THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE – was it Genocide?

My wife and I visited Dublin in September 2000. At that time, as a  participant in the  economic Celtic Tiger  Boom our son and his wife were living and working in Dublin and it was a convenient excuse to visit the land of my forefathers, take in sights and soak up the music. In 1870 members of the McGrath family (my ancestors) emigrated from Dublin (or was it Cork?) to Australia. My wife Mae also had a family connection to Belfast. So while we were not “Irish Irish” we have a connection Ireland. While we were there I remember a newspaper article commenting on the the just released population census that pegged the Irish population as the highest since the great famine of the mid-1800s. The article noted that the population of Ireland before the famine was around eight million. Over a relatively short period of time famine and mass emigration cut that number almost in half. At the time of our visit the population of Ireland was still only around five million.  The famine was caused by a fungal infection that destroyed the potato crop. For those who are unaware of the Irish Famine here is the Wikipedia entry ……..

“The Great Famine, also known within Ireland as the Great Hunger or simply the Famine and outside Ireland as the Irish Potato Famine, was a period of  starvation and disease in Ireland lasting from 1845 to 1852 that constituted a historical social crisis and subsequently had a major impact on Irish society and history as a whole. The most severely affected areas were in the western and southern parts of Ireland—where the Irish language was dominant—and hence the period was contemporaneously known in Irish as an Drochshaol, which literally translates to “the bad life” and loosely translates to “the hard times”. The worst year of the famine was 1847, which became known as “Black ’47”. During the Great Hunger, roughly 1 million people died and more than 1 million more fled the country causing the country’s population to fall by 20–25% (in some towns, populations fell as much as 67%) between 1841 and 1871. Between 1845 and 1855, at least 2.1 million people left Ireland, primarily on packet ships but also on steamboats and barques —one of the greatest exoduses from a single island in history.”

“The famine was a defining moment in the history of Ireland which was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1801 to 1922. The famine and its effects permanently changed the island’s demographic, political, and cultural landscape, producing an estimated 2 million refugees and spurring a century-long population decline For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory. The strained relations between many Irish and their ruling British government worsened further because of the famine, heightening ethnic and sectarian tensions and boosting nationalism and republicanism both in Ireland and among Irish emigrants around the world. English documentary maker John Percival said that the famine “became part of the long story of betrayal and exploitation which led to the growing movement in Ireland for independence.” Scholar Kirby Miller makes the same point. Debate exists regarding nomenclature for the event, whether to use the term “Famine”, “Potato Famine” or “Great Hunger”, the last of which some believe most accurately captures the complicated history of the period.”

The potato blight returned to Europe in 1879 but, by this time, the Land War (one of the largest agrarian movements to take place in 19th-century Europe) had begun in Ireland The movement, organized by the Land League, continued the political campaign for the Three Fs  (Free Sale, Fixity of Tenure, Fair Rent) which was issued in 1850 by the Tenant Right League during the Great Famine. When the potato blight returned to Ireland in the 1879 famine, the League boycotted “notorious landlords” and its members physically blocked the evictions of farmers; the consequent reduction in homelessness and house demolitions resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of death.”

Historical population

Year Population[8] %Change Av % per year
2022 7.1m Increase6.6 Increase1.1
2016 6.66m Increase4.2 Increase0.84
2011 6.39m Increase6.86 Increase1.37
2006 5.98m Increase6.6 Increase1.32
2001 5.6m Increase6.1 Increase1.21
1996 5.29m Increase3.5 Increase0.7
1991 5.1m Steady Steady
1986 5.1m Increase2.2 Increase0.44
1981 5m Increase10.86 Increase1.09
1971 4.51m Increase3.44 Increase0.69
1966 4.36m Increase2.59 Increase0.52
1961 4.25m Decrease0.93 Decrease0.19
1956 4.29m Decrease0.19 Decrease0.1
1951 4.33m Increase0.93 Increase1.86
1946 4.29m Increase1.9 Increase0.1
1931 4.21m Decrease0.47 Decrease0.09
1926 4.23m Decrease3.42 Decrease0.23
1911 4.38m Decrease1.79 Decrease0.18
1901 4.46m Decrease5.11 Decrease0.51
1891 4.7m Decrease9.27 Decrease0.93
1881 5.18m Decrease4.07 Decrease0.4
1871 5.4m Decrease6.9 Decrease0.69
1861 5.8m Decrease11.45 Decrease1.15
1851 6.55m Decrease19.93 Decrease1.99
1841 8.18m Increase2.89 Increase0.41
1834 7.95m Increase2.32 Increase0.77
1831 7.77m Increase14.26 Increase1.43
1821 6.8m Increase22.08 Increase1.47
1806[12] 5.57m Increase17.26 Increase1.15
1791 4.75m Increase17.28 Increase1.73
1781 4.05m Increase26.56 Increase0.98
1754 3.2m Increase10.3 Increase0.29
1718 2.9m Increase107 Increase0.907
1600 1.4m

In 2016, the population of Ireland for the first time exceeded the population recorded in the Census of 1851, the first census immediately after the Great Famine, when the population of the island was recorded at 6,575,000.

The response of the British Parliament of the day was inadequate and, some say callous, and even possibly Genocide. Here is a YouTube video that explores the Great Famine and the British response to the crisis.

Some of the twisted logic of the politicians of that era is still in use today. How often do we echoes of racial superiority and hear the cry “let the free markets rule” .

Irish refugees from the famine scattered across the world creating huge Irish diasporas in Canada, the USA and Australia. Here is a song written by the Irish guitarist John Doyle that captures some of the despair of the time.





A Touch of Reality (as I see It)

This is in response to a number of issues, that in my opinion, seem to have become a little distorted.

  • There is Runaway inflation and ” a skyrocketing rise in the cost of living”. This seems to be the constant chant and rant in the media. Stop and think about it for a minute. Where are we at this moment? We have just endured over three years of a global pandemic with 697,897,180 COVID cases and 6,938,524 deaths world wide. In Canada there were 4,786, 258 COVID cases and 54,902 deaths. Naturally this has been accompanied by major economic and social disruptions that obviously continue to play out as the world attempts to get back to “normal”. There has been  inflation in Canada but it is a stretch to characterize it as “runaway”. For comparison here are some Canadian numbers………… 2021 the rate was 3.4%; 2022 (the peak) 6.8%; 2023 (September) 3.8%;  2024 (projected) 2.43%. In looking at world wide figures there are some obvious catastrophic numbers – Argentina 143%; Turkey at 61.36%  but Canada is no where in that league.
Country Last Previous Reference Unit
Argentina 143 138 Oct/23 %
Australia 5.4 6 Sep/23 %
Brazil 4.82 5.19 Oct/23 %
Canada 3.8 4 Sep/23 %
China -0.2 0 Oct/23 %
Euro Area 2.9 4.3 Oct/23 %
France 4 4.9 Oct/23 %
Germany 3.8 4.5 Oct/23 %
India 4.87 5.02 Oct/23 %
Indonesia 2.56 2.28 Oct/23 %
Italy 1.7 5.34 Oct/23 %
Japan 3 3.2 Sep/23 %
Mexico 4.26 4.45 Oct/23 %
Netherlands -0.4 0.2 Oct/23 %
Russia 6.7 6 Oct/23 %
Saudi Arabia 1.6 1.7 Oct/23 %
Singapore 4.1 4 Sep/23 %
South Africa 5.4 4.8 Sep/23 %
South Korea 3.8 3.7 Oct/23 %
Spain 3.5 3.5 Oct/23 %
Switzerland 1.7 1.7 Oct/23 %
Turkey 61.36 61.53 Oct/23 %
United Kingdom 4.6 6.7 Oct/23 %
United States 3.2 3.7 Oct/23 %

I suggest, based on these numbers, the Canadian situation is looking pretty good. I agree that the cost of goods and services have gone up but, I suggest, all things considered, the increases are not as dramatic as what has been implied by by fiscally conservative observers. The situation is stabilizing and inflation numbers are slowly coming down. The biggest component in the Canadian figures is probably the high cost of accommodation and that is largely driven by increases in interest rates.

  • COVID-19 Mandates. The BC government has chosen to retain the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for workers in Health Care, Long-Term Care and Assisted Living facilities. This has prompted some reaction that implies that the mandates are a draconian policy that exacerbates  the shortage of skilled health care workers. I suspect the objections are based on political considerations and have no merit. The mandates are prudent health care policy and any objections are based on political agendas or a lack of knowledge of Infectious Diseases and how Public Health policies work. Generally speaking, the vaccination rates for Health Care workers in British Columbia are in the 90+ percentiles. In some instances they are as high as 98%. I suspect the number of Health Care workers excluded from being able to work are very, very low and are not responsible for any shortage of skilled workers . For those few that resist vaccination I suggest they need to examine their professional ethics and, if they still consider mandatory vaccinations are an infringement  then  I further suggest perhaps they are working in the wrong profession. Vaccinations are a corner stone of modern medical practice and to think and act  otherwise is unprofessional, foolish and dangerous.


  • The Israeli – Palestinian Conflict. I think almost every one can agree that the  Hamas attacks on Israel and the loss of Israeli lives is horrific. The resulting conflagration and the further loss of Palestinian lives is also horrific. While the military operations continue there is another battle going and that is the battle for the hearts and minds of world opinion. The history of the region over the past 70 years has been batted back and forth with blame being laid at the doors of both protagonists. The resulting sympathies depend on the latest news reports and can be switch back and forth at a moment notice. Some things do need to be kept in mind. The charges of some horrific atrocities perpetrated by Hamas at this stage of the conflict are, at best, hear say. Every one is lead to believe they are all true but, as near as I can tell concrete evidence has yet to be produced and verified. In every war, particularly at the opening stages, the charges of horrific atrocities are always  levelled against all protagonists. In World War I German soldiers were accused of bayoneting Belgium babies. Was that really true? I don’t know it but it was part and parcel of the propaganda war and  is all part of “the game”. So lets wait for the verifiable evidence before we pass judgment. At the same time Jewish settlers have been accused of the murder and harassment of Palestinians in the West Bank. And so it goes on. The Israelis have accused Hamas of using civilians as humans shields and placing civilians at risk by embedding themselves in the civilian population. A little dose of reality is needed here. The Gaza Strip is narrow piece of land 41 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide. Think about it. The area is smaller than most  Canadian municipalities. Into that small piece of land are crammed over 2 million people and around 500 kilometres of tunnels. Dig a hole in any direction and the chances are you will hit a tunnel. At the same time it is simply impossible for Hamas to separate itself from the civilian population. There is just not enough room to do otherwise. The Israelis know that and that is why there is such widespread civilian devastation. It is just not possible to be able to separate military and civilian targets.  The Israeli demands for over a million citizens to relocate from North Gaza  to the south to accommodate their battle plans is neither feasible or possible. Even with sufficient infrastructure (vehicles, gasoline, etc) of which their isn’t, it cannot be done. The Israeli Defence Force is finding weapons in and around the Palestinian hospitals and will probably offer that up as evidence of nefarious acts perpetrated by Hamas. That may or may not be true but lets face it the finding of arms is hardly unexpected.



YouTube Picks (#44) – FANDANGO

I know this is an inappropriate and  sexist comment but this lady with her great smile and fine set of castanets  is so hot  that this video is a must view. She looks like she is having so much fun. Her name is Belén Cabanes. This music was written by Luigi Boccherini around 1798 and is probably the most famous of his Guitar Quintets. This is music composed before Flamenco had been invented and before there  were Spanish Tourist Boards promoting all things Spanish.

 Ridolfo Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) was an Italian cellist  and composer of “The Classic” era. He wrote a large amount of chamber music, including over one hundred string quintets for two violins, viola and two cellos (a type which he pioneered, in contrast with the then common scoring for two violins, two violas and one cello), a dozen guitar quintets, not all of which have survived, nearly a hundred string quartets, and a number of string trios and sonatas (including at least 19 for the cello). His orchestral music includes around 30 Symphonies and 12 virtuoso cello concertos. He is a contemporary of Joseph Haydn  ….. Wikipedia

There a number of versions of this piece on YouTube all worth checking out but this is probably the best.


aaahhh….. MARIMBA

Back in my youth teenagers  performing music was not a common phenomena. In Sydney, Australia, while in  my  late teens AM top forty radio was the big mover on the local music scene. Of course there were local cover bands of mostly older professional musicians but none of my teen age friends  ever gave a thought to actually playing music. I was probably the only one in my peer group who owned an instrument. It was early days and I was at that horrible stumbling stage of  trying to figure out how to actually play a guitar. It wasn’t until classic rock became “a thing” that things began to change. When I started to pay serious attention to music the late night radio broadcasts  were on the tail end of the swing era with big band tributes and crooners like Frank Sinatra ruling the late night air waves. When Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, etc   kicked off the  modern singer/songwriter rock era Modern Jazz and folk music were on the fringe of the local music scene and “Classic Rock” wasn’t even a concept at that stage. By the mid sixties that had changed and every young guy on the planet picked up a guitar and started churning out the new music. For a young guy an electric guitar was an instant “chick magnet”. The era of the guitar god became the order of the day and that is the way it has been ever since. Now, maybe that is changing. Rick Beato, the YouTube music critic and promoter, commented in a recent YouTube video that  when young people socialize  these days they no longer seem to be interested in playing music. They are more interested in playing video games. So maybe the Electric Guitar era has just about run its course. The legendary performers are dropping like flies and the bands left over from the classic rock era are populated by really, really old men. It is probably time to move on.
For me, the new thing, and don’t laugh, is the marimba. I know it maybe only be because the YouTube algorithms are selecting from my playlists and that only re-enforces my current interests in Marimba performances by young nerdy guys or cute Asian ladies. That seems to be their instrument of choice. For me there is something very appealing about a huge five octave marimba played by two handed musicians with four mallets. The resulting sounds are magical. There seems to be masses of musicians and new composers churning out musically spectacular performances on Marimbas. I was first turned onto marimba music way back in the mid-1980s when I first heard Steve Reich’s Six Marimbas. For some audiences  the music is an advanced  form of sonic Chinese water torture. As a comment I think that is a little unkind. I admit it is very repetitious but if you really, really listen there is a lot going on in the music. I have been listening to that piece for over thirty years and I still find it enthralling. It was originally written for six Grand Pianos but I guess getting six grand pianos into a room  was a logistical nightmare. For six Marimbas that is still a physical challenge but getting them into  a concert space it is doable. Steve Reich is a modern classical composer who, along with Phillip Glass, Terry Riley and others has re-invented modern classical music. So while pop/rock music seems to have gone down the rabbit hole of massive arena performances, modern classical musicians seem to have stripped away the excesses of modern pop music  to produce performances that are both sonically and visually interesting.
So here is a recent performance of Steve Reich’s magical Six Marimbas performed by HAMIRUGE – THE LOUSIANA STATE UNIVERSITY  GROUP under the direction of Brett Dietz.

 It doesn’t end there. The piece has been re-arranged for Indonesian Gamelan. I think that works almost as well. The Indonesian Gamelan Orchestras were a major influence on Reich’s music.

 For a more traditional Classical approach to music check out the magnificent arrangement of the Chaconne from  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004. It was composed in between 1717-1720. The  Chaconne reflects Bach’s thorough appreciation for the violin as an instrument of musical expression. At one level it is a simple piece of music  – the 256-measure-long work consists of 64 variants on the four-measure phrase heard at the beginning. Check out the dynamics in the performance of this piece.

On a jazzier note check out Mika Stoltzman’s Marimba Madness with a  combo that included the great drummer Steve Gadd who appears to be faultlessly sight reading the drum parts. Enjoy……

Ivan Trevino is one of a number of composers churning out new music for Marimba and Vibraphone. This is one of his pieces called Catching Shadows. The inclusion of the drum kit is a nice touch.

Another version scored  for Percussion Sextet. How do high school kids get this good?

Here is a performance of Velocities compose by Joseph Schwantner (born March 22, 1943) an American compose and educator. He is prolific, with many works to his credit. His style is coloristic and eclectic, drawing on such diverse elements as French impressionism, African drumming, and minimalism. His orchestral work  Aftertones of Infinity received the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Music (Wikipedia).

That is just a few performances available on YouTube.



Read Any Good Books Lately? (#26) – “Wild Things”

Living surrounded by the snow capped mountains of the East Kootenays in British Columbia, the concept of “wild” is not an unfamiliar notion. After all, on an almost daily basis, it is not unusual to see deer in our yard, herds of elk in adjacent fields, wild turkeys wandering down the street and the occasional moose and black bear. So when Alice Henderson’s environmentally themed novels hit my desk they were avidly devoured.

A Solitude of Wolverines: A Novel of Suspense (Alex Carter Series Book 1)

“The first book in a thrilling series featuring a wildlife biologist who courts trouble as she saves endangered species . . . and a mysterious killer who buries his dead in the land she helps preserve—a fast-paced, action-driven tale of suspense with the atmosphere and propulsive tension of works by Jane Harper, C. J. Box, William Kent Krueger, and Nevada Barr. While studying wolverines on a wildlife sanctuary in Montana, biologist Alex Carter is run off the road and threatened by locals determined to force her off the land. Undeterred in her mission to help save this threatened species, Alex tracks wolverines on foot and by cameras positioned in remote regions of the preserve. But when she reviews the photos, she discovers disturbing images of an animal of a different kind: a severely injured man seemingly lost and wandering in the wilds. After searches for the unknown man come up empty, local law enforcement is strangely set on dismissing the case altogether, raising Alex’s suspicions. Then another invasive predator trespasses onto the preserve. The hunter turns out to be another human—and the prey is the wildlife biologist herself. Alex realizes too late that she has seen too much—she’s stumbled onto a far-reaching illegal operation and now has become the biggest threat. In this wild and dangerous landscape, Alex’s life depends on staying one step ahead—using all she knows about the animal world and what it takes to win the brutal battle for survival.”   ……. Amazon Books

A Blizzard of Polar Bears: A Novel of Suspense (Alex Carter Series Book 2)

Wildlife biologist Alex Carter is back, fighting for endangered species in the Canadian Arctic and battling for her life in this action-packed follow-up to A Solitude of Wolverines, “a true stunner of a thriller debut” (James Rollins) and “a great read” (Nevada Barr). Fresh off her wolverine study in Montana, wildlife biologist Alex Carter lands a job studying a threatened population of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. Embedded with a small team of Arctic researchers, she tracks the majestic bears by air, following them over vast, snowy terrain, spending days leaning precariously out of a helicopter with a tranquilizer gun, until she can get down on the ice to examine them up close. But as her study progresses, and she gathers data on the health of individual bears, things start to go awry. Her helicopter pilot quits unexpectedly, equipment goes missing, and a late-night intruder breaks into her lab and steals the samples she’s collected. She realizes that someone doesn’t want her to complete her study, but Alex is not easily deterred. Managing to find a replacement pilot, she returns to the icy expanses of Hudson Bay. But the helicopter catches fire in mid-flight, forcing the team to land on a vast sheet of white far from civilization. Surviving on the frozen landscape is difficult enough, but as armed assailants close in on snowmobiles, Alex must rely on her skills and tenacity to survive this onslaught and carry out her mission….. Amazon Books

A Ghost of Caribou: A Novel of Suspense (Alex Carter Series Book 3)

There are many threads in this third book in the Alex Carter series. This time our intrepid biologist is living in the forests of the northern U.S., on the borders of Idaho, Washington, and Canada. She is tasked with documenting a possible sighting of the elusive caribou, thought to be absent from the U.S. Alex encounters an ongoing feud between loggers and environmentalists, including a woman who has been living in a tree for months. In addition, a woman is missing, and another’s body has been discovered, leading to FBI and local police involvement. The writing here is as excellent as ever, and all the characters are believable and interesting………. Amazon Books. Some readers may find the issues of environmentalists versus every one else a little to black and white. The location of the novel is just immediately south of the East Kootenays and as such has an immediate appeal.





Gordon Pinsent (July 12, 1930 – February 25, 2023)

For me 1971 was a good year. It was the year I arrived in Canada and met my future wife.  1972 was an even a better year. It was the year I got married and, co-incidently, it was the year that the Canadian film The Rowdyman starring Gordon Pinsent hit the big screen. It was also marked the year I first heard Ian Tyson’s  Summer Wages and the music of Gordon Lightfoot. There you have it, three major Canadian icons in such a short time. I thought I had hit the mother load of Canadian culture. In the space of a little over a year I had slipped into the mainstream of Canadian life and found a Canadian soundtrack for the characters I met every day. I was just like in the movies. The people I was meeting could have stepped straight out of the Rowdyman. It was art imitating life.

So to hear of Gordon Pinsent’s death it was a reminder of those early days of my immersion and integration into Canadian society and culture. Thank you Gordon.


Grace Kelly

For people of my generation the name Grace Kelly could only mean the blonde American actress who married Prince Rainer of Monaco way back in April 1956. In a sense she was the Meghan Markle of her day. Both ladies were American actresses who married into European royal families. Until her death in a car crash in 1982  Grace Kelly’s marriage and subsequent royal life had a fairy tale scandal free quality  that has remained untarnished to this day.

For the current generation the name could only mean the young Asian-American saxophone player Grace Chung aka Grace Kelly. She is a musician, songwriter, and arranger who has produced and released recordings of her own, scored soundtracks, and tours with her band.

David Sanborn, Grace Kelly and Marcus Miller

Grace Chung was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to Korean parents, she moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, when she was 2 years old. She briefly played clarinet and classical piano before finding her voice on the saxophone. Kelly stated, “Saxophone reminds me of the human voice. And I always felt this very compelling, this feeling, that someone was singing to me.  The Girl from Ipanema was on repeat in my household when I was a little girl and thought: ‘I wanna learn this one day.’ It’s one of the instruments that’s closest to expressing the human voice”. Her mother remarried in 1997 to Robert Kelly, who legally adopted Grace a few years later, thus changing her name to Grace Kelly. She wrote her first song “On My Way Home” at age seven. Kelly counts it a major breakthrough in her career when singer/songwriter Fred Taylor approached her after she sat in with vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway at Sculler’s. He offered to book her first headlining show at a major jazz venue. Kelly left Brookline High School at age 16 and earned her GED.  After studying in the Jazz Department of the New England Conservatory of Music’s School of Preparatory Education she enrolled at Berklee College of Music, where at the age of 19 she graduated in December 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in professional music. Kelly studies or has studied saxophone with Jeremy Udden, James Merenda, George Garzone, Lee Konitz, Greg Osby, Jerry Bergonzi, and Allan Chase…….. Wikipedia

She was famously mentored by the late, great Phil Woods and has gone on to collaborate and record with many famous musicians. By any standard she is a heavy hitter in the world of Alto Saxophone.

Here are some clips of her work……….

Note: This was recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2011. After a long struggle with the lung disease emphysema, Phil Woods died September 29, 2015. It is amazing that he continued to play at such a high level right up to his death.


Read Any Good Books Lately (#25) – Victoria Clark

Victoria Clark is a writer of non-fiction who has has worked for The Observer in Romania, the former Yugoslavia and Russia from 1990 to 1996, reporting the Croatian, Bosnian and first Chechen wars. I first stumbled onto her book Why Angels Fall in an Australian second hand book shop over 25 years ago. I have read the book twice and. given enough time, I will probably read it again. To have any understanding of the Eastern European mind set this book is an essential read.

Why Angels Fall: A Journey Through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo  – Nov. 28 2000

Victoria Clark traveled across most of Eastern Europe to write Why Angels Fall. Having worked for six years as a journalist in Romania, the former Yugoslavia, and Russia, Clark was fascinated by the Eastern Orthodox churches and keen to unravel their histories and beliefs. To do so, she journeyed from Mount Athos, to Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Russia, Cyprus, and finally Istanbul, interviewing clergy and other believers. We’re treated to a series of vivid cameos, a few of whose subjects glow almost visibly with holiness, a few terrify, and many show qualities rare and needed in the West. As Clark puts it, after the ancient split between eastern and western Christianity, “each side lost something it could not happily do without … at the risk of oversimplifying for the sake of clarity, western Christendom can be said to have lost its heart, eastern Christendom its mind.” Her keenness to explain Orthodoxy to Westerners stems from a fear that the continent is in the process of fracturing along a 1,000-year-old fault line, between the Catholic and Protestant west and the Orthodox east. The book combines high-quality, highly readable travel writing with a powerful mix of politics and religion. Most of all, perhaps, it demonstrates the power of history, and of different peoples’ conflicting versions of history. Again and again, Clark finds the present in the grip of the past. In Serbia, for example, she cannot escape the legends surrounding the destruction of the Serbs’ medieval empire in 1389, and the death of the venerated Prince Lazar: “the battle of Kosovo’s interruption of Serbia’s golden greatness has become a cataclysm to rival man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the minds of Serbs…. Prince Lazar is the key to understanding the Serbs’ deep conviction that, however many wars they initiate, they remain a nation of victims and martyrs.” –David Pickering,

Far-Farers Hardcover – Dec 31 2004

Just before the year 1000, a young Viking named Thorvald turned his back on the pagan gods of his fathers to preach the Christian gospel. But his Icelandic countrymen mocked and outlawed him. Abandoning his homeland, Thorvald embarked on an epic journey to the heart of all medieval world maps, Jerusalem. A thousand years later, Victoria Clark embarked on the same journey to discover to what extent the dramatic changes and conflicts sweeping Western Europe a millennium ago still resonate today. The Far-Farers is both the story of this twenty-first-century journey and a history of eleventh-century western Christendom.

In this remarkable book Clark illuminates a group of influential eleventh-century characters Thorvald, emperors of eastern and western Christendom, abbots, saints, princesses, Crusaders who form links in a historical chain extending down the century and all the way from Iceland to the Holy Land. Western Europe was struggling to unite then, expanding rapidly and changing utterly. Warfare, peacekeeping, multinational monasticism, institutional power struggles, mass pilgrim travel, and rising religious fundamentalism were a few salient characteristics of this world more like our own than we might imagine. The twenty-first-century people Clark encountered as she traveled through Iceland, central and Western Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East cast fresh light on both worlds. In the ancient capital of Poland, a young Catholic priest scorns the idea of Europe uniting in the name of human rights instead of Christ. At the Crusader stronghold of Krak les Chevaliers, a Syrian playboy highlights the deep and widening gulf between the West and Islam. A richly evocative and beautifully written work, The Far-Farers is neither conventional history nor travel, but a powerful and authoritative demonstration of our enduring connection with the distant past.

Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism Hardcover – Illustrated, Nov. 28 2007

Holy Fire: The Battle for Christ’s Tomb (2011)

“Holy Fire invades the church, a fast-breeding light transfiguring faces, transforming the dark stone space. I hear gasps and cheers and sobs and tears. The emotion is overwhelming, the heat suffocating . . .’
Every Easter the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Fire is enacted in front of hundreds of the faithful in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. For centuries, Orthodox Christian pilgrims have made the arduous journey to witness it: the proof they need that God favors them far above all other Christians, as well as Jews and Moslems. Holy Fire presents the unending battle waged by various denominations of Christian churchmen for their savior’s empty tomb as the microcosm of centuries of wider Christian power struggles. Victoria Clark deftly weaves history, reportage and religion into a fluid and fascinating account that includes the aggressive campaigns of medieval Crusaders, the empire-building of the nineteenth-century European powers, Britain’s decision to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917, and today’s zealous, though unlikely, champions of Israel’s cause, the Christian Zionists. She explores the contribution that the Christian world has made to the unfolding tragedy of the Holy Land – at a time when it has never been more urgent for the West to see itself as others see it.

In Innocents Abroad (1869) Mark Twain wrote of the various Christian groups who had chapels in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “It has been proven conclusively that they can not worship together around the grave of the Saviour of the World in peace.” Little has changed, and journalist Clark traces the historical reasons why this is so. Skillfully weaving narrative about contemporary Jerusalem and Israel with a history of the political and religious wrangling over the places deemed holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims, Clark’s book reads like a thriller. She follows the various Christian claims to the land (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) as well as the international ones (the Ottoman Empire and the more contemporary interests of England, France, Russia and the United States) from the time of Constantine up to the creation of the state of Israel. Though her personal dislike for evangelicals mars the book slightly, readers will come to understand why small incidents, such as an Egyptian Copt sitting in the Ethiopian section of the rooftop patio of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, can erupt in violence, and why so many nations today continue to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. ………. Amazon Books

I currently have this book on my wish list.

Post-script: After reading Victoria Clark’s books the temptation to go further down the Christian “rabbit hole” was just too overwhelming. So much so that I had to re-read some recent Irish history ….

A New Ireland: How Europe’s Most Conservative Country Became Its Most Liberal  …… (2020)

by Niall O’Dowd
Theocracies are never a good idea. Just look at the recent news coming out of Iran. The amalgamation of Church and state seems to be a recipe for pain and violence.  It was in Ireland and it continues to be so in Iran. This is an important book about the Irish theocracy of the last 100 years. It is slightly off topic from Victoria Clark’s books but not by much. The historical threads of 2,000 years of Christianity have been played out in the history of the Irish Republic. The very recent demise of the Irish theocracy  demonstrates that  even in the most entrenched circumstances there is possibilities for progressive change.
“It’s not your father’s Ireland. Not anymore. This is a story of a modern revolution in Ireland told by the founder of Irish Central, Irish America magazine, and The Irish Voice newspaper.
In a May 2019 countrywide referendum, Ireland voted overwhelmingly to make abortion legal; three years earlier, it had done the same with same-sex marriage, becoming the only country in the world to pass such a law by universal suffrage. In 2018 the visit by Pope Francis  to Ireland saw protests and a fraction of the emphatic welcome that Pope John Paul had seen forty years earlier. There have been two female heads of state since 1990, the first two in Ireland’s history. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, an openly gay man of Indian heritage, declared that “a quiet revolution had taken place.” It had. For nearly all of its modern history, Ireland was Europe’s most conservative country. The Catholic Church was its most powerful institution and held power over all facets of Irish life. But as scandal eroded the Church’s hold on Irish life, a new Ireland has flourished. War in the North has ended. EU membership and an influx of American multinational corporations have helped Ireland weather economic depression and transform into Europe’s headquarters for Apple, Facebook, and Google. With help from prominent Irish and Irish American voices like historian and bestselling author Tim Pat Coogan and the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, A New Ireland tells the story of a modern revolution against all odds.”

The Magdalen Girls Kindle Edition (2016)

“Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.  ”    Amazon Books

Joni Mitchell’s “The Magdalene Laundries”


YouTube Picks (#43) – Laurel Premo

In 2010 the band The Carolina Chocolate Drops won a Grammy for best traditional album (Genuine Negro Jigs). Featured in the band was the outstanding vocalist and clawhammer banjo player Rhiannon Giddens. This young lady is a native of North Carolina and, although she comes from an academic background (she had even studied opera), she was deeply immersed in the traditional music of her region. She is a unique roots music performer. At the time of this recording there was nobody quite like her. Well, time marches on and another female roots music performer is making her mark. This is the Michigan raised, multi-instrumentalist Laurel Premo (Banjo, Fiddle, Guitar, Lap Steel Guitar).

music / bio – Laurel Premo

From her website – “She is a Michigan-based artist who has been writing, arranging, and touring since 2009 with vocal and instrumental roots acts, and is internationally known from her collaborations with Michael Beauchamp-Cohen in the duo Red Tail Ring. Premo holds a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from the Performing Arts Technology Dept. of the University of Michigan School of Music, and has spent half-year stints at both the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki, Finland and the University College of Southeast Norway in Telemark to study traditional music and dance. Important mentors who have helped shape Laurel’s lens in the folk arts have been her parents Bette & Dean Premo (fiddle, guitar, and traditional song, Michigan), Joel Mabus (clawhammer banjo, Michigan), Arto Järvelä (fiddle, Finland), and Ånon Egeland (fiddle, Norway). Alongside several continuing music projects, she is active in organizing community events that connect people with folk art and dance.”

“Laurel Premo is known for her rhythmically deep and rapt delivery of roots music on fiddle, guitar, and vocals. Her solo performances dive deep into traditional and new fiddle music, musically revealing a bloom of underlying harmonic drones, minimalist repetition, and rich polyrhythms. Presenting these sounds on finger style electric guitar and fiddle, Premo fully leans in to the archaic melodies and in-between intonations that connect folk sounds to the mystic and unknown.

Despite the invention of streaming services my musical medium of choice remains the CD. However, in recent years I have fallen under the spell of YouTube and, although the technical quality of some videos is sub-par, it has the advantage of supplying new artists, new music and vast quantities of archival material. I often stumble on material that is not readily available on CD or DVD. Case in point is the following YouTube clip featuring Laurel Premo and Anna Gustavsson. They are performing ‘Sally In The Garden,’ a traditional American tune, on gourd banjo and nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument).

Laurel has no hesitation in delving into traditional music that is outside her own culture. Here is her interpretation of a classic British folk song.

Michigan is not known as a hot bed of traditional Blues. Never-the-less here is Laurel’s interpretation of a song written by the master blues  artist Skip James (1902-1969) . Laurel Premo added several new verses and interludes to his original composition

While exploring the many streams of traditional music Rhiannon Giddens will continue to be a musician who will continue to entertain and inform. At the same time we should remain aware of the musical talents of Laurel Premo. I think her musical explorations will continue to surprise and inspire us.


Mike Clark Blues Band at Studio 64

The Mike Clark Blues Band at Studio 64 in Kimberley

Saturday November 19, 2022 – This was the last concert of the 2022 Fall Jazz and Blues Concert Series.

For a Blues artist being born and growing up in the “Delta” is almost a stamp of authenticity. Well, Mike Clark really is a ”Delta Blues Man” but not of Mississippi river fame. Originally he hails from the Fraser River Delta in Richmond B.C. His musical and geographical domain isn’t one of humid heat, flat lands, cotton fields and Afro-Americans slaving under a hot southern sun. No, it is more like cool temperate weather conditions peopled by South Asian immigrants picking strawberries and blueberries all within reach of the towering snow-capped coastal ranges of British Columbia. The work is still back breaking but without the violent racial overtones of the American South. This is not the usual recipe for Delta Blues. And yet, despite this more genteel environment of his youth, Mike has managed to develop a searing blues based tenor sax and vocal style that would not be out of place in Memphis or New Orleans.

The Studio 64 Organizing Committee managed to pry the Mike Blues Band from it’s home town hang out in Mickey’s on 12th Avenue in Calgary to perform in the wonderful performance space of Studio 64 at the Kimberley Art Council building in down town Kimberley. This band included veteran blues artists Mike Clark on Tenor Sax, Guitar and Vocals, Don Muir on keyboards, Brian Pollock on Bass, Tom Moon on Drums and, holding up the youthful end of the age spectrum, Brett Spaulding on lead Guitar. Brett’s use of guitar pedals was outstanding. This is a solid working blues band with a good repertoire of Willie Dixon tunes (Spoonful, Hoochie Coochie Man), Al Green’s Take Me to the River, some James Brown (I Feel Good), a Ray Charles tune, The Crusaders (Put It Where You want It) and a number of original songs that included Dark Waters and Down Where the River Meets the Sea. All great songs spiced up with searing tenor sax solos, rollicking keyboards and very tasty lead guitar lines  that was unpinned by the solid rhythm duo of Tom Moon and Brian Pollock. As I said this is a solid working band that if it returns to Kimberley should not be missed.

For this wonderful night of music, we should thank the Stage 64 Organizing Committee and its Volunteers. Also the corporate sponsor  Overtime Beer Works, the City of Kimberley and last but not least the chair of the committee Keith Nicholas who is retiring as the chair person. His replacement will be Peter Kearns.

Here are some images from a rollicking night of music……..