BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2017), News, Volume 25

BY TONY CANAVAN

Confusing fact with fantasy?
The Ulster Museum in Belfast would appear to have confused fact with fantasy—and we are not talking creationism here. The museum has put on display a 77m-long tapestry depicting scenes from the hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones. The tapestry, which took three months to create and is modelled on the Bayeux Tapestry, covers several walls of the Ulster Museum. Embroidered in Northern Ireland linen, it depicts key scenes from seasons 1–6 of the popular TV show. The tapestry was woven and hand-embroidered from linen provided by Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen in Banbridge, one of the last surviving mills in the North. As season 7 returned to our screens earlier this year, the embroiderers were hard at work extending their creation. With each new episode, another section was unveiled. The tapestry depicts scenes that fans will recognise, such as the Red Wedding, wildfire at King’s Landing and White Walkers prowling north of the Wall. Just like the show itself, it features cameo appearances by a number of famous faces. The whole exercise is part of a new campaign by Tourism Ireland, in partnership with HBO and supported by Tourism NI, which offers fans the chance to relive their favourite scenes from the show all year long. The tapestry is shared by Tourism Ireland on social media and people can download the app to find out more. Game of Thrones has been filmed in Northern Ireland since 2010. The mythical lands of the Seven Kingdoms are recreated among Northern Ireland’s dramatic coastlines, castles and glens, such as Cushendun Caves, Murlough Bay, Ballycastle and Castle Ward. Fans can view the tapestry at Ireland.com/tapestry.

Above: The ‘Red Wedding’ massacre scene from Game of Thrones, as depicted in the 77m-long linen tapestry in the Ulster Museum.

Historic barbican closed to traffic
Drogheda’s historic St Laurence’s Gate has been permanently closed to traffic. Part of the original medieval town wall, of which less than 10% survives, the gate has had cars and lorries driving through it for decades, despite a long-standing campaign for it to be made traffic-free. A new one-way system recently came into effect, diverting traffic away from the gate. Drogheda was once the largest walled town in Ireland, with two separate circuits of walls encircling a combined area of 45 hectares. St Laurence’s Gate is a barbican, an advance fortification that stood outside and in front of the town ditch, through which anyone approaching from the east had to pass in order to enter the town. All the other gates and barbicans were demolished, mostly in the eighteenth century. It is believed that St Laurence’s Gate survived because it was used as a lookout with views down the River Boyne to the Irish Sea.

A bridge that divides
Protesters have criticised plans to demolish a historic bridge in south Belfast. Boyne Bridge in the predominantly loyalist Sandy Row area is set to be knocked down as part of the transport authority Translink’s plans to build its flagship Belfast transport hub. The bridge claims to have close links to the 1690 battle, from which it derives its name. Although built in 1932, two arches from the original bridge on this site were incorporated into the new bridge. It is said that William of Orange crossed the old bridge in June 1690 on his way to the Boyne. King James II is also thought to have retreated across the bridge. William Dickson from campaign group Boyne Bridge Defenders said that, although the group supports the transport hub, the bridge should not be demolished to make way for pedestrian crossings. Is this yet another attempt to undermine Loyalist culture, following on from official attacks on bonfires in July? To learn more, visit the protest campaign website, boynebridge.co.uk.

Irish friar honoured
An Irish Franciscan friar is being posthumously awarded the highest honour the Zimbabwean government can bestow on a foreigner. The official citation praises the late Fr Paschal Slevin for appointing the first black African headmasters to Catholic schools in the former British colony, against the wishes of Ian Smith and his predominantly white Rhodesian government. A native of Ballinacargy, Co. Westmeath, Fr Slevin, who died last May aged 83, is being honoured by President Robert Mugabe’s government for his work for the people of Zimbabwe. He joins six others in the Royal Order of Munhumutapa, five of them native statesmen who led their African nations to independence. A citation penned by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa praises Fr Slevin for his anti-racist initiatives in local Catholic schools in 1966 and 1971.

It also records that he built a secondary school in Wedza and that when the Smith government refused to pay for an extra teacher Fr Slevin used his own salary to fund the post. He supported poorer students and helped many school-leavers to train as nurses in Birmingham in England.

The citation adds that the friar supported the liberation of what became Zimbabwe in a fifteen-year-long guerrilla war by encouraging students to volunteer for military training in neighbouring countries. In 1977 the Smith regime closed his schools and expelled Fr Slevin and fellow Franciscans from Rhodesia. But the Irishman returned three years later when Zimbabwe won independence.

For the next decade, leading the local branch of the Franciscans, he educated former guerrilla fighters and helped develop the local rural economy in Wedza, building a dam and grain storage silos and establishing a farmers’ co-op. The Franciscan Order in Ireland had to reflect carefully on whether to attend the award ceremony in the capital, Harare. A spokesman told RTÉ News that the award is ‘a historical recognition’ of Fr Slevin’s work and does not imply that Zimbabwe’s Catholic Church endorses the 37-year-long rule of President Mugabe. He said that Franciscans have at times denounced some of his ruinous economic policies, which at one stage brought about nine-digit inflation, and that one friar was jailed briefly for reading to a congregation a bishops’ pastoral letter critical of the regime. Two of Fr Slevin’s nieces and representatives of the Franciscan Order from both Zimbabwe and Ireland will be among those attending the Defence Forces’ Day ceremony.

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