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The Blarney Castle Rattlesnakes

by Shane Cochrane

blarney-castleIn September 1903, the Irish Times received a very strange letter from a man calling himself C R Warwick. It read:
“Sir, As a matter of record only I beg to state that I arrived from America on the Celtic about ten days ago, and landed at Queenstown, Ireland, and went to Cork. At Blarney Castle I liberated fourteen fairly good-sized rattlesnakes. Time will tell if St. Patrick’s edict is a myth or not.”

Had someone really released rattlesnakes at Blarney Castle?

Continue reading in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Annual

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Eating out wasn’t the done thing in the 1950s, writes Sheila O’Donovan

Not many people ate out in the Fifties. It was only done on special occasions such as when an American relative came on holiday or for a family celebration of some kind. Only adults ate out, children were never taken to restaurants as few families could afford to take their offspring with them.

The first time I ate out was a special occasion in my family. My brother, who had joined the De La Salle Brothers 4 years earlier, was about to enter his spiritual year and before his 12 months of silence began, he was allowed a family visit. Brian was four years older than me and had left the house when I was 11 and I hadn’t seen him since.

restaurant-clipart-fancy-restaurant-clipart-customMy parents and sister had visited Brian twice in the intervening years but, as I was the youngest, I was always left at home. Now, at the age of nearly 15, I was considered old enough to make the 100 mile journey to the Novitiate in County Waterford.

My father used to save up all year round for these trips and, as he didn’t drive, he would hire a car and a driver he trusted for the day. This was the only way we could access the isolated locations in which my brother’s religious communities were situated.

My Dad, who was a man who preferred one good day out to a dozen poor ones, would put aside extra money for a meal en-route. He always tried to make these yearly visits memorable occasions as they were the nearest thing my family ever got to a holiday.
At the time the choice of eating establishment was very limited. There were no fast-food restaurants or pub-grub. Even if the latter had existed, my mother would not have entered a public house as only low-class women were seen in pubs at the time. The usual place to eat was a hotel restaurant, which was considered quite sophisticated.

It was a lovely August day as we set out in the early morning on the long drive to Cheekpoint. A gentle breeze blew through the open windows caressing our faces as we drove down the country roads. Around 1.00 p.m. we pulled up outside a hotel in Portlaoise. There were no double yellow lines or parking restrictions back then.

Our party of five was escorted to a table in the dining-room which was covered with a pristine white tablecloth and bedecked with silver cutlery. Starched white napkins in tent formation stood like soldiers by each place setting with ashtrays strategically placed near the adults. A centrepiece of artificial pink roses in a glass vase was flanked by a silver cruet set.

The atmosphere in the room was that of a mausoleum with blank faced waiters going to and fro, a handful of business men in suits and tall dusty palm trees in ceramic pots looming over us like sentries. The heavy green curtains were closed to keep out the sunshine and artificial light came from the electric-light fittings overhead. The air was heavy with the stench of cigarettes and the aroma of cooked food.

To my surprise a waiter pulled out a chair for me to sit on, but as I wasn’t used to such niceties, I lost my bearings, missed the chair and fell to the floor! My giggling, together with my sister’s, was quickly silenced by one look from our mother!

My parents choose the menu for our party: oxtail soup followed by roast lamb, boiled carrots and new potatoes, with apple tart and ice-cream to follow.

As I looked around the stuffy dining-room, I was taken aback by how stiff-and-starchy everybody appeared. Underneath a large framed hunting print on the wall, two elderly ladies dressed in twin-sets and pearls chatted discretely with each other.

The murmur of quiet conversation, in accents I had never heard before, was punctuated by the odd guffaw as the staff went about their business serving the diners with steaming platters of cooked meats and vegetables, gravy boats, and containers of boiled and mashed potatoes.

When the lamb was served, I noticed something on the side of the plate that looked remarkably like jam. “Why are we getting jam with our meat?” I asked my mother. I was not the most tactful of children!

“Sssh……..” came her reply, as her icy stare welded me to my seat. “It’s not jam, it’s cranberry sauce.”

Although the meal was nice, it wasn’t a patch on my mother’s wonderful cooking. but I didn’t dare tell her, as I would have been given a lecture on how much the lunch had cost. In the Fifties a meal eaten out was considered to be superior to one eaten at home and could be talking point for weeks to come.

Enjoy memories of old Ireland from our readers every week in Ireland’s Own

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By Patrick WIllis

One night, a throw-away remark in a pub sparks a violent reaction

Daniel Murphy was one of the quietest men in the local neighbourhood of Loughenmore. He was sociable enough but rarely voiced his opinions, choosing instead to just sit quietly listening to all that was being said. That was the way he had always been and the way it seemed that he would always remain seeing as he had just passed seventy years of age.

He reckoned that sometimes people say very hurtful things when they speak without thought and he had no desire to harm anyone. He was sure most of their harmful jibes were meant with no malice, but Daniel believed that you never really knew what some people were suffering and you never could be sure what harm you could do to someone’s self esteem without meaning to.

He knew full well that some folks thought that he was an oddball for having nothing to say but Daniel had long since stopped concerning himself about what others thought of him. When pushed by his brother, John, on how he was so unconcerned about this, he always gave the same answer.

“Sure, it’s none of my business what others are thinking,” he would say, before going back to his pipe smoking.

alwaysandforeverDaniel looked relatively youthful for his years. He had always kept himself well groomed and even following the tragic death of his wife, Joan, seven years before in a car accident, he had maintained this dignified approach to life.

Now, he sat in his little front room reflecting back on yesterday. It had been a normal day with the usual few chores then out to get a bite to eat and a drop into McGinty’s bar for a pint or two before he would go home.
This is where he would meet up with the usual set of well meaning, but highly opinionated, men.
Sean Donnelly was the most vociferous, followed closely by Marty McStay. The rest would input little bits here and there whilst Daniel remained silent, enjoying his pint and occasionally glancing up at the television set behind the bar.

At first, it had been the usual chatter about the hurling and football matches, and then it had moved on to the Formula 1 motor racing.
Daniel wasn’t much of a sports fan so, even if he had wanted to, there was not much he could offer in the way of conversation on these topics.

Things were ticking along nicely until Sean Donnelly had offered up his opinions on drink driving law changes which were coming in to force very soon. Of course, Sean had to be heard as was his normal behaviour.

“You’d think them gardaí boys would have more to do with their time than chase after a man who has had a few drinks of a night,” he said loudly, “there’s plenty going on around Dublin that they should be sorting,” he continued.
As was the usual case, most of the men nodded in agreement.
“You’re right there Sean,” Marty McStay added.
Suddenly, Daniel rose from his bar stool. The men looked in astonishment as he headed towards Sean Donnelly and drawing his fist he had knocked Sean flying across the floor.
“You’ve no idea what you are talking about,” he spat out with real venom towards Sean Donnelly, who was looking totally bewildered.
“You and your big mouth, never know when to keep it shut, that’s your trouble Donnelly,” Daniel had shouted.

There was a moment of silence in the bar room as the men gathered there tried to work out what they had just witnessed. It was Paul Flynn, the bar owner who broke the silence.
“Sorry Daniel, but I have no choice but to bar your from here,” he said.

 Daniel glared at him, his face still red from the anger that was burning inside him.
“It’s just a pity that you didn’t bar Joey Wilkinson from your bar before he smashed his car in to my Joan and him full of your drink,” he roared at Paul before grabbing his jacket and exiting the bar.

Daniel had made his way home, the tears stinging his eyes as he walked and once inside he had locked all the doors and sat silently weeping for his dead wife.
He had seen Paul Flynn approach his door and knock but he had decided to ignore the rapping at the door. Paul had opened the letter box and called out for Daniel asking him to allow him in for a minute. Daniel had no intention of speaking with Paul Flynn or any of the other men for the foreseeable future so he had sat there and said nothing.
Paul had persisted with his conversation through the letter box.

 “Sean Donnelly told me to say he was sorry,” he called out.
“There was no harm meant. He just never thought of what he was saying,” Paul continued.
Daniel had refused to engage in conversation and never budged from his position on the settee.

He knew it was probably true that Sean had not thought about it, but that in itself was part of the problem for him. It was as though Joan wasn’t important enough for others to realise that she still mattered.

Daniel had lain awake through the small hours turning over and over in his mind how people could be so totally insensitive.

As morning had dawned, Daniel had picked himself up from the settee where he had spent the entire night and made himself some breakfast. He had found that he really had not much of an appetite and settled for the two small rounds of wholemeal toast and gave the porridge a bye. He had spent the rest of the day trying to occupy himself with a few chores around the home. They really had not needed doing but it had passed the time for him.

Paul Flynn had called again this time with Sean Donnelly and Marty McStay in tow. Daniel was still too angry to speak to any of them so he had ignored they knocking of the door and the calling out. Eventually they got the message and he had seen Paul’s car pull out of the small laneway and head back towards town.

As the day had progressed, Daniel had became more and more agitated. He felt a surge of loneliness stronger than at any time since Joan had died. He watched the clock and even found himself wondering about what was going on in McGinty’s. He was slowly realising how big a factor it was playing in helping him deal with his grief. Now he sat here, alone reflecting on the events with a great deal of sadness.

The lost sleep of the previous night was overwhelming him and he found himself drifting into a slumber. Several times, he tried to force himself to stay awake but it was a useless exercise and he let sleep overcome him.

As he lay there, he suddenly became aware of what felt like a presence in the room. He found himself remaining strangely calm as if he knew that this event was not about to cause any harm to him.

Daniel could hear a voice speaking to him but was unable to see anyone. It took him several minutes to work out that this sounded like Joan’s voice, but he was unable to make out what she was saying. He was not in any way afraid and in fact, felt some comfort in hearing her again.

“Joan,” he called out, “I know you are here but I cannot see you.”
He waited and suddenly he could hear Joan’s voice clearly.
“Daniel,” she began, “of course I am here. I am just in a different form now. I am always here with you and part of you. That will never change. Now time to address this awful mess that has happened,” she concluded.

Daniel tried to put forward the summary of what had happened and why he had became so angry. Joan was not easily convinced, he found.

 “I know all of that,” she said, “but, it is no excuse for you leaving yourself in this position, alone, lonely and unhappy. Of course I know you were angry. That’s natural, but it wasn’t just Sean Donnelly’s remarks that annoyed you so much, was it?”

Daniel paused for a moment and then explained that Joan was right. He went on to say how much he had been hurt by the fact that it had seemed to him that for the others Joan no longer mattered. It had seemed like she had never existed.

He knew in his heart that Sean Donnelly had not deliberately set out to hurt him but it still felt like Joan had been forgotten.
Joan replied back with great clarity.
“Sean Donnelly is many things but malicious isn’t one of them,” she said.
“Daniel people do forget,” she continued, “You have to accept that. Their own lives are busy and they have so much going on that mostly they just never think. It is not that they have forgotten me, but that at some times they just forgot to remember me. It is human nature, Daniel, and now time for you to get out there again and get on with life”.

Daniel protested that he missed her so much and found that really difficult. Joan, though, was having none of it.

“I have told you already, Daniel, that I am still here with you,” she said soothingly. “It is just different now. But I would never want you to be alone and unhappy. It is ok to miss me but talk to me anyway. Remember me not only for who I was but also for who I still am. Live a life that makes you happy and makes me proud of you. I have to go now but I am never far away. I am just out of sight for now.”

Daniel awoke with a start. His eyes desperately searching the room for any sign of what he had just experienced. He called out Joan’s name but there was no answer.
Slowly, he arose from the settee. He was unsure of how he really felt. He questioned if this had really happened or if he had just dreamt the entire thing. Joan’s words run round and round in his head.

He knew he had to go back to the bar and apologise.
Daniel changed his clothes and headed up the hill towards McGinty’s. He was thinking over and over about what he was going to say. As he drew closer to the pub, he almost lost his nerve and wanted to go back home. Joan’s voice, though, kept playing over and over in his head. It kept telling him that he needed to live his life.

He pushed open the bar door and as was the usual practice, everyone turned to see who was entering. Luckily, there was not many in the bar but Daniel noticed Sean Donnelly was there but oddly, he was seated quietly in a corner along with Marty McStay and a few of the others. One or two of the usual crowd were missing. Paul Flynn stood as always behind the bar serving the drinks.

Daniel made straight towards him and once Paul had served the customer, Daniel asked to have a word. He apologised to Paul and gave a guarantee he would never repeat his behaviour of the previous day. Paul accepted the apology immediately and told Daniel that he totally understood why he had struck out. He explained that a few of the group had been unhappy with Sean Donnelly as well and had stayed away for the night at least.
 Sean Donnelly saw Daniel and approached with a look of remorse on his face.

 “I am so sorry,” he said offering his hand, “I was just stupid and insensitive but there was nothing hurtful meant,” he continued.

Daniel reached out and accepted his hand and shook it. He told Sean he would like to stay but he was exhausted after the events and he would be back the following night and hopefully things would return to normal then. With that he left the bar.

Going home Daniel felt lighter as though a weight had lifted from him. As he entered his little home he noticed an object that was sitting on the table. He was certain that it hadn’t been there when he had left.

He went over and could see clearly it was a bracelet he had bought Joan shortly before they had married almost forty years ago. He had not seen this bracelet for years. Daniel suddenly felt a strange feeling of contentment. He lifted the bracelet and turned it over. ‘For Always and Forever’ the inscription read. Daniel allowed a smile to form on his lips.
He knew that he would never feel alone again.

Read original short stories every week in Ireland’s Own

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Peter Smith examines the background and history of one of the world’s most famous paintings, Jan Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or Ghent Alarpiece

In 1420, Joos Vijd, Churchwarden an Alderman of the Belgian city of Ghent, along with his wife Elisabeth, commissioned an altarpiece for their private chapel in St. John’s church, which later became St. Bavo’s Cathedral.

Its correct title is ‘The Adoration of The Mystic Lamb’ but it is normally referred to as the ‘Ghent Altarpiece’ and it consists of 24 different panels showing 284 figures.
Such is its beauty that Albrecht Durer described it as ‘a splendid, deeply reasoned painting’ and Phillip II of Spain was so impressed by it that he attempted to buy it for his own private collection and, when this failed, he had a full scale copy made.

The picture was placed in St. Bavo’s in 1432 and since then has had a chequered history. In the 1560’s, Calvinists used tree trunks as battering rams in an attempt to break the cathedral doors down to get at the picture, but were thwarted by the Bishop who managed to hide the panels in the belfry.

Just over 250 years later, Emperor Joseph had the panels showing a naked Adam and Eve (said to have been the first known nudes in Flemish painting) altered by having clothing strategically placed over the ‘offending’ areas.

Napoleon took it to Paris during the French Revolution and although it was returned later, one of the cathedral officials then sold it to an unscrupulous German art dealer and it wasn’t returned to Belgium until 1919 under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
When World War II started, the altarpiece was en route to Italy for safe keeping in the Vatican but when Italy then entered the war it was sent to Pau in southern France. Eventually it finished in a salt mine in Austria before finally being returned to its original home.

But, even then it still wasn’t safe because on the night of 10-11th April 1934, two of the panels were stolen. One showed ‘St John The Baptist’ and the other ‘The Righteous Judges’.

It must have been a difficult job, requiring the thief to balance on a narrow ledge, high above the ground in order to remove the five feet tall panels, set back to back in heavy oak frames braced top and bottom by iron bars. And, of course, all done in darkness, to avoid detection.

Once the theft had been discovered, the chapel was inundated with sightseers. The police failed to close the chapel, thus making the task of recovering the items even more difficult as valuable clues and forensic information had been lost.

Three weeks later, Monseigneur Coppieters, Bishop of Ghent, received a letter, written in French, stating that, “It is our privilege to let you know that we have at our disposal the two van Eyck paintings which have been taken from your town’s main church.”
Signed ‘DUA’, it also contained a demand for one million Belgian francs for the return of the two panels along with the ominous warning of ‘the irrevocable destruction of these jewels’ if the money wasn’t paid.

The letter was the first of 13 to be sent to the church authorities and the Bishop quickly agreed a deal. The full ransom would only be paid when both panels were returned safely and, after following instructions contained in the third letter, ‘St John The Baptist’ was found, undamaged, in a left luggage office in Brussels.
But then, the politicians became involved.

They claimed that, under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the panels belonged to the State and not the Church. The Bishop had to renege on his earlier promise because, according to the Minister of the Interior, “We are not in America, we do not deal with gangsters.”

As only 25,000 francs had been paid, ‘DUA’ refused to reveal the whereabouts of ‘The Righteous Judges’ in any of the remaining letters.

The next ‘break’ came six months later, in November. Arsene Goedertier, who lived in Wetteren, ten miles from Ghent, died of a heart attack. A boyhood friend of Bishop Goedertier, he was a devout churchman having served as both Verger and organist at St. Gertrude’s church in Wetteren.

At the time of his death he was worth some three million francs and, despite the fact that he and his wife owned over 40 properties, there were many who were suspicious of the origins of this wealth.

What made things even more intriguing though was that Goedertier’s last words, spoken to his solicitor, were “I alone know where ‘The Righteous Judges’ are……in my study……key…….cupboard.”

When the solicitor found the key, he opened a cupboard in the study and discovered, not the picture, but carbon copies of the 13 letters sent by ‘DUA’ along with a draft of another which had not been posted. But, once again, the police appeared to have bungled things. They never carried out a full search of Goedertier’s house or any of the properties he owned and they even gave his wife permission to burn all his private papers.

Many believe Goedertier was the thief and have put forward several theories as to where the painting is hidden. The idea that it is actually in the cathedral is quite plausible. Despite claims to the contrary, one area of the building hasn’t been searched, that beneath the floor boards of the organ loft where a second floor was laid to accommodate new pipes and bellows.

Goedertier was an organist who had played this organ several times and knew this area of the church well. Also, a key fitting the door of the organ loft was found amongst his possessions. No doubt he would have found it ironic to have been paid money for something that had never left the cathedral.

Others agree the painting is in a church – but the church at Wetteren. As verger, Goedertier had access to all the keys and many have suggested that both paintings were originally hidden here prior to being transferred to an agreed pick up point
Another story claims that both items were put in the left luggage offices but when things began to go wrong, ‘The Righteous Judges’ was moved to a permanent hiding place.
The Town Hall and Art Gallery at Wetteren have both been suggested as possible hiding places along with any of the properties Goedertier owned, not all of which had been searched after the theft.

Wherever the paintings are, two things are certain. Goedertier gained more fame and notoriety after his death than he ever did whilst alive and, as yet, no one has claimed the ten million franc reward that was offered when the painting was stolen.


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By Gerry Moran

Don’t know what exotic places you have ever visited, but recently I headed off to IKEA, a small ‘country’ just south of Ballymun. I filled the car with diesel, headed for the airport, took the turn off for Naul/Ballymun, veered right and there it was – this small ‘country’, ‘continent’ almost, stretched out before me.

You don‘t need your passport to enter IKEA, just your wallet, lots of stamina, plenty of patience and an avid interest in household fittings and paraphernalia. Oh, and a compass if, like me, your sense of direction isn’t what it used to be, although what it used to be was never what it should have been.

ikea-showroom01Now, in fairness, it’s hard to get lost in IKEA; all you do is follow, not the yellow brick road, but the arrows on the floor, which I did for a while but then I got side-tracked, literally, and, not for the first time in my life, found myself going backwards instead of forwards.
I should have stayed with the missus, but I was only slowing her down, and so she left me otherwise, as she said herself: “We’ll be here ‘till the cows come home.”

And so, we went our separate ways, she following the arrows, me following my nose and watching the shoppers shopping in IKEA, which is a fascination in itself. All of human life is there – yummy mummies, dapper daddies, two-year olds, twenty-two year olds, eighty-two year olds, and the likes of me, a country man ‘up for the day’.

It was like the United Nations what with the various languages and fashions. There were women in minis, women in kaftans, women in sarongs and even fellows in sarongs! I half expected to see Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan strolling around. For the most part, however, IKEA was full of young home-makers with prams and toddlers in tow.
Did I mention the fact that it was my first time in IKEA and that I have no interest whatsoever in shelving or bedding or household fittings? I was just doing the wife a favour, I was her right-hand man, so to speak, for lugging any heavy goods on to the trolley and into the car.

For all of that, I was thoroughly enjoying myself in IKEA and was very much in awe of the size of the place and the number and variety of showrooms: bed rooms, dining rooms, sitting rooms, offices, whatever. Plus, there seemed to be 50 varieties, and 50 shades, of everything in this store the size of Sicily!

After an hour, however, I met the ‘wall’ as the pace of this marathon shopping outing got to me, so, I sat myself down on a wee chair in one of IKEA’s model kitchens and read my paper.

I was sorry I hadn’t brought a flask of tea and some Marietta biscuits to keep my energy levels up, or least to keep up with the missus who was now ringing me on the mobile wondering where I was, what I was up to (I was on my tea-break) and would I mind getting myself down to Aisle 23, subsection 705, or something like that, where she could do with my assistance.

And then, with our trolley-load of bits & bobs we headed for the long queues and checkouts where I swear to God a woman ‘driver’ (of a trolley) tried to take me on the inside. But I cut her off on a bend making her take her rightful place in the queue. BEHIND me.
One of the items we purchased in IKEA was a desk for our daughter’s abode in Dublin, which yours truly was enlisted to assemble. I opened the flat-pack, spread the contents methodically across the floor of her flat, took one look at the dozens of screws & washers, nuts & bolts and came clean with my daughter – I couldn’t do it.

It is never easy for a parent to admit to their child that they are inadequate in any way. And it was not easy for me to tell my daughter that not alone was I inadequate when it came to DIY – I was an abject failure.

Anything with more than six screws and that demands the use of a screwdriver AND an allen key is beyond my DIY capabilities. She understood perfectly (or so she said) and rang her boyfriend who arrived post haste with a Black & Decker. The desk is now assembled. I’m falling apart and feeling more inadequate than ever and in bad need of a break somewhere – anywhere but IKEA!


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Charlton Heston was an American actor and political activist. As a Hollywood star, he appeared in 100 films over the course of 60 years, writes Anthony Costelloe

He parted the Red Sea, humbled the arrogant pharaoh, Ramses II, who, burying his head in his hands resignedly exclaimed, – “His God, is God.” Illinois-born Charlton Heston, whose real name was John Charles Carter, gave a powerful performance as Moses, God’s law giver in Cecil B. DeMille’s magnificent Biblical epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956).

Heston got top-billing in this visually stunning movie which has a running time of three hours and forty minutes. It features a host of Hollywood stars. Yul Brenner as Rameses II, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, Sir Cedric Hardwick as Rameses I, John Derek as Joshua, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan and Vincent Price as Baka the master builder, together with a cast of thousands.

hestonpoasterHeston was thirty-three years old when he starred as Moses. His baby son, Fraser, was cast as the baby Moses set adrift in a basket on the river Nile. Heston starred in over one hundred movies in a career spanning six decades, making his acting debut in a film, ‘Peer Gent’ (1941).

Two other movies followed, then he was hired by the renowned Hollywood director, Cecil B. DeMille to star as the hard-working circus boss, Brad Braden in the 1952 Academy Award winning circus movie, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Heston took second billing to Betty Hutton in this epic circus extravaganza.

Mr. DeMille produced, directed and narrated key sections of this two-and-a-half-hour feast of entertainment. Heston’s movie career spiralled after he met the great director a second time.

In the ‘Ten Commandments’ trailer DeMille comments on Heston’s facial features, especially his nose, and their striking resemblance to Michelangelo’s marble statue of Moses which can still be seen in the Vatican at Rome.

Heston once said in an interview, “If you can’t make a career out of two DeMille pictures you’re in the wrong business.”

Chuck Heston actually met DeMille a third time when the director was supervising the action adventure movie, ‘The Buccaneer’ 1958. This film, based on the defence of New Orleans by General Andrew Jackson against the British in 1812, starred Yul Brynner in the lead role as the pirate, Jean Lafitte. This technicolour movie was directed by DeMille’s son-in-law, actor Anthony Quinn, whose immigrant father was from County Cork. Heston had a ‘cameo role’ as General Andrew Jackson.

Charlton Heston was the only Hollywood actor to get top-billing in three epic movies. He mounted the podium at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1960 to receive a well-deserved Oscar for best actor as Judah Ben Hur in the greatest biblical movie ever filmed – ‘Ben Hur’ (1959). He took top-billing in this his second epic venture.
This three-and-a-half-hour M.G.M awe-inspiring spectacle featured one hundred thousand costumes, eight thousand extras and three hundred sets. It was allocated the largest budget in cinema history. The movie won eleven academy awards and was directed by the world’s greatest director, William Wyler.

The chariot race sequence had a running time of twenty minutes. The actors had to spend many weeks training how to drive and control the heavy four horse drawn chariots. The cameras expertly capture the speed and skill of the charioteers as they frantically race around the spina (centre) of the arena.

The fierce contest between Judah and his sworn enemy Messala (Stephen Boyd), who was once his friend, is skillfully cinematically depicted. Messala takes a mortal fall and his mangled body is speedily removed from the arena. Messala’s death scene is riveting as he agonisingly splutters his words of hatred to Judah.

The final scenes show Christ being led along the Via Dolorosa to be crucified. Judah sees the bleeding body of Jesus and the hatred for Messala leaves him. Both Judah’s mother and sister are miraculously cured of leprosy.

el_cild_film_posterIn 1961, Heston took top-billing in his third epic, the historical movie depicting the life of Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar – ‘El Cid’ from the Arabic language meaning – ‘the Lord’. This three-hour film was directed by Anthony Mann and produced by Samuel Bronston. The enchanting music score was by the celebrated composer, Dr. Miklós Rózsa. The box office takings were thirty million dollars.

The real Rodrigo Díaz died in Valencia in 1099 A.D. There are many memorable scenes in this stunning epic. Not alone does Rodrigo show physical courage, Heston expertly wields his broadsword many times in defence of honour and king but moral courage is also evident when he stands alone as the crowd kneel in fealty to Alfonso (John Fraser).

He approaches the throne and the camera hones in on Rodrigo’s hand pressing Alfonso’s hand on the Bible and forcing the newly crowned king to swear that he was not an accomplice in his brother Sancho’s (Gary Redmond) death. The king banishes Rodrigo for humiliating him in public.

Then there is the tender love scene when Doña Ximena (Sophia Loren) realizing the purity of heart and mind of the man she recently hated rejoins him in banishment. Their love is rekindled on a lonely hillside.

Bronston employed over seven thousand extras for the final battle scenes depicting Ben Yusuf (Herbert Lom) and his army and war engines approaching Valencia. The camera captures a shower of arrows ripping the sky. El Cid is pierced by one.

Rodrigo is warned that if the arrow is not immediately extracted he will surely die. Again, he shows moral courage as he instructs his beloved Ximena to leave the arrow in place. The final battle can only be won if his soldiers see their Cid leading the attack the following morning. Ximena painfully honours his request.

The dead Cid is placed on his steed, flanked by King Alfonso and his loyal Moorish friend, Mu’tamin (Douglas Wilmer).

As Valencia’s gates open, a ray of light envelopes the Cid. The enemy panic. Ben Yusuf is trampled under the Cid’s horse. The final scene shows the noblest knight of all galloping on his steed along the shore into eternity. Most of the scenes were shot on location in Spain, a few interior scenes were shot in Rome.

This 6’3” iconic star had a powerful screen presence. His facial structure registered authority and high seriousness. He refused to star in movies that did not extol values such as moral and physical courage, loyalty and responsibility. Many of his personae were men who made an indelible mark on humanity, John the Baptist, Michelangelo, General ‘Chinese’ Gordon and President Andrew Jackson.

He was eighty years old when he retired from acting. He wrote an auto-biography, ‘In the Arena’ and made a guest appearance on Gay Byrne’s ‘Late, Late Show’ on the eve of its promotion in Eason’s in Dublin. He obviously had “a bankable nose” as he himself stated because when he passed away on April 5th, 2008, his estate was worth forty million dollars. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for five years. He died of pneumonia.

He had been married to Lydia Clarke for sixty-four years until his death. His epic movies and indeed his portrayal of real-life moral men will be etched in the memory of movie-goers forever.


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Moment of Truth

By Deirdre Comiskey

Kathleen is worried that the love of her life may have found someone new…


Kathleen should not be here. Not in this house, not living this life, not in this country. This was never her plan. From an early age she had known very clearly what she did want and had planned carefully how she would achieve it. Focused…that was the word her friends used when they described her…well at least that was the case until the pivotal moment in her life when she had met Brian and had without further thought thrown all her carefully laid plans out the window. That was ten years ago.

moment-of-truthFresh out of college in Dublin with her first class honours law degree the world was her oyster. Her mind raced back to her graduation ceremony in UCD that September.
The excitement of strutting into the hall in her cap and gown. The proud smiles of her Mother and Father as they watched their precious only child, the first to go to college in their family, as she was conferred with a Bachelor of Civil Law. She knew their hands were sore with clapping so hard for her as she sailed back to her seat, the sense of achievement filling her with excitement. She could do anything now, go anywhere, and be whoever she wanted to be.

The telephone made her jump and she raced to answer it fearing the worst. It was only someone wanting to discuss alternative energy suppliers with her. It wasn’t their day…it wasn’t her day. In fact she wished it was any day but today.

She made another cup of strong coffee and sat down, remembering how she met Brian working in a big city law firm in London. Straight from college she was a newbie and Brian was assigned to be her ‘buddy’ a practice the firm had developed for integrating the interns. She was waiting in reception on her first day when a well groomed guy in his late twenties with dark auburn wavy hair and navy blue eyes strode over to her. Tall and deeply tanned he smiled at her holding out his hand and introduced himself explaining that he would take care of her…she hoped he meant for the rest of her life.

Their romance wasn’t so much a whirlwind as a hurricane. It raced along with such an intensity friends said it could never be sustained.

Within two months he had begged her to marry him and, encased in the dreamy world of romance, she had agreed without even thinking about the practical consequences. She would listen to no one, not her parents who argued she was too young, had not given herself a chance to enjoy life or to her friends who took her to task over committing herself to the first guy she had allowed herself to get serious about. Within six months of starting her career she was married …and expecting her daughter. Her mother cried when she heard but they were not tears of joy but of sadness because she was afraid her daughter had wasted the precious opportunities she had been given and would regret her life. Three more children followed in quick succession and Kathleen had to admit that she would never qualify as a solicitor. The cost of childcare meant that giving up work to be a full-time mother was her only option.

Brian worked hard to make ends meet but he was called upon to work at all hours of the day and night as he worked his way up the corporate ladder. Kathleen settled with him in Wimbledon and soon the years swept by in a haze of sleepless nights with the babies, busy school runs as they got older and the humdrum of food shopping and housekeeping that was a chore but had to be done. Brian was now 39 and, facing his 40th birthday next year, he was finally offered a full partnership in the firm, a reward for the dedication he had shown to the job. He was still handsome his auburn hair now tinged with the first signs of maturing grey and frown lines spelt out the years of concentration on his forehead.

Kathleen looked at her reflection in the mirror. She had to admit that at 33 she looked her age. Being responsible for four little people who depended on you to feed and clothe and love them daily brought a maturity to her that her close friends hadn’t yet found.

Her relationship with her mother had never recovered from the shock caused by her abandonment of her career and life goals. Brian too had been affected by their decisions. She knew he felt deeply guilty that she had to give up her career to raise their family. Try as she would to convince him otherwise he felt she secretly resented the choices she had made because of him

She tried to think back before the children, before Brian .What was it she had wanted so badly? What was it she had missed out on? What had her friends got that she hadn’t?
Growing up she had pictured herself as a human rights lawyer defending the disenfranchised, the poor, the people with no voices.

She would study hard, get her law degree and qualify as a solicitor then look for a reputable charity and start to build the experience she would need to fulfil her dreams. Marriage was not high on her agenda and the truth was as a teenager she never thought much about having a family. No, hers was a nobler calling, She would make a difference to humanity, she would change things for the better. She planned on living in London while she qualified and returning to her hometown of Killarney with its beautiful National Park and rugged coastline which was ever dear to her heart. She would base herself there near her parents. As an only child she wanted to be a support for her Mother and Father and to see them as often as she could while flying abroad to undertake her international work.

A big tear rolled down her check splashing into her cup. She missed her Mother so much. Missed the closeness they once had. Missed the pride in her Mother’s eyes as she looked at her. Her Mother visited a couple of times a year and Kathleen tried to make as many trips to Killarney as she could. But somehow they could never get back to the way it used to be. Her Father and Brian got on well discussing sports and politics but they didn’t understand the gulf she felt between herself and her Mum. If only she and Brian could have moved back to Killarney. There was no hope now that he had finally been made a partner. She was in Wimbledon and in Wimbledon she would stay…at least if her worst fears didn’t materialise.

Afraid…she realised that she had been afraid for the last six months. Ever since Brian had taken to disappearing off on business trips and was secretive about his destinations.
Confidential he had said, not something he could tell her. Did he really think she was that big of a fool? It was obvious to her that there was someone else in his life.

He had taken to making late night calls on his mobile and when she asked who he was speaking to he had made random excuses about following up with clients out of hours. He had been away this last week and had said he wanted to speak about something very important with her on his return.

Important…that could only mean one thing couldn’t it? He had finally decided to leave her. He was seeing someone else, the reason for the business trips and late night calls. It was an old story surely. One she had heard many times from friends. And yet she could not really find it in her heart to believe it. She still loved Brian deeply and up to a few months ago was convinced he felt the same despite their ups and downs.

It never rains but it pours her Gran used to say and she was right. Kathleen had just had a call from her Father an hour ago saying her Mum was in the hospital with a fractured leg having tripped on her way to Mass and was having it set in the local hospital under anaesthetic. Kathleen was sick with worry and willing the phone to ring and for her father to say her mother was out of the operation and in recovery.

She heard the key in the lock as Brian arrived home. Throwing his bag in the hall he wandered into the kitchen. Seeing her white tearstained face he flung his arms around Kathleen and she, relieved to have him home and yet scared to hear his news, told him between sobs about her Mum. He made her a fresh cup of tea and gently took her hand in his. “Kathleen,” he said in a low voice, “there is something you should know.”

Ashen faced she could barely look at him and tried to speak but nothing would come out.
“Kathleen I have always always regretted the way I rushed you into marriage,” he began.
Oh no, he regretted their marriage. This was it. It was really over. She needed to face it.
Brian saw the shock on her face and continued gently.

“Honey you have sacrificed so much for me and the children and I know I haven’t been here when I should have to give you support. I know you have had a hard time away from your home and your family especially your mother and that you never had the chance to reach your full career potential because of my selfishness.

“Well I have been thinking and planning and I have something amazing to tell you. This partnership I have been offered is based in Ireland. I have been asked to set up a branch of our office in Cork. The trips I have been making have been to assess the potential and find suitable premises. I didn’t want to tell you in case it fell through but I have just sealed the deal. I have also been looking for a temporary house for us until we can choose our new forever home together. That can be in Killarney if you want to be near your Mother or anywhere else you want my darling, because I will do whatever I can to make up to you for all that you have had to give up because of me.

“I have also made enquiries with the Law Society in Dublin and you can enrol to continue your studies if that’s what you want and take up an apprenticeship at our new branch in Cork.

“The children are in school most of the day and with my new position I can afford for us to have a nanny if you think we need one. Darling please say something.”

Kathleen’s brain was racing. trying to make sense of what Brian had just said. He wasn’t leaving her? There was no one else. He still loved her! He loved her and he was willing to move to Ireland for her. She would be near her dear Mum and Dad, They would rebuild their bond. There was time…there was still plenty of time. Time for her Mum to truly get to know the wonderful man she had married and for her children to finally have their grandparents in their lives. That is…if her Mum survived the operation…

She nearly jumped out of her skin as her mobile screeched on the table.
“Kathleen. It’s your dad. Mam is fine. She’s in the recovery room. What did you say? You’re coming home…for a visit…for good? Really darling girl? Oh Kathleen that’s grand it’s really grand…the best present you could ever give to us. Just wait until I tell your Mum… sure she will think she has died and gone to Heaven!”

The End

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From the hauntingly beautiful When You Were Sweet Sixteen to the heartbreaking lyrics of Leaving Nancy, the songs of The Fureys have a special place in the hearts of Irish people. George Furey tells Brian Farrington the stories behind their greatest love songs.

From Wilde to Yeats, Joyce to Kavanagh and all the way through to Moore and MacGowan, Irishmen have a long established global reputation for being hopeless, and not so hopeless romantics, and The Furey brothers along with Davey Arthur are a group of troubadours-cum-raconteurs that continue to keep some of the country’s most popular love songs alive on the contemporary live music scene.

newfureysFor a case in point, George Furey tells a very amusing story about possibly the greatest of Irish love songs, When You Were Sweet Sixteen.

“We were invited to perform on The Late Late Show many years ago,” he recalls. “It was a live special being broadcast from Goffs in County Kildare – The Boomtown Rats were on the same night. We were staying in the Cill Dara Hotel and decided to go for a few ‘lemonades’ before the performance. We were standing at the bar and this young fella comes up and asks us if we could do him a big favour.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Valentine’s Special (issue 5589)

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By Jane Hill

Arranged marriages in rural Ireland were a common practice, a mere generation before my time. I was a teenager when I first heard about them, and to be honest I found it all a bit too much to believe.

Growing up as I did in the swinging 1960s when the vernacular back then was “make love not war” made it all the more unbelievable.

It follows that in the modern world of the 21st century such a life changing practice, like an arranged marriage, would prove fairly difficult for the youth of today to comprehend.
As time went on I wondered what it must have been like for the women and men, those that actually went through the whole process.

Curiosity compelled me to find out more about it. Asking around I was pleased to hear there were couples living nearby whose marriages had been arranged by their parents. I was to hear their version of how things worked out for them, and to hear first-hand on how it came about. What amazed me was how amenable, and respectful, they all were about the process.

To secure the match there was the ‘fortune’ (aka dowry) to be discussed. A sum of money gathered over years, for a farmer/small business family to have, when a daughter reached marriageable age. It had to be an enormous commitment, especially if one had several daughters.

What I found interesting about the fortune was how it was used by the groom’s family. For the younger son it went towards his education/career. Or as it sometimes happened it was passed on as a “fortune” for their daughter’s marriage. The significance of course meant that the parents had an added advantage in who to choose. Their daughter would know that she could enter a marriage with the knowledge that she herself came from a home that thought enough of her to make available such monies.

She would then be accepted as a suitable daughter-in-law by the groom’s family. When the fortune was agreed on, a marriage would soon follow.

In my search for information I was to hear some amusing tales. One man told me the following story about a man who willed to his son the family property.

It was based on the premise that if he was unmarried within one year of the father’s death the property would then go to his sister. But the sister did not want it, so she set about getting a wife for him. She sent word to a friend, asking her to contact a particular woman, with information that her brother was looking for a wife. The friend was heard to say, “Now why would I be daft enough to send word to a woman I don’t know, when I’ve a sister at home who badly needs a husband for herself?” In no time the crafty lady had it all organised. A fortune of £300 was agreed on, and the marriage duly went ahead.

The system was not without its romantic themes. I heard the story of one young farmer who had ‘fallen deeply in love’ with a young woman. Unfortunately her family did not have the resources to pay the necessary fortune. Undaunted he took it upon himself to borrow the amount needed to complete the deal. They I believe went on to live a full and extremely happy life together.

Yes, there were rejections on the part of some women/men to go along with the plan, but for the most part many of them eventually did agree to the match.

One woman told me her story. Her father took on a young thirteen year old boy, he would work and live on the farm without a wage.

The deal was that when he reached marriageable age he would marry their eldest daughter. Years later the father conveniently overlooked the deal. A better offer arrived for the daughter from another possible match. He actually agreed to talk with the man’s parents about a match.

But in rural living not much goes unnoticed, word filtered down to boy’s parents. They were not prepared to quietly allow their son’s place to be taken from him. The Parish Priest was drawn into the controversy.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Valentine’s Special (issue 5589)


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1947 was the year of the Big Snow, the coldest and harshest winter in living memory when hundreds of Irish lives were lost. Turtle Bunbury recalls how the country was pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century.


bigsnowcoverGlancing out his bedroom window in Ballymote, Co. Sligo, on the evening of Monday, 24th February, 1947, seventeen-year-old Francie McFadden shivered. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January. It was only a matter of time before the treacherous white powder began to tumble upon Ulster and Connaught.

That night, a major Arctic depression approached the coast of Cork and Kerry and advanced north-east across Ireland. As the black winds began howling down the chimneys, so the new barrage began. When Francie awoke on Tuesday morning, the outside world was being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century.
1947 was the year of the Big Snow, the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Because the temperatures rarely rose above freezing point, the snows that had fallen across Ireland in January remained until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piled on top. And there was no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24th and March 17th, it snowed on thirty of them.

‘The Blizzard’ of February 25th was the greatest single snowfall on record and lasted for close on fifty consecutive hours. It smothered the entire island in a blanket of snow.
Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifted until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway was filled and the Irish countryside became a vast ashen wasteland. Nothing was familiar anymore.

Everything on the frozen landscape was a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidified the surface and it was to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows began to melt.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5588)