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A memory piece by Collette Bonnar

There was great excitement on our farm the year that the third clocking hen finally settled to hatch out a dozen eggs.

My mother hadn’t had much luck with the hen’s predecessors. The first hen wasn’t in a clocking mood. The second had met an untimely demise! After the non-cooperation of the first hen, Mammy spoke to another farmer’s wife at the far end of the parish. Mrs O’Neill was willing to lend us her clocking hen for the gestation period.

Two of my brothers were sent off to collect the prized fowl. Mammy produced a sack with a hole cut out for the hen’s head and gave them strict instructions for the transporting of the precious bird back to our farm.

But after the two boys collected the hen, carrying it home as instructed proved too onerous. When the bird had its head out, viewing the scenery and taking in the fresh air, she began to jump around like a jennet in the bag.

The boys, in their wisdom, decided to ditch the head out of the hole rule and threw the bag over their backs taking turns to carry it. Discussing the results of the Under-14 match the previous Sunday was much more interesting than the health and safety of the clocking hen.

The lack of movement in the bag as they neared our home rang no warning bells. When the two boys came traipsing into the yard Mammy went out to inspect the pedigree of the hen. To her horror it was stretched lifeless!

‘Death by suffocation,’ was the verdict of my sister Deirdre, the self appointed coroner. Another helpful neighbour supplied a willing clocking hen and when she settled we eagerly awaited the new arrivals.

Earlier in the spring a stray dog had wandered into our yard seeking asylum. The only member of the family who had any interest in the dog was my four-year-old brother Turlough. Daddy named the dog… Hopeless! She was a hopeless sheep dog and a hopeless guard dog. Intellectually she was minus nothing to the power of ten!  

When regular callers came to the house she would snarl and bark furiously, yet when a prowler came into the yard and made off with a chainsaw, she allowed herself to be petted by the cheeky intruder.

One day Mammy heard loud commotion coming from the direction of the outbuildings. She ran outside and as soon as she entered the barn, she knew something was terribly wrong. Hopeless ran out the door faster than an athlete on steroids.

The terrified, angry hen had sought sanctuary in the rafters of the barn squawking and clucking loudly.

Mammy was outraged and devastated at the carnage.   All twelve eggs had been demolished by the wayward dog. The straw from the nest was strewn everywhere and two empty egg shells were all that remained from the highly anticipated event.
Needless to say we were bitterly disappointed when we came home from school and were told the news. We had been looking forward to the tiny yellow puff balls making their appearance. However the weeks passed and a dozen chicks were delivered from Millbrae Hatcheries so the disappointment began to dissipate.

One day my younger brother announced to Mammy that Hopeless had been missing for two days. The following day my brother Desmond ran into the yard.

“Come quickly everybody,” he gasped excitedly, out of breath from running. “Hopeless has just had her pups at the bottom of the back field.”

Seven of us, wild with excitement, went dashing down the steep hill and towards the burn where the new mother and pups were recuperating.

Nestling in among the rushes was the bitch and her six little pups.  Carefully handing one to each of us, Desmond then lifted the new mother and the cavalcade headed back to the farmyard.

Trailing well behind us and clutching his little brown and white bundle, Turlough was quiet and showed little emotion. When we arrived back to the yard Mammy rushed out to see the new arrivals. Turlough was the last to appear looking very downcast.  

‘What’s wrong Turlough?’ Mammy enquired.

‘It’s not fair,’ he wailed, the tears now streaming down his face.  

Mammy moved over to comfort him as he looked up and sobbed: “How come, Hopeless ate twelve eggs but only had six pups?”

Read memories like these every week in Ireland’s Own

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By John Harrold

The new year was just a couple of days old when news filtered through from Nashville that country music had lost one of it’s most beloved characters. The dimunitive performer with the big heart and even bigger personality made a huge impression on all who knew him or had the privilege of hearing him perform.

Little Jimmy Dickens was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day and passed away on Friday, January 2nd, 2015. Jimmy, or James Cecil Dickens, had celebrated his 94th birthday on December 19th and had given his last Grand Ole Opry performance the following night.

Jimmy was born in Bolt, West Virginia, in 1920, the oldest of thirteen children of a coal-mining father. He was raised by his grandparents in a musical family. His first excursion into the entertainment world was on the roster of a local radio station.
He soon gave up his university course and toured the country working at numerous radio stations and performing with the stars who appeared on the programmes, using the name Jimmy the Kid. He caught the ear of Roy Acuff, one of country music’s biggest stars at the time, who recommended him to both the Grand Ole Opry and to Columbia Records.

In September, 1948, two events changed his Jimmy’s life – he signed with Columbia and joined the Opry.

From then on, Jimmy Dickens star was on the rise. Inspired by his short stature, he started using the name ‘Little Jimmy Dickens’ around this time – he was just 4’ 11’’ in height. He is also credited with being the first country performer to wear brightly coloured suits lavishly decorated with rhinestones – the so-called ‘Nudie suits’, designed and made by Los Angeles-based tailor, Nudie Cohn.  

Recordings with Columbia saw Jimmy almost immediately reach the upper echelons of the country charts. His speciality was novelty songs with releases like A-Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed, Take an Old Cold ‘Tater (And Wait), Country Boy, Out Behind the Barn and Hillbilly Fever all reaching the Top Ten in the early 1950s.

Hank Williams nicknamed Jimmy ‘Tater’ after one of these hits, a nickname which stuck with Jimmy for the rest of his life.

Other recordings released by Jimmy included I’m Little, But I’m Loud, Walk, Chicken, Walk, Sidemeat and Cabbage, Stinky Pass That Hat Around and Raisin’ the Dickens. Jimmy had his only Number One in 1965 with May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose, another novelty song which stayed at the top of the charts for two weeks.

In between, in the late 1950s, Jimmy recorded some rockabilly tracks but these failed to make any great impression in the charts. Following the success of Bird of Paradise, Jimmy had a string of minor chart hits over the following six or seven years including Who Licked the Red Off Your Candy, Country Music Lover, Raggedy Ann and Try It, You’ll Like It.
Jimmy left the Grand Ole Opry in 1957 to tour with the Philip Morris Country Music Show. For decades, he performed up to 300 shows a year. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he changed record labels, spending time with both Decca and United Artists.
In 1975, he was warmly welcomed back to the fold of the Grand Ole Opry and became one of it’s most popular and respected members until his death. He welcomed many new members to the Opry over the years.

One of the most unusual inductions must have been that of Trace Adkins. Trace stood six foot six to Jimmy’s four foot eleven but Jimmy found a solution – he used a stepladder on stage!

In recent years, Jimmy’s career got a new lease of life when he became friends with country star – and fellow West Virginian – Brad Paisley. He appeared on a number of Brad’s albums and videos and on the Opry stage with him.

Jimmy had a long line of jokes – many self-deprecating – as part of his stage show and his collaboration with Brad showcased this side of him. He also participated in a series of comic interludes with co-hosts Brad and Carrie Underwood during the CMA Awards shows.

Jimmy Dickens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. Jimmy is survived by his wife, Mona, whom he married on Christmas Eve, 1971, and two daughters, Pamela and Lisa.

A public Celebration of Life service for Little Jimmy Dickens was held at the Grand Ole Opry House, with many of today’s country stars turning up to pay tribute to him in the place he loved so much. He is buried in Nashville.

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By Patrick O’Sullivan

The past is another country, they say, and this is especially true of the summers of old: the skies a deep mesmeric blue that might have been imagined centuries before.

Our tiny little field by the house may have been the hay meadow, but it was so much more besides. It was the place where the fairies played their football on warm moonlit nights. There was nothing strange in this, I suppose, for the fairies domain, the old ringed fort was just a few fields away overlooking the bay.

There it rose up against the skyline, it’s magic circle of trees ever and always looking out across the tide, its ancient grandeur enhanced every evening by the glow of the setting sun.

It was a place of mystery and stillness, the accumulated stillness of years and decades and centuries: wild roses among the mosses and lichens that painted its walls. It never occurred to us to ask why the fairies overlooked so many larger fields in favour of our much smaller one.

 No, we never tried to rationalise it at all, but if we had asked about it, I’m sure we would have been told that the fairies being diminutive themselves liked things on a smaller scale, hence the attraction of our little field to them.

It wasn’t  just some vague tradition though, this story of the fairy footballer’s, for those of the older generation had the names of more than one witness. They told of how one such or another was passing the road very late at night , invariably giving the reason for their lateness so that it all seemed to sound so much more plausible still.

Sometimes I think that whereas adults deal in probabilities, children deal in possibilities, which makes them  far more open to tales of wonder and magic and enchantment. The fairy football games were always played on moonlit nights, another detail that sounded perfectly reasonable so that it became the easiest thing in the world to picture the fairies togged out in their football gear: the moon shining down on the dewy grasses and shimmering too in the bay beyond.

That was the way with the fairies. They may have been mischievous at times up to all sorts of pranks when it suited them, but they had it seemed very human attributes too. There was nothing they liked better than a good game of football so that rivalries between neighbouring forts were as keen as any between neighbouring parishes of the human kind.

There was another fort, a few fields further off, connected as it was according to tradition to the main fort overlooking the bay. It seemed doubtful, therefore, that the inmates of this second fort were rivals of the first. All that was certain was that the fairy matches were as  hotly contested as those of their human neighbours.

Apart from football, the fairies loved music, song and dance: all of which it seemed gave witness to their poetic and creative spirit. This was why they valued so highly the achievement of singers, musicians and storytellers, not just among their own kind but human kind too.

Inevitably they had enchanted tunes of their own, tunes which they jealously guarded and tried to keep to themselves. Sometimes one of these tunes was almost unwittingly overheard by some local musician of note who then became famous for his knowledge of the fairy tune.

The character of the fairies of course said much about the people who imagined them, their creators investing them with an imagining and a love of all things fanciful that clearly rivalled their own.

I don’t know that we thought about it too much but when we gave up the field in the lateness of evening, it was as if we were surrendering it again to the fairies and their kind.

Or maybe it was the other way round. Maybe they were the ones who lent it to us during the daytime, taking possession of it again when the moon hung like a silver apple in the sky.

All of this makes me think that every single field, no matter how big, no matter how small, has a secret history of its own: a history long since embedded in popular culture and tradition. It is a history not just of human involvement in the field, but also of the wild, of nature itself shaping it and moulding it over time.

There was the time when the hare gave birth to her young in a grassy corner of her own. The hare’s nest, or form, was no more than a flattening of the grasses, but the young, the tiny leverets, were the sweetest, most endearing things imaginable.

They might have come straight from a storybook, though I doubt if any story, no matter how well crafted and told, could rival the living beauty of nature itself. We never wondered what the fairies made of them, but surely like us they were glad of them too.

It was no great wonder though that I was reading about wildlife in magazines and books, for the field, the little fairy field of summer had a magic all of its own.

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By Patrick O’Sullivan

“You do a good line in nostalgia,” a reader said one time. “Do I?” I asked in reply, not knowing if this was meant as a compliment or otherwise. “You do, and do you know what it is, I’m always the better for reading it,” my companion told me with a smile so that I felt like smiling too.

There are very few topics, very few themes, that have not been the subject of some scientific investigation and nostalgia is no exception. There was a time apparently, centuries ago, when it was very much frowned upon. It must be borne in mind, however, that it had a very different meaning then, describing as it did, a condition which would now be thought of as some form of melancholy or depression.

Today, nostalgia generally refers to remembrance of times past: reminiscences of family and friends, home and holidays, songs and stories and so much more besides. These memories are generally light and positive, though not universally so.

Sometimes they are tinged with some bittersweet emotion of their own, but even then, say researchers, they have the capacity to make life more meaningful for us still.
“When people speak wistfully about the past, they become more optimistic about the future. Nostalgia makes us a bit more human.” This is the latest theory, or one of them at least.

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With Aileen Acheson

August is dahlia month. Remember they need staking. Trying to raise a dahlia with a lot of heavy foliage and succulent stems from the horizontal to the vertical is a horrible job. And one rarely successful. You will hear a snap and be left with a lot of cut flowers.
 Vaseline the stems well and if you have them in tubs or window boxes Vaseline the outsides of these too. This stops the ear wigs in their tracks a bit. If your phlox is showing signs of mildew it may revive if you water it well. Cans of water sloshed round it are more effective than sprinkling. Get the roots well wet.

The stems of lavatera need shortening towards the end of the month. Then again in spring another trim. This makes for sturdy stems able for the wind.

Plant Russian sage ‘Blue Spire’ in full sun. They like rocky, open places, where they will be baked, like in their natural habitat, Afghanistan. If you want a cool looking spot in your garden in this dusty looking month, plant Itea Ilicifolia. Glossy dark green leaves, with prickles. Tiny lime green flowers, fragrant but a big shrub. It needs a bit of space.
At the seaside recently I saw the loveliest thrift sea pinks in bloom. Laburnums were growing within a few feet of a sea wall. No sign of wind damage to their leaves, mind you. Roses were marvellous, very healthy looking, campanula seeding into the walls and alyssum was romping everywhere.

Globe thistles in light blue abounded in several gardens. A jewel of a sea holly, about three feet tall, in shimmering, silvery blue was growing in sandy soil, in a very sunny spot. I don’t think it would do well in any other type of soil or in shade.

If you want a few extra cut flowers in your August garden, plant Achillea Summer berries. This perennial is easy enough to grow from seed and usually flowers the first year. It will put up with dry conditions and flowers for months usually.

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Seventy-five-year-old Lily Devin was in a terrible state. Overnight, everything of value had been taken from the garage at the side of her house – all the gardening equipment that her recently-deceased husband, Bob, had owned, from ride-on lawnmower to strimmer to sprayer to chainsaw and more.

It was quite a haul, Miss Flanagan knew, at this time of year when there was a market for ‘fell off the back of a lorry’ gardening equipment. She arrived at Lily’s before the Gardai did. After making Lily comfortable she quickly went outside to survey the area.

Taking care to touch nothing, she took photographs of the scene from garage shelves to floor to the ground outside all the way to the road gate.

On her bike now she cycled up the road. She had seen no marks of a vehicle having pulled into a gateway as she cycled up but perhaps there was something in the other direction?  A hundred yards away there was a wide grass margin, she saw.  Something had pulled in there overnight, she noted, from the marks.

Again her phone camera was out and used to capture the images.

It wouldn’t have taken thieves long to carry the items to the boot of a car and return for more if necessary, she decided. They’d have been able to see approaching lights from a long distance so would have known that they’d have time for their dishonest activity or not.  

Satisfied that she had her preliminary evidence gathering done she went back into the house where Lily was sitting near the heater, a blanket round her shoulders, to help with the shock.

“I never heard a thing, Brigid,” she said. “My hearing’s not the best lately with this ear infection I have.”

Maybe it’s as well Lily hadn’t seen or heard anything, she thought.

What could she have done anyway and confronting thieves, at her age or any age for that matter, wouldn’t be a good idea.

Neighbours had gathered by the time the Gardai had arrived – the Allens, Finns and young Caitlin Moore from up the road. Everyone was shocked that Lily had been robbed.
“Whose property is safe if Lily has been robbed?” Jimmy Allen said. “No one’s – that’s what.”

“I’ll call in on my way home from work,” Caitlin was telling Lil now, “and I can sleep here tonight if you’d like that. I don’t want you on your own…”
“Thanks love, you’re very good.”

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By Arthur Flynn

The 1979 film Manhattan could be regarded as literally a one man show from the brain, skill and pen of Woody Allen. He starred as the central character Isaac Davis, directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Marshall Brickman. Allen described the film as a combination of his previous two films, Annie Hall and Interiors.

In Manhattan, Allen played a television writer, Isaac Davis, based in New York. In reality Allen himself had been a television comedy writer during the 1950s.

For the 1970s it was unusual for a film to be shot in black-and-white and widescreen but Allen always broke the rules. He never followed set patterns. The film also featured the melodious music of George Gershwin, including Rhapsody in Blue that inspired the idea behind the film.

As usual with Allen’s films he assembled a strong production team headed by cinematographer Gordon Willis and editor Susan E. Morse. The film was shot on a budget of $9 million for United Artists.

The other leading members of the cast included Diane Keaton as Mary Wilke, Michael Murphy as Yale, Mariel Hemingway as Tracy, Anne Byrne as Emily, Wallace Shawn as Jeremiah, Karen Ludwig as Connie and Meryl Streep as Jill.

Meryl Streep, then an emerging star, shot her scenes for the film during the breaks in filming of Kramer vs. Kramer.

The plot for Manhattan centred on Isaac Davis, a twice-divorced, 42-year-old television comedy writer dealing with the women in his life and quitting his unfulfilling job. He is dating Tracy, a 17-year-old girl who is still attending school.

His best friend, college professor Yale Pollack, married to Emily, is having an affair with Mary Wilkie. Mary’s ex-husband and former teacher, Jeremiah, also appears.

Isaac’s ex-wife Jill is writing a confessional book about their marriage. Jill has also since come out of the closet as a lesbian and lives with her partner, Connie.  

When Isaac meets Mary, her cultural snobbery rubs him up the wrong way. In spite of his growing attraction for Mary, Isaac still continues his relationship with Tracy. Isaac has to try and come to terms with his complicated life style and career and bring some order to it.

In the film Isaac has surrounded himself with a circle of friends, all of whom are writers. Yale is writing a biography of Eugene O’Neill and Mary is a critic. The script is littered with references to creative artists from Strindberg to Bergman, Fellini to Groucho Marx.
The film was like a travelogue of Manhattan cultural landmarks and those included in the film were Central Park, Broadway, Park Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Greenwich Village, Bloomingdales, Madison Avenue and the Upper East Side. One elaborate shot is of dawn coming up over the skyscrapers of the Big Apple.

It was Allen’s tribute to New York as was Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai and La Dolce Vita, Vittorio De Sica’s tribute to Rome. When Allen saw the rough cut of Manhattan he was totally disappointed and stressed. He asked the producers if they would consider destroying every frame of it if he did his next film for them for free.
They thoroughly disagreed with him. Thankfully to editor Sandy Morse, this tribute to his home town emerged as his most highly regarded film by cinemagoers.

For Manhattan Woody Allen got some of his best reviews. The following are a sample: ‘A masterpiece that has become a film for the ages by not seeking to be a film of the moment.’ ‘Woody Allen’s great leap forward into character development and dramatic integrity.’

As expected the film was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress for Mariel Hemingway and Best Writing, Screenplay written directly for the Screen for Allen and Marshall Brickman.

Despite Allen’s misgivings many critics and cinemagoers classed it as being his best film. Allen himself regarded it as being his least favourite of the films he directed but yet it was the most commercially successful.

Following the huge success of Annie Hall and Manhattan, the United Artists executives told Allen’s producers: “From now on, make whatever you want.” He followed their advice and is still producing, directing and starring in first class films to day. ÷


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RÓNÁN GEARÓID O DOMHNAILL looks at some of the traditions associated with Irish wakes, funerals and burials

People were deeply superstitious in times gone by and nowhere was this more obvious than at funerals and wakes. The old Irish families, those with ‘O’ and ‘Mac’ in their names, had a banshee attached to them, whose wail foretold a death within the family and belief in this persisted into the 1970s.

Another form of death messenger who collected the souls of the dead was the cóiste bodhar, the silent coach, driven by a headless coachman called a dullahan, whose whip was a human spinal cord.

Omens of death were also present in nature. Four magpies together signalled death, as indeed did a robin knocking on your window or entering the house. It was believed that cats could interfere with the souls of the dead and there were never let into a wake house. If they did jump over the corpse, the cat would be killed the next day.

The mirrors in the house of the deceased were turned around or covered, in case the soul of the deceased became trapped inside. Clocks were stopped at the time of death as many would ask what time the death occurred. Once the person died, the windows were opened to let the deceased soul out. The window remained open, albeit with the curtains closed, until the corpse was removed for burial.

The corpse was first washed by the women a few hours after death and laid out in a brown woollen habit for males, and a blue one for females and placed on the bed in white sheets. The coffin was often made of straw. The room was lit by candles, holy water shaken over the corpse and the full rosary recited.

 In some places there was a table used specially for the corpse, the so-called wake table. There is an example of one at Glenveagh Castle in Donegal. The eyes were closed in case the deceased chose someone to go with them and pennies were placed over the eyelids to keep them down.

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By Gerry Breen

The Fourth of July is celebrated by Americans everywhere as Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain.

Strangely enough, Ireland’s population was twice as big as America’s during the War for Independence. Today, the population of America is about sixty times greater than that of Ireland.

However, it is reckoned that forty million Americans are Irish or have Irish ancestors, and many people believe that the Irish have a lot of reasons for being allowed to share in the celebrations on the National Day of the United States. Here are just a few of them:
The Declaration of Independence was written in the hand of an Irish-born patriot, Charles Thomson. It was first read to the people, outside the hall where it was drafted by another native of Ireland, John Nixon. It was first printed by an Irish-born Philadephian, John Dunlap, and signed by at least three Americans of Irish birth.

At least eighteen presidents of the United States can claim Irish ancestry and an Irishman, James Hoban, who was born in Kilkenny, designed and built the White House. Hoban studied architecture in Dublin, and it is believed that he modelled the White House on Leinster House, now the home of Dáil Eireann.

The first American general to die during the War for Independence was an Irishman, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, who was born near Swords, Co. Dublin, in December, 1738, and was educated in Trinity College, Dublin. He first served in the British Army, but later took up the American revolutionary cause.

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The first female doctor died 150 years ago writes Paul Craven

PRECISE INFORMATION regarding the origins of the person who became known as ‘James Barry’ is not available.

However, the best evidence suggests the ‘he’ was born Margaret Bulkley. ‘His’ (or her) place of birth is usually given as Cork, and ‘his’ date of birth is variously given as 1792 and 1799 (as her University and Army records do not agree).

Her mother was Mrs. Mary Ann Bulkley, whose maiden name was Barry and whose family were well known shipbuilders in Cork City.

As for the name of her father, that is still the subject of speculation.

However, it is certain, that in the early 1800s, Mrs. Mary Ann Bulkley arrived in London with her two daughters. She complained to her brother, James, that she had been thrown out of the family home, in Cork, by her husband and son.

James refused to help his sister and nieces, but when he died shortly afterwards, Mrs. Bulkley benefitted from her brother’s estate.

She also benefitted from the patronage of two of her deceased brother’s acquaintances – David Stuart, the Eleventh Earl of Buchan, and a South American exile, General Francisco de Miranda.

These two men were radicals by the standards of the day as they advocated female education!

It was they who noticed how clever and bright young Margaret was, and probably suggested that she should disguise herself as a man to enjoy an education normally prohibited to women.

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