Friday, July 22, 2011

Enda Kenny on the Cloyne Report

It's already clear that the Taoiseach's speech responding to the Cloyne Report is one of the most significant statements by a public figure since the foundation of the State. Above is the latest in our irregular series of public Wordles, picking out key words in important public and political language. There is no doubt what the key word is here.

Click on the image to see it in detail. Watch the speech here.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

'Translations' at the Abbey Theatre

Next year for the first time we are studying Brian Friel's 1980 play Translations in the comparative section of the Leaving Cert. Conall Morrison's new production at the Abbey Theatre is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of its qualities in the flesh. Unfortunately the production closes in mid-August, so it's not on during term-time.

Last night's performance was most enjoyable - a well-paced and modulated telling of the story. Naomi Wilkinson's set design features a tall wooden stockade, and maybe those in Hugh's hedge-school are indeed under siege. All sorts of forces threaten to change this world - the new national school system, the future dominance of English, the allusions to the 'sweet smell' of the potato blight that, in a dozen years, will devastate the country. At the end Hugh and Jimmy Jack stagger in drunkenly, ignorant of the disaster that is visiting their community, in an echo of Captain Boyle and Joxer Daly in Juno and the Paycock

The intellectual underpinnings of the play were not forced on us, however, coming second to human relationships. The emotional core was provided by three excellent performances by Aaron Monaghan as Manus, Aoife McMahon was Maire, and a very engaging Tim Delap as Lieutenant Yolland. The last two played the well-known love scene straight after the interval perfectly. Donal O'Kelly's Jimmy Jack started with too much Oirishness, but settled down in the second half. 

We definitely recommend a visit to the Abbey.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Summer Reading 1: 'The Following Game'

Jonathan Smith, former Head of English at Tonbridge School in Kent, wrote one of the best books in recent times on teaching, The Learning Game; it was hugely readable and free of educational jargon Now retired, his latest book, The Following Game, has a broader reach but shares the same engaging tone and consistent intelligence. 

It tells the story of how he has 'followed' his son Ed's cricket-playing from school days to full England caps. It starts with Seamus Heaney's lines from 'Follower': I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, / Yapping always. But today / It is my father who keeps stumbling / Behind me, and will not go away. 

If you're not interested in cricket, though, don't tune out: The Following Game is more accurately a book about parenthood, and also travel, India, poetry, mortality and, again, teaching. 

At the start of the book Smith tells us he has been diagnosed with cancer, but reassures us that this is not going to be about that. Indeed it isn't, though the 50 short chapters that follow are inevitably coloured by it. What follows is another skilful series of meditations on the most important things in our lives, leavened by Smith's humour and self-deprecation. For English teachers, there is the pleasure of more of Smith's writing about poetry (the author takes a bunch of favourite poems with him on his trip to India with his son), including Edward Thomas's 'As the Team's Head-Brass', about which he writes that the poet uses 'the lightest of brushstrokes' to touch on 'all the big issues.' 

As does Jonathan Smith himself.