Authors Posts by Shea Tomkins

Shea Tomkins


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    As a turbulent year drew to a close it was obvious that the die of revolution had been cast and Irish people were resigned to the fact that the violence and bloodletting would only escalate, writes Eamonn Duggan.

    As the year 1919 drew to a close life across the country was overshadowed by a conflict destined to shape its future. Since that infamous day back in January when two R.I.C. men were killed by an IRA unit at Soloheadbeg in Co Tipperary, death and suffering had become increasingly prevalent in the daily news cycle.

    During each passing month the level of violence increased as Crown forces and the Irish Republican Army stepped up their attacks on each other. By the end of December, the die of revolution and violence had been well and truly cast and, as the New Year dawned, the people of Ireland were resigned to the fact that the independence conflict was set to continue and become an even bloodier and violent one.

    It was little wonder then, as the year ended, that a cloak of tension and suspicion enveloped the country and was set to prevail to an even greater extent for the following eighteen months.

    The year saw the emergence of a new political order with the Sinn Féin Party becoming the dominant force at the expense of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The Republicans found their political voice back in January with the establishment of the First Dáil when twenty-seven of their elected number turned up at Dublin’s Mansion House to pledge their allegiance to the new republic.

    Those who made up the new political elite were young and enthusiastic and determined to set the country on a new course towards independence and allow it take a rightful place in the new community of nations which had emerged after the conclusion of the Great War and the subsequent Paris Peace Conference.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      Shortly before he died, in 2001, the legendary Kerry storyteller Eamon Kelly described his memories of Christmas in Sliabh Luachra in the 1920s. He did so in an interview with author, Colm Keane.

      Christmas time for us, when we were small, was the greatest time of all the year. We used to look forward to it so much.
      In the 1920s, the place was really dark in the countryside. There was no electricity at that time. But when Christmas came, it was a pool of light in the middle of the darkness.

      A candle would be put in every single window of the house. My father used to prepare those candles and put them in the windows. The honour of lighting them was given to the youngest in the family.

      My mother used to say that the lights were put in the windows to show the way to St. Joseph and Mary if they were walking outside.

      However, my father, who wasn’t as good a believer as my mother, used to say that if the blessed couple were walking in our part of the country, they’d have strayed a good bit from the road to Bethlehem!

      When the candles would be lighting, oh, there would be such excitement for us, running from room to room, seeing all the new light everywhere! We’d go out into the yard and see what effect it was having from the outside.
      Then we’d look up along the countryside and see all the lights coming on in all the houses across the darkness and up to the foot of the hills.

      There would be little bunches of lights here and there, until the earth below would be a reflection of the starry heavens above with all the little winking lights. Then there’d be the letters and presents from America.

      We had aunts in America and we used to get presents from them. There would be dollars arriving at that particular time. You’d get letters with dollars inside.

      They used to say about one unfeeling person that he’d open the envelope and shake it, and if dollars didn’t fall out of it he wouldn’t read the letter at all! The postman used to come on Christmas Day and bring those letters.

      Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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        By Norbert Sheerin

        Of all the items associated with the festivities of Christmas, the mistletoe must rank high amongst the most popular.
        Despite being often referred to as a parasitic plant because of its unique reputation of using a host plant for its survival, it still retains an almost iconic status, promoting friendship and love.

        To be captured beneath it as it hangs innocently from a ceiling is to ensure that hugs and kisses are followed by laughter, friendship and the compliments of the season.

        The plant demonstrates the ultimate in adaptability within its environment, growing on the upper branches of other trees, it uses the host tree for all of its own mineral elements and liquids.

        The propagation of the plant is spread by birds who eat the white berries which possess a stickiness type texture which the bird wipes from its beak on to the bark of the host tree.

        In time the residue becomes seed bearing and a new botanic life cycle begins. Being a very resilient plant, it thrives in all climates, with the European variety coming into full bloom in timely display for the festive season.

        How the plant became associated with the Christmas season is not known, but in as much as its roots and tiny branches are entwined with the host plant, so also are its origins entwined with Druidic customs and mythology.

        Legend has it that the custom of embracing and kissing beneath its seasonal magic dates back to Norse times where at the conclusion of an ancient battle, opposing leaders embraced under a mistletoe.

        Other theories date it back to Roman times; to the Festival of saturnalia, which the Romans celebrated during the month of December which was observed at a time of unbridled merrymaking, revelry and glutinous feasting during which time selected slaves were granted their freedom.

        The plant is associated and surrounded by mythology and mystery of the ages, dating back to a time long before Christ.
        To the Druids of old, it became immersed in their ancient customs and beliefs.

        To them it possessed almost magical qualities that assured good luck, health, fertility and courage. Because of its inherent resilient botanic qualities, it was deemed that it would pass on such positive attributes if it was used for the purpose of good as against evil; it extended to the Druids a branch of hope and good fortune.

        In latter times, however, particularly in the United States, a much more sinister variety of the plant thrives. Compared to its European counterpart, which feeds only partially off its host, the American variety feeds totally off its host, denying it all sources of nourishment, thus leaving open and susceptible to disease and insect invasion; thus, hastening the hosts eventual death.

        In this tragic life cycle however, the dwarf mistletoe that grows in America possesses its own unique method of propagation.
        When the plant goes to seed the pod expand and literally burst open and explode thus sending its liquid at high speed on to other surrounding trees who unwittingly become future hosts ensuring the continuation of the mistletoe’s destructive endurance.

        Despite that rather negative feature of the dwarf mistletoe, the rich legacy of love, friendship, enjoyment and celebration that is associated with the European variety endures.

        Let the mistletoe be a channel through which we promote tolerance, love and understanding in a sometime troubled world.
        Whenever a kiss is shared under its tiny branches a berry must be plucked, when all the berries have gone there are no more kisses.

        Let there be an abundance of berries waiting to be plucked from your mistletoe this Christmas and let there be kisses all around under this magical plant.

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          Christopher Warner recalls the loss of five soliders when a C-47 plane crashed just below a mountain peak called Cnoc na Péiste in Christmas, 1943.

          Although this time of year is typically characterised by joy and holiday cheer, December also marks a tragic event involving an American military plane in Ireland during World War Two.

          A week before Christmas Eve in 1943, a C-47 en route to England crashed in bad weather just below a mountain peak in the MacGillycuddy Reeks called Cnoc na Péiste (Irish for ‘Hill of the Serpent’). All five men aboard were killed.

          Most likely, the aircraft and crew would have taken part in D-Day, the decisive turning point of World War Two.
          But more than seven decades later, the exact cause of the horrific accident remains a mystery.

          The C-47 ‘Skytrain’ (and its renamed British version ‘Dakota’) played a vital role throughout the war as a workhorse plane.
          The cargo transporter provided a wide range of duties such as carrying paratroopers, towing combat gliders, and delivering medical supplies — often behind enemy lines.

          The ill-fated journey of C-47A 43-30719 began with its delivery on October 10th, 1943, at Baer Army Air Base in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The facility served as a central training and processing hub, where troop carrier squadrons were assembled prior to deployment overseas. Coincidentally, the field was named for WWI ace, Paul Baer, who died in an airplane accident in 1931. A foreboding omen indeed.

          The flight crew comprised of 2nd Lt. John L. Schwarf (Pilot), 2nd Lt. Laurence E. Goodin (Co-­pilot), 2nd Lt. Frederick Brossard (Navigator), Staff Sgt. Arthur A. Schwartz (Radio Operator), and Staff Sgt. Thomas L. Holstlaw (Engineer).
          All of the airmen were married, and all in their 20s with the exception of the 31-year-old Holstlaw.

          As reinforcement soldiers, they would be going to war for the first time, part of the Allies build-up for Normandy Invasion — the largest operation in history that would involve 1.2 million troops.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            The popular cleric talks about the highs and lows of his life and career in a compelling autobiography which has just hit the bookshelves in time for Christmas!

            Father Brian D’Arcy is wondering who it was that began putting years in microwaves – because of late, he finds they are going far too quickly! Especially 2019. But then that’s not surprising when you consider that alongside his regular workload, the much-loved priest decided to sit down and write the story of his life.

            “People ask me how long it took me to write the story and I jokingly tell them 74 years,” he laughs. “I left The Graan in Enniskillen in 2017 and at the beginning of this year I had returned to take part in a retreat with some old friends.
            “Afterwards I was sitting having a meal with them and I was sharing some stories from my life when one of them said you should really put your life story down on paper.

            “I started thinking then that any of us could die at any moment, or get Alzheimer’s and then everything would be lost. And that is why I started writing the book.”

            Father Brian has many stories to tell. He also wanted to get his versions of various events down on paper so that his own family would know the facts, and not someone else’s take on matters that involved him down the years.
            “I had to be disciplined when it came to putting aside time to write the book, so every night from 10.30pm to 2.00am I would put aside time for writing.

            “There is a wide variety of stories in there from different times in my life, some funny, some tragic, some awful. I handed it over to a professional editor then, Fiona Biggs, who ensure that the narrative unfolded in a meaningful and interesting way.
            “I wanted a female editor because I live in a male-dominated world and because of that my whole perspective on the world could be screwed up – therefore I wanted a woman’s perspective to see that what I had written wasn’t toxic in any way.”

            Even though he has settled into his new home in Crossgar, Father Brian found it hard to leave The Graan. He felt that in his time there they had worked extremely hard at bringing people together, from different religions and it meant so much to the people of Fermanagh, Tyrone and surrounding counties.

            Being asked to leave his home at this stage of his life, and leaving behind family and friends and a community that had stood by him during the “Vatican debacle” a few years earlier was tough, and Brian gives an honest account of the experience in his book.

            “There are so many stories to choose from but one experience that really stands out from my life is when I met the Queen, and there are a couple of chapters devoted to it. When you consider that as a young fellow whenever ‘God Save the Queen’ was played in the cinemas I, and other young Catholics, made a point of walking out, then things really had come circle when I was invited to meet her in Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace and to be given an OBE. In my lifetime the impossible really has happened – we journeyed from war and hostility to friendship and tolerance.

            “I was one of four people in Northern Ireland who were awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday List in June, 2019. For me it was an acknowledgement that I should continue to work, as I always have, for respect and understanding among people of goodwill.”

            Father Brian has a couple of messages that he would like to pass on to Ireland’s Own readers this Christmas.

            Continue reading in the Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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            For her book Growing Up With Ireland journalist and author Valerie Cox collected the memories of twenty-six men and women who were born in the 1920s and grew up through a time of profound change in Ireland.

            When I was a small child in 1950s Dublin, my mother often spoke about the relatives we had never met. There was Uncle Eddie who died just before I was born and who had given money to a great aunt to buy ‘the baby’ a present. But the great aunt, in her infinite religious wisdom, had spent the money on Masses for his soul instead.

            Then there was my maternal great-grandmother, ‘Ma’, with her long white hair, whom I vaguely remembered, a seamstress in Harold’s Cross who used to make clothes for Maud Gonne McBride. My grandmother, Nellie Tucker, told us how she remembered Maud coming to their home for dress fittings, accompanied by her wolfhound, Dagda.

            Nellie was full of stories and also remembered playing in her grandfather’s workshop while the Fenian Brotherhood held their meetings there. Her grandfather was Michael Lambert, the man who made the key that let James Stephens out of prison.
            We all have our family memories that can transport us back over a hundred years, to a simpler life, a world dominated by family and community, a world where most people were poor but unaware of it and an era where conflict and war and death were never far away.

            In my book Growing Up with Ireland, I have collected the memories of twenty-six men and women who were born in the 1920s, who grew up with the foundation of the Free State in 1922, who saw the War of Independence, the arrival of the Black and Tans, a World War, emigration and partition.
            But their daily lives revolved around the farm or the city, going to school, falling in love and starting a family.

            A ROMANTIC TIME
            There are the stories of romance. Tom O’Mahony from Ballylanders in Co Limerick met his wife, Alice, at the crossroads on the way home from a dance. It started to rain and they sheltered under a tree before he walked her home.
            Anne Kennedy was eighteen when she met her husband, Frank, as she cycled home from work. Frank was a bus driver and he started throwing roses at her.

            ‘Frank would throw a rose at me from the cab window and I would get off the bike and pick it up. That’s how it all started!’
            Anne’s mother died when she was only twelve but she remembers as a small girl, being put on the crossbar of her Dad’s bike to go from Dundrum to Merrion Strand to collect cockles as a treat for her mother.

            Sabina Tierney (born 1926) says she met the love of her life, Thomas Paul Tierney, at the local ballroom of romance and they married six years later. Sabina remembers that she wore a blue coat and hat and her new mother-in-law organised the wedding breakfast in her house. But there was no honeymoon; her new husband was a busy farmer and looking after the farm was their priority. ‘It was just back to work as usual the next day. A lot of people did that then, or they might just go away for a day or two.’

            When I went to meet John Flanagan (1925-2019) in Dundalk he immediately pointed to a photo of his wife, Betty, telling me she was a former ‘Miss Louth’. They met at a dance in the town hall and ‘she was a good-looker, she had won the title of Miss Louth. We were going out two or three years when I proposed to her!’

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            By Maurice O’Brien

            In August of this year the Diocese of Cloyne commemorated the 100th anniversary of the solemn dedication of St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh. For anyone familiar with Cobh, the prominence of this neo Gothic cathedral in the harbour town is easily understood.

            Cobh without its cathedral would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower, such is the extent to which it defines the towns skyline and streetscape.

            Built over a period spanning 47 years, on a plateau of solid rock, its spire reaching to 300 feet, the church exceeds all expectations of style and stature. The cathedral was designed by Pugin and Ashlin, foremost ecclesiastical architects of the period.

            When Pugin died in 1875 Thomas Coleman took his place. Scale alone would equip St. Colman’s to be a suitable mother church for a multitudinous archdiocese. It has been compared to cathedrals like Chartres and Rheims and certainly borrows elements of French architecture.

            These great churches also preside over places disproportionate to their size but like St. Colman’s their purpose goes further. They were to be monumental buildings pointing to eternal truths.

            As Bishop William Crean said in his homily for the centenary Mass on 25th August: “The location was providential in elevation and landscape … it never fails in its mission to raise our eyes to the heavens”.

            In St. Colman’s all elements combine to call one to awe and worship; the lofty interior, the many shrines and statues, the large side chapels and above all the sanctuary with high altar and gilded tabernacle as the centre piece.

            The carillon of 49 bells, the largest in Ireland or Britain is a magnificent feature of the cathedral. The bells of St. Colman’s ring out daily and the parish organizes full scale recitals on occasions.

            Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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              She has travelled the world as lead singer in an Irish music family sensation, and now Andrea Corr is back living in Ireland, preparing to have the family around for Christmas dinner. She shares memories from her life and career, and shines a light into her new autobiography Barefoot Pilgrimage with Shea Tomkins.

              When it comes to family get-togethers, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.
              For a few days we get to step off the treadmill of everyday obligations, relishing the opportunity to munch mince pies, sip mulled wine and watch endless re-runs of Indiana Jones with those we love most. And few families have represented Ireland on the global stage with such talent, grace and prestige as Dundalk natives, ‘The Corrs’.

              With record sales in excess of 40 million albums worldwide, the Louth artists rode the crest of the popular music wave through the nineties and noughties, before naturally settling into the next chapters in their lives – raising the next generation of ‘Corrs’!
              Meeting up with Ireland’s Own for a chat and a cuppa before the Christmas rush sweeps her away, the youngest of the tribe, and the band’s lead singer, Andrea – who recently presented us with an autobiographical masterpiece in Barefoot Pilgrimage – is excited about having the whole family over to hers for Christmas dinner.

              “I have two kids of my own now – Jeanie, who is seven, and Brett, who will be six in January, and they are really looking forward to Christmas,” she says. “We have just moved home to Ireland and it’s like they knew they were little Irish people all along. I’m doing ‘the family Christmas’ this year, and all the family and their kids are coming to my house…I’m looking after the cooking too, which I love.

              “Our own house smelled so good at Christmastime. I still remember the smell of Mammy’s kitchen at Christmas, the Dundee cake, her roast potatoes… As we got older we helped of course – I was in charge of making the red cabbage! Everyone loves their mum’s cooking, even my own daughter recognises that and when she goes somewhere might say… ‘that doesn’t taste like my mother’s!’”

              Andrea’s memoir is an emotional rollercoaster ride through her life to date, lifting off in the cosiness and contentment of a loving Irish childhood, and rocketing its way through her singing and acting careers, in a most entertaining way.

              “I have one particular Christmas memory from when I was only about seven or eight,” she recalls. “Dad’s relations used to come to our house after the Christmas dinner and they would announce ‘we’ll have the children sing now’.

              “We would all sing and Mum would be serving the mince pies, and she’d be singing too. Daddy played the piano and my song to sing was always O Holy Night. He was also the church organist and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you sing with me on Christmas Day?’ So I said yeah, I would, and we got excited about it, and practised it.

              “Then Christmas morning arrived and I was just so overwhelmed with fear and the images I had of myself, exposed up there, with the echoing quiet in the church, and the coughs, and all those people listening…I just had a flash of ‘I’m not going to be able to do this’. I was upset. Mammy consoled me. She comforted me, and told Daddy I wouldn’t be doing it.
              “I still remember him starting the song, and the note coming and my heart beating and knowing where I was supposed to come in, and then the moment passed. Nobody else knew though, and he played it instrumentally. I regretted it afterwards, it would have been beautiful to sing with him on Christmas Day.”

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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              – the much-loved screen and stage star was like a ‘Christmas bear’, writes daughter, Sighle

              When asked to write a piece to commemorate Niall, there was little point in recounting the list of his many achievements, it would only read like a blurb for a theatre programme and might seem a little self-congratulatory.

              Suffice it to say that my Dad was a comic genius, a brilliant dramatic actor as evidenced by his portrayal of the Bull McCabe in the Abbey Theatre production that toured to Moscow in the eighties, an accomplished film actor as remembered in the Ballroom of Romance and the much-loved Fr. Mac in the BBC TV series BallyKissangel.

              He was a star of stage, screen and radio! He was also synonymous with the role of Brendan Behan. It is not for me or try to assess his accomplishments, that is for others to do.

              I picked up his autobiography to remind myself and gain some insight into that man that was my father.
              Niall was an intensely private person and reveals little of his personal self in the book, quite paradoxical for someone who made his living in the public eye.

              But then again Niall was always playing a part, we rarely saw the true Niall in public. In television interviews he often held back, giving sharp humorous answers, which revealed little of the inner Niall.

              He often said that actors were boring people and that no audience was interested in acting as a process, or actor’s opinions.
              Niall believed that the people paid to be entertained, and that, undoubtedly, is what he did.

              His political satire was witheringly accurate, but he dished the dirt equally to all, the trick was never to be seen as biased, to remember that your audience was from all sections of the community.

              I was privileged to work with him on several productions, in many guises; I stage managed him, worked as a script co-ordinator, acted with him and even directed him, in so far as that was possible. We worked well together, he was a hard task-master, but many of the greats are.

              Many lamented the fact that he died just 10 days before his 90th Birthday. Niall was not a sentimental person, and he paid little attention to birthdays. In fact, birthdays were treated so casually by both Judy and Niall that they totally forgot my sister Fiana’s 12th birthday.

              It was only when her godfather, the late Brendan Cauldwell (Fair City) turned up with a gift that they twigged that it was a significant day for their youngest child. So not surprisingly I have few memories of us celebrating Dad’s birthday.
              On this first Christmas without him, I take solace from fond memories of Christmas with Niall Tóibín.

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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              By Thomas Myler

              It has been called the ultimate Christmas movie and few if anybody can argue with that. Released on December 20th 1946, It’s A Wonderful Life has stood the test of time over 70 years on.

              Scan your Christmas TV listings and the chances are that it is included. Indeed, few films define Christmas like Frank Capra’s fantasy which starred James Stewart as a despondent small-town citizen in Bedford Falls named George Bailey.
              George is an all-round nice guy who has given up his dreams to help others before finding himself at the end of his tether, morally and financially. Thinking he has failed, there seems nothing left but suicide.
              As he stands on the bridge and prepares to jump into the fast-flowing river on Christmas Eve, he meets his guardian angel Clarence Odbody.

              A pixie-like fellow of sly humour played to the hilt by veteran character actor Henry Travers, Clarence gently and sympathetically shows George the true importance of his life. He points out how really worthwhile George’s life has been and that it would be crazy to end it all on a whim.

              He has done wonderful work for the community, which would have been much different had George not been born. There were good things ahead so he has to shake off his despondency and pull himself together. There is no other way.
              Unlike many other movies, It’s A Wonderful Life was not based on a book or a play or a real-life occurence. It was based on a few words written by Philip Van Doren Stern on a Christmas card in November 1939 and sent out to friends.

              There was such a warm response from the simple message of good cheer that they encouraged Stern to expand it into a 24-page booklet which he mailed to 200 family members for the following Christmas. From there it became a short story and was taken up by a publisher. It was called The Greatest Gift and was an immediate success.

              Someone showed it to an executive at RKO Radio Pictures and who, in turn, passed it on to Cary Grant’s agent. He liked the idea and encouraged the studio to buy the rights for $10,000 with the aim of developing it into a movie.

              RKO chief executive Charles Koerner planned to star Grant in the film but the actor decided instead to accepted an offer to make The Bishop’s Wife, another Christmas movie. Independent director Frank Capra then got hold of the story, saw its potential and the rest is history.

              Capra got together with two screenwriters Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, and enticed James Stewart to star. The result that the movie became one of the most beloved in cinema history and is now a staple of Christmas television around the world.

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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