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Do you know a ‘Bear’ or a ‘Bull’ or even a ‘Horse’? John O’Connor takes a look the many Irish people given nicknames inspired by animals.

Two burly middle-aged men strode into the South Manchester public house shortly after it had re-opened for the Friday evening session. They each moved with a slightly stooped gait, which identified them immediately as Irishmen. Minutes later, pints in hand, they made their way to a table some distance from the thirsty building workers who stood in groups along the bar. From working on the same site I knew them as two ground work sub-contractors, widely known as “Mad Ass Connolly” from County Kerry and “The Donkey Joyce” from Galway.

With cigarette smoke floating lazily towards the nicotine-scarred ceiling, and Irish voices and hearty laughter getting louder, a strapping young fellow, dressed in muddy work clothes, strolled into the bar.
He nodded to a few acquaintances and in a thick, untamed, Mayo accent he ordered a pint of Boddingtons. Then, pointing to the two subbies, said to the barmaid, loudly enough for them to hear, “and give the two ould animals over there a bale of hay to keep them happy”.

For a few seconds the place went quiet and I was sure a skirmish might break out. But soon the chatter resumed and the young lad got away with nothing more threatening than icy glares from the two sub-contractors.

“That Young Pony Lavin is going to get himself into trouble one of these days,” said an older man next to me. “He can’t be talking to the Donkey and Mad Ass like that.”

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By Anthony F. Hughes

In late August, 2007, my then job of work took me to a townland called Drumsligo which is on the outskirts of of Mallow in North Cork. I subsequently worked there, on and off, for 18 months or so. To this day I hold very fond memories of that town and the people I made friends with in and around same.

One of those whom I met through the course of my work was a woman whom I shall call Helen Ashcroft….which is not her real name. Ms Ashcroft was big into period literature, especially the works of 18th century English novelists such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Being as I, myself, am a fan of the aforementioned and Thomas Hardy (the novelist), also meant that Helen and I were never stuck for a conversation piece, so to speak.

One day the chat turned to the issues of fact and fiction. We agreed that the writings of Austen, Hardy etc. were works of fiction in one sense and yet not in another for their tales were a reflection of the happenings in English society back in those times.

Our discussion broadened and when it did an element of disagreement came into play with regards to the fact and fiction scenario as a whole. I remember saying that some books are completely factual to which my literary friend retorted “even the truest of true books are not true. They may be 90% true but they’re not 100%. There’s no such thing as a totally true book!” We agreed to disagree on that particular point.

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From dazzling audiences in her family’s travelling show to sharing a stage with such stars as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, Sandy Kelly has enjoyed a rollecoaster ride through a life in music. She shares her story with Kay Doyle.

Sandy Kelly was sitting in a local radio station in Cavan on an ordinary day in 1989, when the telephone rang. The presenter, who had just aired her latest single, a cover version of Patsy Cline’s country classic Crazy, answered the call, then handed her the receiver. “There’s an American fella on the phone and he wants to speak to you,” he said.
Sandy put the phone to her ear and said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” boomed the voice at the other end of the line, “my name’s Johnny Cash.” Sandy, who didn’t believe the caller, replied, “Yeah, and I’m Dolly Parton, pull the other one, it has bells on it!”
But it really was Johnny Cash.

“He had been doing an Irish tour and was driving up the country with June (Carter) on his way to play a gig in Omagh,” says Sandy, as we catch up for a late-winter chat for Ireland’s Own.

“He asked me if I would like to come along and meet him. I said of course, so he told me to come back-stage and say hello when I got there. For a minute I thought I was dreaming!

“I immediately called my husband, Mike, and asked him to meet me with a change of fresh clothes, and I headed for Omagh. When I got there I saw one of my own fans standing outside with a camera. I asked him if he would stand by, and get ready to take a picture of me with Johnny as Johnny came through the stage door. I told him it might be my only chance to get a picture with him, and he said he would do his best.
“The stage door opened, out came Johnny and I jumped in for a picture. When I looked around my friend was after fainting, and was lying flat out on the ground with the camera on his chest. Johnny’s security guards came and lifted him up and put him lying on the bonnet of a car – it was all a bit crazy.

“I introduced myself to Johnny, and he brought me back-stage. He called in his band and asked if I wanted to sing some Patsy Cline songs on stage with him that night. I sang four songs with him including Crazy and I Fall To Pieces. Afterwards he asked if I had any plans to go to Nashville. I told him that I had visited there in 1984, and had plans to go back soon. He told me to get I touch when I arrived. I went over that same year, and I looked him up. He invited me out to the house to meet his family, and production team. And then he asked me to record Woodcarver with him. It was such a wonderful experience.”

Sandy has had many remarkable moments in her lengthy musical career. Born Philomena Ellis, in Sligo, in 1954, she had one younger sister, Barbara, and her baby brother, Francis, who died when he was five months old. Her family business was a ‘fit-up’ roadshow which travelled the country entertaining people long before cinema came to rural Ireland.

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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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