Sidelines

Published in Editorial, Issue 2 (March/April 2015), Volume 23

Last year I highlighted the case of Newry attempting to reclaim the Carvill Papers from Paterno Library, State College, Pennsylvania. A petition to that effect was ignored by the library but an imaginative ambush has turned things around. Pennsylvania were one of the two American football teams playing in Croke Park on 28 August last year, and the Newry committee bought six tickets for the game. Committee chairman Michael McKeown then engineered a meeting with the college’s vice-president, Rod Kirsch, and put the case to him. As a result, the college has agreed to scan the Carvill Papers and submit facsimiles to the city. Work began in January on the 900 man-hours estimated to complete the job. A victory for Newry.

Buddhism is very popular in the West today but research has revealed that it was an Irishman, Charles Pfoundes, who introduced it in 1889. Pfoundes was born in Waterford and after a stay in Australia went to Japan, which is where he discovered Buddhism. On settling in London he decided to introduce the religion to the West and became the official representative for the Japanese Buddhist Propagation Society, leading a mission across Britain and Ireland to spread the word. In 1893 he returned to live in Japan, where he died on 2 December 1907.

The almost forgotten river, the Farset, which gave Belfast its name (Béal Feirste) is literally to be rescued from obscurity. The original settlement out of which the city developed was founded at the mouth of the Farset as early as the seventh century. It later became a Plantation town, which grew into Ireland’s second largest city. The history of the river and the city were inextricably linked until urban sprawl led to its being culverted in the nineteenth century. Now the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund has agreed £10,000 for an exposed part of the river to be developed in a project that will see a history exhibition, outdoor information panels, an app and fifteen tour guides.

Another collection of important historical documents has come into public ownership with the donation to the Royal Irish Academy by Liam Cosgrave of this father’s, W.T. Cosgrave’s, papers. The documents include personal and public records, among them W.T. Cosgrave’s court martial and death sentence for his part in the 1916 Rising and a photograph of him disguised as a member of a religious order while on the run in 1920.

In this decade of centenaries, a significant one is likely to be overlooked. From 1915 to 1922, Turkey kept up a systematic assault on its Armenian subjects in which it is estimated that up to one million men, women and children were killed. The significance of the genocide is that when Hitler planned to exterminate the Jews he cited the Armenian case as an example of how a state could get away with mass murder. The genocide has always proved controversial, with Turkey disputing the numbers killed and denying that there was a genocide. The issue is one that dogs that country’s attempts to join the European Union.

In a case of truth being stranger than fiction it is reported that Britain’s Channel 4 is to make a sitcom set during the Great Famine. Surely some subjects are beyond joking about. Channel 4, champion of the radical and avant-garde, must surely realise the role played by Britain in the Great Famine and the post-colonial sensitivities of the subject. Can we expect jokes about the Irish being too stupid to fish or a case of mass dieting gone wrong? With echoes of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ in the film The Producers, some suspect that the whole suggestion is a hoax. In The Producers, ‘Springtime for Hitler’ was designed to be a flop. Could something similar be going on here?

Irish whiskey is undergoing a revival, it seems, and while a number of new distilleries are being opened, one Belfast man, Shane Braniff, is seeking to revive a historic brand. Dunville’s Whiskey was established in the city in 1801 and survived until 1935. The original family was unionist and their most successful brand was VR (from Victoria Regina), launched in 1837; in 1869 they opened Royal Irish Distillers, Ireland’s biggest distillery. They are still commemorated today in Dunville Park, which was Belfast’s first public park, and in Distillery football club. The revived brand already has orders from America, France and elsewhere.

Finally, some good news for the National Museum of Ireland. Following threats of closure and the imposition of entrance fees and exposure in the media (in which we played a humble part), the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has found some extra cash for the museum, meaning that its four branches can continue to provide an excellent service free of charge—for the time being at least.

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