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    From SBB Ina Shuí to Scaoil Amach an Bobailín to delivering the best in Irish sports coverage on Radio na Gaeltachta, Connacht man Seán Bán Breathnach has been a much-loved mainstay of Irish broadcasting for the past fifty years. He shared some career highlights with Kay Doyle.

    It may be difficult to believe due to his youthful spirit and effervescent personality, but one of the West’s most instantly recognisable television presenters, Seán Bán Breathnach, has been electrifying our airwaves and lighting up our TV screens for just over fifty years.

    Last April saw the famous Galwayman pass the half-century milestone, and he remains as enthusiastic about his job, and as passionate about our native language, as ever.

    Seán was born in Inbhear, in Connemara, the youngest of four children. His father had lived in America during the Great Depression but found it difficult to settle, and returned home.

    He took up various jobs to make ends meet working as a coast watchman, postman and farmer, “or as much as a farmer as it is possible to be in Connemara”, says his son with a laugh, as we catch up for a chat to mark his special broadcasting anniversary.

    Seán left school at 14. In those days, as free education wasn’t introduced until 1966, it wasn’t unusual for children not to go on to secondary school, and more irregular still to proceed to college. At 16, he took the boat to London with his older brother, Pádraig, who was an engineer. Their eldest brother, Mairtín, had departed three years earlier and wrote home about the great jobs, and great money, that was going across the water.

    Seán’s dad had inspired his interest in broadcasting. His father was very well read, and Seán himself was leafing through The Reader’s Digest by the age of nine.

    As a family, they would listen to the BBC radio boxing broadcasts – in fact, broadcasts of all sports from soccer to rugby to horse racing. His dad was sports mad too, bringing them off to Railway Cup matches and instilling a love for sport that would last a lifetime.

    Seán still remembers getting up in the middle of the night to listen to famous fights on the radio. One of the boys would be in charge of the radio, the other the cups of tae, and another stoked the fire. In particular, he recalls listening to Ingemar Johansson knocking out Floyd Patterson on the wireless back in June, 1959. He loved listening to Eamonn Andrews too, and he was another early inspiration for the would-be broadcaster.

    And then there was Radio Luxembourg. Though it wasn’t the Irish Requests show on a Saturday night that caught his attention, Seán’s heart was in ‘the pops’. He wanted to hear Elvis. And Buddy Holly. And Sam Cooke.
    In England, his uncle, Cole, lived thirteen miles north of London, in a place called Potter’s Bar. Cole’s first wife and children had been tragically killed when a bomb was dropped on their home during World War II. He remarried, a woman from Tubbercurry in Sligo, who was a singer and dancer. They had three daughters, and Seán lived with them. His uncle got him work on the buildings.

    Seán was no stranger to hard work due to his grafting in the bogs back home. But it was when the weekend came, and Seán was brought to the local Youth Club, that his life behind the microphone took off.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      By Eamonn Duggan – part of our Ireland in 1919 series

      When Dáil Éireann decided to seek funding from the public in 1919 to cover its own costs and the cost of implementing policies the elected members had campaigned on in the general election of December 1918, there was a very positive reaction from those who supported the counter-state and wished to see the end of the British administration in the country.

      On the other hand, the reaction of the authorities in Dublin Castle and that of the government in London was, initially, one of indifference which quickly became one of alarm once the realisation dawned on them the majority of Irish people were embracing the National Loan campaign with a zeal and vigour that reflected the changing political situation in the country.

      In the early months of 1919, the government in London, led by Lloyd George, was pre-occupied with the aftermath of the ‘Great War’ and the Paris Peace Conference. Lloyd George was determined to attain the best possible settlement for Britain at the conference and, in his pursuance of that goal, he largely ignored what was happening in Ireland.

      The 1918 general election result was a seismic one which changed the political landscape forever and heralded the arrival of Sinn Féin as the major party in the country.

      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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        By Gerry Moran

        Shopping, grocery shopping, is a man’s job. A REAL man’s job. I know. I do the grocery shopping in our house. And it’s a REAL man’s job, not just because I do it (God forbid) but because it’s in Man’s chromosomes, Man’s genes; ‘shopping’ is our lineage, our legacy.

        Ever since Man got up off all fours and sat down in the cave he has been foraging, hunting, scavenging, call it what you will but it’s still ‘shopping’; it’s about going out there and bringing home the bacon.

        And cabbage. And organic spuds. And cauliflowers and carrots and parsnips and maybe a creamy, lemon cheesecake for dessert. All of which Homo Erectus would have brought home, along with a small mammoth, if they’d been available back then.
        Whereas my ancestors went out with a spear in one hand and a small slab of stone (the shopping list) in the other, yours truly goes out with a Euro in one hand (for the trolley) and a credit card in the other. And so the foraging, the hunting, the ‘shopping’ begins.

        Veteran hunter (shopper) that I am I know the lie of the land like the back of my hand. I know exactly where the ripest fruit, freshest fish and plumpest fowl can be found. And the bacon. And the alcohol.

        Indeed a fellow-hunter (another REAL man) tapped me on the shoulder recently as I was stalking a nice bottle of red and says: ‘Couldn’t help but notice that you’re spending a lot more time over the wine than you did over the vegetables’.

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          GEMMA GRANT continues her series on the castles of Ireland

          Housed within the battlements of Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, is possibly one of the most famous stones in history. The Stone of Scone or Destiny, would become more popularly known in Ireland as the ‘Blarney Stone’.

          Half of the original Stone of Scone, used for the crowning of Scottish kings, was bequeathed to the McCarthy clan of Munster by Robert the Bruce, for their help in defeating the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland in 1314.

          The McCarthys put some five thousand men into the field of battle to fight alongside the Bruce. The Stone, like the castle, is steeped in history and has lived to see many a skirmish.

          The popular, uninhabited Blarney Castle, complete with Stone, that attracts thousands of visitors per year, is in fact the third structure to occupy the site. The original wooden building was constructed in the tenth century followed by a more solid stone edifice in the early thirteenth century. The stone structure eventually gave way to the more solid Blarney Castle constructed in 1446, by Cormac McCarthy, The Strong, King of Munster. The McCarthy’s fought long and hard to live up to the adage, ‘What we have, we hold’.

          Warring with their neighbours and trying to resist the onslaught of the English, the McCarthy’s were at the forefront of battle while a the same time trying desperately hard to avoid it. By the 1600s, the McCarthy’s were believed to be plotting against Elizabeth l of England.

          Worried that some of her latest subjects may be planning rebellion, Queen Bess ordered McCarthy to prove allegiance to the Crown by handing over legal tenure of his lands. Walking a tight rope between compliance and resistance, the chieftain played for time.

          He would invite Elizabeth’s loyal deputies to a banquet, where they were wined, dined and bedazzled. He assured them of his undying loyalty to the Crown, spoke eloquently of the queen and, for the time being, managed to keep possession of his castle.

          Elizabeth became so frustrated at the lack of results and the run-around the McCarthy’s were giving her advisers, that she concluded, it was all Blarney. The McCarthy’s she knew, said one thing, yet did the opposite.
          The McCarthy clan, like Ireland, fared less well under the Cromwellian onslaught of Ireland. By the mid-1600s, Cromwell’s army and the plague decimated the Irish population and part of Blarney Castle. Irish lands were confiscated and given to the victors.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            By John Corbett

            Mild and sunny days are the strongest memories I have of July. It was a real bonus when mid-month arrived because we could ignore books for the rest of the summer. Looking at our behaviour, one might think that we had broken free from the academic world for good and not just for a measly six weeks, which was the length of school holidays at that time.

            There was lots of hard work in store but that didn’t bother us. Meadows weren’t mowed until well into the month but the bog and other tasks had to be dealt with, mainly footing turf and making it into ricks.

            But when all the chores had been done, we still had plenty of time for fun and frolicking. The same was true of grown-ups. Having worked hard in meadow, field and bog, they still had time to engage in games and attend dances, even though both normally necessitated long-distance spins on bicycles.

            It was as if we all acquired extra energy from the sun and from the environment because it was rare to hear of anyone to complain of being tired in June or July.

            ENERGETIC FOLK
            Previous generations were equally energetic and a thirty mile round trip to an event wasn’t a problem even when it had to be done on ‘Shank’s Mare’. Pat Kenny from Cappalusk was a great walker and was known to have gone from Gurteen to Athenry on foot on many occasions. Even by going cross -country, he would have done more than twenty miles before reaching home.
            Of course the legendary Willie Morris from Newcastle, Athenry, was exceptional. Willie won many All-Ireland trophies for his racing and friends say that he used to run several miles to work each day. Then, after having engaged in physically demanding tasks, he would run home again in the evening. This outstanding athlete passed away in his nineties in 2018.

            Personal trainers didn’t feature then. Strength and determination enabled athletes like Willie to overcome whatever obstacles were in their way and their achievements are unlikely be matched now, or in the foreseeable future.

            There several other less well-known individuals, some of whom travelled by foot on pilgrimages to Knock Shrine. Walking bare-footed around holy wells was common enough at that time too.

            Men and animals travelled long distances to fairs and markets. Sometimes carts transported them, but more often than not their destinations were reached on foot.

            Tommie Brown from Colmanstown regularly did the 50 mile round trip to Galway on his bike and as with most of the cyclists of that period; it didn’t do him any harm because he lived to be a ripe old age.

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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              By Mary Sheerin

              Judith Kerr, acclaimed children’s writer and illustrator died recently at her home in London after a short illness. She was 96 years of age and had been working right up to the end.

              She had published over 35 books that sold millions of copies and were translated into more than thirty languages. Possibly her most famous one and, my own personal favourite, is The Tiger Who Came To Tea. It was her first book, published in 1968. It was an immediate best-seller and has never been out of print.

              It’s about a big Tiger who invites himself to tea in a suburban home; is welcomed in without any surprise; sits down at the table and scoffs everything in sight – even raiding the fridge (including the father’s beer) and drinks all the tap water – not even leaving enough water for the family to wash themselves.

              But it has a happy ending. The Tiger exits replete and happy and Daddy comes home from work and takes the family out into the dark night for sausages, chips and ice-cream. What more could you ask for? And the illustrations are brilliant!

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                A new project by the Headford Lace Project aims to commemorate the 139 young women who left Ballina Workhouse in mid nineteenth century Ireland and were transported to help regenerate and boost the population of Australia, writes Eileen Casey.

                Some weeks ago now, I had the pleasure of attending a sewing and embroidery session in Malahide, County Dublin. Hosted by Mary Ryan, who is prominent in many women’s groups nationwide, the morning was organised by The Headford Lace Project (HLP), a vibrant County Galway Community Organisation seeking to revive, reimagine and research the story of local lace-making.

                The HLP have embraced many interesting activities in their quest to highlight Headford lace, projects which connect them to events on a national and global stage. One such current connection is ‘Irish Roses, Bride Ship Lasses’, a project which aims to commemorate the 139 young women who left Ballina Workhouse in mid nineteenth century Ireland and were transported to help regenerate and boost the population of Australia.

                Focused specificially on the Ballina Workhouse, these single women emigrants are representative of what was happening in other counties at the time. Women who left workhouses and travelled under the Orphan Emigration Scheme (OES) which came about due to the demand for domestic female labour in mid-nineteenth century Australia.

                At the time, this demand – spurred by the rise of the middle classes – coincided with an overflow of female inmates in the workhouses in Ireland. The solution therefore seemed obvious, solving two problems in one fell swoop.

                The Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, sent 4,114 girls between 14 and 20 years, from 117 workhouses to the ports of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in the years 1848 to 1850. Some of these emigrants subsequently married and had families but they themselves never returned.

                It should be noted that the OES was a completely different proposition to the flood of emigration heading to Northern American ports at the time. For one thing, the costs of free passage under the scheme was borne by the Australian Colonial Authorities, provided that the Boards of Guardians of each workhouse was willing to bear the cost of outfitting the girls and conveying them to either Dublin or Cork and from there to Plymouth. It was considered much cheaper to do this rather than feed the girls on an ongoing basis.

                Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                  The Summer of 2019 will mark two milestones in cinematic history: the launch, eighty years ago, of the movie described as ‘one of the greatest films in cinema history’, and the death, thirty years later, of its star, writes PAT POLAND

                  Frances Ethel Gumm was born on 10 June, 1922 in the upper mid-western US state of Minnesota to Frank and Ethel Gumm who ran the local picture house and regularly staged song-and-dance shows on the cinema stage.

                  Frances had barely passed her second birthday when her mother had her captivating the audiences, emerging from a hat-box and doing a creditable impersonation of Al Jolson. Later, she joined her sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy, on the vaudeville circuit, billed as the ‘Gumm Sisters’, with their mother accompanying them on the piano.

                  When an impresario introduced them to an audience and was met with howls of laughter, and being billed erroneously as the ‘Glum Sisters’, they changed their stage-name to the ‘Garland Sisters’. Soon after, young Frances changed her name to ‘Judy’ after a Hoagy Carmichael song that she particularly liked.

                  In 1935, a scout for MGM studios attended the sisters’ show and was impressed by Judy’s performance. Within days, Louis B. Mayer had contracted her on $100 a week without knowing quite what to do with her.

                  At 13, she was too young for adult roles and too old for child ones. Standing at 4 feet 11ƒ inches and with her homely looks, she enrolled as a pupil at the MGM school with other actresses – including Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, all ‘head turners’.

                  Judy was made to wear uncomfortable caps on her teeth and rubber discs on her nose to give her a more elegant profile.
                  When, one day, she overheard Mayer referring to her as his ‘little hunchback’, it triggered a lifetime of insecurity about her looks, and indeed, her talent. Henceforth, she required constant reassurance about her attractiveness and ability.
                  Soon, Judy was starring in the first of over two dozen movies, cast in many different roles, that would make millions of dollars for MGM.

                  One of her earliest was Every Sunday in which she was cast with the soprano Deanna Durbin; Deanna’s operatic style contrasting with Judy’s ‘swing’ style.

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                    GEMMA GRANT continues her series on the castles of Ireland

                    Lying in the heartland of the beautiful Glenveagh Mountains of North West Co. Donegal, Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest park, first opened its doors to the public in 1984, with the castle opening two years later.
                    The estate was bought by the Office of Public Works in 1975 from the third owner, Mr. Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia. In 1983, McIlhenny bestowed the castle, gardens and much of the castle contents to the Irish nation.

                    Situated on the rugged shores of Lough Veagh, its enchanting beauty was the very paradox that helped initially, to seal the fate of the local people.

                    On visiting the area in 1857, John George Adair remarked that he was enchanted by the surpassing beauty of the scenery. So much so, that by 1859, he acquired over 11,000 hectares of land on which to build his castle, modelled on Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

                    Adair, from Scottish descent, was a wealthy land speculator from Queenstown, Co. Laois. The relationship between Adair and the local people was anything but amicable.

                    Taking possession of his new surroundings, Adair set up a police barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary. Many of the tenants were too poor to afford fencing and any farm animals that strayed onto his land met with a fine for the owners. They also faced prosecution for alleged sheep stealing.

                    To help with the maintenance of the estate, Adair preferred not to employ locally, but brought in Scotsmen, much to the annoyance of the populace. Adding to his acreage, the squire acquired the right to collect rents from the tenants – but not the right to own the land outright.

                    Grievances grew between landowner and native. On one occasion, while out shooting fowl, the locals, angry at what they considered trespassing, interrupted the shoot by beating the bushes, frightening the fowl away.
                    Angered, Adair threatened the locals, telling them they would pay dearly. In 1859, Adair acquired title to all of Derryveagh, placing the local people in a precarious position. The following year, tenants were informed that farm boundaries would be rearranged.

                    The rearrangement resulted in evictions for the entire Derryveagh population of some forty-seven families. By April of 1861, Adair, with over two hundred constabulary and crowbar men, levelled the houses to the ground leaving over two hundred men, women and children destitute.

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                      Verdun Ball traces the life and literary career of the writer Helen Lyndon Goff


                      P. L. Travers, author of the acclaimed children’s classic ‘Mary Poppins’ was the pen-name of Helen Lyndon Goff. She’d strong links with Ireland. In the 1960’s she lived in Upper Leeson Street, Dublin, in the house that had once been her father’s home.
                      “I was brought up Irish, where there was room for my own private world,” Helen once remarked.

                      Born on 9 August, 1899 in Marlborough, Queensland, Australia her mother was Margaret Agnes Goff; her father, Travers Robert Goff was of Irish descent. He’d often speak to her about his Irish childhood. Sadly he died of influenza when he was in his early forties.

                      As a child Helen loved animals and reading fairy tales. When she was 17, using the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers, she travelled throughout Australia and New Zealand, acting in Shakespearian plays. She’d poems published, some of which had Irish themes.

                      In 1925 she visited Ireland where she met the well-known writer George William Russell, editor of ‘The Irish Statesman’ who published some of her poems. She was introduced to W.B. Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty who fostered her life-long interest in Irish mythology.

                      In her twenties she went to London where she worked as a Fleet Street reporter. One winter she fell ill.

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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