Sidelines

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, General, Issue 2 (March/April 2013), News, Volume 21

Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts and Culture, has come up with a terrific way to commemorate 1916. He’s going to refurbish the National Gallery. He is to spend €20 million of taxpayers’ money giving the gallery a make-over in time for 2016. Clearly he knows something about the National Gallery’s role in the Easter Rising, or perhaps the Battle of the Somme, that we don’t. Still, in the spirit of the occasion, I’ve decided to get the house repainted in 2016 as my way of marking the centenary. What will you do? Perhaps decorate the front room or upgrade your garden?

Another group has come up with a completely irrelevant proposal for 2016. The Save No. 16 Moore Street Committee wants to see Nos 14–17 (where the rebels made their last stand) turned into a museum and archive centre. The ground floor would house exhibits, reconstructions, photographs etc., while upstairs there would be an archive of documents and recordings relating to the Rising. Despite the fact that some members of the committee are descendants of those who took part, this committee has some crazy ideas. Imagine commemorating the 1916 Rising with a museum about it!

We may owe Europe billions of euro but it owes us something too. After all, we saved civilisation and reintroduced Christianity to much of the continent. St Columbanus alone established about 60 monasteries. He even pioneered the modern concept of Europe. In 600 he first used the expression totius Europae (of all of Europe) in a letter to Pope Gregory the Great. He was also the first person ever to refer to ‘we Irish’, in a letter in 613 to Pope Boniface, thus indicating an early sense of nationhood. Today’s pope, Benedict XVI, declared in 2008 that Columbanus should rightly be called the patron saint of Europe. Surely that’s worth a billion euro or two?

An amazing hoard of gold coins has turned up in Cooney’s pub in Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary. Builders carrying out renovation work a few weeks ago couldn’t believe their eyes when they ripped up floorboards and saw the glint of 81 gold guineas and half-guineas. It is one of the biggest hoards of seventeenth-century gold found in Ireland. Experts say that the find is just as important in its own way as the Derrynaflan chalice. The coins are now on display in the National Museum. No one can explain just how they ended up under the floor in the first place. Perhaps they were just big tippers back then.

It’s the ship that just will not sink into obscurity. Recently the original reference plan for the Titanic went on display in Belfast. The 32ft-long diagram was used in both the American and British inquiries into its sinking in 1912. It is a detailed technical plan of the ship, indicating key features like the bridge, the engine room, the ‘unsinkable’ compartments and so on. It was bought at auction last year for £250,000 by an anonymous buyer who donated it to Titanic Belfast, where it has gone on display in its ‘Aftermath’ gallery.

Italy’s cultural treasures are vanishing, warns the director of the Vatican museums. Antonio Paolucci spoke after the ‘brutal sacking’ of the Girolamini library in Naples. Thousands of rare and antique books have disappeared from the library, although a number of people have been arrested. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, as books, documents and paintings have all been stolen from different institutions in recent years. Signor Paolucci says that smaller museums and libraries with inadequate security are most at risk. Italy can claim to be the treasure house of Europe and every theft from there is a theft from us all, he says.

It’s the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, which lost Germany the Second World War (don’t believe all those British and American war movies). Renamed Volgograd in 1961, the city has come up with a novel way of marking the anniversary. While the celebrations are going on, it will revert temporarily to being called Stalingrad. Could this be the answer to the whole Derry/Londonderry problem? Call it Derry throughout the year but let it be known as Londonderry during the week when the Apprentice Boys celebrate the lifting of the siege.

Belfast has finally got around to honouring Sir Otto Jaffe. Born in 1846 to a Jewish family in Hamburg, Jaffe and his brother established a linen business in Belfast that became one of the city’s biggest concerns. He was elected to the corporation in 1894, and in 1899 became the city’s first (and only) Jewish lord mayor. A year later he was knighted and appointed high sheriff. A noted philanthropist, he donated thousands of pounds to charity in his adopted city. Unfortunately the good citizens of Belfast were an ungrateful lot. In 1916, at the height of anti-German sentiment, Jaffe and his family were forced to flee to England, where he died in 1929. The Ulster History Circle has erected a blue plaque in his honour in Donegall Square South.

Northern Ireland is notorious for trouble at parades and the ‘marching season’ will soon be upon us, but it’s not just in the wee North that these events cause trouble. A traditional parade commemorating the expulsion of the Arabs from the Spanish city of Granada is causing a bit of a stir. The parade consists of people in fifteenth-century Moorish and Christian costumes marching through the city on 2 January each year. In recent years protestors have booed the parade as it passed by. No, it wasn’t concerned Arab residents angry at a sectarian celebration of their defeat but liberals and left-wingers who think that the ‘Toma de Granada’, as it is called, is simply a celebration of reactionary Catholic and even fascist ideals. Supporters and protestors wave flags and banners and hurl insults at each other but lag behind Belfast and Derry in staging riots on such occasions.

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