Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2010), News, Volume 18

  • Down may have lost the All-Ireland final last September but they remain the GAA’s champions of fashion. In 1960 they were the first team whose substitutes wore tracksuits in an All-Ireland final. The reason was not dress sense but common sense, as it made it easier for players to strip off and go on the field immediately. But Down were always fashion-conscious. Until 1922 they wore a red jersey, before changing to blue and white. The familiar red and black strip came in 1933, and in 1962 they made history in being the first team to wear non-white shorts. Until then all teams wore white shorts, but Down broke the mould and wore black to make the players more recognisable to each other.
  • Along with ghost estates and zombie hotels our road network may leave archaeologists of the future puzzled, if a new discovery is anything to go by. Bord na Móna has uncovered an ancient oak road in County Tipperary. The road is built of oak planks laid across other oak beams and gravel. It runs parallel to a modern road but the archaeologists are at a loss to explain just why it was built. Other finds in the same area, such as daggers and swords, indicate that this was a busy location in the Bronze Age. Strangely, though, there is no evidence that the road was ever used by wheeled vehicles or anything else. Sound familiar?
  •  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fr James McDyer, who instigated the Glencomcille Cooperative in Donegal in the 1960s in order to tackle the shocking rates of emigration from the parish. Two of the cooperative’s most successful ventures were the setting up of self-catering holiday cottages and a museum of country life from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. These and other ventures supported by Fr McDyer provided much-needed employment in the area, and they are still going strong today.
  •  America may have the world’s most notorious prison in Alcatraz but we can proudly boast of Spike Island. At least, that is what Cork County Council wants us to do. It has started guided tours of Ireland’s infamous island prison. There is a huge amount of history there, from early Viking settlement to being a British fort and then a prison. Some of Ireland’s most famous patriots were held here, not to mention thousands of ordinary prisoners over the decades. The prison’s infrastructure is intact, so you can still see cell-blocks, gun emplacements and fortifications. A nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
  • An almost forgotten pioneer of Irish aviation, Lillian Bland (1877–1972), was honoured recently in a quiet ceremony when the Ulster Aviation Society, represented by Kate Welsh, and Lillian Bland’s great-nephew, Revd Edward Pratt, laid wreaths on Lillian’s grave in the Cornwall town of Sennen. Louis Blériot’s 1909 cross-channel flight inspired her to build her own biplane glider, the Mayfly, which successfully left the ground on Carnmoney Hill, Co. Antrim, with four RIC men hanging on to its wings. She then installed a 20hp engine for powered flight. In 1912 she left for the open skies of Canada but in 1935 retired to Cornwall, where she lived out the remainder of her life.
  • Two figures of Irish and British history come together in a rare donation to the National Library of Ireland: a ship’s pass dated 29 September 1687, signed by both King James II (then the duke of York and lord high admiral) and Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, who was also secretary to the admiralty. It provided safe passage for the merchant vessel the Mary of Cork, which left Dublin in 1687 bound for the Canary Islands with a cargo of salted Irish beef to trade for sugar and Malvasia, a fortified white wine. It was acquired by the Dublin Port and Docks Board in 1924, and was presented to the National Library of Ireland by Enda Connellan, CEO of Dublin Port Company. It is one of the few known examples of seventeenth-century ships’ passes in the world, with others in the National Archives and the National Maritime Museum in London.
  •  A new memorial garden was opened recently in Campile, Co. Wexford, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the village. It is located on the site of the Shelburne co-op and creamery, which was bombed on 26 August 1940 by the Luftwaffe, killing three people. The Campile Historical Society and Campile Development Committee set up the Campile Memorial Group to provide the garden. The artwork, designed by Ciaran O’Brien, is of rare Breccia Medicia marble and was carved on location in Cararra, Italy. Local dignitaries and even the German ambassador, Busso von Alvensleben, attended. So no hard feelings, then.
  •  A mysterious theft took place in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Someone has walked off with a Royal Irish Constabulary uniform. Complete with helmet, badge and ceremonial sword, the uniform was taken from its cabinet by smash-and-grab thieves. Who took it and why remain unknown, but the present-day Northern Ireland police are appealing for witnesses. So the next time you are at a fancy dress party, keep your eyes open. You never know . . .
  • Recently the Association Typographique Internationale held its annual conference in Dublin. One interesting fact revealed during the conference was that in 1571 a printing press with a font of Irish type was made in London and paid for by Queen Elizabeth I. Taken to Dublin by John Kerney and Nicholas Walsh, it produced the first book printed in Ireland, a catechism written by Kerney. Something else we can thank the English for!
  • It’s all change at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. The premises on Belfast’s Balmoral Avenue has closed down so that the archives can be moved lock, stock and barrel to new purpose-built offices in the city’s Titanic Quarter, the regeneration project around the old shipyards. If all goes well, the new premises will open to the public in April next year.

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