By Noreen Gallagher-Brennan
Grandma pushed her tea cup aside and tipped the contents of the round red box onto the table.
“My eyesight isn’t what it used to be,” she said. “Believe it or not. It’s a lot easier to find what I’m looking for, this way.”
My eyes dazzled at the display of colours, shapes and sizes together with all sorts of sewing accoutrements mingled with the fruit baskets on the tablecloth. I blinked to focus.
Picking up the porcelain thimble, I remembered fondly the day I bought it for Gran. We were on a school outing to Yeats Country. I was in my Inter-Cert year. I was surprised anybody could manage to keep something as small as a thimble for over forty years. Not surprising, the ink was faded. Gran kept things. No matter what you ever needed, she could produce it on request.
The picture on the lid was almost bare – more rustic-silver than sailor. Just enough of him left to recognise he was once there. The box was dented and rusty but did a good job holding the buttons and the memories together for all those years.
Each button has its own story but only one spoke to me. I picked it up. “Yes, I’ll keep that till the day the good Lord calls me home,” she said proudly as she picked up the thimble.
Placing it on her forefinger she browsed through the pile, stopping to examine just the odd button. I rolled it through my fingers and remembered how I cut it from the cuffs of a navy jacket when I was a teenager.
Six deep on one sleeve and only four on the other. It caused bulk I didn’t need. The jacket looked great with my two-tone flares and platforms. I matched it with a crisp white shirt and turned back the sleeves to expose the beautiful purple lining. The whole look was complete with white turn-up cuffs. Cool and classy. Those buttons just didn’t suit.
They spoiled the look! Grandma had just finished knitting a waistcoat for my sister Peg. She was looking for a suitable fastener to finish it off. My little trip down memory lane was interrupted when she said in a high pitched tone.
“I spotted a button in that box that would do the trick and for the life of me I don’t know where it went.” Reluctantly, I opened my hand and asked “Is this what your looking for?” “Yes, that is the very one! Great, I’ll get this job finished at last. It’s been on the needles for over six months.
Between the jigs and the reels I am only getting it finished now.” “I wanted to use this particular button as it had a special meaning,” she said. “Yes I know,” I murmured. Grandma looked surprised. “You… You what? I’m afraid not. It was way before your time. That button is from a navy terleyne costume, I bought it for your uncle Tom’s wedding in the early fifties. A lovely suit it was, but your mother insisted on clearing out the wardrobe and giving all about the place to the cancer research after your Grandpa passed.
I wore it just a few times to the chapel and some of the buttons somehow found their way into this box. Of course it wouldn’t fit me now anyway; it was only a size twelve.”
“That’s strange, Grandma. I bought a navy jacket with buttons exactly like this in the Charity shop in town. There was six on one sleeve and only four on the other. They didn’t do much for my cool image. The boys didn’t like brassy buttons. A bit military looking, remember, I like to dress to impress.” We both laughed. “Well, imagine that.”
Gran proceeded to thread the needle. Strange indeed! Grandma gathered all the unwanted buttons back into the box.
“All these buttons have their own story,” she said. “Sounds like that brazen brat wants to stay in this family. I don’t know where the rest of them have gone. That costume could tell a tale or two I’m sure,” She smiled. “So, Gran, when are you knitting me a waistcoat?” I asked. “If you’re willing to wait, I might have it finished by this time next year.”
The following winter, she did knit me a yellow waistcoat. She never got to put the button on it. The good Lord called her. RIP. We still have the waistcoat and the button box. I guess it has earned its right to remain.
The Mousetrap is celebrating the 62nd year of a record breaking run. It is quite simply a great piece of theatrical history because of what it is, a whodunit, written by the greatest crime writer of all time, Agatha Christie (above), writes PETER GRACE
When Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, opened at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 25th, 1952, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union, Eisenhower was President of the United States, de Valera was Taoiseach and Marciano was heavyweight champion of the world.
She had originally written it as a radio play to mark the 80th birthday of Queen Mary, consort of King George V.
Its title then was ‘The Three Blind Mice’ but, when the stage version appeared, the name had to be changed because a play of the same title had already been staged in London.
The play had its first night at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, and the fact that she broke her wrist on the previous day seemed to foretell disaster. The disaster never came, and that first night was a great success.
The play then had a few performances in Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham before starting its long and continuous run in London. When it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre, there were 453 people in attendance. The Mousetrap is set in a remote country house that is cut off by snow. Tension steeply rises when those present suddenly have to face up to the fact that there is a murderer in their midst.
Those present then become an assortment of suspects. At the end of the play, when the killer has been unmasked, the audience is asked not to reveal what happened in the final scene. It ran for 21 years at the Ambassadors Theatre and then, without missing a performance, it moved to St. Michael’s Theatre next door.
Between the two theatres, it has run for over sixty years, and on November 18th, 2012, it had its 25,000th performance. It is by far the longest initial run of any play in history. Agatha Christie certainly did not expect a very long run. It was suggested to her after that opening night in the West End that it would run for fourteen months, she replied, “It won’t run that long. Eight months perhaps. Yes, I think eight months.” Why has The Mousetrap lasted so long? The main reason is Agatha Christie herself.
She is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her appeal applies to every race, colour and class. About 4 billion copies of her novels have been sold, and her books have been translated into over 100 languages. Sales to foreign countries have been considerably helped by the fact that her novels are useful in the teaching of the English language. Many of her books and stories were filmed. Some of these movies, such as And Then There Were None, Witness for the Prosecution and Murder on the Orient Express, were very popular.
This shy and retiring lady killed off dozens of characters more cunningly and more bafflingly than any other crime writer anywhere. This is why she is still the greatest of all crime writers. It has been claimed by many that characterisation in her novels is rudimentary and that the writing is dull. She herself seemed to agree.
“If I could write like Elizabeth Bowen, Muriel Spark or Graham Greene, I would jump to high heavens with delight, but I know I can’t.” She became immensely popular because in her novels no holds are barred. Clues and red herrings are tossed out thick and fast, and the ingenuity is magnificent. It is extraordinary to accept that, in her own words, she dreamed up many of her plots while she chewed apples in her bath. In 1926 she shot to real fame when The Murder of Roger Ackroyd appeared. The book was written with splendid simplicity, and yet practically no one guessed who committed the murder. Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie was born into a fairly prosperous family in 1890 and was educated at home by governesses. In 1914, she married Colonel Christie. When he went off to serve in WW1, she served as a nurse in a hospital where the patients were mostly wounded soldiers. It was during that time that she learned so much about poisons. Indeed, the victim in her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (published in 1920) was poisoned.
After the war, Colonel Christie returned home, but after some years the marriage ran into problems. After divorce from Christie, she married Sir Max Mallowan, an archaeologist of note. She then settled down to a lifetime of writing. In all, she wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, together with 6 romances (under the name Mary Westmacott).
She died in 1976. Incidentally, Agatha Christie never earned a penny in royalties from the play. She had given them as a present to her grandson Matthew Prichard on the occasion of his eighth birthday.
By Colm Lambert
Jim Bartley suffered a stroke himself at the age of 66 while out to dinner one Sunday in June 2011. He admits that he ignored the early signs of it, and it wasn’t until the following day – while reading scripts for his best-known role – that he really began to realise something was wrong. He contacted his GP, who advised him to head straight to hospital, and before long he found himself on the surgeon’s table for a three-hour operation.
‘It was a mild stroke, compared to what others get, but they told me it was just on the verge of being a major stroke,’ he says. ‘My carotid artery had a build-up of plaque in it that was nearly the length of my small finger, and they had to operate before it got up behind the ear and into the skull. The surgery took about three hours, and thankfully it went well – I even got a souvenir at the end of it because they put the plaque into a little jar and gave it to me to take home! I brought it out a few times and told people what it was and laughed at them going ‘aagh!’, but really I was lucky and I’m happy now to help spread the message for the Irish Heart Foundation of what to do if you think you or somebody with you might be having stroke.’
That message is ‘FAST’, which stands for ‘Face – Arms – Speech – Telephone’, and which means that if there’s tingling in the face or arms, and speech becomes slurred, it’s time to call for help.
‘It can make all the difference, and it’s important that people remember it,’ says Jim. ‘I know it’s the kind of thing that people might hear a hundred times and it mightn’t stick with them because they don’t think it affects them, but you never know. Strokes can happen to anybody and at any time. They’re not selective. At one function I was at, there was a three-year-old child who had suffered a stroke. That just goes to show’.
Jim is an ideal ambassador for the ‘FAST’ message given his instant recognition factor through being on our TV screens so long, but there are many more credits to his acting career than just the Fair City role he’s so associated with.
It all began for him in the Olympia Theatre when he was thirteen years old in 1958, in a play called The Remarkable Mister Penny Packer – and on his very first day there, he learned a lesson that he’s never forgotten.
It was with sadness that we learned of the death of Luke Dolan, Ireland’s oldest man. A Roscommon native, Luke was a lifelong Ireland’s Own reader and a great friend of the magazine. He died at the age of 108 and in tribute to him we are giving you the chance to read a piece in which Luke’s life featured in Ireland’s Own, in July of this year. May he rest in peace.
Congratulations to Ireland’s oldest man
Luke Dolan (right), a native of Clonfree, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon and now residing at Sonas Care Centre, Roscommon, has become Ireland’s Oldest Man, having celebrated his 108th birthday in the company of his family, which includes 30 great grandchildren, on June 4th, 2014.
He was born in 1906. A father of seven – John Joe, Tom, Pat, Michael, Madeline, Gerard and Bernadette – Luke’s wife Peggy passed away in 2005 at the age of 85.
Luke has been a resident of Sonas Care Centre for the past 6 years, having resided on his family farm in Strokestown since birth. Luke smoked and did not eat porridge until in his 60’s, but he appears to have long age and good health in his genes; his sister Mary Kate survived until her 107th year and sisters Nancy and Nora lived into their 90’s.
Alcohol was never an influence in Luke’s life and he never attended a dance. Luke is a keen storyteller, recollecting stories from his youth, showing a particular love for all things GAA. In 1932 Luke lined out for the Strokestown team that beat Roscommon Town by 3-2 to 0-1 in the county senior football final. Luke also kept fit by playing handball. Luke has a love for the radio and listening to the GAA games brings him joy. His love for GAA rubbed off on his grandson, Luke Fallon, who was a Roscommon senior player for a number of years. Luke also has a love of music, in particular Johnny Cash. He can be regularly heard singing a bar or two of ‘Kevin Barry’ and ‘Shoe the Donkey’! Luke has been a lifelong reader of Ireland’s Own, which was only four years in being at the time of his birth. In his years Luke has been witness to many changes and events, the most notable being The Easter Rising, The War of Independence, the two world wars, and the introduction of TV and electricity into Irish homes.
Luke can recall clearly the day Roscommon man, Dr. Douglas Hyde, became Ireland’s first president in June 1938. bringing recognition to the County of Roscommon. And now Luke can be added to the pantheon of great Roscommon men. Well done to him on his long life.
This piece on Luke was submitted by John Lynch from Athlone who visited him and was really impressed by him and his lively personality.
Eugene Brennan examines the colourful life of Paddy Barrie (above) who made a career out of changing horses for big races and was proud that the only people he rammed were the bookies!
Some people paint landscapes, others paint walls, but Paddy Barrie painted horses.
As a stableboy in England, Paddy conned Lady Mary Cameron into selling him a grey mare for £20, dyed it brown and sold it back to Cameron for £350.
Born in Edinburgh, in 1888, Peter Christian Barrie – described as an Irishman born in Scotland – emigrated with his parents to Australia and years later fought with Anzac forces at Gallipoli.
Back in post-war England he was attracted to the racing industry and in 1920 was sentenced to three years’ hard labour in Dartmoor Gaol for running ‘ringers’ (where one horse is substituted for another).
On Barrie’s release in 1923, thriller writer Edgar Wallace ghosted Paddy’s confessions for John Bull magazine and even based some mystery novels on Barrie’s exploits. Paddy, wanting to make a fresh start, emigrated to Canada but had to travel under a false passport as a Reverend Christie. Unfortunately, the Captain placed Barrie at the top of the Captain’s dinner table and cajoled him into delivering a sermon. Having never missed Sunday mass in prison, Paddy later explained: “Ye know if ye keep yer ears open you can get on to that lingo. I listened to plenty of sermons on good and evil, didn’t I?”
Having crossed the border into America, Barrie, abandoning water-soluble dyes that sometimes washed off, developed a special henna dye that withstood repeated washings.
His famous dyes lasted regardless of water, sweat or heat. One day, veterinarians and officials, swooping on the stable to check the winning horse, spent an hour comparing the stallion against its identification papers but had to admit defeat.
No wonder, as Paddy – tipped off that stewards had ordered an investigation – had slipped the real horse back into its stall and tossed a bucket of soapy water over it! His greatest scam, at Maryland Racecourse in 1931, had to be performed in a closed truck en route to the track as there were too many officials at the stables. The trip was made at night, his only light a couple of railroad lamps, as he heated his pans of dye on a small stove and rubbed down Aknahton with it.
When I lived in the mountain, I had a green Cortina Mark 2. It cost me three hundred and ten pounds in 1974. The lights were put on by connecting two wires underneath the steering wheel. The steering wheel wobbled when the car went faster than a bicycle. But there was a tape deck. An invaluable item in any car of the time in West Cavan.
Tapes by Philomena Begley and Ray Lynam could be purchased in Mullan Mart, an outdoor Sunday morning event, on the border between Cavan and Fermanagh.
The windows of my Cortina didn’t wind down. The doors rattled. The exhaust pipe had holes in it that made the machine sound like a Kalashnikov AK 47, and caused British Soldiers at the checkpoints near Swanlinbar no end of anxiety.
But if you put four girls in the back seat, and three more in the front passenger seat, and turned the Philomena Begley tape up to maximum volume, then the Cortina became a dream machine.
Heavier on the road, it glided along, and freewheeled silently down the hills. Not a rattle could be heard above the steel guitar of Daniel O’Hara. Glangevlin at the time was like an extended family. People belonged to each other. The girls took a lift from me on weekend nights, to the Mayflower Ballroom in Drumshanbo, or the Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarne.
At the end of the night they all gathered with their men along the long bench by the wall of the tearoom, drinking mugs of tea. Men – pronounced ‘Min’. Min were often lads in platform shoes and tractors in the car park.
Sometimes you might see a smiling policeman in his off duty jumper, moving around like a pike among the perch. Some min were troublesome. I knew a girl who always took a knitting needle with her in her handbag, and dealt with any idle hands on the dance hall floor with a firm poke of her pointed weapon into the offender’s belly.
More often than not the girls chatted in the tearoom and shared cigarette butts for an hour or more, before they came looking for my Cortina.
On the way home they would laugh their heads off discussing the merits and otherwise of their dance partners. Sometimes we returned to one of their houses. There was more tea. The record player went on.
They danced quick steps round the kitchen to Hank Williams and other American Country artists till four or five, and always put a few sods of turf in the range before retiring, so that the fire would be ‘in’ and the kitchen warm for their parents at breakfast time. But life moves on. I left. They all left.
I once drove a carload to the Airport. Their mother splattered holy water on the bonnet of the Cortina and ran straight back into the house. She had her door closed before the car moved off. I sometimes think of that kitchen. And those old parents who remained. The range unlit. The porridge cold. The terrible silence of the long winters.
And recently I drove past an old car cemetery behind a filling station and I stopped to stare at an upturned Green Cortina, Mark 2 that lay on its side by the ditch. I got out and walked around it. No glass in the windows. No wheels at all. And even the back seat was gone.
But, as I said to the boy on the petrol pumps, other than that, she’s in good nick. He filled my Nissan with unleaded and stared at me, as if I wasn’t at all right in the head.
(From last week)
Lord Mayor Bludworth, who had been back between the sheets only half an hour, was again called out.
This time, his coach had considerable difficulty in getting through the throng of people, all pushing and shoving, with squealing pigs, flapping hens and geese and whinnying horses all adding to the general pandemonium: and all going in the opposite direction – away from the fire.
What he saw and heard now horrified him, for as he arrived at the outer edge of the fireground the cry went up: ‘The water pipes are dry!’ The massive wooden waterwheels, located under London Bridge, which operated the pumps providing the water supply to the City were alight, as were parts of the very fabric of the bridge itself. Diarist Samuel Pepys awoke at 7am and, as he looked out the window at the fire, his maid told him that she heard 300 houses had been burned down during the night.
Alarmed, he ordered a boat for a better look at the extent of the fire and then travelled on to Westminster: “And did tell the King and the Duke of York (the future King James II) what I saw, and that unless His Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire.” The king commanded Pepys to find the Lord Mayor and order him to take whatever drastic action was necessary, including the demolition of buildings. Pepys eventually caught up with Bludworth in the chaotic streets where: “(I) met my Lord Mayor in Canning Street like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King’s message, he cried like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent! People will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’.
So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire.” By midnight on 3 September, the fire had spread half a mile west along the Thames, then curved north in a great bow of flame, up through the City to Cornhill and Cheapside. When it finally raced down Ludgate Hill, leaping the walls and jumping the filthy Fleet ditch, it left in its wake the old, decrepit, St Paul’s Cathedral, where so many had taken refuge and stored their (highly-flammable) possessions. Over the howling wind of the firestorm came the eerie, frightened baying of the caged animals in the menagerie at the Tower of London. King Charles now decided to adopt a more hands-on approach. Side-lining the inept Lord Mayor, whose nerves were shattered, he put his brother, the Duke of York, in charge of fire-fighting, assisted by Pepys who directed tactics in the East End.
The fire-fighting effort now took on the appearance of a military operation. Using troops and sailors, eight ‘Fire Posts’, at which firebreaks were to be created, were set up at strategic points around the perimeter of the fire zone. Nor was the king himself averse to rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in.
Charles and his brother were very much in evidence throughout the crisis, taking part in bucket-chains, up to their ankles in water, and working the levers on the manual fire engines, all the time providing supervision and encouragement.
Stranger Than Fiction
It sat tiny and red-breasted on the branch of an orange tree, watching with beady black eyes as Thomas Lord Lyttelton and two lady companions walked through the conservatory during an after-breakfast stroll on a crisp sunny autumn morning.
Lord Lyttelton leaned on the arm of his companion, Lady Affleck as they walked. He was pale after a long illness and indeed had come to his country home at Epsom on the outskirts of London to rest and convalesce.
Now he seemed to be growing stronger every day and hoped soon to be back at the court of George III – and the notorious pursuits which had made him a legend in London high society. It was the autumn of 1779 and Tom Lyttelton was not yet 40. Having safely survived his illness, he hoped to travel to France for the winter once he grew a little stronger. Already much of his boisterous spirit had returned and his houseguests at Epsom were saying he was almost his normal self.
Then he saw the Robin in his conservatory.a tiny incident, but it was to trigger what has been called one of the most extraordinary predictions in the history of psychical research.
For some reason he decided to catch the tiny bird and after a long chase around then conservatory, finally succeeded.
By now the bird was terrified and Lord Lyttelton’s hands around its frail body were just too much. It died in his grasp, and with a laugh, he let it drop into a nearby pot of ferns and turned in search of some new diversion. The next morning Lord Lyttelton appeared at breakfast pale and haggard. And so apparently distressed that his guests asked anxiously what had happened. At first he avoided their questions but eventually he was persuaded to tell them a strange story. He said that the previous night he had been unable to sleep and in the early hours of the morning heard what sounded like the tapping of a bird’s beak on the window.
“Suddenly I sensed that there was someone in the room. By the light of the moon through a widow I saw a woman dressed in white holding the body of a robin. “She told me to prepare for death as I had only a short time left to live. When I asked how long she said it would be three days and I would die on the hour of 12.”
Lyttelton’s friends refused to take the story seriously, saying that it was obviously a bad dream, caused by eating and drinking too much the previous evening but their host was not amused. “You can scoff,” he said. “But I am certain I will die at midnight on Saturday. I have never been so sure of anything in my life.”
The rest of the morning he spent pacing the garden deep in despair. Then he went indoors to prepare a speech he was due to make on the Irish problem in the House of Lords that evening. It was generally regarded as one of Lord Lyttelton’s finest speeches – well-rehearsed, polished and eloquent. Then he returned to Epsom where he fluctuated between despondency and gaiety.
At dinner on the third day he astonished his friends by what one of them later described as “great wit and vivacity” but it was short-lived and afterwards he relapsed into a deep silence from which none of us could lift him.
“As the evening wore on, he grew restless. He could not sit still but paced relentlessly to and fro, muttering to himself. Every few minutes he would take out his pocket-watch and gaze silently at the time. “We all felt anguished for him but none of us could believe that he would really die as he had forecast. We believed he was still depressed by his illness and was suffering from some sort of temporary delusion.
“When his watch showed half past eleven, Lord Lyttelton got up and went to his room. No one knew that his watch and every clock in the house had secretly been put forward by half an hour by a well-meaning friend who had dismissed the prophesy as nonsense.”
Sitting in bed, watch in hand, Lord Lyttelton awaited the fatal hour. His valet sat with him and together they watched the minutes tick by. When the watch finally recorded midnight, nothing happened. The crisis was over and Lord Lyttelton lay back on his pillows and smiled.
The whole thing was obviously the result of fevered imagination. A friend, sent up by the anxious guests, was greeted by a hearty laugh. “I have cheated the lady in white,” Lord Lyttelton said. “I am not killed off so easily.” And to his valet he said “Get me a glass of champagne.” But when the servant returned to the bedroom with the glass, Lord Lyttelton was lying on the bed, breathing fast and unable to speak. The valet ran for help but it was too late.
A few minutes later Lord Lyttelton was dead, the watch in his hand showing half-past 12. It was still 30 minutes fast. In reality its owner had died on the very stroke of midnight.
By Shauna O’Grady
At the age of 15, my mother told me I would be accompanying my 17 year old sister, Mary, to the local dance that night.
It was the early Sixties and up till then she had been chaperoned by my 19 year old brother, Liam, but he had emigrated that week.
I was ordered to take his place.
Dressed up to the nines in my sister’s clothes, my face made up with her panstick, mascara and lipstick, I looked and felt like a ‘painted doll’.
Before we left the house, my mother’s commands came thick and fast: “Come straight home after the dance! Don’t be alone with a boy. blah ..blah..blah.”
Her instructions were always overacted impersonations of warnings from the Twenties which had been tommy-gunned at her by the nuns. “And you,” she said, looking straight at me, “Look after your sister.” I almost laughed! We arrived at the large well-lit dance hall shortly after 10.30 p.m.
As we entered, I saw a grim line of youths backed against one wall while the girls, who were much more plentiful, stood against the opposite wall.
My sister’s pals spotted her immediately and I was welcomed into the group. There was beautiful blonde-haired Lillian; Kate, who was attractive, but who rarely smiled, and ‘plain Joan’, who was wearing a figure-hugging dress which, given her shape and size, wasn’t the best of choices.
Even though a band was playing popular tunes, there were only a few people on the dance floor.
“Where are all the lads,” I asked. Linda’s reply surprised me: “They don’t come in until after the pubs close.”
Around 11.30 p.m. the dance-hall suddenly became alive as Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Show Band burst onto the stage and began to perform. By then the hall was packed to capacity.
Standing by the wall with Kate and Pauline, I felt like a piece of livestock in an auction. Linda and my sister had been dancing since we arrived and we saw little of them for the rest of the night. The next to disappear into the dance-floor was Kate, who at 19 was actively seeking a husband.
Only two ‘wallflowers’ remained, Pauline and I. “Do you come here often?” asked my first dancing partner as he swept me onto the dance-floor. This is my first dance,” I replied shyly. “The band is great, isn’t it,” he continued “Yes,” I whispered. My shyness prevented me from saying anything else.