Eric Gill, like him a sculptor and stonecutter as well as typographer. Biggs designed the Irish script typeface for Ireland's pre-Euro banknotes. He carved altars, fonts and other features for churches all over Ireland, including at St Michael's in Dun Laoghaire, whose predecessor was destroyed in 1965 by a huge fire that I remember clearly. In this massive work of so many "great" lives of people who ruled, controlled, killed and otherwise had reign over the lives of others, it's a pleasure to see recorded the contribution of one who wrought many fine ordinary things that form part of our everyday visual furniture. Every time you took out your wallet, you saw something beautiful. The DIB says that Biggs was "a gentle man, affectionate and generous." As George Eliot said, " the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts."
had enough of Charles Bewley yesterday. In between his two ghastly stints in Berlin as a representative of the Irish state, there was a genuinely fine diplomat, Daniel Anthony Binchy, a fluent German speaker who made an impact in the right way - to the extent that any representative of a small country could make an impact in a big one - and received a signed portrait from Hindenberg upon his departure in 1932. He returned to academia, where his was one of the founding appointments of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, a distinguished but somewhat eccentrically-constituted institution in that its fields of research are limited to Celtic studies and physics. In the narrow areas of ancient Irish legal history, palaeography and philology, Binchy became a giant. My copy of Fergus Kelly's A Guide to Early Irish Law, published by the DIAS, contains six pages of bibliography; more than one of these consists of works by Binchy. More unhistoric acts.
Harold Binks was a Northern Ireland trade union leader. Unusually, he attended a multi-denominational infants school, an experience he later said influenced his anti-sectarianism. He was a classic working-class autodidact who left school at 14, started reading on politics and economics, was drawn into the union movement by both local and global conditions - the Spanish civil war had its impact, as well as poverty in Belfast - and rose and rose. He strove, successfully, to reunite the northern and southern trade union congresses and had his finest hour during the the unionist strike of 1977 which attempted, unsuccessfully, to bring down the Northern Ireland administration. He condemned the strike as a "fascist coup" and tried to mobilize the union movement against it. As so often with historic union moments, his was a gallant failure. But he was not wrong to regard it as "our finest hour."
a key element of the policy of his predecessor Balfour - steered him away from confrontation both with Ulster unionists when they began to militarize and the nationalist militias who organized in reponse to them. (Although his confrontation with the union leader Jim Larkin was more typically coercive.) His reputation was largely destroyed when the Easter Rising occurred on his watch: although the intelligence failures before the rising were largely those of other agencies, not of his, he nevertheless took - and accepted - most of the blame. The DIB's entry - by Kevin Barry's grand nephew Eunan O'Halpin - probably strikes the right balance in stating: "Had Birrell retired as he wished in 1913 or 1914, his political obituaries would undoubtedly have been kinder." He strove to do the right thing, which is more than you can say of most of his parliamentary predecessors - and successors in northern Ireland.
One final delight: John Birchenshea, the 17th century musicologist who devised a mathematical system for composition, which he claimed could teach a beginner to compose seven-part harmony in seven months. Deaf people could also learn the system. He helped Samuel Pepys set a couple of poems as songs, and was well paid for it.