Sidelines

Published in Editorial, Issue 5 (September/October 2013), Volume 21

n A major historical fraud has been uncovered thanks to Google and an amateur detective, John Paul Floyd from Glasgow. The Vinland map caused a stir when it came to light in 1957 because it purported to be a Viking map of North America—in other words, proof that the hardy Norsemen had got there centuries before Columbus. Floyd, however, used Google to discover that the medieval parchment on which the map was drawn had previously been on display in 1892 as part of an exhibition in Madrid to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, but without the Vinland map. When it re-emerged in 1957 it included the Vinland map, so clearly someone had added it to the medieval manuscript.

n The Irish Georgian Society’s ambitious project to renovate and restore Dublin city’s eighteenth-century assembly house, once the seat of municipal government, has completed its first phase and the society has moved its headquarters to 58 South William Street. Visitors are welcome to the new headquarters and to the society’s shop in the same building. Further details from www.igs.ie.

n A significant figure in the Irish-Australian community who played his part in Irish history will be commemorated in the Archbishop Mannix Memorial Weekend, 13–15 September, in Charleville, Co. Cork. Daniel Mannix was born in Charleville in 1864 and by the time of his death in 1963 was one of the most influential public figures in Australia. In a long and distinguished life he had served for 46 years as archbishop of Melbourne. Although his influence on Australian national affairs is well remembered and celebrated, his historical legacy in Ireland has largely been forgotten.

n It seems that in all the hoo-ha over the ‘decade of centenaries’ the founding father of Irish republicanism has been forgotten: 2013 marks the 250th anniversary of Wolfe Tone’s birth. While rushing to commemorate the dead of the First World War, the Lockout and the 1916 Rising, the powers-that-be have overlooked this significant anniversary. Not a monument, not a stamp or commemorative coin, not a conference, nor even a lecture from our beloved President Higgins. What has the country come to?

n After its €5.7m renovation, King John’s Castle in Limerick has reopened to the public. This has not just been about conserving the fabric of the building but also about creating a multi-dimensional visitor experience covering the castle’s 800-year history. Put together by those clever people who did Titanic Belfast, it will have touch-screens, 3D images, ghostly projections and a ‘looking glass’ through which visitors can see the past. Parts of the castle previously closed off are now open, including a tower on the Shannon which will be the highest lookout point over Limerick.

n A timely project is under way to remind the Germans what they owe us. In the aftermath of World War II, Germany was in chaos and food shortages caused widespread starvation, with children in particular suffering. Outside help was needed but there was little sympathy for the Germans. The Irish government, however, sent food to help starving families. The best of Irish produce, from bacon to butter, saved thousands of children from dying. In Saarbrücken children at one school put together an album of writing and drawings to say thanks. Unexpectedly, the album has turned up after 66 years, and its owner, Tony O’Herlihy, took it back to Saarbrücken and met up with twenty women who helped to put it together when they were children. Let’s hope that Angela Merkel reads this.

n When Daniel O’Connell died in 1847, he bequeathed his body to Ireland and his heart to Rome. It was duly installed in a silver casket in St Agata’s Church, attached to the Irish College in that city. In 1855 a tablet was added to mark the spot. The Irish College had to move in the 1920s, and it was decided to take O’Connell’s heart too. When the tablet was taken out, however, it was discovered that there was no heart behind it. Undaunted, the college took the tablet and put it in its present location, where it misleads unsuspecting visitors that the great heart is behind it. As for the silver casket containing O’Connell’s heart, it is believed to be somewhere in St Agata’s, unrecognised for what it is.

n Something more worldly and valuable from Irish history has gone missing, presumed to be in a London bank. Red Hugh O’Donnell, one of the leaders of the Nine Years War, was given four large pearls by Philip II of Spain when he went there after the Battle of Kinsale. They remained in the O’Donnell family until 1924. By that time they were known as the Arranmore pearls and were in the possession of Mary O’Donnell. Her fiancé, Ernest Chapman, took them to London, where they were valued at £1m (about £50m today) at the British Empire Exhibition. Nothing has been seen or heard of them since. Some say that Chapman put them into a London bank for safekeeping, but he never mentioned the pearls again. So where are they?

n The peace process in the North has looked a bit shaky recently but that will not stop a major project to celebrate it from going ahead. Part of the old Long Kesh site, or HM Prison Maze if you prefer, is to house a campus dedicated to peace and prosperity. The grandly named Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation Centre was designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also drew up plans for the World Trade Center site in New York and the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Part of a wider £300m development of the former prison, the centre is due to open in 2015.

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