The times we lived in


‘TEDIUM (n): the state or quality of being tedious; origin mid 17th century, from the Latin taedium, taedaere, ‘to be weary of’ .” The journalist and civil rights campaigner Nell McCafferty has always been one of our liveliest and most articulate commentators on matters cultural. But in this photo she outdoes even herself, providing an eloquent definition of ennui without raising so much as an eyebrow.

The occasion is a meeting of the Insurance Institute of Dublin’s Discussion Circle, which Ms McCafferty – along with the former minister of justice, Senator Patrick Cooney, also pictured – has come to address in the autumn of 1977.

If anything, Senator Cooney looks even less rivetted than his co-panellist; he appears to be on the point of falling asleep.

Far be it from this column to suggest that the discussion circle really was mind-bogglingly tedious. Maybe the pair are actually so fascinated by what is being said that they are, literally, petrified in the present moment. More likely this was one unrepresentative moment from a lively and varied evening.

Still, the expressions on those two sleepy faces are hugely recognisable, are they not? We’ve all been there. Maybe not to that particular meeting, but to one very much like it. Oh, yes, indeed.

According to some tantalising scraps from the online archives of the Insurance Institute of Ireland, the Dublin Discussion Circle was a wide-ranging, even provocative affair. It was founded by an Englishman, Percy Williams, who spent two decades in the world of Dublin insurance between 1910 and 1930.

Mr Williams’s insurance career then took him to Birmingham. But in a letter to the chairman of the Dublin Discussion Circle in 1943, he wrote; “I am still deeply interested in all that goes on in the Circle and it is a great pleasure to me to know that it remains so active and that it continues to prosper.” Indeed. Although, looking at our photo, “active” is not the first word that springs to mind.

Arminta Wallace

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: