Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saint Colman

The Irishman who became patron saint of Austria


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

(first published in Word October 2006)

Until 1663 when he was replaced by Saint Leopold the patron saint of Austria was an Irish man, Saint Colman.
Very little is known about who exactly he was though it is believed that he was a king’s son from somewhere in the south of Ireland. It was the year 1012 when a stranger calling himself Colman or Coloman wandered into the village of Stockerau, North of Vienna. He was on his way to the Holy land when his horse lost a shoe and he needed the service of the local smithy.
In a time when people did not venture far from their native villages and everyone knew everyone, strangers stood out. This particular stranger spoke a strange tongue and wore strange clothes. The neighbouring Bohemians had often attacked the area and the villagers took Colman to be one of their spies sent to do a reconnaissance.
Perhaps bitter and angry with previous incursions a mob gathered around the Irishman and he was thrown into jail where they tortured him but to no avail. He wouldn’t talk their language and persisted in speaking his unknown language. They brought him before the local judge but Colman’s attempts to explain himself as Gaeilge and with gestures made no impression on the judge who sentenced him to death by hanging.
He was dragged to barren elder tree and they hanged him there between two murderers.
It was the usual practice of the time to leave the corpse hanging to act as a deterrent. In the case of Colman his body hung on the elder tree for eighteen months.
Unlike the other corpses however, it did not decompose and it appeared to be as fresh as the day he died. Nor had the ravens and crows plucked out his eyes. The barren elder tree had also started to blossom. The villagers wondered at this but more was to come.

In the village there was a man called Rumaldus and his son suffered from severe gout. Rumaldus could do nothing about it until one night he was told in a dream to rub the afflicted area with a piece of flesh from a hanged man’s body. It was a common belief at the time that a hanged man’s body brought luck and cured certain ailments. Very often certain bodily parts were removed for this purpose. This is exactly what Rumaldus did and the corpse he chose was Colman’s. While he was cutting off a piece of flesh warm blood flowed out as if the body was still alive. He brought it home and the afflicted area had scarcely been rubbed three times when the boy stood up and was cured. Truly amazed by what had happed Rumaldus went back to where Colman was hanging and is reported to have seen that there was no trace of any incision made on the corpse.
The locals took this as evidence that Colman was no spy, but a holy man. They realised then that they that they had being a bit hasty in hanging the stranger and had treated him with great injustice. The least they could now do was to give him a decent Christian burial and he was buried it in a small church nearby. Not long after this his origins could be established when one of Colman’s servants traveling from Ireland, trying to trace the whereabouts of his unfortunate master, turned up in the village.
The village basilica was not to be Colman’s final resting place. The following year The Danube broke its banks and flooded the entire area causing massive destruction. The only place that the water shunned was Colman’s grave, which remained a green dry island. The local prince was deeply impressed upon hearing this and decided to the holy man’s body in re-interned in more suitable surroundings. It is said that when his grave was opened a smell arose that gave joy to all who smelt it and that the body still had shown no signs of decomposition. Thus the remains were transferred to Melk in 1014. Leopold II of Austria made Melk into a Benedictine monastery in 1089 and Colman, though never officially canonized became its patron saint.
Word spread of the saint’s remains and people travelled from afar to see them. A Colman cult thrived and no less than four popes granted indulgences to those who evoked his name. It was highly desirable for a nobleman to have holy relics in his kingdom and tended to increase his standing greatly.
Perhaps with this in mind King Stefan of Hungary wanted the remains to be brought to Hungary. When his request was turned down he threatened to start a war. In order to avoid bloodshed the Austrian’s reluctantly handed over the remains. The Hungarians were ecstatic that the miracle worker’s remains had come to their country. Instead of a blessing however Stephan’s kingdom was hit by plagues and famine, which the king believed to be an act of punishment and he had the remains returned to Melk in 1016.
Colman became patron saint of Austria in 1244. He also became patron saint of those sentenced to death by hanging, travellers and cattle, protected against foot ailments and the plague. Popular images of him show a man wearing pilgrim’s clothes of hat, cloak, and walking stick and are still quite numerous.
He was not only revered in Austria, but also in Bavaria, Swabia and Hungary, where several churches bear his name. Farmers’ daughters used to call upon him to send them a good husband.

Though he was replaced as Austria’s national saint by Saint Leopold in 1663 he still retains popularity. There is still an annual blessing of horses and cattle at Melk on his feast day on the 13 October. It is not only in Melk that traces of Colman are to be found. Beside the North side entrance of Vienna’s famous St. Stephen’s cathedral there is a stone, which once had traces of blood on it. This is said to be the stone on which Colman was executed.
Though it seems hard to believe that a single Irishman could have accidentally attracted so much attention he is still revered today a thousand years after his execution. In recent years
He has become a symbol of the need for us to listen to one another. He looked different and spoke differently and such people still arouse suspicion and can very easily fall victim to intolerance.

Hermann Goertz

Hermann Görtz- from Berlin to Ballivor


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While Hitler’s plans on Ireland are still regarded as at a matter of speculation he did send a number of spies into the country. It was of great concern to the allies that the Free State would be used to transmit weather reports, useful for U-Boats to Germany, or indeed that neutral Ireland become a safe haven for spies to infiltrate Britain. The most famous of these spies was Dr. Hermann Görtz (1890-1947).
Görtz had fought in the First World War and had interrogated allied prisoners, a skill that would later have its use. After the war he trained to be a lawyer and went to England on his own bat in the 1930s to write a book on the expansion of the RAF or so he would claim at his trial for spying at the Old Bailey in 1935. He was accompanied by a secretary, nineteen year old Marianne Emig, who posed as his niece. They lived in Broadstairs, Kent and the pair befriended a local RAF man, one Kenneth Lewis, whom they duped into giving information. He was amazed at how much they knew about the RAF and when he became concerned about telling them military secrets Görtz assured him that England and Germany would be on the same side in the next war. His ‘nice’ maintained regular correspondence with Lewis and was happy to get photos of RAF planes which the unwitting Lewis sent her.
When the landlord of the house Görtz had been renting called by he found a note his tenant had left out, which he believed referred to Göertz’s motorbike. Believing that someone had stolen the motorbike while Görtz was away, the landlord rang the police. They searched the property but did not find the motorbike. What they did find was maps and drawings of the local RAF bases. Emig was in Germany when Görtz was arrested and under the circumstances was reluctant to return to England. His trial attracted considerable media attention at the time and he was sentenced to four years. Following his release in 1939 he was deported back to Germany.

In 1940 Britain faced a serious threat of invasion and in May of that year Görtz parachuted into Ireland as part of a fact finding mission which had been given the codename Operation Mainau. He landed at Ballivor, Co. Meath, although he was supposed to have landed in Tyrone. He was wearing his Luftwaffe parade uniform and First World War medals. Still dressed in his uniform he went to the local Garda station to find out where he was and look for directions. The Guards seemingly found nothing unusual about the apparition that appeared before them and gave him the necessary directions. He then walked the eighty odd miles to Laragh County Wicklow, the home of Iseult Stuart wife of Francis Stuart daughter to Maud Gonne. In Berlin Francis Stuart had told him that if he ran into difficulty he was to go to her and he now availed of the offer.

From Wicklow he went to Dublin to meet IRA activist Stephen Carroll Held at number 245 Tempelogue Road. Held, having first made contact with Oscar Pfaus from the Abwehr, the German secret service, had travelled to Germany a few weeks previously to deliver to the Abwehr, Plan Kathleen.
Plan Kathleen was a grandiose plan conceived by IRA man Stephen Gaynor, which outlined a proposed invasion of the north, similar to the invasion of Norway and was approved of by Stephen Hayes acting chief of staff of the IRA.
As part of the plan an amphibious assault was to be made at Lough Swilly and German paratroopers would land in the Divis Mountains and Lisburn, while the IRA would attack from the south at Leitrim. The plan called for 50,000 German troops, but contained no details of coastal defences in the North or other vital information. The Abwehr had been told that the IRA in Ireland was 5,000 strong and all that they needed was guns, which they wanted to be brought ashore along the west coast.

Görtz, who had looked at the plan a fortnight before dropping into Ireland, thought it somewhat far fetched. He wanted the IRA to cease hostilities in the Free State, where they were more active than in the North, and concentrate their energy on fighting the British. He was shocked to find that the IRA was not the guerilla movement he had been told it was. He found it to be unreliable and completely disorganized. In terms of numbers it seemed nowhere near the amount he had been told in Berlin. It proved to be more of a liability to the Germans and other German spies were told to avoid contact with the IRA.

While Görtz was staying with Held, the house was raided on 22 May. While Görtz escaped through the back garden Held was not so fortunate and was given a given a five year prison sentence for his involvement in the affair. The guards found $20,000 in the house as well of details on Irish harbours, bridges and the distribution of the Defence Forces. The plans for Plan Kathleen were also uncovered and handed over to the British.
Görtz managed to stay at large until November 1941. When a known IRA man, Pearse Paul Kelly visited Stuart’s house, the guards raided and arrested both Kelly and a German who called himself Heinrich Brandy. Brandy soon revealed his true identity to be Hermann Görtz. Stuart was also taken into custody. She was imprisoned for a month, but was acquitted when brought before a court.

Görtz was not the only spy to arrive in Ireland. Others such as Günther Schütz were sent to collect weather reports and assess the affect of German bombing in the north. He was supposed to be dropped off at Newbridge in September 1940 but landed in Wexford and was arrested almost immediately. It is possible that this was the intention. The news of German spies arriving in Ireland would unsettle the Allies. Although the agents were informed in depth about Ireland by the professor of Celtic Studies, Ludwig Mühlhausen, they had very poor English and were bound to stand out. None of the spies were allowed to associate with German prisoners of war in the Curragh. Schütz tunneled his way out of Mountjoy in 1942 and found refuge in an IRA safe house. He was later recaptured and survived the war. Following this escape attempt Görtz and the other spies were transferred to Costume barracks in Athlone, where they spent the rest of the war.
In 1946, Görtz applied for asylum, but his application was turned down. He was released the following year and went to live with
Bridie and Mary Farrell. His days however in Ireland were numbered. On May 23, 1947 he was requested to report to the Aliens’ Office in Dublin, where he was told a plane was ready to return him to Germany. Knowing that he would probably face a prison sentence or worse in occupied Germany, he swallowed his poison capsule and died within a few seconds. He was buried in Dublin and later re-interned in the German cemetery at Glencree in 1974, where tucked away in a corner, his grave marked by a sword and wrapped in ivy he found his final resting place.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Travel Writings of Roger Lamb


Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

While personal accounts of military service from ordinary soldiers are common place today in the 19th century it was unheard of. Given that most soldiers were illiterate, accounts were usually only written by officers. The most detailed account of Britain’s war in America however was written by Dubliner, Sergeant Roger Lamb. He has largely been forgotten and he first came to my attention on a visit to the Army Museum in London. His account reads like a travel log and even for those not interested in military history his vivid descriptions of the Native American culture, their war dances and custom of taking scalps as well as detailed description of wildlife of the North American continent provide fascinating reading.
He drew his first breath in Dublin as the youngest of eleven children in 1756, where exactly, he does not reveal, but it would appear to have been near the North Wall, making him a Northsider. The first chapter of the book provides an interesting account of contemporary Dublin life. He recalls for example in 1766 walking along the South Wall, seeing criminals hanging on giblets near the light house. This was the Mugglins, four men convicted of piracy and murder and who hung there as a warning to others. After a month people started to complain of the smell and the sight of the decaying corpses and they were duly removed. He appears to be have been fascinated by swimming and recommended it as useful for surviving shipwrecks. He swam regularly in the Liffey at a spot where the Customs House now stands. He describes Lower Abbey Street and Marlborough as places where ‘Club law’ prevailed and he appears critical of the duelling culture prevalent in Dublin at the time.
He joined the British Army in 1773 aged seventeen and over six days was marched down to join the 9th regiment of foot, based in Waterford. Discipline was harsh and Lamb recalls bursting into tears when he first saw a man being flogged. Being literate he had an advantage over his comrades and was given better jobs, which was essential as his sergeant very often stole the men’s’ pay to pay off his debts in the alehouse. He was one of 50,000 British soldiers to be sent to the Americas to quell The American War of Independence. During his eight years there he served on two major campaigns was captured twice and twice escaped from captivity to rejoin the British Army.
He first served under General Burgoyne in Canada who invaded the Colonies from the north, intending to divide New England from the southern colonies. But as he moved southwards the Americans managed to block his supply routes and his army came to a standstill, eventually compelling him to surrender at the battle of Saratoga in 1777. It was the end of Burgoyne’s career who returned to England and became a playwright.

His army, the "Convention army," so called after the treaty or convention that was to be signed promising that the soldiers would never again take up arms against the Americans went into captivity. Lamb does not record his time in captivity as being particularly harsh though he does mention they were not given any blankets
and his captors set the straw alight as soon as they saw a prisoner falling asleep. He and about a thousand others managed to flee and he made his way to New York where he was assigned to the Royal Welsh fusiliers. This was one of the oldest regiments of the British Army, which fought in nearly every campaign of the war and now they were poised to move south to subdue the southern colonies. Lord Cornwallis, who would later become Viceroy to Ireland, commanded the Crown forces in the south.
Lamb fought at Camden in South Carolina in 1780, a battle the British won. He carried the regimental colours and although he had little medical experience became the provisional regimental surgeon. He was so exhausted at this battle that another sergeant had to replace him. The sergeant who replaced him was killed by a nine pound cannon ball and Lamb considered that fate was on his side.
While he was in the southern colonies he had opportunity to observe the way of life there. He gives a vivid description of slavery pointing out the hypocrisy of the Americans who while loving their freedom practiced slavery, with the plantation owner regarding a slave like a farmer would regard livestock.
At the battle of Guilford Court-House in North Carolina in1781 Lamb is credited with saving the life of Cornwallis. While it was a battle the British won, Cornwallis suffered a crushing defeat that same year at Yorktown. The surrender at Yorktown marked the end of the war and Cornwallis was to become known as the man who ‘lost America’.
With the cessation of hostilities Lamb was sent back to Portsmouth in 1783, demobbed shortly afterwards and returned to Dublin where he was appointed schoolmaster of the Methodist Free School in Whitefriar Street, a position he held for thirty years. In his free time he took up writing, observing that people were more interested in tales of war than of peace. He wrote A Journal of Occurrences during the Late American War in1809 and later Memoir of My Own Life in 1811, both of which were widely read. His books were to influence others and Robert Graves would later write two thinly fictionalised accounts of Lamb’s experiences entitled Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth in 1940 and a sequel entitled Proceed, Sergeant Lamb in 1941, which dealt with the passions and frustrations of a distant war which mirrored many of Graves' own feelings for World War Two.
In 1809 Lamb was awarded a pension of one shilling a day from the Chelsea Hospital, based at The Royal Hospital Kilmainham in recognition of his military and literary services. He died in 1830.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Island of Hy Brasil

The Island of Hy Brasil

Ireland lay on the edge of the known world until Columbus proved otherwise in 1493. The mysterious Atlantic was explored by sailors such as St. Brendan(†577). It is possible that he even went as far as America. In the Hiberno Latin Navigatio Sancti Brendani abbatis, written between the 8th and 10th century there is an account of a sea expedition to the north which took several years . The account proved to be a Medieval bestseller and was translated into sixteen langauges. In 1976 English explorer Tim Severin sailed from Kerry to Newfoundland in a replica currach, proving that such a journey would have been possible. By undertaking such a journey Tim Severin manged to plausibly expalin some of the more unusal hapenings.
The Island of Smiths for example where the smith throws fire at the monks as they try to land could have been Iceland as the monks bore witness to a volcano errupting.
One of the islands associated with Brendan was Hy Brasil. The island of Hy Brasil was a mythical island believed to be located in Galway Bay. Some people maintain that it was another name for Tír na nÓg or the Land of Eternal Youth. From 1325 it even began to appear on several maps, most notably a Catalan map from 1480 which makes reference to "Illa de Brasil", The island was regarded as a sort of paradise; circular in shape and enshrouded in mist. It only appeared for one day every seven years. St. Brendan is said to have visited the island and described it as the Promised Land. It is believed to be called after Bresal, a druid of the fir bolg. It has also been suggested that the country of Brazil was named after this myserious isle. It still appeared on maps until1865 and was also referred to as Bresal’s Rock. The last reported sighting of this mysterious island was in 1872. It still continues to inspire authors, most notably Peter Treymayne in his book of short stories, Aisling and Other Tales of Terror. In the poem below by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill the reader may get an idea of the emotions the island serves.

An Bhreasaíl

Cloisim tú
Ag glaoch orm
San oíche

Ar rá liom teacht
Go dtí do oileán

Fuaimníonnn do ghuth
Mar thoirneach
Thar an mbóchna.

Is mórthaibhseach
Do ghlór
Agus is naofa-

‘Tair chugam, tair
chugam éinne
atá traochta

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill


I hear you call
Out to me
In the night

Asking me to come
To the isle
Of Enchantement.

Your voice sounds
Like thunder
O’er the foam.

And worshipful
Is its boom-

‘Come to me,
come o me, all
who are tired.’

Translated by Paul Muldoon

The Voyage of Bran

The Voyage of Bran

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it is not meant that we should voyage far.”
H.P. Lovecraft

Bran son of Febal once held a gathering of chiefs in his dún. They had gathered to celebrate the feast of Bealtaine, which heralded the beginning of summer. They ate and drank their fill and together with the musicians the party atmosphere was complete. Bran left the dún to get some piece and quiet. Glad to have this he wandered along the plain enjoying the silence. He suddenly heard music, though instinct told him that it was not the music of mortals or it was much too sweet. He turned to see where the music was coming from, but it suddenly ceased. This was indeed strange and when his back was turned the music started again. He turned swiftly hoping to be quicker but their was again neither sight nor sound of the musicians. Realising that was among the Other World he became slightly afraid but drowsiness overcame his fear and he lay on the grass and before he knew it sleep had overcome him. When he awoke things were normal again. He did however; notice the branch of an apple tree in the grass beside him. This had not been there previously. He gazed upon it with a certain fascination. It appeared to be sliver in colour and the fruit gleamed as if it were made of glass. Taking the branch in his hand he rejoined his friends and when he recalled what he had just experienced they all listened intently. While he was recounting what he had experienced a woman suddenly appeared in the room. Her beauty and strange clothes immediately drew attention. The fact that she had also appeared out of nowhere made the assembled company realise that she was not of this world. She announced to the crowd gathered around that she was indeed one of the sí and sang to Bran:

The branch you hold is from a distant isle,
the playground of the horses of Manannán Mac Lir
On this isle music pleases the ear and colour delights the eye,
A hard and rough life here is unknown,
No sorrow and no treachery
Nor weakness nor illness
And no death
A group of strangers from over the wave will visit the isle
They too shall hear the sweet music
And shall suffer no death
Dear Bran
The isle is called the Isle of women
Do not waste time
But hurry and prepare your voyage across the sea!

As the song drew to a close the branch in Bran’s hand started to move and although he tightened his grip flew into the mysterious woman’s outstretched hand, who disappeared as suddenly as she had come.
Bran was fixated by her and told his friends that he must visit this island. He soon assembled a group of twenty-seven and the next day they set sail in two currachs. They rowed westwards for two days and nights. In this time they met no other boat, nor did they get a glimpse of any land. Heir fortunes changed however when they spotted a chariot coming over the waves to them. Inside the chariot was none other that the sea God Manannán Mac Lir and he sang to them:

Bran your boat skims the flatness of the sea
For me you ride along a grassy plain.
The waved you see are flowers
And the salmon are my animals
I am Manannán the son of Lir.
I appear to you in human shape.
Row steadily over my country Bran
And before the sun has set
You shall reach the isle of women!

When his song was finished he disappeared under the waves. Bran heeded his advice and not long after this they caught sight of land. Approaching the island Bran called out to the natives who had gathered on the shore.
“We’re looking for the isle of women,“ he shouted out.
The natives however did not answer his question but merely laughed at him and their laughter gradually got louder. Bran decided to send a man ashore to see if he could any sense of them but once he landed he too joined in their laughter and pointed at those in the boat. Despite all attempts to call him back on board the man stayed on the island, which they called The Island of laughter. They had no choice but to leave him and sailed on. Towards evening just as the sun was setting they reached another island and were greeted by a woman. This they took to be the Isle of women.
“You’re very welcome Bran, son of Febal,“ she announced. Bran did not ask her how she knew his name but it was obvious that he and his crew had been expected. Bran considered the possibility of danger but after days at sea their supplies had been greatly diminished and he and his crew urgently needed supplies. They would have to take the risk and followed the lady then. They came to a splendid building and inside a feast was prepared for them. They ate their fill that night and when they could not manage any more food most beautiful women who kept them company that night brought them to their beds. The following morning another feast awaited them and again they ate a very hearty meal. They amused themselves with sport and music after that and the evening was a repeat performance of the previous day. Time passed in this way and it was not long before they forgot their troubles and indeed that the land that gave them birth. All that mattered to them were the pleasures that they enjoyed on the Isle of women. A man called Nechtan however, suddenly felt homesick one day and expressed his desire to return home. The issue was discussed among Bran and the rest of the expedition. Not everyone was happy with Nechtan’s whinging.
“Are you mad?” some of the crew cried out, “haven’t we got everything we want here. What would you want to go back for?”
“We’ll have to go back sometime” Nechtan countered, “This can’t last forever. We can’t stay abroad forever.”
They saw certain logic to this and having discussed the matter amongst themselves they decided to return home. If they were not happy they could always return here. The women however convinced them that they should stay a little longer and their feminine charm won the day and so they stayed on. Homesickness however, is a very strong emotion that does not go away that easily and after some days had passed Nechtan expressed his wish to return once more. After all, how long was Bran planning on staying here? Bran saw the logic of this argument and in the end it was decided that they would return once more. They had seen what was to be seen and now it was time to move on.
On the eve of their return journey the queen approached Bran and begged him to reconsider his decision to return. If he returned to Ireland he would regret it for the rest of his life.
“Don’t go back to that place. There’s nothing there for you anymore. Can’t you stay here with me? This is your home!”
Bran was adamant however and he dragged himself away from the queen. If nothing else it was time for a break from her. She had become far too possessive and now her hysterical pleadings disturbed him. The sooner he got away from her the better. As the boat moved out she shouted out to him that whatever he did he was not to touch Irish soil. An odd thing to say he thought, if not a tad melodramatic and he dismissed it from his mind as he gave orders to set sail. They departed the island then and collected their friend from the Isle of Laughter. For his part he was glad to see them and seemed to have pulled himself together. After three days of rowing they finally reached Ireland at a place, which has since, been called Srub Brain. The homesick Nechtan was the first to jump ashore but as soon as his feet touched Irish soil he turned to dust. The others, visibly shocked did not follow suit but remained frozen in horror. The natives having seen the boat approach land now approached it and hailed to the crew asking them who they were. Bran responded to them by saying:
“I am Bran son of Febal and I have been at sea for one year!”
The people on land gasped at this. Looking at their astonished faces he addressed them further.
“Is there something wrong with that? Have you never been at sea yourselves?”
They looked at each other then, not knowing what to say and one of them spoke up,
“We have heard of Bran, son of Febal. He is part of our oldest stories. He left Ireland hundreds of years ago to seek the Isle of Women and was never seen again.”
When Bran heard this it was his turn to be shocked. Were they telling the truth? What had just happened to Nechtan advised him not to doubt their word and it was then that he recalled what the queen had told him. Nothing could have prepared him for this and she was right- he now regretted his decision to ever return. Had he stayed with her Ireland would still be a pleasant memory instead the nightmare reality had now unfolded before him. The home he had left would now be no more. The people dear to him and his crew were long since dead. He could never go home. He had lost everything!
A feeling of despair started to set it, which was echoed by the crew who let out shouts of pain as they too realised they could never return. They were damned to sail the seas for all eternity.
Eventually gathering himself together and accepting the situation he and his crew now had to face Bran told the people on the shore what had happened to them and their anguish was shared by all who heard him speak. A man who could write was present and he wrote Bran’s story down in ogham. When the story had come to an end with sadness in his voice Bran gave the order to row out to sea. The people watched them until they disappeared into the horizon and they have never been seen or heard of since.

THe Adventure of Conle

The Adventure of Conle

“You love simply because you cannot help it”
Kim Anderson

Conle the Red, son of Conn na Céad Catha , was standing one day on the hill of Uisnech with his father. As they spoke Conle saw a woman approach them and she was dressed in fine clothes.
“How are you and where do you come from?” Conle asked. He thought he knew all the good looking women in his father’s kingdom but he had never seen this one before.
The woman answered him and this is what she said:
I come from the land of the living,
a land that knows neither death, sin nor transgression.
We feast without preparing food
and never quarrel amongst ourselves.
We are called the people of peace.’
‘‘Who are you talking to son?’’ Conn interupted wondering why his son was talking to himself, for only Conle could see the woman.
The faerie woman answered him:
“He speaks to a woman of noble birth,
who is never threatened by death or old age.
I love Conle the Red and I call upon him
to come with me to a place
where he will retain his beauty and become immortal’’

Conn became greatly concerned and realising the sí were about and he called upon Corán, his druid to drive her away. The druid sang against her voice and his chanting was so powerful that she began to gradually disappear. Before she disappeared however, she threw Conle an apple which he automatically caught.
The next day Conle ate no food. Nor did any drink pass his lips. The only thing he would eat was his apple, which the fairy woman had given him and that remained whole, regardless of how much he ate of it. As time went by his longing for this strange woman increased. A month later as father ans son stood at the coast, looking out to sea, she appeared again and cried out to Conle:

“There Conle sits amongst the mortals and awaiting death.
The immortals invite you to their land.
Come and join us!”

Conn, who heard the voice, but still could not see anyone knew immediately who it was and called out in desperation for his druid, but she called out to him:

“Conn, your druid cannot help you for his powers are too weak!
Your charms won’t work against me this time!’’

Conle had been silent all this time. Conn asked him what was wrong.
“What’s wrong with you son? Why won’t you speak? Can’t you say something? Help me get rid of her. She’s up to no good!”
Conle did not respond for a while but succumbing to his father’s desperation swallowed hard and gathering his words together spoke earnestly to his father
’’It is not easy for me, for I love my people and it pains me to ever have to leave them but I long to be with this woman. She is the woman I love and I know that she cannot live here amongst us and because she cannot live here and I must go with her. I cannot live without her!’’
The woman encouraged him by saying:

You have a longing to go over the sea
and we shall go this very evening.
A glass boat and we will reach the land of Boadach,
a land that makes every man happy for it is only inhabited by girls.’’

It is not recorded how Conn reacted to this, but we can imagine that he reacted the same way any parent would when they realised they were going to lose their child for good. His druid could not help him and he himself was powerless to do anything. In any case he didn’t have any time for when she had finished speaking Conle jumped into the waiting boat and rowed with her into the sea. From this day on he was never seen again.

“Come away, o human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping
than you understand.”

W. B Yeats

Alte Irische Mythen und Legenden (Rezensionen)

Von Sebastian Stumpf (Galway) - Alle meine Rezensionen ansehen

Rezension bezieht sich auf: Alte irische Mythen und Legenden (Broschiert)

Sagen und Mythen, die von Begebnissen aus grauer Vorzeit berichten da der Mensch in seiner naiven, traumwandlerischen Verfassung noch nicht die Fähigkeit besaß, vollends zwischen Realität und Einbildung zu unterscheiden, sind, Dank ihrer mündlichen Überlieferung und den damit verbundenen Ausschmückungen durch viele Generationen von Erzählern, meist äußerst verwirrende Angelegenheiten von geradezu verzweiflungserregender Vielschichtigkeit, denen sodann in den Skriptorien frühmittelalterlicher Klöster zu allem Überfluß auch noch oftmals ein vollkommen aus der Luft gegriffenes christlich-ethisches Leitmotiv aufoktroyiert wurde.
Desto erfirschender ist es daher, zu wissen, dass zumindest einige wenige uralte Legenden die Neuzeit entweder intakt erreicht haben, oder aber in aufwendigen Restaurierungsprozessen vom bröckelnden Putz fehlgeleiteter Beschönigungsbestrebungen befreit worden sind, bis buchstäblich nichts übrigblieb als die nackte -und z.T. sehr blutige - Wahrheit. In diesem in jeder Hinsicht schlichten Band stellt uns Rónán Ó Dhomhnaill eine Auswahl bekannter und weniger bekannter Legenden Altirlands vor, und zwar in einer Sprache, die von wissenschaftlicher Akribie zeugt und jeglicher romantischer Verklärung entbehrt. Damit trägt er maßgeblich zu einer dringend notwendigen Korrektur des deutschen Irlandbildes bei, das bisher geprägt war von den etwas versponnenen- wenn auch gut gemeinten- Darstellungen der Lady Augusta Gregory und manch anderem Schöngeist des sogenannten 'Celtic Revival', die die keltisch-irische Kultur gewissermaßen durch Butzenscheiben betrachteten, sie aber immerhin vor dem sicheren Untergang retteten. Ó Dhomhnaills Texte hingegen zeigen uns die Welt der großen keltischen Helden, wie z.B. Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Fingal), Cuchullainn, Oisin (Ossian) und Conchobhar als eine von hochentwickelten Naturvölkern dominierte Sphäre, in deren Wertvorstellungen und Handlungsweisen sich sowohl die höchsten als auch die niedersten menschlichen Charaktereigenschaften mit derart kindlicher Unbefangenheit offenbarten, dass es aus heutiger Sicht schon fast wieder rührend erscheint. Urmenschliche Regungen wie Liebe, Treue, Ehre, Wollust, Trauer, Neid, Tücke, Haß und Habsucht kommen darin mit unschuldger Vehemenz zum Ausdruck und vermitteln ein Gefühl wilder Vitalität, die unserer Generation abhanden zu kommen scheint. Nirgends in diesem Band ist auch nur eine Spur von störender Moralinsäure anzutreffen und man merkt sogleich, dass hier ein gewissenhafter, auf Objektivität bedachter Historiker am Werk war, dessen Liebe zu seiner Kultur darin besteht, dass er sie mit aller gebührenden Ehrlichkeit ins Auge zu fassen sucht. Die ihrerseits unprätentiösen Tuschezeichnungen der Illustratorin Michaela Raß tragen erfolgreich zur ästhetischen Erfahrung bei und spiegeln den symbolhaften Charakter keltischer Kunst insofern wieder, als dass die Figuren schemenhaft -und somit hinreichend abstrakt- gehalten werden, indes der durch übermäßige Vervielfältigung leider etwas aus der Mode gekommenen Zierat der La Tène Phase nur spaerliche Verwendung findet.

Hier mag der geneigte Leser in aller Ruhe Geschichten wie "Oidhe Clainne Lir" (Das Schicksal der Kinder von Lir) oder "Bás Cuchulainn" (der Tod des Cuchulainn) in ihrem historischen Kontext erfassen und somit doppelt genießen, denn jede Sage erhält ihre eigene geschichtliche Erläuterung und wird zusätzlich mit hilfreichen Fußnoten versehen, was ich persönlich für sehr wichtig halte. Das Nichtmuttersprachlertum des Verfassers fällt hingegen kaum ins Gewicht und tut der Qualität des Gebotenen im großen-ganzen keinen Abbruch. Hie und da allerdings würde der Stil von einer höheren Quote an Genitivkonstruktionen profitieren, und auch die altehrwürdigen, in Märchen gebräuchliche formelle Anrede "Euch/Ihr" anstelle des etwas bürokratisch anmutenden "Sie" würde dem Gesamteindruck förderlich sein, aber diese unerheblichen Mängel könnten in einer zweiten Auflage ohne größeren Aufwand behoben werden. Ich zumindest kann diesen Stoff ohne Vorbehalte weiterempfehlen.

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17 von 18 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich:
4.0 von 5 Sternen Irische Mythen mit Erklärungen !, 23. November 2003
Von Christina Griessler (Österreich) - Alle meine Rezensionen ansehen

Rezension bezieht sich auf: Alte irische Mythen und Legenden (Broschiert)
Diese Buch ist eine Empfehlung für alle Irlandfans, die Hintergrundinformationen zu den irischen Mythen und Sagen erfahren wollen. Das Buch zeichnet sich dadurch aus, daß es Wörter in der irischen Sprache beläßt, diese aber mit Fußnoten erklärt. Die einzelnen Geschichten sind kurz gehalten und leicht verständlich geschrieben. Das Design ist sehr geschmackvoll gestaltet und die Illustrationen von Frau Raß wurde passend zu den Geschichten arrangiert.
Die Geschichten führen den Leser in die Welt der irischen Helden, starken schöner Frauen und Lebewesen aus der "Anderen Welt". Ein unterhaltsames und lehrsames Buch. Helfen Sie anderen Kunden bei der Suche nach den hilfreichsten Rezensionen
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Alte irische Mythen & Legenden, 24. November 2003
Von Ein Kunde

Rezension bezieht sich auf: Alte irische Mythen und Legenden (Broschiert)
Beim Lesen dieses Buches taucht man auf eine sehr faszinierende Art in die Welt der alten teilweise schon vergessenen irischen Könige, Druiden und Helden ein. Zauber, Feen und Hexen werden zu einem realen Bestandteil des damaligen Lebens.
Es spiegelt den mystischen Geist Irlands wider und läßt uns dadurch auch die Geschichte Irlands besser verstehen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Skorzeny not a war criminal

Thursday January 11 2007

I found Kim Bielenberg's portrayal of Colonel Skorzeny ('the Shamrock and the Swastika', Irish Independent, January 6) most unfair and factually inaccurate. It was a highly emotional piece and laced with terms that suggest the man was a war criminal.
Otto Skorzeny was an elite and highly decorated soldier who fought bravely for his country, Austria being part of Germany at the time, and who earned the respect of his foe. Churchill called his rescue of Mussolini "a mission of great daring."

His membership of the Waffen SS, an elite fighting force that had nothing to do with the concentration camps, does not make him a criminal.

The late Simon Wiesenthal pointed out that only two per cent of the 450,000 strong force had engaged in war crimes.

Skorzeny was tried as a war criminal, but the only thing the Americans could charge him with was having his men wear American uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge. The trial soon fell apart when it was pointed out that the Americans had also worn German uniforms to infiltrate enemy lines.

Kim Bielenberg conveniently omits the fact that Skorzeny was "denazified", meaning that he was innocent of any wrongdoing, long before he came to Ireland, and that he worked as an agent for Mossad.

His article becomes farcical when he claims that Skorzeny tortured the July conspirators in 1944. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. RONAN-GEAROID O DOMHNAILL, GAILLIMH * Kim Bielenberg writes: I made clear in my piece that Skorzeny was acquitted of war crimes by a US military court.

However, as the best known commando in the SS, an organisation guilty of countless atrocities, he was not just an innocent cog in the Nazi machine. The Waffen SS, in toto, was declared a criminal organisation at the Nuremberg trials.

There is no doubt that Skorzeny played a key role in rounding up the July 20 plotters, demonstrating his Nazi zeal in the way he ripped off their badges. In the days that followed, plotters were tortured.

A drinking society

Tuesday February 22 2005


Sir - Reading Helen Bruce's article 'Ryanair is lashed over promotion of alcohol targeted at teenagers' seems to indicate a fresh drive on the 'demon drink' in Ireland. The article portrays these vodka sachets as some kind of evil substance for preying on the young. Is the prohibition of these sachets really going to stop binge drinking in a country where the pub is the main,
Sir - Reading Helen Bruce's article 'Ryanair is lashed over promotion of alcohol targeted at teenagers' seems to indicate a fresh drive on the 'demon drink' in Ireland. The article portrays these vodka sachets as some kind of evil substance for preying on the young. Is the prohibition of these sachets really going to stop binge drinking in a country where the pub is the main, and in many areas the only, point of social contact? Once more, the drinks industry is presented as the scapegoat and the retailers as irresponsible. Indeed the only person who does not have to accept responsibility in the matter is the consumer of alcoholic beverages.

Personal responsibility simply does not enter the equation. Ireland is perhaps one of the few countries where you can get drunk, cause trouble and blame it on the person who sold the alcohol to you, or even better say 'it was the drink that made me do it'. Such excuses do not work anywhere else. The binge drinking of the Irish and their English neighbours does not seem to occur on the continent. Why is that? Could it not be that the problem with alcohol in Ireland lies not with the sale of vodka sachets, but with Irish society itself? Ronan-Gearoid O Domhnaill, Koppstrasse 55/5, 1160 Vienna
Sunday Indepenent
Sunday November 19 2006

Sir - In ‘No compulsory resuscitation can ever revive Irish' (SI, 5/11/06) Emer O'Kelly provides a rather facile argument relying on hearsay and well-worn arguments. She is both ill-informed and behind the times. Indeed I am surprised she didn't harp on about Peig. English has an influence on most languages, but just because lexical borrowing takes place, one cannot possibly deduce that the language is dead. It would be equally absurd to argue that English is dead because it has so many words from French and German.

She claims that the language is bereft of 'modern terminology', obviously unaware of any modern words in Irish. One only has to consult a technical dictionary of Irish terms to find that new words are being coined all the time. Indeed in the world of computers, words are continuously coined in Irish while other languages simply use the English term.

Nor does she appear capable of writing Irish words, which is extremely sloppy. She writes druggai (sic) and doesn't appear to be aware that Daingean takes the definite article. The 'Irish language is dead' way of thinking was extremely popular following the publication of Reg Hindley's book The Death ofthe Irish language in 1990.

However attitudes have since changed dramatically yet O'Kelly with her vague reference to a report published in 1991 doesn't acknowledge this. So please if you must produce more anti-Irish language articles, as is your wont several times a year, then do some research and introduce fresh arguments.

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill, Gaillimh

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Doctor Death

Doctor Death- the case of Heinrich Gross.

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Killers come from all walks of life, on occasion even from the profession that is supposed to preserve life. During the war Doctor Heinrich Gross (1915-2005) was involved in state sanctioned murder as part of the Nazi’s euthanasia programme. Shockingly, he avoided imprisonment after the war and researched the brains of the murdered children, to critical acclaim.

On the outskirts of Vienna at Am Spiegelgrund is Austria’s largest psychiatric hospital, More than 772 children were murdered here during the war. The Nazis wanted a pure race and exterminated all those with real or imagined mental, physical or social disabilities. How many deaths Gross was directly responsible for has never been established. It could never be proven that he directly murdered anyone, but his signature appeared on 238 death certificates.

Friederich Zawrel was 10, when he was sent to the clinic. His father, an alcoholic communist disagreed with the Nazis making his son ‘anti-social’. Gross diagnosed him as being ’beyond reform’. The children at the clinic referred to Gross as Doctor Speiberl (Dr Vomit) because he administered injections as a disciplinary measure to ‘cheeky’ children’. The injections induced vomiting that would go on for days. Gross never regretted inflicting such pain and was still prepared to defend it at his brief trial in 1999. Zawrel spent nine months in solitary confinement in a cell that was completely bare. When he saw the dead bodies of other children being brought out he knew he had to escape and eventually did with the help of a nurse, who did not believe in murdering children.
Perfectly healthy children became ill while Gross treated them. Children were deliberately murdered through starvation or an overdose of sleeping tablets and a letter was sent to the family stating that their child had ‘died of fever’. Other children were subjected to painful x-rays to see what would happen when the cerebrospinal fluid was drained and air injected into the cavity. Ann-Marie Haupl, aged four was admitted to the hospital suffering from rickets. It was discovered that a distant relative had a brain disorder and Gross deduced from this that the child was mentally ill. She was murdered so he could dissect and study her brain and this research would make Gross Austria’s leading neurologist after the war.

The end of the war was kind to Gross. His boss at the clinic, Doctor Illing, was hanged for war crimes in 1946, but Gross, having been taken prisoner by the Russians, missed the euthanasia trial. He returned to Austria in 1948 and was put on trial for manslaughter. He received a two year sentence, but was released on a technicality a few months later and he resumed work at Am Spiegelgrund. Gross joined the league of socialist academics and also the socialist party, who would shield him from any harm and became one of Austria's most respected and highly-decorated neuro-psychiatrists and forensic experts. Postwar Austria suppressed its Nazi past and it was and still is considered bad taste to mention this period. It was a society that forgave the murderer and called the victim a liar. Thus nobody was unaware of the man’s horrible past and nobody wanted to know.
He published five articles between 1955 and 1965 based on research using the preserved brains of children murdered because he had deemed them handicapped or antisocial. This ‘left over material’, numbering 417 brains in total, was preserved in jars of formaldehyde at a room in the clinic to which only Gross had access. His research was so highly regarded that in 1968 he was given his own research institute. In honour of his work in the field of arts and Science the Austrian government awarded him the Austrian Cross of Honour in 1975. Research was carried out on these brains as late as 1978 and nobody ever asked where they had come from.
Meanwhile Zawrel had survived the war, though not without emotional scars. He never spoke about the horrors he had experienced until he was involved in a minor property dispute and had to go to court in 1975. The court wanted a psychiatric examination of Zawrel and to his horror Zawrel once more came face to face with ‘Dr Vomit’. The war was long over but the victims still had much to fear. Gross was shocked that one of his patients had survived to tell unwanted tales. Using his notes from the war he judged Zawrel to be a psychopath and had him incarcerated for seven years.
In 1979 Doctor Werner Vogt accused Gross of being involved in the euthanasia programme at Am Spiegelgrund. Gross sued for defamation and denied ever working there, but this was revealed to be a lie. Vogt was proven correct but miraculously the investigation into Gross’s past was also quietly dropped and he emerged unscathed. It was obvious that he had friends in high places and he had nothing to fear from the Austrian judicial system. He retired in 1989 but still gave court appraisals until 1997.

When the East German Stasi files were opened a file on Doctor Gross was uncovered. His medical notes for a one-month period in the summer of 1944 were found, a time when he said he had left the hospital and was in the army. In these notes he had described how he starved children to death.
Relatives of murdered German children, who had been deported to their death in Vienna, had been enquiring about their loved ones for years. Their requests for information met with no response from the Austrian authorities. The existence of the preserved brains was denied, but after international pressure mounted, they were suddenly ‘found’ and their existence made public in 1997.

The state prosecutor brought charges against Gross in 1999 after the horrific events had gained worldwide media attention and it was no longer possible to suppress his war time activities, but the trial quickly turned into a farce, lasting less than an hour. The 84 year old was charged with the murder of nine children, but all charges were dismissed as the judge felt Gross suffered from dementia and could not understand the charges against him. The court overlooked that he had been still giving court testimonies until 1997. Immediately after the trial, Gross held interviews with the media, showing no regret or any indication of dementia. He was an embarrassment to the Austrian legal system and once more the case was quietly dropped.
Gross avoided the limelight thereafter. It was not until 2003 that he was finally stripped of his state award. The mortal remains of those murdered had finally been put to rest at a low-key ceremony the previous year. He died in December 2005, never once expressing remorse and never having to do penance for his crimes against humanity.

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill lived in Vienna for five years, where he lectured in English at BOKU, one of the city’s universities. He currently resides in Dublin where he teaches German.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Viennese as they are

The Viennese as they are

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill,

Wien, Wien, nur du allein, sollst von allen verachtet sein.

Arnold Schönberg

While the positive aspects of life in Vienna have been well documented criticism of the Viennese is noticeable by its absence. The Viennese, it is said, have a heart of gold, but gold is hard.
The following article is not entirely all my own work. Along with my own opinions formed from personal experience and observations over the years it is a compilation of opinions expressed by my students in English class, who are of all ages and walks of life with their origins in Austria and all over Europe.
It is not meant to be an attack on the Viennese, although it does not really put them in a positive light. No city or people are perfect and I believe every people and city, including my own native town, have room for improvement. It is through disputation that such advancements can be made. Nothing and no one should be above criticism.
I have spent most of my time in Vienna and am fully aware of the phrase ‘Vienna is not Austria and Austria is not Vienna’. Thus when one speaks of Vienna, one cannot speak of the entire land.

To start on a positive note one can say without hesitation that Vienna is one of the safest cities in the world. Unlike other European capitals you can walk anywhere, anytime, without fear of being mugged. Apart from the dog dirt, which I will discuss later, Vienna is undoubtedly a very clean city and the cleanliness is maintained day and night. The city does a lot for its inhabitants. Sports facilities and libraries are everywhere and easily affordable. The theatre and opera is also open to less fortunate members of society. In a nutshell, one is never bored in the city.

The Viennese themselves are however very much a closed group. Vienna, it is said, is the largest village in the world and it is true to say that a village mentality reigns in what should be a cosmopolitan city. Non-Austrians are regarded more of a threat than an enrichment. Exceptions are made if the foreigners happen to be extremely rich or who can play good football.
Ernst Hinterberger summed up the openness of the Viennese when his favourite character Mundl remarks ‘Alles was kein Wiener ist, ist praktisch ein Tschusch. Wurscht, ob er aus Sankt Pölten, Buxtehude, Japan oder aus dem Urwald kommt.’ (Anyone who is not Viennese is practically a Tschusch [term of abuse for people from the Balkans]. It doesn’t matter if they’re from St. Pölten, Buxtehude, Japan or the rainforest.)
On a more serious note, although illegal in other EU member states, it is still common to see racist phrases such as Nur Inländer[1] or Nur Österreicher in the newspapers when looking for a job or an apartment.
According to the far right politician[2], Heinz Christian Strache, to be Viennese you must be at least two generations in the city, speak Viennese and live the Viennese way of life. The majority of Viennese seem to share this view. They divide the city’s inhabitants into Urwiener (those fulfilling Strache’s definition), Wiener (those with parents not from Vienna but Austrian) and Neowiener (foreigners living in Vienna, who have recently become Austrian citizens but are not really Viennese). It is little wonder therefore, that so few of the 300,000 foreigners in Vienna wish to integrate.

The charming and easy-going manner of people such as Hans Moser, while stirring up a pleasant image does not really reflect daily reality. Requests for information whether on the street or in shops will often be met with terse responses or grunts. In the smaller shops customers are often regarded as a nuisance. Service in supermarkets can be a shocking experience for English speakers used to customer service. I have come to understand that it is because a different philosophy reigns in supermarkets in Vienna. People want to get out as fast as possible. Therefore, the girl at the checkout will work, as fast as possible and common courtesies are deemed unimportant. It disturbed me for the first two years as I allowed myself to be treated like dirt. Living in Vienna you become acclimatized to it and it is only when you receive visitors or visit another Austrian city that you realise how rude and impersonal shopping in a supermarket in Vienna can be. I remember once when my mother went into a supermarket alone and returned shocked and upset telling me how the girl had swept the shopping almost in one go over the scanner, not helped her pack the shopping, tapped in her fingers on the desk in impatience as my mother paid and then threw the receipt at her. Recently I bore witness to a Chinese lady standing in front of me at the checkout. When it came to paying she looked desperately for a clue as to how much she owed. Normally it appears on the cash register, but in this case it didn’t and the lady at the checkout wasn’t going to make it easy. She snapped the price once more at the bewildered Chinese lady who was either a tourist or not au fait with the heavy Viennese dialect. This is what one calls the Viennese charm.

The EU has made zero impact in Vienna. The average citizen has no idea what it is all about and would be challenged if asked how many states are in the union. My students at university once asked me if they needed a work permit to work in Ireland. The EU flag is rarely seen[3] and the citizens are EU sceptical if not hostile. One wonders why Austria joined the EU in the first place. The majority are completely unaware of any advantages the EU might have. The government fails to inform them otherwise and the Kronen Zeitung, the tabloid that tells Austrians what they should be thinking, with a readership of nearly three million is extremely anti-EU.[4] The EU threatens to bring change and while the Viennese want change, albeit on a very small scale, they do not want reform. The city is still very much living in imperial Austria The EU threatens to bring the outside world into the city and modernise it. The EU must also compete with the ‘red-white-red’ ideology that grew steadily from the 1980s as the Austrians began to gain an identity independent of the Germans, and is firmly implanted in the minds of the young. This ideology stresses the importance of ‘Austria first’ over a united Europe. It is intolerant of any criticism. Anyone remotely critical of Austrian nationalism is immediately classified as an enemy of Austria and writers such as Jelinek, Bernhard and Simmel who dared criticise their country found themselves either ostracized or the victims of hate campaigns. It is not surprising therefore that some of the best Austrian writers live abroad. It was this nationalism at times bordering on the extreme, that I first noticed when I moved to Vienna not long after the present government had taken up office. I learnt to my cost that it was taboo to compare the Viennese with the ‘stupid’ Germans.[5] This is perhaps part of an inferiority complex. Having had personal experience with Irish and German nationalism I was not terribly impressed with Austrian nationalism and it is all very much like what Nestroy once said: “Es ist alles uralt, nur in andere Gestalt”. (It’s the same old thing, just in another shape).

Imperial Austria is still very noticeable in the city. The University of Vienna is the best place to see how imperial Austria worked. Nothing has changed there in the last hundred years and the feudal system in operation is unparalleled in the western world. The students are treated like serfs and in order to study there they behave as such. The so-called ordentliche professor has the role of Kaiser and enjoys unlimited powers and it is he that makes the rules. He may be racist, sexist and generally xenophobic but in a country where titles are cherished above all else he is answerable to nobody. Indeed, with enough titles you can get literally get away with murder. One only has to think of the late Dr. Gross, who recently died peacefully, unlike his victims. The university is designed chiefly for the Viennese with many professors delivering their lectures in Viennese dialect to ensure that only Austrians will be able to follow the lectures, which is too bad for foreign students who only understand Pfiefchinesisch (Standard German). This was in contrary to the policy at other universities where I studied. In Dresden for example, if the German literature professor were to have spoken dialect, it would have been regarded as ill educated and unprofessional.
The University of Vienna suffered a brain drain from which it never recovered, when it expelled all its Jewish professors in 1938 and showed little interest in taking them back after the war. These mathematicians, scientists and psychologists went to America, where their talents were used to the full. An anti-Semitic atmosphere prevailed at the university (and in the city itself) until the late 1960s. Far right student groups[6] still enjoy the support of the university, making the University of Vienna one of the most closed and intolerant universities in the world.

A trip on the U-Bahn is like a journey to hell. Everybody looks either depressed or angry. In the tram people generally sit on the outside seat, leaving the inner one free but inaccessible to the passengers standing. When exiting, it is usual to push your way through. The Viennese only speak to strangers to warn or insult them. If they speak to you otherwise they are almost definitely from one of the other federal states. The favourite hobby of the Viennese is to complain (raunzen). They will however, not try to change their situation, because although they don’t like it, it is too strenuous to change it and they could risk being faced with an uncertain future.
The Viennese love their dogs more than they do small children. There are currently over 50,000 registered in the city. They bring their dogs everywhere, even into restaurants. Dog dirt is a serious problem. Only the overwhelming stench of urine and horse dung of the first district can compete with this eyesore. I have never lived in a city where it is so omnipresent. Given the disgusting amount of dog dirt and urine in the streets it is hardly surprising that the shoes are removed when entering the apartment. It is common practice to walk your dog in another district, other than the one in which you live and let him do his business in the middle of the footpath or in a doorway. To walk along some footpaths is to move like a ballerina.
Every year it snows in Vienna and every year warnings of snow are given on radio and TV, yet the Viennese are deeply amazed when it does indeed snow the next day and chaos ensues, as the people are unprepared.

It takes years to really get to know the Viennese. It is said however, that once you get to know them you have a friend for life. In this regard they cannot be accused of superficiality. They seem to be perpetually cantankerous. Their bark is however, worse than their bite. While they have a big mouth, disputes rarely escalate into violence. Although the socialists are in power Vienna is essentially a conservative city, whose inhabitants rarely let their hair down. It would be an exaggeration to call it Europe’s party capital. Singing and busking in the streets or making noise in public is frowned upon and are likely to involve the police. In this regard it is a city designed more for old people than young people.

To get invited to a Viennese home is a rare honour. They prefer to meet people in a restaurant or heurige. It is possible to know the Viennese for years and have never seen the inside of their apartment. I was once invited to Viennese home, but only after they had seen my apartment. If you do get invited to their home it will be to show it off. Thankfully this practice is limited to Vienna and people from the Federal states think nothing of inviting you to their home, however humble, whether it is in Vienna or the countryside.

When talking to a Viennese the questions you will be asked are extremely predictable. You can basically prepare for the questions they will ask. The usual question (question no. 2 or 3, depending on the person) is ‘how long are you staying?’ which although could be interpreted as impolite, intolerant if not bordering on racist, is not actually intended as such. Once you mention you are from Ireland you will here things like ‘Protestant or Catholic’? ‘Northern Ireland’, ‘Guinness’ or ‘whiskey’. It is always the same old clichés, regardless of the age or education of the Viennese. These clichés are generally intended as humorous, even if they indicate a complete ignorance of Ireland, but when you hear them on average at least once a day over a number of years, they tend to become tired.
In the eyes of the Viennese no foreigner can speak perfect German. Once they hear a trace of an English accent they will answer the other person in English, which irritates those who make an attempt to speak German. It is regarded as a compliment when a Viennese says that someone ‘speaks good German for a foreigner.’ Nor is a foreigner permitted to correct the Viennese. If they do so they will be reprimanded with the phrase ‘Wos was a Fremder?’ (What does a foreigner know?)

Vienna is a city of music and money. The latter is important and those who have it tend to flaunt it and it also allows you to behave anyway you please. Clothes make the man and those not dressed accordingly will be treated shoddily should they venture into an expensive shop. Vienna however, has no financial centre comparable to Milan or New York and little or no industry. The Viennese lives from the Habsburg legacy, Mozart and the Viennese waltz. While the waltz may be something that died out a hundred years ago in Western Europe it is still very popular in Vienna. While this way of living appears charming at first, the accompanying snobbery is not.

Tourists are warmly received. They are the city’s life-blood. They bring money into the city and best of all, like all good foreigners, they go again. Western Europeans are treated like tourists even if they have been living in the city for years. Since the Viennese do not leave Vienna it is beyond their comprehension that somebody from western Europe would want to work and live in the city for longer than two years. The vast majority of EU citizens will work for international companies or organisations. It is nigh on impossible for a non-Austrian to find gainful employment in an Austrian company. Protectionism is too strong. Exceptions are sometimes made for the Germans[8] and those married to an Austrian. A French student of mine once advised me to invent an Austrian fiancée or wife when going for a job interview. This strict protectionism does not apply to blue-collar workers, who are permitted to do the dirty work but not expected to rise above their station. Thus an Italian should sell ice cream, a Turk is here to make kebabs and a English native speaker should work as a native speaker.

As fore mentioned, for the Viennese there is no life outside of Vienna. They tend to get homesick in Hütteldorf. Vienna is for them, the centre of the earth and those who go as far a field as Bratislava or Munich are shocked to find that Austria and more importantly Vienna, does no really feature in the news and newspapers. Most of them leave the city only to go on holidays. Otherwise they are born there, go to school there, get a job there and die there. The majority of Viennese have never been to Bratislava, although it is only half an hour away. They only venture into the Czech Republic and Hungary to avail of cheap counterfeit goods and to help support the sex industry.

Languages such as Czech, Slovak, Slovenian and Hungarian are not taught in Viennese schools. Spanish, French and Italian are deemed more relevant. This would suggest that there is very little contact with the surrounding neighbours. The Viennese are similar to the Americans, namely they tend to live in their own world, except the latter travel more. Their knowledge of the outside world is limited largely to clichés. They know exactly how the Americans live because they watch American TV shows which reflect reality perfectly, just like Kaisermühlen Blues and Mundl reflect exactly how all the Viennese live. Thus, all Americans are fat and stupid. They don’t even know basic things that shaped our modern world like who scored the wining goal against Germany in 1978.

Problems such as racism and sex slavery in Vienna are not openly acknowledged. The Viennese prefer to examine these problems in other countries. Austrian anti-racism associations such as ZARA do not get government funding and although he was honoured all over the world the late Simon Wiesenthal was regarded more of an embarrassment and a thorn in the side of a country that insisted it was a victim.[9] While Germany went overboard with its examination of its dark past the topic has hardly been touched upon in Austria. Programmes regarding Austria’s role in the Third Reich will either not be screened on ORF or shown at an awkward time like one o’clock in the morning. History books still stress the high level of resistance to the Nazis (which was representative of only a very small minority) and only mentions war crimes committed by the Germans.

The Viennese are the Viennese. They live in their own little world, blissfully unaware of the world outside. They are content to live like this for the world outside would be very strange for them and they therefore rarely venture into it. A student of mine once compared them to trolls living under ground, never seeing the light of day. It may appear that they hate Jews, Turks, blacks and Muslims but they do not really hate anyone. They are merely indifferent, which reminds me of something George Bernhard Shaw once said- the worst sin towards our fellow man is not to hate him, but to be indifferent to him. That is the essence of inhumanity.

[1] Living in Germany, a country where EU membership is noticeable, I never came across such a term. Unlike the Viennese, the Germans regard foreigners as those who do not come from the EU.
[2] Despite evidence to the contrary the majority of Austrians do not view the FPÖ as an extreme right wing party. In fact they are highly accepted socially.
[3] This is not entirely true. In January 2006 Austria took over the EU presidency and since then the EU flag has been on prominent display on two city buildings, the City Hall and the parliament.
[4] The newspaper has also an extreme right-wing touch to it. On 20 April 1994 when the country was experiencing a surge in neo–nazi violence they published a poem in honour of Adolf Hitler.
[5] Although the Viennese hate the Germans so much it does not prevent them from watching German shows such as ‘Wetten, dass…’ or ‘Der Bulle von Tölz, supporting German football teams or entering German shops. Indeed, the vast majority of shops in Austria are under German ownership.
[6] These groups also exist in Germany but with a considerably weaker xenophobic and racist agenda than in Austria. Regrettably, most of the politicians in the ÖVP, FPÖ and BZÖ are members.

[8] I recently telephoned with an Austrian newspaper. From her clear understandable German it was obvious that the woman on the other side was German. Asking her how she managed to get a real job in Austria she replied it wasn’t easy and that in the interview an important question she was asked was what she could do for Austria.
[9] Jews in Berlin were ten times more likely to survive the holocaust than in Vienna. It is interesting to note that the Gestapo agent who arrested Anne Frank survived the war. When Wiesenthal tracked him down to Vienna he was still working for the police under his real name. He was eventually brought to trial. Although through his actions innocent people were sent to the extermination camps, he was acquitted of any wrongdoing. During the infamous Eichmann trial demonstrations for Eichmann’s acquittal were held in Vienna.

The Irish as they are

The Irish as they are-a guide to getting to know them better

Hard Facts, clichés, opinions, exaggerations, praise and scorn in 50 points.


Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

(originally published in Polish in The Polska Gazeta in 2005)

1. The Irish don’t speak foreign languages, because they believe everyone speaks English. The main foreign languages taught in schools are French, German, Spanish and Italian. Everyone learns a smattering of one of these languages and after six years they are only in a position to make simple conversation. Irish is an official language of the Republic and is compulsory but few can speak it proficiently, chiefly because although it is a school subject it is not really taught in school. Irish is more than merely a language. It is patriotism, cultural identity and for many a traumatic experience. English Grammar is barely taught in schools with the result that many have a poor standard of written English.

2. Tipping is not common (restaurants are an exception). Most believe prices are too high. In some places tips may actually be refused.

3. The Irish are generally quite friendly towards strangers. Many Irish people know what it is like to be in a foreign country and for this reason racism does not really suit them. Tourists looking a map will often be asked if they need help. They will not however, bow down before tourists. Tourists are expected to adapt to Irish culture.

4. Ireland has a very beautiful landscape, which attracts thousands of tourists. Unfortunately, it is an asset that, neither the government nor the people look after or respect. Anyone interested in protecting the environment is labelled a ‘tree hugger’. This attitude is changing, albeit slowly and the rusty cars deserted at the roadside have been removed. Following a levy on plastic bags the number of them blowing around has been reduced.

5. The average Irishman, regardless of occupation or education, has a broad general knowledge because they seem to read a lot. Semi-learned magazines crammed with fascinating facts are popular.

6. The Irish do not like to be ordered about and are not impressed by titles. Should a grand title be mentioned the standard response would be ‘who’s he when he’s at home?’

7. The Irish go to church every Sunday, but do not on the whole, take religion too seriously. Catholicism was strongly implanted until the end of the 20th century. The colonial masters tried to make the Irish become Protestants and this was bitterly resisted. Catholicism was also forbidden during the British occupation, which made the religion stronger. The once strong connection between Church and state is separating. For many, belief in God has been replaced by a belief in making money.

8. The Irish spend an eternity waiting for a bus. The timetable, if indeed there is one, is only a rough guideline. When the bus is actually going to come is anyone’s guess. In the country a bus can be flagged down along the road. It is usual to thank the bus driver, who in the city will let you off wherever you want to get off.

9. It is very easy to get to know Irish people. To get to know them well is another matter. Very often their friendliness is somewhat superficial. Nor are they above a little backstabbing.

10. The Irish are highly mobile. They travel all over the world both on holiday and to work. Until the 1980s there was high unemployment and it was taken for granted that there was no future for the youth in Ireland.

11. Contrary to popular belief the Irish do not drink more than other people. They do however drink differently. Alcohol is not consumed with meals at home. Irish people prefer to drink with other people in the pub rather than at home. Alcohol can only be purchased between certain times and is not sold on Christmas Day or Good Friday. There is an organisation called the pioneers, whose members don’t drink at all. Teetotallers will be more accepted in Ireland than other countries.

12. The Irish tend to shy away from discussing religion and politics in pubs, but generally prefer light-hearted topics. Indeed, with many Irish it can be nigh on impossible to have a serious conversation.

13. The Irish have two favourite football teams - Ireland and whoever is playing against England. In general, Irish people do not have a problem with the English. The latter come as tourists in droves and provided they don’t behave like colonial masters or make condescending and racist remarks about the locals they are warmly received. If you are curious to find out why the some Irish don’t like the English just read an Irish history book. Thousands of Irish fought for the English in both world Wars and were regarded as traitors until the mid 1990s. The days of ‘burn everything British, but their coal’ are however part of history.

14. School children boast continually how little they study and then go home and study until the early hours. The focus is on getting good grades and not necessarily learning something. PE and religion are not examination subjects and therefore not taken too seriously. They apply for a university course six months before their Leaving Certificate and will only be awarded a place in the course if they have the requisite points. Should they not be satisfied with their offer they repeat the Leaving Certificate a year later.

15. A rip-off culture pervades. The Irish will pay exorbitant prices to have their fun, without giving the cost any consideration. Only if tourist numbers fall will the prices fall. Irish products such as whiskey can be up to 10 Euro cheaper outside of Ireland.

16. Since 2004 there has been a smoking ban in all pubs, restaurants, shops, offices and public buildings. The vast majority of people who have come to cherish clean air accept the ban. Those wishing to smoke can go outside, and as they have something in common with the other people outside, come easily into conversation.

17. It is not unusual for men to start up a conversation with strangers in the toilet. This does not mean that they are gay as some tourists have thought but they are merely being sociable.

18. Ireland has possibly Europe’s worst train system, though there are political reasons for this. If there is no efficient train system, more people will drive. If there are more cars on the road, there is more revenue for the government.

19. Many politicians own pubs. Therefore any motions such as permitting alcohol to be sold in cafés or decreasing the price of alcohol will be quickly defeated.

20. Ireland has a professional army, but no military service. Irish Society is very unmilitary and apart from when the army brings money to the bank soldiers in uniform will very rarely be encountered. Most soldiers only wear the uniform inside the barracks and change into their normal clothes when their working day is over. Many people would not be in a position to tell it apart from other military uniforms.

21. The Irish tend to dress very lightly when they go out. Even in winter coats or jackets are unusual. The argument is that they could get stolen in a pub or club and also makes you less mobile when hunting. Shirt and jeans for the boys, summer dresses for the girls. Women generally only carry umbrellas.

22. They wear a swimsuit in the sauna. The naked body would cause offence and embarrassment. Nudist colonies are unknown and the picture of the naked page-three girl will not be closely examined, at least not in public.

23. Homosexuality was a crime until 1993. Now it is completely accepted and two TDs (members of parliament) are openly gay and nobody has a problem with it. Playboy was illegal until 1996, but these days sex shops and lap-dancing clubs are thriving businesses. Prostitution is still illegal

24. The Irish do not care in the slightest about Northern Ireland. The conflict was referred to as ‘The Troubles’, never ‘the war’ and is very much part of the past.

25. Local patriotism is only important in (Gaelic) football. Every team has their own colours; red and white for example represent Cork. When the local team plays the county colours are to be seen everywhere and the streets become deserted when the game starts. Gaelic football and hurling is more popular that the Irish soccer league. Soccer fans tend to support English teams more than the Irish ones.

26. Every county has its own nickname. For example Galwegians are referred to ‘The Tribesmen’, Corkonians ‘The Rebel County’. Some also have derogatory name. Thus people from the capital are referred to Jackeens, while Dubliners refer to the rest of the country as culchies.

27. Ireland has a very young population. While it is currently been downsized to two, most families have four children. A generation ago families were bigger. Paradoxically, the poorer the family the more children they had.

28. Ireland has had a female president since 1990. The first president Mary Robison changed the country greatly and was succeed by another woman, Mary McAleese.

29. Ireland joined the EEC in 1973.

30. Ireland has a compensation culture, influence by the American model. This has led to the omnipresent ‘health and safety’ regulations, which are extremely strict, bordering on the silly. The most notorious example of this was when the army sued the state for deafness.

31. Blood sports such as foxhunting and hare coursing are still legal. Bare-knuckled boxing, badger baiting and dog fighting have been outlawed.

32. Betting on dogs and horses, indeed betting on anything is popular. The Irish bookies made a massive loss a few years ago when they invited people to place bets on who shot Mr Burns (The Simpsons). What they didn’t know was that the episode has been shown the week before in America and Irish students returning from summer work in the US made a small fortune.

33. Ireland has an unarmed police force. In an effort to integrate our recent arrivals, membership is open to foreigners. The population has a bad habit of working against the Police. Everyone complains about drink driving, yet if there is a checkpoint, motorists will flash their lights at other motorists to warn them that there is a checkpoint ahead.

34. Most weapons i.e. flick knifes, handguns, high calibre hunting rifles, gas pistols, are forbidden. Fireworks and bangers are also illegal.

35. The Irish love to read about petty crimes described in great detail in the local newspapers. Ireland has a policy of naming and shaming and the name and address of the guilty party will be published, which can be very embarrassing in a small town, where everyone knows everyone. Older people tend to read the deaths column every day, perhaps to see if they have died.

36. The TV is central to family life. When visitors enter the volume may be turned down but the TV will often remain switched on. Soaps are followed religiously. The mundane happenings in Coronation Street (from Manchester) are an integral part of Irish family life. The characters are spoken of as if they were family members. What happens in the soaps is even discussed on radio and in the newspaper. What will happen is a main feature of women’s’ magazines.

37. The Irish do not feel threatened by foreigners. Together with Britain, and Sweden it has an open-door policy on immigration. An influx of foreigners into the country is something new but they have been generally well received. To date there are no racist groups in The Republic. ‘Irish-only’ signs regarding accommodation and jobs are unknown and this policy is strictly enforced by the ‘race and equality’ legislation.

38. Although it has received massive funding from the EU, US investment in the country has also been considerable. Most computers for the European market are assembled in Ireland and American firms in Ireland employ over 100,000 Irish people. It is little wonder that anti-American protestors are not as strong as in other EU member states and those who do protest are looked upon as subversives. Ireland is a neutral country but American warplanes and quite possibly captured insurgents pass through Shannon (geographically the first European airport). This is slowing becoming a problem. Ireland owes America, but it also has an untarnished human rights record.

39. Abortion is still illegal, but it is not as issue. If women want an abortion they can fly to Britain.

40. Like the English, the Irish drink tea in large amounts. Some people have up to twenty cups a day. The vast majority of the population only drink black tea, which is stronger than continental black tea. Milk is nearly always added. The milk is generally fresh and long lasting milk is almost unknown in Ireland. Similarly most people use real sugar and not some kind of artificial sweetener.

41. The Irish go shopping seven days a week. Sunday Trading has been possible for the last twenty years. The larger supermarkets are open 24 hours. The maxim ‘shop till you drop’ is very much part of the Christmas spirit.

42. Shoes are not removed when entering houses. It is polite to ask if one should remove ones shoes, to which the response is nearly always ‘only if they’re dirty.’

43. Tradesmen will come when they feel like it. If they say Monday they may not appear until Friday.

44. Property in Ireland is extremely expensive and is continually rising. The Irish do not like to rent. It is illogical for them that Continentals rent their apartment all their lives. Ownership is important. The Irish live in houses and unless they are students or just passing through, they will buy a house. Owing property is something of a national obsession.

45. Football jerseys and jogging trousers do not automatically signal working-class.

46. They pursue a policy of rounds when going drinking. This gives the appearance that people drink faster. People drink at a different pace and the first one finished, usually gets in the next round, which can create a problem if you are a slow drinker. Toasting is unusual in the pub as are drinking games.

47. Regarding work, the Irish pursue a policy of late to bed, late to rise. Most people only start the working day at 09:30. In this regard they are somewhat laid back.

48. Greetings in shops are unusual. The customer will not be automatically addressed or followed around the shop until they indicate that they want assistance.

49. Younger people speak a type of English that is mixture of Hiberno-English (English as it was traditionally spoken in Ireland, incorporating Gaelic grammar and pronunciation), British English and American slang learnt from TV. Hiberno-English is rich is colourful expressions that mystify other English speakers. It is still not possible for most Irish people to pronounce ‘th’ and they still pronounce film as filum.

50. In dealing with Irish people you must be human first. Everything else takes second place. This applies to everyone, regardless of rank and station. A writer who writes the finest books cannot live in Ireland if he lacks the common touch.

Lili Marlene

Lili Marlene

Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,Darling I remember the way you used to wait, 'Twas there that you whispered tenderly, That you loved me, You'd always be,My Lili of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene

Lili Marlene undoubtedly ranks as the most famous song of The Second World War. It became the unofficial song of both the Germans and Allies and had many different versions, some designed to promote longing and love, others hatred towards the foe while others were anti-war.

The song was originally written by Hans Leip (1893-1983) in 1915, who was a young soldier about to go to war. What he experienced at the front horrified him and he often reminisced of happier times when he stood on guard duty and caught a glimpse of his girlfriend and wondered if he would survive the death and destruction that surrounded him. Amidst the horrors of war he longed to be with her once more, a longing his generation and the next one could readily identify with. The name Lili Marlene was a combination of the name of his girlfriend Lili, with that of his friend’s girlfriend Marlene.
It was published as a poem in 1937 under the title of 'The Song of a Young Sentry' when it caught the attention of the composer Norbert Schultze who wrote music to ita and in 1938 and got Lale Andersen to sing it. It was first sung at a cabaret but this version was forbidden due to its anti-war message, one of the verses which ran:
Who recovers the bodies,Lost in desert sands?Who counts the victimson the oil-soaked beaches?Tell me, how much pain must pass,'til we see the waste and stupidity of it all?Oh God, Lilli Marleen

It landed Schultze in hot water with the authorities and in order to appease the Propaganda Ministry who could make or break his career he later came up with marches such as 'Bombs for England', which in turn landed him in trouble with the English after the war.
When the song was released it didn’t prove popular. The propaganda minister Josef Goebbels wanted to make a march out of it, which Andersen didn’t want and no radio station wanted to play it. When it was launched it only sold 700 copies.

In 1941 when the Germans occupied Yugoslavia they set up a radio station in Belgrade to broadcast to their troops. It was powerful enough to broadcast to most of Europe. Lieutenant Karl-Heinz Reintgen had the job of running the tiny station with rather limited resources. After the radio station was bombed he was left with only five records, three of which were banned. Therefore Reintgen had no option but to play the same two records again and again. It was assumed that the station in Belgrade would have a very limited audience and he played the Lili Marlene for his friend serving with the Afrika Korps who liked the song very much, until he couldn’t take it anymore and resolved never to play it again. What happened next shocked him. The station was inundated with letters and telegrammes from all over Europe requesting the song be played. One of the letters was even from an American, although America was now at war with Germany, requesting that Reintgen play a request for a friend of his. At the time the song was not been played in Germany as the propaganda ministry felt that the sad song was bad for morale and Andersen herself was forbidden to perform as she was consorting with Jews. Now everyone in Germany wanted to hear her sing it and the authorities were forced to back down. Field marshal Rommel also ranked among the legions of fans of the song and requested that it be permanently integrated into the programme. Thus every evening at 9:55, just before the station went off air the sad song echoed over the deserts of North Africa and soldiers on all sides listened in. For a brief moment they could reminisce about they love they had to leave behind back home. The station also proved to be a way of contacting the Allies. On one occasion an RAF pilot, who had been shot down was brought into the station under guard. He had been posted as missing and was anxious that his pregnant wife back in England know that he was alright.
The popularity of the song meant that it could be used for propaganda purposes and the BBC came up with a German version with a subtle anti-Hitler message, to remind the German troops that due to Hitler, their wives were suffering alone at home with the hardships of war. The British were becoming concerned that their soldiers were whistling and singing a German song and when several English soldiers were given a dressing down they responded by saying that someone should write an English version of it.
In 1944 Tommie Connor did just that and composed the English text in only 25 minutes. It was first sung in English by Anne Shelton. Over a million records of the song were sold in a month. It was also sung by Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf, Amanda Lear, Bing Crosby and Perry Como but it was Marlene Dietrich who immortalised the song for the Allies. Dietrich was originally from Germany but joined the American forces to help the fight against her fellow countrymen, something that Germans never forgave her for. She entertained the Allied troops with ‘The Girl under the Lantern’ both on radio and live performances in North-Africa, Sicily, Italy, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and England over a three year period. The theme of a soldier longing for his love was something people all over the world could understand, especially in a time of separation that the war had brought.
By the time the war had ended the song had been translated into 48 languages and its popularity didn’t show signs of waning. As late as the 1980s it was still been re-released into the charts. Never before had a single song captivated so many people and it has yet to find its equal.