Patriot Games – Frank McNally on political art theft, football as opera, and Lenin’s Irish accent

An Irishman’s Diary

Further to Ray Burke's Diary yesterday on the 1956 Tate Gallery theft, an interesting but lesser reported aspect of that crime was the paternal background of one of the students involved. Paul Hogan, who lifted Berthe Morisot's Jour d'été off a wall and walked calmly away with it, was a son of the then assistant secretary of the Department of Finance, G.P. Sarsfield Hogan.

This must have added a certain frisson to an event that in any case became an international incident until amicably resolved, with the painting's return unharmed, via the Irish embassy. That in turn eased the way to an agreement on the larger Anglo-Irish dispute involved, rights to the overall Hugh Lane bequest, now shared between London and Dublin.

I don't know whether G.P. Sarsfield Hogan (1901-1989) ever spoke publicly about the matter, but however misguided, its patriotic element might have appealed to him. Contrary to his initials, he was not a doctor. According to the Dictionary of Irish Biography (which mentions his son's escapade in passing), his full name was Gabriel Patrick Sarsfield Hogan, which evokes not one but two famous Irish patriots.

Patrick Sarsfield was of course hero of the Siege of Limerick, destroying the Williamite guns at Ballyneety. Galloping Hogan was the "rapparee" – a dispossessed landowner turned outlaw – who led him there, through the night and Williamite lines, and was then given the honour of the lighting the fuse. The guns were first placed in a circle, full of powder, muzzles down, with the rest of the ammunition piled in the middle. The resultant explosion is claimed to have been the loudest noise ever made in Ireland to that time.


G.P. Sarsfield Hogan was fated to be a quieter kind of patriot. His 40 years as civil servant included administering the Marshall Aid programme here after the war. But in his earlier career, he also performed at least one extra-legal activity in the national interest.

As private secretary in the Department of Finance to first Joseph Brennan (1923-25) and then Ernest Blythe (1925-27), two men who hated each other, he was sometimes placed in an awkward positions. One was on budget day 1926, when Brennan left him to deal with a £100,000 discrepancy in revenue receipts. According to the DIB, Hogan "arbitrarily increased the figure for postal revenue" by the same amount. The budget balanced.


Getting back to loud noises, I was intrigued – amid the general cacophony with which English football greeted the European Super League plan – by an oddly plausible misquotation of Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford.

Now, as a rule, opera doesn't come into English football much. On the other hand, Bamford is considered unusually posh for soccer

Interviewed after playing Liverpool on Monday, and asked about the row, he said: "It's amazing the amount of uproar that comes into the game when somebody's pockets are getting hurt." But as quoted on a Twitter account called Football Daily, this instead began "It's amazing the amount of opera that comes into the game . . ." The account's 210,000-plus followers do not seem to have noticed.

Now, as a rule, opera doesn’t come into English football much. On the other hand, Bamford is considered unusually posh for soccer, having gone to public school. So maybe there was unconscious social profiling going on here. Or maybe it was the tweeter who was unwittingly betraying an enthusiasm for Puccini. Either way, it is interesting that in non-rhotic speech – the r-flattening typical of English accents – “opera” and “uproar” sound the same. Depending on your musical tastes, it may or may not seem apt.


Staying with accents, it is well known by now that V.I. Lenin had an Irish one when speaking English, thanks to a tutor from Rathmines. But the subject has been revived of late in the London Review of Books, first by a letter quoting an Icelandic writer who, during the early 1900s, used to sit next to Lenin in the British Museum reading room.

“No-one dared speak to him,” the Icelander wrote. But one day, Lenin dropped one of his notes and when it was handed to him, said “Thanks” in an accent that sounded odd. “His pronunciation of the ‘th’ in ‘thanks’ was as if he were German,” recorded the Icelander, “and indeed, he [had] called himself Richter when he applied for a [reading] ticket.”

That has since drawn another letter, this time from Dublin, reiterating the tutor story and pointing out that the Hiberno-English 'th' is "similar to the German". Which indeed is, sometimes. And yet the "Rathmines Accent" was famously plummy compared to most Dublin English. We can presume Lenin rolled his Rs all right. But if he also pronounced his "th" like Joxer Daly then – speaking of things rolling – Soviet tanks may never sound the same again.