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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 31, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

    Offaly Nice Farewell in Tullamore

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    For a man who is generally quite low-key, if you exclude the occasional Dail outburst, Brian Cowen has sure been generating plenty of excitement in recent weeks. Tonight was the penultimate act before the anticipated valedictory address when he winds up the 30th Dail in a few hours’ time, prior to the general election.

    Your humble scribe dutifully covered a Labour Party press conference yesterday morning. For the duration of the campaign, Labour is ensconced on the fourth floor of the Latin Hall, a five-storey building at the back of Dublin Castle in a place called Golden Lane.

    There is no indication as to why it is called the Latin Hall. Maybe it has something to do with the Argentinian restaurant a few doors away, which I keep meaning to try out. Anway, the view of the old parts of Dublin is excellent even though the conference room is a little airless and could be a problem if there was a bigger crowd.

    The day looked quiet enough after that, apart from Micheál Martin unveiling his new front bench, some of whom are not even members of the Dail although he clearly hopes they will be in a few weeks. It was more of a photo-opportunity than a serious political exercise and you wondered how many of those on the plinth would be back in Leinster House in the middle of March. Mind you, Martin is proving a formidable operator even after a few days but, as the Dubs say, “Will it keep fine for him?”

    There was nothing out of the Cowen camp to indicate if he was stepping-down or not. A reliable source opined: “If he’s going, he will announce it today; if he’s staying, he will leave it till tomorrow. My instinct is he’s going.”

    You can’t leave anything to chance in Irish politics these days so sometime in the mid-to-late afternoon I was asked to go to Tullamore where a Fianna Fail cumann meeting was set for six o’clock. Cowen just might use the occasion to make his announcement.

    As so often, the M4 at rush-hour was a minor heartache. Half-way there, a phone-call to a local party activist elicited the information that the Taoiseach might be giving an interview to a local radio station, Midlands 103, probably indicating he was stepping-down. A statement would follow at 7.30pm.

    A colleague in the office looked up the station’s website to find its geographical location: the Axis Business Park outside Tullamore. Finding it was a minor conundrum: do you have any idea how many roundabouts there are in Tullamore?

    Eventually the station’s headquarters loomed through the  evening darkness. The staff were very friendly and welcoming. Tea for the Irish Times reporter and photographer as well as other media representatives as we awaited the great man’s arrival.

    Displaying a niftiness not seen since his days playing football in New York’s Gaelic Park, the Taoiseach zipped past us into the studio. He was clearly determined to give the scoop to the local station.

    Would we get -him on the way out? He would hardly use the fire-escape, now would he? These are the joys of on-the-hoof reporting.

    We needn’t have worried. When the radio interview with Gearoid Keegan was over, the Taoiseach graciously gave of his time to explain what for him was a “momentous” decision.

    Inevitably he looked somewhat deflated, but he had discussed it with his family and arrived at a settled view on the issue. It could certainly be argued that he has reached the end of the road politically – although he is still only 51.

    Napoleon said he wanted “lucky generals”. I would love to know more of the background to that remark. In any case, Cowen was not in that category. He might say, after Hamlet: “The time is out of joint –  O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!”

    He says he hasn’t had time to make plans for the future. Will he be content with the life of a midlands solicitor? How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Pareee? He’s a political animal and I have a feeling that, when the election is over and, admittedly, looking down the road a fair bit, in a few years we may yet see the Second Coming of Brian Cowen.

    • robespierre says:

      Victor Hugo has a significant section in his famous book “The Underdogs”, aka Les Misérables on Napoleon’s approach to Generals and battles.

      Firstly, he contends that Bonaparte was a truly brilliant military strategist. His troops were not necessarily the most courageous but they were all paid, they were all well treated and they were all highly motivated.

      Secondly, he states that because of his planning, Napolean expected his Generals to be able to respond to unexpected events as the fog of war drifted about them within the spirit of the overall plan. That is to say either to push on and gain a town, an elevation or a flanking manouevre or to fall back to the centre in an orderly fashion so the artillery could even up the score.

      Thirdly, as an artillery officer, Bonaparte was the first to properly use cannons as a third leg of the stool. This mitigated the need for luck to a very great degree.

      Finally, it wasn’t that Bonaparte necessarily ran out of luck at Waterloo although some key things certainly went against him. Two critical errors were made in the survey of the battlefield and in his reliance on artillery to implement his strategy that most experts believe would have easily routed Arther Wellesley’s men were it not for the terrible weather. In fact while Wellesley was all but beaten until the late arrival of the Prussians the battle would have been over by that stage had the survey of the hill Wellesley was based not missed a deep depression that led to catastrophic losses among his infantry and dragoons when they were trapped beneath the lip of the depression.

      This has become the accepted interpretation of what he meant by lucky generals. The definition of luck is after all preparation meets opportunity.

    • Eoin says:

      Sure why would he want to come back into that whirly gig again. Sailing off into the sunset with his big pension.
      Isn’t it well for him that at 50 odd he can retire, with car, driver and aforementioned pension that is many multiples of the minimum wage. He is partly responsible for the biggest unnatural disaster to befall Ireland and has hastened the departure of many of our brightest sons and daughters to other lands. I wonder does he have to wait 9 weeks to get the dole because he resigned and wasn’t sacked. At least his one off payment from the thankful taxpayers will ease the pain of unemployment. The Celtic Tiger was Irelands Ponzi Scheme. At least Bernie Madoff went to jail.

    • El Leader Maximo says:

      Second coming…Christ almighty, once was enough.

    • Robespierre, When you write, “his infantry and dragoons”, I presume you mean Napoleon’s. I assume he was being ironic when he said he wanted “lucky” generals, since he would probably have agreed with your definiton of luck as a byproduct of proper preparation.

      While I’m at it, what was the context of “Morale is to physical as two is to one”?

    • robespierre says:


      I would like to pick a single incident that is likely to relate to the context but he fought superior numbers in his first great battle at Toulon, during Vendemiaire and at the Tuileries before he was a made man. He also fought against several alliances (2:1) at different battles including victorious ones at Austerlitz (Russia / Austria) and Iena (Russia / Prussia). He also fought against superior forces at Leipzig in 1813 only to lose this time.

      He also frequently enforced casualties that were a multiple of those suffered by his own forces (Russia and the Iberian campaign excepted).

      I don’t know for sure but imagine it related to one of these experiences.

    • Thanks for that. I visited Waterloo, just outside Brussels, a few years ago; fascinating experience. It was the anniversary and many visitors had dressed up in the uniforms of the day. Museum very interesting too – it has been a tourist attraction for a very long time indeed. I imagine there were many Irish there – and probably not all on Wellington’s side.

      My other favourite coiner of military maxims was the guy who said: “No plan survives five minutes’ engagement with the enemy.” Can’t remember his name, but he was a Prussian (of course).

    • robespierre says:

      Quite possibly the famous strategist Von Clausewitz who coined the phrase war is the continuation of politics by other means. I’ll look into it.

    • It think it was Moltke, although there were two of them apparently.

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