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    From the hauntingly beautiful Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, to the spiritually uplifting You Raise Me Up, Brendan Graham is known around the world as the Irish songwriting master. As we approach 25 years since his Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids conquered Europe, the Tipperary native shares memories from his extraordinary life and music career with Shea Tomkins

    Seeing Red Hurley wash his car outside the front door of his south Dublin home might seem like an unusual place to begin a story, but that fortuitous sighting was the catalyst that sparked Brendan Graham’s epic Eurovision Song Contest adventure.
    What followed was a rollercoaster musical journey that would take the Tipperary-born songwriter to an eventual brace of Eurovision titles, including the unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids triumph of 1994, all of twenty-five years ago, this month.
    “In 1972, after living in Australia for almost five years, my family and I moved back to Ireland,’’ recalls Brendan, as we meet in a hotel lobby on a fresh spring morning, just a stone’s throw from the Aviva Stadium.

    “My parents were living in Ballinasloe at the time. One evening, while up the town, the Eurovision Song Contest was showing on a television in the window of a local electrical shop. I remember thinking that maybe, one day I could write a song to represent Ireland at Eurovision! Shortly afterwards, I heard Red Hurley singing, and I was blown away by his voice. I decided, rather ambitiously, that the song I was going to write would be one for Red. The only problem was that I didn’t know Red or, how to get in touch with him.

    “I had a job in Dublin with a company called Suedes of Ireland, and was giving this man I worked with a lift home when he pointed and said to me ‘There’s Red Hurley washing his car!’ as we passed Red’s house. When I had my song written, I knocked down to Red’s door in absolute naivety, not realising that he was probably besieged by wannabe songwriters.
    “Very graciously he invited me in. I played him When on his piano. A few days later, I received a demo that Red had made of the song. It sounded great with him singing it, so I entered it for the 1976 National Song Contest, got the telegram from RTE, and, with Red putting in a powerhouse performance, it won.

    “From there we went to Eurovision in The Hague. But When wasn’t a great song; it had no real hook and Red did a lot more for the song than the song did for him. We came tenth.

    “Red still sings it but, I had learned something – you have to have good hooks for songs to work. I arrived back in Dublin the next day, dropped my case in the hall and went straight to the piano to start another song!”

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      By Ibar Quirke

      Associated throughout the world with feelings of hope and regeneration, the Solemnity of Easter, commemorating the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the most important festival of the Christian calendar.

      Easter occurs on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, March 21, decided during the First Council of Nicaea in 325.

      The true origins of Easter, however, lie not in today’s Christian celebration, but rather in ancient Germanic rituals connected with the arrival of spring: indeed, the word ‘Easter’ derives from the Old English word ‘astre’, of Germanic origin, perhaps from ‘astre’, the name of a goddess associated with spring.

      Celtic spirituality, too, emphasised a strong bond with the natural world. Through its beliefs and practices, it has continued to shape Irish folklore to this day.

      Good Friday Traditions

      On Good Friday, people traditionally engaged in ‘spring cleaning’. A priest would visit the refreshed house to bless it and its inhabitants. It was customary to plant a small amount of crops on this day, as this thought to promise a good yield. People, however, refrained from working with tools, to avoid the possibility of bloodshed on this day of Christ’s Passion and Death. It was also traditional for people to go for a haircut on Good Friday in the hope of preventing headaches during the year.
      Fingernails and toenails were also trimmed, and new clothes purchased to be worn on Easter Sunday. People refrained from speaking between midday and three o’clock in the afternoon, in memory of the Passion. Celebrations of the death of Jesus were well-attended in local churches at this hour. The intermingling of Christian and pagan belief on this day was evident when these churchgoers also collected water from holy wells, claimed to have additional curative powers.

      Children born on Good Friday and baptised on Easter Sunday were said to have the gift of healing, and boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to enter the priesthood.

      Tradition also held that anyone who died on Good Friday would receive automatic admission into Heaven.

      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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        Liam Nolan tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the man Hugh Jackman portrayed in the smash-hit musical ‘The Greatest Showman’

        He was the man who memorably said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And also said, “You can fool most of the people most of the time.” I wanted to make sure that my understanding of the word “huckster” was in line with what Americans understand the word to mean. So I went to the famous American Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
        “Huckster”, it said: “one who sells or advertises something in an aggressive, dishonest, or annoying way.”

        It sums up the central character of the Hugh Jackman film musical The Greatest Showman — P. T. Barnum. Or, to give him his full name, Phineas Taylor Barnum.

        Barnum has been called many things. For example, “The 19th century impresario who found fame by exploiting circus ‘freaks’.”

        He has also been called “Lord of the Hucksters”, “The Master Humbug”, “A professional b*********r with a penchant for loud rhetoric”, “King of the Conmen” and, of course, “The Greatest Showman”.

        The Jackman film is fine entertainment, spectacular, and with a musical soundtrack that is enormously attractive. But there has been a wave of criticism about the movie’s inaccuracies, and about what it has glossed over; that it has airbrushed history. But Hollywood never lets facts get in the way of a good story.

        The first film about the showman’s life, The Mighty Barnum, was made back in 1934. A drawling-voiced beery-looking actor named, appropriately, Wallace Beery, played the lead. An Academy Award winner for Best Actor four years earlier, he was at the time the highest paid actor in the world.

        The film came under the critical lash for being chronologically scrambled, and for depicting Barnum as a comic character.
        “The true story got lost somewhere,” one critic wrote. “It should just be enjoyed as entertainment, and not a life lesson,” said another.

        Is The Greatest Showman chronologically scrambled? Without a doubt. It was Barnum’s grandfather Phineas Taylor who taught him the tricks of getting money without doing hard work. P. T. didn’t like physical work anyway.
        He was known as Taylor Barnum when he was learning the lesson that he later lived by — that there is no such thing as bad publicity, if the publicity is spun correctly.

        There was a dark side to Barnum’s activities from his very first venture into the world of show business.
        By the time 1834 came around, he was married with four daughters. Aged 25, he moved to New York where he got a letter from an itinerant showman in Kentucky, R. W. Lindsay, who said that he had under his control a freed slave named Joice Heth. Heth, according to Lindsay, had been wet nurse to America’s first President, George Washington. She was, Lindsay said, 161 years old! He offered her to Barnum.

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          The Copper Kings were the three industrialists Marcus Daly, William A. Clark and F. Augustus Heinze. They were known for the epic battles fought in Butte, Montana, over control of the local copper mining industry, an area once described as ‘the richest hill on earth’, writes, PAULA REDMOND

          Irishmen were instrumental in some of the largest copper, silver and gold discoveries in the nineteenth century. Their findings led to the formation of new towns and cities in America and Australia.

          Born in Dublin, John MacKay, along with three other Irishmen, made their fortune on the Comstock Lode, the first major silver find in the US. A Cavan native, Marcus Daly, once controlled the largest copper mine in the world and Paddy Hannan, a Clare native, made a discovery that resulted in one of the largest ever gold rushes in Australia.

          Some became multi-millionaires from their discoveries, while others did not.

          The ‘Copper Kings’ was a name given to three industrialists in the United States in the late 1800s. They consisted of Marcus Daly, William A. Clark and F. Augustus Heinze. Daly was born in the townland of Derrylea (near Ballyjamesduff), Co. Cavan, in December 1853, and emigrated to America when he was fifteen. He worked in New York before travelling to the west coast where he gained employment in mining.
          He gained invaluable experience of the industry working on the first major silver discovery in the US, the Comstock Lode. By 1871 he had moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he worked as a foreman for the Walker Brothers company, supervising their local mining and banking interests. It was here that he met his wife Margaret Evans with whom he had four children.

          In 1876 Daly travelled to Butte, Montana, to examine the prospects of a silver producing mine called ‘Alice’ for Walker Brothers. He oversaw the purchase of Alice and retained a one-fifth interest in it for himself.

          While managing Alice, Daly, a self-educated mining engineer, sought out other potentially profitable mines. In 1881 he purchased the Anaconda mine in Butte from Michael Hickey (born in America to Irish parents) for $30,000. Daly developed the mine with the assistance of George Hearst (father of newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst), Lloyd Tevis and James Ben Ali Haggin, co-owners of the Ophir Mining Company.

          Daly knew Hearst as he had previously sourced the Ontario mine for him some years earlier – the Ontario was the source of the vast Hearst fortune.

          The Anaconda was rich in silver for the first few hundred feet but Daly hoped to exploit its copper resources. With the depletion of silver in nearby mines, prices of local land and mines dropped, so Daly purchased them at reduced rates and formed the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            By Michael McGrath

            Camellia Sinesis, or tea, has been consumed for thousands of years, originally in China but eventually all around the world. In China, it is called cha. It is the second most widely used beverage in the world, after water.

            It originated in China as a medicinal drink. It made its way to Europe in the 18th century, having been introduced to Portuguese merchants and priests in China.

            In around 1750, tea plants were taken from China to the Azores, where they were planted and grown, along with Mallow and Jasmine, also from China. Tea is still grown on the islands today.

            The tea plant is native to south and east Asia but now tea is grown widely, from Australia to Cornwall in England, from the USA to India. It has many components: catechins, which are antioxidants; stimulants, such as theobromine and xanthanides (also found in coffee); polyphenols and tannins.
            There are many types, including black tea, popular in the West, white tea, yellow tea, green tea and oolong.

            Having started as a medicinal beverage, tea soon began to be used on its own with boiled water as a stimulating, if bitter, beverage.

            China had a monopoly on the production of tea until the British introduced tea production to India, from where it was shipped to Britain. When Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, the drinking of tea became very popular at court in England and the East India Company brought many new products back from India, one of which was tea.

            By the middle of the 18th century, tea had become increasingly popular, mainly with the aristocracy and the price of tea was deliberately allowed to be hyped and heavy import duties were introduced, primarily to provide valuable revenue for the Government.

            This made it possible for poor people to afford. It was, in effect, the drink of the elite, the aristocratic class and the rich merchant class.

            Tea was promoted as a precious, and indeed, rare beverage, at least by the Government, for obvious fiscal reasons.

            Tea was taken sweet, by the addition of sugar, and there was also a sharp rise in the importation of sugar between 1690 and 1750.

            Continue reading in this week’s magazine

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              Left: Children and staff of Maison St. Christophe (Saint Christopher's Orphanage) during World War II; Mary Elmes, who secretly brought Jewish children to be saved from Auschwitz. (Courtesy Midas Films)

              Mary Elmes, a Corkwoman and Trinity scholar, turned her back on a brilliant academic career to volunteer in two of the 20th century’s worst conflicts. When it was no longer safe to stay in Spain during the closing stages of the Spanish Civil War, she followed the Spanish refugees over the border into France and found herself in another war – World War II. She continued to help refugees and later risked her life to save Jewish children from deportation, writes Mary Rose McCarthy.

              Marie Elisabeth Jean Elmes, later known as Mary, was born on the 5th of May 1908 and grew up in Ballintemple, a suburb of Cork city.

              She was the first of two children born to parents Edward and Elisabeth who owned a pharmacy in Winthrop Street. John was her younger brother. They were a non-practising Protestant family.
              From an early age, she showed an interest in global affairs. At the age of nine, she knitted socks for the British Army during WW1. She sent them to General Sir John French to distribute among the men. He sent her a signed portrait which she kept until it was stolen fifty years later.

              Mary attended Rochelle school which today is known as Ashton School. She was a very bright student. Before enrolling at Trinity College Dublin, she took an extended tour of Europe including Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and France.

              At Trinity, she studied French and Spanish modern literature and became a scholar of the university, an achievement reserved only for those of exceptional ability. She graduated with a First, and as top student of her year won the Gold Medal. On the recommendation of her professor, she was awarded a scholarship to the London School of Economics.

              She became interested in politics but in her own words ‘was not in any way political.’ She and her colleagues kept a close eye on what was happening in Europe. During this time, she also met Miss Edith Pye, a Quaker who had been awarded the Legion d’Honneur, by France for her relief work during WW1. When Mary met her, she was coordinating Quaker relief works in Spain.

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                By Calvin Jones

                The American mink first started breeding in the wild in Ireland during the 1950s. It was introduced here for the purposes of fur farming, but inevitably there were escapees. Many were released by animal rights protesters, who targeted fur farms and liberated the caged animals – unleashing a deadly new predator on our unsuspecting native fauna.

                Mink are highly adaptable, semi-aquatic mustelids (related to stoats, otters and badgers) that thrive in the Irish countryside. From small isolated populations they have spread rapidly along Ireland’s watercourses and are now found all over the country near rivers, streams, canals lakes and along our coastline.

                In captivity mink generally have pale coats, but wild populations quickly revert to their darker natural form. The coat is generally dark brown, looking almost black when wet, and usually, but not always with a prominent white patch under the chin. The coat becomes thicker and darker in winter.

                The mink’s dark fur can sometimes lead to confusion at first glance with the otter. However, the mink’s smaller size, slighter build and proportionally shorter tail make it relatively easy to distinguish the two species.

                Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                  By C.A. Sarsfield

                  In the Old Testament in Deuteronomy, Chapter 21, Verse 22-23, states that “if a man has committed a crime punishable by death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, but you shall bury him in the same day, for a hanged man is accused by God, you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance’.

                  Quite a statement, and all very well if the accused is guilty of the crime, but what if the person condemned to die at the hands of the executioner was innocent? One possible innocent man who faced the hangman was a young man called Tom Dooley, a handsome young Confederate soldier from Happy Valley, North Carolina, who loved nothing better than singing songs and playing his banjo.

                  Having survived many battles without so much as a scratch during the four years of fighting. Tom, like a lot of others returning from the war, found that life as he knew it before the conflict had gone forever, and events were about to make him wish that he had never survived at all.

                  Before going off to fight in a war that he did not fully understand, Tom had been toying with the affections of Laura Foster and her cousin Ann Foster, both of whom were considered to be very pretty and sought after by all the young men of the parish.

                  Despite all this attention, they only had eyes for the good looking Tom, being totally infatuated with him. Tom, being a healthy young man, was quite happy to allow both young girls to chase him, and managed somehow to divide his time equally between them, becoming intimate with Ann three months before heading off to fight.

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                     If horse racing is the sport of kings, then the Aintree Grand National is surely the sport of champions, writes Gerry Breen.

                    The Grand National is widely recognised as the most iconic of all handicapped horse- racing events in the world, and the 172nd annual running of this showpiece steeplechase will be held on Saturday, 6th April, at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool.

                    This year’s event has attracted a strong entry of a hundred and twelve horses, including forty-seven trained in Ireland. This number will be whittled down to forty runners, the maximum number allowed to take part in the race, and by the time the field comes under starter’s orders, an estimated €160 million will have been wagered on the outcome. Most of the money will be in small bets from people who rarely gamble but who just cannot resist a flutter on the big race.

                    The race, which will have a prize fund of £1 million, will be watched by about 600 million people around the world and about 70,000 at the Merseyside course.

                    The Grand National is known as the world’s greatest steeplechase, and it is run over a distance of four miles, two furlongs and seventy-four yards. It consists of two laps of the course with sixteen fences, the first fourteen of which are jumped twice.

                    The great Aintree ‘chase, which is renowned for its atmosphere and excitement, is guaranteed to test the skill, courage and stamina of horse and rider. It is an incomparable spectacle of breath-taking action during which the thirty fearsome fences have to be tackled at high speed.

                    It has often been said that you may have the best horse in the world at Aintree, but if there is a pile-up in front of him or if he puts a foot wrong in landing at one of the formidable fences, he will be just another also-ran.

                    It is one of the most unpredictable races in the calendar and that’s why it is such a favourite with the occasional punter who enjoys a flutter without having to spend hours studying form.

                    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                      By Calvin Jones

                      Dandelions are found all over Ireland and are one of our most widespread and successful wildflowers. They grow almost anywhere; their unmistakable yellow flowers, their downy seed-heads and their familiar toothed leaves greet us from hedgerow and pasture, meadow and parkland, roadside verge and garden. The plants are at their most prolific in early spring and summer, but continue to flower and seed until well into the autumn.

                      Dandelions take their English name from the French “Dent-de-leon”, or Lion’s teeth, referring to the toothed edges of the leaves. The flower itself is linked with St Briget here in Ireland, and is called by some “the little flame of God” or “the flower of Saint Bride”.

                      Many insects rely on the dandelion as a food source for themselves and for their larvae. Several of our native butterflies and moths lay their eggs on dandelion leaves and the bright yellow flowers, with their generous stores of nectar, are a magnet to pollinating insects like bees and hoverflies. The seed heads are also a valuable food source for seed eating birds like the goldfinch.

                      Dandelions are among the first colonisers of waste ground. Along with other colonising plants they help to stabilise soil conditions, attract other species into the area and pave the way for the development of a rich, stable ecosystem.

                      One of the aspects that makes the dandelion such an effective coloniser is its method of dispersal. The downy parasol of the seed-head is made up of myriad seeds, each suspended on an individual gossamer parachute ready to be carried away by the slightest breeze. As children, most of us have unwittingly helped the dandelion in its colonisation by collecting and blowing the seed heads.

                      The long central “tap root” of the dandelion is particularly effective at drawing nutrients from deep in the soil. Its leaves are packed with these valuable nutrients and, when the plant dies (or is pulled up by the gardener and added to the compost heap), those nutrients are released back into the surface layers of the soil and made available to other plants.

                      It may be an alien concept to most gardeners, but actually allowing dandelions to grow in the garden and harvesting the leaves as compost material or mulch is an excellent way of recycling nutrients in the soil and keeping the garden fertile.

                      Success as a species is the very reason that the dandelion is so reviled. Its ability to colonise new areas quickly, its incredibly prolific nature, and its ability to out-compete cultivated plants do little to endear it to gardeners and crop-growers. Many people see the dandelion as a pest to be completely eradicated, but luckily the plant is too resilient to succumb to our repeated attempts at botanical genocide.

                      The first part of the scientific name Taraxacum is derived from the Greek words Taraxos, meaning disorder, and akos, meaning remedy. In the past the curative power of dandelions has been advocated as treatment for a variety of ailments including liver complaints, upset stomach, bilious disorders, dropsy, dizziness, gall stones, jaundice, haemorrhoids and warts.

                      Other uses of the plant are also well documented. Young leaves make an excellent salad and can also be used as a green vegetable. Dried leaves are a common ingredient in many digestive and herbal drinks and are used for making herb-beer, including a dandelion stout. The flowers can be made into dandelion wine, which has a reputation as an excellent tonic, and the dried roots, when roasted and ground, make an effective substitute for coffee.

                      The dandelion is far from the useless weed that many people dismiss it for. In fact it is an underrated, successful little plant that plays an important role in nature. It also has many useful properties that people have exploited through the ages and continue to make use of to this day.


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