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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.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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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.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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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?’

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own


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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.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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By Jim Rees

On 5 December 1872, the captain of the Dei Gratia, David Morehouse, sighted another sailing ship on the high seas. There was something odd about the way her sails flapped in the wind. It was as if there was no one at the helm.

Morehouse was sure that he recognised the wayward vessel and he ordered a change of course to see if help were needed. When the despatched party boarded, the reason for the mystery vessel’s erratic progress became clear – there was no one at the helm. In fact, there was no one on board at all.

This would have been a strange occurrence anywhere, but the encounter took place 400 miles east of the Azores, roughly half-way across the Atlantic ocean. Morehouse’s recognition of the mystery ship was correct – she was the Mary Celeste.

Sea charts were strewn around the cabin, the only lifeboat was missing, and one of the pumps had been dismantled. No matter how seaworthy a ship is, there is always some leakage and pumping is essential. It was obvious that it had been a while since this crucial task had been carried out and the water in the bilges was three feet deep.
The cargo of 1,701 barrels of industrial alcohol was largely intact, although damage to some of the barrels was immediately apparent. Despite this, the vessel was in good shape and certainly seaworthy. So why had the crew broken the first rule of survival by abandoning her?

The Mary Celeste had departed the port of New York on 7 November, just eight days before the Dei Gratia. On board were Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter. There was also a crew of seven.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was a reluctant war hero. The Co Kerry native was working in the Vatican when the second World War broke out. A mixture of circumstance, fate and his humanitarian spirit meant he ended up running one of the most successful Allied escape operations seen during the conflict. His story is as remarkable as it is dramatic, writes GEMMA GRANT


In 1918, when Hugh O’Flaherty entered Mungret Jesuit College in County Limerick, the twenty-year-old Kerryman had his sights set on the missionary fields. The young seminarian moved quickly through the clerical ranks attaining several doctorates, mastering numerous languages and became a Monsignor by the age of thirty-six.
His skills were not overlooked by his superiors who earmarked him for the diplomatic office rather than missionary work. Accepting the challenge, Monsignor O’Flaherty served in various countries before returning to Rome in 1938, to become an official at the Holy Office.

His diplomatic skills and missionary zeal, that never left him, would be put to good use the following year when Europe went to war.

In 1940, Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, allied itself with Germany. Italian Prisoner of War camps sprang up between 1940-42 detaining some 75,000 captured allied troops. Concerned for the well-being of the men, the Vatican assigned Papal Nuncio, Francesco Duca, to inspect the camps along with Fr. O’Flaherty, acting as assistant and interpreter.

Fr. O’Flaherty was no admirer of British imperialism. He witnessed Black and Tan atrocities in Ireland and lost several friends during that period. He once told a colleague, “I don’t think there is anything to choose between Britain and Germany.”

However, his genuine concern was for the allied prisoners. With missionary zeal, he set about ensuring they received proper clothing, blankets and Red Cross packages. He also used Vatican Radio to pass messages from prisoners to their families. Such were his protests over conditions in the camps, that the Italian authorities pressurised the Church to have him reassigned.

However, their demands failed. Fr. Hugh found another way to help the POW’s that eventually led him into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, one of Rome’s most notorious Nazis.

When Mussolini was overthrown in 1943, Italy signed an unconditional armistice with General Eisenhower. Thousands of POWs escaped and spread across Italy, many asking and receiving sanctuary from the Vatican. It fell to Kappler, as head of the Gestapo, to restore order to Rome, regardless of the cost to life or liberty.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Christmas held a special place in the heart of Padre Pio, as author Colm Keane explains in his book Padre Pio: Irish Encounters with the Saint.

In 1959, Padre Pio sent a letter to his Irish benefactors wishing them a happy Christmas. The letter was sent to Limerick devotee Gerry Fitzgerald, who had it published in the press. At the core of the letter was a very simple sentiment offering his Irish followers “an incessant flow of blessings” and wishing them “a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year”.

The message was a warm, thoughtful one, especially coming as it did from Padre Pio. No one adored Christmas more than him. It was his favourite time of the year. The story of the Nativity, where the baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, often moved him to tears. “In the end, the gamble of our life is all in this child,” he used to say.

As a boy, Padre Pio loved preparing the crib, often constructing it many months in advance. Coming from a very poor family, he would mould clay from the fields into miniature shepherds, animals and other crib figures. He always took extra effort with the baby Jesus, making sure he was right. He would also put oil into little shells and use them as tiny lanterns to light the crib.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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This Christmas marks the tenth anniversary of Christie Hennessy. Kay Doyle speaks with his three adult children as they remember their wonderful father this festive season.

On December 11th 2007, the music world said goodbye to one of Ireland’s most cherished singer-songwriters Christie Hennessy. At the age of 62, Christie passed away from cancer, leaving behind his wife Gill and three children Hermione, Amber and Tim Ross.

Born Edward Christopher Ross, Tralee-native Christie emigrated to London, working on building sites by day and performing in folk clubs by night.

He released his first album, The Green Album in 1972, but it was twenty years later when his second album, The Rehearsal, topped the charts, outselling U2, and making Christie a household name.

Although he was unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, Christie wrote all his own songs, including the much loved ‘Roll Back The Clouds’, ‘All The Lies That You Told Me’, ‘Remember Me’, ‘Messenger Boy’ and ‘If You Were To Fall’ performed with his daughter Hermione.

His death left a huge void in the music world not just as a singer-songwriter, but as a storyteller, and a gentle compassionate soul that endeared him to so many.
His loss is immeasurable to those who loved him most – his family. In this Ireland’s Own Christmas Special, Christie’s children reflect on life without him and the wonderful memories that he left behind.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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The Making of Miracle on 34th Street

By Thomas Myler

Christmas would hardly be the same without watching the movie Miracle on 34th Street. There were two versions, one made in 1947 and the second in 1994, but it is generally agreed that the earlier version was the best, as good as the second one was, surprisingly for a re-make.

With Maureen O’Hara in one of her best roles as a Macy store executive and a strong cast headed by John Payne as her husband, Natalie Wood as their daughter and Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus, the movie was a delightful fantasy and soon became a holiday classic – and stands up well today, exactly 70 years on.

Maureen always said it was one of her favourite movies. In an interview this writer did for Ireland’s Own some years ago, the Dublin-born star recalled: ‘It was a joy to make, and we all had a wonderful time.’

The story will be familiar. A kindly, white-bearded man, a resident of an old folks home and calling himself Kris Kringle shows up at the parade and is horrified to find that the fellow portraying Santa is so drunk that he can hardly stand on his feet. Furiously, he reports the situation to the parade director who in turn convinces Kris to play the role himself, not only in the parade but in Macy’s big department store.

Children and adults alike are drawn to the new Santa and many begin to believe that Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus. This sets in motion a series of events in which Kris touches the lives of many, teaching them a lot about faith and the true meaning of Christmas. One who is not a bit impressed is O’Hara’s sophisticated little girl Susan, played by Natalie Wood, who thinks the very idea of Santa Claus is ridiculous.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual

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By Jim Rees

What is it in the human psyche that prompts us to be fascinated by fear? It’s an undeniable trait – Alfred Hitchcock made a lifelong movie career and several fortunes pandering to it.

Bram Stoker did it with Dracula, Mary Shelley did it with Frankenstein. A similar figment of fantasy has been a money spinner in Scotland for well over a century, as tourists flock in search of the Loch Ness Monster.

Okay, okay – I apologise. I’m stating with absolute confidence that no such being exists, which is as silly as categorically believing in the monster without hard evidence.

It’s an argument that has been going on for a very long time and there have been several serious attempts to prove or disprove the story of a massive creature living in Britain’s largest and deepest lake.

The first report goes back to the 6th century when the Irish monk Adomnán mentioned the beast in his biography of St. Columba. Columba was in Scotland when he came across a funeral in progress on the edge of Loch Ness.

Some of the mourners explained to him that the deceased man had been swimming when he was attacked by a strange beast. Columba ordered one of his followers to act as bait by swimming in the lake and, sure enough, the beast popped his head above the surface.

As Nessy was about to attack, Columba made the sign of the Cross and the beast withdrew.

Continue reading in this week’s Autumn Special