Sidelines

Published in Editorial, Issue 6 (November/December 2013), Volume 21

n Is Ireland becoming too secular? Is it really the noise that people object to, or the reminder that they’re still lying in bed when they should be in church? Complaints from neighbours have silenced the 130-year-old bells of St Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge. It has a clock and a carillon, a multiple bell arrangement, which chimed every fifteen minutes 24 hours a day. Since 1881 no one was bothered by the ecclesiastical chimes, but in recent years people in the area have complained about noise pollution to the city council. Now threatened with a €3,000 fine, the parish has installed a mechanism to ‘hold back the clappers’.

n The economy is picking up, they say, but surely inflation is getting out of hand. An old £10 note is now worth €14,000. A Northern Bank note from 1929, endorsed by the Currency Commission and featuring the iconic image of a horse-drawn plough, was sold for that amount. Described as exceedingly rare and the scarcest of the ‘ploughman series’, it was expected to fetch only €4,000 to €6,000, but at the auction in Dublin’s Freemason’s Hall a bidding frenzy saw it go for much more than that.

n The same auction saw a fragment of a painting of Queen Victoria go for €300. The original life-size portrait hung in the Royal College of Surgeons on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. During the 1916 Rising, rebels under Countess Markievicz’s command occupied the building. At some point the painting was slashed beyond repair—by a young rebel, according to legend. When admonished, he claimed that he needed the canvass to make puttees. Other royal portraits and busts in the building were, however, left untouched.

n An unlikely souvenir of an Irish patriot has surfaced unexpectedly in England. The copper ring belonged to the aristocratic republican Lord Edward FitzGerald. It is engraved ‘Left by Lord Edward FitzGerald, when on his deathbed, to Lady Lucy Foley, June 1798’. Lady Foley was his sister and it has been in the family ever since. Lord Edward was one of the architects of the United Irishmen’s rebellion, but he was fatally injured resisting arrest before the rising broke out and died in Newgate Prison. Put up for auction in Cambridge, this is the first time it has been seen in public.

n In this column we have reported recent thefts from museums. The story took a dramatic turn in the last few weeks, with police raids across Europe resulting in the arrest of suspects and the recovery of stolen property. Europol believe that an Irish-based gang has been responsible for the theft of Chinese artefacts, Asian art and rhino horns from museums and private collections in Ireland, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and France. Police say that ‘heritage crime’, as it is called, is becoming a major issue in Europe.

n We all know that hurling is an ancient game, and an exhibition at the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar reveals the age and composition of the earliest hurling balls. The collection consists of fourteen sliotars, the newest dating from the 1670s and the oldest from the thirteenth century. Dated using carbon-dating, remarkably the balls were all made using the same technique: matted cow hair inside a shell of plaited horsehair. The museum used X-rays and CT scans to examine how the balls were made. It was only in the nineteenth century that the hair ball was replaced by one with a cork inner core covered in leather.

n One of the most iconic images of Michael Collins has been incorporated into a new memorial to him. Most will recognise the photograph of Collins in his general’s uniform striding across a parade ground, with a young piper in the background. Most will not realise that the photo was taken in Cathal Brugha barracks, Rathmines, Dublin, just two weeks before his death. Now the soldiers of the barracks on their own initiative have raised the money to commemorate the photo by erecting a black marble memorial to Collins. It was officially unveiled on the 91st anniversary of his death by the chief-of-staff of the Defence Forces, Lt Gen. Conor O’Boyle.

n While other Europeans have grown in stature in the last 100 years, Irishmen lag behind. Recent research by Prof. Timothy Hutton of the University of Essex reveals that the average European male is 11cm taller than his counterpart 100 years ago, but in Ireland he is only 8cm taller, with the average Irishman now being only 1.76m tall. Better diet and disease control are credited with this unprecedented spurt in growth on the mainland. Why Irishmen lag behind is a mystery, but we all know the answer, don’t we? All together now: 800 years of British oppression . . .

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