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By Seán Ryan

Ireland’s longest serving postman has finally hung up his satchel after 52 years in the postal services.


Mick Cahill, originally from Kilkenny City, will be well known to many in Freshford where he has been looking after the post for the last 14 years.


An Post gave Mick a contract extension back in 2016, and now retiring at 67 is bittersweet. He started off with An Post as a Telegram Boy in 1966.


Speaking about his time as a Postman, he said he never feared the main hazard of the job – namely dogs! He said, “I tell you I was never afraid of the dogs because I always carried a packet of biscuits with me. That was what I used. I had all the dogs ruined. I got bitten around nine or ten times over the years. Nothing that needed stitches just a few tetanus injections.”


Speaking about the future role of the postman, Mick said that he believes letters will soon go the way of the telegram as emails and other modern technology replace paper services. However, he says parcels have become a huge part of the postman’s current job.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Any of us could’ve scribbled the plot of the average detective whodunnit, reckons Tom McParland, but nonetheless the detective movie has been a staple of Hollywood’s output since cameras first started rolling.

 

Even though originally American, the term ‘whodunnit’ has been around since 1920. It once solely referred to a detective novel, but came to be multi-generic for any detective mystery. It was a retrospective classification along with creepie, flick and oater, beloved of book, film, play, radio and TV guide critics.


The ungrammatical, thumbnail review brevity is supposedly a nod-winking that we too are in on this pseudo tee-hee chic. But its only purpose is tiresome word economy.
Perhaps the reason we tolerated potboiler whodunnit movies for so long, was that in pre-TV days we were subconsciously initiated into the genre through inanimate comic picture crime solvers such as School Friend’s detective Terry Brent (plus ‘Oirish’ assistant ‘Paddy’ McNaught) Sexton Blake, Dick Tracy, etc. And because our real world wasn’t such a bad place, we simultaneously indulged in an additional darker one.


This darker place that related only to itself had dozens of corpses slumped or lying about.


They were seldom in beds, except flowerbeds. For a real bed might suggest justifiable motive (the lazy bugger was murdered because he spent all day asleep).
These bodies were stilled in the throes of effort and in supposedly unexpected places: in autos, mansion libraries, offices or clubs. But that was unreal non-anticipation.
In our less glamorous world, surprising places would be the discovery of a corpse sauntering along a WC-making plant’s conveyor belt, or beneath the pyjamas in an M&S counter, or a stiff and silent finalist in the Elvis lookalike contest.


The luxury of living in this dual world sometimes resulted in these worlds colliding. How often on TV when a real murder is committed, do we hear some genius parrot, “I mean, nothing like that ever happens round here” – as if more outraged by the surprise than the homicide.


Yet, it’s the degree of conformity to apparent reality in any whodunnit that ultimately determines whether we stay – rather than stick – with it.


Only bad detective movies should be called whodunnits. Not because we don’t give a toss about murder. But because a bigger transgression is brought to our attention: who allowed this crime against good taste to be made in the first place.

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John Corbett with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside

What we regarded as the long trudge back to school began in September. The truth, of course, is that Cloonkeenkerrill N.S. was only about a mile from us but we regarded it as an unending trek which had to be done on Shank’s Mare.


There was lots of foliage on the roadside to protect us from northerly winds along the way. The road was untarred and the numerous potholes that it contained were filled with stones. We thought that the stones that covered it were much sharper than any of the ones in adjacent roads, although by the time the holidays arrived, the cuts and bruises to our feet had greatly diminished.


In autumn even though there was plenty foliage, fruit was scarce. Haws and sloes are the only ones that I can recall and neither was very tempting to taste but we followed suit when our friends began to eat them. Psychologists might view our behaviour as a typical response to peer pressure.


Electricity hadn’t yet come to the area and there were no telegraph poles on this particular route. Their absence and the scarcity of other targets was once given as an explanation for our good behaviour on the way to and from school, rather than any virtue on our part.


We took our time on the way home and engaged in banter and mini-races with our companions. However, when potato harvesting time came later in the autumn, we were expected to be home early in the evening to help with the work so we had to limit our ‘laxterin’, as one neighbour dubbed our dallying.


It was a busy month on the farm. We had over an acre of oats in the early 50’s and this was cut by my father with a scythe. Marie, my sister, and I would gather up the sheaves and bind them. Then we used to put them standing into stooks.
They were considered reasonably weather-proof in this position but they would be made into stacks later before being brought home to the haggard.


Dad was able to mow more than half an acre of corn in a day. However, people like Mattie Dan Coppinger, from Mounthazel, were capable of levelling an Irish acre in a day. Mattie also excelled at turf-cutting. Even though he was slight in build, he set many records in turf-cutting and in mowing meadow and grain-crops.

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By Eamonn Duggan

As Ireland moved into 1919, the country braced itself for a new political beginning as a result of the general election of the previous December. The old relic that was the Irish Parliamentary Party had been replaced by the brash and modern thinking Sinn Féin party.


The new political order was determined to find a way forward for a free and independent Ireland.


With the opening of the first Dáil on 21 January, 1919, many were hopeful that a peaceful transition to self-determination would ensue – but the illusion was shattered that very same day with the ambush of an R.I.C convoy at Solohedbeag, in County Tipperary, during which two constables were shot dead.


The incident is widely seen as the opening salvo of the War of Independence and it gave the IRA the impetus it needed to commence a new campaign of violence against British authorities and forces in Ireland.


One man who quickly became involved in the struggle for independence was Vinny Byrne, a nineteen-year-old Dubliner who had participated in the Easter Rising and was an active member of the Irish Volunteers.


During 1919, Byrne became a member of the ‘unofficial squad’ under the guidance of Michael Collins and near the end of that year he took part in the first planned assassination by the group on a Dublin Metropolitan detective called John Barton.
Byrne had previously encountered Barton in 1916 when he was arrested, questioned and finger printed by him over his involvement in the Easter Rising.

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Even stories of men with cloven hooves didn’t deter the lads and lassies from the dancehalls, writes Pauline O’Grady O’Dwyer

 

Oh, the memories Circa 1965. The opening of the new ballroom, ‘Brendan Bowyer and The Royal Showband’, tunes that topped the charts. Kiss Me Quick, No More, Don’t Lose Your Hucklebuck Shoes. Oh God! It was all we talked about for weeks, it was so exciting. But it was a hard job trying to convince mother to allow me to go.


My First Dance. Everyone was going and, after all, I was seventeen. With lots of warnings, advice and subtle subliminal lectures, which I ignored, it was like being at a Mission service at the church, with great reluctance I eventually got the go ahead.
The exhilaration walking to the dance hall; the sheer delight we were going to see ‘The Hucklebuck King’. Queuing for the ticket, then queuing for the cloakroom to deposit the coat and being elbowed in the dressing room for mirror space was all a new experience.


Feeling very much an innocent novice, I watched closely the actions of the regular punters. The Beehive was the fashion for hairstyles, so backcombing, spray and lacquer was in great demand.


Conversation was loud, noisy and full of youth and vivacity. Giggling groups of friends discussing the dances of the week past, it was like question and answer: ‘Did you shift?’, or ‘Any shift?’, ‘Was the Band good?’

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Wicklow’s Rebel Chieftain in 1798 is profiled by Bridget Hannon

During the 1798 Rebellion, Joseph Holt was so enterprising a military commander that he gathered an army of 10,000 men behind him, a significant proportion of whom were deserters from the forces of King George III. A canny strategist, the authorities considered Holt so dangerous a rebel that they put a price of three hundred pounds on his head, an enormous amount of money for that period.


Born in 1856, Joseph was one of six sons born to John Holt, a farmer in Co. Wicklow. The Holt family were Protestant loyalists in Ballydaniel (Ballydonnell) near Redcross. In 1782, Holt married Hester Long and set himself up as a farmer in the vicinity of Roundwood.


During the 1780s Holt joined the Irish Volunteers and held a number of minor public offices such as an inspector of wool and cloth. He also became involved in law enforcement as a sub-constable.


Despite his apparent loyalty to the Crown, Holt became a member of the United Irishmen in 1797. Gradually he attracted suspicion until finally his house was burned down by the militia – instigated by the local landlord Thomas Hugo, who owed Holt a sum of money. Holt then took to the Wicklow mountains.


Avoiding pitched battles, Holt led the United Irishmen in a fierce campaign of raids and ambushes against loyalist military targets in Wicklow. Following the defeat of the rebels at Vinegar Hill, Enniscorthy, on 21 June, surviving rebel factions headed towards the Wicklow Mountains to link up with Holt’s forces.


Spectacularly, Holt ambushed and defeated a pursuing force of 200 British cavalry intent on killing these Wexford rebels, at Ballyellis near Carnew, Co. Wicklow, on 30 June 1798.

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By Jim Rees

On 5 December 1872, the captain of the Dei Gratia, David Morehouse, sighted another sailing ship on the high seas. There was something odd about the way her sails flapped in the wind. It was as if there was no one at the helm.


Morehouse was sure that he recognised the wayward vessel and he ordered a change of course to see if help were needed. When the despatched party boarded, the reason for the mystery vessel’s erratic progress became clear – there was no one at the helm. In fact, there was no one on board at all.


This would have been a strange occurrence anywhere, but the encounter took place 400 miles east of the Azores, roughly half-way across the Atlantic ocean. Morehouse’s recognition of the mystery ship was correct – she was the Mary Celeste.


Sea charts were strewn around the cabin, the only lifeboat was missing, and one of the pumps had been dismantled. No matter how seaworthy a ship is, there is always some leakage and pumping is essential. It was obvious that it had been a while since this crucial task had been carried out and the water in the bilges was three feet deep.
The cargo of 1,701 barrels of industrial alcohol was largely intact, although damage to some of the barrels was immediately apparent. Despite this, the vessel was in good shape and certainly seaworthy. So why had the crew broken the first rule of survival by abandoning her?


The Mary Celeste had departed the port of New York on 7 November, just eight days before the Dei Gratia. On board were Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter. There was also a crew of seven.

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Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was a reluctant war hero. The Co Kerry native was working in the Vatican when the second World War broke out. A mixture of circumstance, fate and his humanitarian spirit meant he ended up running one of the most successful Allied escape operations seen during the conflict. His story is as remarkable as it is dramatic, writes GEMMA GRANT

 

In 1918, when Hugh O’Flaherty entered Mungret Jesuit College in County Limerick, the twenty-year-old Kerryman had his sights set on the missionary fields. The young seminarian moved quickly through the clerical ranks attaining several doctorates, mastering numerous languages and became a Monsignor by the age of thirty-six.
His skills were not overlooked by his superiors who earmarked him for the diplomatic office rather than missionary work. Accepting the challenge, Monsignor O’Flaherty served in various countries before returning to Rome in 1938, to become an official at the Holy Office.


His diplomatic skills and missionary zeal, that never left him, would be put to good use the following year when Europe went to war.


In 1940, Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, allied itself with Germany. Italian Prisoner of War camps sprang up between 1940-42 detaining some 75,000 captured allied troops. Concerned for the well-being of the men, the Vatican assigned Papal Nuncio, Francesco Duca, to inspect the camps along with Fr. O’Flaherty, acting as assistant and interpreter.


Fr. O’Flaherty was no admirer of British imperialism. He witnessed Black and Tan atrocities in Ireland and lost several friends during that period. He once told a colleague, “I don’t think there is anything to choose between Britain and Germany.”


However, his genuine concern was for the allied prisoners. With missionary zeal, he set about ensuring they received proper clothing, blankets and Red Cross packages. He also used Vatican Radio to pass messages from prisoners to their families. Such were his protests over conditions in the camps, that the Italian authorities pressurised the Church to have him reassigned.


However, their demands failed. Fr. Hugh found another way to help the POW’s that eventually led him into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, one of Rome’s most notorious Nazis.


When Mussolini was overthrown in 1943, Italy signed an unconditional armistice with General Eisenhower. Thousands of POWs escaped and spread across Italy, many asking and receiving sanctuary from the Vatican. It fell to Kappler, as head of the Gestapo, to restore order to Rome, regardless of the cost to life or liberty.

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Christmas held a special place in the heart of Padre Pio, as author Colm Keane explains in his book Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint.

In 1959, Padre Pio sent a letter to his Irish benefactors wishing them a happy Christmas. The letter was sent to Limerick devotee Gerry Fitzgerald, who had it published in the press. At the core of the letter was a very simple sentiment offering his Irish followers “an incessant flow of blessings” and wishing them “a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year”.

The message was a warm, thoughtful one, especially coming as it did from Padre Pio. No one adored Christmas more than him. It was his favourite time of the year. The story of the Nativity, where the baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, often moved him to tears. “In the end, the gamble of our life is all in this child,” he used to say.

As a boy, Padre Pio loved preparing the crib, often constructing it many months in advance. Coming from a very poor family, he would mould clay from the fields into miniature shepherds, animals and other crib figures. He always took extra effort with the baby Jesus, making sure he was right. He would also put oil into little shells and use them as tiny lanterns to light the crib.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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This Christmas marks the tenth anniversary of Christie Hennessy. Kay Doyle speaks with his three adult children as they remember their wonderful father this festive season.

On December 11th 2007, the music world said goodbye to one of Ireland’s most cherished singer-songwriters Christie Hennessy. At the age of 62, Christie passed away from cancer, leaving behind his wife Gill and three children Hermione, Amber and Tim Ross.


Born Edward Christopher Ross, Tralee-native Christie emigrated to London, working on building sites by day and performing in folk clubs by night.


He released his first album, The Green Album in 1972, but it was twenty years later when his second album, The Rehearsal, topped the charts, outselling U2, and making Christie a household name.


Although he was unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, Christie wrote all his own songs, including the much loved ‘Roll Back The Clouds’, ‘All The Lies That You Told Me’, ‘Remember Me’, ‘Messenger Boy’ and ‘If You Were To Fall’ performed with his daughter Hermione.


His death left a huge void in the music world not just as a singer-songwriter, but as a storyteller, and a gentle compassionate soul that endeared him to so many.
His loss is immeasurable to those who loved him most – his family. In this Ireland’s Own Christmas Special, Christie’s children reflect on life without him and the wonderful memories that he left behind.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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