Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2015), News, Volume 23

By Tony Canavan

The truth of a local story about the 1588 Spanish Armada is soon to be scientifically tested when archaeologists use the latest technology to examine remains in St Cuthbert’s graveyard near Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim. This iconic castle is already steeped in legend, but one story that persists is that 200 sailors from the ill-fated La Girona that sank nearby are buried there. There were 1,300 souls on board and only nine survivors when the ship was smashed on rocks during a storm. A geophysical survey will be undertaken of a large unmarked plot there in the hopes that it will solve once and for all the mystery of where 200 of La Girona’s crew found their final resting place.

  • Drink is a curse, as a museum in Taiwan found out recently. A twelve-year-old boy was visiting the museum with a can of cola in his hand when he slipped, punching a hole in a €1.3m canvas with the can. Painted by Paolo Porpora, it was part of an exhibition of 55 of the finest pieces of modern art from around the world. The boy’s mishap, and subsequent embarrassment, was all caught on CCTV and of course became a hit on YouTube. The boy’s family didn’t offer to pay for the damage but the insurance will cover it. Still, why was someone drinking cola allowed into the museum in the first place?
  • As well as causing massive disruption to traffic, the ongoing Luas works keep uncovering secrets from Dublin’s past. The latest find was at the Broadstone Dublin Bus garage and consisted of victims of the notorious 1832 cholera epidemic. Thousands died of the disease across Europe, and most of Dublin’s victims were buried in Bully’s Acre, near Kilmainham’s Royal Hospital, but when space ran out an alternative site was found in an area between Grangegorman and Broadstone. Maria Fitzgerald, chief architect of the Luas works, has identified these remains as those of burials that were moved from the 1832 graves during railway works in the 1870s. That means that these people have twice been disturbed. So much for the dead resting in peace!
  • Following the recent success of our boxers in the European championships, a famous boxer from an earlier age has been honoured in Belfast. Rinty Monaghan, a flyweight, was the first boxer from the city to become a world champion when he defeated Jackie Paterson from Scotland in 1948. In all, he took four major titles—British, European, Commonwealth and World. He was a character in his own right, famous for his renditions of ‘When Irish eyes are smiling’ after his victories. A statue of him was unveiled at an official ceremony in Belfast’s Cathedral Gardens, York Street.
  • Last year I reported on plans to reopen the Gobbins path in County Antrim. The work is now complete and the path, along with a new information centre, has already received hundreds of visitors. ‘Path’ does not do justice to this elaborate construction of walkways and bridges that hugs the cliffs and goes through tunnels in Island Magee. Described as a ‘white-knuckle’ walk, in Edwardian times it was a bigger draw than the Giant’s Causeway. The brainchild of Berkeley Deane Wise, it was designed to be a source of recreation for the workers of Belfast and it was an instant success. More modern attractions meant that the path became neglected, and it was officially abandoned 50 years ago. Its modern potential was recognised, however, and £7.5m has been spent on restoring it to its former glory. Already visitors from England, Italy and further afield have visited it. While 100 years ago men in straw boaters and women in flowing dresses strode the path unaided, the modern visitor must wear a harness and helmet and be accompanied by a guide.
  • In what may be a controversial move, the government has decided to hang portraits of prominent campaigners for Home Rule in Leinster House. Pictures of Isaac Butt, John Redmond and John Dillon will join that of Charles Stuart Parnell, where they will complement a copy of William Drummond Young’s Irish House of Commons, 1914, the men who made Home Rule, painted to celebrate the passing of the Home Rule Act.

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