It was in a  calm and empty Phoenix Park I went for a run one night this week.

‘The deer grazed safely, unworried by dogs. People walked singly or in twos. An occasional lone cyclist passed’ 

James Joyce was a medical student in Paris for a short period and made a doctor the protagonist of his first (and now lost) play. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A journal of Dublin in the plague year

If the Dalai Lama was not in a high-risk group at Christmas, he is now. Above,  the Dalai Lama in Kildare  in 2011. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/THE IRISH TIMES

A hard year to have 20/20 vision

William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote of the daffodils that it ‘seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them’. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Former rugby player Ollie Campbell said he enjoyed the poem because it was ‘simple, like myself’

Photograph: Getty Images

‘And there it was – the white circle in a slice of a half-boiled potato’

 Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

‘Like most journalists, and humans in general, I enjoy a good eavesdrop on occasion’

Patrick Dignam: a real-life Dubliner, he was killed in the crossfire of Easter Week

Frank McNally on the man who never visited Dublin but landed a key role in Ulysses

Handwritten petitions to St Valentine in Whitefriar Street church in Dublin

Frank McNally on messages to patron saint of lovers about more than just romance

“One of the more poignant exhibits at Avondale, an old beech tree, fell over in 1972 aged 238. On a cross-section of the trunk now a sign dates the various rings to events in Irish history. Parnell’s 45-year-old life accounts for a mere three inches of the diameter.”      

Bittersweet Avondale – Frank McNally on Parnell, cross-country running, and kicking up a storm in Croke Park

William Congreve in 1709. Painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Frank McNally on English-born writer who found his way into literary circles of London

 The story of how Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the “final solution”, was brought to justice features in the film The People vs Fritz Bauer. Photograph: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Irishman's Diary: The People vs Fritz Bauer tells story of thwarted trials post-Nuremberg

An event known as “Plough Monday”, the first Monday after the traditional 12 days of Christmas, falls this year on the 13th. Photograph: Rich Higgins/iStock

The origins of an event known as 'Plough Monday' remain obscure

Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The 1990 film refers to ‘the Irish unification of 2024’. Photograph: Paramount Pictures

It was predicted we would have humans on Mars and a militarised moon by now

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald pictured at the publication of her party’s general election manifesto this week. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Documents are littered with ‘roadmaps’, ‘kick-starts’ and ‘roll-outs’, not to mention terrifying ‘night mayors’

Composer Adolphe Adam, who  added the music and who called the finished work La Marseillaise Religieuse. Photograph: Getty Images

Lyrics of the English version, by John Sullivan Dwight, are somewhat less strident than the original

Dostoevsky had grown up in the shadow of an event known as the Decembrist revolt. Photograph: Getty Images

The wife of one of the Decembrists sent him a copy of the Bible – that led to his conversion

Before long they were sitting down with the man behind the stadium plan, Billy Morton, a former marathon runner then on the way to becoming Ireland’s first (and to date last) great athletics impresario.

Several Irish-Americans conspired to fly a shovel across the Atlantic in 1957

It seems to have been Mark Twain who first introduced ’slum gullion’ to print in what might be broadly called a catering context. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

‘Slumgullion’ has nothing to do with Slieve Gullion or any other mountain

In early summer, knowing I would be at the Rugby World Cup in September, I took up Japanese too. By now, the suspicion arose that I might be developing a Duolingo problem. Photograph: Jayne Russell/Inpho

There is more gender fluidity in Irish lessons these days – John may have a boyfriend

Heinrich Böll’s Irisches Tagebuch (Irish Journal), a eulogy to Ireland in the 1950s that, in the decades since, may have sent 10,000 German tourists here for each of its 100 pages. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The obscurity of Richard Bermann’s book is the result of catastrophically bad timing

There are already outbreaks of the now-annual argument about whether the Pogues really did invent something called the “NYPD Choir” to fit their famous song. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fairytale of New York is already inspiring folk etymology

‘I’m reminded of a feature the Observer ran back in 2011 on “Britain’s top 300 intellectuals”. The list notoriously included Seamus Heaney, Colm Tóibín, and this newspaper’s Fintan O’Toole’. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Frank McNally: It is only fair to disavow a case of reverse-colonisation

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: ‘To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves’. Photograph:  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Flatland central was not short of sons and daughters of the soil

Mitchells GAA club in Magheracloone won the Ulster Intermediate Football championship last week. They lost their pitch last year when a dubhagán opened up in the middle of it. Photograph:  Pat Byrne

Whatever about its name for the month, Irish is not short of words prefixed by ‘dubh’

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt during the warm-up before the Rugby World Cup quarter final match in October between New Zealand and Ireland, in Tokyo. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Book review: Joe Schmidt’s autobiography reveals glimpses of the vulnerable human behind the manicured image

The Kerry-born novelist Rebecca West, whose magisterial book on 1930s Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, I’m still working my way through slowly, had an obvious soft spot for the Serbs too.Photograph: Baron/Getty Images

Savouring the sweet sounds of Irish Stew on a bus in west Cork

Voluntary readers included the multiple-award-winning Anton Floyd, whose poems have been published in many places including this column. Photograph: Frank McNally

Frank Connolly, Anton Floyd and Ian Bailey among the writers who spoke

Alypius the Stylite’s feast-day fell earlier this week. Above, lunette on St Alypius’s arc, mosaic on the facade of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Photograph: Getty Images

Kelly managed to sleep on his precarious pitches by hooking his fingers into holes in the flagpoles

Tomorrow is  “Stir-up Sunday”, after which your handiwork will have the requisite four weeks to mature. Photograph: iStock

A convergence of food and faith must have inspired many a homily down the decades

Even in the swinging 1960s, the tragic Roman noblewoman was still inspiring musicians. Paul Simon’s Cecilia is a nod in her direction. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

An Irishman’s Diary: The bonus of becoming C Sharp

Not even President “Bigly” Trump has ever said “normalness”, to the best of my knowledge, although it’s just the sort of word he could make a virtue of resurrecting. Photograph: TJ Kirkpatrick/The New York Times

All the president’s words: How a US president pushed the boundaries

Post-match interviews with the winning captain Siya Kolisi were remarkable for several reasons, not least the fact that he was more modest in victory than his opponents were in defeat.  Photograph: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Getty Images

An Irishman’s Diary: Siya Kolisi would have been well aware of historic importance of the shebeen

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