Monday, May 30, 2022

F 404 Orange and Green: 44 Years Late

Recently, I was making some space on my overcrowded bookshelf, when I picked up a battered-looking book entitled “Orange and Green”. It was written in 1887 by G. A. Henty, who was a prolific author of books for boys in the late 19th century. Inside the front cover was the code “F 404”, underneath this was a stamp with “Mt St Joseph College Roscrea, Library”. I suddenly realised that this was a library book from my old Alma Mater, Cistercian College Roscrea in Co Tipperary, where I completed my secondary school studies in June 1977. It is with some embarrassment that I work out that over 44 years later, I still have not returned the book to the College Library.

G. A. (George Alfred) Henty was born in Cambridge in 1832. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, he left Cambridge University before completing his degree and volunteering as an Officer in the British Army Hospital. His letters home described in detail the appalling conditions suffered by British soldiers in the Crimea. His father, impressed by the quality of the writing, sent the letters to The Morning Advertiser newspaper, whose circulation in Britain then was second only to The Times – his career as a war correspondent and writer had begun. He covered several European wars between 1866 and 1877. 

Henty wrote 122 books in total over a 34-year period. His books were aimed at teenage boys and almost always featured one or two boys as the main characters in many historical contexts such as the Crusades, the Napoleonic Wars, and the American Civil War. The “Orange and Green” book was one of six books he wrote in 1887. It is based on the 1688 - 1690 period during the War of the Two Kings between Catholic King James II, and Protestant William of Orange. In the first sentence of the book in the foreword Henty prophetically writes:

The subject of Ireland is one which has for some years been a very prominent one, and is likely, I fear, for some time yet to occupy a large share of public attention”.

I decided to read the stained yellow pages of the book again. The central character in the “Orange and Green” story is 16-year-old Walter Davenent, an Irish Catholic descendent of Norman invaders from the 12th century. His family survived the Cromwellian wars and lived in a castle just south of Bray in Co Wicklow. He makes friends with a Protestant neighbour, John Whitefoot, whom Henty describes growing up as a: “hearty, healthy boy, with a bright eye, a merry laugh, and a frank, open bearing”.

Early in the book during a storm, Walter almost single handedly saves many English soldiers from drowning in a shipwreck – an action that later saves him from the gallows. This was just the start of his heroic deeds during the war. Later he twice escapes capture, dashes without fear into battle, smuggles bread and milk with the help of John into the children trapped behind the walls in the Siege of Derry, rescues a damsel in distress, falls in love, and marries the girl of his dreams.

Besides being an adventure story for boys, the “Orange and Green” book is also a history lesson of the period. This was a favourite tactic of Henty – he researched many other books about his subjects before writing his stories. “Orange and Green” is also a tale of the Battle of the Boyne, the sieges of Derry and Athlone, the Battle of Aughrim, and the final siege of Limerick. Despite being a life-long imperialist and glorying in the British Empire’s successes, Henty laments the lost Irish cause and condemns the many atrocities by William of Orange’s soldiers during the war. Many of G. A. Henty’s books aroused controversy due to accusations of racism and stereotyping of minorities while depicting his stories as heroic and patriotic.  

Feeling a little guilty, I posted the book back to Cistercian College Roscrea, pleading with the President of the College for forgiveness for depriving generations of schoolboys of the chance to read the book, and for an amnesty for my 44 years late return. Indeed, a modest fine of ten cent per week would have resulted in a late fee of about €230! 

A few weeks later I receive an email from the College President (Gavin Clark) thanking me for returning the book. He wrote:

I am pleased to acknowledge that due to your act in reuniting us with this lovely book that we shall waive any potential penalties, and instead thank you for taking the time and energy to assist us in helping get this book back into the library for the boys to enjoy.”  

He even posted a short video online of the book being put back on the College Library shelves. After 44 years, G. A. Henty’s Orange and Green book is finally back where it belongs.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Officer of Statistics #Census2022

Today is my last day as an Officer of Statistics - Census Enumerator for the 2022 Census. I am officially retired again! It was an unusual feeling being back at work, and I never had a job before that involved so much cold-calling to households. While I can never say "never again", I'm fairly sure that this is the final time working for pay - it's good to feel retired again.

Ready to enumerate!

I cannot reveal anything about any Census data I gathered - I have had to assure people on the doorsteps that all data gathered is confidential, so I need to respect that. Enumerators do not cover their own neighbourhood, and I was very lucky with the area I got. It was almost all domestic houses, and I gather from what other Enumerators have said that I was lucky I did not get any apartment blocks or hotels. 

As expected, I had to walk many kilometers for both delivering forms and collecting them. It is a physically demanding job - in addition to walking a lot, there is all the carrying of documents. I was also very lucky in that almost everyone I met was very cooperative and supportive of the Census. I was welcomed by most, and with the exception of a handful of rude people, I had very few problems. My only awkward moments were when I called at an inconvenient time.

I had to call to several dwellings multiple times. It can be difficult to call at a time when people are at home. I did find a lot of people working from home, but there were many houses when I had to call back to again and again to deliver or collect a Census form. I got to know my area very well!

Part of my reason for coming out of retirement to be a Census Enumerator was that I had used 2011 and 2016 Census data for assignments in my Statistics classes at NCI. Students were required to compare demographic data from different areas. The reason for choosing census data was that it is a great source for data that does not follow a normal distribution. This meant that it was ideal for non-parametric statistical tests such as the Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests.

Census 2022 is also historic in that it is almost certainly the last time the Census will be conducted on paper. It is going on-line next time as has happened in other countries. There will be no more Enumerators in yellow high-viz jackets pounding the streets.