BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2019), News, Volume 27

BY TONY CANAVAN

Alcock and Brown return to Clifden

The two men who made aviation history by becoming the first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic are returning to the landing spot in the west of Ireland where their plane touched down 100 years ago. A statue of John Alcock and Arthur Brown that normally resides in Heathrow Airport has been taken to Clifden, Co. Galway, to play a central role in celebrations marking the centenary of the first non-stop transatlantic crossing. Alcock and Brown set off in a Vickers biplane from St John’s in Newfoundland on 14 June 1919. They flew through thick fog, heavy snow and driving rain in an open cockpit with no means to keep warm or to communicate, either with each other or with the outside world. Just under sixteen hours after they left Canada they saw the Aran Islands and made for the nearby coast. They decided to land on what they thought was a smooth green field but was in fact Derrygimleigh bog, 7km south of Clifden. They landed safely but their plane quickly sank into the ground. The committee organising the celebrations thought of commissioning a new statue of Alcock and Brown but decided that it was cheaper to borrow the one from Heathrow Airport.

Johnston’s motor car found

The remnants of a legendary car used by the IRA in the War of Independence and immortalised in the song Johnston’s Motor Car may have been uncovered under a turf stack in County Donegal. Retired Ballybofey businessman Cathal McHugh believes that he has found the last remaining parts of the old Ford, which was commandeered by the IRA and used in an operation almost 100 years ago. The car belonged to Stranorlar-based doctor Henry Maturin Johnston, a prominent unionist. An IRA unit needed to transfer arms from Falcarragh to Dungloe in April 1921. As Dr Johnston had the best car in the county, it was decided to use his. He was lured to the Reeling Bridge in Glenfin outside Ballybofey, where four IRA men—Henry McGowan, Jim McCarron, Charles Doherty and Willie Tom McMenamin—seized the vehicle. The event was later put to song using the lyrics of a poem written by Ballybofey poet William Gillespie. Johnston’s Motor Car was popular in the 1960s and ’70s and was recorded by the Dubliners, the Clancy Brothers and Flying Column. The car itself disappeared for almost a century until discovered earlier this year by Mr McHugh. He explains that, ‘after the operation, the IRA tried to return the car to Dr Johnston but he refused. They thought if the British army got it, it would be used as evidence against them so they hid it. Two black horses were used to tow it to a field where it was covered with a turf stack and stayed there ever since.’ Mr McHugh hopes to have it removed to a museum as an exhibit.

EPIC has been voted Europe’s leading tourist attraction

The Irish emigration museum EPIC has been voted Europe’s leading tourist attraction by tourism professionals and consumers worldwide. The three-year-old museum in Dublin’s docklands beat the likes of Buckingham Palace, the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum. On hearing the news, EPIC founder Neville Isdell said: ‘I have always believed that the story of Irish people around the world was worth telling, and so I founded EPIC. When we opened in 2016, we had a vision to create a local museum that could connect globally. It’s very important that we honour the Irish diaspora abroad and recognize the vital contributions and monumental impact Irish people have made worldwide.’ The interactive museum based in Dublin’s CHQ building expects to welcome over 300,000 visitors this year.

Above: Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States. The whitewashed cottage of his parents has just reopened in Boneybefore, Co. Antrim.

From whitewashed cottage to the White House

The Andrew Jackson Cottage has reopened to the public following a £250,000 make-over. The whitewashed cottage, named after the seventh president of the United States, was built in the 1750s in Boneybefore near Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, where Jackson’s parents lived before they left for a new life in America. Their original cottage was demolished in 1860 to make way for a railway, but the current cottage is in the same place and similar to what the Jacksons would have lived in. Renovation works entailed replacing and repairing the traditional wooden beams, restoring the façade, installing new paving along the outside, damp repairs, installation of new heated flooring and the restoration of the traditional thatched roof. A specialist tradesman had to be brought in to carry out the thatching. The Andrew Jackson Cottage is located beside the US Rangers Museum, which was renovated last year. In a further twist, the council has applied for the Andrew Jackson Cottage to be approved for civil marriages and partnerships.

A 24-hour museum for London proving costly

The cost of creating a new home for the Museum of London has leapt by a third to £332m, making it Britain’s most expensive cultural building project. With artefacts ranging from prehistoric axeheads to a giant ‘fatberg’ from the capital’s sewers, the museum hopes to become one of London’s top ten attractions when it relocates from Barbican to Farringdon. The £80 million increase in cost has been attributed to the state of disrepair of the disused Smithfield market buildings that the museum is taking over. The plans include making the building a 24-hour destination, with one of the potential late-night venues being a café and bar on the site of a nineteenth-century coffee house. Expected features will include a dome on top of the market being lifted above a set of spiral escalators that will twist underground, carrying visitors into the rooms that used to store produce when it was a working market. There are also proposals to link the spaces below ground via a tunnel to a sunken garden and a well reaching down to the waters of the River Fleet, which flows beneath the streets of Farringdon.

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