Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A slug, a slimeball and a slugger ...

To begin with, I'm very happy today to have made the acquaintance of William Andrews, the naturalist who "discovered a new slug species, the Kerry slug". In fact, I think I met a Kerry slug in a bar in Dingle last summer, when even my highly limited Irish could understand the words "Oh he's from Dublin ... a jackeen." Andrews was also Brazilian consul in Dublin. Why?  If the DIB doesn't tell us, I suppose we'll never know. Love of nature almost redeems the 5th Earl Annesley. (The DIB has him as Earl "of" Annesley, but I think that's a confusion with his relatives, the Earls of Anglesey, who were also Annesleys. British peerage trivia: my favorite.) You start reading his entry, and you wonder why he's there at all: "an indifferent, reluctant politician ... spoke infrequently, tersely and only on army matters ... only voiced Irish concerns were over law and order ..." Half a column later, we get to the point: he was a tremendous gardener and laid out magnificent grounds at his Co. Down estate (apparently he couldn't get by with the 24,000 acres he also owned in Cavan). He "owned one of the largest collections of exotic trees and shrubs in the UK." That's worth remembering.

The Annesley's peerages brought other complications. One of the complicators, Richard, "5th Baron Altham, 7th Viscount Valentia, 7th Baron Mountnorris and 6th Earl of Anglesea" - you couldn't make this stuff up - dealt with a bothersome (and apparently legitimate) nephew who laid claim to his titles by having him sold into indentured servitude - little better than slavery - in America. He later tried, unsuccessfully, to influence witnesses to find the nephew guilty of murder so that he could be hanged. Richard was excommunicated by the ecclesiastical courts for failing to pay alimony to his second wife: his defense had been that his marriage was invalid because it was bigamous, his first wife still being alive.

I also enjoyed the effortless ease with whihch Richard Sydney Anthony lived with paradox. Despite having been a Labour Party TD (member of the Dáil) and trade unionist, in 1939 he congratulated General Franco "on concluding his war against communism and anarchy in Spain" and told the Irish Trade Union Congress that "he would prefer fascism to a dictatorship of the proletariat." Having expelled him in 1932, the Labour Party readmitted him 16 years later. Had he changed his view of the dictatorship of the proles?

Lastly, two adjacent Andrews who are also among the astonishingly long list of distinguished past puplis of the Christian Brothers' School in Synge Street, central Dublin. Todd Andrews was a revolutionary who reaped the rewards of victory in post-independence Ireland, winning leading positions in such state-owned enterprises as Bord na Mona (the nationalized turf [peat] fuel business), CIÉ, the state transport authority and RTÉ, the public broadcaster. Although apparently "quite liberal by the standards of his time" and "anti-clerical" (something to do with his having been excommunicated), he was also, in the lapidary prose of the DIB, "a man of direct and even violently held opinion." Bord na Mona was said to have employed someone to prevent strikes Andrews almost started. He started one of independent Ireland's many political dynasties: I remember his son David knocking on our door in Killiney in 1965, canvassing for his first, successful, Dáil election. He was young and good-looking. My mother was very impressed. I think she voted for him.

The other Andrews is Eamonn, a fantastically successful broadcaster in Ireland and the UK from the 1940s to 1980s. A carpenter's son, one of six children, who became a champion boxer, he could present anything - sport, game shows, children's TV, business programs, the lot. His biggest hit was the British version of the U.S. hit This Is Your Life, which Andrews hosted on and off for more than 30 years. There's an interesting question as to why so many Irish broadcasters have been successful on British television when the country as a whole - at least until recently - has not been entirely hospitable to its large Irish population. It's been suggested that the Irish accent is less susceptible to being identified by class as its British  counterparts. (It was an Irishman, after all, who pointed out that one Englishman couldn't open his mouth without making another one hate him.) Whereas the BBC used to get protest calls and letters if it used voices with regional British accents in "authority" roles, such as newsreaders. Andrews, among other Irish, escaped this nonsense. He was also allowed to appear in publicity shots with a glass in his hand.

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