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By Paul Craven

THE FEW UNDISPUTED facts about Patrick James Whelan can be outlined as follows…it is generally agreed that he was born in Galway around 1840. At the age of fourteen, he was apprenticed to a tailor, but, shortly afterwards, emigrated to Canada and settled in Quebec City.


He was skilled at his trade, and, in his spare time he was known to be fond of horses, shooting, dancing and drink. However, he also found time to enlist in the local Cavalry Volunteers, and, in February, 1867, he married.


Then, late in the evening of the 7th of April, 1868, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a member of the Canadian House of Commons, was shot and killed in Ottawa. Within twenty hours, Patrick James Whelan was arrested.


He was then tried and convicted for this murder, and hanged in public on the 11th of February, 1869.


As for the murder victim, more is known for certain!


Thomas D’Arcy McGee was born in Carlingford, County Louth, 1825. He emigrated to the United States, and earned his living as a journalist, before returning to Ireland in 1845.But he had to clear out of Ireland three years later because of his involvement with the Young Ireland Rising of 1848.


He returned to the United States, and, later, moved to Canada. Here, he changed his political opinions, and advocated self-government for Canada – and Ireland! – within the British Empire.


This was the direct opposite of the Fenian position which called for an independent Irish Republic. Then, starting in 1866, Fenians based in the United States invaded Canada.

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Gerry Breen shares love stories from Irish history

It is often said that the course of true love never runs smooth. There could hardly be a more concise description of some of Ireland’s legendary love stories, which all too often seem to contain an explosive mixture of romance and tragedy.


Valentine’s Day, the most romantic day of the year, provides the ideal opportunity to take a look at some of these amazing love stories that had the most profound effects not only on the lives of those immediately involved, but on the hearts and minds of the Irish people. These stories provide tantalising glimpses into the hopes and dreams of some of Ireland’s most iconic figures.

Robert Emmet & Sarah Curran

The romance between the young United Irishman and passionate patriot Robert Emmet and the sixteen-year-old nationalist heroine, Sarah Curran (pictured above), has been the subject of song and story since the failed Irish revolution of 1803. Young Robert Emmet was arrested and found guilty of treason. His speech from the dock has set Irish hearts ablaze for generations and is considered one of the greatest and most powerful courtroom orations in Irish history.


Sarah Curran was the daughter of the lawyer John Philpot Curran. She met Emmet when she was only sixteen and became engaged to him against the wishes of her father. They were passionately in love, but there was to be no happy ending. Robert Emmet was hanged and beheaded on 20th September, 1803, in Thomas Street, Dublin. His youthful romance with Sarah Curran, his idealistic nature, his extraordinary patriotism and his rousing speech from the dock touched the hearts of the Irish people and made him a national hero. Sarah Curran married Captain R. H. Sturgeon in 1805, and she died of tuberculosis three years later at Hythe in Kent.

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By Denis J. Hickey

 

Born on 13th August, 1860, in Drake County, Ohio, Annie was the sixth of nine children of Quaker parents Jacob Mosey and Susan Wise.
Her father’s death in 1866 impacted not only on family finance, but also on Annie’s education and she had little basic schooling.


Annie’s Mother sent her to Dark County Infirmary in 1869 where she was well treated. In 1870, Annie was sent as a type of indentured servant to a local farming family who treated her cruelly. She ran away after two years, and lived with the Edrington family, returning home around 1875.


Annie had been introduced to guns at an early age and supported her family by supplying game to local businesses. Her appeal to suppliers stemmed from shooting game through the head – particularly pheasant and quail – which left the carcass entirely free of buckshot.


Annie’s success enabled her to pay off the mortgage on the family farm. She now embarked on a career involving displays of marksmanship skills. On Thanksgiving Day, 1875, we find Annie in Cincinnati witnessing a Frank Butler shooting act.


Francis Butler, was born in Co. Longford, in January, 1847, at the height of the Great Famine the oldest of five children to Michael and Catherine (née Whelan) Butler.


The family emigrated to the United States in 1860. In 1870, Butler married Henrietta Saunders with whom he had two children prior to their separation a few years later. Having worked at a variety of jobs, Frank developed a sharp-shooting act, a highlight of which was the issue of a challenge to a shooting contest.

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By Seán Ryan

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


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


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


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


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

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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By Eamonn Duggan

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

 

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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