Sidelines

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2014), Volume 22

We all know about the sinking of the Lusitania and that the wreck lies off the Irish coast, but who knew that it was private property? Gregg Bemis, an American businessman, is the owner and he recently issued a public plea to the Irish government for ‘flexibility’ over the sunken ship. The liner was attacked by a U-boat and 1,198 lives were lost. Bemis and his men object to a heritage order placed on the vessel to protect it. He wants to ‘salvage’ items from the wreck in order to include them in a travelling centenary exhibition next year. He thinks that we’re being spoilsports for protecting its remains.

The site where the leaders of the 1916 Rising surrendered is to be made into a commemoration centre. Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan has approved revised designs for 14–17 Moore Street. The buildings were also the meeting place of the provisional government set up during the Rising. Mr Deenihan said that the decision will ‘secure the future of one of the most important sites in modern Irish history’. He praised the work by relatives of the 1916 leaders and their supporters who led the campaign. Without their determination and commitment, these buildings—which had been planned for demolition as recently as 1999—would never have survived.

A timely initiative by historian Michael Nugent will record a battle in which hundreds of Irish soldiers died but which is largely forgotten today. Nugent’s uncle, seventeen-year-old James Nugent, died in the Battle of Festubert on 15 May 1915. The 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, led the British Army’s first night attack of the war against a well-dug-in German stronghold. About 264 Inniskillings died in the first fifteen minutes. Families from Derry, Donegal and Belfast all lost loved ones. Nugent is calling on the public to help him with stories and memorabilia related to this bloody encounter. Contact him at emjayen@live.co.uk.

An archaeological report into two houses in Kilkenny has found that they have no medieval features, but the council has still decided not to demolish them. Nos 21 and 22 Vicar Street were due to make way for a road development. Their retention had been argued for by An Taisce and the Heritage Council. The objections were based on the belief that the houses were medieval but instead they date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—still old enough to save them.

A remarkable cross-border event took place recently in Crossakiel, Co. Meath, when trade unionists from Ireland, North and South, and from England came together to commemorate the birth of Jim Connell. A pioneering socialist, he penned the Left’s great anthem, The Red Flag. Notably absent were any representatives of the Irish government or the Labour Party. Surely, in the light of recent developments, this is just the sort of Anglo-Irish joint commemoration that should be supported? If only a member of the English royal family had been there . . .

Not quite a centenary but Louth County Museum is proud to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Since opening in 1994 it has been one of the liveliest and most innovative county museums in the country. The anniversary is being marked with a special exhibition highlighting important events, significant artefacts and so on in the museum’s own history. Honesty impels me to admit that both editor Tommy Graham and I are quoted on one of the information panels.

A week after the Howth gunrunning on the first weekend of August 1914 the Irish Volunteers landed 600 rifles at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow. A community event on the weekend of 26/27 July in Kilcoole will commemorate this centenary. A parade through Main Street down to the sea, followed by a re-enactment of the gunrunning, will take place on the Saturday. Sunday will see Main Street step back to the summer of 1914. A historic market will be the backdrop to Irish Volunteers and soldiers of the British Army drilling.

A recently discovered photograph shows a young Kevin Barry, executed by the British in 1920, playing rugby. He is scoring a try for Belvedere College, which beat Blackrock College in the 1917 Leinster Schools Rugby Junior Cup Final. It is one of only a few photographs of Barry and is owned by a member of the present-day Barry family, who is putting it up for auction. A small example of how centenaries afford us the opportunity to re-examine the past and reassess received notions—in this case that all republicans were GAA men.

History can damage your health. So says the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has issued a warning to teachers not to allow students to try on helmets and gas masks from World War I. These are often used as teaching aids and with all the centenaries coming up there are more classes than ever on the First World War. The HSE says that they can be dangerous, however, as they contain traces of asbestos. Their advice is to double-wrap them in plastic bags, call the local authority and have them destroyed! Couldn’t they just leave them alone in glass display cabinets in a museum?

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