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    Shane Cochrane unravels the mystery of
    the 1906 Coalisland coal mine hauntings

    Every night at midnight, in 1906, an apparition of a lady dressed in white would appear at a coal mine near Coalisland. She would walk along the country road to the old chestnut tree in the Mass Garden, the place where Mass was celebrated during the days of Penal Law. And each night, shortly after she reached the tree, she would disappear.


    James Hughes and Joe McMahon, who both worked at the mine, were the first to see the apparition. According to Joe, it was dressed in white and had a white cover over its head. “You could not see the arms and legs on it,” he said at the time, “but nevertheless it was distinctly the form of a human being.”


    The following night, Hughes and McMahon were in a cabin at the mine with two other men, Joe Hararan and Bernard Quinn, when the apparition appeared again. At about 1:30 am, the men became aware of an eerie figure near the chestnut tree. At first it was moving, but it stopped as the men watched.


    Hughes and Hararan went outside for a closer look – before quickly returning to the safety of the cabin. They both agreed that the figure was either a man or a woman.


    After about five minutes, the ghostly figure began to move again. It passed over the ditch, into the next field – and disappeared.


    The men fell to their knees and prayed.


    On the third night, the ghost was seen walking past the homes of the miners and their families. After passing the priest’s house, it just stopped and remained motionless for about five minutes. It then walked directly to the chestnut tree – and disappeared.
    Witnesses said that the ghost looked different on this occasion. They said it had the shape of a four-legged animal, was about the size of a sheep, and had a two-foot long tail and ears that were 18 inches long.

    The other strange thing about the third night was that the ghost was seen again after it disappeared. However, during its second appearance of the night – in the middle of the road near the coal mine – the ghost was in human form and dazzling white.
    The ghost continued to visit the mine every night. And though it appeared to some witnesses as an animal, people began referring to the ghost as ‘the lady in white’.
    But, lady or not, the people were terrified of her. According to the Belfast Newsletter: “Youths and maidens, and even those of riper years, were afraid to move out of doors after sunset.”


    The miners were particularly affected. They would avoid looking in the direction of the site of the apparitions and would work with their backs to the chestnut tree. Priests were called to the mine to comfort the men. “They all say the apparition would terrify the strongest-nerved man in Ireland,” reported the Derry Journal. So, what was going on? Had the miners disturbed a sacred site or released an entity previously trapped in the earth?


    Coal mine hauntings were common in the 1900s. In 1902, some 300 Welsh miners refused to enter the mine in Glamorganshire because they were convinced it was haunted. Many of the men had encountered a mysterious figure waving a lamp, while others had been tormented by a woman’s screams in the darkness of the pit.

    And in 1907, in Liege in Belgium, the figure of a young girl dressed in white would appear every night at 1am to haunt the miners.


    But in Coalisland, not everyone believed that something supernatural was happening. And the two local papers were far from convinced by the reports they were receiving.
    The Tyrone Courier, for example, believed the whole thing had been invented by the mine owners to dissuade thieves from stealing their coal. “Surely it is time grown people should have put away the idea of ‘ghosts’ in such an enlightened age,” it said.
    And not everyone was frightened. In fact, some brave souls were holding nightly vigils in the area in the hope of solving the mystery. And it was one of those brave souls who finally discovered the identity of the lady in white.


    So, who was she? Well, it’s often said that the truth can be stranger than fiction. And that was certainly the case here, because the lady in white was a donkey.


    The donkey – which belonged to local man John Corr – was a particularly pale colour, and it liked nothing more than roaming about the mine at night.


    How the donkey came to be mistaken for a ghostly lady was never explained. Nor was its ability to appear and disappear. But it seems that everyone was happy to accept that the lady in white was really just John Corr’s donkey.

     

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      A Tribute to Jimmy Magee

      In 1994, I was a seventeen-year-old journalism student asked to interview someone famous as part a college project. New to how the journalism game worked, and also a sports nut, I rang the RTE receptionist to ask if I could speak to Jimmy Magee. “One moment, Sir,” the lady replied, and put me through to the sports desk. Jimmy cheerfully answered the phone, and I explained what I had been asked to do. “No problem at all, young man,” was his reply. There and then, he gave me a half-hour interview, and could not have been more courteous. He will be remembered as a gentleman, and commentating great. The following is an interview he did for Ireland’s Own in 2012. 

      Shea Tomkins

       

      A voice for the ages

      In the summer of 2012, over one million viewers turned on their television sets to witness golden girl, Katie Taylor, punch her way to Olympic glory, at the ExCel Arena in London. For those nerve-wracking eighteen minutes that it took Bray’s first lady to see off her dogged Russian opponent, a familiar voice carried us through the twists and turns of the pulsating battle – the same voice that has now described the explosive action at eleven summer Olympics, and twelve World Cups.

      Coming across loud and clearly over Irish airwaves for over half a century, Jimmy Magee has established himself as the country’s very own Memory Man, though he insists the title was bestowed upon him, and wasn’t self-appointed. The County Louth man has also become famous in sporting circles around the world, celebrated for the credence he gives to the Irish-associated expression of having the ‘gift of the gab’. When it comes to having the right words to suit any sports occasion, Jimmy Magee is your man.

      Today, on a quiet Friday afternoon in late autumn, Jimmy has a touch of a cold which was brought on by the unpredictable weather we have been experiencing this year. Other than that he is in sparkling form, as he reflects on a life that up to now has been never short of excitement.

      ‘These days if people stop me on the street they want to congratulate me on the London Olympics and talk about Katie,’ he says, ‘or whatever sporting event is coming up that weekend. They like to hear my thoughts on who I think is going to win the All-Ireland final or who I think should be in the Irish soccer team. I don’t really follow any particular soccer team but I like seeing the game played properly, so I enjoy watching the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid at the moment.’

      Jimmy knew Katie Taylor had the potential to become an Olympic champion long ago. Back in March 2009, he remembers watching her wow an 02 Arena audience when she appeared on the same bill as Bernard Dunne. He cheered her on, affectionately, while she clocked up European and World titles and is proud to have been present when she made history by becoming the first Irish woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing in London. In his opinion, she is Ireland’s greatest contemporary sportsperson.

      When his parents Patrick and Rose Magee packed their suitcases and took their not yet three-year-old son out of New York to start a new life across the Atlantic Sea, they had no idea that he would grow up to become one of Ireland’s best loved sports commentators. Jimmy was born in the Bronx in 1935, the eldest of four children but grew up in Ireland, enjoying an idyllic childhood in the Carlingford-Greenore area of rural Louth.

      As a boy, he remembers trekking across the fields to visit his grandfather who lived on the side of a mountain and talking to himself, pretending that he was commentating on a GAA game that was taking part in Croke Park that weekend. He even sang some live music to accompany the report, as he also had aspirations to become a disc jockey. Inspired by such legendary commentators as Micheal O’Hehir, Stewart McPherson, John Arlott and Raymond Glendenning, who worked with the BBC, young Jimmy had one true goal in life – to be a sports commentator. It was a dream that he would never give up on.

      ‘The walks used to take me three-quarters of an hour,’ he recalls, ‘and I would have the whole thing timed to perfection. I was the imaginary presenter of Sunday Sport and I gave the news as if it was real, who was injured, the teams and all the action as it happened. When the call eventually came from RTE I was fully ready to go, because in my head I had done it all many times before.’

      Tragedy struck when Jimmy was fifteen years old. His dad, who he idolised, passed away at the age of forty-three, from TB. Being the eldest, he felt it was up to him to become the man of the house and start earning some money to ease the pressure on his mother. Reluctantly, he sacrificed his education to serve his time as a pharmacist in Carlingford. He stayed there for two years before leaving for a job with British Railways, where the pay was better. After six months, he was transferred to Dublin where he managed to get his foot into Radio Eireann, and the realisation of his boyhood dream came true.

      Sports broadcaster Jimmy Magee.

      ‘There was a guy working in RTE called Harry Thuillier who was one of their biggest stars at the time and he had a programme called Junior Sports Magazine. I pestered him a few times for an audition. Eventually he called me back and asked me to come in for a voice test. A few days later he called and said that he liked what he had heard and would I cover a game of hockey the following weekend. That was May 1956, and it was the best feeling in the world when he invited me to become a freelancer on the show.

      ‘I tried my hand at playing sports too. I played Gaelic football in school and even had aspirations to be a sprinter. The one hundred metre-event was my speciality and I thought I might have a chance of making one of the Olympic teams. I suffered a nasty injury when I was trying out for Dundalk football club at the age of sixteen, and that was the end of any professional sports ideas. I consoled myself with the fact that the career of a commentator outlives the career of sports stars by many years and sure the evidence stands conclusive – here I am in my seventy-seventh year and still doing what I love best.’

      Jimmy met the love of his life, Marie Gallagher, at a dance in a ballroom beside the Gate Theatre in 1953. Married at the age of twenty, he feels his early foray into matrimony was the best thing that ever happened to him as it forced him to mature quickly, and also helped him to concentrate on his career. Together they had five children, two boys, Paul and Mark and three girls, Linda, June and Patricia. In 1989, Jimmy lost both his mother and Marie, his beloved wife departing this world far too soon, at the age of fifty-five. He says they would have been married for fifty eight years this year had she lived, and he openly admits feeling lonely at times since she has been gone. Work commitments and looking to the future have helped him cope with her loss, always thinking and planning for the next big sporting event. More tragedy lay in store when his son Paul succumbed to Motor Neuron Disease, a muscle wasting disease, in 2008.

      ‘Paul was a sports fanatic and he excelled at a number of sports including running, Gaelic Football and soccer – he played with Shamrock Rovers and won a League Cup and FAI Cup with them,’ says Jimmy. ‘He was also an international tenpin bowler. He had an extremely positive outlook on life. As strong as he was, however, it couldn’t save him.’

      From covering the first all-London FA Cup Final between Tottenham and Chelsea in 1967 for RTE to watching Bayern Munich capture three European Championships in a row in 1976, or being at the golfing heaven that is the Augusta Masters, Jimmy has such a treasure chest of memories to draw from that it is pretty impossible for him to select one favourite, though Michael Carruth and Katie Taylor’s Olympic victories do get special mention.

      In 1987, Jimmy and fellow RTE commentator George Hamilton teamed up to produce a TV sports quiz called Know Your Sport which ran for eleven years, striking a major chord with a mostly male audience around the country. For all the half hours women had commandeered the TV set to watch their favourite soap operas down through the years, suddenly their other halves had a reason to grip the remote control come seven o’clock on a Monday evening.  

      ‘I suppose Know Your Sport was where the name Memory Man first started,’ says Jimmy, ‘and it was carried on from there. It was a brilliant show and I still remember the big winner at the end of the first series. He was a very knowledgeable Waterford man called Tony Hunt, who is an uncle of the footballers Stephen and Noel Hunt. He was our first champion and won a trip to Seoul in South Korea for the Olympic Games of 1988. A few months back myself and George got together and had a chat about resurrecting the show. I’d definitely be up for it – why not?’

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        Francis Kaye profiles the writer of the popular TV series, Heartbeat, set in a 1960s Yorkshire village

        One of the most popular TV series in the past 50 years is without doubt, ‘Heartbeat’, first produced by Yorkshire Television and subsequently by ITV, from 1992 to 2009.

        Set in the village of Aidensfield, in the Yorkshire Dales, it centred on the everyday life of the village police constable, his wife, colleagues and various characters from the village and its surrounding area. We met characters such as PCs Nick Rowan, Phil Bellamy and Alf Ventress; Sergeant Oscar Blaketon and his nemesis Claude Jeremiah Greengrass; Bernie Scripps, the local undertaker and mechanic; George Ward who ran the Aidensfield Arms and his pretty daughter Gina.


        The homely series brought viewers back to the 1960s with stories of humour, tragedy, crime and daily struggles complete with a soundtrack of hits from the ‘60s. ‘Heratbeat’ ran to over 350 hour-long episodes, of which the last was broadcast on Sunday 12th September 2010.


        The series was based on the books of a real-life police constable named Nicholas Rhea (real name Peter Walker). For 40 years, he has been writing books, drawing on his experiences in the police force, his never-ending enthusiasm for Yorkshire and his continuing interest in crime fact and fiction. He remained involved with the series as a consultant until filming ended in 2009.

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          James Gandon (1743–1823) is today recognised as one of the leading architects to have worked in Ireland in the late 18th century and early 19th century. His better known works include The Custom House, the Four Courts, King’s Inns in Dublin and Emo Court in County Laois, writes JIM REES.

          Thomas Cooley of London originally trained as a carpenter, but his passion was architecture. In 1769, he designed a new Royal Exchange in Dublin, which was completed ten years later, and is now Dublin’s City Hall.


          Spurred by this and other successful projects in Ireland, he moved here in 1781 and began designing a new centre for the courts of justice. Just three years later, before preparatory work was completed, he died at the age of forty-four.


          Into the breach stepped another London-born architect, James Gandon, who would later design the Customs House and King’s Inn. The foundation stone for the new Four Courts was laid on 3 March 1786 – some 231 years ago.


          The building was to house the courts of Chancery, King’s Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas, hence the name. These legal divisions have long ceased to exist, their roles now mainly being the responsibility of the High Court of Ireland, but the name ‘Four Courts’ has survived.


          It seems a safe bet that Gandon never envisaged the impressive structure would be used as a military stronghold, but at Easter 1916 that’s exactly what it became. It was one of several public buildings along strategic routes into the city taken over by the insurgents.


          Under the command of Ned Daly, the 1st Battalion of the Irish Volunteers took control of the Four Courts to halt British army re-enforcements from arriving into the city centre from the west, especially from the Curragh in Kildare.


          It was to see some of the fiercest fighting during that pivotal week, before the insurgents surrendered. Six years later saw the beginning of the Civil War, and the Four Courts was again at the centre of armed conflict, this time with catastrophic consequences.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            Lough Neagh, Co Antrim, Ireland

            Sheila M Johnston explores the delights of Ulster’s ‘inland sea’, the largest lake in Britain and Ireland.

            Lough Neagh is big. Very big. Standing on a fringe of shingle looking out across the water, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking out to sea. Not surprisingly, the Lough has been called ‘Ulster’s inland sea’.


            With an area of 383 square kilometres and a shoreline 125 kilometres in length, Lough Neagh is the largest lake in Britain and Ireland. With an average depth of only nine metres and a maximum depth of 34 metres, Lough Neagh is quite shallow. Loch Ness in Scotland, for example, is 230 metres deep. Five counties of the province touch the shoreline – Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone and Derry.


            Unlike the sea, of course, the water in the Lough is fresh and forty per cent of Northern Ireland’s fresh water supply comes from it. No fewer than six rivers: River Maine, Six Mile Water, Upper Bann, Blackwater, Ballinderry, and Moyolaflow into it. Only one, the Lower Bann, flows out.


            The Upper Bann is the largest of the input rivers. It rises in the Mourne Mountains in County Down and begins a journey of 64 kilometres to join the Lough on its southern edge at Bannfoot in County Armagh. From the north-western corner, the Lower Bann takes the river on to the Atlantic at Portstewart.


            There are several accounts of the origins of Lough Neagh. Perhaps the best known is the legend of Finn MacCool who was enraged to find a Scottish giant on his territory. He chased him across Ulster, scooping up a fistful of soil and rocks and hurling it at his rival. He missed and the lump landed in the Irish Sea to become the Isle of Man. The great crater left behind filled up with water and, lo and behold, – Lough Neagh!
            Another legend speaks of a woman who removed the capstone from a well to fetch water. She heard her son crying and went to comfort him. She forgot to replace the capstone and the well overflowed, drowning the woman and her son and forming the great lake of Lough Neagh.

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

             

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              Ireland’s Own Children’s Short Story Competition in association with O’Brien Press has been launched! Full details below or check out your weekly magazine.

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                qwer

                The little spot in County Cork where the River Lee rises is known as Gougane Barra and Eamonn Duggan finds it to be a haven of peace and tranquility.

                In this modern age of hustle and bustle the need to have a time out to take one’s ease and reflect on life has never been more important. Here in Ireland we are particularly lucky to have at our doorsteps many beautiful sights and places of interest which allow us to leave behind the frenzy of our lives even for a short while.


                More and more visitors arrive every year to enjoy the scenery and the hospitality which Ireland is rightly famous for, but yet, as a native population we are in danger of taking our country and all that it has to offer for granted.


                While tourists are often very effusive in their praise for all that the country has to offer, many natives fail to see and appreciate not only the beauty of the environment, but also the history associated with it. One such place is Gougane Barra in Cork where the natural beauty of rural Ireland is combined with the ancient and rich history which the country is famous for.


                If you take the road to Bantry from the market town of Macroom you can divert to the ancient site of Gougane Barra where it is possible to remove yourself even for a short while from the hectic world we all inhabit.


                Here in this valley, surrounded by the Caha Mountains, you will find the River Lee making an appearance as it winds its way to Cork Harbour and to the ocean. In the middle of the lake there is an island on which stands a nineteenth century oratory amid the ruins of an ancient monastic sight which is said to date back to the sixth century.

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                  Óscar Romero (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980) was a prelate of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, who served as the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador.
                  In 1980, Romero was assassinated while offering Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. On the centenary of his birth PATRICK P. ROWAN remembers the brave prelate who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and the
                  torture of his people.

                  On March 24th, 1980, Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, attended a monthly meeting of priests and then went to a small chapel in a hospital to celebrate Mass. During the Mass, an assassin fired a shot at him killing him.


                  No one has ever been convicted of the crime, but his death was directly due to his espousal of the cause of the poor and deprived as well as of those who were being tortured and assassinated.


                  He has been praised and honoured worldwide and, in declaring him a martyr for his faith, Pope Francis beatified him in May 2015.


                  This year marks the centenary of the birth of Oscar Romero. He was born on August 15, 1917, in Cuidad Barrios, a town in the eastern part of El Salvador. When he was a child his father began training him to become a carpenter as he thought that would be a suitable occupation for him but Oscar had other ideas.


                  At the age of thirteen he entered a junior seminary. He then went to the national seminary, followed by time spent at the Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained in Rome on April 4th, 1942, and remained in Italy to acquire a doctorate in theology.
                  When his bishop called him home WWll was in progress so he had to pass through Cuba. The Cubans did not take kindly to anyone coming from ‘Fascist’ Italy so Romero and his priest companion were interned but were released a few months later.


                  Having arrived back in El Salvador he was given charge of a parish where he would spend the next twenty years before being appointed rector of a seminary in San Salvador.


                  In 1974, he was appointed Bishop of Santiago de Mare, a rural area. Here he came face-to-face with extreme poverty among the landless peasants and this made him wonder what he could do to relieve their misery.


                  Six years earlier, in 1968, the Latin American bishops had met in conference in Medellin and decided to support the poor in their struggle for social justice. This decision was to divide the clergy and some of the laity.

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                    GERALDINE MILLS walks in the footsteps of John Millington Synge
                    on beautiful Inis Meáin

                    Walking into the little thatched cottage, with its green half-door and smoke curling into the sky, is like walking onto the pages of John Millington Synge’s journal Aran Islands.
                    The cottage is Teach Synge or Synge’s Museum, which is situated on Inis Meáin, the middle island of the Aran Islands. This is where the famous playwright and one of the key figures in the Irish Literary Revival came each summer from 1898–1902 to learn Irish.


                    Not quite following in his footsteps, but I too have come to learn my native tongue that has been silent for decades. A chance meeting with manager, Ciarán O Ceallaigh, who told me about the classes for adults, saw me on the ferry on a beautiful July morning to learn the cúpla focail.


                    The class numbers were small, my fellow students a delight, na muintoirí (teachers) patient and encouraging. Afternoon activities saw us travelling the length and breadth of the island learning its history.


                    As a writer, the highlight for me was visiting the place where the playwright got such inspiration for most of his plays, especially Riders to the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World.


                    The cottage has been carefully restored to what it must have looked like in the writer’s time by Treasa Ní Fhlatharta, the great-granddaughter of Bridín and Paidín Mac Donnchadha, who first hosted Synge in 1898 when he stepped from the curragh with his typewriter and second-hand camera.


                    It was their 17-year-old son, Máirtín, who became Synge’s teacher and guide around the island during his months there.


                    Around this time, Inis Meáin had been identified as the place where the purest Irish was being spoken. Over the years, people such as Eoin McNeill, James Joyce, Padhraig Pearse, Lady Gregory and Agnes O’ Farrelly went there to learn the language.


                    Such was its significance that it was given the title ‘University of Irish’ or Ollscoil na Gaeilge. While in Paris, Synge met the great poet, W.B Yeats, who advised him to go to the middle island and immerse himself in the language, the ancient culture and the way of life.


                    Just as Synge described in his journal, I see for myself the kitchen ‘full of beauty and distinction’ with its earthen floor and open rafters, two doors each end of the room but no windows. There is the open fire, the woollen socks drying on a flimsy line above the smoke, in a little corner shoes of raw cowhide that he refers to as pampooties.

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                      The following is an extract from boxing writer and regular Ireland’s Own contributor Thomas Myler’s new book, Fight Nights – Stateside Scraps, Scrapes and Scuffles.

                      Whenever Jack Doyle stepped through the ropes, you could bet with a fair amount of confidence that the fight would not last the scheduled distance, win or lose. Only one of his 23 fights went all the way. The handsome 6ft 5ins heavyweight from Cobh, Co. Cork had a mighty wallop in his right hand and when it landed, it was usually goodnight for the opponent. If it didn’t, it was so often goodnight for Jack.


                      Doyle was billed variously as the ‘Gorgeous Gael’ and the ‘Punching Playboy’ and it is generally agreed that had he paid more attention to the rigours of training and taken his boxing more seriously, he ‘coulda been a contender,’ – as Marlon Brando’s character put it in the movie On The Waterfront.


                      Jack also had a fine tenor voice and did concert tours here and in the UK but it is as a boxer he will be best remembered. At the height of his popularity in the 1930s, he garnered more space in newspapers and magazines than many world champions of the time, even if the coverage was often more about his antics outside the ring than performances inside it.


                      Doyle’s big problem was that he liked wine, women and song a bit too much. He was probably the original Irish hell-raiser long before the likes of Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole. He once had three chauffeurs, 25 Savile Row suits and dined on caviar washed down with the finest champagne. Society women attended Doyle’s big fights and movie actresses fell for him. It was often said he must have kissed the Blarney Stone in his native Cork for his chat-up lines.


                      I was fortunate enough to have interviewed Jack several times in Dublin and London when working for the Evening Herald, and found him to be a charming and fascinating man who always had a good story to tell, though often embellished, it must be added.
                      One of six children born to local sailor Michael Doyle and his wife Anastasia, Jack was a strapping six-footer by the time he was 16 and found employment as a bricklayer on a building site to add to the family’s modest income. It was in street fights, mainly against bullies, that he discovered the power in his right hand and felt he might make a good boxer.

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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