Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

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A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

A Baroque Church Portal

This church portal in the Oude Kerk of Amsterdam was originally in the Nieuwezijds Kapel, or Church of the Heilige Stede. That church was originally built in commemoration of the 1345 Miracle of Amsterdam, but after the ‘Alteration’ of 26 May 1578 — when Amsterdam’s Catholic city government was deposed and replaced by a Calvinist one — it and all the city’s other churches were taken over by the new Protestant administration.

In 1908 the elders of the Protestant congregation of the Nieuwezijds Kapel decided to demolish the fifteenth-century church and build a smaller one on the site, while building shops on the remainder of the site to prevent the resurgent Dutch Catholic church from building any chapel or shrine on it. This seventeenth-century baroque enclosed portal was then transferred to the Oude Kerk where it remains today.

Despite the anti-Catholicism of the Nieuwezijds Kapel elders in 1908, the Miracle of Amsterdam is still comemmorated every year on 15 March when thousands of pious Hollanders march in the evening Silent Procession (Stille Omgang). This year’s procession attracted 7,000 participants.

April 26, 2016 10:10 am | Link | No Comments »

An Old Name Returns to Banking

or: What Daniel O’Connell has to do with the 2008 Banking Crisis

Daniel O’Connell was a remarkable man by any stretch of the imagination, and is most often recalled for his part in bringing about the Relief Act of 1829 which emancipated the Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland from an officially oppressed legal status. Among his many achievements, however, was in London in 1825 founding the National Bank of Ireland.

As the RBS Group’s website notes, O’Connell:

…helped draw up the agreement that established it, spoke at public meetings to drum up support for it, invested in it, attended its first board meetings and, in 1836, was appointed its governor. He became an important figurehead for the new bank and there was even a proposal, not implemented, to put a bust of O’Connell on the bank’s notes.

The National Bank was created with the aim of injecting cash into the rural economy in Ireland, and its charter ensured that half of its returns would accrue to local shareholders in the country. O’Connell, not the best manager of financial affairs, ended up accruing huge personal debts to the bank and had to be quietly bailed out by several others (commencing a tradition of surruptitious banking amongst the nation’s major politicians).

Anyhow, the National Bank expanded across Britain and Ireland. In 1966 its Irish core was sold to the Bank of Ireland, and the English and Welsh branches were acquired by the National Commercial Bank of Scotland (which was a 1959 merger of the National Bank of Scotland and the Commercial Bank of Scotland). This, in turn, merged into the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1969, with the superfluous National Bank branches being turned into Williams & Glyn’s Bank the following year. (more…)

April 15, 2016 4:00 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

St Pancras Town Hall

St Pancras Town Hall is an interwar classical building by the architect A.J. Thomas (of whom I know little). The façade is a little clunky but in the warmer months it’s adorned with arrangements of flowers that soften this stern civic edifice with a bit of welcome frivolity.

When the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras was merged with the neighbouring bailiwicks of Hampstead and Holborn to form the London Borough of Camden in 1965 this was chosen as the town hall of the new entity, so it’s now referred to as Camden Town Hall.

But of course of all the buildings under the patronage of the fourteen-year-old, fourth-century martyr Pancras, the most prominent is the international railway station across the Euston Road (below) that connects this metropolis with the rest of the continent across the Channel.

April 11, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »

Canalside Wanderings

The sun put its hat on this weekend, and after a delicious and vaguely German breakfast by King’s Cross on Saturday I fancied a little canalside wandering. Walking the Regent’s Canal from the new Central Saint Martins all the way to Paddington, I stumbled across the Catholic Apostolic Church in Little Venice (above). It has been over ten years since I popped in to the former Edinburgh outpost of this strange and fascinating denomination, now much reduced in numbers since its apex in the late Victorian period. (more…)

April 4, 2016 7:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Suid-Afrika

Suid-Afrika — ’n kleine bietjie van Hemel.

February 24, 2016 10:15 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Germania

I’ve been reading Golo Mann’s History of Germany Since 1789 — cracking stuff.

This depiction of Germania, the personification of the German nation, was for a stained-glass window in the Reichstag building, built between 1884 and 1894 in Berlin and since 1999 home once again to the German parliament.

February 22, 2016 9:05 am | Link | 7 Comments »

Haus Altmark

While the remarkable rebuilding and rehabilitation of Dresden is of a much more recent vintage, the historicist design of Haus Altmark (Herbert Schneider, 1953-1956) in that city is another good example of the Socialist Classicism of the DDR.

(c.f. Leipzig Opera House)

February 15, 2016 11:00 am | Link | 1 Comment »

Smuts at Leiden

For quite some time, Leuven — in what is currently known as Belgium — was the only university in the Netherlands. It is still (barely, some argue) a Catholic university, and after the Protestant revolt sealed its rule over the northern part of the Dutch realms, William the Silent founded a university at Leiden as a Calvinist academy in 1575.

Leiden University has had strong links with South Africa from the earliest days. Ds. Johannes de Vooght — in the 1660s, the second leraar of Cape Town’s Dutch Reformed congregation — studied here, as did numerous predikante of that period and onwards, including Ds. Petrus van der Spuy, the first NGK minister to be born in South Africa.

South African politicians studied here aplenty: Sir Christoffel Brand (first Speaker of the Cape Parliament); Jan Brand (fourth president of the Orange Free State); Marthinus Steyn (sixth and final president of the O.F.S.); and Nicolaas Diederichs (third staatspresident of the Republic of South Africa).

Probably the first South African to be granted an honorary degree by Leiden (c. 1830) was Antoine Changuion, the founder of the Dutch language movement which advocated preserving Dutch as the cultural language of the Afrikaners against the emerging Afrikaans.

It was in 1948 that Leiden granted the greatest Afrikaner — Field Marshal Smuts — a Doctorate of Law honoris causa. Smuts was on his way back from Cambridge where he had been granted the honour of being installed as Chancellor of the University. Even Die Burger, a Nationalist paper opposed to his Verenigde party, found the event worthy of a caustic near-compliment:

“We may differ from him on many issues, but the honour which he has won for the Afrikaner does not leave us untouched.”

February 5, 2016 9:25 am | Link | 5 Comments »

The Umbrella

The Umbrella
Paul Henni

[Photo by and copyright of Paul Henni]

February 3, 2016 10:37 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Keeromstraat 14

Keeromstraat 14, Kaapstad

This Cape Town house was built in 1751 for Hermanus Smuts who sold it on to Johan Jacobus Graaff, the woodworker who collaborated with South Africa’s greatest architectural duo, the sculptor Anton Anreith and the architect Louis Michel Thibault.

Thibault is believed to be responsible for the addition of the upper story and the current façade, seen above through an archway of the High Court.

The building next door was designed by the pioneering Afrikaner architect Wynand Hendrik Louw (1883-1967) for De Nederlandsche Club te Kaapstad, the city’s club for Dutch businessmen and expatriates. Louw was also the architect of the Dutch Reformed Church at Napier in the beautiful Overberg.

February 2, 2016 8:45 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Leipzig Opera House

The Leipzig Opera House is the swansong of Socialist Classicism as an architectural style. The 1954 plans of the architect Kunz Nierade had to be toned down mid-construction, with some of the sculptural adornment simplified, as the official aesthetics of the German Democratic Republic shifted towards a more aggressive modernism.

While the Soviet Union provided the more well-known examples of Socialist Classicism, the Germans rather typically (but sparsely) excelled their Russian overlords. Admittedly, the quality was inconsistent: the Karl-Marx-Allee has some fine details but the overall plan leaves me cold, though postmodernists Philip Johnson and Aldo Rossi have praised it.

I enjoy the restrained classicism of this building, though the flatness of the façade leans a little towards the dull, with only the projecting portico providing a bit of comforting depth. Critics have pointed out the lack of light-and-shadow contrast during the daytime, and have tended to prefer the building’s nighttime appearance. It’s worth mentioning that the snowflake-like hanging lamps in the building’s foyer have a significant place in the design history of East German lighting fixtures (a subject about which I know now more than I ever expected).

The finality of Socialist Classicism’s end cannot more clearly be emphasised when comparing the Leipzig Opera House with the assaulting brutality of the Neues Gewandhaus concert hall (1977) across the Augustusplatz in a style we associate more closely with the DDR period. That the similarly styled Palast der Republik in Berlin — possibly the building most readily associated with East Germany’s socialist regime — has been completely demolished to be replaced by a reconstruction of the old city palace is a reminder of the hopeful possibilities we have at hand.

February 1, 2016 9:10 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Sieg für die Schönheit

Sieg für die Schönheit

January 29, 2016 9:25 pm | Link | No Comments »

Alles Sal Reg Kom

Helmut Starcke, Alles Sal Reg Kom
1961; Acrylic on board, 34.8 in. x 24.8 in.

A man festively attired in a Tweede Nuwejaar outfit in patriotic colours (orange, white, and blue) stands in front of a side wall in Cape Town bearing monarchist posters urging voters to vote ‘No’ in the 1960 republic referendum.

The painting’s title – Alles Sal Reg Kom – means “everything will be alright”.

January 28, 2016 10:20 am | Link | 2 Comments »

The Accession

Henry Harris Brown, Proclamation of the Accession to the Throne of His Majesty King George V at Dublin, June 1911
c. 1911; Oil on canvas, 68 in. x 76.9 in.

A triumphant painting, but a last hurrah. The central figure is Sir Nevile Wilkinson, the last ever Ulster King of Arms & Principal Herald of Ireland, exercising the duties of his office by proclaiming the accession of the new king at Dublin Castle.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty and its legislative acts neglected to make provision for transferring this ancient office to the new Irish Free State, but Sir Nevile carried on regardless for nearly two decades, even issuing two dozen grants of arms on the day before his death in 1940.

After his death, the Oireachtas created the office of the Chief Herald of Ireland to continue the granting of arms, and in some sense the Chief Herald is a spiritual successor to the Ulster King of Arms.

(Image copyright of the Fusilier Museum, London; via Fr Guy)
January 22, 2016 11:20 am | Link | No Comments »

Die Staatsrede

Staatspresident Jacobus Johannes Fouché giving the staatsrede from the throne of the Senate within the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town.

What is now the State of the Nation Address has its origins in the speech from the throne (in Afrikaans staatsrede meaning “state reasoning/rationale”) setting out the Government’s legislative programme for the year. The high point of the State Opening of Parliament, it was originally given by the Governor-General (or, in 1947, by the King of South Africa himself) but with the abolition of the monarchy in 1961 the sovereign’s vice-regal representative was abolished and replaced by the Staatspresident as chief officer of the South African state.

Giving a speech from an actual throne was considered too monarchic for a republican polity, so – like in the Boer republics of old – presidents gave their staatsredes standing. Here, State-President Fouché is flanked by the chiefs of the defence staff and police, the Serjeant-at-Arms with the mace, and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Of course, much of this was abolished in the 1980s with the constitutional innovations as a last-ditch attempt to entrench apartheid. South Africa is now on its third constitution since the above photo was taken.

It reminds me of how in Ireland almost all the traditions of the Viceroy (viz. the Viceregal Guard of Battleaxes, etc.) were abolished not by the Saorstát or Éire but by the British themselves – in their case by penny-pinching Victorians who found Dublin an easy target for cost-cutting.

January 21, 2016 12:00 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Caledonian Expedition

Sun, sand, champagne, Scotland: there’s not much more you could ever want, but to have an alignment of these four in the month of October is rare. It had been quite some time since the Cusackian feet had last graced the cobbles of the beloved ‘auld grey toun’ – the Royal Burgh of St Andrews – but a friend got in touch on a Monday morning with the provocative text “Scotland Friday?” I couldn’t resist. (more…)

December 10, 2015 3:37 pm | Link | No Comments »

Letter to the Editor

SIPPING a postprandial Coke last week while flipping through the Irish Times, my wandering eye was drawn towards that newspaper’s report on the Madrid congress of the European People’s Party, the grouping of Christian-democratic and centre-right political parties across the European continent (Madrid congress provides forum for delegates from EU centre-right parties, Suzanne Lynch, Irish Times, 22 October 2015). The correspondent first elucidates some of the purpose of these pan-European gatherings before going on to summarise a number of the issues raised. She ends, however, on a bit of a downer by describing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “lurch to the far right”, evidenced by his “clampdown on media and internet freedoms, apparent support for the death penalty and hardline approach to refugees”.

This breezy litany of crimes is little more than shoddy journalism. The alleged “clampdown” refers to proposed internet legislation which has been withdrawn while other media laws requiring balance reflect the U.S. broadcasting rules rescinded under Ronald Reagan. The “apparent support” for capital punishment is another damp squib: Orbán called for it to be debated as intellectual speculation — a canny “dog-whistle” political move to gain votes without requiring any legislative action or serious challenge to the E.U. ban on the death penalty. (It was abolished in Hungary at the fall of communism and there are absolutely positively no government plans to bring it back.)

The refugees allegation was the most interesting, however. As it happened, I had attended a small meeting of British MPs and Hungarian foreign ministry officials the day before Ms Lynch’s report was printed. The Welsh MP David Davies gave his first-hand account of visiting the refugee camps near the Hungarian-Serb border and reported that refugees were being well-looked-after, with the quality of the facilities on the whole at least as good as when he was in the British Army, often better. An advisor from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry briefed us on the general situation, which has calmed down immensely since the Serb border has been more or less closed. He noted that broadcast media across the continent showed footage of Budapest police’s treatment of migrants gathered at the railway station without pointing out that the police were responding to violent attacks from a small minority of migrants.

Proprotionate self-defence for officers of the law is the norm across Europe, but this has mattered little when it comes to depictions of Hungary: the bien-pensant official groupthink is that anything Hungary does is wrong, so long as Fidesz is in power. Luckily some voices of dissent have emerged. The novelist Tibor Fischer — no conservative — described in The Guardian the media treatment of Hungary as “hysterical” and “ignorant nonsense”.

Anyhow, I felt obliged to send off my “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” to the Irish Times and it’s very good of their letters staff to print a diverging (if abridged) opinion. The last letter to any editor I succeeded in having printed was in the Times Literary Supplement in 2008 about P.G. Wodehouse’s career in banking at H.S.B.C. Who knows what the next shall bring…

October 27, 2015 11:42 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Open-minded Stellenbosch

Paul Moorcraft is a Cardiff-born journalist and academic who spent many years in southern Africa, lecturing, researching, and working. I stumbled across this passage about Stellenbosch from his 2011 book Inside the Danger Zones: Travels to Arresting Places and found it interesting (though not surprising):

I found many of my all-white students at the University of Cape Town tediously dogmatic in their supposed progressiveness. I also lectured at the Afrikaans-language university of ‘Maties’ at Stellenbosch, established in 1918 [sic, f. 1866; accorded university status in 1918] as the Afrikaner Oxbridge, where I found the students much more open-minded. Simon van der Stel, a stiff Dutch bureaucrat, founded a frontier town on the banks of the Eerste River in 1679. Van der Stel loved oaks, and the graceful boulevards he planted still adorned picturesque Stellenbosch. I spent as much time as possible in the area because of the architecture. The Cape Dutch style contains elements from Dutch architecture but is also influenced by colonial Indonesian traditions and the local environment. The most characteristic feature is the graceful gabled section built around the front door, which is flanked by symmetrical wings, thatched and whitewashed, extending on either side.

I was supposed to be using my visiting lectureship to finish my doctoral research, so I became friendly with Retha, a librarian at Maties. She was a fund of knowledge on Afrikaner culture and offered herself as an intellectual guide. My scholarly investigations soon degenerated into a three-month tour of the local wine farms, for which I am eternally grateful. We drove through the old, beautiful vineyards of the valleys around Paarl, Franschoek, and Tulbagh; then returned to eat in splendid eighteenth-century farmhouses converted to hotels.

October 14, 2015 11:03 am | Link | 2 Comments »

The End of Liberalism

Viktor Orban on the end of the liberal age and the threat to Europe

In a speech to supporters at the Fidesz party’s fourteenth annual Kötcse picnic, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has claimed that the refugee crisis is a portent of the end of “the era of liberal babble”. The current “identity crisis” of liberalism, Orbán argued, presented both “huge risk” and “a new opportunity” to return to Christian and communal identities.

Mr Orbán said that the dominant liberal ideology had weakened Europe while preserving its wealth. “The most dangerous combination known in history is to be both rich and weak,” he argued. “It is only a matter of time before someone comes along, notices your weakness, and takes what you have.”

“The liberal philosophy is a result of a Europe which is weak and which also wants to protect its wealth; but if Europe is weak, it cannot protect this wealth.”

Mr Orbán also attacked the liberal imperialism of military intervention, asserting it has been based on fundamental hypocrisy and simplistic Manichean thinking: (more…)

September 22, 2015 5:27 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Putin: ‘I’d really like to see Europe show some real independence and sovereignty’

‘Europe is facing a specific problem: an influx of immigrants’ the Russian president asserts in an interview for Swiss television

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, granted a television interview to Darius Rochebin of Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) in St Petersburg on 25 July of this year.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview, dealing with (among other issues) the balance of power, independence and sovereignty in Europe, and relations with the United States.

Darius Rochebin: Good evening, Mr President. Thank you very much for making the time for this interview.

Vladimir Putin: Bonsoir.

Darius Rochebin: Western nations’ opinions about you are divided. As you know, some are delighted by you while others condemn you. When you once again spoke of your nuclear arsenal, many began to talk about the threat from your side.

Vladimir Putin: This is done by dishonest and inattentive people. The process of starting a new arms race began from the moment of the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the ballistic missile defence treaty. Because this agreement was a cornerstone for the entire international security system. And when the United States withdrew from it and began to create a missile defence system as part of its global strategic weapons system, we immediately said: we will be obliged to take reciprocal steps to maintain a strategic balance of power.

I want to say something very important: we are doing this for ourselves, to ensure the security of the Russian Federation, but we are also doing it for the rest of the world, because this strategic stability ensures the balance of power.

Darius Rochebin: We are currently in St Petersburg, a city that suffered a great deal in the war. As far as I understand, your grandfather and grandmother lived through…

Vladimir Putin: My mother and father. My brother, whom I never met, died here during the seige.

Darius Rochebin: Is another war possible in Europe today?

Vladimir Putin: I hope not. But I would really like to see Europe demonstrate some real independence and sovereignty and be capable of defending its national interests, the interests of its people and its nations. […]

Darius Rochebin: You said that you would like Europe to be more independent. For example, as far as France is concerned, during de Gaulle and Mitterrand’s times. How do you currently feel about what is happening there?

Vladimir Putin: […] Participation in any military and political organisation or bloc is associated with the voluntary renunciation of a certain share of one’s sovereignty.

I think that at the time, France withdrew from NATO to preserve its sovereignty more than it is possible within the framework of a military bloc. It is not our business to analyse European nations’ foreign policy. But I think you’ll agree that if we need to discuss intra-European affairs with European partners in Washington, it is not very interesting.

Darius Rochebin: Mr President, right now, we are observing a rather ironic turn in history. Currently, we are seeing you garner more support among right-wing and even far-right parties in European nations than left-wing parties; for example, Marine Le Pen in France and the UDC in Switzerland. What do you think about this?

Vladimir Putin: I think that this is not so much support for me as the realisation of national interests as the political parties see them.

There are certain tectonic changes underway throughout the world and in Europe within the public consciousness, which are aimed at defending national interests. You must understand that right now, Europe is facing a specific problem, an influx of immigrants. And did Europe make the decision that ultimately led to this situation? We need to be sincere and honest: these decisions were made across the ocean, but Europe must deal with the problem.

Darius Rochebin: You mean the United States.

Vladimir Putin: Of course. This is just one example, but there are many. But this does not mean – and I already said this – that we should somehow demonise US policy; that is not my goal. They are conducting their policy as they see necessary in their interests.

We must strive to find a balance of interests; we need to invigorate our work, give new momentum to the work by the UN Security Council. The US is certainly a great power and the American people created this nation over several centuries, it is simply an amazing result. But that does not mean that today’s US authorities have the right to travel throughout the world and grab anyone to drag back to their prison or act from a position of “anyone who is not with us is against us.”

We need to be patient and work with our American colleagues to find solutions, the way we have in some areas of our cooperation, such as with the Iranian nuclear issue.

[…]

Darius Rochebin: The last question, Mr President. The last question I would like to ask. In Europe you are now being portrayed as the new Stalin, some people present you as an imperialist. Some love you, of course, and appreciate you, but others present you in this particular way. There are even those who say that after all these years that you have been in power, you have gone mad. What would you respond to these people?

Vladimir Putin: After our interview, do you think I am mad?

Darius Rochebin: You are smiling, despite all these preconceptions.

Vladimir Putin: This is part of political struggle; it has been part of my life for quite a number of years. I try not to pay too much attention to it. I simply do what I think is necessary in the interests of my country and my people.

It is not in Russia’s interests to be in confrontation with other countries, but sometimes we are forced to protect our interests, and we will undoubtedly continue to do so. However, we will seek solution not in confrontation, particularly military confrontation, but in finding compromise and mutually acceptable solutions.

With your help I would like to address not those who criticise me, but those who support me. I would like to thank them for their support and tell them that we will continue moving ahead together. Above all, I am referring not to those who portray me [as Stalin], but to those who sympathise with what we are doing and agree with it deep inside.

Merci beaucoup.

Source: kremlin.ru
September 8, 2015 9:00 am | Link | 1 Comment »
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