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My Supper with Brendan… At the Aubane Historical Society… July 2, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Aubane Historical Society, British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish History, Irish Politics, The Further Left, The Left.
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Many thanks to “An Interested Party” for the following…

While I was in Dublin on the 9th of May (staying with a relative), I decided to attend the Aubane Historical Society’s launch of the “Notes on Eire” book in the Teacher’s Club, out of curiosity. I’d heard about them on websites like Politics.ie and Indymedia-the former Unionists-turned-Nationalists. I was interested and wanted to discover what they were like in person.

I arrived at the Teacher’s Club at about 7.25 and there were several people waiting outside the entrance. As I was going in I was asked was I attending the book launch by one of the people. I replied “Yes”, and she gave me directions to the room. She was a friendly middle-aged woman with curled black hair and glasses and a distinct London accent, who looked like a scatty art teacher. So I went upstairs into theroom and there were seats assembled for a meeting. There were several otherpeople there, mostly men and all middle-aged.

Rather ironically, there was a copy of the Irish Times at the side of the room – publication the AHS has often strongly criticised. Two of the men there were discussing the IT’s obituary of the veteran B&ICO/AHS member Pat Murphy, who had passed away a few weeks ago. *

There was a guy on the right side of the room, running a table full of Athol Books magazines, -“Irish Political Review”,”Church and State”,”Irish Foreign Affairs”, “Problems of Capitalism and Socialism”, and “Labour and Trade Union Review”.

Numerous books and pamphlets were also there-the AHS’ famous book on the Coolacrease shootings, along with Angela Clifford’s pamphlets on Haughey’s role in the Arms Trial, Bowen’s “Notes on Eire”,and Desmond Fennell’s new book. Out of interest I bought a copy of the IPR from the man at the stall. After a while, more people started coming in, who all seemed to know each other.
I recognised veteran trade unionist Manus O’Riordan. After a while, there were about fifteen people in the room, including a priest, a man who looked like film critic Harry Knowles and a businessman who vaguely resembled Bruce Arnold.

So a few minutes passed, and then the “art teacher” woman (who another man called Angela-and then I recognised her as Angela Clifford, Brendan’s wife) told us Brendan clifford was coming in a few minutes. Two more men entered the room, and one of them assembled some notes, and then began to eat some chocolate ice cream for supper. “Brendan will be speaking in a minute, after he finishes his meal” said Angela to some laughs.

I gazed at the man called Brendan-this was the famous (or infamous,depending on your opinion) man behind the British and Irish Communist Organisation and Aubane Historical Society.

He is a man of average height,in his sixties or seventies, with a shock of grey hair that rises into curls in the middle, and a beard but no moustache (he struck me as resembling an aging Abraham Lincoln). After a few minutes Brendan finished eating and got ready to speak. Despite the previously informal atmosphere the other guests all quietened down and prepared to listen to him speak
(I was reminded of a teacher coming in and beginning a class). So he began to speak about the Elizabeth Bowen book. He has a soft, slightly reedy voice (despite his Cork/Kerry origins,it reminded me a little of Daniel O’Donnell, of all people!).First, he annouced that the other book announced for the launch (The Mansergh File) had been delayed in publication.

Then Clifford began discussing the details of the Bowen book and his research on her in WWII. He went into detail about her life and her WWII intelligence operations, which seem to be a strong interest of his. Clifford insisted that Bowen was not a North Cork writer, and that he had never met anyone from North Cork who regarded her an a Cork writer.
He turned out to be a rather rambling and slightly tedious speaker, as he kept wandering off the subject (once he digressed to discuss Maurice Hankey, the British politician).

However,when he mentioned Martin Mansergh and his father Nicholas, a note of genuine anger entered his voice. He stated that Mansergh wanted to “destroy us in the Aubane Historical Society” through his critical articles in the Irish Times. This made me slightly uncomfortable, as I got a feeling of “Don’t cross this man. Don’t make him angry” off him then.

After a while, he announced Jack Lane had found some new information about Bowen from his researches in London, and handed the platform over to him.

Jack Lane is a jovial Corkman with a moustache who somewhat resembles the late actor Joe Lynch.He was quite friendly and a far better public speaker than Clifford-a good, educated raconteur with a sense of humour.

He focused on the WWII activities of both Bowen and John Betjetman. I noticed that none of the speakers ever referred to Bowen as an “Irish” or “Anglo-Irish writer”-she was always the “English writer”.

Lane stated that the parts British government wanted to do several things to interfere with Irish neutrality-one of them was to set up a group of pro-British Irish businessmen in the Free State to further the UK’s interests.

Other things Lane discussed included putting UK propaganda messages in Irish products such as people’s laxatives (cue laughter) or plans to “interfere” with the supply of cinema films. I raised my hand to ask a question but Lane motioned me to wait until he had finished speaking. When he had finished, I asked if he meant the film thing was putting “subliminal messages”
or something similar in the films, but he said no, it was restricting films to frustrate the Irish entertainment industry. So the speech went on for a bit more, and Jack mentioned Manus was researching something on WWII, and also a red-haired woman called Eileen with a Cork accent began discussing “the Bell” magazine, saying it may have recieved paper supplies from the Irish government during the war. I got the feeling “The Bell” might be the next AHS subject.

I suppose I could have raised my hand and asked an awkard question like “Is it true you published material in the 1970s saying the 1920s IRA were sectarian?” or “Why did you support Likud in the 70s and Hamas today?” but I’ve always been a little shy about public speaking. And besides, the whole group seemed very “cliquey”-everyone seemed to recognise each
other. I was the youngest person there-the others were all in their 50s or older.

I did think about staying for the Fennell talk, but it was getting dark and I didn’t like the idea of walking through Dublin late at night. So after a while, there was a short break after Lane had finished his talk, and while they waited for Fennell, I left. I walked
out of the Teachers’ Club (there was a room full of Asian people and their kids that I walked past) and
went back to my relative’s flat.

She and her friend were having a chat when I got back, and I mentioned I’d gone to “a history discussion” on WWII. They were interested in it, and they asked who gave it.

“The Aubane Historical Society, from Millstreet” I replied.

“What’s a society from Millstreet doing lecturing in Dublin?” asked her friend, puzzled. Then I told them who was there. They’d never heard of most of the people there, but they did wonder what Manus O’Riordan the Communist was doing working with Desmond Fennell the Catholic conservative.

In the end, I didn’t really know what to make of the talk, or the people who gave it.
The Aubane Historical Society seem like a group of people genuinely interested in Irish history, but with some strange and contentious opinions. They also seemed like a very introspective group – felt like I’d walked in on a group of very close friends where I didn’t know anyone.

I’ll let my relative’s comments be the last word:

“I don’t know about these “Aubane” people, they sound like very strange folk indeed!”

Comments»

1. John Palmer - July 2, 2009

Very interesting indeed. I, too, have always wondered what sparked Brendan Clifford’s transformation from a kind of “Two Nations” unionist to what I now understand to be a view of Irish history which one would have heard from an old fashioned Fianna Fail nationalist 50 or more years ago.
His published work have the fascination of the genuine esoteric and his original Two Nations thesis – dependent on a very singular reading of the role of “Ulster custom” in explaining the evolution of the northern unionist consciousness – did have a real gravitas. His approach to Irish history reportedly informed Conor Cruise O’Brien’s later development. All very odd indeed.

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2. shea - July 2, 2009

maybe he likes an underdog. argue against precieved wisdoms. people like than though personaly annoying are socialy very healthy for society.

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3. WorldbyStorm - July 2, 2009

Can’t entirely disagree shea. And the AHS has certainly made every effort for their views to be promoted… šŸ™‚

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4. WorldbyStorm - July 2, 2009

That’s a pretty succinct summing up John. ‘old fashioned FF nationalism’… it’s sure seems like it.

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5. Vabian - July 2, 2009

To be brutally honest, I think the AHS’ shift is simply
cynical opportunism. They weren’t getting rewards out
of supporting the “electoral integration” wing of Unionism,
so in the 90s they switched sides. They were obscure enough
to get away with this strategy (if, say,Kevin Myers had done
the same thing, questions would be asked). And note how
they often have prominent FF TDs turn up to their events,
like Pat Moylan for the Coolacrease book. I think they
were hoping for a sugar daddy.

Though after the recent election, the AHS will probably call
on the government to dissolve the Irish people and
elect another one…… šŸ˜‰

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6. EWI - July 2, 2009

The first time I’ve heard of this AHS. Sounds like they (just like the Birch Society in the US) are just the people to go to for answers on every question.

So, tell me; do they have a position on the New World Order/black UN helicopters?

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7. Bartholomew - July 2, 2009

Iā€™m not so sure that their evolution is quite as opportunistic as Vabian says, and indeed as many contributors to previous Aubane threads here have suggested much more vehemently. After all, there were two nations in the two-nations theory, and nowadays they seem to see themselves as coming to the rescue of the southern rather than the northern one. But the analysis is the same ā€“ they seem to think that historically-formed nations are real, and probably healthy for people to belong to.

Very nice post – it conveys the slightly cult-like atmosphere of these things, plus it’s just the kind of report that the Aubaners themselves like to write about the public meetings of other groups.

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8. On the beat Pete - July 2, 2009

For the sectarian record the Irish Times obituary of the late Pat Murphy was misleading; not about Murphy, who seems to have been a genuinely good man, but in the way it presented BICO in order to suit Aubane’s agenda. The obit stated that BICO were called ‘Stalinists’ by Trotyskists- no, they were called Stalinists because they argued that Stalin on the major issues was ‘never wrong’- (Stalin and the Irish Working Class). They didn’t just understand that Ulster Protestants had rights- they said that they were superior socially and economically to Catholic nationalists. A couple of their members were at the barricades in Belfast in August 1969; that has now become they were key to the defence of the ghettos. That they supported internment is not mentioned. And so on.

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9. big yellow taxi - July 3, 2009

I think we are missing the most important aspect of this:

“then began to eat some chocolate ice cream for supper”

Ice cream for supper? What are we talking about here, supper as in dinner, or some sort of before bed snack? And what sort of ice cream? Was it a choc ice or a magnum or something, or ice cream from a tub? And if the latter, what sort of tub- one of those swish ones from a little Italian joint, or just a big tub of HB? And how much chocolate ice cream?

Was it eaten with a spoon? Was anybody else offered a lick?

I think we need more details on this one…

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10. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2009

Hmmm… if offered a lick then the old BICO tendencies would be to the forefront, if not then clearly individualist nationalist tendencies predominate.

Still, on the beat Pete makes what I think is a very good point. While the mythology can sometimes make them seem much more or an influence than they really were it seems uncontestable that at least on the Irish left they were an influence and in their own way managed to generate a tone in political discourse that was the equal or match of the most revanchist nationalists (which of course makes their current positions highly… ironic).

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11. Joe - July 3, 2009

In the interests of accuracy here Big Yellow Taxi – Angela of the AHS describes the ice cream as a meal. It is “Interested Party” who describes it as supper. We should also note that Clifford himself seems to have remained silent on the issue. Not trying to take away from the questions you ask which to me are critical in trying to understand the BICO/AHS phenomenon.

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12. EamonnCork - July 3, 2009

I might be wrong but didn’t BICO support the Ulster Workers Council strike in 1974? And wasn’t Jim Kemmy’s line on the North pretty much identical.
Speaking of the UWC and Stalinism etc. I notice that Mick O’Riordan condemned the Solidarity movement in Poland and described it as being like the UWC.

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13. Ferenka Fred - July 3, 2009

BICO did support the UWC strike. They regarded Mick O’Riordan and the CPI as not Stalinist enough. If your researching the 1970s then ‘Workers Weekly’ and ‘Communist Comment’ would be worth a look. They were fairly prolific writers to the Irish Times as well.

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14. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2009

We have some Workers Weekly in the Left Archive…

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15. Vabian - July 3, 2009

As for the reason Desmond Fennell is now working with them,I
think it’s because Fennell espoused a similar “Two-nation theory”
in the 1970s, with the solution being joint-adminstration of
NI rather than electoral integration. I also think Fennell worried that
the Catholic Church’s position would be threatened if a large group
of Protestans joined the ROI.

The Elizabeth Bowen/Mansergh thing-I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it’s because the Anglo-Irish,as an ethnic group, don’t fit into either of B&ICO’s two nations? And maybe part of the motive of some of
these “Two-nation theorists” is a desire to keep Ireland
religiously and ethnically homogenous?

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16. Squashy - July 3, 2009

There is a website for Athol books.

Liked by 1 person

17. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2009

Really Vabian? That never struck me about Fennell’s approach (ie fear of a dilution of our ‘Catholic’ heritage). Interesting.

There si indeed Squashy and one can download text from some of their publications too there IIRC.

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18. Garibaldy - July 3, 2009

What Vabian says makes perfect sense when you consider that Fennell’s current complaint is that with the erosion of Catholicism, what made the Irish people Irish has gone.

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19. WorldbyStorm - July 3, 2009

I think you and Vabian are right, certainly it would in part explain Fennells trajectory. IIRC he once posted a comment here a year or two back.

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20. Starkadder - July 4, 2009

Athol Books seem to be publishing a large amount of books on
the Arms Trial and Haughey’s role in it at the moment,which
are strongly critical of Jack Lynch. I wonder if this might have
anything to do with the ICO being involved in the defence of
Catholic areas at the start of the Troubles?

Also Jim Lane used to be a member of the ICO, and he
was also involved with DĆ”ithĆ­ Ɠ Conaill’s operations in
Derry at the time. Maybe future B&ICO members were
with him then?

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21. Vabian - July 4, 2009

Check out the usual depressing nonsense from the IRP’s
July editorial:
http://www.atholbooks.org/magazines/ipr/ipred.php

There doesn’t seem to be any real doubt that Ahmadinejad won the Presidential election in Iran. The “rigged election” slogan was dropped very quickly. The anti-Ahmadinejad ideologues in the Western media (with the famous Islamophobe Martin Amis to the fore) had no real interest in the balance of votes cast. Their essential case was that he had no right to win because he was an affront to progress. He acted in the interest of the masses of ignorant peasants and workers while the cause of progress requires that the state be conducted by the middle class that has been generated in the cities thirty years after the Revolution.

No, people objected to Ahmadinejad because he stole the
election,by not counting the full amount of votes. There’s no mention of the huge amount of ordinary Iranians who took part in the protests against Ahmadinejad. Yes, Mousavi was no liberal, but that doesn’t
give Ahmadinejad the right to rig the election.

And it gets worse:

The Omagh Bombers did not intend to kill anyone. They had carried out a number of bombings in protest against the Agreementā€”bombings in which nobody was killedā€” and there is no credible suggestion that the Omagh killings were intentional. That is why the part played by the Government’s agent in the affair made it too delicate for criminal prosecution, and caused it to encourage the vendetta procedure.

No “credible suggestion”? People put explosives into a car and
drive it into a town full of people, and detonate it?

To paraphase G.K. Chesterton, the Irish Political Review combines
“hardening of the heart with softening of the head”.

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22. Squashy - July 4, 2009

It was Bruce Arnold.

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23. Jim Monaghan - July 5, 2009

Does anyone remember when they made a cult out of Neil Verschoyle Gould. Gould was a fervent stalinist who was interned in WW2 and ended up in Moscow. His brother, Brian, on the other hand was a stalinist victim.

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Starkadder - July 5, 2009

The B&ICO republished a book by a “Neil Goold” in 1973,
that’s probably the same guy. IIRC they also published
a pro-Stalin book by Anna Louise Strong as well.

I’m a bit surprised Village or Phoenix hasn’t run a piece
on the AHS yet-think of the interest!

“Once hard-line Unionists and champions of the UWC,
today they praise Fianna Fail and denounce the
revisionist movement. Enter the strange world of the Aubane Historical Society!” šŸ˜‰

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24. Gypsy - July 5, 2009

FWIW Dermot Bolger’s book Family on Paradise Pier is based on the Verschoyle Gould’s.

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Starkadder - July 6, 2009

Thanks for that, Gypsy. There is an interview with Bolger
about TFOPP here:

http://www.threemonkeysonline.com/als/_dermot_bolger_interview_family_at_paradise_pier.html

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25. splinteredsunrise - July 5, 2009

Retrospectively, their falling out with Bob McCartney was a turning point in their reversion to nationalism, confirmed by the unionist wing of the CLR engineering a split. There may have been some connection to developments in the WP, but I’m not certain of that.

The relationship with Des Fennell goes back quite a way. He was a bit of a two-nationist in his own way, but also had something of a rural decentralist side to his politics. I have some memories of him from the Dail Chonnacht period – he was based out in Conamara IIRC, and was very taken with the idea of Gaeltacht self-goverment.

His path and Brendan’s would have crossed quite a few times down the years. Oddly, I’ve been rereading some Fennell material from the 1980s, and it was very different to what the BICO were saying at the time, but not unlike what you’d find in the IPR today. One suspects the Marxist Tardis has been at work.

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26. Garibaldy - July 5, 2009

I assume you mean the campaign for labour representation and not the Cedar Lounge Revolution SS? That’s one for all the ignorant free staters here šŸ™‚

Not really sure how WP-related events would be of significance. Can you parse that?

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27. splinteredsunrise - July 6, 2009

Yeah, the other CLR… when they had all that trouble with Kate Hoey.

WP-related events are something I wouldn’t be too sure about. I do remember about the time of the split someone, probably Des O’Hagan, talking about the nefarious influence of the two-nationists. That was a bit odd, because the BICO would by then have been on the road back to nationalism. (Though they are still two-nationists in theory…)

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28. Garibaldy - July 6, 2009

Ah ok. I’ve seen someone say that was Garland. I think if that was said, it was aimed probably at a combination of people trying to dump the north who were closely allied to certain academics.

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29. Garibaldy - July 6, 2009

I should add that I don’t think that would have had any impact on what was happening in BICO at this time.

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30. Starkadder - July 11, 2009

Out of curiosity, has anyone ever read M.W. Heslinga’s
book “The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide”? This book
was praised by Jim Molyneaux, and it’s an argument for
“Two nations” in Ireland that precedes any of the post-1969
“two nations” arguments above.

John Whyte discussed Heslinga’s book in his
“Interpreting Northern Ireland”.

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31. Squashy - July 14, 2009

Yes Heslinga’s book is an exceptionally bold piece of work. It took a Dutchman to see through the nonsense of Irish nationalism.

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32. Dr. X - July 14, 2009

>>>has anyone ever read M.W. Heslingaā€™s
book ā€œThe Irish Border as a Cultural Divideā€?

I haven’t, no, but it’s title sounds . . . improbable. How could an arbitrary border, drawn in secret in the mid-1920s, be in any way a cultural divide? If Heslinga means that the partition of Ireland triggered a process of cultural divergence between the two portions of the island, that is of course an unremarkable claim, in fact it is tediously obvious. I get the feeling (due to the connection a poster above draws with the ‘two nation’ school) that this Heslinga type argues that the border merely reflects preexisting divisions, rather than actually creating them.

This is the central problem with partition; it doesn’t work. While it may be intuitively appealing, on the principle that good fences make good neighbours, I know of no case where partition has resulted in a resolution of disputes between ethnic or national groups. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case.

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33. Starkadder - July 15, 2009

Regarding the Athol Books crowd’s interest in “Sceilg” (not Tim
Roth šŸ˜‰ ) and his “Catholic Bulletin” magazine, I once read a few
issues of the late 1930s CB, and there was an article saying,
IIRC, that the Ulster Protestants were a seperate “race” and
in the event of a United Ireland they would have to leave the
island.

I wonder if that “two-race/nation” thing might have
been a reason for the AHS ‘strong interest in the CB , even though
they wouldn’t have agreed with the CB “Unionists must leave”
argument.

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34. Squashy - July 22, 2009

Yes but most non-partition solutions end in obliteration of one or other ethnic group.

Best not to exacerbate disputes and tensions in first place but try telling that to a Trotskyist.

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35. "Coolacrease: The True(?) Story of the Pearson Executions" - Page 4 - Politics.ie - August 13, 2009

[…] the free encyclopedia This report will probably give you an insight to what the AHS are about: My Supper with Brendan… At the Aubane Historical Society… The Cedar Lounge Revolution __________________ "The thing that always annoyed me about traditional Irish historiography […]

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36. Will Dunkin - October 16, 2009

I’m surprised to see John Palmer still going after his old nemeiss
Brendan Clifford. I thought he had enought to do with his fat bureaucratic job in the EU. Off course Brendan has smacked his arse a few times in open discussion. Will this ex-Guardian newspaper hack ever recover.

Yours

Icepick

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WorldbyStorm - October 16, 2009

That’s a pretty pathetic comment Will.

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37. Angus McDavitt - October 16, 2009

Why don’t you post under your own name Brendan? It must be annoying when you have recreated yourself as a dacent Irishman, fighting the good fight against perfidious revisionism and then people who knew you when you were a Maoist/ultra-Unionist make their contribution.

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38. familyforest - March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Ancestor of all the Irish
http://familyforest.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/ancestor-of-all-the-irish/

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