Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (July/August 2011), News, Volume 19

Happy birthday, Italy! Or maybe not. Italy officially celebrates 150 years of unification but it seems that not everyone is happy. Yes, it’s those Northerners causing trouble again. The Northern League protests that the hard-working, industrialised part of the country (sound familiar?) is carrying the backward, rural south on its shoulders. To make matters worse, even further north the German-speaking Alto Adige region does not even want to be Italian. Lessons here for those who want a united Ireland?

Elsewhere in Belfast it’s full steam ahead and damn the icebergs with celebrations of the Titanic. Launched in 1911, the ship famously sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912. Two years of events, including exhibitions, conferences and even a musical, are planned to mark the ship’s building and its tragic sinking. To those detractors who say that they are celebrating a failure—the unsinkable ship that sank—the people of Belfast say, ‘It was in perfect condition when it left us!’

Down in Kerry they love their football, and a fight has broken out over which town should have the county’s GAA museum. Tralee and Killarney have squared up to each other, each demanding that the museum go to them. There have been heated debates in the county council and age-old resentments have been revived as the decision about where to put the new museum is up for grabs. Dare we suggest a football match between the two towns, with the winner getting the museum?

Hard-headed revolutionaries or just dreamers? New documents have revealed that the Nazis did not think much of the IRA. British records of the post-war interrogation of Abwehr agent Kurt Haller reveal, among other things, that the German military intelligence thought that Francis Stuart ‘lacked the necessary courage’ to be an agent and that Jim O’Donovan and Seán Russell were wild dreamers. Only Frank Ryan was viewed as a serious operative. Interestingly, the IRA men made it clear that they did not support the Nazis and only wanted assistance against Britain until a united Ireland was established.

The 2011 ‘Back to Our Past, the Irish Genealogy, Family/Social History Experience’ will be held on 21–23 October at the RDS and will feature the major Irish repositories, as well as many UK ones. History Ireland will be there and will host a Hedge School on Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf. Two new interesting exhibitors are the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and the DNA Diagnostics Centre. The CWGC has records on the 1,700,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen, including the thousands of Irish, who died in the two world wars, and will offer visitors an opportunity to trace the whereabouts of graves or memorials of family members killed in these and other conflicts. The DNA Diagnostics Centre can trace your genetic heritage, often back for several thousand years. For more information contact +353 (0)1 4969028 or

Two new museums have opened in Belfast. In Newtownabbey part of the former Mossley Mill has been turned into a museum recording its history of flax-spinning and its part in the linen industry, while on the Lagan a museum of maritime history has been opened aboard the MV Confiance. This 600-tonne Dutch barge houses an exhibition on Belfast’s rich history of shipbuilding, using photographs, original documents, models and videos. The museum chooses, however, to ignore the story of the Titanic, as it is well covered elsewhere.

Dublin, too, is to get a new museum dedicated to the city. The Little Museum of Dublin will tell the story of the capital in the twentieth century. Opting for a low-tech approach means that the organisers want lots of real artefacts to put on display. They already have the likes of an Aer Lingus poster, a woodcut of James Connolly and a postcard signed by George Bernard Shaw. What they really want is the 1916 Proclamation, the Anglo-Irish Bank sign, Bono’s copy of Ulysses, Charles Haughey’s degree in commerce and similar gems from the city’s past. If you can help, contact them at
The newly refurbished Ulster Museum has gone down well with the public and critics and it now has another reason to celebrate. Claims were made that one of its paintings, St Christopher Carrying the Christ Child by Jacob Jordaens, was part of Hermann Goering’s war booty stolen from the Netherlands. Fears that the seventeenth-century painting might have to be sent back to the Dutch were allayed when an international art expert declared that it was definitely not Nazi war loot but had been obtained legitimately.

When is a national anthem not a national anthem? Copyright for Amhrán na bhFiann is due to expire next year. If the government does not renew it, then anyone can use the words and tune as they wish. It could be used to advertise margarine, become the theme tune to a TV show, or even be sung by Jedward as our entry for the Eurovison song contest. The present government seems reluctant to renew the copyright and there is even talk of adopting a new anthem altogether. If that is the case, can we get a suggestion in early and recommend The road to God knows where? It has a catchy tune, inclusive lyrics and an appropriate title for the state we’re in.

One interesting fact thrown up during Elizabeth II’s visit in May was that the term ‘Six Counties’ to describe Northern Ireland was coined by her grandfather, George V. When in Belfast in 1920 to officially open ‘the northern parliament of Ireland’, he described it as a ‘critical occasion in the history of the Six Counties’ and looked forward to Ireland being united again one day. And today Ulster unionists find the term offensive. Well, if it’s good enough for the king . . .


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