Published in Editorial, Issue 6 (November/December 2014), Volume 22

One of history’s great mysteries came closer to being solved with the discovery of a shipwreck in the Canadian Arctic. John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to find the North-West Passage ended in disaster, with his two ships, Erebus and Terror, sinking and all 128 crewmen dying. Exactly what happened and what became of the ships was never known, despite rescue missions at the time and historical investigation since. We do not know just which ship has been found but it is a big step towards solving this mystery.

History comes to life in the National Botanic Gardens with the recreation of a Viking thatched house in its grounds. (See p. 8 of our Brian Boru ‘special’, HI 22, March/April 2014.) The house took weeks to build and is modelled on a dwelling from 1014. Part of the commemorations of the Battle of Clontarf, the house is made only of natural mat-erials, which are to be found in the National Botanic Gardens. It opened to the public recently and details of its construction can be viewed at

Heritage of another kind is being celebrated in Kilkenny with the opening of the Smithwick’s Experience on the site of the St Francis Brewery. The transfer of production to St James’s Gate, Dublin, has enabled the conversion of this centuries-old centre of brewing into a heritage experience. Fifteen full- and part-time staff will tell the story of brewing there from the 1200s to the present, emphasising the role of the Smithwick family, who took over the site in 1710. I hope they explain what that annoying squirrel has to do with it.

Threats to historic sites were highlighted recently when a crannog near Roscommon Castle was damaged. The crannog dates back to the sixth century and was owned by the O’Connors. Although it has never been officially investigated and is difficult to get to, a series of holes have been dug across it. It is believed that treasure-hunters with metal-detectors are responsible. The use of metal-detectors is not permitted in Ireland but it is a popular activity in Britain, where treasure-hunters are often glamorised by the media with no attention paid to the damage they do.

They say that all politics is local and that applies to international politics, too. It is well known that in the North the nationalists sympathise with the Palestinians and the unionists favour Israel, with the respective flags being flown in different areas. The recent conflict in Gaza has exacerbated matters, however. One result has been that a blue plaque commemorating the birthplace of Belfast-born Chaim Herzog, president of Israel, has had to be removed for safe keeping following attacks on it. The Ulster History Circle, which has responsibility for these plaques, says it is not sure when it will be put back.

Meanwhile in Aghadowey, Co. Derry, a blue plaque has been erected to honour Revd James McGregor, a Presbyterian minister. Hailed as the ‘Moses of the Scots-Irish’, he led his congregation from Ireland to America in 1718. An Irish-speaker, he helped defend Derry in 1689 but left Ireland because of religious intolerance. He fell out with the puritans of Boston and so led his people to found a new settlement called Londonderry in New Hampshire in 1722. Among his achievements, it is claimed that he brought ‘Irish potatoes to the American colonies’, but isn’t that like carrying coals to Newcastle?

For the second time in two years an ancient body has been found in Rossan Bog in Westmeath by Bord na Móna workers. The National Museum of Ireland has taken charge of the remains and will investigate to establish their age and what else may be discovered. The earlier body, named Moydrum Man, was found nearby in 2012 and has been dated to 700–400 BC. A full range of bog bodies, usually the victims of ritual sacrifice, can be seen in the National Museum’s ‘Kingship and Sacrifice’ exhibition in Kildare Street.

The Chester Beatty Library has received full accreditation under the Heritage Council’s Museum Standards Programme. The assessors’ report praised the library for its ‘exceptionally high standard of operation’ and for ‘establishing a clear strategy for the care and use of the collections . . . the museum maintains a very high standing as an internationally important collection’. Well done!

The Church of Ireland’s Historical Centenaries Working Group is holding an interesting event entitled ‘The Ethics of War’, marking the centenary of the First World War. Prof. Nigel Biggar, University of Oxford, will speak about his recent book In defence of war, while Prof. Keith Jeffery, Queen’s University, Belfast, will put the other side of the argument. The event will be chaired by Prof. David Hayton, who will open up debate and discussion to the audience. It takes place in the Music Room, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at 7.30pm on Wednesday 19 November 2014 and is open to all.


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