By Tom Nestor
It’s the day before New Year. I am furtively alone. I pass the broken cottage by the sweep of a bend, ducked through the briars that rear above me and I am utterly still. This is not the first time you’ve come, often I came for a week or two, but probably the last now. Yes, never again. I am too old to be chasing shadows.
Everything that I knew is gone, the sweep of round that whirled around and headed almost the other way, the folly of a great house high on is perch, the winding road to Creeves. I peer through the clump of thorn and ivy and find a spy hole that leads to where the hall stood.
That hall was originally built by some local people who got together to oppose (Taoiseach, Eamon) De Valera’s action when he stopped paying the annuities – the payments to the landlords – whose lands were given to Irish people. As a response, the government in London stopped the market for Irish cattle. That caused great hardship to many farmers.
My father used tell me that the market was in the skinners, they bought for the hides only, half a crown for two. When the politics settled down, the hall carried on. It morphed into a dance hall, mostly in summer and autumn.
Sometimes the local members of the dramatic society would decide to stage a play and the training would be worked out in the hall. I saw The Man from Aran film there and watched as the ladies in front pull up their coats when shots of great waves were shown. I heard one say, ‘we’ll be drenched, Hannie, drowned we will’. Ah, beautiful simple days.
There was a cottage across the road. Billo lived in there. He kept an eye out for the hall and held the key. He is a platelayer who cycles seven miles to the railway and back again. He also walked the line every day making sure that no obstacles are strewed on the track.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own
The British postal system was the Royal Mail because it was originally used only for sending royal and government communications. In 1635 Charles I made the service available to the general public, but 200 years later the system was an archaic, expensive mess, from which it was rescued by schoolteacher, Rowland Hill. In 1835, Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’ which led to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. On 10 January 1840, the ‘Uniform Penny Post’ was established throughout the UK and Ireland, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters, and from 6 May could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black, writes JIM REES.
A good idea often springs from asking ‘what if’? Take something as straight-forward as posting a letter. How could such a simple task be made more efficient and profitable? Answer: you just turn it on its head so that the person who pays for the delivery of the letter is not the addressee, but the sender.
That means that the service gets the money up front and it really doesn’t matter if the addressee accepts it or not.
That’s the way it works now, but it wasn’t always like that. Originally, the charge was paid by the receiver, but what if he or she didn’t want it (might be a bill!) and refused to pay for it? Then the service was out of pocket.
If the sender really wants something delivered then the sender should pay. Simple.
The English General Post Office was established by Charles I in 1643, but it was only one of several systems. Private enterprises and individual contractors had preceded it and they continued to operate after its introduction.
In the 1650s, Oliver Cromwell’s administration gave the state postal system official sanction in an effort to give it a greater coherence. Cromwell died in 1658 and his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector, a king in all but name.
But many people wanted the ‘real’ monarchy back and when Charles II was crowned king in 1660, in what is known in England as the Restoration of the Monarchy, one of his first acts was to take a more than passing interest in the postal service.
Charles and his followers were paranoid. They were suspicious of everything they did not control. They knew that letters were ripe for sedition – they knew it because they had used it to great effect in getting the monarchy restored!
What had been a useful weapon in their intrigues would be equally dangerous to them now that they were back in power.
The General Post Office was more or less turned into a monopoly.
Now that it was an arm of government, letters, packages and parcels entrusted to it were, for the duration of transit, the Royal Mail – and, by definition, the property of the monarch.
The popular cleric talks about the highs and lows of his life and career in a compelling autobiography which has just hit the bookshelves in time for Christmas!
Father Brian D’Arcy is wondering who it was that began putting years in microwaves – because of late, he finds they are going far too quickly! Especially 2019. But then that’s not surprising when you consider that alongside his regular workload, the much-loved priest decided to sit down and write the story of his life.
“People ask me how long it took me to write the story and I jokingly tell them 74 years,” he laughs. “I left The Graan in Enniskillen in 2017 and at the beginning of this year I had returned to take part in a retreat with some old friends.
“Afterwards I was sitting having a meal with them and I was sharing some stories from my life when one of them said you should really put your life story down on paper.
“I started thinking then that any of us could die at any moment, or get Alzheimer’s and then everything would be lost. And that is why I started writing the book.”
Father Brian has many stories to tell. He also wanted to get his versions of various events down on paper so that his own family would know the facts, and not someone else’s take on matters that involved him down the years.
“I had to be disciplined when it came to putting aside time to write the book, so every night from 10.30pm to 2.00am I would put aside time for writing.
“There is a wide variety of stories in there from different times in my life, some funny, some tragic, some awful. I handed it over to a professional editor then, Fiona Biggs, who ensure that the narrative unfolded in a meaningful and interesting way.
“I wanted a female editor because I live in a male-dominated world and because of that my whole perspective on the world could be screwed up – therefore I wanted a woman’s perspective to see that what I had written wasn’t toxic in any way.”
Even though he has settled into his new home in Crossgar, Father Brian found it hard to leave The Graan. He felt that in his time there they had worked extremely hard at bringing people together, from different religions and it meant so much to the people of Fermanagh, Tyrone and surrounding counties.
Being asked to leave his home at this stage of his life, and leaving behind family and friends and a community that had stood by him during the “Vatican debacle” a few years earlier was tough, and Brian gives an honest account of the experience in his book.
“There are so many stories to choose from but one experience that really stands out from my life is when I met the Queen, and there are a couple of chapters devoted to it. When you consider that as a young fellow whenever ‘God Save the Queen’ was played in the cinemas I, and other young Catholics, made a point of walking out, then things really had come circle when I was invited to meet her in Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace and to be given an OBE. In my lifetime the impossible really has happened – we journeyed from war and hostility to friendship and tolerance.
“I was one of four people in Northern Ireland who were awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday List in June, 2019. For me it was an acknowledgement that I should continue to work, as I always have, for respect and understanding among people of goodwill.”
Father Brian has a couple of messages that he would like to pass on to Ireland’s Own readers this Christmas.
She has travelled the world as lead singer in an Irish music family sensation, and now Andrea Corr is back living in Ireland, preparing to have the family around for Christmas dinner. She shares memories from her life and career, and shines a light into her new autobiography Barefoot Pilgrimage with Shea Tomkins.
When it comes to family get-togethers, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.
For a few days we get to step off the treadmill of everyday obligations, relishing the opportunity to munch mince pies, sip mulled wine and watch endless re-runs of Indiana Jones with those we love most. And few families have represented Ireland on the global stage with such talent, grace and prestige as Dundalk natives, ‘The Corrs’.
With record sales in excess of 40 million albums worldwide, the Louth artists rode the crest of the popular music wave through the nineties and noughties, before naturally settling into the next chapters in their lives – raising the next generation of ‘Corrs’!
Meeting up with Ireland’s Own for a chat and a cuppa before the Christmas rush sweeps her away, the youngest of the tribe, and the band’s lead singer, Andrea – who recently presented us with an autobiographical masterpiece in Barefoot Pilgrimage – is excited about having the whole family over to hers for Christmas dinner.
“I have two kids of my own now – Jeanie, who is seven, and Brett, who will be six in January, and they are really looking forward to Christmas,” she says. “We have just moved home to Ireland and it’s like they knew they were little Irish people all along. I’m doing ‘the family Christmas’ this year, and all the family and their kids are coming to my house…I’m looking after the cooking too, which I love.
“Our own house smelled so good at Christmastime. I still remember the smell of Mammy’s kitchen at Christmas, the Dundee cake, her roast potatoes… As we got older we helped of course – I was in charge of making the red cabbage! Everyone loves their mum’s cooking, even my own daughter recognises that and when she goes somewhere might say… ‘that doesn’t taste like my mother’s!’”
Andrea’s memoir is an emotional rollercoaster ride through her life to date, lifting off in the cosiness and contentment of a loving Irish childhood, and rocketing its way through her singing and acting careers, in a most entertaining way.
“I have one particular Christmas memory from when I was only about seven or eight,” she recalls. “Dad’s relations used to come to our house after the Christmas dinner and they would announce ‘we’ll have the children sing now’.
“We would all sing and Mum would be serving the mince pies, and she’d be singing too. Daddy played the piano and my song to sing was always O Holy Night. He was also the church organist and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you sing with me on Christmas Day?’ So I said yeah, I would, and we got excited about it, and practised it.
“Then Christmas morning arrived and I was just so overwhelmed with fear and the images I had of myself, exposed up there, with the echoing quiet in the church, and the coughs, and all those people listening…I just had a flash of ‘I’m not going to be able to do this’. I was upset. Mammy consoled me. She comforted me, and told Daddy I wouldn’t be doing it.
“I still remember him starting the song, and the note coming and my heart beating and knowing where I was supposed to come in, and then the moment passed. Nobody else knew though, and he played it instrumentally. I regretted it afterwards, it would have been beautiful to sing with him on Christmas Day.”
– the much-loved screen and stage star was like a ‘Christmas bear’, writes daughter, Sighle
When asked to write a piece to commemorate Niall, there was little point in recounting the list of his many achievements, it would only read like a blurb for a theatre programme and might seem a little self-congratulatory.
Suffice it to say that my Dad was a comic genius, a brilliant dramatic actor as evidenced by his portrayal of the Bull McCabe in the Abbey Theatre production that toured to Moscow in the eighties, an accomplished film actor as remembered in the Ballroom of Romance and the much-loved Fr. Mac in the BBC TV series BallyKissangel.
He was a star of stage, screen and radio! He was also synonymous with the role of Brendan Behan. It is not for me or try to assess his accomplishments, that is for others to do.
I picked up his autobiography to remind myself and gain some insight into that man that was my father.
Niall was an intensely private person and reveals little of his personal self in the book, quite paradoxical for someone who made his living in the public eye.
But then again Niall was always playing a part, we rarely saw the true Niall in public. In television interviews he often held back, giving sharp humorous answers, which revealed little of the inner Niall.
He often said that actors were boring people and that no audience was interested in acting as a process, or actor’s opinions.
Niall believed that the people paid to be entertained, and that, undoubtedly, is what he did.
His political satire was witheringly accurate, but he dished the dirt equally to all, the trick was never to be seen as biased, to remember that your audience was from all sections of the community.
I was privileged to work with him on several productions, in many guises; I stage managed him, worked as a script co-ordinator, acted with him and even directed him, in so far as that was possible. We worked well together, he was a hard task-master, but many of the greats are.
Many lamented the fact that he died just 10 days before his 90th Birthday. Niall was not a sentimental person, and he paid little attention to birthdays. In fact, birthdays were treated so casually by both Judy and Niall that they totally forgot my sister Fiana’s 12th birthday.
It was only when her godfather, the late Brendan Cauldwell (Fair City) turned up with a gift that they twigged that it was a significant day for their youngest child. So not surprisingly I have few memories of us celebrating Dad’s birthday.
On this first Christmas without him, I take solace from fond memories of Christmas with Niall Tóibín.
Legendary pantomime star Maureen Potter recalls her greatest moments on stage, radio and TV. She was interviewed by author Colm Keane in 2002, two years before she died.
There was a time when Maureen Potter’s Gaiety pantomimes were as Christmas as plum pudding.
Year after year, she sang, danced and performed her way through sold-out productions, demonstrating a unique genius for comedy, satire and simple good fun. Her versatility was awesome, her timing perfect. For those who saw her perform, she left memories that would be fondly recalled down through the years.
Maureen’s pantomimes were lavish spectacles, with colourful scenery, topical jokes, and lots of mayhem and madness on stage. Men with muscles played women. Women played boys or cats. Well-known acrobats, dancers and singers made guest appearances. Children in the audience hissed and booed.
There were princes and princesses, evil witches, the bad being outwitted by the good. And presiding over them all was the extraordinarily talented ‘Pantomime Queen’, the great Maureen Potter.
“Ah, yes, the pantomimes were lovely,” Maureen reflected in 2002.
“I’ve done so many wonderful ones – Tom Thumb, Humpty Dumpty, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Goldilocks – they were all marvellous. They were especially wonderful for children, who love a live show. They love the special effects, and all that, but to be able to talk back, that’s what they like.
“They can’t talk back at the cinema. That makes pantomime a lovely experience.”
There was, of course, a lot of hard work – memorising scripts, refining dance routines, doing matinees and evening shows, all occurring around Christmas.
“Pantomime was tough,” Maureen agreed. “It was really tough. You spent your whole Christmas Day with a turkey leg in one hand and a script in the other. But even though our home life was so chaotic at that time of year, my consolation was in the fact that the panto would be bringing so much happiness during the season of goodwill.”
Maureen, who was born in Dublin in 1925, was destined for the stage. “I was five when I went to school and I refused to go unless my mother sent me to dancing school the next day,” Maureen remarked.
Her mother agreed, wisely it seems, as Maureen turned out to have nimble feet. She soon became All-Ireland Junior Dancing Champion.
Dublin’s legendary dance teacher, Connie Ryan, spotted the child prodigy and took her under her wing. “I was very lucky,” Maureen recalled. “In the summer of 1935, when I was ten years old, I was out in Bray in a little cinema doing a show with Connie Ryan. Jimmy O’Dea came to see it and he booked me for my first pantomime.
“It was Jack and the Beanstalk in the Olympia. Then he booked me for the following year for the next Olympia pantomime, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.’”
Fortune shone again on Maureen when she was aged 12. “The manager of the Theatre Royal got me an audition with Jack Hylton,” Maureen said, referring to the famous British bandleader and impresario. “I went into a huge room with a piano and I sang. I forgot all about the audition and went on holidays to Portmarnock with my cousins. One day, we were trying to make fudge on a Bunsen burner and we set the place on fire. My cousin used all my clothes to put the fire out.
“A day or so later, a telegram came from my mother to say Jack Hylton wanted me in two days time to go to London and broadcast from the Queen’s Hall. I had no clothes!
“I had to borrow my cousin’s, which were miles too big for me, and I looked like Little Orphan Annie. I did the show. I was supposed to stay with him for a month but I stayed for two years.”
Read Anthony F. Hughes’s Classic Westerns Series every month in Ireland’s Own
Glen Ford starred in 27 Western movies including the Delmer Daves directed ‘3:10 to Yuma’.
Adapted from a story by Elmore Leonard, the movie has its setting in 1880’s Arizona.
To the film studios credit the shoots were done in Arizona. As such there is an element of realism to the production – a parched landscape, a cattleman losing his fight against nature, destitution staring him in the face.
An unexpected opportunity comes his way, however, one with enough money attached to turn the small rancher’s fortunes completely around.
‘Yuma’ (92 mins) focuses on two men who meet up by pure chance. One of the duo, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), a callous killer, is the undisputed leader of a twelve-man outlaw gang whose members make a living from the proceeds of robberies.
Van Heflin (of ‘Shane’ fame) plays the role of the other protagonist in the equation – rancher Dan Evans. Given a choice, very few people, if any, would have opted to raise cattle in the Arizona of the 1880’s.
How Dan Evans acquired his spread on the edge of the desert is anyone’s guess but cattle ranching was certainly his line of business when he first crossed paths with the notorious Ben Wade.
Unlike many of the big ranchers in New Mexico and Texas who literally had cattle herds that numbered in the thousands, Evans had about sixty and….a few horses besides.
One evening in February 1919, a group of twenty nurses and midwives filed into a small office at No. 20 South Anne Street, Dublin. Many of them were exhausted having finished long shifts, for low wages, at the city’s hospitals. The remainder were facing into a busy night delivering babies and caring for mothers at the city’s lying-in institutions, or, in the community. Commentary in the nursing press at the time referred to the need to establish “a society for the prevention of cruelty to nurses” and, those twenty pioneers who braved the cold night air one hundred years ago, had just such a society in mind, writes Mark Loughrey.
In 1919, unskilled men at the Ford car factory in County Cork earned £239 per year. In contrast, nurses at a particular Dublin hospital earned £52–£65 per year and received an allowance of 3/4lb of butter and one stone of potatoes per week as well as a 1/2pint of milk per day. They were also obliged to make up for any holidays or sick leave they took by working the time back.
Why were their conditions so poor?
Unlike men, working women such as nurses and midwives, were not seen as breadwinners. No, they were seen as wives in waiting and were to be paid just a few shillings to keep them in frocks and smocks until such time as they found a man. In addition, nursing and midwifery were regarded as vocations in which providing care to the sick and needy was seen as payment in itself.
Unfortunately, humanitarianism did not pay the rent or put food on tables however and, in response, the twenty nurses and midwives who gathered in Dublin that night decided to take matters into their own hands and establish a trade union: the first of its kind in the world. They christened their creation the Irish Nurses’ Union (INU).
On the surface, the nurses’/midwives’ decision appeared sensible. Post-war inflation was running high, eroding their small earnings, and, following the drubbing that trade unionism suffered in the 1913 Lockout, unions were again on the rise.
Added to this, women were campaigning on broader rights-based issues such as suffrage, and nurses and midwives took inspiration from this. But things are rarely as easy as they first appear.
The writer of a piece in The Irish Times frowned on nurses’ and midwives’ decision to unionise and reminded them that their role was not wholly about material gain but was about public service, and that such service was incompatible with strikes in which they would be compelled to ‘desert their patients’.
But nurses and their supporters were having none of it and responded defiantly: ‘That funny paper, The Irish Times … Comment would really spoil this gem … we are grateful to the newsboy who inadvertently slipped [it] into our letter-box: he enabled us to face a new day joyously.’