Sidelines

Published in Editorial, Issue 4 (July/August 2015), Volume 23

At a recent auction in London a set of the insignia of the Order of St Patrick, the British state order for Ireland, was sold for €29,800, well above the estimate. Originally the regalia of Lord Houghton when he was lord lieutenant of Ireland in the 1890s, the set consists of the star and badge of a knight of St Patrick. The order was suspended in 1922 and Houghton’s regalia disappeared from public view until the death last year of Mary, Duchess of Roxborough, Lord Houghton’s daughter, who died aged 99; they were found in her bank vault.


To mark Yeats 150, a US-based lawyer, Joseph Hassett, has generously donated €30,000 to reopen the poet’s old home of Thoor Ballylee, a sixteenth-century tower house on the Cloon River in south Galway. Yeats, who bought it in 1916, wrote some of his most famous poems there. It was partly open to the public until 2009 when it was severely damaged when the river flooded. Thanks to the donation, the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society plans to develop it as a cultural centre.


Annagassan, Co. Louth, proudly boasts of being the site of the first Viking
settlement in Ireland (are you listening, Waterford?) and each year it celebrates that heritage with a large-scale re-enactment of the Viking landing. The Louth town has been approached by Catoira in Galicia, Spain, to celebrate together their Viking heritage. It turns out that the Spanish town also has a re-enactment of a Viking landing, although theirs was a raid beaten off by local warriors. So another historical link between Ireland and Spain will be commemorated in a series of annual events involving the two towns.


The Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce, being nominating bodies to the board of the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF), have called on the government to intervene urgently to prevent the sale by the ABF of Old Master paintings from Russborough House, Co. Wicklow. Sir Alfred and Lady Beit’s gift to Ireland, intended for the enjoyment of the Irish people, comprises one of the greatest art collections ever assembled in Ireland in one of the country’s finest eighteenth-century houses. The government is being urged to find a solution to keep the Beits’ legacy intact.


Who knows what will turn up in a museum? Following a BBC investigation into the help given to Loyalist murder gangs by the security forces, it emerged that a rifle used by one such gang in the killing of five people in an attack in 1992 is a key exhibit in the Imperial War Museum. The gun itself was supplied to the Loyalists by Brian Nelson, a Special Branch/MI5 agent, and the families of the victims were told that the gun had been destroyed. And they don’t even recognise what was happening in the North as a war.


The United States has just returned 25 looted ancient artefacts to Italy after they were spotted in an auction catalogue. The items vary from first-century Etruscan vases and precious books to a seventeenth-century bronze cannon. It is not clear when the items were stolen but they ended up in museums and private collections. The Americans assure us that the items were voluntarily returned once it was pointed out that they were stolen.


The price of houses may be on the rise again but it seems that the value of sailing ships has fallen. One consequence of the abolition of the Dublin Docklands Authority is that its assets, which are being transferred to Dublin City Council, have all been reassessed for valuation purposes. One such asset is the Jeanie Johnston, the replica Famine ship that was built in the 1990s at a cost of €15m. It was sold by Kerry County Council to the Docklands Authority in 2005 for only €2.7m, however, and today is valued at a mere €700,000. What’s more, it costs €240,000 per annum to maintain it as a tourist attraction on the Liffey.


Enoch Powell famously said that all political careers end in failure, and this seems to apply to the afterlife of politicians too. Alfie Byrne was one of Dublin’s most popular politicians, elected lord mayor ten times in the 1920s and 1930s. He has a road in Clontarf named after him, and in 1990 the council commissioned a memorial to go there in the form of a carved wooden bench. The bench was sculpted by Andrew St Leger, who worked on the Jeanie Johnston’s figurehead (see above). It has been decided, however, to remove the memorial because it has deteriorated so badly, owing to a combination of salty air and the council’s neglect. Sic transit gloria mundi.


At a moving ceremony in Belfast last May, victims of the Great Famine were commemorated. What made the occasion all the more poignant was that it took place in a graveyard on the Loyalist Shankill Road. There is a common misconception among many Protestants that only Catholics died in the Famine, but the plaque that was unveiled at the ceremony remembers the many people from the Shankill area who died at that time.

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