BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2019), News, Volume 27

BY TONY CANAVAN

 

Immigrants boost native population

New research from Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Natural and Built Environment has found that Ireland’s population was in serious decline for almost two centuries before the Vikings invaded. The QUB experts have released an estimate of past population numbers. They argue that the data show the importance of migration, as without the Vikings the population decline could have been much worse. Dr Rowan McLaughlin, Research Fellow from the School of Natural and Built Environment, explains:

‘Around the year 700, the population in Ireland mysteriously entered a decline, perhaps because of war, famine, plague or political unrest. However, there was no single cause or one-off event, as the decline was a gradual process. The Vikings settled in Ireland in the tenth century, during the phase of decline, and despite being few in number they were more successful than the “natives” in expanding their population. Today, genetic evidence suggests many Irish people have some Viking blood.’

For the study, the researchers used a database of archaeological sites discovered during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, when there was a boom in motorway-building and other developments. This large database has opened up a completely new perspective on the past.

Quaker cemetery in danger 

The status of Ireland’s oldest remaining Quaker cemetery is in danger because of disagreements between the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Dublin City Council (DCC). The burial ground at Cork Street was bequeathed in 1697 by Roger Roberts, a Quaker and innkeeper, and remained in use until the late 1860s, when a new cemetery was opened at Temple Hill in Blackrock. Most of the remaining headstones in Cork Street date from its latter years, as Quakers only allowed physical memorials after 1855, but written records remain of hundreds of burials on the site. Retired city council planner Kieran Rose said that the condition of the cemetery had deteriorated to an extent that was ‘disrespectful’ for a historical burial ground. The cemetery is in the grounds of the Weir Home, a HSE residential mental health services facility. Named after Scottish philanthropist James Weir, who funded its construction, it was built in 1903 to accommodate nurses working at Cork Street Fever Hospital and remained a nurses’ home until the late 1970s. Since the early 1980s it has been used as a mental health facility, but owing to its age and condition the HSE has decided that it is no longer suitable and plans to relocate its residents to a facility at Stanhope Street in Grangegorman. The HSE has committed to transferring the Weir Home, including the cemetery, to DCC for ongoing use, but DCC does not want it. Instead, DCC envisages the HSE transferring the Weir Home to an approved housing body for development for emergency accommodation, so what will happen to the Weir Home and the Quaker cemetery is very much up in the air.

Victoria Cross on loan to National Museum of Ireland

A Victoria Cross (VC) awarded to an Irish soldier who served with the Australian Army during the First World War has been loaned to the National Museum of Ireland. It is the first time in more than 60 years that a VC has left Australia to be loaned to a museum. The VC is the highest award for valour in the face of the enemy awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Sgt Martin O’Meara was awarded the Victoria Cross for his acts of bravery at Pozieres in France on 9–12 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded soldiers under intense artillery and machine-gun fire. His actions saved many lives, and he also volunteered to carry ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches that was being heavily shelled at the time. Sgt O’Meara, who was born in County Tipperary in 1885 and moved to Australia in 1912, is praised as a true representative of the ANZAC spirit. According to the Australian War Memorial, he was discharged from the army in November 1919. He was later admitted to a psychiatric facility for soldiers suffering from the effects of war, where he remained until his death in December 1935.

The medal will be exhibited in Dublin for twelve months, along with O’Meara’s British War Medal and Victory Medal, returning to Australia in July 2020.

Reliving history

Down County Museum is seeking to recreate history with a project to find out more about the people who lived in the huts at Ballykinlar Camp. The aim is also to build a ‘history hut’, typical of the type that housed soldiers, internees and refugees between 1914 and 1950. Around 100 people have been taking part in the project, organised by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council with the help of Queen’s University Belfast’s Living Legacies team. The group wants to hear from anyone who has information or stories about the camp.

About 4,000 men of the 36th (Ulster) Division were trained there in 1914–15. In 1917 there were 4,000 wounded soldiers housed there, and although the project has a photograph of some of the nurses in 1919, it doesn’t have their names. The team is also looking for artefacts made, or owned, by some of the 2,000 internees held at the camp from all over Ireland during the War of Independence from December 1920 to December 1921. In addition, information is being sought on the identity of the mothers and children, described as Maltese refugees, photographed in the camp during the Second World War. When one of the huts was dismantled in 2012, many artefacts were found underneath it, including a First World War dog-tag belonging to R. Daidson, about whom the group is trying to find out more. Anyone with information about Ballykinlar Camp is asked to contact the museum on 028 4461 5218.

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