Monday, July 15, 2013

The French connection, and keeping it light for a little while

It's definitely summer here in the northern hemisphere. The air conditioning is working at full bore and the humidity has given my curly Irish hair an untamed life of its own. For the last few weeks I have been 'virtually' absent, spending time away in the world of people and places, travelling to England, to France, and to Belgium.

Since 2008 the focus of much of my time spent in Ireland and England has been for my history work, as well as family history research, but this summer I decided to change it up a bit, and enjoy some holiday time with my husband. Family history fit neatly on the bill on this trip as well, and is in fact one of the principal reasons for our travelling out of Paris and into northern France and Belgium. My history work also figured into the plan, but that is a story for another day.

In the course of my travels there have been a number of weighty stories to contemplate, but for now and in honour of summer, for the next little while I am going to keep it light.

So... for your viewing pleasure here are some French sights with an Irish connection.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame
You may be wondering what connection the Cathedral of Notre Dame could possibly have to Ireland. The connection to Ireland has to do with the Great Liberator, Daniel O'Connell.

As a student Daniel O'Connell bore witness to the Revolution in France. He fervently believed in the ideals of liberty, fraternity, and democracy which drove the Revolution, but saw the terrible violence of that time as an untenable route to democracy. O'Connell shared the ideals with Irish Catholics, telling them he believed Ireland could achieve true democracy without the kind of violence which had marked the French Revolution. O'Connell was deeply admired by many in France, and following his death in Genoa, Italy, in May of 1847, French Catholic activists organized a requiem mass for the Great Liberator at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. At that mass on 10 February 1848, the famous French preacher and liberal, Henri Lacordaire, delivered a lengthy funeral sermon for Daniel O’Connell, saying of him, "Your glory is not only Irish, it is Catholic."

Café De La Paix
Established in May of 1862, it is located directly across from the Paris Opera House.
Following his release from Wandsworth Prison in England in May of 1897, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde fled to Paris where he spent the rest of his days. According to the history of the long standing Paris institution, Café De La Paix, Oscar Wilde spent many happy hours in the café gazing across at the Opera House.

In fact, the history of the café holds that on a beautiful and very hot summer afternoon in 1898, regular customer Oscar Wilde, witnessed a strange phenomenon when he looked out the window from the perspective of his favourite table. The street had just been watered down on Place de L'Opera, and a light mist was rising from the ground. Suddenly, within the fog forming across the square, Oscar Wilde saw a large golden angel appear, an angel who seemed to keep growing in size. This sighting caused quite an uproar on the premises. It is said that women fainted and tables were knocked over. What was this extraordinary phenomenon? It was actually the reflection of the sun's rays against one of the gold leaf statues which stands atop the Opera house. As the sun's rays reflected into the mist, it made it appear as though the angel was floating in the middle of the square.
The Palais Garnier Paris Opera House.
Those angels in gold leaf.
Not only was Irish playwright Oscar Wilde inspired by the Palais Garnier, so too was Irish writer James Joyce, who attended performances at the Opera House on a number of occasions during his years in Paris.
Tomb of Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright extraordinaire.
Oscar Wilde died in Paris on 30 November 1900, and was initially interred in the Cimetière Parisien de Bagneux, just outside the city of Paris. In 1909 his remains were exhumed and he was reinterred, this time in the famed Cimetiére Pére LaChaise beneath this fabulous stone. As you can see, the tomb is now surrounded by plexiglass in order to prevent enthusiastic fans from marking the tomb with a lipstick-stained kiss, a practice which was slowly eroding the stone. It appears the plexiglass proved to be not enough of a deterrent, so the tomb is now also surrounded by a metal fence.

Shakespeare and Company Bookshop
This bookshop, originally named Le Mistral, was opened in 1951 by George Whitman. He renamed the shop Shakespeare and Company in honour of Sylvia Beach, who opened a bookshop by that name on 17 November 1919 at 8 Rue Dupuytren. Sylvia Beach's shop was a touchstone for some of the greatest writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, who frequented the bookshop in the late afternoon several times a week when he lived in Paris. In fact, Sylvia Beach was the first publisher of Joyce's landmark novel Ulysses. Beach's shop was closed in 1940, during the German occupation of Paris, and was never re-opened. Today George Whitman's Shakespeare and Company is operated by his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, and the shelves are still filled with the work of Joyce and many other writers who once called Paris home.

Click on images to view larger versions.


  1. Great blog, found it very informative.

  2. Great photos Jenn, and lots of interesting info too. The Irish are everywhere! Glad your trip was good, hope you post more pics on FB.

  3. Lovely, as always. And, as always you blow me out of the water with the knowledge, the photography, the blending of all. Hear me SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Carol! Much appreciated, as always.



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