Sidelines

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2016), News, Volume 24

by Tony Canavan

What on the face of it seems a petty quarrel could scupper state funding for a museum dedicated to Dublin life 100 years ago. Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin says that he will not provide funding for a museum at 14 Henrietta Street if it is not called the ‘Tenement Museum’. Dublin City Council, which is behind the scheme, apparently wants to call the museum the ‘Townhouse Museum’, even though its purpose is to depict the early Georgian building as a tenement, housing numerous poor families by the early twentieth century. Unless the dispute is resolved, €1.5m in funding could be lost to the project. Readers may remember that Museum Eye reported on 14 Henrietta Street in HI 21.4 (July/Aug. 2013).

  • The official commemorations of the 1916 Rising have not avoided the odd hiccup here and there, and now the Central Bank of Ireland has committed another faux pas in its special €2 coin, which commemorates the Rising, by depicting an image of the statue of Hibernia on top of the GPO. The problem is that Hibernia is a mon-archist symbol, meant to be the Irish counterpart to Britannia and representing the kingdom of Ireland as the sister kingdom of Great Britain. When Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation outside the GPO, he was rejecting everything that Hibernia, on the plinth above him, stood for.
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  • Genetic research has again altered our perception of human history. It seems that most non-Africans possess 1–6% Neanderthal DNA. Scientists believe that this is accounted for by sexual encounters between ancient humans and Neanderthals over 40,000 years ago. While it is believed that Neanderthal DNA boosts the human immune system, that comes with a price, as people carrying Neanderthal DNA are more likely to suffer from allergies such as asthma and hay fever. All this comes from research that is part of the impressively named 1,000 Genomes Project.
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  • The National Archives is getting an €8m overhaul courtesy of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The improvements will mean that the building will be able to properly house 137,000 archival boxes containing four million records, reckoned to consist of 100m pages. At present these precious records of government papers, police files and even 1916 Rising material are stored on pallets in a warehouse on the site of the old Jacob’s biscuit factory in Bishop Street, Dublin, with no climate control.The library in one of Ireland’s oldest Catholic grammar schools (and my own Alma Mater), St Malachy’s College, Belfast, is to benefit to the tune of £592,500 in the form of a grant from the UK’s Heritage Lottery Fund. The money will be used to conserve and catalogue the college’s collection of 6,000 books, pamphlets, manuscripts and periodicals, as well as making them available to researchers. It will also enable the library to promote its lesser-known history, such as its links with the United Irishmen and the anti-slavery movement. Among the library’s collection are eighteenth-century diaries and letters from Patrick Pearse and Michael Collins. St Malachy’s College was founded in 1833 and its library is named after a nineteenth-century dean of the college, Monsignor James O’Laverty.
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  • The issue of political correctness and the portrayal of history arose recently when the American publisher Scholastic withdrew a picture-book about George Washington and his slaves following protests. In A birthday cake for George Washington, his slaves, Hercules and his daughter Delia, are depicted as being proud of baking a cake for the president’s birthday. The main criticism is that the book paints an untrue picture of slavery and sentimentalises a brutal part of American history. Although the author, Ramon Ganeshram, provides notes to the text, placing the story in its historical context and explaining that Hercules eventually escaped, critics argue that those details should be in the main narrative. A trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, labelled the book ‘an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery’.
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  • An enigmatic figure in life, Lawrence of Arabia has left a bit of a mystery behind him in Belfast. A stash of photographs of the First World War hero has turned up in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Long forgotten, the photographs, depicting Lawrence in his army uniform and Arab dress, were recently discovered. It seems that they belonged originally to Harford Montgomery Hyde, the Belfast-born biographer of Lawrence. He donated them to the PRONI but they were stored away. One photograph shows Lawrence on the much-loved motorbike that he was riding when he had his fatal accident in May 1935.

    The discovery of the tomb of the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent in Hungary is a reminder that Ireland is not the only country with a tangled imperial past. In 1566, when he was 72, he ruled an empire that stretched from Algiers to Budapest, taking in North Africa and a swathe of southern Europe. In that year he launched a campaign against the Holy Roman Empire but met his death at Szigetvar Castle in modern-day Hungary, where he had amassed a huge army to crush a rebellion by Croats against Ottoman rule. His body was buried in Istanbul but his heart was interred in a tomb where he died, and it is this that archaeologists believe they have discovered. The discovery has raised questions about Hungary’s history, its occupation by the Ottoman Empire and how that experience helped shape the nation today.

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