BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2018), News, Volume 26

BY TONY CANAVAN

Cromwellian bust-up

Visitors to the Palace of Westminster recently may have noticed that a bust of Oliver Cromwell, situated in the House of Commons stairwell, has from time to time been turned to face the wall. Labour Party members posted the turned-about bust on social media, asking who had done it. Officials put the statue right side out, only to have it turned back to the wall a short time later. Conspiracy theories abound as to who turned the statue, with pro-Irish sympathisers high on the list, although royalists and parliamentarians (Cromwell dispensed with parliament) could also be responsible. In the end, however, the authorities have taken stringent measures to prevent the bust from being turned. They have put up a notice saying ‘Please do not touch’.

History? What’s history?

In an episode that would not be out of place in Spike Milligan’s satirical novel Puckoon, the Irish government has appealed a decision to protect houses on Moore Street in which the leaders of the 1916 Rising made their last stand prior to their surrender and execution. Last year Mr Justice Max Barrett ruled that not just nos 14–17 Moore Street should be declared a national monument but that the designation should also include nos 13, 18 and 19. A developer wants to demolish these houses to make way for a new shopping centre (of which there is no shortage in Dublin). Rather bizarrely, the government successfully appealed the case in the Supreme Court, i.e. it sought to facilitate the demolition of these historic houses. Although the developer has promised to take the site’s historic associations into account, the whole matter raises serious issues about our relationship to our history. One can only speculate as to why the government has taken this action. Moore Street has often been described as Ireland’s Alamo. If the US government gave the go-ahead to demolish that historic fort, surely that would not be accepted by the American public.

Sinking feeling for historic Belfast tool shop

The Belfast shop that supplied the tools used to build the Titanic closed down earlier this year after 122 years in operation. W.M. McMaster on Church Lane survived the First World War, the Belfast Blitz and the Troubles. The business was founded in 1896 by William McQuoid McMaster, a joiner at Harland and Wolff. After he fell and broke his wrists he was unable to continue his employment. He decided that if he couldn’t use his tools, he would sell them instead. McMaster opened his first shop in Ann Street before moving to Church Lane in 1910, where the store has remained ever since. In that time it has supplied tools to tradesmen all across Belfast, including Harland and Wolff, which at one stage employed a workforce of 35,000 and was one of the largest shipbuilders in the world. Although the premises escaped unscathed in the Blitz, it was damaged by a bomb in 1972 during the Troubles. Four generations of the McMaster family have run the shop, but it has had to close its doors for good, citing an increase in on-line shopping and rising overheads from rates as the key reasons.

EPIC IRELAND is finally epic

EPIC IRELAND, the museum located in the CHQ building in Dublin’s docklands, is set to become profitable later this year or early in 2019. The €15m centre tells the story of the Irish diaspora and was developed by the team behind Titanic Belfast. It is forecasting that visitor numbers will reach at least 150,000 in 2018, up from 120,000 last year and from an initial 50,000 in 2016. The tourist attraction occupies the vaults under CHQ, the building that was acquired for €10 million in 2013 by the former Coca-Cola chairman Neville Isdell. The world’s first fully digital museum was privately funded by Mr Isdell after the government axed plans to support the multimedia experience. After a shaky start, EPIC IRELAND is now ranked eighth in a list of 554 things to do in Dublin, up from 30th last year. The museum does not disclose revenues, but the most recent accounts available show accumulated losses of €1.8 million for the twelve months to the end of 2016. The expected influx of visitors, however, means that EPIC IRELAND should break even ahead of schedule.

What a pity this war has to end!

By 1918 it was clear that, with the Americans on their side, the Allies were going to win the First World War. A consequence of this was that British wartime production was slowed down in anticipation of the end of hostilities. It seems, however, that the end of the war was not welcomed by everyone. John Redmond, leader of the IPP, led a deputation to the Ministry of Munitions to argue against closing down the Arklow explosives factory. The ministry had instigated a phased close-down of the factory, with its 2,000 workers being laid off in batches of 500 over a period of months. Redmond viewed this as a disaster and wanted the wartime production to continue so as to maintain employment in the County Wicklow town.

Heritage centre gains a royal foothold

A pair of stirrups said to have been used by William of Orange on a horse he rode at the Battle of the Boyne have been put on display at the Orange Order heritage centre in Limavady, Co. Derry. The stirrups are dated 1626 and belonged originally to Charles I. Bought by the Orange Order from a private vendor, they are said to be the second-oldest British royal stirrups in existence. The stirrups were put up for public auction last year but failed to find a buyer, even though their authenticity had been verified. The Order possesses many artefacts associated with the king after whom it is named, and the stirrups now join the collection on permanent display in the heritage centre.

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