Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

You can find Ian's main website at

Letter from Lotusland

May 2016

Picturegoing in early 1960s Dublin.


       Very few of my memories of  Trinity College Dublin are of lectures or learning. Constitutional history, for example was given by a terrifying dragon lady with a double- barreled name, Miss Otway-Ruthen, plainly a spinster who would never get spunced. Into the hallowed lecture hall she’d sail and at once read out a roll call in a hard monotone. The African names were pronounced differently at each session. Her accent was rigidly upper class English. Anyone not dressed in the official black gown would be reported as ‘academically nude’’

       Then on droned the Ott, reading the same lecture she’d been delivering since the time of the first Troubles in the early 1920s—the difference between sake and soke, Leges Henrici and the famous and important case of Skinner versus the East India Company.

       Ages later we tossed of our gowns and made for the bars that were well placed around the college. My friends Lewis and Shaw usually went native by ordering pints of Guinness stout. The preparation of their drinks was a grand performance. The barman would pull the stout, which emerged as pale froth and wait till it had transformed itself into black liquid. Then, like a master magician, he’d skim off the excess froth at the top with a spatula slowly and skillfully. By which time I’d finished my poor lager.

       The water in the stout, we were reliably told, came from the river, which flowed sluggishly, and dark brownishly through the centre of the city. I once visited the Guinness brewery; as a parting gift our guide offered us a glass of a special brew made only for sale in Nigeria and the Congo. It was more potent than whisky and I lost my sense of balance. “Guaranteed to keep natives happy and docile and free from revolutionary spirit’ said our guide.

       My lunch in the bar was light since I had embarked on a diet in order to slim down to, I hoped, a sinuous and enticing shape.

I would order a chunk of local Galtee cheese which tasted like treated soap. This was doused in brown sauce and eaten on cream crackers.

       After lunch, if there were no lectures, we’d slide off to the news cinema in Grafton Street. This was a smart street, full of ladies clothes shops and watch emporiums and an old-fashioned tea and refreshment place called Bewley’s where women customers were only allowed in a special room below street level. In the cinema, which we called “The Funnies’, we admired the squashing flat of animals and how they’d fall from tremendous heights, pick themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on the chase. No blood no pain, no nothing. Much better than reality.

       The 75-minute program ended with the Irish newsreel, booming in Gaelic. There’d usually be a row of plain girls in thick sweaters, straight-backed and sexless as an apple, doing a folk dance. Often President De Valera was in the picture, slumped in sleep.

       Dev had started as a rebel in the 1916 uprising, a mighty firebrand--condemned to death for crimes against the British, he got off because he was an American citizen. He was president during World War Two and had the distinction of being the only world leader to send a letter of condolence to the Germans after Hitler blew his brains out in his 1945 bunker.

       Picturegoing became an important part of our week. There wasn’t much else to do in Dublin. Cinemas seemed to be everywhere, many in venerable 18th century buildings. One was the Rotunda, at the end of O’Connell Street. James Joyce had managed it at the turn of the century. There was always a good deal of noise in the cinemas—a live show with the audience addressing the screen in no uncertain terms:” Look out behind you-he’s got a knife!” When there was an abrupt cut in the middle of a love scene there arose the cry of “snip!’ because the audience recognized the brutal cut as the hand of the censor. Ireland was still in the grip of the Catholic Church.

       Adding to the atmosphere was the ever-present haze of blue smoke from all the ciggies; few patrons watched a film from start to finish since they were being shepherded in constantly   from the queues outside; these were commanded by stout men dressed like South American field marshals, studded with medals and crowned with impressive peaked caps. However, they were street poets of a sort: many were the nights my friends and I stood in the queue listening raptly as one of these marshals filled us in on what was happening on the screen.” He’s kissing her in an alley- oh, but it’s a grand thing! Now wait-- there’s a dark shadow looming like the devil himself! Just a minute, I’d best pop back inside and see what transpires…’’ And off he’d dash. Sometimes the marshal’s stories were better than the film itself.

       One of our history lecturers, Dr.Lydon, turned out to be an enthusiastic picturegoer. Indeed he urged us to see the Hollywood epic “El Cid” in order to get a good idea of life in old Spain. He told us this when he took our class to a bar to make his point in a more congenial setting than the cold stone college hall. Dr Lydon was a kind man: when I returned to Dublin in late 1965 and got a second in my history degree exam he wrote to my mother saying how pleased the college was that “he’d kept scholastic even though he was recently atop the American hit parade, and could have remained there, no doubt!”


Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

You can find Ian's main website at ianwhitcomb.com