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By Dave Devereux

It might be difficult for the youth of today to envisage, but there was once a time when the The X Factor didn’t have a vice-like stranglehold on the Christmas number one spot.
For at least four decades getting to the top of the charts during the festive season really meant something and it was a highly coveted prize that artists would be eyeing for months in advance.

Nowadays the predictably of it all, powered by the music industry’s money-making machine, means that it has lost its charm entirely, which would make more seasoned listeners yearn for a time when a Christmas classic could come out of the blue to light up the yuletide season.

The Irish Singles Chart was compiled for the first time in 1962, with Elvis Presley’s ‘Return to Sender’ achieving the accolade of Ireland’s first Christmas number one.
A host of international stars have filled the top spot since then, including classics like ‘Day Tripper’ by The Beatles, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or festive favourites like Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ and ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ by Cliff Richard.

Throughout the last five decades of so there’s also been a number of Irish acts that have sat proudly at the top of the Christmas tree at the most wonderful time of the year and a mere mention of those tunes will take you on a fond trip down memory lane.

1963 – No More by Brendan Bowyer
Just a year after the formation of the Irish charts Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband became the first Irish act to claim the Christmas number one spot.
Earlier that year the Waterford man had become the first homegrown artist to top the fledgling charts with ‘Kiss Me Quick’ and he later went on to have his greatest success with in 1965 with ‘The Hucklebuck’, which topped the Irish charts for seven weeks.

1967 – Treat my Daughter Kindly by The Airchords and Pat Lynch
Treat My Daughter Kindly was the first number one for The Airchords and Pat Lynch and what a time of year to get it. The band, formed by members of the Irish Air Corps, came together in 1960 but Corkman Lynch didn’t come on board until 1965 when he replaced Joe Fitzmaurice as lead vocalist. Lynch proved to a major success and the band claimed the coveted Christmas number one spot in 1967.

1971 – Oh Holy Night by Tommy Drennan
Singer and pianist, Tommy Drennan was an 11-year-old boy soprano in 1953 when his rendition of ‘Oh, Holy Night’ was recorded at Mount St. Alphonsus Church. The recording was stored in a old suitcase for nearly 20 years before being restored.
After hearing the demo, executives as EMI in Dublin got Drennan into the studio to record a new verse with an orchestra. The old and new recordings were then combined and it was released as a single in time for the Christmas market and shot to the top of the charts, where it remained for five weeks.

1972 – Whiskey in the Jar by Thin Lizzy
A well-known Irish traditional song about a highwayman who was betrayed by his lover, ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ gained international exposure when it was regularly performed by the Dubliners, but it wasn’t until the Phil Lynott fronted Thin Lizzy recorded a rock version of the song that it took the charts by storm.
Not a traditional Christmas tune by any means, but a mighty fine song nonetheless.

1984, 1989 and 2004 – Do They Know It’s Christmas by Band Aid
There was a massive Irish influence in supergroup Band Aid as Dubliner Bob Geldof, along with Midge Ure, was the driving force behind the charity single.
The original was written in reaction to the famine in Africa and led to the Live Aid concert which took place in July, 1985.
Geldof’s fellow Dubliner Bono contributed to three Band Aid recordings.

1985 – Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood by Dermot Morgan
‘Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood’ by the late, great Dermot Morgan of Father Ted fame was an unlikely Christmas number one.
The song was a parody of world champion featherweight boxer Barry McGuigan’s habit of thanking his manager Barney Eastwood after every victory.
The comedy single featured impersonations of McGuigan, Ronald Reagan, Bob Geldof and Pope John Paul II.

1987 – Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Fairytale of New York is widely regarded as one of, if not the, best Christmas song ever, an all-time classic which never grows old.
The song tells a bitter-sweet tale of an Irish immigrant’s relationship that was blighted by drugs and alcohol addiction. The late Kirsty MacColl’s harmonious singing provides a beautiful contrast to Shane MacGowan’s husky tones, resulting in a timeless classic.

1990 – Christmas No. 1 by Zig and Zag
It takes a lot of confidence to call your debut single ‘Christmas No. 1’ but that’s exactly what puppet duo Zig and Zag did, and their faith proved to be well founded.
The furry extra-terrestrials from the planet Zog made their television debut in 1987 on RTE’s Dempsey’s Den, taking the country by storm.
‘Christmas No. 1’ stayed at the summit for five weeks and they went on to top the charts with their album ‘Never Mind the Zogabongs…Here’s Zig and Zag’ and their follow up single ‘Zig Zaggin Around’.

1995 – Father and Son by Boyzone
Boyzone made it to the top of the charts with their cover version of the Cat Stevens classic ‘Father and Son’. The song focuses on a father who can’t quite grasp his son’s desire to make a new life for himself and a son who finds it hard to put his exact reasons into words but know that the time has come for him to make it on his own.

1999 – I Have A Dream/Seasons in the Sun by Westlife
Westlife’s double A-side reached the top of the charts at the turn of the millennium.
‘I Have A Dream’ was originally recorded by Abba, while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ had been a worldwide hit for Canadian singer Terry Jacks in 1974.
The single was also the Christmas number one in the UK, and it spent 17 weeks in the charts across the water.

2005 – Leave Right Now by Mario Rosenstock
The original version of ‘Leave Right Now’ by Will Young was the Irish Christmas number one two years earlier and Mario Rosenstock brought it firmly back into the limelight with his Gift Grub version.
The parody which related to the circumstances surrounding Roy Keane’s departure from Manchester United was released as a charity single and until last year, when ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars topped the charts, it was the last Christmas number one that wasn’t a winner of The X Factor.

2011 – Cannonball by Little Mix
(Written by Damien Rice)
‘Cannonball’ originally featured on Damien Rice’s 2002 album ‘O’ but the song came to worldwide prominence when it was The X Factor’s winner’s single in 2011.
British girl group Little Mix reached the number one spot in both the UK and Ireland with their debut single, but Rice’s beautifully haunting original version remains head and shoulders above their effort.

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Dec 3, 2015: 25 years since MARY ROBINSON was inaugurated as President of Ireland, writes Cathal Coyle

This month celebrates the 25th anniversary of Mary Robinson’s inauguration as the seventh President of Ireland, on 3rd December, 1990.

It was hugely symbolic for Irish society as she was the first female Irish President; another milestone was that she was the first person elected to the position that wasn’t nominated by the Fianna Fáil party. Mary Robinson had a background as a lawyer and a politician before being elected President.

Born Mary Bourke in 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo, she was educated at Trinity College and King’s Inns in Dublin, and at Harvard University in the United States. In 1969 at the age of 25, she became Ireland’s youngest Law professor when she was appointed the Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin.

She later lectured in European Community law from 1975 to 1990. In 1988 she established the Irish Centre for European Law (with her husband Nick) at Trinity College.

As a politician, she sat in the upper chamber of parliament – Seanad Éireann – for the Trinity College constituency from 1969 to 1989, initially as an independent – although she was a member of the Labour Party for several years during the late 70s and early 80s.

She quickly gained a reputation as a strong advocate for human rights, one such campaign sought to eliminate discrimination against women in Irish society. She was also elected to Dublin City Council in 1979, and served there until 1983. She was nominated by the Labour Party, and supported by the Green Party, the Workers’ Party and independent senators, to seek election to become Ireland’s first female president.

The three-way battle to succeed Patrick Hillery (who had served two terms as the President of Ireland since December 1976) was intriguing. Mary Robinson finished first in the election, with almost 39% of the first preference vote, ahead of Austin Currie (nominated by Fine Gael) and Brian Lenihan (nominated by Fianna Fáil). The final count raised her total to 52% and she was duly elected, in what was a watershed moment for Irish politics and society.

Quite famously, RTÉ broadcast her election victory speech live rather than the Angelus.

As President, Mary Robinson did much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland and greatly raised the profile of the office of President. Strongly committed to human rights, she used her influence to draw attention to global humanitarian issues. In 1992, she was the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffered from civil war and famine; she was also the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994. When she visited Queen Elizabeth in London in 1993, it was the first such meeting between the heads of state of the two countries.

She also reached out to the Irish diaspora and famously put a symbolic light in the kitchen window in Áras an Uachtaráin, (the candle in the window is an old Irish custom) to remember those Irish emigrants around the world. She resigned from the office of President on 12 September, 1997, a few months before her term expired, to take up the appointment of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She was succeeded as President of Ireland by another female President, Mary McAleese, who served two terms.

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson was the first to visit China and she also helped to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. She held this post until 2002, after pressure from the United States led her to declare that she wasn’t able to continue her work. She had previously criticised the U.S. Government for its perceived violation of human rights in its war on terrorism.

After leaving her post at the United Nations, Mary Robinson founded the non-governmental organisation Realising Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative. Its central concerns included equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership, and corporate responsibility.

She was also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, served as honorary president of Oxfam International and was a member of the Club of Madrid (which promotes democracy).

Mary Robinson has received many honours from various organisations since she was elected the first female chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin in 1998.

Six years later, Amnesty International awarded her its ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award for her Human Rights work.

Her other major honours to date include the prestigious U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honour bestowed by the United States – presented to her by President Barack Obama in July 2009. In recent times, the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, based in Dublin, is a centre for education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

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Activist Joe Hill was executed by a firing squad one hundred years ago. He is immortalised in that famous song, writes Jim Sheridanjoehill

The Labour Movement never forgets its heroes. A statue of Big Jim Larkin stands in Dublin’s O’Connell St. to commemorate his support for the Dublin workers in the 1913 lock-out. He is the only 20th century figure to be so honoured.

The Industrial Workers of the World, IWW, or Wobblies as they were sometimes called, was a trade union that organised workers in the United States in the early 1900s.  
Joe Hill, a Swedish emigrant born in 1879 became its troubadour and an activist. He was working on the docks in San Pedro, California in 1911 when the railroad workers, led by the IWW, were on strike.

The Railroad employed scab labour to run the trains and Joe wrote a song ‘Casey Jones the union scab’ which became a rallying anthem for the strikers. He said, “A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over; and I maintain that if a person can put a few cold, common sense facts into a song, and dress them up in a cloak of humour, to take the dryness out of them, he will succeed in reaching a great many workers who will not read a pamphlet or an editorial on economic science.” Joe Hill gave an expression to the English language when he wrote his song ‘The Preacher and the Slave’, a parody on the Salvation Army hymn ‘In the Sweet Bye and Bye’. His version referred to heaven as ‘pie in the sky’.  Its chorus was as follows: ‘You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.’

Hill was charged with the murder of a shopkeeper in Salt Lake City in 1914. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence presented.  
The ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt test’ was disputed and the trial was considered very unsatisfactory.  

Nonetheless, he was found guilty and executed by a firing squad on November 19th 1915, in Salt Lake City. Many believed he was framed because he was a thorn in the side of the mine owners and other employers. Figures from President Wilson to Helen Keller entered pleas opposing his execution.

As he signed off on the procedure that November morning the Governor of Utah is reported to have said, “Some men are more dangerous dead than alive, and I’m afraid this guy is one of them.”

Joe Hill was a mixture of artist and activist. Mystique is a special ingredient in the making of a legend and martyrdom cements the mystique like nothing else can. His courage in facing the firing squad added to his reputation.

Joe is commemorated in the song ‘Joe Hill’ which was written some years after his death and has continued to surface at various times since then. The song was sung in the Civil War in Spain by the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigade. It was recorded by Paul Robeson, the multi-talented African American singer, athlete and civil rights activist of the 1940s and 1950s. It surfaced again during the anti-Vietnam War struggle in the 1960s and 1970s sung by Joan Baez and Luke Kelly with the Dubliners.
The final verse of the song reaches out to workers on the picket line.
‘From San Diego Up to Maine
In every mine and mill
Where workers strike and organise
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill’.
A poem of the era called ‘Joe Hill Listens to the Praying’ captures the rhythm and themes of that time. It tells about men travelling all over the country by jumping on freight trains, often covering long distances; sometimes they’d ride the rods under the carriages; that was very hazardous but men did it to get to somewhere they could get work.  
They lived around ‘Jungle Camps’ which were ad hoc camps usually close to rail stations.
They were called hobos but these men did this to survive in a time that was not sympathetic to them, economically or otherwise.  

It was estimated that in the years 1901 to 1903, 25,000 so called ‘trespassers’ were killed on America’s railroads and as many again were crippled or injured. The IWW produced a little ‘red book’ of songs, mostly written by Joe Hill, which were sung on picket lines right across the country and in bunk houses from Washington State to Maine. The hobos took them with them on their journeys across the continent. Joe Hill’s belief in the power of songs to reach people was borne out.

Jim Larkin was in Montana in the autumn of 1915 in support of striking miners, and made his way to Chicago for the funeral of Joe Hill. He was deeply affected by the execution and wrote in the International Socialist Review under the title ‘Murder Most Foul’.
“They shot him to death because he was a rebel, one of the disinherited, because he was the voice of the inarticulate downtrodden.”

Hill’s funeral in Chicago was a rallying point for Socialists. Larkin addressed a huge crowd of mourners and thundered, “Joe Hill’s last words were ‘don’t mourn for me: organise’.  The IWW movement has been sealed in the sweet blood of the poet radical. His callous, cold-blooded murder will do more to solidify the sentiment of the workers of the world than any other crime of the master class.”

 Joe Hill’s remains was cremated and his ashes were cast to the wind, as was his wish.

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By Thomas Myler

When Ian Fleming sat down at his typewriter one afternoon in February 1952 in the study of his Jamaican home, known as Goldeneye, and started on his first James Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’, he had not even the faintest idea of the phenomenal success his creation would become – particularly on cinema screens worldwide.

The Bond movies, produced by Eon Productions with financial backing by United Artists, comprise 23 productions with a combined gross of over $600,000 million, the highest of any film series with the exception of the Harry Potter movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

The secret agent, who works for MI6, and known as 007, has been portrayed by, in turn, Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, our own Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

Craig starred in the last three Bond films, a re-make of the 1967 spoof Casino Royale, followed by Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. He is now back again in Spectre, currently showing in Irish cinemas.

When Fleming showed the manuscript of his first novel Casino Royale to a friend, William Plomer, who later became his editor, he liked it. “William submitted it to the publishers Jonathan Cape but they didn’t like it very much,” said Fleming in an interview. “Then, a year later, on the advice of my elder brother, Peter, an established travel writer, they accepted it.”

Between 1953 and 1966, two years after his death, Fleming had completed 12 novels and two short story collections, with the last three Bond books The Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, published posthumously.

Once asked how he came upon the name James Bond, he explained: “It was the name of an American ornithologist, a keen birdwatcher like myself. He was a real expert in his field and the author of the definitive field guide ‘Birds of the West Indies’.

‘It struck me that my friend had a short, unromantic Anglo-Saxon yet very masculine name, and it was just what I needed for my character. So a second James Bond was born, the fictional one and the real one.

“You see, I wanted Bond to be an agent that exotic things would happen to, but he would always be a neutral figure, an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department. I based Bond on a number of individuals I came across during my time in the Royal Navy Intelligence Division during World War 2.

“Bond was a compound of all those secret agents I met, among them my brother Peter, who had been involved in operations behind the scenes in Norway and Greece.
“I also used the experiences of my espionage career and other aspects of my life as inspiration when writing, including using names of school friends, acquaintances and relatives though my books.”

Fleming recalled that when he wrote Casino Royale in 1953, he wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened. “I wanted him to be a blunt instrument but a bit like me too,” he said. “I loved gambling and so did Bond. I loved golf. So did Bond. How did the 007 arise? I played around with a few digits and 007 came up.”

In 1959, Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Salzman formed Econ Productions with the intention of making the first Bond movie. They planned to cast a young macho Scottish actor, Sean Connery, as Bond. Fleming rejected him as ‘unsuitable’ because he was not a big name.

Patrick McGoohan also got the thumbs down because Fleming felt he was “mainly a TV actor”. Cary Grant’s name came up but when the suave and debonair star was approached, he said he would only do one Bond film, as he was considering retirement.
Fleming was said to have favoured the Dublin-born actor Richard Todd, but Broccoli said no. Richard Johnson, an established movie star, turned down the Bond role and thoughts turned to a young Roger Moore but Broccoli said he was “too young and a shade too pretty”. As it happened, Moore would step into the Bond role in 1973 for Live and Let Die, and would star as the secret agent in six more films.

Meanwhile, after all the false starts in selecting the actor to play the first Bond, it was back to Connery. When first invited to meet Fleming, Broccoli and Salzman, Connery arrived in scruffy clothes and gave the impression of an arrogant, devil-may-care actor.
Broccoli and Salzman were impressed, but not so Fleming. “I’m looking for Commander Bond, not some overgrown stuntman who looks like he has just walked off the set,” the author said.

Connery had played small roles in films, including the Disney fantasy Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which starred Jimmy O’Dea. He was also in a Tarzan picture. A former bricklayer, he has represented Scotland in a Mr Universe competition, and was also a bodyguard as well as a coffin polisher, and a model for swimming trunks.
It took Fleming some time to go along with the views of Broccoli and Salzman who felt Connery would make an ideal Bond but he eventually agreed, if reluctantly.
Filming on Dr No got underway in Jamaica in January 1962, before moving on to Pinewood studios in England in late February.

Fleming would later agree that Connery had been a good choice, especially after the worldwide success of Dr No. In many people’s eyes, he was the best Bond. Connery played 007 seven times – becoming one of the screen’s most enduring stars and winning a Hollywood Oscar in 1987 for The Untouchables.

Sadly, Fleming would only live to see Connery star in two more Bond movies, from Russia With Love in 1963 and Goldfinger a year later. He died suddenly in 1965.

Pierce Brosnan came into the Bond role by accident. “An intended brief visit to the US in 1982 turned into a long stay when I was offered the TV series, Remington Steele,” the Navan-born actor said. “I played the role for four years before it was cancelled. I was announced as the screen’s next James Bond but the next thing it was decided to revive Remington Steele and as I was still under contract, I had to give up the Bond part – until it came around again in 1996 with Goldeneye.’

Brosnan would play 007 in three further films, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. “I think there is a physicality in playing Bond which has to be there and I don’t think I carry that in real life,” said Brosnan in an interview in 1999. “James is a naval commander and he has a commanding presence when he enters a room or is dealing with people.

“When I arrived at the studio in the morning, you became Bond. You come in, you put on the suit and you’re there. I’m usually in my own time zone and there’s a certain attitude and energy and formality to the body that comes into being without you even knowing. In the morning I was James Bond. In the evening it was back to Pierce Brosnan.”
When the producers decided in 2006 to give Bond both a more cutting edge and a new look, Daniel Craig got the part. In his fourth outing as 007 in the current film, Spectre, Craig’s co-stars include Ralph Fiennes who plays the new ‘M’ following the untimely death of Judy Dench’s character in the last Bond movie.


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Ireland’s exotic Hollywood icon is fondly remembered  by MARY SHEERIN

Last night I watched The Quiet Man. I hadn’t seen it for over sixty years but I watched it as my own little tribute to the late Maureen O’Hara who recently died at the age of ninety-five.   

Some might, quite rightly, describe the film as ‘stage Irish’.  It is, but it has some delicious moments, great scenery and paints a very romantic image of Ireland in that depressed era of the early 1950’s.   

Apart from our beloved Maureen O’Hara it has the cream of some of Ireland’s best actors of the period, Barry Fitzgerald and Jack McGowran to name but a couple.  Directed by John Ford, it stars John Wayne as O’Hara’s leading man – the powerful American whom O’Hara secretly wants to tame her.  

The red haired, green eyed, fiery and beautiful looking Maureen O’Hara as Mary Kate Danaher became a sort of national symbol for Ireland at that time.  The Irish-Americans adored it and it helped set Ireland on the map; tourists flocked to see where it was made – mind you they were called ‘visitors’ then; a much more gentle and less commercial term in keeping with the ethos and simplicity of our country way back then.  

I grew up knowing that Ireland had a real life Hollywood film star. It was exotic, glamorous and almost incredible in that era of the nineteen forties and fifties to think that Ireland, this little island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, was responsible  for this real life film star.
I mean we knew about Hollywood.  It was where the films were made. It provided possibly our only outlet for escapism in those depressed  years.  At that time Hollywood never gave its viewers any cold realism; rather did they produce quite fantastical and heightened versions of the real world. And that’s what we wanted.  

Indeed, it could be said that that is exactly what we needed back then.
“Is Maureen O’Hara really from Dublin?” I’d ask my mother over and over.
  “Yes. She’s from Ranelagh and she trained in the Abbey Theatre,” my mother would patiently answer each time.  

“Imagine that,” I’d say, still a bit suspect that Ireland was responsible for this glamorous, Hollywood symbol that was Maureen O’Hara.

In 1939, Maureen O’Hara had her first big film role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame playing opposite Charles Laughton who it is said ‘discovered’ her.  The same year saw herstar in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn of which she said: “Well, after I saw myself on the screen in Jamaica Inn, I realised that the girl up there was beautiful. I didn’t want to box the fox any more”.  

Yes, indeed. And well said Maureen.  As we can see O’Hara didn’t suffer from that Irish lack of self-confidence which could be said to be a hallmark of those years.    

From then until the late 1950’s she was in constant demand. She was synonymous with what was known as Hollywood’s golden era.  

Some say that O’Hara’s fiery Celtic temperament was just as foreign to cinema goers as Greta Garbo’s Swedish reclusiveness or Marlene Dietrich’s Germanic insouciance.  

She was, in a sense, our universal Irish Ambassador and she always remained fiercely protective and proud of her Irish roots and, for that matter, her Irish accent.

In one particular scene in The Quiet Man, Mary Kate Danaher even speaks in Irish to the local priest. I’d like to think this was Maureen’s own idea rather than Ford’s.

Interestingly enough, two of Maureen’s brothers in real life have roles in The Quiet Man.   O’Hara always maintained that The Quiet Man was her favourite film:
“It is the one I am most proud of and I tend to be very protective of it.  I loved Mary Kate Danaher. I loved the hell and fire in her,” she said.  

 This shouldn’t surprise us at all.  There was a great deal of ‘fire’ and ‘hell’ in Maureen herself in real life we are told. There was a courage and honesty about her that came  to the fore in her autobiography ’Tis Herself’ published in 2004 and she certainly was less than reticent regarding the cynicism that formed part and parcel of the film industry that she knew so well.  

Maureen O’Hara, whose real name was Maureen FitzSimons, was born on 20 August, 1920, in Ranelagh, Dublin. One of six children, she was the daughter of Marguerita and Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons.  From an early age she showed talent in drama  and singing. In the scene in The Quiet Man where Mary Kate sings it is Maureen herself who sings and does so very beautifully too.   

As a child, Maureen also excelled at sports and in many of her films that demanded acrobatic scenes, O’Hara usually played them herself – an activity that few of her  contemporary actors engaged in.  

Maureen lived for some time in her later years in Glengarriff, Co. Cork,  which she loved, but when her health deteriorated somewhat, she returned to America to be nearer her family.

Ireland honoured their flame-haired beauty with many awards including an honorary degree by the National University of Ireland.  
And Maureen, who never forgot her Irish roots or her Ranelagh childhood, opened the Ranelagh Arts Festival in 2010. I had a glimpse of her and she still looked glamorous and elegant, sporting her trademark red hair.  
Like many great actors, Maureen was never awarded an Oscar, however as recently as last year the Film Academy awarded her an honorary Oscar.  
She may have been frail by then indeed but she was still glamorous and feisty:
“What’s this?” she asked viewing the award. “I only hope it’s silver or gold and not like a spoon out of the kitchen.”
Maureen O’Hara was one of our great actors who shone like the bright star that she was. She is survived by her daughter, Bronwyn, grandchildren and great children.  
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

fl EDITOR’S NOTE: Ireland’s Own will be taking a closer look at, and paying tribute to, the life and career of Maureen O’Hara in a future issue.

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2015 IO Bk CovWE ARE pleased to announce the publication of the sixth annual anthology of Original Writing from Ireland’s Own. This stylish and well-produced book includes nearly 40 winning and recommended short stories and memoirs from last year’s annual writing competitions. There is a warm and encouraging foreword from award winning Wexford playwright and novelist, Billy Roche, whose series ‘Clean Break’, has been a big success on RTE Television this autumn. “Writing is no talking matter,” is his catchy advice; “stop the talking and start writing!” The stories deal with many aspects of Irish life, past and present. The perennial themes of bereavement, emigration; the tangled intrigues of romance, the constant dangerous battle to wrest a living from the seas and recollections of childhood and schooldays are again prominent. Here too are memories of some beloved characters, eg., the day Boris Yeltsin failed to get off the plane to meet the Taoiseach at Shannon, along with tales based on the War of Independence and of poaching and smuggling. The whole mix is leavened with a good dash of humour. The annual writing competitions and the anthologies are produced by Ireland’s Own with the sponsorship and support of Original Writing, the Dublin-based self-publishing company. It is all an important part of the magazine’s long-standing aim of encouraging and promoting writers and writing. Included in this year’s book are overall Writing Competition winners – Tina Sweeney, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (open short story); Kathryn Burke, Clontarf, Dublin (beginners’ short story) and Mae Leonard, Naas, Co. Kildare (memoir section). There are 36 other never before published stories and memoirs by the following: Jennifer May, Sallynoggin, Co. Dublin; Vincent J. Doherty, Palmers Green, London; Anne Walsh Donnelly, Castlebar, Co. Mayo; Tony McGettigan,  Dun Emer Drive, Dublin; Fergus Caulfield, Canvey Island, Essex and Anne McCormack, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. Nora Brennan, Castlecomer Road, Kilkenny; Richard Lysaght, Walkinstown, Dublin; Kevin Lewis, Clonard, Wexford town; Brian Donaghy, Pennyburn Court, Derry; Mary Conliffe, Robertstown, Co. Kildare; Anthony Rooney, Kimmage, Dublin and Brendan Gallagher, Cloonacool, Co. Sligo. Joe Spearin, Clonlara, Co. Clare; Elaine Cawley Weintraub, Ballina, Co. Mayo, and West Tisbury, Massachussetts; Patricia Carr, Fanad, Co. Donegal; Linda Guerin, St Patrick’s Road, Limerick; Kenneth Knight, Artane, Dublin; Eileen Caplice, Mallow, Co. Cork and Paul McGregor, Long Island, New York. Paul Griffin, St.Helen’s, Merseyside; Eileen Casey, Old Bawn, Dublin; Skye Dawson, Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim; Paul McLaughlin, Marmount Gardens, Belfast; Mary Shiel, Drumcondra, Dublin; Jacinta Lowndes, Swords, Co. Dublin; Richard Cahill, Clogheen, Co. Tipperary; Dr. James Finnegan, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal Ben Ritchie, Downpatrick, Co. Down; Martin Malone, Athy, Co.Kildare; Margaret O’Doherty, Co. Donegal; Margaret Cameron, Old Hollywood Road, Belfast; Jean Tubridy, Tramore, Co. Waterford, and Oliver McBride, Downings, Co. Donegal. An ideal gift for christmas or anytime! Original Writing from Ireland’s Own 2015 is available to order in bookshops at €11.95. It is €15, £12 Stg and $US20 (incl p&p) directly from Original Writing, Spade Enterprise Centre, North King St, Dublin 7. Tel: 01-617 4834. Email: Available to callers at the local offices of the People Newspapers in counties Wexford and Wicklow, The Kerryman, The Sligo Champion and the Drogheda Independent for the special cash and carry price of €10.

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(From issue 5518)

Miss Flanagan was on her way to the Cosy Café to have lunch with her good friend, Sergeant Reilly, when she noticed a man trying to park a van in a very tight space. It was obvious he didn’t see a bollard. Before Miss Flanagan could warn him, there was a metallic crunch as the bollard made a sizeable dent in the side of the van.

The driver, a small wiry man, didn’t seem too upset about it. “Not to worry – could have been worse,” was his only comment as he ran his hand over the damaged panel of the van.

Miss Flanagan continued on her way. She had noticed an advertisement on the side of the van: ‘Let us take care of all your plumbing needs. No job too small’.
She thought it odd that there was no name, address or telephone number to enable potential customers to make contact.

She quickly abandoned all thoughts about the van and its unskilful driver when she was abruptly halted in her tracks by a woman making a hasty exit from the Benford Bakery.
It was Karen Browne, who apologised profusely for not looking where she was going.
“I’m so sorry,” said Karen, “but I was completely distracted. You know my husband Richard’s obsession with cars.

“Well, this morning, he discovered that the back wheels of his new BMW had been stolen overnight. I needn’t tell you he has been shocked and outraged since. I don’t believe he would have been as upset if he had received news that his mother had died.”
Miss Flanagan offered her sympathy and suggested that the taking of the wheels might well be part of a prank carried out by some of his pals.

“That’s what I told him,” said Karen, “but it only caused more upset.”
By the time Miss Flanagan got to the Cosy Café, Sergeant Reilly had studied the menu so long, he could recite it by heart.

Apologising for being late, Miss Flanagan related her encounter with Karen Browne. Sergeant Reilly looked at Miss Flanagan in disbelief as if he expected her to tell him this was all a joke.
“O merciful god,” he said, “that’s the fourth car-related theft reported this morning.”

The menu was completely forgotten, as Sergeant Reilly pondered the implications of this spate of robberies. Then he said to Miss Flanagan, “We never know when we’re well off. When cars were being stolen, we lamented the fact that the manufacturers didn’t do enough to make their products more thief-proof.

Now they’ve done just that and the thieves are turning their attention to stealing car components such as GPS devices, DVD systems, rims, tyres and roof racks. They are even stealing the air-bags from cars.”

“What happens to these stolen parts,” asked Miss Flanagan.

“Many items are offered for sale on line and on the street,” said Sergeant Reilly. ‘In a lot of cases, buyers may think they are buying legitimate products rather than stolen parts.”
“From what you said,” remarked Miss Flanagan, “all the car thefts took place in the same part of town.”

‘That’s right,” said Sergeant Reilly, “and I suppose it’s no coincidence that it was the most affluent part of town. This wasn’t a casual, opportunistic crime – these thefts were carried out by professionals who were only interested in high-end products that will get a good price.”

“In every instance,” said Sergeant Reilly, “they cleaned up very thoroughly so there’s really nothing to go on. They were very careful to select targets that were isolated, giving them the maximum cover and the least possibility of being seen. The only way these criminals can be stopped is to catch them in the act.”

Miss Flanagan felt a wave of sympathy for Sergeant Reilly the next day when she heard there had been another spate of robberies of parts of cars.
Even though she was not personally involved in the investigation, Miss Flanagan couldn’t help thinking about the robberies.

She was fairly well convinced they were not carried out by locals, if only because she felt locals would have a difficult job disposing of the stolen items.
Like her friend, Sergeant Reilly, she believed the robbers were professionals from outside the area and that probably meant they remained in Benford after the first robbery. She felt they were unlikely to hang around following the second robbery. They might, in fact, be already far away from the scene of the crimes.

As Miss Flanagan was still thinking about the robberies, she noticed that the large white van was still parked close to the bollard which had damaged it. However, as she got closer, she began to have doubts as to whether it was the same van. It was the same make and model – a Ford Transit – but the advertisement had disappeared from its side.
Then she noticed that there was quite a large dent on the van which suggested it was the same one she had seen previously.

She wasn’t quite sure what the registration numbers were, but she remembered that there were two twos and two fours in the registration of the first van. She was rather surprised, therefore, to discover that this van had no two and only one four. It probably was a different van after all, she concluded. To add to the confusion, the wiry little man who had so carelessly parked the original van arrived and got into the driving seat. After searching for something for a few minutes, he got out and set off briskly up the town.
By now, Miss Flanagan’s suspicions were aroused. Something wasn’t quite right. She took a note of the registration number and immediately contacted Sergeant Reilly.
To her dismay, he wasn’t very interested when she told him what she had seen and suggested that the van ought to be investigated.

Miss Flanagan was not prepared to give up, however, and she finally got Sergeant Reilly to agree to check the registration number of the van.

About twenty minutes later, he re-emerged, with a rather sheepish grin on his face. “It seems,” he said rather apologetically, “your suspicions may be well- founded. The number you gave me belongs to a car that has been written off following an accident. It seems that the owner of this van has been up to no good,” said Sergeant Reilly. “I think it’s time we paid him a visit.”

After sitting in an unmarked car close to the white van for more than an hour, Miss Flanagan, Sergeant Reilly and Garda Malone were beginning to wonder if the owner of the van was ever going to appear.

Then a strange thing happened – a tall, broad-shouldered man arrived and sat into the van. He was immediately confronted by Sergeant Reilly who asked if he was the owner of the van.

“No,” he said defensively, “I only work for the owner.”
“What is the nature of the work you do,” asked Sergeant Reilly.
“Well, Mr. Morris, who owns the van, buys and sells things and I help.”
“Do you know where Mr. Morris is now?”
“He’s in town, but he shouldn’t be too long now.”
“Can you open the back of the van?”
“I don’t have a key.”

At that moment, Morris appeared from the other side of the van. It was obvious he hadn’t seen the reception committee. For a moment his eyes resembled those of a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. He made a quick recovery and, in a composed voice, he asked, “Is there a problem?”

Sergeant Reilly asked if he was the owner of the van and when he confirmed that he was, Sergeant Reilly, in his best official voice, declared, “We have reason to suspect that this vehicle is equipped with false number plates. Can you explain how the plates belonging to a car that has been written off following an accident are now on your van?”

With only a moment’s hesitation, Morris replied that he had only bought the van a week previously and he was completely unaware of any problem with the number plates.
When asked what was in the van, he said he was a general dealer and the van contained some bits and pieces he had picked up in the past week and he hoped to sell them on at a profit.’

When asked to open the back of the van, there was a brief moment of panic, but he quickly regained his cool, opened the van and stepped aside to allow Sergeant Reilly to inspect the contents.

The van was filled with all kinds of items, including many that could have been taken during the raids on Benford cars, but, as Sergeant Reilly realised, it would take some time to  have these properly identified.

Sergeant Reilly climbed into the van to take a closer look and in a short time, he re-emerged holding two number plates in his hands.
Miss Flanagan was able to identify these as the ones that had been on the van when she had first seen it.
With this evidence, Sergeant Reilly arrested both Morris and his helper and brought them to the Garda station for questioning.

It didn’t take too long to establish that most of the items stolen from cars in Benford were in the white van.

As Sergeant Reilly explained later, the thieves had changed the number plates and erased the advertisement on the van in an attempt to disguise it following the first spate of robberies. They might very well have got away unnoticed if they had left the van as it was, but thanks to Miss Flanagan’s keen sense of observation, Morris and his helper were facing a long term behind bars.

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Breda Joy pays tribute to the late Mary Keane, wife of playwright John B.

Kerry-based journalists, including myself, were occasionally tasked with ringing John B Keane’s bar in Listowel to get a quote or comment from the great playwright. This involved the herculean hurdle of ‘getting past’ his wife, ‘Mary John B’. Whenever I heard Mary’s voice at the other side of the line, my heart sank because, in the words of President Michael D Higgins, she was ‘that great gatekeeper’.

“Dad was not to be disturbed at all costs,” said Mary’s daughter, Joanna Flynn. “If the Pope himself called, he was not to be disturbed.”

Delivering the eulogy at her mother’s Requiem Mass on Monday, August 17th, 2015, Joanna related how Actors Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Birkin were once refused access to the author. Mary did not recognise them but, in any event, no interruption of the flow of inspiration in the room above the bar would have been brooked.  

In an interview in the 2013 Cork Literary Review, Mary told Writer and Family Friend Gabriel Fitzmaurice, that  it was a hard task to protect John (he was always John to her) because he was a ‘divil out of hell’.

“With all the hiding, I’d have him in hiding for four hours and at the last minute he’d appear and get me made into a liar,” she said.

At a launch of the Review in the bar, I repeated an anecdote, claiming that whenever Mary got too busy in the bar, she would tap the ceiling with the sweeping brush to summon John B.

Mary quietly called me aside after the speeches and explained that her husband would never have countenanced such a summons.

But the brush did feature in the offertory gifts brought to the altar when over 1,000 mourners overflowed from Saint Mary’s Church into Listowel’s Georgian Square. It had greater significance than Mary’s pride in keeping her bar and home spick and span.
“The sight of the Knocknagoshel woman with a firm look approaching with a brush was enough to send the most recalcitrant customer home,” Celebrant Fr Tom Leane said.
Joanna Flynn said her mother could ‘clear a pub better than any guard’.

Before the Mass, a couple sitting beside me smiled at the sight of two high-ranking Gardaí passing up the aisle and quoted a saying of Mary’s, ‘You can pat a dog all your life but I’d never put my hand in his mouth.’

Mary Keane was a publican, shopkeeper, muse and inspiration to her husband, a strong woman in her own right, a mother and grandmother whose care extended far and wide.
Growing up between Abbeyfeale and Castleisland in the parish of Knocknagoshel, Mary O’Connor was the fourth of five children. Her mother died of toxaemia after the birth of her fifth child when Mary was a two-year-old.

She told Gabriel Fitzmaurice there was always ‘a bit of a yearning for a mother in our house’.

As a child, she would touch the door knobs in the home, wondering if her mother had touched them before her. “Ironically, the woman who had no mother was a mother to many,” Joanna said.

Mary was an apprentice hairdresser when she beguiled John B with her blue eyes at a dance in Listowel. The aspiring writer and assistant chemist published a poem, ‘Two Eyes’ in The Kerryman shortly afterwards.
 “He was always writing poems and songs for me,” she said. “And writing me beautiful love letters.”

After they married on January 5th, 1955, they opened the bar cum grocery shop.
“And we would work away all through the day until we would be together at night and it was beautiful – the two of us, we might lie together or sit together or talk together,” she said. “It was just working all day and waiting for that.”

During the annual Listowel Races, they always took a minute out of the fray in the bar to mark the anniversary of their first meeting.
“Theirs was a glorious, lifelong love affair that we as their children had the joy to witness,” Joanna said.
The couple were blessed with three sons, Billy, Conor and John, daughter, Joanna, and their grandchildren. After John B was diagnosed with prostate cancer, husband and wife were more united than ever.  

“We were together day and and night and I bought next door a rocking chair and at three and four o’clock in the morning he’d say, “Mary are you still there?” And I would be there,” she told the Cork Literary Review.
The shadows lengthened, the evening came. John B (73) passed away in 2002, and Mary followed him on August 15th, 2015, at the age of 86.
‘Two eyes that beam with early dawn…Two eyes that gently break on me’.

0 2153

Author Kenneth L. Mitchell explores the life of Alexander Mitchell, one of Ireland’s greatest ever engineers

It sounds like the beginning of a distasteful joke; “Did you hear the one about the blind Irishman who built a lighthouse?”

But it’s not a joke, instead it’s the true story of an Irishman who overcame some amazing personal obstacles to become one of our greatest ever engineers.

Alexander Mitchell was born on the 13 April, 1780, in South William Street, Dublin, the son of an Inspector-General of Army Barracks in Ireland. Aged seven, he and his family moved to Pine Hill, Belfast and he attended the prestigious Belfast Academy. It was during his time at this school, that his talent for maths first came to attention.

Also noticed was his failing eyesight, by age 16 he could no longer read, and in 1802, at the age of 22, he was completely blind.

Undeterred, he borrowed £100 and started up a successful business making bricks in the Ballymacarrett area of Belfast. This enabled him to start building his own houses and he completed around twenty in the city.  

It was during this period that his talent for inventing came to the fore and he fabricated several machines for use in brick-making and the building trade.

Described as a tall, strong, active and jovial man, he married his neighbour, Mary Banks (against his mother’s wishes), and had five children, some of whom joined the family business and assisted on his various inventions.

Belfast has a strong seafaring tradition and no doubt he heard many a tragic story of lives lost at sea. It is also famously built on a mudflat and as a builder he would have witnessed the problems that occurred when building on such strata and set his mind to it. In 1833 he patented his greatest invention; the screw-pile lighthouse, which he described as ‘a simple means of constructing durable lighthouses in deep water in shifting sands’.

Inspired by an ordinary bottle corkscrew, this invention enabled lighthouses to be built in shallow water under difficult soil conditions and would prove to be invaluable in getting ships to harbour safely. In addition, they were relatively inexpensive, easy to construct, and comparatively quick to build.

Alexander would have to wait five years to see his invention put to use, at the mouth of the Thames with the building of Maplin Sand lighthouse, in 1838. This was quickly followed by another one at Morecambe Bay in 1839.

A hands-on man despite his disability, he would be seen climbing ladders and scaffolding on his project, seemingly impervious to the possibility of falling into the sea and mud beneath. He did fall in a couple of times actually, but these incidents never fazed him and afterwards he proceeded with the job in hand as if nothing had happened. He would personally supervise all his constructions except those on the Indian sub-continent.

Things did not continue smoothly, however. In 1842 he was contracted to build Kish lighthouse in Dublin and disaster struck when his screw piles failed in a gale and the project was abandoned.

Nonetheless, he continued unabated and his first successful Irish lighthouse was built at Belfast Lough in 1844, reflecting in some ways his own life story. He showed his love for the city by reducing the cost of the construction to the minimum amount he could manage.
 In 1847, he used his technology to extend the southern pier in Courtown, Wexford. In 1851, he laid the foundation for a lighthouse in Cobh, and in 1855 he finished his last two Irish lighthouses at Soldier’s Point, Dundalk. Spit Bank Lighthouse, Cork is the only one of its kind surviving on the Irish coastline.

 These established the success of his invention and soon his screw pile technology was being applied on a broad range of structures and projects as far away as the United States and India.

In India his invention was used to construct a viaduct and bridges on the Bombay and Beroda Railway, a system of telegraphs and a pier in Madras.

It was in the United States that his invention came to the forefront, firstly with the construction of a breakwater at Portland, Oregon, and subsequently over 100 screw-pile lighthouses were erected on the east coast of the United States.

Several of these cottage-type screw pile lighthouses were built on the Carolina Sounds, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, along the Gulf of Mexico, on Long Island Sound, Maumee Bay, Lake Erie, Ohio and along the Florida coast.

 Relentlessly Alexander continued on inventing, most notably been an improved method of mooring ships and this soon was also adopted.

In 1848, the Institution of Civil Engineers awarded him the Telford silver medal for his inventions.

Mitchell went on to adapt his technology to propellers and patented the screw propeller in 1854. This was used on ships, increasing speed, reducing coal consumption and he was awarded a Napoleon medal at the Paris Exhibition for it.

As recently as 2012 his invention was still being used for construction projects for the London Olympics, and his screw pile is considered one of the greatest engineering devices of the 19th century.

Alexander died on 25 June 1868 at Glen Devis near Belfast and is buried in the old Clifton graveyard, Belfast beside his beloved wife, Mary.

0 2311

By John Macklin

The handsome bronzed man stood smartly to attention in the dock of London’s Old Bailey Number One court. A mauve silk handkerchief protruded from the breast pocket of his well-pressed blue suit.

It was hard to believe that this confident relaxed man was on trial for his life. Indeed there were many barristers in the sombre court-room on that autumn day in 1925 who were convinced that Patrick Mahon would walk out a free man.

His counsel, J.D Cassels KC, was reaching the climax of his cross-examination and Mahon had stood up well. Now came the vital question: “Did you desire the death of Emily Kaye?” “Certainly not”, Mahon replied “Never at any time.”

Then an extraordinary thing happened. As his confident and cocky reply rang out, a shaft of lightning flashed against the window-panes and lit up the courtroom, followed by a violent crack of thunder.

The effect on Patrick Mahon was dramatic. His confidence vanished and his face turned ash-grey. His eyes were full of fear as he slumped back in the witness-box and Mr Cassels hurriedly finished his cross-examination.

He knew what thunder and lightning evoked for his client… memories of a spring night the previous year when he committed murder in a whitewashed bungalow at Crumbles on England’s southern holiday coast.

To the day he died, a few weeks after his Old Bailey conviction, at the end of the hangman’s rope, Mahon never forgot seeing the head of the dead woman starkly illuminated by lightning. He wrote to a friend from the condemned cell: “I might have got away with it I except for what happened in the courtroom. That knocked the stuffing out of me…”

No one could deny that although handsome and intelligent, Patrick Mahon was a thoroughly bad man. The company who gave him a well-paid job as a sales manager never knew about his record which included robbery, assault and forging cheques.
Because of it he had to kill Emily Kaye, who had found out about his past and threatened to expose him unless he eloped with her overseas. The problem was that Mahon was married already. He was also only 34 and Emily was an overweight and dowdy 40-year-old.

Eventually he agreed to spend a weekend with her to discuss the situation and rented the bungalow at Crumbles, a remote shingle beach near Eastbourne. After the weekend, Emily was never seen alive again but there was nothing to connect Mahon with then disappearance until his wife found a left-luggage ticket in his pocket.

When police traced the ticket to a left-luggage locker at London’s Waterloo station they found a suitcase containing a cook’s knife and several possessions belonging to Emily Kaye.

At first Mahon denied everything. Then he made a statement admitting Emily was dead and that he had tried to burn her body in an attempt to destroy the evidence. “It wouldn’t burn,” he said. “And after the lightning it seemed to come alive again. I ran out of the house but its presence seemed to follow me. Then when then storm was over I went back and finished the job.”

But he continued to deny that he had killed Emily, claiming that she had attacked him in the bungalow because he refused to go away with her. He said that during the struggle she tried to kill him with an axe but slipped and suffered a fatal blow when she fell and hit her head on a fender.

The police didn’t believe him but at the trial Mahon put up a performance which would have done credit to a professional actor and which seemed to impress the jury. Indeed all was going well for Patrick Mahon until the flash of lightning. Then he went to pieces. When he was asked for a categorical denial that he had murdered Emily Kaye, thunder once more rumbled overhead and Mahon was unable to answer.

The jury was no longer impressed and neither was the judge and Patrick Mahon was found guilty and sentenced to death. From prison he wrote several letters saying that every time he slept he had nightmares about lightning flickering on Emily Kaye’s face, making it come alive.

He wrote: “She has come back from the grave to haunt me for eternity. She was in the courtroom when the lightning flashed and I knew then that I was doomed.”
On the day of Patrick Mahon’s execution, the weather was overcast and sultry and thunder once again rolled around Wandsworth Prison at he took his last steps to the gallows. Was it only an amazing coincidence that the moment Mahon plunged to his death through the gallows trapdoor, a shaft of lightning hit the gaol and tore a weather-vane off the execution block?

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