Rummaging through a pile of old newspapers, kindly left behind in the attic by our home’s previous owners, I came across this little gem in the Evening Press of Friday, 10th March 1972. In the light of my well known interest in all things Napoleonic, I see it as my duty to re-publish the article here in full for you all to enjoy, 47 years after it first (and until now, last?) appeared.
A funeral fit for the Duke
by Andrew Marsh
THERE’S some doubt as to whether the great Duke of Wellington was in fact born in the family’s town house, No. 24 Upper Merrion Street (shown in our picture) but all the circumstantial evidence points to his having been born there at the end of April or the beginning of May, 1769, and not in the family’s country seat, Dangan Castle, near Summerhill, Co. Meath.
But there’s no doubt as to where he died. Early in the morning of September 14 1852, when he was staying at one of his official residences, Walmer Castle, on the Kent coast, he suddenly called for his valet, murmured ‘Send for the apothecary,’ and expired. He had suffered a severe stroke. He was aged eighty-three. England was thrown into a flap. Wellington seemed always to have been there and as if he always would be there. He was a national institution and respectable folk are always upset and indeed somewhat indignant when a national institution vanishes suddenly. Their sense of stability and security is threatened.
Wellington in his later years was Britain’s supreme national institution. Things had got to the stage when the Government couldn’t buy a new mop for House of Commons charwoman without consulting ‘The Dook’. When the enormous glasshouse known as the Crystal Palace was built for the 1851 exhibition, the pet project of Victoria and her Albert, the place became infested with sparrows. The little birds were no respecter of persons below and couldn’t be shot for fear of damaging the glass. Victoria consulted The Dook. ‘Try sparrowhawks’, he growled, and Victoria was so overwhelmed by the simplicity of the solution that she hadn’t the presence of mind to ask him how the sparrowhawks were to be got rid of after they had got rid of the sparrows.
Naturally so remarkable a man had to be given a Sate funeral, and Victoria and her Albert decreed that it must be the funeral to end all funerals. Albert took a hand in designing the funeral carriage. It turned out to be the size of a combine harvester, was made of cast iron, and was embellished with military trophies of truly Victorian splendour.
Had The Dook been there to comment upon the carriage he would have acidly pointed out that it was so heavy it would be bound to sink in the first bit of soft road surface encountered. Which is exactly what it did. Officials also discovered at the dress rehearsal that it was too wide to go through the special ceremonial arches that had been erected.
Many days elapsed between The Dook’s death and his burial in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, so England had time to pull itself together and to remember that it was the nation of shopkeepers.
Accordingly vintners began advertising ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Funeral Wine’ while bakers produced ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Funeral Cake’ and the tailors, with astonishing lack of humour, announced a ‘Funeral Life Preserver’. The happy owners of houses along the funeral route offered front row accomodation on first floors ‘with use of piano.’ The prices were steep.
‘THE DUKES’S FUNERAL – To be Let a shop window with seats erected for about 30, for 25 guineas. Also a Furnished First Floor with two large windows. One of the best views in the whole range from Temple Bar to St. Paul’s: price 35 guineas. A few single seats one guinea each.’
A reminder that England is also the land of the hypocrite was provided by a pious Fleet Street householder who offered four front seats at £1 each to clergymen ‘upon condition that they appear in their surplises.’ The householder’s other seats were 40s., 30s., 15s. and 10s.
The there was the widowed lady who offered for sale ‘a Lock of Hair of the late Duke of Wellington… cut of the morning the Queen was crowned.’ Someone else offered ‘a waistcoat in good preservation, worn by his Grace some years back, which can be well authenticated as such.’
But the gem of the collection was a copy of ‘The Death of Napoleon’ alleged to have been torn up by the Duke and thrown by him from the carriage windows as he was riding through Kent. The pieces of the book were collected and put together by a person who saw the Duke tear it and throw the same away. It was offered to the highest bidder of over £35.
10 March 1972
Andrew Marsh was a pseudonym of John O’Donovan (1921 – 1985), a Dublin playwright who wrote a weekly column about Ireland’s past entitled “Time Was” in the Evening Press during the 1960s and 1970s.
There can hardly be a better way to celebrate the centenary of Dublin’s Easter Rising than by going on a pub crawl. Those who know me would say that’s typical of me, but they will have to admit that buildings with a connection to alcohol feature prominently in the story of the 1916 rebellion. From distilleries and breweries to hotels and pubs, Joyce’s puzzle of how to cross Dublin without passing one of these was even more difficult to solve in 1916 than when he wrote it in 1922, when many of these buildings had been destroyed in the fighting and some were never rebuilt.
For those who don’t know: 24th April of this year sees the 100th anniversay of Ireland’s uprising against British rule – but the country has already celebrated/commemorated this over the Easter weekend, since the fact that the Rising took place during Easter takes precedence over the actual calendar date. The good news is that we now get another opportunity to mark the occasion.
Of course the idea of a 1916 pub crawl is probably not very original, but what I’ve found on the Interwebs so far seems to lack a certain level of authenticity. Many of the pubs that are mentioned in the context of the Easter Rising appear to have had very little to do with the events at the time. The fact that they are located near one of the rebellion’s flash points or are named after a 1916 hero hardly makes them qualify to be included in the roll of honour, at least in my opinion. The Gravediggers in Glasnevin for example, is without doubt one of Dublin’s finest pubs, located next door to the final resting place of countless heroes of that fateful Easter week. At the time, however, nothing much happened here at all, from what I have been able to find out.
So what makes a particular watering hole qualify as a genuine 1916 participant? I decided to draw up my own set of criteria:
Pint: The building need not necessarily be a pub, but you must be able to enjoy a pint of Guinness on the premises.
Story: There must be a story associated with the buillding that puts it at the heart of the action at Easter 1916.
Place: The list of premises must be representative of different areas in the city where fighting took place without over representing a particular hotspot.
Walk: Since it’s a pub crawl, it should be possible to complete the task on foot and without completely falling over if a pint is consumed at every stop.
That last point may be tricky for those who decide to follow the trail but are not seasoned pint drinkers — we will allow them to sneak in the odd glass instead. Even trickier is to come up with a list of establishments that match my own stringent criteria — and the result (so far) is a fairly limited number stretched out along a 7km walk. More crawl than pub, in other words. In any case, it is time to get down to business.
Facing the Grand Canal beside Portobello Bridge at the corner of South Richmond Street, the Portobello was known in 1916 as Davy’s Pub. This is where we start our pub crawl, just as some of the first activity on the morning of the Rising occurred in this area, with members of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army marching from the city towards Rathmines.
Among them was James Joyce – no, not the one of the puzzle, but a barman at Davy’s, who took the opportunity to resign from his job while taking over his employer’s pub in the name of the Irish Republic. The building soon came under fire from English troops who emerged from the nearby Portobello Barracks and proceeded to spray the building with machine gun fire. After two hours, the British noticed that nobody was shooting back and they presumed the occupiers had all been killed. However, with intimate knowledge of the building and its surroundings, Joyce had helped his comrades to escape through the cellar of the pub into adjoining laneways, having succeeded in their task to keep the English soldiers from advancing into the city centre – where the GPO and other buildings had now been taken over by the rebels. The photo gallery of the Bureau of Military History tells us:
Davy’s Public House was occupied by a small section of men under the charge of Lieut. Thomas Doyle. Their orders where to delay the British Forces approach to the City for a certain period and to fall back on Harcourt Street Station where the main body of their company were operating.
The nearby barracks where Francis Sheehy Skeffington was executed two days later also still exist, but have been renamed Cathal Brugha Barracks, after the 1916-and-beyond rebel commander.
Delahunt of Lower Camden Street is now a restaurant rather than a pub – but with a full bar licence it still qualifies to be included in the 1916 Pub Crawl. Until recently, this Victorian gem was home to Carville’s off licence, but the new owners have lovingly restored both the premises and its original name. Keep in mind that at the time of writing, the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
As with the Portobello, the 1916 story of Delahunt’s features its own barman – this time a certain George Heuston of “E” Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers. According to irishmedals.org:
Born on the 17th of August 1892 died on the 28th of October 1962 aged 23 years old at the time of the Rising. He was employed as a Shop Assistant in Delahunt’s, Camden Street, Dublin. He fought in the Delahunt’s Public House, Camden Street and Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, Bishop Street areas. George Heuston escaped from capture following his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising.
The same source (irishmedals.org) mentions John Brien (23) and Francis Brady (19) as two other young volunteers out of a total of six who occupied Delahunt’s until it was surrounded by British soldiers on 27th April.
I have to admit that I’m not entirely convinced of the accuracy of the 1916 story associated with the Swan. There are plenty of websites that all refer to the same anecdote — a witness statement by Michael Molloy, one of the printers of the legendary Proclamation of the Irish Republic:
At 9 o’clock on Easter Monday night we were withdrawn from outpost duty in the block of houses to Jacob’s biscuit factory. We were posted to different positions all over the factory covering approaches along Bishop Street and the entrance to Bride Street which runs alongside Jacobs and Remond’s Hill. Orders were also given that we were to burrow through from Jacob’s to a public house at the corner facing Aungier Street. We had two masons in our party and the burrowing was made easy. Strict instructions were given that no Volunteer was to take any drink from the public house. And although I am not a drinking man myself I must say that this order was strictly obeyed.
Great story – but the problem is, it doesn’t mention the Swan by name, nor does the Swan’s website mention the story. Also, one would hardly burrow across a street, especially where theSwan faces Whitefriars Church and not the old Jacob’s Factory (now DIT). Still, it’s a classic pub and I haven’t yet found proof that it is not in fact related to Michael Molloy’s statement.
Our next stop, at the junction of North King Street and Church Street, was called Reilly’s in 1916. Today, The Tap is unlikely to win the Pub of the Year Award, but at €4 a pint we won’t complain. There isn’t much to remind us about what went on around this area, but rest assured that this is a good place to reflect on the events of a hundred years ago. (Incidentally, there is a plaque beside the entrance commemorating the capture of Kevin Barry in the War of Independence.)
Fighting in the area around this strategically located pub was so intense that it gained the nickname “Reilly’s Fort”. Sean Cody of “G” Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, describes the dramatic events in his witness statement:
On Thursday the British advanced from Bolton St. up North King St. firing from all directions, and severe fighting was taking place at the barricade near Reilly’s public house which held Lieutenant Shouldice’s men, and immediately north of this post we of “G” Company and others were burrowing our way through party walls of houses to come nearer to the junction of North King St. and Church St. We pushed out windows and under the shining example and command of Paddy Holohan kept up a terrific fire on the barricade through which the British were advancing. On several occasions there was a temporary cease fire shouted by Paddy Holohan to allow the British to remove their dead and wounded.
Later that Friday the British had manned the barricade but were driven off by our concentrated fire, in which the Howth Mauser rifles did great work, and the British suffered many casualties in dead and wounded and left behind a number of rifles which were quickly collected and taken into Reilly’s pub (Fort).
By now we were cut off and after a consultation between ourselves we decided to fight on. At this time the British were in possession of Reilly’s Fort, practically next door to our position. We could hear revolver shots in the Fort and as is now known the British shot a number of people who were found in the Fort, all of whom had no connection with the Volunteers or the fighting.
The events referred to in that last paragraph became know as the North King Street Massacre and is a particularly grim reminder of the horrors of war.
Our visit to the Oval is representative of so many pubs destroyed (along with everything else) in the 1916 Rising. Many were never rebuilt, have since changed names or are no longer pubs. Owned by a JohnJ. Egan at the time of the Rising, the Oval was popular with members of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers, who would pop in for a pint while waiting for their trams. Its proximity to the GPO meant that its fate was pretty much sealed as the fighting intensified during that Easter week.
Eventually things came to a catastrophic head when the HMS Helga sailed up the Liffey and started shelling the GPO and surrounding buildings — the Oval was completely destroyed. When the dust settled, John Egan rebuilt his pub and the building where we now enjoy our pint opened its doors once again in 1922.
There is little doubt as to which side of the conflict the owners of Wynn’s Hotel were on in 1916. The hotel is now famous as the birthplace of the Irish Volunteers, who held their inaugural meeting here in November 1913 (four of those who attended —Padraig Pearse, The O’Rahilly, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamonn Ceannt— lost their lives in 1916), followed by the founding meeting of Cumann na mBan in April 1914. Two brass plaques commemorating these events can be seen in the building’s Saints & Scholars Bar.
When the GPO was taken over by the rebels on Easter Sunday 1916 and fighting got worse during the days that followed, the hotel found itself in a no man’s land of sniper fire and bombardments. The hotel’s website tells this story:
Wynn’s was set on fire by incendiary bullets. A rebel volunteer on the roof of the GPO later recalled how he saw men and women “sitting in the windows of Wynn’s Hotel in Lwr Abbey St, watching the battle as from a theatre seat”. Then, what began as entertainment for the guests turned dangerous. Under bombardment from British artillery, Wynn’s caught fire, the fire spread from the barricade to the timber facings of the hotel and when guest and staff lives were threatened, they left the hotel under the protection of a makeshift white flag. As Dublin was under siege, fire fighters were unable to save the hotel and Wynn’s was burned to the ground. It took 10 years for the gutted Hotel to reopen.
In his witness statement, Monsignor Curran tells us how on the Thursday, the fourth day of the Rising,
Fr. John O’Reilly had a narrow escape attending a Volunteer brought into Wynn’s Hotel.
All that remained of the hotel at the end of Easter week was an empty shell, gutted by the raging fires that destroyed most of Dublin’s city centre.
The distinguished Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green ended up taking quite a different side on the day of the Rising, although it wasn’t given much of a choice. As Michael Mallin and his men and women of the Citizen Army occupied St. Stephen’s Green, they proceeded to build barricades and dig trenches, soon joined by Countess Markievicz. They took over the College of Surgeons on the Green’s west side, but left the Shelbourne alone.
This provided the British with a perfect opportunity to take on the rebels, and a certain Captain Andrews was in charge of the 40 soldiers who positioned themselves in the windows of the Shelbourne and started firing on the rebels. Later during the week, they positioned a machine gun on the roof and sprayed the College of Surgeons with bullets.
One of the more endearing stories of Rising relates to the Shelbourne’s “front garden” and can be found in the newsletter of the DSPCA:
Nevertheless, things weren’t so bad for the park’s feathered inhabitants. The Times History of the War recorded that St Stephen’s Green “was well stocked with waterfowl, and the keeper, who remained inside all the time, reported that his charges were well looked after and fed by him, and were very little perturbed by the bullets flying over their heads”. The park-keeper’s name was James Kearney – every day he would enter the Green to feed the ducks, and every day the opposing sides would cease firing to allow him to do so.
At the time of the Rising, the Schoolhouse on Northumberland Road was in fact — you’ll never guess — a school. We can enjoy a pint in the last stop on our 1916 pub crawl in this silent witness of the greatest slaughter of British troops during Easter week — at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge.
On Easter Monday the school was taken over by four Volunteers who started barricading windows and doors. On Tuesday, however, it was decided that the building was of little strategic value and its occupiers left to join de Valera in Boland’s Bakery further up the road. A few other buildings around Mount Street Bridge were occupied by only a handful of Volunteers when, on Wednesday, more than 1,000 soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment came marching parade-style from Kingstown Harbour (Dun Laoghaire), some in the belief that they had landed in France.
When they arrived at Mount Street Bridge they first focused their attention on the empty schoolhouse. In a bizarre display of an antiquated military tactic of repeated frontal assault against the rebels’ guerilla ambush that followed, 30 British soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded – compared to 4 deaths on the rebels’ side. Volunteer William Christian was in the parochial hall across from the schoolhouse and describes what happened:
…because of our favourable position we could see what was taking place around whilst being safely out of the line of firing. As the British troops drew nearer, the bullets fell on the roof of the school opposite like a shower of hail. Excitement gripped us and we braced ourselves for the encounter. Because of our position we had to wait until the British troops actually passed us before we could fire on them; and then they came — hundreds and hundreds of them — stretching right across the road — and so intent were they in gaining their objective — the capture of Clanwilliam House — they completely overlooked our post. We opened fire and men fell like ninnypins.
And so we’ve reached the finish line of our 1916 Pub Crawl, ending up once again on the banks of the Grand Canal. If anyone has any suggestions for pubs that qualify for inclusion (remember, Pint, Story, Place and Walk), I’m all ears.
Apart from the fact that they were both famous monarchs, you wouldn’t think that Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor of the French had a lot in common with England’s King George I — especially when you consider that George I (1660-1727) died more than 40 years before the birth of Napoleon (1769-1821). But as it turns out, they share an experience that involves… eggs.
After he escaped from Elba, Napoleon made his way towards Paris through the Haute-Provence. When he came to the hamlet of La Clappe on the morning of 4th March 1815, he decided to take a break, and was served two eggs and a bottle of wine by a local innkeeper. When presented with the bill, Napoleon exclaimed, “Eggs must be very scarce around here!” — “No, eggs aren’t scarce,” the innkeeper replied, “but emperors are.”1
This story pops up in various reports about Napoleon’s return from Elba and it appears that La Clappe is the universally agreed location of the event. There is another version however, reported by Alain Pigeard in Le Souvenir Napoléonien,2 in an article about Napoleon’s visits over various years to the Bourgogne area of France. The timing of the story is similar in that it deals with the emperor’s return from Elba, but in this case it is said to have taken place in the town of Tournus on 14th March. The innkeeper justifies the inflated price for a single egg with a smile and the remark, “that isn’t too expensive, I don’t have the honour to serve the Emperor every day.”
Since it seems unlikely that two people share the same opportunity to demonstrate their wittiness in front of such a distinguished guest within 10 days and more than 400km apart, I thought I’d try and find the truth behind the legend. It seemed that Uncle Google would quickly tell me if there were other sources who place Napoleon in Tournus while feasting on his overpriced egg. And so I did come across more egg stories — with a twist.
A French version of the myth of the innkeeper with the egg appears in a number of publications, often as part of a language course — in a column entitled Hablo Francais in a Californian newspaper3 from 1931 for example, as well as the book French Conversation and Composition by Henry Vincent Wann4 from the 1920s.
None of these (red top pun alert) eggspensive eggnecdotes make mention of Tournus as the location, but what’s more, they don’t even mention Napoleon. Instead, the protagonist is England’s King George II (1683-1760), who consumed his eggs about half a century prior to the Emperor of the French. The language exercise appears under the heading L’occasion fait le larron — opportunity makes the thief.
More recently, we find the story in Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes,5 originally published in 1985 (revised in 2000). Here, the event is attributed to George III (1738-1820), a contemporary of Napoleon’s — but other than that, it’s a literal translation of the earlier French versions:
The keeper of a village inn at which King George stopped for a brief meal served him an egg, for which he charged a guinea. His Majesty smiled and commented, “Eggs must be very scarce around here.” “Oh, no, sire,” said the innkeeper, “it is kings that are scarce.”
GEORGE III (1738–1820), king of Great Britain and Ireland (1760–1820).
In any case, it appears that Napoleon’s experience in La Clappe (with Tournus ruled out through lack of evidence) has in fact been recycled from an earlier — and similarly unlikely — anecdote involving a king called George. What’s interesting is that the most recent version links it to George III, whereas the older French version — that clearly served as the source — talks about George II. But it gets better.
There are even older publications where the innkeeper presents his costly egg, and once again we see a corresponding shift in regal generations — all the way back to King George I this time, while on a visit in Holland. One publication is the Encyclopédiana, recueil d’anecdotes anciennes, modernes et contemporaines6 from 1848 that places King George I in Alkemaer (Alkmaar), while a language tutor7 from 1838 reports the setting as Helvoetsluys (Hellevoetsluis). Same innkeeper, same egg, same exorbitant price.
The final nail in the coffin of the Napoleon-and-the-Egg legend comes in the form of L’Improvisateur Français8, published during the Emperor’s own reign in 1805 — ten years before he would stop off in La Clappe. This book appears to be a precursor of the Encyclopédiana and displays the story of George I in Alkmaar in all its glory (my translation):
George I, King of England, who had during his travels to Holland experienced several times how expensive things were, was determined not to enter a single inn in this country. So one day as he passed Alkemaer, he stopped at the door of “The Sheep”, while the horses of his carriage were changed, and ordered three fresh eggs. The monarch had no sooner eaten them or he asked the price. Two hundred florins, the innkeeper replied. “What!” George cried, astonished, “two hundred florins! eggs must be very rare in Alkemaer?” “Oh! No,” replied the innkeeper, “eggs are not rare; but kings are not very common here.”
After reading this, not even the most fervent supporters of Napoleonic legend can uphold the authenticity of La Clappe’s inkeeper anecdote. The only question that remains is, when did the myth first get transferred from George to Napoleon? To find an answer, it’s a case of tracing “the source of the source” several times over, insofar as anecdotes and legends mention their source to begin with. Thanks to a well-referenced article in the History of the Alps9 from 2001 by Régis Bertrand, I’d like to think that I’ve come close enough to identifying the culprit: a certain monsieur Bonnet Denis.
The Annales des Basses-Alpes10 was a journal published by the Société scientifique et littéraire des Basses-Alpes in Digne. Its June, 1915 edition was dedicated to Napoleon’s return from Elba and the Hundred Days on the occasion of the first centenary of the event — and of course the location of our egg legend, La Clappe, is right in the heart of the Basses-Alpes, which is now the Department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
On page 239 of this journal the account reaches the point where Napoleon sits himself down at La Clappe and the innkeeper serves him the two eggs and the bottle of wine — Chabrières, to be precise. A footnote then provides the juicy details that ultimately led me on this quest (again, my translation):
We owe some information about this event to monsieur Bonnet Denis. His father, who was still young at the time, had seen the emperor and knew the details of the event — details that have been recounted countless times on long winter evenings. According to him, when it came to paying for the lunch, Napoleon found that he was charged 20 francs for the eggs. — Eggs must be very rare here! The emperor is said to have cried. — No, eggs aren’t, but emperors are! the innkeeper is said to have replied. — We put the story here for what it’s worth. Another common version in the area has the inkeeper charging the emperor 300 francs for the same eggs.
I strongly suspect that monsieur Bonnet Denis Sr. had a copy of L’Improvisateur Français sitting on his bookshelf. His family appears to have managed to recycle an old anecdote and preserve it for future generations, but I would take his honesty like I take my eggs — with more than a grain of salt.
On a Saturday morning in February 2013 I was listening to Marian Finucane on RTE Radio 1. She was talking to Fiona O’Doherty who explained her plans for a new publishing venture involving travel guides that “follow in the paths of great lives”, Let’s Trail. Having written the first guide herself about the life of Caravaggio, following his trail around Italy, Sicily and Malta, Fiona was now looking for authors who would be willing to contribute an issue to the series about their favourite famous person and their travels.
With vague memories of New Year’s resolutions still lingering, I had just read “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” by David Wong on cracked.com. This inspiring get-up-off-your-arse rant was enough to make me decide to contact Fiona, and so I sent her an email:
I was listening to the Marian Finucane show this morning and heard your piece on letstrail.com. Very interesting idea, and I see that you are looking for people to get involved.
I would love to offer my services, assuming the idea is taking hold and my contribution is worthy of the concept. Let me explain what I would like to add to the Let’s Trail series :-)
From a young age I have been fascinated with the life and times of Napoleon and the (military) history that surrounds him – I read a lot about the Napoleonic wars, etc. Recently I blogged about the most cataclysmic event in Napoleon’s life (and not just his), the battle of Waterloo.
To write a Let’s Trail issue about Napoleon would be a monumental task – the man is associated with almost every place in Europe. But I would like to think that it’s perfect timing to publish a travel guide-style thing as per your project, about “Napoleon and the Hundred Days” – referring to the time leading up to the battle of Waterloo.
In June 2015 it will be the 200th anniversary of the Battle and there will be an enormous interest in that event and the locations involved.
Napoleon escaped from the Island of Elba off the coast of Tuscany and landed near Cannes. He travelled from there in the direction of Paris, increasingly gaining support, finally arriving triumphantly in Paris as King Louis fled. From Paris he marched North to meet the threat of Wellington and his Allied troops, culminating in the famous battle.
Anway, you get the idea – my proposal for a Let’s Trail issue would coincide with the anniversary of a very well-known historic event, I have a great interest in the story, and it’s a trip that people can actually make – and see the landmarks that still survive.
Let me know what you think and I’ll be happy to provide more information if needed.
Thankfully, Fiona was delighted with my suggestion and we had our first author-agent meeting in the beginning of March in my local pub, the Goat. Her enthusiasm was infectuous, but she made it clear that the main purpose of the Let’s Trail project was to have fun doing it. As a clinical psychologist, it wasn’t her professional experience that fuelled Fiona’s foray into the world of publishing, but rather a desire to start something new. That was fine by me, and my new agent started by providing me with a suggested structure that would be common to all issues in the Let’s Trail series.
In the case of Napoleon’s Hundred Days, creating the initial timeline and list of places of interest along the trail wasn’t all that difficult. I already had a number of anecdotes in my head, but needed accurate references and dates to build a proper story. And of course the Trail needed a context – Fiona proposed that an introduction would outline the events leading up the Hundred Days, so that’s pretty much the story of Napoleon’s entire life and times.
From March 2013 onwards, there wasn’t a single book about Napoleon left in Dundrum’s Carnegie Library – I had borrowed them all. More books were borrowed from other libraries (much-quoted David Chandler’s work on the Hundred Days came from Waterford), from my historian brother who introduced me to all things Napoleonic, and bought on Amazon.
Of course Google also provided a wealth of information, and the number of websites dedicated to Napoleonic history is staggering. Judging by the activity and passion on various discussion forums, you would think that Napoleon is actually a current public figure.
Even the notoriously unreliable Wikipedia has its place in early research – and the folks at Harvard should know. However, I quickly discovered two things about Wikipedia: its quoted sources are often relatively recent and rely on earlier references themselves, and different language versions of the online encyclopedia are not mere translations, but provide an entirely different set of articles. Take for example the Wikipedia page for La Belle Alliance: the French version provides far more information than the English one — and some topics may exist only in one language. I made some corrections to Wikipedia entries myself, and although I made these in good faith, they have gone unchallenged and I’m no historian – underlining the fact that Wikipedia can never be an authoritative source for anything.
So I dusted off my French and started reading – both online and print. I became intrigued by the inner workings of references – if I pull a particular bit of information from Chandler, I may find that he actually got it from Guedalla, etc. I read some works from the early 1900s to get closer to the source, and then I discovered that some of the historical writings from these days were so chock-full of references that their stories became almost unreadable.
A subject like Napoleon and Waterloo has the added complication of legend and political ambiguity. Many so-called historical factoids have their origin in the writings of Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and others, and the celebration of the Allied victory at Waterloo is still viewed in a different light by the French, even today.
I did my best to find at least two different printed (as supposed to online) references for the historical data in the text of my emerging book. Plans to include footnotes with sources were abandoned in the spirit of a relatively lighthearted travel guide, however. When it came to references about locations, admission prices and opening hours (where applicable) of the points of interest, the web is of course indispensible – and Google Streetview allowed me to visit parts of the trail I have yet to see for myself. Wikimapia is a site with sometimes far more detailed (crowd sourced) information and sharper satellite photographs than Google Maps, and allowed me to pinpoint the location of the ruins of the Chateau de Broundet near Seranon where Napoleon spent the night on his way back from Elba — it wasn’t in ruins then, of course.
I found an old photograph of the Maison Bertrand in Pont-sur-Yonne, another one of Napoleon’s stops on the Trail. When Google Streetview wasn’t able to show me the house, madame Nathalie Loyer at the local tourist office kindly took a photograph of the empty spot where it once stood.
Commuting to work, I spend at least three hours a day on public transport. Painful as that may be, in this case it provided me with the opportunity to google, read and write to my heart’s content. All of the main text of Let’s Trail Napoleon’s Hundred Days was typed on an iPhone; only the final formatting, the maps and the index were produced on a laptop.
The book finally started taking shape at the beginning of 2014. For the introduction, I managed to summarise Napoleon’s life in less than 5,000 words – but Fiona felt that this was too long to be at the start of a travel guide – targeted readers would want to get to the point. She suggested we move it to an appendix, and she was looking for a much shorter overview of the Trail to replace it as the introduction. Although I could see her point, I was reluctant at first, because my story of Napoleon’s life introduced characters that featured later on in the Trail. We compromised by including a Dramatis Personae at the start, so that the main characters would be ready for use whenever they popped up.
Twelve months after our first meeting, Fiona and I met once again in the Goat, where she handed me the first printed proof of Let’s Trail Napoleon’s Hundred Days. The title still had the number “100” rather than the spelled-out word, which is one the things we tweaked before the book was finally published on Amazon in April.
It’s been a pleasure to work on something tangible, and full credit goes to Fiona for motivating me and for taking on the publisher’s role with Amazon. Without her, the idea of writing a book would have remained just that. And of course, like any real book, it has a dedication.
For my mother, who brought us on our first trip to Waterloo, way back when…
Seventy-four years ago today, Holland witnessed the outbreak of World War II. I posted about this topic before, in a Letter From my Grandparents to my Mother. That post was spotted by Carolyne van der Meer from Canada, who was in the middle of writing a book about the Dutch experience during that dark period. She asked my permission to use my post – or rather my grandparents’ letter – as a source for her book – a request I could hardly refuse.
Carolyne’s book was published in January of this year under the title Motherlode, is well worth a read, and available on Amazon. I’m proud to quote the poem that was inspired by my grandparents’ letter:
Today, margarine fell from Allied airplanes.
Last week, we got
one hundred grams of oil and two kilograms of barley flakes
from the Janssens,
a tin of milk
from the Vissers, and
half a loaf of dark bread
from the Altenas.
Just last night,
two kilograms of barley
and Cas another
kilogram of oatmeal.
Bitter when we mix it
but we get a good-sized pancake.
With the borrowed milk,
we got to have a nice cup
of coffee substitute
There’s been an outbreak
some suffer from
we are managing.
Anyone who has been to an Irish cinema in recent years — and who managed to get there before the movie had started — will be familiar with the image of a red hot poker in the shape of a star being pulled from the flames and thrust at the viewers. Carlton Screen Advertising announces the start of the commercials that precede the movie we came to see, using imagery that harks back to the days when cattle were branded with these unpleasant instruments to identify their owners.
The term “brand” stems from the old Norse and German word for “fire” or “burn”. The Dutch for a “branding iron” like the Carlton one is “brandmerk” — and no, the Dutch do not “merk” their clothes. The English language refers to car makes as “marques” instead of “brands”, whereas the Dutch word for a “brand” is “merk”, when we talk about consumer goods. You gotta love etymology.
In any case, it’s clear that the concept of a brand has its origins in a rather primitive and cruel custom. We now live in a world surrounded by innumerable consumer brands, where the price we pay for one product or another varies greatly depending on the label attached to it — even if the items themselves are identical. After all, a 2 litre bottle of Avonmore Milk is not so much better than Linwood’s which sells for more than 1 euro less; and that’s just for starters.
Cosmetics, clothes, cleaning products, cars and thousands of other things not necessarily beginning with C are all available with different logos attached to them. Each comes with a promise of quality, value, style, power and even happiness — whatever it is that will convince us to by this brand rather than that one.
Sometime in the early eighties I was privileged enough to take a trip to Soviet Russia with my best friend René. We were amazed by the omnipresent avalanche of party propaganda, with Lenin staring at us from every public surface, encouraging us to do whatever it was that good communists were supposed to do in those days. How terrible, that those poor Russians were exposed to such relentless indoctrination.
Upon our return to the West however, the billboards and neon signs of our decadent capitalist society had taken on a slightly different feel. I wondered if Lenin was all that different from Lancôme or Lexus in the way they insist we absorb their message without thinking.
Many brand names have their origin in small localised beginnings, often taking the names of their founders or original owners. This can become an issue when the brand grows and crosses borders, and a perfectly normal Friesian name such as Douwe Egberts becomes a tongue twister for English speaking consumers – or airplane manufacter Fokker raises eyebrows. Does anyone really know how to pronounce Daewoo or Hyundai? And do you say Nohkia or Nokkia? Everyone I’ve ever heard talking about our German friend Lidl pronounces the name as an Americanised version of something small — only the voiceovers in the commercials talk about “Leeeedle”.
To make brand names shorter, easier to pronounce and more recognisable, they can just be abbreviated. The Swedish “Hennes & Mauritz” becomes H&M, “Bayerische Motoren Werke” becomes BMW, “Coöperatieve Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank” becomes Rabobank, “His Master’s Voice” becomes HMV — and then disappears altogether. And of course there’s the Dutch “Door Eendrachtig Samenwerken Profiteren Allen Regelmatig” which first became DE SPAR and eventually just SPAR — Dutch for “spruce”, which explains the tree in their logo.
Brands often fight among each other, and this gets worse as more and more brands spill across borders around the world. In 1990, AIB was still called Allied Irish Bank and its logo was a circle with a three-pointed star. “Hey, that’s ours!” said Mercedes, pointing to their own star. “No it isn’t,” said the bank, “we got there first. Our star is an ancient Celtic symbol and we’re keeping it.” Only they didn’t — later that year they became AIB Bank (which, strangely, stands for Allied Irish Bank Bank) and dropped the star in favour of an equally ancient Celtic boat.
Should Nazi Germany have prevailed, as fictionalised in Fatherland by Robert Harris, I’m sure that the regime would have had a problem with Swastika Laundries in Ballsbridge. Its chimney emblazoned with this uncomfortable symbol still towered over the Shelbourne Road in 1986.
Powerful symbols are a surefire way to increase awareness of a brand, not only across international borders, but crossing language and even literacy barriers as well. It is said that the McDonalds “Golden Arches” logo is recognised by more people worldwide than the Christian symbol of the cross. Interestingly, Christianity went through its own rebranding exercise in the 2nd century A.D. when the cross replaced the fish they had adopted as their logo initially.
We recognise brands by their shape and colour even if their name is different in other countries or if it changes for some reason — Snickers was Marathon, HB is Ola, Bulmers is Magners, Cif was Jif and so on. Changing a brand identity can have disastrous consequences (for the brand owner’s pockets, that is) or even cause a public outcry — Kelloggs were forced to drop the name “Choco Crispies” and revert back to “Coco Pops”.
Some brands have become so engrained in our society that their names have come to replace the name of the product itself. Hoover is of course a classic example that has even become a verb — so you cannot dyson the house with a Hoover, but it’s OK to hoover the house with a Dyson. Sellotape is the name given to all brands of sticky tape, but not if you live in America, because over there they call it Scotch tape. And a JCB (bet you didn’t know that stands for Joseph Cyril Bamford) is any big yellow digger holding up the bypass.
The movie industry gets funding for its films from brand owners who are queueing up to make sure that their products are clearly visible in high profile productions. Every car manufacturer dreams of James Bond choosing one of their models for that amazing car chase, and are willing to pay handsomly for the privilege.
But it gets really interesting when a movie portrays the brand in a less flattering way — such was the experience of Budweiser when Denzel Washington was shown to be too fond of their brew. Copyright law protects brands from being hijacked by other companies, but it does not give brand owners the right to decide how their products are “placed”. However, my friend David Slater tells me that “Abercrombie and Fitch pay the producers of ‘Jersey Shore’ so that the actors DON’T wear their clothes”.
When the last commercial has screened, just before the movie starts, the glowing star of the Carlton branding iron pops up once more before it fades into darkness. Sic transit gloria mundi.
One of the things that happen when you live abroad for a considerable length of time, is that you begin to see your native country through the eyes of a tourist. When going on a visit back home, you do things you would never do when you were still living there. Parisians don’t climb the Eiffel Tower.
I remember my uncle Meinte coming over from the US to visit us when I was still living in Rotterdam. He had been based in Springfield, Massachusetts, since the 1950s and spoke Dutch with a distinct American accent. One of the things he wanted to do during his stay in Holland was to go and see the “bollenstreek” — the famous endless fields of tulips in the West of the country. It struck me as strange that anyone who is from Holland would want to go and see something so blatantly touristy.
Although I have yet to visit the bollenstreek, I have in fact fallen in the homecomer’s tourist trap on several occasions — but this is not a Bad Thing. Like uncle Meinte before me, I have discovered the joys of being presented with experiences that are beneath our fellow country men and women, who assume they know all there is to know about our native land just because they live there.
Recently our little Irish family were driving through the wide open landscape of the Friesland province, my ancestral home in the northernmost part of the Netherlands. As we passed a lone wind turbine, my son remarked how he would like to see “a real windmill” sometime. No sooner had he said that, than his wish came true. We spotted an old fashioned — “real” —windmill some distance from the main road. Unlike the many other windmills we had spotted in the Dutch landscape over the years, this one was actually working, its blades rotating with surprising speed.
We turned off the main road and headed for the windmill, which turned out to be located outside the tiny village of Marssum. There was no big sign, car park or interprative centre — just a footpath hidden between a few houses, leading up to the mill. We parked the car and strolled up the path, which led past a field the size of a football pitch, with floodlights in the centre and deliberately submerged under water — in anticipation of the frost that would turn this setup into a fabulous public skating ring.
A group of men stood in front of the windmill, chatting in their native Friesian language. One of them asked us if we would like a tour — free and for nothing, the mill is operated by volunteers from one of the associations whose members look after these striking monuments.
Since the entrance to the mill was blocked by the swishing blades that almost touched the ground (categorising this type of mill as a “ground sailer”), the millner — our guide — first had to stop the mill by applying some sort of handbrake at the back of the building. A mill will always have two entrances on opposite sides, just in case the position of the blades blocks one of them and stopping the mill is not desirable.
Our mill was one of those classic types you see on Dutch picture postcards, a thatched octagonal construction with four white blades – a so-called “smock mill”. The head of the mill can be rotated a full 360 degrees to position the blades facing the wind, whichever direction it may come from.
The blades themselves are usually fitted with canvas sails, stretched across the wooden frame only when the mill is operational — and like on a sailing ship, sail cover is increased or decreased to suit the strength of the wind. This is of course a laborious process, requiring the mill to be stopped as the sail on each blade is adjusted. The windmill in Marssum is different — its blades are fitted with so-called “patent sails” which are like wooden venetian blinds and can be opened and closed to suit the wind without having to stop the mill. Incidentally, the proper term for a windmill’s blades is actually just that – sails.
Dutch monuments are as easy to date as Irish cars – the year of construction is prominently displayed. I presumed we were looking at something that was built about 200 years ago, and was surprised to see “1903” painted across the top of the building. The millner explained that the mill is a water mill, built in an era when steam powered pumping stations — which have become historical monuments in their own right — had already become the norm in maintaining most polders in the Netherlands. At the time, the polder near Marssum was deemed too small to justify the construction of such a modern pumping station, and the local authorities decided on the cheaper option of a traditional windmill.
At the back of the mill, a large cast iron Archimedes’ screw constitutes the actual pumping mechanism powered by the mill. Its function is now of course obsolete, the water levels in the modern day province are maintained by hundreds of pumps and a network of drainage canals that divert the water back into the sea.
The actual mechanism of the windmill is simple but very impressive. The power of the rotating blades is transferred by gigantic wooden cogs to an equally massive axis that runs the full height of the building, where at the bottom it ultimately powers the Archimedes’ screw.
We were allowed to view all of the different levels inside the mill — where the first level can be booked as the registry office location for weddings. Just below the roof level, a string with large lumps of what looked like meat was hanging from the ceiling. Pork fat, as it turns out, is used to grease the wooden cogs — mineral oil would destroy the timber.
Another method to preserve the wooden mechanism is the use of different timbers for the pegs of the interlocking cogs. The difference in the density of the grain of different types of wood ensures the longevity of these components as they constantly rub against each other.
That the power of this massive wooden machine should not be underestimated was highlighted by the sign at the steep ladder leading into the attic, warning us of “mortal danger”. Even though the mill had been stopped, we were slightly apprehensive as we crawled around where the blades transfer the power of the wind to the mill’s vertical axis, inside a space that can itself rotate in any direction.
Our guide did not speak English, so I acted as interpreter for my family. Funny enough, he regularly broke into Friesian, which was obviously his native and preferred language. Lucky for me, my grandparents — born before the Marsummer Mill was built — endowed me with at least a passive command of that language by exclusively speaking Friesian to their grandchildren.
Now that global warming, rising sea levels and renewable energy have become hot topics, we may yet see the mill in Marssum and its colleagues around the Netherlands come out of retirement. In fact, if that famous quote from around the time the mill in Marssum was built — Everything that can be invented has been invented — had turned out to be accurate, we wouldn’t have ended up with that mess to begin with.
I’m sure that most of us have spent time looking at monuments in a graveyard or church at one time or another. On holidays or at a funeral, reading the inscriptions on headstones, we may secretly (when at a funeral) or loudly (when on holidays) try to spot the oldest or youngest deceased or simply the oldest grave in the plot.
Living in Ireland, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to visiting old and fascinating burial places, ranging from the ancient passage tombs such as Newgrange in county Meath, to Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin with the final resting places of many Irish heroes. Both are in fact tourist attractions, complete with guided tours.
It comes as a shock to my Irish friends when I tell them that a final resting place in my native Holland may not be all that final after all. I would have a hard time trying to find the graves of some of my relatives, for example, even if I know where they were buried. This is because cemeteries in Holland’s urban areas have long run out of space. Just as most Dutch people rent their home during their lifetime, their final resting place is also — rented.
Around the city of Rotterdam, the average rental period for a grave is 25 years. I imagine that means that if you’re in your seventies and decide to pick that nice spot under the big tree, you’d better keep in mind that if you live for another 10 or maybe even 20 years, you’ll have precious little time left in your “final” resting place. When the rental period ends, surviving relatives are notified and asked if they wish to renew the lease — it seems that in most cases, they let it go.
If you had planned to spend your sunset days in Holland and this has turned you off, then you’ll be glad to know that you can always buy a grave, in which case your mortal coil does get the eternal rest you had in mind. Also, most cemeteries in rural parts of the Netherlands do not have the same space problems as their urban counterparts.
One wonders what happens to those graves that are cleared when their lease is up. Of course the official guidelines tell us about the sensitivity surrounding exhumation, and how the remains are placed in smaller boxes and interred in a communal vault — the practise will vary between cemeteries. It appears that these practises have not always been so sensitive, however.
When I spent a weekend with one of my friends in secondary school, he took me to the grounds of a church in a nearby village. At the time, we were going through a teenage Gothic Horror phase, reading Edgar Allan Poe and the like. The church grounds were of interest because part of the old graveyard had recently been cleared, and the freshly dug soil had been distributed around the walls of the church, presumably to provide bedding for plants. To my amazement, the white bits that could be seen scattered among the lumps of soil turned out to be — bones. Teeth, vertebrae, bits of ribs and skull… they were definitely human. Weirdos that we were, a few samples ended up in our pockets.
Of course the force of nature will sometimes compromise a final resting place, even in Ireland — where the thought of renting a grave is almost as abhorrent as renting one’s home. The torrential rain of last October washed away part of the graveyard at St. Mary’s Abbey in Howth, exposing some of the coffins. Pictures that appeared via Twitter and Facebook have since been removed from the more established news sites, probably because it emerged that the affected graves were quite recent.
Mud slides and rental graves notwithstanding, most burial places are of a more permanent nature, thankfully. My morbid teenage fascination with such places appears to have stayed with me, and over the years I have roamed among the permanent addresses of the faithful and not-so-faithful departed in various locations.
Père Lachaise in Paris was one of my first encounters with a different approach to honouring the dead than what I was used to. This incredible necropolis is home to the remains of countless famous people, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Victor Hugo and Chopin among them. Recently the cemetery featured on the Irish news when the tomb of Oscar Wilde was restored, having become the victim of thousands of kisses.
A completely different experience awaited me when I visited the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg — once again). Around half a million victims of the Nazi siege of the city lay buried in enormous mass graves, marked only with a stone with the year on it. Tschaykovsky’s “Pathétique” sounded from dozens of speakers around the cemetery, adding to the gloom.
Much more colourful was the town cemetery in Comares in Andalusia, Spain. Perched on top of a massive rock, the location does not lend itself to the traditional method of placing the deceased six foot under. Instead, they are stacked up to more than six foot above the ground in drawer-like tombs, with neighbours on all sides. One gets the feeling of navigating the cemetery like supermarket aisles.
Apart from the quirky architecture, the historic ties between Holland and Malakka in Malaysia become apparent when visiting the ancient graveyard beside St. Paul’s Church in the centre of the old town. Dozens of weathered headstones bear testimony to the adventurous souls who sought to start a new life in a new world, at a time when such an undertaking was far more dramatic — and permanent — than we can imagine. Dating back to the 17th century, the most elaborate and best preserved monuments adorn the graves of merchants and their families, whereas ordinary citizens have to make do with more clumsily carved markers of lesser quality. Plus ça change.
Back in Ireland, one of the more bizarre burial spots can be found near the village of Glencree in the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin. Nestled in the shade of a steep rock we find the picturesque German War Cemetery. That’s strange, because the last time we checked our history books there was no mention of a war involving German troops on Irish soil. It turns out that most graves are from the time of “the Emergency”, among them those of Luftwaffe personnel on one of their raids who somehow managed to miss England (where they refer to this era as World War II). The plot thickens when we spot a grave from 1947, when even outside Ireland the War was over. This grave belongs to Dr. Hermann Görtz, a German spy based in Ireland who committed suicide when the Allies were hot on his trail. De mortuis non est disputandum, or something like that.
I’ll finish by referring back to my first blog post. My uncle Ids Haagsma was executed by the Nazis in November 1944; his body was found after the war, in a mass grave on the Waalsdorpervlakte near the Hague. He was re-interred, with full military honours, at the Zuiderbegraafplaats in Rotterdam, and later at the Ereveld (Field of Honour) in Loenen — the final resting place of some 4,000 casualties of various wars.
I’ve lived in quite a few different places over the years. This post deals with my various addresses in Holland.
Dutch Reformed Rectory, Oldeboorn
In 1960s Holland, home births were the most common way for the country’s citizens to arrive on the scene. It was no different for me, even if I was born in Friesland which is technically not part of Holland — but that’s another blog post.
The home in question was the rectory in the village of Oldeboorn – my father was a minister with the Dutch Reformed Church who had recently been appointed to the job, our family moving from the much smaller village of Wolsum, where my brother and sister were born. It was a grand house, standing on the grounds of a former mansion, with a marble hallway and large gardens, right nextdoor to the 18th century church itself with its distinctive tower.
The rectory has since been converted to a community centre, and the upstairs bedroom where I was born is now a bar — appropriately enough, some might say.
The career of a young minister will require him and his family to move along to bigger and better paid postings on a regular basis. This is why my residence in the grand rectory of Oldeboorn was shortlived.
Dutch Reformed Rectory, Bergentheim
In 1966 I had not yet turned three when we moved 100km south, to the village of Bergentheim which is stretched along the banks of the Almelo-de Haandrik Canal. Though not as grand as Oldeboorn’s rectory, our new home was still substantial.
It did not bring our family good fortune, however. On 10th March 1967, 9 days before my big brother’s 10th birthday and after just 10 years of marriage, my father died suddenly.
Our home was the property of the Church, and with my father gone, we simply had to move on. My mother was given 3 months to find alternative accommodation. Thankfully, one of my father’s colleagues came to the rescue.
Interestingly enough, the house and its bad memories did not outlive my father by much. It was torn down sometime in the 80s for reasons unknown to me.
Wethouder Imminkstraat, Lemele
Our next home had been purchased by my father’s colleague as his retirement home. With his retirement still some years away, my mother was able to rent the house for herself and her three small children.
Situated in the small village of Lemele at the foot of the “Lemeler Mountain” (a barely perceptivle bump in the landscape), this is the first home I can clearly remember. I made my first friends in the kleuterschool — equivalent to junior infants.
As I moved up a level to first class in primary school, my brother moved up at the other end of the scale to secondary school. It soon became clear that this was causing unforseen problems. His school was an hour and a half’s bus journey away, so that’s three hours travelling each day. My sister would have to endure the same hardship the following year, and our GP advised my mother that she’d best move somewhere closer to secondary schools.
Groenezoom 158, Rotterdam
In April of 1956 my mother walked out the front door of my grandparents’ rented home on the Groenezoom in Rotterdam, a married woman. Less than a decade and a half later, she walked back in — a widow with three kids.
My grandmother had suffered a stroke and had moved into a nursing home. My grandfather took us under his wing and cleared out his home of some 35 years to make room for our young family. When he too suffered a stroke on his 80th birthday, Pake — as we called him, Friesian for Granddad — joined Oma (Dutch for Granny because she felt that the Friesian Beppe sounded too old) in the nursing home.
The company in charge of managing the rented home would have kicked us out of the Groenezoom, since our family didn’t qualify as rental candidates. Luckily somebody somewhere pulled a few strings and we were allowed to stay — and that is how Rotterdam became the city where I grew up, in the same house that had been the home of my mother’s youth.
Settling in to this environment was quite a strain on my brother and sister, who had by now lived in 5 different places, substituting the countryside for the big city and losing their dad in the process. At the tender age of six, I was oblivious to all this, taking to my new surroundings like a duck to the Langegeer.
All three of us Kuipers kids went to the same secondary school that had been attended by my father, and when my brother and sister completed their Leaving Cert, they spread their wings to further their studies in Amsterdam and Groningen respectively. For five years I lived alone with my mother in number 158 on the Groenezoom, until it was my turn to seek adventure in Amsterdam when the Leaving was over and done with.
Joos Banckersweg 2, Amsterdam
My brother was on the lookout for a new flat around the same time that I was moving to Amsterdam. He managed to secure a room for me in an apartment we ended up renting with two of his friends. The apartment was perfect and was my home for all of the four years I spent in Amsterdam.
As the new kid on the block, I had a single room on the top floor of the duplex, where the other three lads had two rooms each. When one of the original occupants moved out, I upgraded to his two-roomed space, and that’s the only time I moved house within Amsterdam, as it were. It was quite a different story in the next city I chose as home.
De meeste mensen die ik voor het eerst ontmoet spreken mijn naam verkeerd uit, en ik ben er zo langzamerhand aan gewend om Pierce, Piet of Pierre genoemd te worden. Nu geef ik toe dat ze allemaal dezelfde betekenis hebben, verwijzend naar de rots waarop Christus besloot Zijn kerk te bouwen (Mattheüs 16:18) — aardig toepasselijk voor de zoon van een dominee, lijkt me. Soms als ik er voor in de stemming ben, leg ik uit dat ik Pier heet, “zoals in Scheveningen”. Mijn naam is zelfs in Holland, waar ik ben opgegroeid, ongebruikelijk — en dat komt omdat het geen Hollandse naam is, maar uit Friesland komt — die meest Noordelijke provincie met haar eigen cultuur, taal en natuurlijk — stamboek vee.
Mijn ouders hebben de traditie waar de kinderen naar hun grootouders vernoemd worden ernstig opgevat. Mijn broer, als oudste zoon van de oudste zoon, werd vernoemd naar onze grootvader van vader’s kant — Harmannus, afgekort tot Mans — en zo werd een opeenvolging voortgezet die al generaties lang standhield. Mijn zus werd Minke genoemd, naar mijn grootmoeder aan mijn moeder’s kant, want de traditie schrijft voor dat de oudste dochter wordt vernoemd naar haar moeder’s moeder. Toen ik op het toneel verscheen, had ik Lammechien kunnen heten naar mijn vader’s geweldige moeder, maar ik ben van het mannelijke geslacht en zo werd ik de trotse naamgenoot van Pier, mijn grootvader van mijn moeder’s kant.
Pier Haagsma was blij en vereerd dat zijn kleinzoon naar hem vernoemd werd — zijn vrouw Minke Bosma was een beetje teleurgesteld, want “het wordt nooit een Haagsma”. Net als in de familie Kuipers was er een generaties lange traditie waarbij de oudste zoon de naam van zijn grootvader erft — Jacob verwekte Pier, Pier verwekte Jacob enzovoort, totdat Jacob Ids verwekte, vernoemd naar mijn oom (als tweede zoon was oom Ids vernoemd naar zijn grootvader van moeder’s kant) die in 1944 door de Duitsers was gefusilleerd. Als die tragische gebeurtenis niet had plaatsgevonden, zou de naam Pier geen keuze voor mijn ouders zijn geweest — zoals ik al zei, vernoemen werd door hen ernstig opgevat en ze vonden niet dat je een naam moet kiezen die al eerder in de familie is gebruikt. Zoals in Friesland gebruikelijk is, hebben zowel mijn broer, zus en ikzelf als het merendeel van onze Friese neven en nichten slechts één voornaam — mijn Amerikaanse nicht Esther Minke is een van de weinige uitzonderingen. Met haar tweede voornaam is Esther uiteraard vernoemd naar dezelfde grootmoeder.
Het is goed mogelijk dat mijn grootmoeder’s teleurstelling over het niet doorgeven van de familienaam gedeeld werd door een van de voorouders van haar echtgenoot. Het blijkt dat de naam Pier in 1811 zijn intrede in de familie Haagsma doet — nog voordat de naam Haagsma officieel is aangenomen — als Jan Jakobs trouwt met Ybeltje Piers. Jan en Ybeltje noemen hun eerstgeboren zoon Jakob naar zijn vader, zoals de gewoonte was. Als hun tweede zoon in 1817 geboren wordt, vernoemen ze hem natuurlijk naar de vader van Ybeltje en wordt dus Pier Jans — en aangezien Jan in 1815 de naam Haagsma heeft aangenomen in navolging van de nieuwe Napoleontische wet, is Pier Jans Haagsma de eerste persoon in een lange keten die werd verbroken toen mijn neef Ids Haagsma werd genoemd en ik Pier Kuipers.
Als kinderen waren we ons altijd heel goed bewust van de geschiedenis van onze familie, vooral van onze moeder’s kant. Foto’s van lang geleden overleden familieleden prijkten in alle hoeken van ons huis in Rotterdam, dat — al was het dan een huurhuis — zelf ook een familie erfgoed was, bewoond door leden van de Haagsma club sinds 1936 totdat mijn moeder naar Friesland terugverhuisde in 2002.
De portretten van Rinske Gietema en Jitske van Ketel, beiden gekleed in traditioneel Fries kostuum, hingen boven de trap. Zij waren mijn moeder’s grootmoeders, respectievelijk van haar vader’s en haar moeder’s kant, waarbij mijn moeder de naam Rinske erfde. Volgens de regels van de vernoemingstraditie, betekent dat dat mijn moeder een tweede dochter is, aangezien de naam van de maternale grootmoeder — Jitske — gereserveerd is voor de oudste dochter. Dat was inderdaad het geval, maar mijn tante Jitske de Lange-Haagsma en haar man Piet overleden allebei aan tuberculose in hetzelfde jaar waarin Ids werd gefusilleerd. Ze zijn slechts een jaar getrouwd geweest.
Toen ik een paar maanden geleden bij mijn moeder op bezoek was, kwam het gesprek weer op de geschiedenis van onze familie. Tussen alle namen, foto’s en datums in mijn moeder’s indrukwekkende verzameling ontbrak haar nog altijd de preciese geboortedatum van Jitske van Ketel. Google bracht uitkomst en in een mum van tijd zat ik verdiept in tientallen genealogische websites, nieuwsgroepen en email lijsten. Dat wat we zochten kwam al snel aan het licht — 26 September 1855, vergezeld van een kopie van de pagina uit het desbetreffende geboorteregister. Wat ik echter niet verwacht had, was de lawine van informatie die na deze ontdekking loskwam.
De geboorte akte vertelt ons dat Jitske van Ketel de oudste dochter was van Bauke Ygrams van Ketel and Trijntje Baukes Tiemstra. Gebruikmakend van onze vernoemingsformule, kunnen we hier uit afleiden dat Trijntje’s moeder Jitske moet hebben geheten. Wat we ook kunnen aannemen, is dat haar oudste broer Ygram geheten moet hebben — dat wil zeggen, als ze tenminste broers had. Het begint spannend te worden.
De voorchristelijke stammen – inclusief de Friezen – die Noord-West Europa bevolkten voordat Ierse monniken verschenen om het evangelie te verspreiden, geloofden dat hun ziel voortleefde in nakomelingen die naar hen vernoemd waren. Als een oprechte heiden was je verplicht om je kinderen naar je ouders te vernoemen om zo het voortleven van hun ziel te garanderen. Het blijkt dat zelf in de Christelijke tijden, de daaropvolgende traditie met een zekere mate van fanatisme in ere werd gehouden.
Hoewel de namen waarover u tot nu toe gelezen hebt misschien al ongewoon genoeg lijken, is het zo dat Ygram zelfs in Friesland erg zeldzaam is. Terwijl ik de details van Jitske van Ketel’s broers en zussen doornam, werd het me duidelijk dat haar vader tot het uiterste is gegaan in zijn pogingen om het voortleven van zijn vader’s ziel te verzekeren. Jitske had inderdaad een oudere broer met de naam Ygram, maar hij stierf in 1871 toen hij net 20 was en zonder kinderen. Na de dood van Ygram worden er niet minder dan nog eens vier zoons geboren. Alle vier overlijden ze als ze slechts een paar maanden oud zijn, and alle vier heetten ze Ygram.
De beschikbare gegevens over mijn voorouders, de van Ketels, gaan veel verder terug dan welke andere familietak ook. Gebruikmakend van de naam Ygram als herkenningspunt, gaat het spoor eerst terug naar 1661, als Jancke Ygrams van Achlum de naam in de familie introduceert door met Jan Alberts van Ketel te trouwen. Jancke’s moeder was een dame die Sara van Vierssen heette, en de familie van Vierssen is terug te voeren tot begin zestiende eeuw – dat is 12 generaties, teruggeteld vanaf mijn eigen generatie.
De stamboom houdt daar niet op – integendeel. Als we hoe langer hoe verder terguggaan in de tijd, komen we uiteindelijk terecht bij een meisje met de naam Elisabeth, die ergens in het midden van de veertiende eeuw geboren is. Men zegt dat zij een buitenechtelijk kind was van Willem V, Graaf van Holland en Zeeland, ook bekend onder de naam Willem I, Hertog van Beieren. Deze Willem was de zoon van niemand minder dan Lodewijk IV, bijgenaamd “de Beier”, Keizer van het Heilige Roomse Rijk, die leefde en regeerde in de eerste helft van de veertiende eeuw.
Onlangs heb ik De Naam van de Roos van Umberto Eco weer eens herlezen, en deze keer vanuit een nieuw gezichtspunt. Wanneer de Heilige Roomse keizer in het verhaal ter sprake komt, gun ik mezelf het plezier om deze historische figuur te beschouwen als mijn overgrootvader tot de 18e macht verheven. Ik vraag me af waar ik terecht kan om aanspraak te maken op de troon?
Oh, en voor het geval u me niet gelooft — ga maar even na: