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    Francis Kaye pays tribute to the showband star and legendary performer that was the late Sonny Knowles

    During the 1960s, the late Sonny Knowles was a showband star, travelling around the country four or five nights a week as a member of the Pacific Showband.

    He had a number of hit singles including a great version of the Eddie Arnold classic, ‘No One Will Ever Know’ and the follow-up, ‘We Could’. With Seán Fagan, who was the band’s lead singer, he made the charts again with a ballad, ‘I Only Came To Dance With You’, arranged in the style of the Everly Brothers.

    In 1968, when the band was revamped, prior to its heading for Canada as Dublin Corporation, Sonny joined Dermot O’Brien’s Clubmen and continued on the showband scene for a few more years before leaving and concentrating on cabaret where he was an immediate success, becoming known as The Window Cleaner because of his habit of making circles with one hand as he held the microphone with the other.
    Sonny, who passed away recently at the age of 86, didn’t start out as a singer, in fact he was a classically-trained musician.

    Born in The Liberties area of Dublin in 1932, he was christened Thomas after his father but became known to all as Sonny as he was the ‘baby’. His parents died while he was a child and he was raised by his elder brother Harry, who for many years was a trombone player in the RTE Concert Orchestra.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      Trailblazers & Record Breakers

      Shay Given and Robbie Keane’s records will stand for a long time, writes Seán Creedon, as he shares interesting statistics involving Irish players in the Premier League.

      Christmas is traditionally a busy time for footballers in the English Premier League (EPL). This year there are full series of games scheduled for Saturday, December 22nd, St. Stephen’s Day, Saturday, December 29th and New Year’s Day. Some of those fixtures may be re-scheduled to accommodate television coverage nearer the date.

      Statistics show that if a club is bottom of the EPL table at Christmas, then the likelihood that come May they will be relegated. West Brom (2004-05), Sunderland (2013-14) and Leicester (2014-15) are the exceptions, as they all survived the drop to the Championship, having been bottom of the table at Christmas.

      In the seventies and eighties there were several Irish internationals playing with top clubs in the old first division, players like: Liam Brady, David O’Leary, Kevin Moran, Frank Stapleton, Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan and Steve Heighway.

      However, in recent seasons the number of Irish players with clubs in the top half of the EPL has fallen dramatically with most of the Irish internationals now playing for clubs in the lower half of the EPL or in the Championship. Last season only 18 Republic of Ireland players featured in the EPL and this season the number is approximately 12.

      The first series of games in the EPL were played on August 15th, 1992 when Sheffield United’s Brian Deane made history by scoring the first goal after five minutes against Manchester United.

      When the 26th EPL season ended last May, Shay Given’s record for most appearances by a Republic of Ireland player still stood, as did Robbie Keane’s record as our top scorer in the EPL.

      Given made 451 League appearances for: Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Stoke City before retiring last year. The nearest Republic of Ireland player to Given is John O’Shea who made 445 EPL appearances.


      Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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        When the last days of 1918 came to a close, the people of Ireland had many reasons to take some time to reflect on a momentous year which had brought much in the way of political upheaval as well as heartbreak and suffering as a result of war and illness, writes Eamonn Duggan.


        As 1918 came to an end the people of Ireland were able to reflect on a momentous year which saw the emergence of a new political era while the suffering of more than four years of war on the continent came to an end.

        The pall of gloom which descended on Europe in August 1914 shaped the lives of so many for so long, bringing with it untold misery and heartache for thousands of families who lost loved ones on the battlefields as well as imposing severe restrictions on life in general.

        When the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, the release of tension was palpable across Europe as millions of people emerged onto the streets to celebrate and give thanks. It was no different here in Ireland and, though a country on the periphery of the battlefields, we as a nation of people also gave up our war dead and watched many of those who survived the slaughter return home maimed both in body and mind.

        On the political front the country experienced a seismic shift of emphasis away from the pursuance of home rule to the more radical ideal of republicanism and breaking the link with Britain.

        That shift was confirmed with the stunning result of the general election in December 1918 which heralded the emergence of a new and younger political class destined to take the country in a new direction towards independence.

        In essence, 1918 was a year of profound political change and it shaped the country for future generations.

        By far the most news worthy event at home and abroad was the ending of the war, which had claimed the lives of millions of people across Europe. Some 206,000 Irishmen of different political and religious persuasions had fought on the battlefields during the course of the conflict and at least 30,000 and probably many more never came home.

        They distinguished themselves in the trenches of the Western Front and in the humid heat of Turkey and the Balkans, as well as on the high seas. Many had been publicly decorated for their bravery while those who were not had carried out their duty in no less a fashion and all in the name of democracy and the right of all nations to exercise self-determination.

        Though the war eventually left a legacy of bitterness, with many across the country questioning whether Irishmen were right to fight in British uniform, there was no doubting the sense of relief as the population embraced those peaceful last few weeks of the year.

        While the war was dominated by the actions of men, the role played by women was increasingly recognised, especially in industrial production in the factories as well as in the area of nursing and care of the wounded and dying.

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          By Kieran Connolly

          When the soldiers of many nations marched to war in August 1914 they were assured that they would be home by Christmas. However, on Christmas Eve they were in the trenches on the Western Front that extended from Flanders in Belgium to Switzerland. By then it was clear to both sides that there would not be a quick end to the war.
          The area between the trenches was known as “No Man’s Land”.

          At some points the lines were very close, perhaps separated by a distance of 30 metres. The soldiers could hear the enemy talking and smell their cooking. The distance quoted seems very short but the lines of barbed wire meant slow progress and the rapid fire of the machine guns made it lethal.

          The commander of the British Second Corps, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, believed this proximity posed “the greatest danger” to the morale of soldiers and told Divisional Commanders to explicitly prohibit any “friendly intercourse with the enemy”.
          In a memo issued on December 5th, he warned that, “troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a ‘live and let live’ theory of life”.

          Prior to Christmas Eve the weather had been foggy and wet, the winter of that year was very bad. But on the night of Christmas Eve it was described as “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”. On that night along some sectors of the line the British and German soldiers engaged in a carol singing competition.

          The British would sing a carol in English to be followed by the Germans singing another carol in their language. At one point when the British sang O Come All Ye Faithful they were surprised to hear the Germans sing the same song in Latin, that is, Adeste Fideles.

          Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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            From her building in 1905 to her pivotal role in the 1914 Howth gun-running and her later use as Ireland’s first national sail-training vessel, the Asgard has had many incarnations. On display in Collins Barracks since August 2012, she stands as a monument to the skill of both the original builders and the conservation team, as well as a reminder of the turbulent events of 1914, wrties JIM REES


            We have to admit that, for an island nation, successive Irish governments have given scant attention to our maritime potential or heritage. Many of our historians have been equally remiss, the late Dr. John de Courcy Ireland being a notable exception.

            Recent decades, however, have shown a growing awareness of the vital role that the sea has played in shaping the Ireland we live in today. One positive sign of this fledgling appreciation has been the conservation of the yacht Asgard.

            Asgard now has a complete building to herself and her story in the Collins Barracks venue of the National Museum of Ireland. She has been faithfully conserved and beautifully displayed, never failing to draw ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ from all who see her.
            The yacht was originally a wedding gift to a young Englishman named Erskine Childers and his American bride, Molly Osgood. Molly’s father was an eminent doctor in Boston. He ordered the boat from the yard of the famous Norwegian designer and builder Colin Archer, and it was ready in 1905.

            This was no sailing dinghy designed to give a few hours pleasure in a sheltered bay. At a cost of £1,000 (between £90,000 and £100,000 in today’s terms), Asgard was a sea-going, two-masted yacht capable of crossing major seas – and oceans, if needs be.
            Not only that, Molly had some physical difficulties which were the result of a childhood accident and certain aspects of the yacht’s design had to take these into consideration. Molly refused to let such difficulties hold her back, and she often took control of the Asgard while strapped at the helm.
            Childers was an experienced yachtsman and went on to gain fame through The Riddle of the Sands, an espionage novel, drawing largely on his sailing expertise.
            Although English by birth, Childers’ mother was a Barton from County Wicklow and he spent many happy summers and other holiday breaks in his maternal ancestral home, Glendalough House.

            As befitted someone of his public school background, he joined the diplomatic service in Britain, but the Boer War in South Africa made him doubt his hitherto unquestioning acceptance of imperialism.

            It prompted him to look at Britain’s role in Ireland, eventually becoming a committed Home Ruler.

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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              Born to a prosperous family in Cork three hundred years ago this month, Nano Nagle overcame many obstacles, including serious health problems, to found the Presentation Order of Nuns which would go on to play a vital role in the provision of schooling for girls throughout Ireland and the rest of the world, writes Deirdre Raftery.


              Nano Nagle was truly one of ‘Ireland’s own’. Born exactly 300 years ago, she belonged to the prosperous Nagle family of Ballygriffin, Cork.

              They owned and leased land in the Blackwater Valley, some of which was used for orcharding. Indeed, Nagles were one of the biggest producers of apples to the robust market for Munster cider.
              As a child, Nano enjoyed the comfort of living in a large cut-stone house, surrounded by green fields. The Nagles would have had servants, and the comforts that educated Catholics enjoyed, such as books, entertainments, and visiting tutors.

              Nano’s parents decided to send their two eldest daughters to the continent to be educated. It was not uncommon for wealthy Catholics to arrange to slip their children out of the country, to attend schools in France and Spain.

              At under-supervised harbours in Dungarvan and Clonakilty, Catholics were illegally conveyed to France. Nano and her sister, Ann, somehow managed to make the journey, so that they could have a convent education.

              It is likely that the girls were at boarding school in Ypres, with the Benedictines – who were known as ‘the Irish Dames’. There were many Irish nuns at the convent, and they would have mainly spoken English. Indeed, Nano later wrote that she had poor French.

              The main purpose of a convent education was to teach girls ‘accomplishments’, such as music and fine needle work, and to form their faith. Around 1746, Nano returned to Ireland. Her father had died, and in the years that followed, she also faced the deaths of her mother and sister.

              Wealth did not protect the Nagles from the dangers of living in Penal Ireland: they were Catholics, and outspoken. Nano’s uncle, Garrett, was accused of being a supporter of the exiled Catholic King James II. Another uncle, Joseph, was described by Nano as ‘the most disliked by the Protestants of any Catholic in the kingdom.’

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                A Seasonal Reflection by Patrick O’Sullivan

                The candle in the window was surely one of the most iconic images of Christmas of old. The candles in question were the real thing, of course. They came in packets of three, their waxy scent mingling with that of fruits and jams in the old country shops. They were more than just long tall pillars of wax, though: they were channels of brightness and light waiting their time to shine. Someone once described them as pools of light in the darkness of a northern winter, a sentiment which shows how much their light was looked forward to and appreciated then.

                There was nothing vain or brash or gaudy about them, their plain whites or deep reds the colours of the season: evoking as they did the pristine whiteness of snow or the rich reds of berry laden hollies.

                No, the candles had a simplicity, a modesty, an integrity that was very much in keeping with the spirit of Christmas itself.

                More than that, they embodied a tradition that went back generations, so that in a very real sense they were part of that long continuum of joy and delight and hope which Christmas had inspired for so long.

                The flickering lights of the candles may have been shy and understated, and yet they were like a link, a bond with all of the hundreds and thousands of candles that had gone before at Christmastime.

                They were a link, a bond too with all of those who had lit the candles and set them in their windows, maybe with a wish or silent prayer in honour of the season that was in it.

                It was in this way that the candles became repositories of hope, caches of wishes and longing and more, the candlelight giving those wishes expression in ways that words never could.

                Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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                  By Anne Friel

                  Some nights ago I had a few friends over for a slap-up meal. It was more for the get-together and the chat than anything else.

                  Sitting around the table afterwards talking about this and that and fifty other things, Carmel (my Sligo friend) said, “Can you remember the telegrams?” Could we remember!

                  Hailing from North Mayo, of course I could. Anthony from Donegal happened to be a “wire boy” in his young days. Had he stories!

                  Telegrams were usually brief and to the point. Down our way George always delivered the telegrams on his push bike. To see George coming to your door was ominous. I remember the only time I saw my Dad cry.

                  The one-liner read, “Margaret died suddenly, signed Anthony”.

                  Margaret was his much-loved sister in law in California. Despite 6,000 miles separation he was united in spirit with his grieving brother.

                  George was an oldish man with a well lived-in face; he always wore a sailor hat and heavy lensed glasses. He seemed to have been well travelled and as the saying goes, “An Té atá Siúlach bíonn sé scéalach”.

                  We loved George and his stories and he loved my mother’s brown bread and a mug of good strong tea.

                  Oh, I nearly forgot, you had to have a shilling to cover the delivery cost. It was a great service as George would book a hackney/taxi in Killala to take my parents to the wake or funeral.

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                    Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, portrait, at the family home where he grew up, Ireland, 1997. (Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

                    From growing up in a building that stood as a War of Independence safehouse to co-writing one of the greatest Christmas songs of all-time, Shane MacGowan remains a mine of stories and anecdotes to rival the best of raconteurs living in our midst. He shares some of his special memories over a glass of wine, and a WWII documentary, with Shea Tomkins.


                    The dark evenings have reclined into the bleak afternoons and there’s a familiar Irish winter chill nipping at the air as I make my way through the emptied streets of Dublin towards Shane MacGowan’s home, signalling that Christmas, and all its bells and whistles, are not far away on the horizon.

                    This evening, the famed Pogues’ front man, and co-composer of one of the most popular Christmas songs, Fairytale of New York (a song he later says he should hate because he has heard it often enough, but surprisingly doesn’t) has invited Ireland’s Own around for a festive chat. And to my delight, I find him in fine conversational form.

                    Shane is just finishing his evening meal when I arrive, watching the end of a documentary on World War II that is set in Tunisia, and features legendary Hollywood director, Frank Capra.

                    “This is a very good documentary,” he comments, and while I sip on a steaming cuppa served up by his welcoming partner, Victoria, he proceeds to tell me of his interest in history, and how much of it he learned as a young boy from his extensive line of family members in Carney Commons, near Borrisokane, in County Tipperary.

                    “I was actually born in England, on Christmas Day, even though my parents weren’t living there at the time,” he explains.

                    “My old man saw to it that his bigger sister, who was much better off than us, would pay for it all. So I was born in a private maternity hospital in Kent. Then, when I was three months old, they took me back to Tipperary where the Lynches, my mother’s people, were from. My parents were married in Kilbarron, not far from there.”

                    Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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                      Alison Martin recalls the TV series starring Brendan Gleeson that first aired on RTÉ in December 1991.


                      Over the years, Michael Collins has been depicted in various television dramas and films. The Treaty has received relatively little attention in comparison to some of the larger scale productions such as Neil Jordan’s 1996 biopic Michael Collins.

                      When it was first broadcast on RTÉ in December 1991, however, The Treaty received overwhelmingly positive reviews and was praised for its accurate depiction of historical events. It was Roger Bolton, an experienced TV producer with a proven record of dealing with Irish issues, who originally came up with the idea of making a programme about the negotiations that had led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921.

                      Bolton later stated that he had originally wanted to make a drama but ‘was prepared to fall back on documentary’. The director, Jonathan Lewis, on the other hand, claimed that he had initially been approached by Bolton to make a documentary. However, due to the lack of archive film or surviving participants, he had come up with the idea of turning it into a drama.

                      Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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