Sidelines

Published in Editorial, Issue 5 (September/October 2015), Volume 23

Henry VIII was a fat, adulterous heretic! I can now say that without fear of prosecution because the centuries-old law protecting that king, along with almost 6,000 other laws, has finally been repealed as part of a tidying-up exercise. This is the second time, the last being in 2005, that the Oireachtas has passed an act that wipes from the statute book many outmoded laws dating from the era of British rule. The laws mostly date from the seventeenth century but some are as recent as the 1820s. Of course, a proclamation from 1817 stating that potatoes and oatmeal should be restricted to the ‘lower orders’ might be useful in tackling obesity.


It has long been a standing joke that there is a huge discrepancy between those claiming to have been in the GPO in Easter Week 1916 and the actual number who were there (or, indeed, that the building could hold). The question would seem to have been settled definitively once and for all thanks to the military pensions archive. It seems that 2,558 people applied for a pension on foot of having taken part in the 1916 Rising. They came from across the country but only 508 are deemed to have actually been in the GPO during that fateful week.


The opening in Belfast of a Museum of Orange Heritage has raised some eyebrows and the occasional voice of protest. (I expect we’ll see it reviewed in ‘Museum Eye’ soon.) In a city where flags matter, the flying of flags outside the museum has caused some controversy. The flags on display represent every country in which the Orange Order has lodges, such as the USA, New Zealand and Canada—even Ghana and Togo. One flag, however, is noticeable by its absence: that of Ireland. A spokesman for the Order has said that its members in the Republic of Ireland feel represented by the Union Jack, so there is no need for the Tricolour.


It sounds like something from an American TV show, but forensic archaeologists have been searching for a body in Cork Prison, to locate the burial place of Thomas Kent. A member of the Volunteers, he was court-martialled and executed for his part in a gun battle that occurred on the first day of the 1916 Rising. It happened at his family home in Bawnard, Castlelyons, Co. Cork. Kent’s brother, Richard, and an RIC officer were killed in the fight. Kent was executed by firing squad on 9 May and buried in an unmarked grave. Using DNA from present-day family members, his remains have been identified and a state funeral is planned for 18 September in Cork.

A retiree got more than a golden handshake when he was using his metal-detector on Murlough beach, Co. Down. While looking for remains of US army activity there from the Second World War, Brian Murray uncovered two ornate gold rings and one silver buckle. These were identified by the Ulster Museum as being Roman, from the fourth or fifth century AD. Normally the finder would get some reward for such treasure trove, but complications about the legal status of the beach are holding things up.


Nevil Shute is famous for writing such novels as A town like Alice and On the beach, but it seems that he was introduced to real-life drama at an early age. His father, Arthur Hamilton Norway (Nevil dropped the Norway for his books), was head of the postal service in Ireland, based at the GPO. The family was at their home, a suite in the Royal Hibernian Hotel, when the Rising broke out. Young Nevil was only seventeen but volunteered to go out with the Red Cross to help casualties of the fighting. His parents lost track of him, bar one enigmatic phone call, and were afraid that he had been killed or captured by rebels. When the fighting was over, however, he returned home safe and sound. Interestingly, it was not the future novelist but his mother, Mrs Hamilton Norway, who wrote an account of events in her book The Sinn Féin rebellion as I saw it.


A piece of Ireland’s engineering history got a make-over recently with the restoration of three towers on the ‘Great Wall’ of the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down. Situated on Slieve Commedagh, Slieve Meelmore and Slieve Donard, the towers were built 100 years ago as part of the 22-mile wall marking the boundary of the watershed which fed the dams to provide Belfast with water. The squat structures have been restored at a cost of £64,000 and will provide resting places for people walking in the Mournes. In its day, the Belfast water-supply scheme was an outstanding engineering feat, and later the importance of keeping Belfast’s water supply under Northern Ireland’s control was a key feature of the partition negotiations.

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