Monthly Archives: May 2013

50 years of Blowin in the Wind

In May 2011 I wrote a post in celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday and the impact he had on me as a teenager. The original text can be seen here.  50 years ago today Bob Dylan first performed Blowin in the Wind. Then aged 15, I clearly recall the first time I heard it and how it fed into the worldwide social happenings of the world and stirred the conscience of a generation. Most particularly it provided a vehicle for our rebellious spirits. The original post is below.

Bob Dylan and his Harmonica in 1963. Image

Being a teen in Ireland in the early 1960s was a fascinating time. The Irish television service had just been introduced in 1961, although those of us who lived near the border with the six counties of Northern Ireland had enjoyed the BBC for  several years before – all in black and white of course!

One of the abiding memories from my teens was at age 15, racing into the living room and being stopped in my tracks by Martin Luther King on the television, delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, in Washington D.C. I was rooted to the spot. I also vividly recall the news reports of the war in Vietnam, the ‘FLOP-flop, FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop’ sound of Huey helicopters flying at terrifying angles and offloading their human cargoes of young men just a few years older than myself – either crouched and running,being carried on stretchers or in body bags. Never before had anything like these scenes been witnessed at a distance, by any generation. The impact on us was remarkable.

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image

At the same time music was evolving, leaving behind the big band and orchestral sounds and becoming much more exciting and exhilarating. For a huge number of teenagers and young adults in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was phenomenal. With his guitar and harmonica and ‘drawl style’ of singing, he was unique. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times  they are a-Changin’ captured the mood exactly. They not only added an authenticity to the events, they challenged us not to remain complacent.

That Bob Dylan helped motivate an entire  generation to become socially aware, is probably an understatement.  Although he disliked the tag ‘protest song’, this is exactly what his compositions were to an emerging generation who were seeing things in their own homes that had only ever been read about in the past. His social commentaries were powerful motivators in making people question social inequality and the human cost of the Vietnam conflict. Not only that, his songs were like nothing we had heard before.  They had beautiful melodies, they were poetic, they had a social message. They were anthems of the time, most especially for the Civil Rights movement in the USA and for the anti-war movement, both of which, with the inspiration of Bob Dylan, became international movements.

For those of us emerging into adulthood in the sixties, Bob Dylan was a true icon. His poetry was inspiring; his message was beyond love-songs, beyond ‘ be-bop-a-doo-dah’ banality. His place in the politics, history and culture of the 1960s  enabled us to admonish those who perpetrated injustices in a way that had not been seen before and  not has been seen since.

How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?….. How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they are forever banned?…

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?… How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?

How many deaths will it take till he knows  that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Blowin still 50 years on.  Bob Dylan –  you changed me…you changed the world !


Filed under Life in the 1960sLiving in IrelandSocial Change

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Social Change, Social History Ireland

Book Review: Great Endeavour – Ireland’s Antarctic Explorers

Ballinacurra, Banbridge, Athy, Annascaul, Barry’s Point, Kilmurry , Kinsale….these  Irish places have a fascinating shared history, for they produced some of the world’s greatest Antarctic explorers.2013-05-08 20.31.54

Following a recent visit to Kinsale where I came upon the memorial commemorating the Antarctic adventures of the McCarthy Brothers  (see my earlier blog post here),  I undertook some  research to discover more about them. And so it was that I came across Michael Smith, journalist, author, authority on Polar exploration and in particular on the Irish who had been pivotal in pushing out the boundaries of human endeavour in the early 20th Century and in more recent times. As luck would have it, he was about to give a talk at the Ennis Book Club Festival on March 2, 2013 , so I reserved a seat! 

Michael Smith is a natural storyteller, in both word and print. With meticulous attention to detail, he has traced and recounted the biographies of these Irishmen mostly from ‘ordinary’ and modest backgrounds who went on to do extraordinary things. He has located many of the surviving descendants of these polar explorers and the resulting personal insights  add a fascinating dimension to stories of great heroism.

As early as 1820  Edward Bransfield from County Cork was in the Southern latitudes and is arguably the first person ever to have sighted Antarctica. Some few decades later  Francis Crozier penetrated the pack ice of the Ross Sea for the  first time. Shackleton, who hailed from Kildare is widely acclaimed for the expeditions he mounted to explore the Antarctic wastes. Not so the others – Tom Crean, who served with Shackleton and Scott in 3  expeditions to the South Pole;  Patrick Keohane who served with Scott on his fatal expedition to the South Pole;  Robert Forde who served with Scott on the same expedition, Timothy McCarthy who served with Shackleton on the Endeavor and Mortimer  Mc Carthy who was helmsman on the Terra Nova, Scott’s expedition. Michael Smith tells the stories of these extraordinary people in passionate detail – each story demonstrating courage and bravery that is truly inspiring.

Each of these Irishmen has a  geographic feature in the Antarctic named in their honour  – mountains, islands, seas, –  monuments to their courage – yet they remain virtually unheard of here at home. They have largely been airbrushed from our history – a history that regrettably did not recognize honour in any achievement by our countrymen, prior to independence.  That, thankfully is changing, thanks in no small part to the Englishman, Michael Smith who has documented these feats of heroism about which we can be justly proud.  

Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer. Image Wikimedia Commons

This iconic image of Tom Crean has looked out from the shelves in bookshops for several years now, but it has only been in recent memory that the heroics of Tom Crean have been shared and appreciated. This has been largely due to the work of Michael Smith, whose book ‘Tom Crean  – Unsung Hero‘ tells the amazing, incredible and inspiring story of this  man from County Kerry.   Recognition of the extraordinary achievements of this quiet man from Kerry is now being passed on to our children as Michael Smith’s Tom Crean – Ice Man: The Adventures of an Irish Antarctic Hero is now on the  school syllabus. Hopefully many parents of the children who read this  book will also discover this legendary Irish hero.

Michael Smith’s tale of Irish explorers does not end with these great explorers of days gone by. He brings it right up to date with a chapter on the Irish Expedition that reached the South Pole in 2008, with Pat Falvey, Jonathan Bradshaw, Shaun Menzies and Clare O’Leary, the first  Irishwoman to reach the South Pole on foot, and the remarkable achievement of  Irishman Mark Pollock, who reached the South Pole on foot in 2009 – most remarkable as Mark is totally blind.

This book is beautifully written, with Smith’s attention to detail adding to the authenticity of the stories and to the drama. It has superb photographs, not seen elsewhere, as many are from family sources.  It is well referenced and has an extensive bibliography  for those who wish to read more.

I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to read of daring, adventure, willpower, for here you will find inspiration straight from our very own history, in which we can be rightly proud.

My personal Michael  Smith collection - each one a gem

My personal Michael Smith collection – each one a gem


Great Endeavour.  Ireland’s Antarctic Explorers by Michael Smith. The Collins Press.





Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History