem to get along with each other, and with the Sinhalese, and with this Irishman. Our immediate neighbours are Muslims. We were here before them. We have not always enjoyed perfect harmony- there used to be some intimidation from them and on one occasion, there was an angry mob at our gate wielding knives. They were responding to a false rumour about what we were doing with the water supply. This was the kind of thing Malinda referred to. I responded to other incidents of aggression on my neighbour’s part by presenting our neighbours with a box of avocadoes. Our sympathetic response to a couple of deaths in their family has led to a situation where we rub along generally and help each other out on occasion. As I write, their cattle are tearing at our hedge again!

We are fortunate in that the high priest of our local Buddhist temple, who has been a good friend to us for ten years, is a wise, compassionate and humorous man. Most of the people who work for him are Tamils and they worship him. Our Muslim neighbours take their children to his Montessori school at the temple. He regularly attends events organised by Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

As I write, the situation is still not clear because most of the news is coming to us from abroad and the Government is saying nothing. It seems that seven died, three of whom perished in a drive-by shooting indicating that BBS might have an armed militia. The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) a research and link aggregator  owned by the Beacham group, classified Bodu Bala Sena as a ‘terrorist organization’ in April 2014

Many of my Sri Lankan contacts who live abroad have expressed fears that nothing has been learnt from the horror that was Black July in 1983, when Sinhalese mobs attacked Tamils and sparked off a thirty-year civil war. One woman in Aluthgama was quoted in the press: “At this rate, it won’t be long before a Muslim Prabhakaran is born.”

There was one positive aspect in 1983. Many Sinhalese -and I have heard eye-witnesses reports about this – endangered themselves by having the courage to protect Tamils who strangers to them. This time one of my Muslim contacts reports that “Buddhist work friends collected funds in an office and donated for the affected at Aluthgama. Very noble of them. Why , it’s entirely possible that BBS will lose adherents in greater numbers than gaining them. Allah Akbar!”

In Aluthgama, a Sinhalese citizen told Dharisha Bastians. “We have no grouse with the people on that side of the village. They are our friends. We know them. We didn’t recognise the people who fought last night, they were not from here”.

Encouraging news came from Dickwella. The Chief Incumbent Priests of eight Buddhist temples spent two hours at the Muhiyibdeen Jumma Mosque at Yonakpura, Dickwella. The act of solidarity was to strengthen communal ties and avert any fears of copycat incidents in the area. The clergy said that the root cause of the incidents in Aluthgama and Beruwala was misinformation and that the people of Dickwella should be vigilant about attempts to instigate communal disharmony in their town. Dickwella Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Krishali Muthukumarana said that Dickwella people have lived in harmony by respecting each other’s beliefs and customs. All the members of the PS irrespective of their political affiliations would ensure that no communal hatred was instigated.

Harendra Alwis on Groundviews explored this issue in a philosophical mode but also offered some practical advice on avoiding despair, promoting tolerance and social integration and embracing diversity. I feel a smidgeon of caution about one thing Harendra says. “Do not be distracted or discouraged by those who call you “Facebook heroes”, “armchair critics” or hurl any number of derogative remarks at you instead of – or while – engaging with what you have to say.” It is true that these issues have to be exposed to the cleansing sunshine and fresh air of open debate. Groundviews has an important role to play in this. There is, however, a danger that passions could be further inflamed by polemic in the social media. As Nick Hart commented on Groundviews, it is “nonsensical and irresponsible to attempt to tar all Buddhist monks with the brush of intolerance, or to imply that every individual from a minority group is an innocent victim. Sri Lanka and the world know that this is not the case.” I recall that Groundviews itself seemed to be dangerously stoking the fire in the controversy over halal products, when Sanjana Hattotuwa strained very hard to find insult to Muslims in the packaging of a certain item.


The use of terms like “communal strife” makes me queasy. Just like every act of communal violence in Sri Lanka’s history, the recent “riots” in Aluthgama against Muslims were not spontaneous expressions of ethnic or religious grievance involving ordinary civilians. There is legitimate fear on the part of Muslims. Buddhists need to convince their Muslim neighbors that BBS are not acting in their name. That, of course will be futile if the police allow BBS to continue their thuggery. Where are the prosecutions and punishments?






Written after a ten-day retreat at Dhamma Kuta meditation centre in Sri Lanka.


Bhikkhu – a Buddhist monk

Anicca (pronounced anitcha) – Pali word meaning impermanence, all things must pass.



A bhikkhu sneezes. Anicca. Bless you.

Inside the meditation hall, buttocks squirm,

Noses sniffle, throats tickle and phlegm.

Geckos squeak. Outside, temples and mosques

Decibel their faithful to prayer. Sirens police the roads.

Helicopters take the air highway to the war.

Semtex gouges rock from the earth. Rifles shoot wild boar.

A demon hectors on my left shoulder, mocking

My ambition of equanimity.


Dawn finds the valley obscured by clouds.

By noon mountains have materialised. Anicca.

Dusk reveals human dwellings climbing the valley,

Lights on top of mountains, the lit pathway to the top

Of Adam’s Peak. Sleep douses the lights. Anicca.


The angel on my right shoulder tells me

I cannot silence a sneeze, tame a gecko,

Much less stop the war. Phenomena beyond control.

Anicca. Observe the turmoil without, the flux within.

Search for the jewel of silence at the heart.

Bless us all. May all beings be happy.



The Disappeared – Call for International Investigation

Colman's Column3

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday June 18 2014


In Ireland, an alliance of mother- and-baby home survivors has called for a full statutory inquiry chaired by an international judicial figure. A wide coalition of groups representing former residents, came together to highlight the injustices affecting them. The Adoption Rights Alliance highlighted the fact that those adopted have no right under law to access their own records. They called for legislation to allow adoptees access to their birth information and biological family health history, as is the norm in other EU countries.

Last week, I wrote about the story of an alleged mass grave in Tuam, County Galway in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Mail on Sunday was published the story and the Irish American website Irish Central gave it a further push.

This week, I examine further developments.

Ruth Dudley Edwards is a distinguished Irish historian. She also writes entertaining and literate crime novels and is a tireless blogger. She has written many columns for the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and the Irish Independent. She commented on Facebook: “My professional trade is that of historian. I think we should suspend judgement until we know what happened.” This was in response to an article in the Irish Times. Catherine Corless, the local historian, whose research was the basis for the Mail story, told Rosita Boland: “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”

Arch-contrarian ,Brendan O’Neill , addressed the topic on the Spiked website. The mission of Spiked is to challenge received wisdom. O’Neill scolded: “Courtesy of a modern media that seems more interested in titillating readers …than giving us cool facts, and thanks to a Twittermob constantly on the hunt for things it might feel ostentatiously outraged by, the story about babies being dumped in an old, out-of-use septic tank by nuns at a home for ‘fallen women’ in Tuam in Galway made waves in every corner of the globe.”

Despite his over-heated prose, O’Neill makes some good points. I myself have drawn attention to the way western media distort facts when dealing with Sri Lanka. No UK journalist can write about Sri Lanka, even about holidays or cricket, without the mantra of “40,000 civilians killed”. Like an urban myth or an internet hoax, a story is passed around and is treated as legal currency. BBC journalist Waseem Zakir coined the neologism “churnalism”: “You get copy coming in on the wires and reporters churn it out, processing stuff and maybe adding the odd local quote.” Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” – “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist”.

I responded to Ruth on Facebook: “I suppose that Mrs Corless is finding that if you sup with the Mail you need a long spoon. … The constant mantra of “800 babies dumped in mass grave” by Irish Central made me suspicious…”

Perhaps a proper investigation will clarify the “facts”. One thing is beyond doubt. The Irish State and the Irish Church would not have been interested had Mrs Corless not spent her own money comparing death certificates with burial records. Also beyond doubt is that many children died unnecessarily.

O’Neill writes: “Clearly this isn’t about news anymore; it isn’t a desire for facts or truth that elevated the crazed claims about Tuam up the agenda; rather, a mishmash of anti-Catholic prejudice, Irish self-hatred and the modern thirst for horror stories involving children turned Tuam into one of the worst reported stories of 2014 so far.”

Up to a point, Brendan. I cannot speak for anyone else, but my own views about the Catholic Church have nothing to do with prejudice or self-hatred. I was never sexually abused as a child and most of the priests I encountered were decent men. I was a good Catholic boy, playing as a toddler as a priest saying mass. In my early adolescence, I read a lot of Catholic literature. What made me lose the faith was the arrogance combined with ignorance that allowed the priesthood to tell me what to think about politics as well as theology. If I can pinpoint the moment when I lost it – my parish priest giving a sermon saying there was nothing wrong with apartheid because people should have the choice to live separately.

I feared that I might upset some of my Catholic friends with last week’s article. Here is how one commented: “As you noted, these mothers and children were meant to suffer to atone for their sins…as we all know, it takes only one instance of romance (or rape) to change forever a woman’s life with an unplanned ( or unwanted) pregnancy. Labelling a person’s life worthless due to the outcome of a few minutes time is too harsh, too judgmental, but oh so Catholic….”

An 85-year-old woman who survived the children’s home in Tuam has told of the miserable conditions at the home in 1932. She recalled that the children were “rarely washed”, and often wore the same clothes for weeks at a time. She said: ‘We were filthy dirty. I remember one time when I soiled myself, the nuns ducked me down into a big cold bath and I never liked nuns after that.’

Catherine Corless may not like being misquoted but she has not recanted this statement: “They were always segregated to the side of regular classrooms. By doing this, the nuns telegraphed the message that they were different and that we should keep away from them. They didn’t suggest we be nice to them. In fact, if you acted up in class some nuns would threaten to seat you next to the Home Babies. That was the message we got in our young years”.

The son of a widower, who lived in the Tuam house for many years when his father worked at the home, recalls no brutality and can remember gifts brought to him by Santa Claus. The nuns did not lack the training or knowledge of how to care for children; they deliberately chose to ignore the humanity of the “illegitimate” children in their care, which Irish society, Church and State collectively, despised.

Eoin O’Sullivan, associate professor at Trinity College Dublin, is co-author of the 2001 book Suffer the Little Children: the inside Story of Ireland’s Industrial Schools. He said that the practice of mass burial, often with just one headstone marking the site, was not uncommon in many mother and baby homes and psychiatric hospitals at the time. “Remember that the children went in there so the families could conceal their shame, and the kids were often adopted. The nuns were not going around grabbing pregnant women; the women were taken there by their families who knew what conditions were like.”

Whatever about the sensationalism of the Mail and Irish Central the salient issue was always the deaths of these children. The Mail article quotes from a Health Board report of 1944, which paints a gruesome picture of horrific conditions at the home in Tuam. June Goulding, a midwife who worked at the Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork for a year from 1951, describes in her 1998 book The Light in the Window how women were not allowed pain relief during labour or stitches after birth, and when they developed abscesses from breast-feeding they were denied penicillin. Survivors from these homes report mothers and children being denied medication and mothers getting septicaemia from dirty needles.

Dr. James Feeney, the health board’s Chief Medical Officer, visited Bessborough in 1951 to investigate the horrific death rate in the home, where 100 out of 180 babies born had died. “Every baby had some purulent infection of the skin and all had green diarrhoea, carefully covered up. There was obviously a staphylococcus infection about. Without any legal authority, I closed the place down and sacked the matron, a nun, and also got rid of the medical officer. The deaths had been going on for years. They had done nothing.”

Is it sensationalism or scapegoating of the church to be concerned if there are suspicions that children may have died due to a deliberately low standard of care? Defenders of the church cannot claim that the press is sensationalising the stuff of nightmares when there is plenty of evidence that nightmares were real.

Many of the commenters on Irish Central are angry about the Church being attacked. Some say the Irish people are to blame. Maybe so, but did the church not create the mentality that stigmatised unwed mothers? The Church was allowed to run a totalitarian system. If you did not submit, you would be ostracised. Family as well as parish and state policed the system.

There is a chain message doing the rounds. “Our goal is to reach ten million Hail Marys for Pope Francis. This campaign started today. Send this message to all Catholic friends or even to those who dislike him. We pray for the Holy Father that the heavenly Mother intercedes for him and protects him in his ministry”.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, announced that Pope Francis would be visiting Sri Lanka next year from January 13-15. In February, Pope Francis received members of the Sri Lankan community at the Vatican following a mass held by the Archbishop of Colombo. He said to them, “I thank Cardinal Ranjith for the invitation to visit Sri Lanka. I welcome this invitation and I think the Lord will give us grace.” We might expect His Holiness to bring a message of reconciliation to us so that we can heal the wounds of our long conflict.

Will he call for an international inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka?



Lucia Joyce

This article was published in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday June 15 2014.


On June 16 every year, aficionados of James Joyce’s Ulysses celebrate Bloomsday, named for Leopold Bloom, the main character, reliving the events of the novel, which is set on 16 June 1904. That was the date of Joyce’s first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle (Joyce’s father said, “Well, she’ll stick to him, anyway”).

I made my own preparations for Bloomsday by re-reading To Dance in the Wake by Carol Loeb Shloss, a biography of Joyce’s daughter, Lucia. Lucia was the light giver, the “wonder wild,” Joyce wrote. She was the “Rainbow girl” in Finnegans Wake, Issy the temptress, who magically breaks up into the colours of the rainbow. Lucia had a mind “as clear and as unsparing as the lightning,” Joyce once wrote in a letter. “She is a fantastic being.”


Lucia studied dance with Isadora Duncan’s brother, Raymond, and did lively impressions of Charlie Chaplin. In 1927, she had a part in Jean Renoir’s film The Little Match Girl. She danced with Les Six (a name given to a group of French composers – Auric, Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Tailleferre and Durey). A French journalist wrote in 1928, “When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father.” In 1929, Lucia Joyce was one of six finalists in the first international festival of dance in Paris. She wore the costume shown on the cover of the book – a slithery-scaled mermaid costume of blue, green and silver that she designed and made. The audience booed when first prize was awarded to a Frenchwoman, and demanded it be given to “the Irish girl.”


Today, Lucia Joyce, if she thought of at all, is regarded as the mad daughter of a famous father. She spent the last 45 years of her life in institutions, incarcerated and medicated, until she died in 1982, at the age of 75. Was she mad? What was the nature of her illness? How did it manifest itself? When did it start? What caused it?

Joyce 1924 J,N,L,G

It seems that Lucia’s relationship with her famous father might have been a big factor. Being treated by another famous man, Carl Gustav Jung, did not help. “To think that such a big, fat materialistic Swiss man should try to get hold of my soul,” she said. Jung thought her so bound up with her father’s psychic system, that analysis could not be successful. Jung himself seemed to be obsessed with his own loathing of Joyce.


At her father’s 50th birthday, on February 2 1932, she threw a chair at her mother, Nora. The immediate reason for the tantrum was that her parents had invited Samuel Beckett to the party. Lucia and Beckett had been lovers. Beckett worked as a secretary for Joyce and had many friends in his circle. It would have been odd not to invite Beckett but Lucia saw it as a personal betrayal. Her brother, Giorgio, took her to a medical clinic and checked her in.


Lucia started to show signs of mental illness in 1930, around the time she began her relationship with Beckett. Beckett told her that he was more interested in James Joyce than in her.Around the same time, three other men rejected her.

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The artist Alexander Calder, bedded her, but soon went back to his fiancée; and another artist, Albert Hubbell, had an affair with her and also went back to his wife. In 1932, she was contemplating marriage to Alec Ponisovsky, who gave Joyce Russian lessons. Ponisovsky was in love with another woman and Lucia still pined for Beckett. She collapsed, lying for days in a catatonic state.


It was difficult to treat her because no one could decide what was wrong with her. Psychiatry may not inspire much confidence even in 2014, but in the 1930s, it was scrabbling around to make its mind up. One doctor said she was “hebephrenic,” a word used to describe patients who showed antic behavior. Another said she was “not lunatic but markedly neurotic.” A third thought the problem was “cyclothymia,” akin to manic-depressive illness. Others guessed at a range of possibilities from schizophrenia to syphilis to barbiturate addiction to simple moodiness. Her treatments included injections with seawater and animal serum, barbiturates and solitary confinement.

In 1933, when friends called Joyce to congratulate him on winning his obscenity trial in the United States, enabling the publication of Ulysses, Lucia cut the phone wire, saying, “I am the artist!” In 1935, she visited some cousins in Bray, near Dublin. She started a fire in the living room, and when her cousins’ boyfriends came to call, she tried to unbutton their trousers. She sent telegrams to dead people. She also, night after night, turned on the gas tap. Then she disappeared to Dublin, where she tramped the streets for six days, sleeping in doorways.

Lucia did not have a normal childhood. She was born in 1907 in a Trieste pauper’s ward, after her father had exiled himself from Dublin. By the age of seven, she had lived at five different addresses. Their parents often left Lucia and her brother Giorgio home alone. ”You are locking us up like pigs in a sty,” the children shouted to their departing parents. By the age of thirteen, she had lived in three different countries. She shared her parents’ bedroom until well into her teens, and was expected to observe outdated social codes that shocked her friends.

The First World War forced the family to move to Zurich; after the war, they settled in Paris. Stuart Gilbert was a friend of Joyce for many years. He published James Joyce’s Ulysses: a Study in 1930, and published a collection of Joyce’s letters in 1957. He did not much like Lucia and described her, in her twenties, as “illiterate in three languages.” She knew four languages: German, French, English, and Triestine Italian. The last was the language that her family used at home, not just in Trieste but forever after. It was not, however, what people spoke in most of the places where she lived. This held her back in her education. Joyce saw no call to educate her – “He said it was enough if a woman could write a letter and carry an umbrella gracefully.”


The Joyces’ civil marriage in 1931, 26 years after they started living together, was a traumatic shock to Lucia. ”If I am a bastard,” Lucia screamed at Nora in one of their rows, ”who made me one?” Lucia’s relationship with her mother was fraught and there is little doubt that Nora favoured Giorgio, who was two years older than his sister. Lucia inherited strabismus from her mother but it was more noticeable in the daughter. The father seemed besotted with the daughter, but spoiled her and sang to her only when he could find the time. He worked all day and got blind drunk most evenings.

Joyce persuaded Lucia to take up book illustration—she drew lettrines, ornamental capitals—and he secretly gave publishers the money to pay her for illustrating his book, Pomes Pennyeach. The publishers lost her work. Joyce thought his daughter was special—“a fantastic being”. He grieved over her incessantly, but he was in the middle of writing Finnegans Wake, and he was going blind. He was desperate to keep her at home but Nora, who bore the burden of caring for Lucia and who was the target of her fury—insisted that she be put away. When Lucia was twenty-eight, the Joyces put her in an asylum in Ivry, outside Paris and she never lived on the outside again. She changed hospitals a few times, but her condition remained the same. She was quiet for the most part, though periodically she would break windows and attack people.

In 1935, three-quarters of Joyce’s income was going to Lucia’s care. When the Germans invaded France, in 1940, and the family had to flee to Switzerland, Joyce made a vain effort to arrange for Lucia to go with them. A month after the family arrived in Zurich, he died of a perforated ulcer. After Joyce’s death, Nora and Giorgio abandoned Lucia, and Harriet Weaver, Joyce’s patron, became her guardian. In 1951, after Nora’s death, Lucia was moved for the last time, to St. Andrew’s, in Northampton, England. In the 1950s, drugs replaced the straitjacket and she was calm and tractable. She might have lived outside an institution, had there been anywhere for her to go. She died in 1982.


Hermione Lee described Shloss’s prose style as “fervid glop”. Sean O’Hagan wrote in the London Observer that Shloss’s claims for Lucia were “ambitious and at times extravagantly overreaching”. In The Independent, Brian Dillon wrote: “Lucia sometimes fails to bear the strain of this athletic academicism”.

There is some justice in the criticism. There is a daunting amount of speculation, surmise and unconvincingly supported supposition in the book. Shloss can overwrite in her attempt to prove that Lucia was an artist of high calibre and a muse who contributed to her father’s work. Nonetheless, I found the book moving for the picture it paints of a pretty, talented woman succumbing to a life of incarceration. Shloss gives us a sympathetic new angle on James Joyce – the great writer who subordinated everyone around him to the service of his art was also a desperate, doting father who died trying to save the daughter he would never admit was insane.



A Review of Su Dharmapala’s Saree


This article was published in the Sunday Island on June 8 2014


Saree is, first of all, an entertainment, and a very entertaining one at that. I can visualise it as an engrossing television miniseries. Most of the characters are memorable and vividly drawn. There are many of them. One could amuse oneself by trying to decide which actors would be best suited to the different roles. There is much opportunity here for thespian employment.

Like one of the great 19th century novels, the plot travels over a number of locations, from rural Sri Lanka in the early 1980s, to contemporary Melbourne. There are a number of coincidences and chance meetings, such as one might find in Dickens or Fielding. The plot is complex and, like the eponymous garment, expertly woven. There are six, almost discrete, stories, linked by the saree of the title, and by a number of the characters, over a number of years. Ms Dharmapala’s technical virtuosity is such that in Saree the portmanteau structuring device does not irritate and one soon forgets about the scaffolding as the lives of the characters speed one from page to page.


Different characters tell us what is special about this particular saree. “It is a bride’s saree. But it is neither gold nor white. The silk is so pure I have never seen anything like it. See those are real sapphires along the hem, and gold thread makes up the peacock’s feathers!” “The valuer counted over three hundred sapphires alone in the peacock..and the rubies used for the eyes are worth five thousand dollars. The thread used to embroider the bottom edge is dipped in gold..there’s about a kilogram of twenty-four carat gold in the saree.” Although it was heavy, the weight was so evenly distributed that it flowed like a silk ribbon in the air.

The garment sometimes seems to have magical powers. A Muslim trader says: “Just before I bought it, there had been terrible trouble between the Hindus and the Muslims here in Lucknow. Lootings. Riots….Ever since I put her saree in my shop window, not a single thug has darkened my doorstep”. Sarojini looked at the saree: “It was fluidity and beauty married into one. And it was delicately finished too. There wasn’t a single thread out of place and every stitch of embroidery was perfect.” She thought of a favourite poem describing how the Ganges brought grace and knowledge to all of humanity through her life-giving force. When Sarojini draped the saree on herself, “She knew she had control over her life. Unlike the many thousands of women who had no control of their sarees or their lives, Sarojini had control”.

Sarojini’s invocation of the great river is apt. The prologue of the novel is named for the river goddess Saraswatee (somewhat similar to Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegans Wake). Saraswatee is the patroness of knowledge, arts and science, and culture. “Come now, let us follow just a few of her threads as she weaves her endless saree of life, for we all start at one end and finish at another. We are all connected in this garment, threads on her celestial loom of humanity”.

There are elements of Mills and Boon when characters, whose plainness is strongly depicted, manage to win the hearts of individuals who are more conventionally attractive than they are. Most dismiss Nila “for her dumpy figure, unfashionably dark skin and the odd-shaped eyes that sat on her face at angles to each other”. Her ne-er-do-well brother Manoj says: “No matter how you dress a pig… A pig is still a pig”. Couples, who are determinedly antagonistic, see the error of their ways and fall madly in love. Cynics may carp at these features but tears crept unbidden to my misanthropic old eyes. One could argue that odder matches occur in real life.

I am anxious not to spoil the plot for readers but here is what the official publicity for the book says: “Nila wasn’t born beautiful and is destined to go through life unnoticed until she becomes a saree maker. As she works, Nila weaves into the silk a pattern of love, hope and devotion, which will prove to be invaluable to more lives than her own. From the lush beauty of Sri Lanka, ravaged by bloody civil war, to India and its eventual resting place in Australia, this is the story of a precious saree and the lives it changes forever.”

Some have accused the author of racism. There are, indeed, many derogatory comments about Sri Lankan Tamils in the book. Manoj excuses his own unemployment: “Every time I apply for a job it gets given to some Tamil bugger. Someday someone is going to have to tell the blady bastards that this is our country!” “’Some lads in Negombo doused the Hindu pusari with petrol and set him on fire.’ ‘They should give those lads a medal, Mervan laughed”.

Perceptive readers will notice that it is the characters, not the author, who make these racist remarks. The author puts these remarks into the mouths of characters of whom she clearly disapproves. She has said: “I will not stand back and gloss over inconsistencies or hypocrisies within those communities. That would not be writing authentically or honestly and I would not do that to myself or to the people who read my work.”


The author is not afraid to cover some of the serious issues that have plagued Sri Lanka and continue to contribute to current disharmony. She is aware of the contribution of the Jaffna caste system to the dissatisfactions of Sri Lankan Tamil youth. The Tamil, Vannan, starts off as an opponent of the Tamil Tigers and Tamil separatism: “How are they going to unite the Tamil nation when the various castes aren’t allowed to use each other’s toilets? I can see it now. The great revolution brought to its knees by the fact soldiers can’t crap in the same toilet?” Vannan tells his Sinhalese friend Mahinda: “My parents will never consent to a marriage with a Karawe. The fisherman’s caste! My mother would die!” His girl friend’s father opposes the relationship too: “We don’t grub about with sod-busting Vellalars. Stupid, that is what they are. Dirt for brains”.

Even today, colonisation is an issue.  A Tamil grievance still current is that there is there is allegedly a deliberate plan to alter the country’s demographics by settling Sinhalese in Tamil-dominated areas. “She and her husband had come up to the inhospitable north in the 1960s, answering the call of the socialist government then in power. They had truly believed like many others, that it was only by supporting the drought-stricken north that a unified Ceylon could be built”.

As I said at the outset, this is an entertainment but one with a serious purpose. There is some sense of resolution at the end of this complex narrative, hinting at some optimism about a resolution to the tensions in Sri Lanka itself today. Raju, a Tamil, is the victim of a horrific attack by Sinhalese. Nevertheless, he says: “It was Sinhalese people who saved me…If it had not been for the monks from the Paramananda Vihara, I would have died…Do not hate all Sinhalese. Stupidity and cruelty is characteristic of all humanity and does not belong to any one race alone”.


In an interview, the author has asked: “How was a once cohesive community ripped apart? How did lovers, friends and families deal with the brutal truth of being one or either side of the fence? More importantly in Saree—I tried to explore what healing from brutality could look like…Is there redemption in a person’s intent rather than the outcome of their actions? And even if someone did something so reprehensible—who are we to make judgment when we only know a part of that person?..Even the most hardened soul will have felt some sort of affection or craved touch at some time in their lives. And inherent in love is hope. Hope that that which we love will lead us to a better place. Hope that loneliness and sadness is at an end.”

Saree by Su Dharmapala is published by Simon and Schuster (Australia) and is available from Amazon:



Mass Grave



Colman's Column3


This article was published in Ceylon Today on Wednesday June 11 2014


Last week there was news of the discovery of another mass grave. Amnesty International described “torture” and “inhuman and degrading” treatment by a dysfunctional system. There is no need to speculate about whether the LTTE, JVP or GOSL/SLA were responsible. This was not some deranged serial killer like Fred West. This grave was in Holy Ireland, Land of Saints and Scholars, the country from which monks journeyed to take Christianity to the rest of the world. The perpetrators here were not Tamil separatists, Muslim extremists, or Marxist revolutionaries. The culprits here were Catholic nuns.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours is a Roman Catholic religious congregation for nursing whose stated object is to care for patients from all socio-economic groups. The congregation’s motto is “Good Help to Those in Need.” The congregation’s foundress, Josephine Potel, was born in 1799 in the small rural village of Becordel, France. In 1861, Ireland – which was still suffering the consequences of the Potato Famine – became the Sisters’ first foreign foundation. The Bon Secours Sisters ran the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway. The home has hit the international headlines following allegations that the bodies of up to 800 children were dumped in a septic tank.

The grave was discovered in 1975 by 12-year-old friends, Barry Sweeney and Francis Hopkins. Mr Sweeney said: “’It was a concrete slab and we used to play there but there was always something hollow underneath it so we decided to bust it open and it was full to the brim of skeletons. The priest came over and blessed it. I don’t know what they did with it after that. You could see all the skulls.” Local people believed the remains were mostly victims of the famine. Respectful of the unmarked grave, residents have kept the grass trimmed and built a small grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Research done by local historian Catherine Corless gave rise to the current scandal. With the help of the Births and Deaths Registrar in Galway, Mrs Corless researched all children whose place of death was marked “Children’s Home, Tuam”. Galway County Council has all the cemetery books for Mayo and Galway, and with the help of the archivist there, Mrs Corless crosschecked the grave records. Only one child from the Home was buried in a cemetery. Her conclusion, that the unmarked grave contains the remains of 796 children, was published by the Irish Mail on Sunday and has been taken up all over the world.

The home was operational from 1925 to 1961. Infant mortality in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s was 70 per 1,000 or seven per cent, as high as countries in sub-Saharan Africa today. The child mortality at the Home in Tuam reportedly averaged nearly two a week during certain periods. They died of malnutrition, neglect, and disease, 300 dying in one three-year span primarily of contagious diseases. Causes of death listed included “malnutrition, measles, convulsions, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. A 1944 local health board report described the children living at St Mary’s as “emaciated,” “pot-bellied,” “fragile” and with “flesh hanging loosely on limbs.” In April that year, 271 children were listed as living there with 61 single mothers, The total of 333 was way over its capacity of 243.

One 13-month-old boy was described as a “miserable, emaciated child with voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions and probably mentally defective”. In the same room was a “delicate” ten-month-old baby who was a “child of itinerants”, while one five-year-old child was described as having ‘hands growing near shoulders’. Another 31 infants in the same room were as “poor babies, emaciated and not thriving”.

Suspicions arise in relation to at least three other large mother-and-baby homes, where mortality rates topped 56%, when the national average for legitimate children only reached 15%. Ireland’s first mother and baby home, at Bessborough, in Cork, had an infant mortality rate of around 82 percent. In the space of one year, some 57% of the deaths Bessborough were due to malnutrition. Mass graves have also been found at Castlepollard and Roscrea. The Sean Ross Mother and Baby Home, portrayed in the award winning film Philomena, opened in Roscrea, County Tipperary in 1930. In its first year of operation, 60 babies died out of a total of 120, a fifty percent infant mortality rate.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland would like to distance itself from this. Ireland already has published four major investigations into child abuse and its cover-up in Catholic parishes and a network of children’s industrial schools, the last of which closed in the 1990s. Church leaders in Galway said they had no idea so many children who died at the orphanage had been buried there. The Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, said that the diocese had no part in running the home. A spokesman for the Archbishop said: “… this isn’t a diocesan matter. …There is nothing in our archives about this. The home closed in 1961 and all the records were handed over to the county council and the health board, I understand.”

Some say the Church is a scapegoat. Priests and nuns did not exist in isolation, they were Irish citizens handed power by the Irish people who thought and acted like them. “This should be Ireland on trial here, the state and its people, instead they’re being let off the hook and it’s all entirely the fault of the Church.” Maybe so, but did the church not create the mentality that stigmatised unwed mothers? Incidentally, reports show that 219 “illegitimate” infants died in the Protestant Bethany home in Rathgar, County Dublin between 1922 and 1949. Statistics show a quarter of all babies born outside marriage in the 1930’s in Ireland died before their first birthdays.

Dr Conn Ward, who was parliamentary secretary to the minister for local government and public health, said in 1934. “The illegitimate child being proof of the mother’s shame is, in most cases, sought to be hidden at all costs. What frequently happens is that … arrangements are often made, or connived at, by those who carry on the poorer class of maternity homes, and the results to the child can be read in the mortality rates. If a lump sum is paid or if the periodical payment lapses, the child becomes an encumbrance on the foster mother, who has no interest in keeping it alive.”

The Church operated as a quasi social service in the 20th century. There was simply no question of the birth mothers keeping their children. The punishment of the mothers was to work without wages for two or three years in atonement for their sins. In the homes, they wore uniforms at all times, they had their names changed and they had their letters censored. As Philomena shows, many of the children who survived were later forcibly adopted, most often to the USA. Between 1945 and 1965 more than 2,200 Irish infants were forcibly adopted, an average of 110 children every year, or more than two a week. The Church profited handsomely from the forced adoptions they transacted, which saw 97% of all illegitimate children taken for adoption in 1967.

Church officials have consistently denied that they ever received payments for these adoptions, insisting many of the papers and documents from that period were lost in a fire. The operators of these homes, were by and large congregations of female religious orders invited to Ireland by local archbishops (as was the case for the Bon Secours order of nuns who ran the home in Tuam), by the primate of Ireland, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, or by the Irish State itself to deal with the problem of unmarried mothers. The nuns tendered for the business of running these homes and received very generous government funding, equivalent to the average industrial wage, for each mother and child in their so-called care.

Critics contend that the ongoing reluctance of Irish religious orders to hand over their internal records or compensate past victims of mothers and babies homes, Magdalene laundries and reform schools, can be traced to their alarm over being compelled to offer mandatory payments or fear that further horrors could come to light.

These crimes were happening at the dawn of the Irish state. The oppression of the British Empire had been thrown off. From then on, the Irish people, particularly the most vulnerable, were oppressed by the dark and sinister power of the misogynistic Church.






Ivor Gurney- Poet and Composer 1890 – 1937 Part Four

A version of this article appeared in the Mosaic section of Ceylon Today on Sunday 8 June 20014.

“Last night I wrote to Dr Vaughan Williams to get me Death, for this I cannot endure. Rescue me to something. For Death I long for.”


Ivor Gurney  went to live with his brother Ronald and his wife at their home in Worcester Street, Gloucester. Ivor was not an easy tenant. He shut himself up in the front room and shouted at Ronald and his wife to keep away. He complained that ‘electrical tricks’ were being played on him and sat with a cushion on his head to prevent the electric waves from the radio getting into his brain. Ivor made several suicide attempts and was certified insane by Dr. Soutar and Dr. Terry on 28 September 1922. He was committed to a private mental hospital on the outskirts of Gloucester called Barnwood House.


Barnwood House

I believe that I have been in that room in Worcester Street. I think that I have been in the house from which Ivor Gurney was committed. I have also been in the place to which he was committed.


WorcesterStreetI used to go to children’s Christmas parties at Barnwood House, when I was around four or five years old, and my mother worked as an orderly there. I remember seeing movies like Charlie Chaplin in City Lights and getting a copy of Grimms’ Fairy Tales as a present. As people do, my mother brought home gossip from work. I learnt that Miss French was a martinet and that Miss Butler (who bore, I thought, a resemblance to the comedian Tommy Cooper) was kindly soul. There was a contingent of young women from Iceland working there and I got stamps from that country for my collection – I was puzzled that they bore the legend ‘Island’. I was also puzzled that the high walls of Barnwood House had broken glass embedded in the top. Barnwood House was a private mental hospital, generally for patients from affluent families. I recall that a relative of the Conservative minister Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller (known to his many enemies as Reggie Bullying-Manner) was a patient at Barnwood House when my mother worked there.



Ronald Gurney

When I was a teenager in the last century, tight trousers were de rigeur. Whenever I bought a new pair, I took them to a tailor near Kingsholm rugby football stadium, to be narrowed. The house was a large three storied one rather sparsely furnished and grubby. The address was Worcester Street.


The tailor’s name was Gurney. Ivor Gurney’s father, David, was a tailor. David died long before my time but this man in Worcester Street could have been carrying on the family craft. I think it could have been Ronald. After all these years I have a clear mental picture of him – tall, stooped, wispy grey hair, greasy complexion with yellow spots around the nostrils, rather scruffily dressed and wearing carpet slippers. I think this may have been Ivor Gurney’s brother Ronald.


The author wearing Ronald’s work


Ronald has got a bad press and in his letters he comes across sometimes as peevish and resentful. History has been unkind to him as the man who threatened to destroy Ivor Gurney’s papers. Joy Finzi, wife of the composer Gerald Finzi, is seen as a heroine for standing up to Ronald and persuading him to donate the papers to Gloucester Public Library.

finziGerald Finzi

Ronald was not a cruel man. He may have resented the attention Ivor had always got and felt there was a kind of zero-sum game, which meant he, Ronald, was left with insufficient attention. Ivor was born in 1890, Ronald in 1894. Their father had let the tailoring business slide and Ronald, after getting a compassionate discharge from the Welsh Guards reluctantly became head of the family. He had dreamed of being a doctor, but he had joined the family tailoring business because what little money there was to spare had gone on Ivor’s education.

Ronald’s letters reflect this resentment and irritation at the interference of Ivor’s famous and arty friends whom he felt did not understand the family situation and made Ivor’s condition worse by indulging him. “Never again will I permit kind but lenient and letting him have more or less his own way kind of people… I shall be glad if you will refrain from giving him anything but simple thoughts to think about. He thinks far too much about things that are far too deep for everlasting pondering upon. He thinks and thinks about such ungodly things, that his head is in a huge unwieldy mess.”

Ronald was an exasperated and disappointed man and perhaps a frightened one. In his anger, he also empathised: “I understand better than anyone else in the world the inner state of his mind – for the simple reason that I have exactly the same nervous system and temperament. As a matter of fact I have travelled a long way down the same road that he has gone. I am convinced that nothing on earth will do Ivor much good till by Iron discipline he has had his natural obstinacy and stubbornness broken down.”


Ivor’s Illness and Treatment

Barnwood House was the first institution in Britain to practise electro-convulsive therapy and leucotomy. Ivor Gurney was a patient too early to benefit from these “most modern methods of treatment” that Barnwood House later advertised. He was never subjected to ECT because it had not been invented. The electrical invasions he complained of were not related to ECT. Indeed, Barnwood House had a good reputation in Gurney’s time. I recall it as a rather forbidding redbrick building from the outside, the inside with long echoing corridors tiled in hygienic shiny white. It was popular with the military and clergy and once counted an Archbishop amongst its patients. Even the sewerage system was a model of good asylum practice. After the First World War, servicemen were treated with a regime of psychotherapy and recreations such as cricket.

Gurney was not happy at Barnwood House. On 9 November 1922, Arthur Townsend, the superintendent, wrote to Gurney’s friend, Marion Scott: “I am sorry to say that Mr Gurney managed to escape last night, at 9 o’clock he suddenly took hold of a large clock, hurled it through the window and hurled himself after it.”

On one occasion, in 1923, he escaped and went to Vaughan Williams’s house in Cheyne Walk. He wrote to Marion Scott: “Save me, I pray you. Get Dr Steen to release, I pray. There is no reason I should not be released from this confinement- these rules.”

Many have found it easy to assume that his later mental problems were a result of his experiences during the First World War. Pamela Blevins, who has written much about Gurney, wrote to me in a personal note: “Gurney’s 1918 breakdown was triggered by the failure of his relationship with a nurse, Annie Nelson Drummond and not by his war experience as is so often assumed”.


Philip Lancaster believes that Gurney and Margaret Hunt were in love with each other. Margaret was one of two sisters, who lived in Wellington Street, near the Gurney shop. Emily played the piano and Margaret the violin and had been professional music teachers in South Africa before the Boer War. Margaret is the dedicatee of numerous works by Gurney. Pamela Blevins does not deny their closeness but thinks the 16-year age difference prohibitive. She accepts that Gurney sought women whom he could love but who would also take care of him and provide everything he needed in order to follow his dreams,


Even as a youth, he displayed some eccentricity that might have been a harbinger of his later problems. He showed signs of suffering from some kind of eating disorder which could have caused protein and vitamin deficiency. He was often reluctant to sit down at a table and eat a normal meal and went for long periods without eating anything. He would then consume vast quantities of apples or buns. Herbert Howells recalls being with him in Brotherway’s restaurant on Eastgate Street when Gurney voraciously consumed a dozen fancy cakes. Even in other people’s houses, he would sneak into the pantry and wolf down a half-pound of butter and a melange of leftovers.These odd eating habits caused him digestive problems throughout his life. What he labelled “the trail of the dyspeptic serpent” was frequently wrapped around him.

He would go for long walks, sometimes staying out all night, sleeping under the stars or in a barn. He would walk by night and had been, he once wrote, “a night-walker from age sixteen”. A friend, William Bubb, reminisced in 1963: “It was useless to interfere. The truth was, he did not seem to belong to us… he simply called on us briefly, and left again without a word.”

This kind of behaviour might indicate a wandering fugue state. Ian Hacking has described Automatisme Ambulatoire,a pathological syndrome appearing in the form of intermittent attacks during which the patient, carried away by an irresistible impulse, leaves his home and makes an excursion or journey justified by no reasonable motive. The attack ended, the subject unexpectedly finds himself on an unknown road or in a strange town.

gurney scottBlevins

Pamela Blevins believes that Gurney suffered from manic depression rather than paranoid schizophrenia. According to Blevins, one of the key questions contemporary psychiatrists ask when distinguishing between manic-depressive and schizophrenic patients is: “Does the patient like people?” “Gurney did not withdraw from the world voluntarily in 1922.  He did not choose to be imprisoned in an asylum or to be cut off from society.  He was committed because his younger brother Ronald believed that’s where Gurney belonged despite Ivor’s episodes of sanity amid the cyclic chaos of his mind.  Ivor knew he was troubled, but he also believed he was not mad.  He begged for help, but it was not forthcoming. ‘Rescue me while I am sane,’ he pleaded in a letter to Marion Scott written shortly after he was first admitted to an asylum in Gloucester.”

Perhaps incarceration made his condition worse. Blevins wrote: “He retreated deeper and deeper into himself in the asylum.  He had nothing in common with his fellow inmates and wanted nothing to do with them.  By separating himself from other patients, he was trying to protect himself as best he could from the negative atmosphere and influences in the asylum, a place in which he knew he did not belong. Unfortunately, between 1922 and 1937, when Gurney was in the asylum, modern drugs and sophisticated psycho-analytical treatment were not available.”


Helen Thomas, the widow of the poet Edward Thomas, who had died in the war, visited him in hospital at Dartford from  1932. In 1960, she recalled those visits. On one visit, she took Edward’s ordinance survey maps of Gloucestershire and traced their fingers over the routes Edward had walked and Ivor loved so well. “He spent that hour in re-visiting his beloved home, in spotting a village or a track, a hill or a wood and seeing it all in his mind’s eye, a mental vision sharper and more actual for his heightened intensity. For he had Edward as his companion in this strange perambulation; and he was utterly happy, and without being over-excited.”

Helen Thomas wrote: “Ivor Gurney longed more than anything else to go back to his beloved Gloucestershire, but this was not allowed for fear he should try to take his own life. I said ‘But surely it would be more humane to let him go there even if it meant no more than one hour of happiness before he killed himself.’ But the authorities could not look at it in that way.”



In 1937, Ivor Gurney died of a bi-lateral pulmonary thrombosis while a patient at the City of London Mental Hospital shortly before dawn on 26 December 1937, aged 47.. He was buried at Twigworth in Gloucestershire. Alfred Cheesman took the service, with Herbert Howells playing the organ.


Despite his humble origins, Gurney’s musical and literary talent enabled him to mingle with the likes of, in the musical world, Ivor Novello, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Charles Stanford, Herbert Howells, Sir Arthur Bliss, Sir Hubert Parry, Arthur Benjamin. In the literary world, he knew WE Henley, Lascelles Abercrombie, AE Housman, Charles Scott-Moncrieff (translator of Proust), JC Squire, Edward Thomas and Walter de la Mare. After his death fellow poets Edmund Blunden and PJ Kavanagh championed his poetry and Gerald Finzi and Vaughan Williams promoted his music.


Composer Gerald Finzi was at the funeral. He described the scene. “The press has given him in his death more attention in a week than they gave his life in 47 years…people are discovering that they had manuscripts of his; that they knew him quite well ‘and were always amazed at his genius’; that they visited him regularly when he was in the asylum; that they were his best friends, etc. etc….”



The EU as Moral Tutor

On May 9 there was a court hearing concerning a domestic-violence case in the eastern region of Gegharkunik, one of Armenia’s most socially conservative areas. Activist Robert Aharonian condemned two women’s rights advocates operating under the auspices of Open Society Foundation, part of the Soros network, for promoting “European values”. A man in Armenia “has a right to slap his wife,” he claimed. He opposes all those diaspora Armenians who use NGO grants to operate in Armenia, and “advocate European perversion.” Allowing wives to report their husbands to the police, he asserted, ultimately breaks families apart. Armenia wants to join the EU so has to pay lip service to “European values”.

The EU presents itself as a moral model to the world. The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

One wonders how this will play given the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament (EP), where a number of far right parties scored big successes on low turnouts. Some wag answered the question:”What are European values?” thus. “Appeasement, bureaucracy, group-think, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and not having babies.”

The values that the EU claims for itself are set out in Article I-2 of the Constitution and are supposed to be common to all member states. These values are characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. Any European state wishing to become a member of the EU must respect these. Any member state not meting these criteria can, in theory, be kicked out.

Free Movement

The Constitution guarantees the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the Union (the famous “four freedoms”) and strictly prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality.

Nationalism raised its ugly head in the EP elections and many who do not believe in the “free movement of persons” won seats. Last week, I wrote about the problems many states will have because of declining fertility rates. If Europeans are not having enough babies, they will have to import workers to do the dirty jobs and to pay into their pension fund. Even when they admit this, right-wingers, like the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, do not like it: “Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily? It’s impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in…that would be an economic solution, but it’s not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization.”

If one looks at the treatment of Roma in Belfast as well as Bucharest, one can see that even the free movement of EU citizens within the EU is not universally welcomed. Many people in Western Europe feel little kinship with Bulgaria and Romania, which why most west European governments limited the right to work of Bulgarians and Romanians.

One Spaniard was not too happy about the freedom of Britons to move around Europe: “I used to live on a beautiful section of coast. Now I live next to a nasty urbanization, full of English people who buy from themselves, drink English beer in English bars, visit English doctors and eat an abomination called Pukka Pies. Their refusing to learn even the most basic of Spanish is famous here, and even if I wanted to go to ‘The Queen Vic’, I won’t because they only have menus in English and German.”

Extraordinary Rendition

Many EU states helped with the movement of people when GW Bush wanted to torture them. A report published in 2013 by the Open Society entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition revealed that, of pre-2004 EU states, only three – France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands –did not cooperate with the rendition programme, in which suspects were picked off the streets and secretly flown from country to country to be tortured. Ireland, Finland and Denmark allowed US agents to transfer terror suspects secretly at their airports. Sweden arranged for suspects to be flown directly to Mubarak’s soundproof cells in Egypt. The UK government helped with every aspect of rendition, from arresting suspects to submitting questions for interrogation.

At the time the report was written, legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations were pending against Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania before the European Court of Human Rights.


The Open Society report concludes: “by enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law—including, in particular, the norm against torture.” How does that fit with European values?



Many Sri Lankans take a masochistic pride in the corruption of their politicians. Sorry chaps, but Sri Lankans are mere minnows compared to the Grand Panjandrums of Europe. The human rights of Europeans are seriously undermined by the endemic graft and thievery within the EU.

Some people blame this on enlargement – things got worse when we let those dodgy eastern Europeans in. Optimists hope that the magic wand of western European values will reduce the corruption of these shady newcomers and one day do the same for the Western Balkans and Turkey, and perhaps even Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.

Unfortunately, the really big corruption is in the older member states and the culprits are senior statesmen.

Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor for sixteen years. He took two million in illegal donations. When he was exposed, he refused to reveal donors’ names for fear of revealing the favours they had bought. Gerhard Schröder guaranteed a billion-euro loan to Gazprom for the building of a Baltic pipeline. A few weeks after leaving government, he was working for Gazprom at a salary larger than the one he received as Chancellor. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen two presidents of the Republic in succession forced to resign under a cloud of corruption.


Jacques Chirac, president of the French Republic for twelve years, was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of office and conflicts of interest. Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly took some $20 million from Gaddafi for the electoral campaign that won him the presidency. Christine Lagarde, who now heads the IMF, is under interrogation for her role in the award of €420 million in “compensation” to a friend of Sarkozy, Bernard Tapie, a well-known crook with a prison record. The socialist minister for the budget, Jérôme Cahuzac, whose brief was to uphold fiscal probity and equity, had €15 million in hidden deposits in Switzerland and Singapore.

In Britain, Blair lied to Parliament about £1 million paid into party coffers by racing car magnate Bernie Ecclestone, currently under indictment in Bavaria for bribes of €33 million. Currently, Blair takes cash from a South Korean oil company run by a convicted felon with interests in Iraq and the feudal dynasty of Kuwait. He also does PR for the Nazarbaev dictatorship in Kazakhstan, whose human rights record would not meet EU standards.

In Ireland, the Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, as well as allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the CIA for its torture programme, channelled into his bank account more than €400,000 in unexplained payments before becoming Taoiseach. He then voted himself the highest salary of any premier in Europe – €310,000, more even than the US president – a year before having to resign. Even after his disgrace, he wangled himself a handsome pension and generous expenses. In 2011, €8.8 million of taxpayers’ money was paid out in pensions for 109 former ministers, Ahern topping the list with €152,331.

On a public appearance at a ploughing contest, Bertie was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators saw the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation of corruption at the top. Daniel Finn in the New Left Review, described Bertie Ahern as “A shrewd political operator with a gift for speaking at length without supplying his audience with any information”. At a corruption tribunal, Ahern’s testimony was described as “rambling and incoherent” and he changed his story so many times some of it had to be lies. Polls showed that less than one-third of voters believed him. Last November, a drunken man attacked Ahern with a crutch inside the Sean O’Casey bar just off O’Connell Street. Ahern declined to talk about the attack, which came three years after number of customers in another Dublin pub verbally abused him.

The European Value of Impunity

Bankers and leading politicians do not usually go to prison. Elites can enrich themselves without fear of retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes the only real value in political life. When it all goes wrong, the public has to pay by bailing out the banks and the state and by enduring austerity measures. Austerity is not thrift, which is generally seen as a morally virtuous. Austerity benefits the already very wealthy, who can profit from cheaper asset prices by picking them up now and selling them later. That is European value.



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