Sidelines

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2016), News, Volume 24

By Tony Canavan

The general election can’t be too far off, as it looks like Fine Gael is selling off its heirlooms to help pay for it. Recently an original ‘Fine Gael Blueshirt’ from the 1930s was sold at auction in Dublin for €1,400. It was described in Whyte’s catalogue as a ‘blue cotton military-style shirt with epaulettes and breast pockets and embroidered shield-shaped Fine Gael badge stitched to the left breast; together with a blue cotton uniform belt’. While the auctioneers did not name the vendor or the buyer, they said that it had attracted considerable interest from TDs and senators. Such blue shirts were worn by members of the Army Comrades’ Association—hence their popular name, the ‘Blueshirts’—established in 1932 by supporters of the outgoing Cumann na nGaedheal government.

 

  • Kents Cavern is a cave system in Torquay, England, notable for its archaeological and geological features. A prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was discovered in the cavern during a 1927 excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society (now on display in Torquay Museum). In 2011 an analysis identified the jaw fragment as belonging to Homo sapiens, making it the earliest modern human fossil yet discovered in north-western Europe. There is an Irish connection, as in 1825 William Buckland, the first Reader in Geology at the University of Oxford, sent a party including Fr John MacEnery to explore the caves. MacEnery, the Catholic chaplain to the Cary family of Torre Abbey, conducted systematic excavations between 1824 and 1829. When he reported to the British Association the discovery of flint tools below the stalagmites on the cave floor, his work was derided as contrary to Bishop James Ussher’s biblical chronology dating the Creation to 4004 BC. MacEnery concluded that the Palaeolithic flint tools that he found in the same context as the bones of extinct prehistoric mammals meant that early humans and creatures such as mammoths coexisted. He left Torquay and died at the early age of 43. His findings were not published until 1859, when William Pengelly made them public, paving the way for the development of the theory of evolution.

 

 

  • The cabin from the Quest in which the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton died has been brought to Ireland and will be on display to the public. Shackleton had returned to South Georgia en route for a final expedition to the Antarctic when he died on 5 January 1922. He was buried in South Georgia but the Quest, the ship that he planned to use on the expedition, passed into other ownership, eventually sinking off the Labrador coast in 1962. Its Norwegian owner, however, had already removed Shackleton’s cabin and installed it on his farm in the far north of Norway, where it was used as a kind of summer-house. Corkman Eugene Furlong recently learned of its existence and persuaded the cabin’s current owner, Ulfe Bakke, to donate it to the Shackleton Autumn School in County Kildare.

 

 

  • It is funny how one thing can lead to another. A request by academics under the British Freedom of Information Act (FOI) revealed just how secretive the British state can be and for how long information can be kept from the public domain. While seeking information on police activity during the northern Troubles, it came to light that details of a Special Branch investigation into Charles Stewart Parnell, the nineteenth-century Irish statesman, were only released under the FOI in 2002. To this day, however, the names of those who provided information on Parnell and the amounts paid to them are still a state secret.

 

 

  • An auction late last year caused a fuss when a 1795 long-case clock was sold for €115,000. The fuss arose because the clock had once belonged to Leinster House, long before it became home to the Oireachtas. It passed through various hands before being loaned to Leinster House again in 2007, but not for long, as the modern central heating system there damaged it. Much merriment was derived from the fact that the clock’s chimes play ‘God Save the Queen’, although if it dates from 1795 surely it plays ‘God Save the King’.
  • The Titanic continues to make the news more than a century after its sinking. The latest story concerns the sale at auction for £130,000 of a presentation silver cup awarded to the captain of the SS Carpathia, Arthur Henry Roston. It was a gift from wealthy American socialite Margaret Brown, better known as ‘the unsinkable Molly Brown’ on account of her surviving the disaster. Captain Roston’s ship rescued 705 passengers in the hours after the Titanic went down.

 

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