Sidelines

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2012), News, Volume 20

Who owns history? Well, the Carlyle Group has just bought an impressive chunk of it by taking over Getty Images, the world’s largest distributor of stock photographs and videos. The Getty collection contains millions of images from the twentieth century, including all the major historical events such as wars and political upheavals but also many images of everyday life, fashion, sport and so on. Even in this digital age, with access to photographs easier than ever, to hold the copyright to such a historic collection is valued at around $3.3 billion. So think again before you throw out that old family photo album. You could be throwing away a small fortune!

 

It has long been known that the uniformed telegraph boy (below right) in the famous photo of Edward Carson signing the Ulster Covenant in Belfast City Hall was a Catholic, but now two families are claiming him as their own. Carmel Hanna, former leader of the SDLP, believes that the boy is her great-great-uncle, Dennis Hanna. A counter-claim, however, has been put in by the McGee family, who say that he is Samuel McMillan of Cavendish Street, Belfast. Both families rest their claim on physical resemblance and family folklore. They do agree on one thing: that posing for the photograph was a cheeky act of bravado on the lad’s part.

 

Descendants of Irish-Australian outlaw Ned Kelly have been granted permission to give their ancestor a private burial. Kelly—who along with his brother and two friends formed the Kelly Gang—was hanged in 1880 for the killing of three policemen. His activities as a bushranger earned him a reputation as a cold-blooded murderer to some and as a folk hero to others. He robbed a number of banks and was eventually captured dressed in a homemade suit of armour at Glenrowan, north Victoria. The rest of the gang, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne, were killed in the same siege. Kelly’s remains, which had originally been buried in the grounds of the Old Melbourne Gaol before being transferred in 1929 to Pentridge Prison, were positively identified last November using a DNA sample taken from a descendant. For many years it was believed that a skull on display at the Old Melbourne Goal was that of Kelly until the DNA tests revealed that it was not.

 

Showing a keen sense of historical awareness, David Cameron has appointed a new secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Theresa Villiers can claim an ancestor involved in two great episodes of Irish history: the Ulster Plantation and the Great Famine. One ancestor was George Villiers, the first duke of Buckingham, who is credited with persuading James I to plant Ulster with British settlers. She is also descended from Edward Villiers, earl of Clarendon, who was appointed lord lieutenant for Ireland in 1846 and oversaw the government’s unpopular policies during the Famine. With a background like that she is sure to do well in her new role. The Canadian Government is again launching a search to find the Franklin expedition ships Terror and Erebus at a cost of CAN$500,000. The doomed British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Captain Sir John Franklin left England in 1845 and was never seen again. Irishman Captain F.R.M. Crozier was Franklin’s executive officer and commanded HMS Terror. A search led by another Irishman, Francis Leopold McClintock, in 1859 discovered a note left on King William Island with details about the expedition’s fate. Since then there have been many failed attempts to find the ships and discover what actually happened to those involved. Will the new expedition be any more successful?

 

The first documented Gaelic football match was recently commemorated with a re-enactment in Omeath, Co. Louth. An observer recorded the game played between locals in 1750 at Bavan Meadows, just outside the village, which remained a Gaeltacht well into the twentieth century. This shows that the indigenous version of football goes well back in history. Among the celebrities taking part in the re-enactment was Olympic medallist Paddy Barnes. The rules may have allowed for more robust tackling in 1750 but Paddy played, we are told, like a real gentleman.

 

The thirteenth-century Choristers’ Hall in Waterford has opened as a medieval museum, the only one dedicated to the Middle Ages in Ireland. The museum is a purpose-designed building that incorporates the original choristers’ hall. Among the items on display are the Waterford Christ Church Cathedral cloth-of-gold vestments, the only complete set of medieval High Mass vestments to survive in northern Europe. Best of all is the 1372 Great Charter Roll of Waterford, which features the earliest illustration of an Irish city, depictions of five medieval English kings, their deputies in Ireland and medieval mayors. It was drawn up as a propaganda exercise in the well-known rivalry (sic) between Waterford and New Ross, which raged on and off for about 500 years.

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