Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2012), News, The Famine, Volume 20

History just passes some people by. The War of Independence, the Treaty and the 1937 constitution mean nothing to the people at Starbucks, the American coffee-bar chain. They recently asked their customers in Ireland to tweet why they were proud to be British for a chance to win a free cup of coffee. Of course, we can understand why they might be confused since this happened on the day that the Olympic torch came to Dublin as part of its UK tour.


The Great Famine will be commemorated in a new museum on the history of the potato soon to open in Peru. Dr Pamela Anderson, director of Lima’s International Potato Center, visited Ireland recently to research the project. She says that while the potato blight ruined the crop, famine was caused by other factors, such as the lack of support for those affected. One reason for looking at the Irish famine and how it was handled is to get an understanding of what needs to be done in parts of the world facing crop failure today.


To celebrate ‘Dublin City of Science 2012’ the Royal Irish Academy is holding an exhibition showcasing some of its important historic science collections. These focus on Ireland’s foremost mathematician and scientist, William Rowan Hamilton (1805–65), whose work on dynamics formed the basis for Erwin Schrödinger’s work in quantum mechanics. A lecture series is being held in tandem with the exhibition. It runs until May 2013. Details @


An unlikely collection of photographs of the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald turned up in Durrow. Edward Heron, from Kilkenny, brought the ten photos along to Sheppard’s auctioneers’ valuation day in Durrow. Mr. Heron got the photographs and other items from the Second World War from his aunt’s husband, Belgian Antoine Bastin, a decorated combatant and prisoner of war. The photos are believed to have been taken by an American soldier on the liberation of Buchenwald but just how M. Bastin got them is a mystery.


Folklore, myths and legends may be based in reality if recent discoveries by archaeologists in Kerry are anything to go by. Local folk-tales talk of a terrible calamity, with big waves, 15m high, striking the shore. Now archaeologist Alan R. Hayden says that Valentia, Beginish and Church islands bear the scars of being struck by tsunamis. All that happened a long time ago, but in 1775 the Lisbon earthquake caused a huge wave to strike Kinsale and Galway, while in the 1850s a tidal wave washed fifteen men off the cliffs of Inishmore. So watch out—there could be more on the way.


When the government is considering cutting or amalgamating heritage and cultural bodies on the grounds that they are too expensive, it is worth noting the findings of recent surveys. In the Republic it is estimated that heritage contributes €1.5bn to the economy annually and supports more than 35,000 jobs. In Northern Ireland the figures are similar in making a contribution to the local economy and employment. So think again before undermining the organisations that protect and promote our heritage.


Divers off the Cork coast have recovered the anchors of the gunrunning ship Aud. She was carrying 20,000 rifles, machine-guns, bombs and one million rounds of ammunition for the 1916 Rising from Germany. She was originally the SMS Libau, which the Germans disguised as the Aud, a Norwegian vessel previously sunk by a U-boat. Before she could make contact with the rebels, the Aud was intercepted by the British navy and ordered to head for Cobh Harbour under naval escort. The captain scuttled her en route, however, rather than let her fall into enemy hands.


The Irish Georgian Society (IGS) has launched an appeal to restore Dublin’s city assembly house. Located on South William Street, the house was opened in 1765 by the Society of Artists as the first purpose-built public exhibition gallery in Ireland or Britain. It became the city assembly house when Dublin Corporation moved there in 1791. The IGS needs €2m for the restoration fund. The money is being sought from various sources in Ireland, Britain and the USA. When restored, the building will become the IGS headquarters and a venue for cultural and heritage-related activities for the whole city. Concerned individuals are invited to make a donation, however small. Details @


Neanderthal is a byword for being slow or dim-witted but new research reveals that this may not have been the case. A contemporary and rival of Homo sapiens (that’s us), the Neanderthal used tools, wore jewellery and was probably painting images on cave walls long before us. It has also been proved that the Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interbred, and it is estimated that 4% of the genetic make-up of the modern European is Neanderthal. It is even speculated that modern humans may have learned cave-painting and jewellery-making from their Neanderthal neighbours (or possibly in-laws). So now you’ll have to think of another name for that dim-wit who lives down the street.


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