Sidelines

Published in Editorial, Issue 3 (May/June 2015), Volume 23

Dublin’s famous Mansion House celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, meaning that it is even older than London’s Mansion House. In 1715 it was purchased for £3,500 from Joshua Dawson by the Corporation as the lord mayor’s residence. Part of the sale agreement included an annual rent of 40 shillings and the provision of two fat capons and a loaf of double-refined sugar weighing six pounds at Christmas. In return, it was agreed to build on an extra room to the house, which could be used for civic receptions—the famous Oak Room. The Round Room at the back was built in 1821 to receive King George IV. Ironically, it was in this room, in January 1919, that the first Dáil Éireann met.

When a historic building in College Square East in Belfast was being renovated for student accommodation, it was feared that a steam engine dating from 1902 would be demolished. The engine, built by local firm Musgrave & Co., heated the building until 2007. Originally burning coal, it was converted to use oil and then gas. However, the developers, Lacuna Developments, insist that the steam engine is ‘not going anywhere’. Although it will no longer heat the building, it will be retained as a feature, protected behind a glass screen.

History, myth and culture have come together in a fascinating way in the Spanish province of Galicia with the Asociación Gallega de Fútbol Gaélico, which started in 2010 and now has nine clubs (men and women) and their own league. In 2010 a local man was in Dublin and saw a Gaelic football match in Croke Park. Impressed by the game, he introduced it to his native land, where it has been embraced as a symbol of Celtic identity. The Galicians are a Celtic people and identify with Breogán, an ancient king of Galicia and ancestor of the Irish Gaels, according to the Lebor Gabála Érenn, a medieval history of Ireland. Breogán founded a city called Brigantia and built a great tower, from which his son Íth could see Ireland across the sea. Íth and his brothers sailed with their followers to Ireland, conquering it from the Tuatha Dé Danaan.

The Linen Hall Library in Belfast has been given an important artefact in the form of a ‘famine box’. The wooden casket dates from 1847 and belonged to the Omagh workhouse. It is known that it was made by a carpenter from the Mountjoy East farm owned by the Wilson family, and it is inscribed ‘Robert Buchanan June 15 1847’. Most importantly, it contained six rare tickets or vouchers that were handed out to the poor to authorise their receipt of food under the Temporary Relief Act (a.k.a. the Soup Kitchens Act), which were printed by Alex Thom of Dublin and bear the British royal coat of arms.

A rare collection of books is to be opened to the public for the first time. The Servite Priory in Benburb, Co. Tyrone, has an important library housing about 20,000 rare and historical manuscripts and books, some dating back to the sixteenth century. Thanks to a grant from the UK Heritage Lottery Fund, the collection can now be expertly conserved. The three-year project will see the books and manuscripts gathered from five different sites in the monastery’s grounds and housed in a specially designed museum in its Victorian stables, which will be open to the public.

The next Israeli leader of the opposition will be the son of a man born in Belfast. By coincidence, the Israeli general election was held on St Patrick’s Day, with the Labour Party being led by Isaac Herzog, son of Chaim, the Irish-born former Israeli president. I reported last year that the Blue Plaque in Belfast commemorating his birthplace had to be removed after it was vandalised. Now that things have quiet-ened down between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Ulster History Circle has been requested to restore it.

In Waterford the City and County Council have decided to name the N25 bridge over the River Suir in honour of Thomas Francis Meagher. He is credited with bringing the green, white and orange tricolour, now the national flag, to Ireland. Later he served in the American Civil War, became a friend of President Abraham Lincoln and was appointed governor of Montana. The 1848 Tricolour Celebration Committee (1848tricolour.com) can now indeed celebrate, as they had campaigned to have the bridge named after Meagher.

In something like the archaeological equivalent of looking down the back of the sofa, archaeologists recently made a fascinating discovery behind the rock formation known as St Patrick’s Chair near Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo. They found about 250 petroglyphs, or stone carvings. The inscribed panel is just the second rock art sample to be found west of the Shannon and consists of spiral and circular patterns believed to represent the ‘rolling sun’ phenomenon, when in April and August the setting sun appears to glide down the side of Croagh Patrick.

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