Authors Posts by Shea Tomkins

Shea Tomkins

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    By Con McGrath

    When war puts fathers and sons in the same battle, one question is inevitable: Will either or both survive?


    In the closing stages of World War Two, an Irish-American family by the name of Fenton, encountered first hand that very question. This occurred when Colonel (later Brigadier General) Francis I. Fenton, as well as his son Mike, were sent to fight on the Pacific island of Okinawa.


    The subsequent fighting which occurred here between the Imperial Japanese Army, and the United States Marine and Army forces, was long and bloody.


    Regretfully, young Mike Fenton lost his life in the fight. A photograph, taken of Col. Fenton attending the burial of his son, remains one of the most poignant images to come out of that period of history.


    Francis Ivan Fenton was born 11 Aug 1892. In August 1917, during World War One, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. It would prove to be the beginning of his career in the Marine Forces.


    Francis I. Fenton married Mary Kelly. The couple would have two sons: Francis I. Fenton who was born on September 29th, 1922 in Los Angeles County, California; and Michael James ‘Mike’ Fenton who was born on November 30th, 1925 in Solano County, California. The boys were raised Irish Catholic and instilled with a love of their country and their heritage.


    As a career Marine officer, Francis I. Fenton, Sr., would be deployed for any amount of time, or the family may be together but would move every few years. The 1930 US Census shows the family living on the Navy Base in Guam in the Pacific.


    Francis I. Fenton, Sr., gradually rose through the ranks and by World War Two, he became division engineer officer of the 1st Marine Division in July 1944. With this unit, Fenton won a Bronze Star for duty at the Battle of Peleliu before landing on Okinawa.

    WHILE Colonel Fenton advanced to higher command, his younger son, Michael, enlisted in the Marine Corps on August 17, 1943, and joined B Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division – the same division in which his father commanded the engineers. Reportedly turning down a commission so he could fight at the front, Michael served as a scout-sniper on the island of Okinawa.


    Father and son met once during the fighting when their paths crossed at a partially destroyed Okinawan farmhouse. After exchanging news from home, including information on Michael’s older brother, Francis, Jr., who had been commissioned a Marine officer in 1941, the two family members returned to their work.


    They would never talk again.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      For 50 years Sunday Miscellany has provided the nation with its musings, music and most importantly memories, writes Eileen Casey.

      When Sunday Miscellany’s first radio broadcast went on air in November 1968, a reviewer declared it a ‘dead-zone’ and that ‘it would never take off’.


      Time has proven that nothing could be further from the truth. Fifty years on, supported by The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany is now in the top ten of radio favourites. Those familiar with the programme are committed fans.
      From the moment the programme’s signature music (Galliard Ballagia)plays its glorious opening notes to the final credits, this totally engaging radio show creates a textured delight of ‘mind pictures’.

      Radio by its nature, undoubtedly provides an intimate space, a one-to-one relationship between the voice and the listener, but to keep that listener on board the 700-800 word essay must grab and hold the attention from the very beginning. On Sunday Miscellany, the author reads his/her own work which adds an extra layer of enjoyment.


      I ask Sarah Binchy, the current producer of the programme, to try and define a typical gem. However, even before the question is asked I know that the answer will not be definitive, that although gems are sifted from the huge submission postbag, their appeal isn’t easily pinned down. For one thing, there’s no formula as such.

      “The pieces we receive are really akin to a portrait of the country through the prism of writing,” this confident, friendly, young woman tells me and yes, that’s a solid enough definition but I’d like a bit more, so I press her further.


      “A piece is more than the sum of its parts,” she adds but, sensing I’m still not completely satisfied, she elaborates; “a piece can be funny, wry, nostalgic…or sometimes, as they come to me, scripts speak to each other, a conversation is begun which usually translates to a very satisfying, organic programme.


      “There’s a synchronism about the selection also,” she adds, warming to her subject. “Sometimes I’ll think of a theme and lo and behold, pieces focused on that theme will start appearing.”


      She also cites the importance of having an accessible style and of course being in touch with what’s topical (housing problems for example are current at the moment). However, that’s not to rule out nostalgic memory pieces, which are popular with listeners.


      “Or travel writing, personal accounts of events and happenings, reportage, appreciations, poetry.” Although poetry is a relatively recent addition to the programme, it’s proving to be a highlight.


      One such contributor poet is Jane Clarke, who says that while growing up, “Sunday Miscellany was the soundtrack to the Sunday morning tasks before church.”

      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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        By Eamonn Duggan

        The best known and probably the most notorious of the ‘Big Four’ was undoubtedly Dan Breen who managed to maintain a presence in Irish republicanism for decades even beyond the War of Independence and the Civil War as a Fianna Fáil member of Dáil Éireann. He was totally committed to the republican ideal throughout his life and he abhorred the very notion that there should be any British influence on the island of Ireland.


        Dan Breen was born on 11 August, 1894, in Grange, Donohill, County Tipperary, into a very poor family and he lost his father when he was just six years old. He had a minimal education in the local school before becoming a plasterer and subsequently a linesman with the Great Southern Railway.


        He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and he always saw himself as “a soldier first and foremost” and he would become an iconic figure in both the War of Independence and the Civil War.


        Breen’s first involvement in the independence conflict came on 21 January, 1919, when he participated in the Soloheadbeg ambush of a RIC convoy transporting explosives to a local quarry. Two RIC constables, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, were killed in the ambush which is generally accepted as the first engagement of the War of Independence.


        The deaths of the policemen upset many people but Breen saw their demise as an inevitable cost of the conflict. He later recalled that they “took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces….The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we expected.”

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          By MJ Wells

          “We’re not getting any younger.” ‘Did you have to say that?’ is my usual response. At least they said ‘we’. Really, it’s a euphemism for ‘we’re all getting older’.
          To a youngster of school age, it could be an encouraging remark; at least for me it would have been: I couldn’t wait to get older and leave the school gates closed behind me forever.


          Although sometimes I look back now with some affection: a sort of rose- tinted-glasses affection that fails to see the dull times, the boring times, but picks up happier events all coloured by the knowledge not getting any younger didn’t seem so cataclysmic then.


          Not getting any younger held out the promise of something better.Probably, it was a longing for ‘freedom’ associated with adulthood. Trivial things seemed so desirable: staying up till the early hours of the morning – going to bed, and getting up when you wanted.

          There always seemed to be pleasures you were too young for. You could only attend a ‘U’ certificate movie, probably Disney, unaccompanied.
          Not getting any younger would mean you weren’t just content with ‘pocket money’, generous though that was if you got any, but you would soon earn ‘big’ money yourself.


          What of the school holidays, especially the long summer ones? You realised that happy, liberated adults were working full-time, Monday to Friday from at least nine till five, and often Saturday mornings as well. Then, being at school didn’t seem to bother you.


          The observation ‘we’re not getting any younger’ naturally applies to everyone: even a newborn baby of one day, will be two days tomorrow.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

           

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            By David Flynn

            This is the one tv series that everybody knows about. Friends was very popular when it was on the television airwaves, and you didn’t have to watch it to know the characters and even the storylines because the series was a regular talking point among workplace colleagues and in the everyday media.


            Friends was one of the most well-liked tv comedy series ever produced in America. Today its many episodes are still screened daily throughout the world.


            It was a sitcom very much about New York of the 1990s and early 2000s. It featured six single characters aged from their mid-20s to mid-30s that were working in the city, and were busy in their spare time with their love lives. They also seemed to hang out with each other in a busy coffee shop called Central Perk.
            The six actors were almost total unknowns before they starred on the Friends pilot episode, but they quickly became among the best known Hollywood stars of the past twenty-five years.


            Jennifer Aniston played Rachel, Courteney Cox played Monica, Lisa Kudrow played Phoebe, Matt LeBlanc played Joey, Matthew Perry played Chandler and David Schwimmer played Ross.


            The three male and three female characters had many romances throughout the hit series ten-year run, and by the time the series ended, two couples (after many flirtations) emerged from the group.


            Friends premiered on NBC in America in Autumn 1994, and became an instant hit on Thursday nights at 8.30 pm, partly because it had no great competition except for the crime series, Due South, on ABC. Friends was helped by coming on after another hit comedy, Mad About You, and it was on just before the classic sitcom, Seinfeld.

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

             

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              The Royal Showband in Carnegie Hall, New York. Jim Conlon (right) is holding the famous Fender Stratocaster that ended up with Rory Gallagher throughout his career.

              Francis Kaye pays tribute to the late Jim Conlon of The Royal Showband, Waterford, who was acknowledged among his peers as one of the great guitar players of his generation.

              Though Brendan Bowyer and the late Tom Dunphy took most of the spotlight on Waterford’s Royal Showband during the 1960s when the band dominated the showbands’ scene, the quiet, slight young man who stood on stage-right playing his Fender Stratocaster had a huge part to play in the band’s success.


              Jim Conlon passed away at his home in The Hamptons, Long Island, New York on 8th December last. He had settled there four decades ago having left the Royal Showband and taken up a position as an accountant with BMI Music, one of the world’s biggest music licensing companies.


              As a youngster at Mount Sion C.B.S., Jim started playing guitar. His mother, a native of Sligo, was an accomplished singer and had taken first prize for solo singing at Sligo Feis Ceoil. Jim once gave me a copy of a letter from Howard’s Music Shop, The Quay, Waterford dated 1954.


              Part of it read: “Dear James, Thank you for your letter about the guitar in our window. It costs £7 pounds 10 shillings. Being a schoolboy, you could not get it by instalments, your father would have to get it for you. Do you think you would be able to play it? We have quite a number of people who have bought them and found they were not able to play the guitar. You would have to get someone to teach you.”


              Jim could play alright and as a teenager, he teamed up with Harry Boland as the Harry Boland Band, a semi-professional local band which included Tom Dunphy, Michael Coppinger and Charlie Mathews. Brendan Bowyer then joined the band on trombone and those five broke away and formed the Royal Showband with pianist Gerry Cullen.


              Jim takes up the story: “At the time, I felt that the band needed a name that would command respect. So, I used the ‘Royal’ (from the Theatre Royal) because it suggested royalty (a stretch of course!) and because Ireland had its own royalty long before our neighbours across the Irish sea.

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                Nantes' Argentinian forward Emiliano Sala celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Nantes (FC) and Guingamp (EAG), on November 4, 2018, at the La Beaujoire stadium in Nantes, western France. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)

                Most folk will, I’m sure, be aware of the plane crash into the rough waters of the English Channel a few weeks into this new year. It took quite some time between the first news of the plane’s disappearance and the discovery of the wreckage in the English Channel, just over twenty miles off the coast of Guernsey.


                The remains of the single-engined aircraft lay on the sea bed two hundred feet below the surface and the rescuers could only discern one body. Not surprising, I guess, as, to judge by the flotsam found days before, the plane must have smashed violently against the Channel’s surface. It transpired that the body was that of the promising young footballer, Emiliano Sala.


                Sala was travelling from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff, with David Ibbotson, the pilot of the Piper Malibu plane that crashed into the rough seas in the English Channel towards the end of January.


                It came so soon, it seemed, after the tragic death of the owner of the Leicester City club. It was so different, yet evocative of that. A helicopter rather than an aeroplane, and fire rather than water. But each profoundly tragic beyond description.

                Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                  Kay Doyle talks to one of Ireland’s best loved performers as he looks back on over fifty years of showbusiness.

                  “I’m not going to get another 50 years out of it that’s for sure,” laughs Johnny McEvoy as we discuss his latest tour which celebrates five decades of the legendary singer/songwriter.


                  In fact, Johnny McEvoy points out that it was in 1963 when he first sang to an audience, which means he has been in the public eye for some 56 years now. Back when Muirsheen Durkin went to number one, Johnny was told to enjoy it as he’d only get six months in the music business. “They’ve been a long six months,” he laughs.
                  We last met three years ago, reminiscing over coffee in a Greystones cafe. At the time, he was about to embark on some festival gigs in America and he also explained this idea he had for a book which would put his songs, his stories and his life into words.


                  Ever the straight-talker, that book was published last year and My Songs, My Stories, My Life In Music is a fine collection of important aspects of Johnny’s five decades in music.


                  “It was something I wanted to do for a while,” he says. “It started in a book shop when I found a pocket song book, The Black Songbook by Leonard Cohen, with all his songs and chords, and I thought maybe I’d try it. As I put it together I had Philp O’Duffy, who was my guitar player (since passed), to write out the music and then I thought I’d explain what the songs were about and so it grew from a pocket book to a coffee table book.”


                  Writing the book became a form of therapy for Johnny, who would spend time at it while his wife late wife Odette was ill. Sadly Odette died of ovarian cancer five years ago.


                  “You just never forget,” he says. “Every single day. It gets a bit easier as time goes on but in the beginning there was a lot of anger as to why it happened. Things like Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries can bring it all back. But life takes over and if you’re going to go down the road of sitting in, looking at television, not eating properly, not looking after yourself, it will get you in the end and it’s not the best way to go.”


                  “When Odette was dying I stopped working and stopped touring but then after a while I got back into it. I do a spring and autumn tour and a few festivals during the year now and it’s great at this stage of my life that I don’t have to be going out and slogging it on the road like I used to.”


                  Johnny recalls those tougher earlier days in the beginning ‘slogging’ it to practically empty pubs and ballrooms. However, his determination and sheer love for the music guided him towards a long and successful career.

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                    Dan Conway’s Corner

                    Sometimes the advertisements on television are as interesting, if not more so, than the programmes or ‘shows’ sent to entertain us. I don’t know why they insist in calling everything broadcast a ‘show’. And the comperes all hark back to the “Top of the Hour” instead of to the start of the ‘show’ or programme.


                    What on earth is the “top of the hour”? I never knew an hour had a top or bottom. They never advert to the “bottom” of the hour, do they? More than one advertisement is more deserving of being called ‘show’ than many of the so-called shows.


                    The quintessential ‘show’ shown on RTE 1 is, of course, the Late Late Show, back in the halcyon days, well, nights really, when Gay Byrne was at the helm and it was in glorious black and white or early colour.


                    It was a case of, archbishops or Taoiseachs or captains of industry, beware. And still they were all made welcome of the Show. That Gaybo gave U2 their break one famed Saturday night, is hardly mentioned at all these days. The Late Late Show has hosted the famous and the infamous.

                    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                      By Arthur Flynn

                      The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was one of the leading writers to provide material for a range of horror films. The best version of his often-re-made 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was the 1932 film with Fredric March in the title role.


                      March played a possessed doctor who tests his new formula that can unleash people’s inner demons but has serious side effects. He played the dual roles of the doctor and the monster.


                      John Barrymore was originally asked by Paramount to play the lead role, in an effort to recreate his role from the 1920 version of the film. He was under contract to MGM and reluctantly had to refuse the offer.


                      When discussing who to cast as Jekyll/Hyde, the studio head Adolph Zukor suggested Irving Pichel for the part. Director Rouben Mamoulian turned it down because he wanted an actor who could play both roles convincingly and felt that Pichel could only play Hyde.


                      When Fredric March was suggested it was felt that he was only a lightweight actor and not suitable for the drama. Following much discussion March finally secured the role.


                      The other leading members of the cast included Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pierson; Rose Hobart as Muriel Carew and Holmes Herbert as Dr. Hastie Lanyon. The nephew of Robert Louis Stevenson appeared in a small uncredited role.

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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