BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2020), News, Volume 28

BY TONY CANAVAN

War in a border county

Monaghan County Museum has opened a new exhibition on the county’s role in the War of Independence. The museum’s own War of Independence files include more than 500 pages of firsthand accounts from Monaghan IRA veterans, which were gathered in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Monaghan being an Ulster county, there was a strong Protestant/unionist population, which added another dimension to the conflict. The exhibition features original letters from Thomas Brennan, second in command of the 5th Northern Division of the IRA, as well as a collection of short films bringing eyewitness accounts to life. On display also are IRA intelligence documents and training manuals. Of particular interest is Monaghan man Eoin O’Duffy, who was IRA chief of staff. O’Duffy went on to become commissioner of An Garda Síochána and founder of the Blueshirts. The exhibition runs until the end of this year.

RMS Titanic protected by international treaty

The UK and US governments have signed a treaty to protect the wreck of the Titanic from those wishing to remove artefacts. The treaty comes just in time, as the US company RMS Titanic Inc. announced plans to use underwater robots to ‘surgically remove’ a roof on the ship so as to retrieve items including a Marconi wireless set used to make the ship’s final distress signals. This company has already removed over 5,500 items, and argues that the Titanic is deteriorating so quickly that artefacts should be rescued for future generations. The new treaty gives the British and US governments the power to grant or deny licences to enter the ship and remove items, and unauthorised activity will be punishable by large fines. The wreck of the RMS Titanic was discovered in 1985 lying in international waters about 350 nautical miles off Newfoundland, Canada, two and a half miles below the ocean’s surface. Dozens of expeditions have been carried out since then, and some experts claim that this is causing it to deteriorate more quickly. Of particular concern is the possible damage caused by mini-submarines landing on its surface. The UK signed the treaty in 2003, but it has only come into force after its ratification by the USA in November last year. Canada and France were also involved in the negotiations but have still not signed the treaty.

Mummy’s secrets revealed

The mummy of a young woman who died in her twenties and which has pride of place in Belfast’s Ulster Museum has recently undergone scientific examination, revealing that she was stabbed to death. Known as Takabuti and acquired by the Ulster Museum in 1835, the Egyptian mummy has been analysed by a team of experts from the National Museums NI, the University of Manchester, Queen’s University Belfast and Kingsbridge Private Hospital using the most up-to-date techniques, including CT scans and DNA profiling, to unearth new details about her life and death. One of the most significant findings was the discovery of her heart, as this was usually removed in mummification. In ancient Egypt it was believed that this organ was weighed in the afterlife: if it was too heavy (weighed down by sin) it was eaten by the demon Ammit and the journey to the afterlife failed. Why Takabuti kept her heart is a mystery. The examination also revealed that Takabuti’s DNA is genetically more similar to Europeans than modern Egyptians and that she had an extra tooth—33 instead of 32—something which only 0.02% of the population have. The scans show that she was stabbed in the upper back near her left shoulder and that this was the cause of her death over 2,600 years ago, though why remains unknown. She was probably married and the mistress of a house who lived in ancient Thebes (Luxor today). The mummy was acquired in Thebes by Thomas Greg from Holywood, Co. Down, in 1834. She was a sensation at the time of her first unveiling in 1835, when a poem was written about her, a portrait was painted and accounts of her unwrapping were carried in newspapers across Ireland.

Above: Maeve Kyle, the first woman to represent Ireland at the Olympics in 1956—one of five pioneering women to be honoured by An Post.

Five pioneering Irish women honoured by An Post

An Post’s latest set of commemorative stamps honours five ‘pioneering Irish women’—Irish women ‘who achieved international recognition in Fashion, Film, Aviation, Athletics and Art’, according to An Post. The stamps were designed by Oonagh Young of the Irish firm Design HQ. They are available for purchase at the GPO in Dublin, at selected post offices across Ireland and at anpost.com/shop. The featured women are Lillian Bland, the first woman in the world to design, build and fly an aeroplane, having built the ‘Mayfly’ in 1910 and successfully completed her first flight that same year; Maeve Kyle, the first woman to represent Ireland at the Olympics in 1956, and also Ireland’s first triple Olympian; Maureen O’Hara, renowned Hollywood film actress and recipient of an honorary Academy Award in 2014; Sarah Purser, portraitist and stained-glass artist who became the first female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1924; and Carmel Snow, editor-in-chief of the influential US Harper’s Bazaar magazine from 1934 to 1958.

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