Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/June 2010), News, Volume 18

  • Last issue we reported a gaffe by the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now President McAleese has made a bit of a blunder. On a recent trip to Turkey to honour Irish soldiers who died there in World War I, she recalled Ireland’s links with the former Ottoman Empire. In particular she cited the example of Sultan Abdul Majid, who sent three shiploads of food to Drogheda during the Great Famine. In gratitude the town included the Turkish star and crescent in its coat of arms. The Turkish guests at the event looked puzzled, and locals in Drogheda were equally bemused when the story reached them. There is no record of any such shipment reaching Ireland from Turkey, and the town’s coat of arms has had a star and crescent since 1210. Oh dear, our president has been embarrassed on the international stage because of careless research by her staff. Next time she wants to refer to a historical event in a speech, her researchers might run it by us.
  •  Yet more of our heritage went under the hammer as Mealy & Adams auctioned memorabilia from the War of Independence, including the cap badge worn by Michael Collins when he was killed and the letter written by Kevin Barry the night before he was hanged by the British. What price our freedom? Well, the Barry letter sold for over €100,000, bought by the son of a man named in the letter.
  •  In the last issue Museum Eye was not overly impressed by the new-look Ulster Museum. Showing that not everyone follows my lead, the museum is doing rather well in an e-vote for the ArtFund Prize 2010 for museums and galleries. This is a UK-wide competition for the best museum or gallery. At last count it was ahead with a vote of over 25%. Just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste or for who votes in e-polls. Or could it be that I’m out of touch?
  •  Police in Northern Ireland are investigating the suspicious death of John Beresford-Ash of Ashbrook House outside Derry. He was a scion of one of Ulster’s oldest Plantation gentry families. His ancestor was granted land in Derry by Queen Elizabeth I. General Ash built the first Ashbrook house in the seventeenth century but it was burned down by Jacobites during the siege of Derry in 1689. Another ancestor, Michael Browning, was captain of the Mountjoy, the ship that broke the boom across the River Foyle, so ending the siege. Ashbrook House was targeted a number of times during the Troubles and the elderly Beresford-Ash had his own run-in with the IRA. His death marks the passing of one of the last of the old unionist gentry. May he rest in peace.
  •  Over the border in Donegal, a cannon salvaged from the wreck of the Laurentic has been put on public display on Downings pier. The luxury ship was built by Harland & Wolff in 1908. Converted to a merchant cruiser on the outbreak of the First World War, it was sunk by a German mine. What’s more, it went down with a cargo of gold bullion on board. Most of the gold was taken off the wreck in the 1920s, but a reputed twenty gold ingots are still there, 39m down in Lough Swilly. Their value today is estimated at around €8m, so the wreck’s owners are keeping a close eye on it.
  •  To be honest, Official Ireland has shown scant regard for our heritage to date. Think only of Dublin’s Wood Quay and the motorway passing through Tara. But environment minister, John Gormley, has submitted a shortlist of Irish places to UNESCO for consideration as World Heritage sites. Seven sites in the Republic have been shortlisted, including Georgian Dublin (what’s left of it) and Clonmacnoise. But don’t hold your breath: Killarney National Park, Cashel and Clara Bog were all submitted to UNESCO in 1992 and we’re still waiting for an answer.
  •  The internet is becoming an increasingly important resource for researchers, and now another archive of valuable records is available online. Depositions of survivors of the 1641 Rising, mainly from Ulster, were collected for years after the event and were used to support stories of massacres committed by both sides. The depositions on the website were collected between 1642 and 1653 from both Catholics and Protestants. They can now be accessed at the Trinity College website,
  •  The Ulster Museum has added a further dimension to its upgrading with the reopening of its art gallery. It features more than 170 paintings, covering four centuries’ worth of art from Ireland and beyond. This is the final phase in the refurbishment and overhaul of Northern Ireland’s regional museum.
  •  OMG! WTF! (as the people who undoubtedly voted for them might say), but the latest list of top ten Irish people of all time has raised a few eyebrows and caused many to choke on their cornflakes. The list, organised by RTÉ, was chosen by the public voting online. It is a sad reflection of the education and historical knowledge of young folk today that the list excludes the likes of Daniel O’Connell and Patrick Sarsfield but includes Bono and Adi Roche. What can we say . . . ?

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