Sidelines

Published in Issue 4 (July-August 2013), News, Volume 21

The Gathering, Fáilte Ireland’s attempt to lure the overseas Irish back to the oul’ sod, is well under way and a great success by all accounts. Surely the most imaginative event of the campaign is the global donkey gathering in Omeath, Co. Louth. In the late nineteenth century, Francie and Katie Murphy of that parish emigrated to the United States, bringing Danny the donkey along with them. Danny was renowned as one of the finest donkeys in Ireland and is believed to have sired an equally fine progeny in America. The hunt is on for Danny’s descendants to return to Omeath in August for a unique gathering. Danny was last seen in the 1920s in upstate New York and a scout has been sent over to trace his family and bring them back home. Now that’s one family reunion you’d be an ass to miss.

A recently acquired collection of items from the doomed liner was unveiled at the Titanic Experience, Cobh, Co. Cork, which is located in the original White Star Line building. Among them is a blue leather suitcase, purchased at Harrods, which belonged to Mrs Lily Odell, a first-class passenger. Mrs Odell travelled with family members as far as Queenstown, now Cobh, and collected a hire car from Johnson & Perrott Motors to travel around the south of Ireland. A hand-painted, signed French silk lace and mother of pearl fan in its original silk-covered box from the Titanic is also on loan to the collection. The exhibition was opened by Tommy Barker, property editor of the Irish Examiner and grandson of Thomas Barker, the Cork Examiner photographer who captured some of the best-known images of RMS Titanic and her passengers while in Cobh.

Was it the day the earth stood still? On 18 April 1930, during what should have been a 6.30pm radio news bulletin, a BBC presenter announced: ‘Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.’ It had apparently been judged that nothing newsworthy had happened. Piano music was then played instead of the current affairs update for a couple of minutes before normal scheduling resumed. Now there is a challenge for my colleague over the page.

Abbeville in north County Dublin is associated with the late Charles Haughey but it has recently been discovered that it was once the home of another political figure, who was reared there. Richard Montgomery studied at Trinity College before joining the British army. He eventually settled in the American colonies; when the American Revolution broke out, he took up the patriot cause and was elected to the New York Provincial Congress. In June 1775 he was commissioned brigadier general in the Continental Army. He led the invasion of Canada, capturing Fort St Johns and Montreal in November 1775. He then advanced to Quebec, where he joined another force under the command of Benedict Arnold. On 31 December he was killed during an attack on that city. The British found his body and gave him an honourable burial. In 1818 his body was moved to New York City.

Times are hard for businesses and for none more so than for traditional crafts. Scullion Hurls in County Antrim, however, have come up with a clever money-making scheme. They plan to open their workshop as one of Ireland’s first economuseums. The idea began as an économusée in Quebec in 1992 as a means of supporting craft businesses and has now been taken up by the EU. Visitors will be able to follow the process of making a hurl entirely by hand, from the raw block of Irish ash to the finely crafted finished article. Now in the third generation of the business, the Scullion hurls are used by Loughguile club in the Glens of Antrim and exported to people and clubs throughout the world.

The internet has once again proved its use to historians with the launch of two websites. TCD has set up downsurvey.tcd.ie, featuring 300-year-old maps of Ireland. After Cromwell’s victory the Down Survey (1656–8) detailed all estates forfeited by Catholic landowners. It was the first major survey of Ireland and contains geographical features such as buildings, roads, parish boundaries, etc. The original maps were lost to fire in 1711 and 1922 but a team from TCD spent years tracking down and scanning 2,000 copies of the originals in Ireland, Britain and France. Meanwhile, the decade of centenaries is covered by rte.ie/centuryireland, which has a fortnightly on-line newspaper covering the momentous events from 1913 to 1923, featuring photographs and reports from newspapers of the time. This is a joint project between RTÉ, Boston College and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

A while back we reported that the Natural History Museum had removed its rhino heads from display and put them in a safe place to prevent thieves from getting them. It seems that the place was not so safe after all, as four rhino heads, valued at €500,000, were stolen from a warehouse in Swords by three masked men. The horns are used in traditional Asian medicine. Contrary to popular belief, however, they are not thought to have aphrodisiac qualities or to improve virility but are used to treat a variety of diseases. Of course, there is no scientific evidence that they have any effect whatsoever.

Footage of interviews given by Arthur Axmann, leader of the Hitler Youth, and Erich Kempka, Hitler’s chauffeur, to Capt. Michael Angelo Musmanno USN, a United States judge at the Nuremberg war trials, long thought lost, have been rediscovered. They describe in chilling detail how Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in the final days of the war and how their bodies were carried outside the command bunker and buried. Other interviews reveal the bizarre last days of Hitler and his marriage to Braun. Perhaps the strangest fact to emerge is that Hitler’s favourite song was Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

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