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By John Macklin

They took little Edouard Cabrero down the street of a strange town and he behaved as though he had come home. They confronted him with people he had never met and he knew their names and greeted them as friends.

His parents wept as he went up to a middle-aged woman in the street and said, “This is my other mother.”

stf-did-this-boy-remember-the-night-he-diedIt seemed, on the face of it, that the impossible had happened. That the personality of another child, whom they never knew, and who is now dead, had taken over the mind of Edouard Cabrero.

Today, Edouard lives in the unclouded world of a nine-year-old with his family in a shabby suburb of Havana, Cuba. He talks repeatedly of his “other life”, of the friends he made and the things he did. He talks, too, of the night he died.

Experts have compiled detailed dossiers of the case, have tested the boy and tried to trick him, but Edouard continues to supply information he could not possibly supply in any orthodox way, about a boy who died before he was born.

At first his family laughed when Edouard, at five, began to tell stories about a brother and sister named Juan and Mercedes, and about a mother with fair skin and black hair. His parents thought it was a phase that would soon pass. But as the months went by, the boy talked increasingly about his “dream life”.

He said his mother used to make hats and sometimes she sent him on errands, particularly to a chemist whose goods were cheaper than elsewhere. But Edouard said he preferred going on longer errands because he could then use the bicycle which was kept in a downstairs room of his house.

The stories were so coherent, so consistent, that the family doctor, hearing one while making a call at the house, was intrigued and began to gently question the boy.
Edouard told him that he had become very ill. His mother had cried a great deal, particularly when an ambulance arrived to take him to hospital. He never arrived at hospital but died in the ambulance on the way there.

“I remember the light through the windows gradually going away,” Edouard told the doctor. “I was tired but not frightened or unhappy.”

“What was your name?” the doctor asked. “Pancho Seco,” said the boy. “We lived in Nuevitas.”

At least there was at last some definite clue. Edouard’s mother had relations in the Nuevitas district. She also knew that her son had never been there.
The following weekend the parents took Edouard on an outing to Nuevitas and passed a chemist’s shop. “Look,” cried the boy. “There it is – the shop I used to go to!” He tugged his parents along the street and round another corner. Running up to a house numbered 68, he shouted, “This is my house.”

His father knocked on the door but no one was in. Shaken, the family returned to Havana where a local clairvoyant was consulted. Could this be a case of reincarnation? How else could such a young child have accumulated such a wealth of accurate information?

By now, Mrs Seco had been contacted at number 68 and she confirmed that her son Pancho had died 11 years earlier. Would she agree to take part in an experiment?
Reluctantly she agreed and escorted by a team or researchers, Edouard returned to Nuevitas. The researchers brought a dossier with them, compiled from the boy’s alleged recollections of an earlier life.

He said that his mother’s first name was Amparo and his father’s Pierro. He had a brother and sister. He said the railway ran behind the house. His father worked for the post office and rose to work on a blue bicycle.

He named places in the country where the family had been taken for days out and described in detail what had happened on these occasions. He said he had once owned a dog named Tolo, which had been killed by a tram.

In all, the dossier contained over 50 such details of routine family life and Mrs Seco said they were all accurate. Most of them were things only her son Pancho could have known. Researchers then persuaded Mrs Seco to stand in the street while Edouard was taken past by his father.

When the boy spotted the woman he immediately shouted, “There’s my other mother – over by the shop window.” Mrs Seco hurried away, unable to cope with the unbelievable confrontation.

In another test, the boy picked out Pancho’s relatives and friends in a crowd and addressed them by names Pancho had used.

Today Edouard still astounds and upsets his parents by revealing new facts about what appears to be a previous life. But as the memories take shape they are unable to come up with any alternative to the theory that somehow a dead child’s spirit lives on in their son.

Read Stranger Than Fiction every week in Ireland’s Own

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Liam Nolan begins a new series on One-Book Authors, starting with Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty

The frail, pain-ravaged, crippled woman who authored one of the biggest-selling books in the English language, wrote most of it in pencil whilst lying on a couch. She began writing it in her fifties, using a discarded accounts ledger and slips of paper. It took six years to finish.Her mother, a pious, kind, and gentle woman, transcribed the pencilled material.

j607_sewellThe author was Anna Sewell. Her pet name was ‘Nannie’. Her novel was the much loved and highly influential Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse. The publishers gave her a miserly £20 for it. It was the only book Anna ever wrote.
Black Beauty has sold over 50 million copies. It is the sixth most popular work in the English language, has never been out of print, and has been translated into Japanese, Italian, French, Hindustani, Spanish, and many other languages. Three films have been based on it, as well as countless television and radio shows.

Anna Sewell never intended Black Beauty to be considered purely as a story for children. She wrote it to highlight the treatment of horses in the 19th century. Its special aim, she said, was “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses”. She was conscious that the animals were used to haul barges and carriages, to haul granite and coal, and to carry loads that damaged their legs and hoofs on the cobblestoned streets of towns and cities.

Anna died in 1877 in Old Catton, near Norwich, just five months after her book first came out. She was 57, and passed away from suspected peritonitis, tuberculosis, and depression. But she had lived long enough to know that the book was a bestseller. By the time she died, 30,000 copies had been sold.

“The book has lived,” someone said, “(But) the author has been forgotten.”
Anna Sewell was born in Great Yarmouth in 1820 to Quaker parents, Isaac and Mary Wright Sewell. They had a son, Philip, two years after Anna was born. The family then moved to London.

One afternoon when she was 14, running in the rain, Anna slipped and fell awkwardly, injuring her ankles. Mistreated medically, they never healed. The result: Anna was condemned to a lifetime of never-ending excruciating pain. She was never again able to walk properly, or stand for longer than minutes at a time. The few steps she was able to make could be accomplished only with the aid of a crutch.

Her mother, a best-selling writer of moral tales and ballads for children, looked after Anna’s education, mainly at home. The works of Tennyson, Wordsworth and Shakespeare fascinated Anna. She helped her mother to edit the little books that Mary wrote.

Anna learned to ride horses at her grandparents’ farm in Norwich, where she grew to love the animals. Eventually her mother bought her a pony and trap to help her get around in the outdoors. She trained her pony to respond to verbal signals, and never she resorted to using a whip.

blackbeautycoverfirsted1877Isaac, Anna’s father, was a poor businessman, and the Sewells stumbled from one financial crisis to another. He finally got a job as a bank manager! But it was Anna’s mother’s income from writing that financed the family for years. She earned enough to be able to take Anna to spas in Europe for hydrotherapy, and to visit German and Spanish doctors, trying to find a cure for Anna’s crippled legs and feet. Sadly, none of it worked, though on one trip Anna met the poet Tennyson. Mother and daughter grew ever closer in their relationship. They went frequently to the workhouse in Brighton where they laboured to help the poor.

In 1864 the family moved to Old Catton, a village in Norfolk. Anna’s health had been deteriorating steadily, and when she was 54 and had become too weak to leave the house, they sold her pony and trap. That was when she began writing Black Beauty.
She decided to write the story from the horse’s point of view — “translated from the equine”, as she playfully suggested. It was a remarkable literary device. “We call them dumb animals,” she said, “ and so they are, for they cannot tell us how they feel, but they do not suffer less because they have no words.”

Anna Sewell had an abundance of words of compassion, a love of horses, a fine command of English, and those cherished qualities, sincerity and integrity. She employed them all to produce one of the best-loved classics of literature.  
“There is no religion without love,” she wrote, “and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham.”

Read Liam Nolan every month in Ireland’s Own


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An extract from Sisters of the Revolutionaries: The Story of
Margaret and Mary Brigid Pearse.

The sisters of Patrick and Willie Pearse have long been overshadowed by their famous brothers but they also travelled interesting paths in life. Margaret was a teacher, Irish language activist and politician who shared Patrick’s educational vision for a bilingual education system and his political vision of an independent Irish nation.

04-0117-600dpi-1Mary Brigid was a musician, teacher, actress and author of short stories, children’s stories and dramas, but did not agree with her family’s political activism. Margaret and Mary Brigid never enjoyed a close relationship like Patrick and Willie; however, they both shared a deep affection for their brothers.

Margaret and Mary Brigid Pearse were the eldest and youngest of four children born to James (1839–1900) and Margaret Pearse (1857–1932).

The children were born above their father’s business premises at 27 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin (now Pearse Street); Margaret Mary (b. 1878), Patrick Henry (b. 1879), William James (b. 1881) and Mary Brigid (b. 1884). Personal accounts of Margaret, Mary Brigid and Patrick recall memories of a happy childhood, a close-knit family and a religious upbringing. Margaret wrote, ‘our schooldays and youth were very happy with our loving mother and most devoted father. Our pleasures were simple and cultural.’

Their father, James Pearse was born in Bloomsbury, London to Mary Ann Thomson, a Unitarian, and James, a free thinker. He had two brothers, William and Henry. Due to straitened financial circumstances, the three boys worked from an early age. James moved to Dublin c.1859–60 to take up the position of foreman for the English architectural sculptor, Charles Harrison, who had premises in Great Brunswick Street.

James married Emily Susannah Fox in 1863 and they had four children, two of whom died in infancy. Emily died from a spinal infection in 1876.  

James married his second wife, Margaret Brady, in 1877. She lived in North Clarence Street, Dublin and worked as an assistant at a newsagent/post office on Great Brunswick Street where James purchased his daily newspaper. Their first child, Margaret Mary, known as ‘wow-wow’ and ‘Maggie’ to her family was a precocious, bossy child. She adored her father ‘Papa’ and was very proud of his achievements. He, in turn, indulged her every whim. Fifteen months after her birth, Patrick Henry was born. Margaret was delighted to have a younger sibling with whom she could play, but perhaps, more importantly, whom she could ‘enlighten’.

As the elder sibling, Margaret’s opinion invariably prevailed. Patrick recalled, ‘she insisted that her wisdom and experience were riper than mine, and, by dint of hearing this again and again repeated, I came to believe it and to entertain for her a serious respect.’ On one occasion, Margaret encouraged Patrick to cut the tail off a toy horse his father had brought him from London; because the mane and tail of the ‘London horse’ were made of real horse’s hair, Margaret convinced him that it would grow back.

When it did not, Patrick soon realised that Margaret was not as wise or knowledgeable as she unfailingly led him to believe.

Margaret and Patrick played happily together as young children but because she was ‘both bigger and of a more dominating character’, she dictated the content and nature of their playtime, which frequently irked Patrick. She had a particular penchant for re-enacting battles that occasionally resulted in fatalities. Patrick believed that Margaret should take responsibility for burying her own dead, but to his great annoyance, Dobbin, a treasured wooden horse carved by his father, was often commandeered to carry the dead on a solemn journey for burial at Glasnevin Cemetery. These childhood games were simple but fondly remembered. Margaret and Patrick were most content sitting with their parents and their half siblings, Emily and James Vincent, in the drawing room in front of the fire watching the fire-fairy or playing with their pets, Minnie, the lazy cat and Gyp, their accident-prone hyperactive dog.

Margaret and Patrick were constant companions in their formative years, but the arrival of their brother William James (Willie) in 1881 ended the close bond they had shared in early childhood. The final addition to the Pearse family, Mary Brigid, generated much excitement in the Pearse household. When the nurse announced that the doctor had brought them a little sister, the children enquired from her how much their father had paid for the little girl; she replied, £100.

Mary Brigid suffered ill-health from a young age. The exact nature of her illness is unknown but she was often confined to bed for extended periods. Mary Brigid was often indulged and spoiled as a child.

Her social circle consisted of her sister and two brothers, but her closest bond was with Patrick. To say she idolised him would not be an exaggeration. During her periods of convalescence, it was Patrick who temporarily relieved her suffering and boredom by reading about the adventures of fascinating characters in weird and wonderful places.

Characters in books, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wallypug of Why and Prince Boohoo and Little Smuts were brought to life by Patrick. The hours that Patrick and Mary Brigid spent together as children definitely had a lasting effect on both siblings. Mary Brigid wrote plays, children’s stories and a novel. Patrick was inspired by Mary Brigid’s childhood convalescence to write several children’s stories that included sick children as characters such as ‘An Gadaí’ and ‘Eoghainín na nÉan’.

In between periods of convalescence, Mary Brigid participated fully in the family’s escapades. The young Pearses, together with their cousins, nieces, and nephews, had a particular fondness for all things theatrical and loved to dress up and disguise themselves as different characters. They transformed their drawing room into a stage and performed adaptations of Shakespearean plays or short plays written by Patrick. The children embraced their various roles with enthusiasm.

sisters-of-the-revolutionaries-final-high-resTheir parents, James and Margaret ensured that their children grew up in a stable, close-knit and loving family; a happy home where the children’s creative talents flourished.

Sisters of the Revolutionaries: The Story of Margaret and Mary Brigid Pearse is
published by Merrion Press and on sale now in all good book stores.
For more details call (045) 432497 or visit

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Deirdre Ní Chuanacháin traces the history of The Everyman building in Cork which has served the community as music hall, theatre and cinema over the past 120 years

The Everyman building on MacCurtain Street in Cork celebrates a significant anniversary this year. It has stood for 120 years on the street once known as King Street. It was first opened on the 19th April 1897 by Dan Lowrey as a Music Hall called the Cork Palace Theatre of Varieties.

The building, designed by Scottish engineer Richard Henry Brunton, had a stained-glass street canopy with many licensed bars, an ornate ceiling with elaborate gilt boxes on either side of the stage, completed by the raked stalls and a curved and raked balcony.

Such was the success of Brunton’s design that he became involved in the designs for remodelling and enlarging the Star Palace of Varieties in Dublin as the Empire Palace Theatre (now the Olympia Theatre).

On the opening night, the Chairman Mr. John O’Connell is recorded as saying that the Cork Palace Theatre of Varieties was “without question the prettiest, most commodious and best equipped place of entertainment in Ireland.”

From the opening night and over the following three decades variety shows were the main attraction. The popularity of seasonal pantomimes grew over the years and a wealth of dramas were staged by numerous touring repertory companies visiting on a weekly basis from England and beyond.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5601)

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Mary Sheerin continues her series marking the 90th anniversary of Ireland’s broadcasting service…

“And now it’s over to Micheál O Hehir…”

It is no exaggeration to say that I was born listening to the voice of the legendary Michael O’Hehir. My father, a county hurler himself for Westmeath, never missed a match.

As a small child, I knew by the expressions on his face and the sounds he made, whether it was a good match or a bad match. Michael O’Hehir brought it alive for him…

I particularly remember the roar of the crowd as O’Hehir shouted ‘IT’S A GOAL’. And my father would thump the arm of the chair or maybe leap up in the air – all depending on which side had got the goal.

 A Dubliner, O’Hehir was raised in Glasnevin and went to O’Connell’s School. I remember him telling Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show how, even as a small boy, his hobby was to build radios! But his passion was sport.

While still at school O’Hehir requested an audition to do sports commentary and the then Director of Radio Eireann, Dr Kiernan, was so impressed with the young O’Hehir that within two months Michael made his first broadcast.

It was the All Ireland football semi-final between Monaghan and Galway in August, 1938. The following year, he covered his first hurling final. From then on until 1985, O’Hehir covered virtually all major GAA games. He became Head of Sports for RTE.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5561)

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By Shane Cochrane

Ireland is an island of ghosts. Phantom pipers and spectral soldiers; jilted brides and headless horsemen; and weary travellers, condemned to spend all eternity thumbing a lift: we have them all.

But before these stories were ever written down, they were told many times, growing much in each telling. Occasionally, though, someone was on hand to record the eerie events as they happened. And sometimes, they saw more than they wanted to.
In 1910, a poltergeist was reportedly tormenting the occupants of a room at a boarding house in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. The occupants – two men and a boy – had lodged there for some time without incident.

But one night in late July, at midnight, one of the men became aware of a tapping noise in the room. And even though it was growing louder, and seemed to move about the room, he paid little attention to it.

As the tapping continued, he felt the clothes being pulled – slowly – from his bed. Thinking his roommates were having a joke at this expense, he shouted at them to stop. Rudely awoken, they protested their innocence.
The tapping began again. And now that everyone in the room was awake, they lit a candle and searched the room. But there was no one else there. They locked the door and extinguished the candle.
In the darkness, the tapping resumed. But when the candle was lit again, the tapping stopped. This continued for two hours. At some point their fear was overcome by exhaustion, and they fell asleep.

In the morning, they woke to find that one of the beds had been moved across the room.

Possibly hoping that they had made a fuss over nothing, the men and boy slept in the same room on the following night. However, one of the men refused to sleep in what they were now calling the ‘haunted bed’.

It was a wise decision.

As the men cowered in one bed, they watched in terror as the ‘haunted bed’ floated up to the ceiling, flipped over, and slowly dropped to the floor again.

This was their last night in the room.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5599)

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By Daphne Dyer Wolf

James Connolly, a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916, was also a self-made intellectual, a lifelong socialist, and a radical labour agitator. Yet he is remembered today in popular imagination more for the way he died – wounded and propped up in a chair before a British firing squad – than he is for the way he lived, and the things he lived for.

How did that happen? An advertising poster designed less than six months after his death suggests that the process began on the walls of the New York City subway.
The poster was likely the first visual representation of his death anywhere. Showing Connolly seconds before his execution, it was designed to promote the Irish Relief Fund Bazaar, an extravaganza held in New York’s Madison Square Garden in October 1916. The Bazaar raised $40,000 for the families of those killed or imprisoned during the Rising. It was backed by a committee of prominent Irish New Yorkers, as well as some German Americans eager to solidify connections with Ireland in the United States, which was still a neutral nation in 1916.

The committee paid for the posters to be plastered in subways around the city, but once they were up, the firm hired to display them began pulling them down again, suddenly convinced they were too morbid and unfit for public view.

james-connolly-irish-relief-fund-bazaar-poster-courtesy-of-new-york-public-library-for-the-performing-artsOne of the backers of the Bazaar, attorney John J. O’Leary, flew into court to keep the posters up. He defended its design, accusing the advertising firm, and the subway, of being pawns of J. P. Morgan, ‘the official agents of England in this country’. Although many of the posters had already been torn down, O’Leary won an injunction preventing further desecration. More copies decorated Madison Square Garden during the Bazaar’s run.

Despite O’Leary’s defence, the poster is quite morbid, and strangely so. With its bright colours, cartoon-like figures and a boast that the Bazaar was ‘The Biggest Show New York has Ever Seen’, it looks like a circus poster. Though instead of clowns or an acrobat hurtling through the air, it shows a man about to be shot to death.
It also has a strong resemblance to the style of First World War recruiting posters, which were engineered to entice ordinary people to enlist by stoking primal fears for their homes and families, rather than to appeal to more nationalist loyalties.

Some recruiting posters in Ireland showed the fighting in Europe with an Irish homestead dangerously nearby, or depicted a monstrous looking German soldier knocking down a cottage door with women and children inside.

The images at the top of the Connolly poster – a forlorn mother and child on one side, and the rebellion’s tricolour flag on the left – show that link between home and country. Below, the walls of Kilmainham Gaol have fallen away to reveal a green meadow leading to a group of rural cottages. A closer look reveals their roofs are caved in, and a red substance that must be blood is leeching either from them back again to Connolly, or the other way around.

By evoking images of eviction and ruin, the poster linked the issues of the Land War (which had always received strong support from Irish Americans) to the bloodshed of the Easter Rising. Yet in doing so, this ‘recruiting’ poster is asking potential enlistees to defend a homeland that has already been destroyed. And instead of depicting Connolly at the General Post Office, gun in hand, this poster shows him at the deepest moment of defeat.

Who decided that this gaudily coloured image of James Connolly’s imminent death was the best way to attract New Yorkers to a giant fundraiser? Although it was reported that German-American participation in the Bazaar was considerable (sets of dolls were sold there as ‘playmates’: a German soldier in full uniform coupled with an Irish peasant girl, and a German peasant girl with an Irish Volunteer), there is no evidence to show any direct German influence on the poster’s design.

The Bazaar organisers were probably responsible, but it is also likely that they chose Connolly’s execution as a motif not because of Connolly himself, but because it made the British look so bad.

The committee members were Irish Americans involved in business, law, banking and politics who cared deeply about the cause of Irish freedom.

To promote that cause, men who would never have paused to listen to Connolly in life suddenly found that a dead socialist labour agitator could be a useful archetype.
Connolly lived in the United States from 1903 until 1910 (having visited briefly in 1902). As he travelled around the country fighting for socialist and labour causes, his activities often ran counter to the agendas of established Irish-American groups. He attacked the ‘Irish skinners of Irish labor’ in the United States, and campaigned for the Socialist Party’s candidate, Eugene Debs, in the 1908 presidential election, rejecting the Democratic Party supported by most Irish Americans.

His membership in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) put him at odds with mainstream labour unions, whose members and leaders were heavily Irish American. Socialism was rejected by Irish-American communities, as it was deemed godless and anti-American.

To convince Irish Americans otherwise Connolly published a newspaper called The Harp, and some of his best writing was printed there. To his regret, Irish America was not listening. His friend, the radical Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, remembered that it was “a pathetic sight to see him standing, poorly clad, at the door of Cooper Union or some other east side hall, selling his little paper. None of the prosperous professional Irish who shouted their admiration for him after his death, lent him a helping hand at that time.”

His death was mourned among poor workers in cities, small towns and mining camps in the United States where he was known as a fighter for the economic rights of all nationalities.

Middle-class Irish America, indeed America itself, had little idea who he was or what he had accomplished when news of his dramatic and brutal execution first hit the headlines.

The appearance of the Bazaar poster so soon after his death seems to suggest that those headlines had already made him more famous for his death than for anything else he had done. One other possibility exists in the search for the origin of the poster’s design. Connolly’s daughter, Nora, came to the United States in August 1916, and she raised the flags at the Grand Opening of the Bazaar. She had stood by her father’s bedside before he was shot, and had heard him tell his wife, “Hasn’t it been a full life, Lillie? And isn’t this a good end?” Nora may have had enough influence with the Bazaar committee to insist that they celebrate her father’s “good end” on the poster. If so, she could not have predicted that his death would ever overshadow his achievements as a thinker and writer, nor his life’s work among the poor and powerless. At that point in 1916, she must have assumed they could never be separated.

irelands-allies-jpg-final-24-10-16Daphne Dyer Wolf is a Ph.D. candidate in the History and Culture programme at Drew University. This article is based on her chapter in Ireland’s Allies: America and the 1916 Easter Rising, edited by Miriam Nyhan Grey and published by UCD Press.

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World-renowned Irish tenor, songwriter and poet Finbar Wright is celebrating his 60th birthday this year. From a youthful man of the cloth to one of the most recognisable voices Ireland has ever produced, he looks back on his extraordinary career to date with Kay Doyle.

Whenever popular Irish tenor Finbar Wright is asked to reveal the largest audience to which he has performed, he prepares himself for a shocked reaction on the enquirer’s face – especially when he tells them it was in front of one and a quarter million faces!
“It wasn’t today or yesterday either,” he says with a chuckle on some downtime in New Jersey during his recent US tour, “but all the way back to September 29th, 1979. That was the day when Pope John Paul came to the Phoenix Park and I was given the job of reading the gospel during the Papal Mass. He came up to say hello beforehand and I remember being impressed by what a fit and powerful man he was. He was also very pleasant, and it was a pity to see how he deteriorated after being shot just a couple of years later.

“I was a deacon at the time, which was the last step before becoming a priest, and I was too young and naïve to realise just what a big occasion it was. The Gospel reading is on YouTube today, if anybody is interested in seeing it!”

Religion has played a major role in Finbar’s life. Born and raised by the seaside at Garretstown, close to Kinsale in County Cork and even closer to Ballinspittle, home of the highly publicised moving statues of the Virgin Mary, Finbar was the youngest in a family of eight.

Distant relatives of the eighth President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, the Wrights were a small farming family, and Finbar enjoyed an idyllic upbringing in the hinterland that surrounds historic Kinsale.
“There were two seasons in Garretstown,” he recalls, “ the quiet winter and then the summer, when the place exploded. I remember as far back as the horse-drawn caravans bringing people on their holidays. There would be knocks on the door at anytime of day or night, with people looking for eggs, or milk or vegetables. There was always a few bob to be made. Fishing played a big part in my childhood too, and I have great memories of fishing off the rocks into the sea.

“Music had a big role to play in our house. My father had a fine tenor voice and sang the great songs of Mario Lanza and Bridie Gallagher. One of his party pieces was I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen.

finbarwright“We learned instruments from a young age like the melodeon and guitar, though my mother was quite progressive and at a time when a musical education wasn’t easy for young boys to come across, she introduced a piano into the house. I started learning the piano at the age of six, along with the theory of music, and it is a skillset that has stayed with me throughout my life.”

It was his secondary school education in Farranferris that attracted Finbar to a religious vocation. Inspired by teachers and mentors, he made the decision to enter the priesthood early on, even if he now feels that going down the road of being a social worker might have been a more fitting calling for him.

“I was ordained at the age of 22, and sent straight back to Farranferris where I taught Spanish and Latin,” says Finbar. “I always had a love for languages, and speak French and German too. However, I came to realise that being a priest was a lonely lifestyle and coming from a large family, I really missed having someone to talk to. Once you closed the door at night, that was it, there was no one to talk to until the next day. The loneliness of that empty room was overwhelming, and I had to leave it.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5599)

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Eggs painted in luminous colours and others fashioned of jewels and precious metals have long been a feature of the Easter celebrations.  In fact, painted and engraved eggs 6,000 years old have been found in Africa, writes GERRY BREEN

For people in this part of the world, chocolate eggs are usually given to celebrate Easter or springtime. However, Easter eggs have a colourful history, and the old traditions involved using dyed and painted chicken eggs.

Indeed, the practice of covering eggshells with elaborate decorations as part of spring rituals goes back to ancient times.

Engraved ostrich eggs, which are 6,000 years old, have been found in Africa. In ancient Egypt and in the early cultures of Mesopotamia and Crete, eggs were associated with death and rebirth, as well as with kingship.

Decorated ostrich eggs, as well as ostrich eggs in gold and silver, were frequently placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians 5,000 years ago.

Eggs have been fashioned in ivory, wood, leather, metal, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and richly decorated by artists. These rare objects painted in glowing colours of green, red, yellow and gold are much sought after by collectors.

Beautifully ornamented eggs have been found in China, Japan and India. Medieval peasants often paid an ‘egg rent’ to church and landlord and this rent generally fell due at Easter. By the early eighteenth century, this practice gave rise to the custom of exchanging dyed and decorated eggs among family and friends.

The Christian custom of Easter eggs started among the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs with red colouring ‘in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion’. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5598)

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Thomas MacDonagh’s widow drowned in 1917, writes Seán Ua Cearnaigh

Of all the bereaved widows of the 1916 leaders, the most tragic, certainly, was Muriel, wife of Thomas MacDonagh, and this, despite the fact that her four years with her Tipperary-born husband were radiantly happy. If a marriage was ever made in heaven, this most certainly was it.

One of the five daughters of a Catholic father and a Church of Ireland mother, Muriel Gifford was born in 1885 at 8, Temple Villas, Rathmines, Dublin, into an upper middle-class family. Her Parents were Unionist to the core, while her seven brothers, despite their leaning towards socialism, could scarcely be called Irish nationalists.

Yet, although all of the Gifford girls, were raised in the religion of their Mother, four eventually converted to Catholicism and all five became fervent Nationalists.

muriel2Thomas MacDonagh was born in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, on Saint Brigid’s Day, 1878. He was educated locally and at Rockwell College, Cashel. His Parents hoped that he would become a Priest. However, on discovering he had no vocation for the religious life, he chose a career in second-level teaching, spending some years at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, and St Colman’s College, Fermoy.
He involved himself in Gaelic League activities and, through visits to the Aran Islands, quickly acquired a fluency in the Irish language.

In 1908, he was appointed assistant principal of Padraic Pearse’s Scoil Éanna. He studied as a night student at UCD, graduating with a BA in 1910 and an MA a year later. He was then appointed full-time lecturer in English at UCD. He resided at Grange House Lodge, Rathfarnham.

A talented poet, four volumes of his works were published prior to 1911. Thomas MacDonagh met Muriel Gifford, a very attractive and highly talented woman, seven years his junior, in 1910. For Muriel, it was love at first sight, even if her parents strongly disapproved of the Catholic republican, MacDonagh. Despite family objections on both sides, the couple wed on January 3rd, 1912, at a temporary Chapel, which was later replaced by the Church of the Holy Name, on Beechwood Avenue, Dublin.
The Catholic Church rules on mixed-marriages in those days were very rigid, particularly if the non-Catholic would-be spouse did not convert. Muriel Gifford had no intention of joining the Catholic Church. So it was that the Church marriage ceremony was a small and very private affair, with no watching congregation.

Apart from the Priest and the wedding couple, only two witnesses, the bridesmaid and the best man, were invited to the ceremony.

Padraic Pearse had been asked to stand in as MacDonagh’s best man, but perhaps because he forgot the exact time of the ceremony, or maybe, due to his sometimes absent-minded nature, Pearse never turned up.

In despair, the Priest exited the Church. On observing a man clipping a hedge nearby, he ushered him into the Church where he soon fulfilled his duty as witness.

Almost 11 months later, the MacDonagh’s first-born child, Donagh, was being christened in that same Church. Pearse had not been asked to attend, but turned up, never-the-less, where-upon MacDonagh retorted, “Well, Pearse, you may have missed the wedding, but at least you turned up in good time for the Christening!”

The four years of Muriel Gifford’s marriage to Thomas MacDonagh were, for both, the happiest of their lives. They lived, initially, at 32, Baggot Street, but later moved to 29 Oakley Road, Ranelagh. Two children were born to the couple – Donagh on November 22nd, 1912 and Barbara in 1915.

Continue reading in our 1917 Centenary Souvenir Edition (issue 5600)