Welcome to Letters From Quotidia – a podcast by Quentin Bega for lovers of music, poetry, and the Crack- that most Irish of nouns which may encompass, news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. Quotidia is that space, that place, where ordinary people lead ordinary lives. But where, from time to time, they encounter the extraordinary.
Get ready to trim those mainsails and bend your back to the capstan. Or are you going to stand with sloped arms as comrades bury your commander in the dead of night. Both these tasks are more enticing than the remaining option: to be chained below decks, a convict bound for Australia, with rotting food and the unendurable stench of foul water, overflowing excrement with the very real prospect of not completing the voyage alive.
It is 1816, a sailing ship limps past Roche’s Point, its rigging all torn. Exhausted mariners, returning after months at sea, perform their duties in desultory fashion but begin to perk up as they round Spike Island and spot the rows of terraces rising above the quay in Cove. They swarm ashore and make for the places of entertainment for lonely and thirsty sailors in the section of town known as The Holy Ground. Soon they make the rafters roar with their shouts and songs, calling for strong ale and porter as the serving girls move among them, sometimes tumbling into the willing lap of a lusty tar.
Meanwhile, further to the north a popular young graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, called Charles Wolfe, is putting the finishing touches to his manuscript of a poem destined to become one of the most memorised throughout the English-speaking world. I refer, of course, to The Burial of Sir Thomas Moore, after Corruna, and give the opening and closing lines here, Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,/As his corse to the rampart we hurried;/Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot/O’er the grave where our hero we buried./We buried him darkly at dead of night,/The sods with our bayonets turning;/By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light/And the lantern dimly burning.//No useless coffin enclosed his breast,/Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him,/But he lay like a warrior taking his rest/With his martial cloak around him./…But half of our heavy task was done/When the clock struck the hour for retiring;/And we heard the distant and random gun/That the foe was sullenly firing./Slowly and sadly we laid him down,/From the field of his fame fresh and gory;/We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,/But left him alone with his glory.
Little did the poet know what an impact his poem would have throughout the world, and little did he know that just seven years later, he would find his rest in Old Church Cemetery outside Cobh, at age 31, having died of consumption. In due course, he would be joined by Sir James Roche Verling, personal physician to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on St Helena, also, Fredrick Daniel Parslow, VC, the first member of the Mercantile Marine to receive the Victoria Cross and the remains of 193 victims of RMS Lusitania, sunk by a German torpedo in 1915 with a loss of over 1,100 lives. This town was the first and last port of call of RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912.
This port also served to transport prisoners to the penal colonies of Australia. Robert Hume, writing in The Irish Examiner of March 10, 2015, explained the circumstances surrounding the first transport: In March 1791, Henry Browne Hayes, Sherriff of Cork City, was put in charge of arranging the first transportation of Irish convicts to New South Wales. For the trip, he chose the Queen – a small, three-masted square-rigged vessel… For the next five months, prisoners and soldiers alike had to endure rancid food, and the stench of foul water and excrement. Each convict had only 18 inches of space to sleep in… within eight months, only 50 of the 122 male convicts were still alive… An enquiry into what had gone wrong unearthed scandal upon scandal. Captain Owen had purchased from Cork merchants the cheapest possible food for the crossing, but charged the Navy as much as he thought he could get away with… In April 1801, exactly 10 years after the Queen had sailed from Cork, the organizer of this monumental cock-up, Sir Henry Browne Hayes, was brought to trial for abducting a wealthy heiress. He was found guilty, but instead of the death penalty, the judge showed “mercy” – by transporting him, appropriately enough, to Botany Bay.
The Holy Ground is a powerful trope. In Exodus 3:5, the episode of the burning bush, God tells Moses to take off his sandals as he is standing on holy ground. In my mind, and in the lyrics of songs I have written, it represents a place of power, of belonging, and of solace. Variously, it has been the Glens of Antrim or Aruba, that small island in the Caribbean, but, for a long time now, more than half my life, it’s been Australia. I think, too, parents seek to “ground” their children in wisdom, sometimes by offering advice prefaced by statements such as, when I was your age. Older children will ask parents for insights such as, what was it like when you were a kid?
When my first-born son died in 1989, aged 15, in a motorbike accident, I hadn’t had the time to offer much at all in the way of sage advice and he didn’t live long enough to seek information about a long-distant past. The phrase, when I was older than you, tells of all the years he will never experience, all the sights he will never see, all the sounds he will never hear, and alas, all the love he will never give or receive.[insert song]
For our next letter we will examine the allure of Saturday night and its link to the ancient Roman feast of Saturnalia. The Poet Catullus makes an appearance. According to an anecdote preserved by Suetonius, Julius Caesar did not deny that Catullus’s lampoons left an indelible stain on his reputation, but when Catullus apologized, he invited the poet for dinner the very same day. Brave man! Another poet, the American Langston Hughes provides a demotic salute to the dynamism of Saturday night. So bring your anecdotes of memorable Saturday nights to the honky-tonk in Quotidia- and they don’t even have to be true (forgivable, surely) but they must be entertaining!
Credits: All written text, song lyrics and music (including background music) written and composed by Quentin Bega unless otherwise specified in the credits section after individual posts. Illustrative excerpts from other texts identified clearly within each podcast. I donate to and use Wikipedia frequently as one of the saner sources of information on the web.
Technical Stuff: Microphone- (for the podcast spoken content) Audio Technica AT 2020 front-facing with pop filter)
Microphone (for many of the songs) Shure SM58
For recording and mixing down 64-bit N-Track Studio 9 Extended used
Music accompaniment and composition software– Band-in-a-Box and RealBand 2020 as well as- for some 20 of the songs of year 2000 vintage- I used a Blue Mountains, NSW, studio. Approximately 48 Banter folk songs and instrumentals recorded live (“in the round”) with a ThinkPad laptop using the inbuilt mic.