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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.

Read Miss Flanagan Investigates every week in Ireland’s Own


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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’.

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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.

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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?

Read Stranger Than Fiction every week in Ireland’s Own

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Bill McStay writes on how work was found on Ulster farms a century and a half ago

Come all ye loyal heroes and listen unto me,
Don’t hire with any master till you know what your work will be,
For he will rise you early from the clear daylight till dawn
And you never will be able for to plough the rocks of Bawn.

The Rocks of Bawn, a Cavan song set to a traditional air, is one of the many about the practice of hiring labour, and the experiences of the men and women who found work through Ireland’s hiring fairs.
For virtually 200 years, until they tailed off during the first half of the 20th century, these fairs took place in as many as eighty locations throughout the Province of Ulster.  
They were held mostly around the twelfth of May and November.  They were often combined with market days, and they made towns and villages into places of bustling activity, excitement and indeed family tears. Venues and dates were set out in the immensely popular annual Old Moore’s Almanac.

On a typical Fair morning, young persons of both sexes, many of them as young as ten, assembled at a known meeting place in the town. They carried their personal possessions wrapped up in a bundle. Prospective employers, mainly farmers, would approach them.

When a deal was struck-for an agreed amount, plus free board and lodging for the six-month hiring period, the new employee would receive an ‘earnest’, amounting to a shilling or more, and would hand over the bundle with the promise to meet the employer later in the day. The contract was now legally binding.

Workers rated employers by the quality of the table they kept. Always popular was one reputed to keep ‘a good meat house’. He would have no difficulty in hiring workers. One such was old John who farmed in the Glens of Antrim, even if he was a strict Presbyterian with a strong work ethic, and ruled his little kingdom with a rod of iron.  He allowed only the Bible only to be read on Sundays. He disapproved of wakes and the Orange Order.  
When the priest called to enquire about members of his flock among the workers, he was ceremoniously brought into the parlour ‘to take a glass’ with his teetotal host.  
By contrast, Robert’s employer in the same county was a hard taskmaster.  Not satisfied that his hired boy walked horses all the way to Belfast market and back again, he sent him out to cart manure till bedtime, with only some bread and tea to break his fast.
One of the most prominent fairs in Ulster was held in Strabane, and continued until 1949.  It served not only the immediate hinterland, but drew workers from as far afield as Tory Island in Donegal.

On a Fair day, the town pulsated with activity. Eating houses competed for custom, providing cheap and substantial meals of potatoes, bacon and turnips.  Stalls lined the streets, selling farm and household utensils, clothes and knick-knacks.

Musicians, confidence tricksters and amusement booths beguiled the crowds. Young men and women converged on the town for days beforehand, arriving by the Donegal Railway, or walking for many miles barefooted and carrying their footwear for use only on the fair day. The hardship of those days is recalled by Donegal writers like Paddy the Cope Gallagher and Patrick McGill of Glenties.

Despite the hardship and the drudgery, dramatically reduced after the Dromore-born Harry Ferguson invented the tractor (which bears his name) just before the Second World War, hired young people found time for jollification and even romance.  

Lizzy Scott, hired at twelve in Limavady Fair, had to rise at six, and face a day of feeding pigs, milking cows and making butter. But she was fed plentifully on porridge, potatoes and buttermilk, enjoyed dancing in the rare breaks from work, and married a fellow-worker when she was twenty-four. Lizzie became an important member of her local community, called upon to assist at a birth or to lay out the dead.

Tyrone’s Killeter Fair is celebrated in song as the author’s meeting place with his future wife:
She stole my heart completely boys,
The truth I do declare, And the first
place that I met her boys
Was in Killeter Fair.
A Fermanagh man recalled the priest’s advice in a Sunday sermon before Roslea Fair. He called on his young listeners to be faithful to their religion and cautioned against the dangers of dancing and runaway marriages.
Despite advice like this from many a pulpit, the call of the heart usually prevailed, as in the case of the young Tyrone girl. She resisted her parents’ wish that she marry a settled gentleman they approved of, eloped with her sweetheart, married him, and now writes that:
‘With pleasure and contentment I never will deny, I’m living in America with my father’s servant boy’.

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1 Sept 1996. Wexford's Adrian Fenlon celebrates his side's victory over Limerick, All-Ireland Hurling Final, Wexford v Limerick. Picture Credit: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE.

(From our All-Ireland Finals Annual)

Paul O’Reilly meets Adrian Fenlon, Wexford’s midfield general during their march to the All-Ireland Hurling Championships title of 1996

In 1981, in Enniscorthy Co. Wexford, after following his big brother Pat across the road to Bellefield GAA grounds, an eight-year-old Adrian Fenlon was met by ‘Choppers’ Cullen, the man who first put a hurl in earnest in the youngster’s hand. While Adrian’s father Tommy, a former cricket player in Enniscorthy Showgrounds, had often brought the family on day trips to Croke Park, up to then there wasn’t a strong tradition of hurling in the Fenlon clan.

Quickly developing a grá for the sport, Adrian practised daily, “baitin’” the sliothar either in the field, at school or against Mrs Whelan’s front wall, situated beside Bellefield and opposite the Fenlon household. Back then it was commonplace to see children on roads playing hurling, football, curbs, rounders and it was around this time that Adrian was credited in jest by a local reporter with “baitin’ a crack down the middle of his mother’s eight-foot wall”.

Adrian’s skill developed into his teens under the guidance of men like Brother O’Connell, a Tipperary man passionate about hurling, then teaching in Enniscorthy CBS; Pat Taylor, a Waterford man who first told the eager hurler that he had “too wild of a swing” and that “he needed to control it a little bit more”; and when playing under-14s for the Rapparees, Adrian’s coach was the iconic Paul Lynch, All-Ireland winner and star of the ’68 Wexford team.

Still a teenager, Adrian made his debut for the Rapps senior hurlers against Rathnure, marking Austin Codd. Adrian recalls that he “done okay” and that the “bigger lads” looked after him. The Rapps developed into a strong battling team, with Adrian eventually competing in four senior county finals, but on each occasion they fell just short at the final hurdle.

In 1992, fellow Enniscorthy man Christy Kehoe gave a nineteen-year-old Adrian his first run-out in the county colours, against Clare in an Oireachtas game in Cusack Park. Later credited by Liam Griffin as the man who had built the platform for the ‘96 success, Christy played Adrian at wing-forward from where he scored four points. Due to studies Adrian missed the ’93 League final saga against Cork, but returned for the heartbreaking Leinster final draw and subsequent replay-defeat to Kilkenny a few months later.

Though Griffin came in as manager in 1995 with new ideas and plans, it proved a difficult year, the lowest ebb a defeat to Meath in the League on Adrian’s doorstep, Bellefield.
However, despite this, there were critical factors throughout ’95 that instilled in the team an attitude that success was possible given the right preparations and frame of mind.
Clare’s All-Ireland win had given the Wexford team a belief that “a county steeped in hurling but not winning much” could fight through the pack. “We would’ve felt that pound for pound we were as good as Clare,” he says, “so if they can do it why can’t we?”
A lot of iron was pumped over the winter, plyometric workouts were introduced, nutrition was managed, a psychologist – Niamh Fitzpatrick – was brought in and as Griffin stamped his own meticulous mark, the mood was good coming into the ’96 championship.

While a Leinster quarter-final win over Kilkenny seemed to surprise the media, it came as no surprise to the underdogs. “We were in tip-top shape coming into the championship,” recalls Adrian, “and while there was that psychological thing there, that many Wexford teams just fell short in the last few minutes, we felt confident we could beat Kilkenny.”

Victory over Dublin in the semi-final set up a final “with the thorn in Wexford’s side”, Offaly, then a team of household names like Johnny Pilkington, the Dooleys and Brian Whelahan. A tit-for-tat game up to the final quarter, the floodgates then just opened as Wexford tagged on score after score. Adrian fondly remembers the final whistle, when club-mates Skinner Walsh and Michael Foley almost choked him with excitement on the pitch.

For the All-Ireland semi-final, Wexford knew that if they could “just contain and grind-out Galway” they would win, and that’s how it panned out as Galway missed some crucial scores to the roars of the Wexford supporters on Hill 16.

And so, as a result of the foundations laid by Christy Kehoe, the “hard training” and “methodical and systemic” detail to which Griffin and his team had analysed and coached, to a point where keywords were drilled into the team, Wexford had reached their first All-Ireland final since 1977.

As ‘Dancing at the Crossroads’ topped the charts, as the ‘Purple and Gold’ was waltzed to from ballroom to kitchen, as crocks of cars were painted in county colours, the team, taking counsel from true friends like those who’d stood by them after the Meath defeat a year earlier, were still “grounded enough not to get too carried away”.

“Psychologically we felt we were stronger going into that particular game,” Adrian says, recalling that Griffin had predicted Limerick would break from the parade before reaching Hill 16. Griffin also spoke about the importance of body language and Adrian remembers Limerick looking very “jittery” for the meeting of the President. Whereas minutes before, in an effort to relax his own team, Griffin had asked Larry O’Gorman to crack a couple of jokes before running onto the Croke Park sod.

“The first thing I remember about the match is that Seán O’Neill went to give Georgie a hunch just before the throw-in, but he chose the wrong time because he mis-hit his hunch, fell on the ground, and when Pat Horan threw in the ball myself and Georgie just flaked into it. And I think Seán came out the worst.”

A physical game, Wexford players were so well conditioned that when hit, they just bounced back up and when Larry Murphy scored a great opening point, it was the perfect tonic for nerves. Even when Eamonn Scallan was sent off, the meticulous preparation again kicked into play, as Wexford quickly regrouped and executed a ready-made plan.
One man down, Adrian recalls the second half as “a long, long half, as we were really just hanging on for dear life.
“Limerick had a supreme advantage, we had to become defensive, but that said, had Joe Quaid not pulled off some miraculous saves that day Gary Laffan could easily have been man of the match.”

The whistle gone, within seconds exhausted players were almost suffocated by an ecstatic crowd. Still on the field, Adrian handed his hurl to friend Micheál Doyle of Oylegate, but he kept his jersey and his mother guards his medal.

Alongside O’Gorman, Dunne, McCarthy, Storey, Murphy and Dempsey, Adrian earned his only All-Star that year and is extremely proud of the honour.

As for regrets, “Besides the four county final losses, the biggest is that we didn’t go on and do back-to-back titles in ’97. I feel we were probably caught off-guard that day (against Tipperary) and perhaps, in hindsight, hadn’t prepared as well as we should.
“And had we won that day there would’ve been a great atmosphere for the final.”

Of that there is little doubt. It would’ve been a final everyone would’ve wanted to see. Clare and Wexford, the champions of ’95 and ’96 after years of waiting in the wings, flaking it out to be crowned champions once again.

Read Ireland’s Own every Tuesday

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EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs

Lugh was a mythical hero, originally a Celtic deity. His name is often accompanied by the sobriquet Lámhfhada (long-armed), the idea being not of a physically long limb but that his weapons had long range.  He was adept at the use of the javelin and the sling. He was also known as Samhaildánach, meaning ‘the one who possesses all the arts’.
Writing of the Gauls, who ruled present-day France, Julius Caesar stated that they worshipped a god whom he compared to the Roman god Mercury: ‘They declare him the inventor of all arts, the guide for every road and journey, and they deem him to have the greatest influence for all money-making and commerce’.  

Sanctuaries to Lugh have been located throughout Gaulish territories, and the Celtic place names Lugudunon (fortress of Lugh), survive in many forms, for example, Lyons, Lauzon, London and Leiden.  

He was the focus of the harvest cult, for there was a great festival at Lyons at harvest time, which the Romans forcibly changed into a celebration of the emperor Augustus (hence the name August for that month).  

The celebration of such a festival has long been celebrated in Ireland, being called in Irish Lughnasa, originally applied to one of the four great Celtic festivals in Ireland, the others being Samhain (November 1st, the start of winter; Bealtaine (May 1st), the start of Summer; Imbolg or Imbolc, the start of Spring, now St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st.  
So Lughnasa, now the name in Irish for the month of August, provides a direct link between the mythology of the continental Celts and the tradition of Ireland.

A text from the ninth century explains Lughnasa as ‘an assembly held by Lugh at the beginning of harvest each year’.  Another source identifies this assembly as the great fair of Tailtiu (Teltown, Co. Meath).  

The origins of various communal activities relating to festival celebrations were also attributed to Lugh – ball games, horse racing and ficheall (the Irish form of chess).
The Lughnasa festival started on the last Sunday in July which had many names – Domhnach Chrom Dubh, Domhnach Deireannach, Garland Sunday, Hill Sunday, etc.  

The chief event of the festival was not so much the festive meal as the festive gathering out of doors.  This took the form of an excursion to some traditional site, usually on a hill or mountain top, or beside a lake or river, where large numbers of people gathered, travelling there on foot or horseback or in carts.

Many of the participants came to make a day of it, bringing food, drink and musical instruments and spending the afternoon and evening in eating, drinking, dancing and singing. The young men engaged in tests of skill and strength, in sports and games. The girls picked wild flowers and made them into garlands and nosegays. Almost always there were wild berries to be picked and enjoyed.

There were many such hill and mountain gatherings. Máire Mac Néill, in her famous book Festival of Lughnasa, enumerates seventy eight hills on which these assemblies were held: nine in Connacht, fifteen in Leinster, fifteen in Munster and thirty-nine in Ulster.

In addition to these, there are heights on which the merry secular gatherings took on at some time in the past a religious character and became pilgrimages or ‘patterns’. By far the most widely known of these is Croagh Patrick, the great quartzite cone of ‘the Reek’ as it is popularly known, on the southern side of Clew Bay in Co. Mayo.  

Along the mountain ridge and leading up to the summit are two rough tracks, one from the eastern side, the other from the western side.  Up these tracks the pilgrims have come on ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, for over a thousand years, to honour Ireland’s patron saint and to perform penance, on the spot where, it is said, the saint prayed and fasted for forty days and nights. Three other mountains formerly had pilgrimages at this time, Mount Brandon in Co. Kerry, Slieve Donard in County Down and Church Mountain in Co. Wicklow.

Another favourite gathering place at the Lughnasa festival was beside a lake or a river. These waterside gatherings differed little from those on the hills. There were the same dancing, eating and drinking, picking of wild flowers and fruit.  The driving of cattle and horses into the lakes or rivers seems to have been widespread.  

On the banks of Lough Owel near Mullingar there was a pattern held on the first Sunday in August, called the ‘Pattern of the Lough’.  

 It was also a favourite time for the holding of fairs. In ancient Ireland there was the Fair of Carman and the Fair at Tailtiu. A number of fairs held at this time bore names like ‘Gooseberry Fair’, ‘Bilberry Fair’ and ‘Lammas Fair’ in Northern Ireland, particularly in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.  The most notable of the survivors is Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, formerly held on 1-2 August, but now on the 10-12th.

Read Eddie’s series on Irish customs every week in Ireland’s Own