Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2017), News, Volume 25

By Tony Canavan

The Know-Nothings
Recent events in the United States raise echoes of the Know-Nothing Party, also known as the American Party, which was prominent in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The Know-Nothings strongly opposed immigration and Catholicism. Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine were particular targets of their vitriol. The Know-Nothings feared that Catholics were more loyal to the pope than to the United States; many believed that Catholics intended to take over the United States and so wanted to prevent Catholics and immigrants from being elected to political office. Members of the party also hoped to deny them jobs in the private sector, arguing that the nation’s businessmen needed to employ true Americans. The majority of Know-Nothings came from middle- and working-class backgrounds, and feared competition for jobs from immigrants. The party became known as the Know-Nothings because its members would not reveal its doctrines to non-members and responded to questions with ‘I know nothing’. It officially became the American Party in 1854 and was strong in the north, where most recent Irish immigrants to the United States landed. In that year Know-Nothing candidates even won control of the Massachusetts legislature.

Edwardian thrill-seeking
In 2015 we reported on the £7.5m project (just under 50% of the funding came from the European Union’s INTERREG programme) to restore the Gobbins cliff path near Larne, Co. Antrim. The Gobbins closed five months later, however, owing to unforeseen difficulties. It was reopened in 2016 but closed again unexpectedly last year, when extreme weather conditions caused high levels of rockfall along the path. Now the path is to reopen (again!) at the end of June after Mid and East Antrim Borough Council spent around £500,000 on maintenance. Built by the Irish railway engineer Berkeley Deane Wise, the first section was opened to Edwardian tourists in 1902, drawing worldwide attention; it became an instant visitor attraction, providing thrills and excitement for those who walked it. The hope is that modern visitors can enjoy the same experience.

Remembering the Irish divisions
The Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association has begun a big fund-raising drive in order to erect a monument to the soldiers of the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division who took part in the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July–10 November 1917), also known as Passchendaele. The two divisions from Ireland were already depleted when they were thrown into the battle for Langemarck, part of the overall Third Battle of Ypres. At the end of that failed attack, the 16th (Irish) Division had lost 115 officers and 2,042 other ranks, while the 36th (Ulster) Division had lost 81 officers and 1,955 other ranks. The proposal is to erect a memorial stone in honour of both divisions at Frezenberg Ridge, where the fiercest fighting took place.

The O’Connell Tower
Visitors will once again be able to climb the iconic O’Connell Tower in Glasnevin Cemetery for the first time in more than 45 years. Refurbishment work to reconstruct the 51m tower’s internal staircase is due to be completed by this summer. The winding wooden staircase was bombed in 1971 in an attack that was blamed on Loyalist paramilitaries. While the tower survived the blast, the windows and staircase were blown out, and it was closed off. It is believed that the bombing was in revenge for the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street in Dublin in 1966. Built between 1855 and 1869, the tower commemorates Daniel O’Connell, who established Glasnevin Cemetery in 1832. He died in Italy in 1847 and a crypt at the foundation of the tower contains his sarcophagus. Designed by George Petrie, the construction was funded by public subscription.

What are a few years here or there?
New research by NUI Galway archaeologist Andrew Whitefield suggests that the Céide Fields in County Mayo may be 2,500 years younger than previously thought. The complex once described as the ‘oldest enclosed landscape in Europe’ may actually date from the later Bronze Age or the Iron Age rather than from the late Stone Age, according to Dr Whitefield’s study, published in the European Journal of Archaeology. The claim has sparked controversy, however, with Prof. Seamus Caulfield, the archaeologist who linked north Mayo’s Céide Fields complex to some of Europe’s earliest farmers, issuing a statement in which he expressed his ‘disappointment and sadness’ at what he described as a ‘silent ambush of my life’s work by people I considered closer than colleagues’. Caulfield, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at University College Dublin, with the late Prof. Michael Herity headed the team that located stone-walled fields, houses and megalithic tombs and came to the earlier dating, which Dr Whitefield now disputes. Prof. Caulfield has described Dr Whitefield’s paper as ‘error-strewn’ and called on him to make the relevant chapter in his Ph.D thesis publicly available. In response, Dr Whitefield has stood over his research and says that he has enormous regard for Prof. Caulfield’s work, which had placed the west of Ireland in the vanguard of Europe’s earliest agricultural practices.

A matter of grave import
The Jeanie Johnston, the replica nineteenth-century emigration ship, will be the last vessel to be worked on in Dublin port’s graving dock, which will be closed and filled in as part of a €230 million Alexandra Basin project. The five-year project aims to allow larger ships to routinely call at Dublin, turn within Alexandra Basin and berth as far upriver as the East Link Bridge. The Jeanie Johnston, now a tourist attraction and museum, has returned to its berth on the River Liffey. The disappearance of the graving dock will leave the Grand Canal Basin as the last docks of this type in the Liffey area. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the Docklands Business Forum began a petition last year asking Heather Humphreys, the relevant minister, to ensure that the Georgian architecture in the basin—comprising lock gates and graving docks for ships—is ‘restored, preserved and reused’. It is believed that Waterways Ireland wants to sell the graving docks site for further high-rise development at the Liffey mouth. The Docklands Business Forum argue, however, that the graving docks and lock gates are as important to the heritage of Dublin as Battery Park is to New York. The Business Forum’s plan gives Les Berges de Seine in Paris and the Albert Dock in Liverpool as examples of successful maritime heritage projects, and argues that maritime tourism is a growth area.

Titanic family

Above: Tim Husbands, chief executive of Titanic Belfast, with thirteen-year-old William Harland, whose great-great-great-great-uncle owned the Harland and Wolff Shipyard. (Titanic Belfast)

William Harland, aged thirteen, whose great-great-great-great-uncle was the owner of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard that built the RMS Titanic, recently visited Titanic Belfast to learn more not only about the Titanic but also about the city and people who built her, including his great-uncle, Edward Harland, who was one of the main men behind the RMS Titanic and Belfast’s strong industrial heritage. The staff at Titanic Belfast were able to help him discover more about his relative. Faye Harland, William’s mother, commented: ‘William loves everything to do with Titanic and wanted to learn more about his family’s heritage and legacy—where better to do this than Belfast? It was great for him to see and learn first-hand about its shipbuilding and industrial heritage and his family’s role in it.’


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