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    By David Tucker

    WEXFORD has a symbiotic relationship with the sea, the county’s 275 km of coastline a mecca for visitors when the sun shines.

    However, in bad weather, the coast is transformed into a place to stay well away from, on land or at sea, becoming instead a place of danger with storm-tossed waves and shifting sands, boat-wrecking rocks and treacherous currents, pounded by wind and surf, the hazards hidden from even the sharpest eye: A trap for the unwary.
    Even when the dangers are well known, such can be the danger that many a vessel has been driven from the safety of deeper water on to the jagged reefs that spelled their doom.

    Over the years, the people of the Model County have paid dearly for this sometimes uneasy relationship, with many tragedies recorded and lamented in seaside villages and fishing ports which paid the ultimate price for their proximity to these stormy waters.
    Yet, there are always those willing to put service above self. To take to the sea to save lives. Such is the story of Fethard’s Helen Blake lifeboat, whose crew braved the worst storm in 50 years to try to save the crew of a sinking ship.

    Later this year, a ‘living’ memorial will take to the waters in the form of a life-size replica of the 35-foot lifeboat lost to the cruel sea along with nine of its crew members during the doomed attempt to save the crew of the Norwegian schooner, the Mexico, dashed on to the rocks at the Keeragh islands on February 20th, 1914.

    The idea for the replica came following a ceremony in Fethard marking the 100th anniversary of the disaster. Brothers David and Keith Power, grandsons of crew member Patrick Cullen who lost his life in the sinking, believed it would be a fitting tribute if a replica of the lifeboat could be built.

    A number of villagers got together, a voluntary steering committee was formed and the project took shape.
    Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Irish Fisheries Board, got involved through their local officer, John Hickey, and provided funds to cover the cost of a feasibility study. This was followed by naval architect Theo Rye preparing detailed drawings and stability calculations, and the dream became reality.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      As the annual Oscars circus gets underway once more, Tom McParland reckons winning a gong doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is what we Irish would call ‘a great picture’.

      Irish moviegoers mostly regarded Hollywood as merely somewhere in America. This accidental ignorance though, was far from uncalculated. Because Hollywood, its stars and movies we considered as existing in an unquantifiable universe. We stuck with the vagueness of Tinseltown, regarding ourselves as the supplier of dreams.

      Who won what Oscar for which film little concerned the Irish. For we awarded our own personal Oscar gold that would last in affectionate memory long after the gilt of official ones had faded or disappeared.

      Unlike Academy awards and recipients, ours were impartial and sincere because we bestowed in only one award category: Enjoyment. Whether love story, rom-com, adventure, western, or horror mattered little to us. By repeat cinema attendance we’d often award more than one Oscar to the same movie, or endless awards to multiple ones in a single year. As long as they met that simple criteria they’d receive our Great Picture Oscars.

      This piece contrasts the fools gold of Academy choices with the real gold of our popular preferences in the 1950’s. For that was the decade that moulded our formative movie years from childhood acceptance to adulthood discernment. While adjusted movie grosses record cinema attendance they do not document the endless cinema hours spent in boredom, dissatisfaction or determination to get our chronological money’s worth.

      At the 22nd Academy Awards on March 21st 1950 the Best Actor and Actress Oscars went respectively to Broderick Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge for All The King’s Men, a battering-ram histrionic tale of American small town political corruption. Largely forgotten today, in spite of its Oscar it grossed just $134M.

      Our popular choices included the $591M Samson & Delilah. Despite its crumbling plastic temples and Groucho Marx’s quip that duff actor Victor Mature had bigger boobs than Hedy Lamarr, the movie constituted a mammoth triumph for mammon, polystyrene and piety.

      Others included She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, debuting star Mario Lanza’s That Midnight Kiss, Larry Park’s Jolson Sings Again – this film briefly revived Jolson’s career. He died the following October.
      Two well loved American novels were further endeared through The Heiress starring Montgomery Clift and Olivia de Haviland (Best Actress) and Little Women starring Margaret O’Brien and June Alyson.

      At the 23rd Academy Awards on March 29, 1951, All Abut Eve took six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor. Eve depicts supposed back-stage luvvie theatrical jealousies through predictable cocktail-drenched conflicts. Seen today it’s just prating loquacious drivel. A bad pun on the old Bebe Daniels 42nd Street line: “Go out there and be so swell that you’ll make me hate you!”

      Notably excluded from the 1951 Oscar list was Vincente Minnelli’s superb comedic direction of world-weary Spencer Tracy as Father Of The Bride. Although nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay and Actor, it was overlooked. But since Minnelli’s 1944 Meet Me In St Louis suffered a similar fate it’s not to be wondered at.

      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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        By Seán Andrews

        The ukulele looks like a miniature guitar, boasts a cheerful, invigorating sound and has been the subject of a recent explosion of interest in Ireland. It’s cheap, easy to play and is so portable you can carry it around under your arm.

        Numerous groups right across the country are getting together, having the ‘craic’ and creating their own entertainment with this versatile little instrument. It takes only an hour or two to learn a few basic chords and join in singing everything from those golden oldies to modern pop songs.

        There are at least six ukulele enthusiast groups in the Dublin area alone who meet regularly to learn a few songs and enjoy the musical camaraderie. The Ukulele Hooley by the Sea is a two-day international festival, held annually in Dún Laoghaire during the month of August. It features workshops and performances by expert players and groups from all over Ireland and abroad.

        Schools are now taking an interest, as the ukulele’s low cost and simplicity, makes it the ideal instrument with which to introduce children to the joys of music and song.

        Most of us associate the ukulele with Hawaii, but its origin is European. It was introduced to the pacific islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century in the form of the machete, a small guitar like instrument.

        The Hawaiian islanders had not seen anything like it before and were fascinated as they watched expert players nimbly negotiating the fingerboard and producing lively song accompaniments. So they called the instrument ‘ukulele’ or dancing flea!

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          By Liam Donnelly

          I can’t remember when I first heard the news but I remember the excitement I felt 63 years ago back in 1957 when Rock ‘n’ Roll was in swaddling clothes. Bill Haley and the Comets were coming to the Hippodrome in Belfast.

          “Who’s Bill Haley?” the young will ask. But those who know their Rock ‘n’ Roll history will recognise ‘Rock Around The Clock’ as one of the biggest selling records of all time. That was Haley’s biggest hit and the anthem of a new breed of people called ‘teenagers’.

          Up until then those twixt twelve and twenty were just cut down versions of their parents. Boys wore the same kind of suit as their fathers and sometimes even the same suit if it was handed down to them. Girls wore the same dowdy coats and headscarves as their mothers or big sisters. But that was all about to change. Forever.

          Food rationing had ended in the North in 1954 and post war austerity was fading from the public consciousness as prosperity ushered in a new age of optimism. Teenagers had jobs and money. Money to buy records. Money to buy a ‘Teddy Boy’ suit with a long coat and drainpipe trousers. ‘A Dollar down and a Dollar a week’ from Burtons Tailors. Money to buy a new pair of black or blue suede shoes and you were off to the ball and what a ball it was.

          And, to top it off, a new hairstyle modelled on that of Hollywood film star Tony Curtis. It was called a ‘D.A.’ Some thought that ‘D.A.’ meant District Attorney but most of us believed that it referred to that part of a duck’s anatomy it most resembled! Meanwhile the girls were ‘cutting a dash’ with calf-length tight skirts, bobby socks and flattie shoes. And of course, the Ponytail to crown it off.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            JOHN CORBETT with a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside

            February was the second month to be attached to the old ten month calendar, January of course being the first. In ancient times one of the four great fire festivals, Imbolc, marked its arrival.

            Imbolc literally means ‘in milk’ – a time of lactation in ewes and cows and because milk was considered very important in the lives of ordinary folk, it was something that required special celebrations.

            In far back times the custom of rocking young children in cradles was prevalent, although this was banned in Britain under the rule of Oliver Cromwell. The practice originated in memory of the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the Temple.

            If Candlemas Day be fair and
            Winter will have another flight.
            But if it be dark with clouds and
            Winter is gone and will not come

            Candlemas is on the 2nd of February and the above lines were written long before weather forecasting and meteorology came into the lives of ordinary people. In distant days country folk devoted a great deal of time trying to figure out what the rest of the year held in store for them in terms of crops and also in their personal lives.
            In our school going days candles were brought to church to be blessed on the 2nd and it was regarded as a serious omission not to have a store of blessed candles in the house. It would be interesting to learn how many rural dwellers still like to have a selection of them in their possession.

            Progressive farmers would have cultivated the land in October or during the winter months but most landowners in our part of the world didn’t begin until February or March. This meant that those two months were exceptionally busy periods because all work was done manually with the aid of horse-drawn machines.

            Nowadays huge tracts of land are cultivated in a short space of time but back then sowing crops depended entirely on the brawn of workmen, the strength of their animals and the sturdiness of their implements.
            Forges and joineries were also in demand because horse and equipment had to be geared up for the major tasks ahead. Readers might find it hard to credit but there were often queues at joineries and forges in the first weeks of spring, as customers waited to have their problems sorted out.

            It’s no exaggeration to say that forges and carpenters’ workshops were forums where notes were compared and the latest information on agricultural matters were available to all in sundry free of charge. No doubt some spicy gossip was shared by the customers too.

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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              When the first plane took off from Dublin Airport in January 1940, it was thought that the target of 100,000 passengers per year it was designed to handle was over-ambitious, but in 2018 it accommodated more than 30 million travellers, writes David Tucker.

              A little over 100 years ago, Dublin Airport was still a field of dreams – a green place that looked a good place to site an airfield for the fledgling Royal Flying Corps (RFC) – one of six sites scouted by World War 1 fighter ace William Sholto Douglas.
              He was recuperating in Ireland at the time after his biplane had crashed into a white plough horse while he was taking off in Treizennes, in Northern France.

              The fate of the horse is unknown, but Sholto Douglas recovered fully from that incident and reputed dog fights with Max Immelman and the Red Baron amongst others going on to become a major figure in the British Royal Air Force, pioneering the Big Wing fighter squadrons which defeated the German Luftwaffe during the darks days of World War 2.

              Although he was a man of vision, Sholto Douglas could have had no idea that his green field at Collinstown would become one of Europe’s most successful airports, last year attracting, more than 31 million visitors as Ireland’s premier aviation gateway.
              The DAA says that while the first commercial flights from Ireland took off from Baldonnel Aerodrome in the 1930s, what was then the Irish Air Corps base at nearby Collinstown, was ultimately selected as a more suitable site for the development of a commercial airport.

              The then-government accepted this recommendation in 1936, although Aer Lingus had already commenced some operations from Baldonnel. The site at Collinstown lent itself to future expansion and was particularly suitable from an aviation and meteorological point of view.

              It had served as a British Royal Flying Corps airfield during World War I, and later a base for the Royal Air Force and was initially taken over by the Irish Air Corps when Ireland gained independence.

              Plans for the development of Collinstown airport were completed early in 1938 and tenders issued. The airfield had fallen into serious disrepair since its occupation by the RFC/RAF and significant works were required on all elements of the development – airfield, landside buildings and access roads.

              The new terminal building was central to the development plan for the airport.

              The DAA says records indicate, however, that it proved difficult to persuade the government of the day to consider ‘such an elaborate plan’ particularly as annual passenger numbers carried by Aer Lingus in 1936 were only in the hundreds.

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                By Cathal Coyle

                The Anne Frank House is a museum with a tragic story behind it.

                “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”
                These are the first words Anne Frank ever wrote in her diary. In June 1942, she was given the red and white checked book as a 13th birthday present. This diary was to become a vitally important source, as Anne chronicled her experiences during the Second World War.

                Another early diary entry described her family – parents Otto and Edith, and her older sister, Margot – and how they anxiously lived as Jews in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation.

                A month after beginning her diary, Anne heard a knock on the door. It was the police ordering her sister to report to a work camp. This event led the whole family to go into hiding. Anne and her family moved into a secret annexe of rooms above her father’s office of the building at Prinsengracht 263.

                For two years during the Second World War, this served as a hiding place for the Frank family, a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer, and the Van Pels family, who had a son named Peter. The entrance to the stairs that led to their home was hidden behind a moveable bookcase constructed especially for this purpose.

                The office personnel knew of the hiding place and bravely helped the eight people by supplying them with food and news of the outside world. Anne explained to her diary that the families had to be quiet so visitors on the ground floor couldn’t hear them.
                She talked in detail about her family: she adored her father, but felt that her mother didn’t understand her, and she longed to get closer to her sister Margot.

                Anne never had the chance to enjoy freedom. On August 4th, 1944, the hiding place was betrayed – her family was reported to the Nazis by neighbours, and everyone inside the secret annexe was arrested and taken to concentration camps.
                Of the eight people who had been in hiding, only Anne’s father, Otto, survived. Anne and Margot died in a camp called Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Anne died of typhus, starving and alone, three months before her 16th birthday. Tragically it was only a few weeks later that the war ended and the people in concentration camps were set free.

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                  NOEL COOGAN recalls the golden age of the evening newspaper market

                  For a few years back in the fifties and early sixties there were three of them in Dublin as well as similar publications in Cork and Belfast. But now there are none in Ireland – the reference is to evening newspapers.

                  Evening papers in this country date way back to 1732 when the Dublin Evening Post went on sale in the capital city. The publication went on to 1736 and reappeared for a brief period, from May to July that year.

                  The paper was again published in 1778 and lasted until 1875, coming out some weeks on Tuesdays, hursdays and Saturdays.

                  The Dublin Evening Post was published by John Magee, who was described as colourful and eccentric. The paper was sold for five old pence, which was a lot of money for such a product in those years, and put buying it out of reach of many ordinary people.

                  Still the publication enjoyed a good circulation although some of the contents got Magee into serious bother. Following libel actions taken by two complainants, Magee was sentenced to a term in jail. After assuming control of the paper in 1807, his son, John Magee junior, suffered similar consequences and, after printing defamatory articles, heavy fines and jail terms were imposed on two occasions.

                  The Dublin Evening Mail was founded in 1823 and had a long lifespan, continuing publishing until 1962, having the word ‘Dublin’ removed from its title in 1928.

                  In the early years of the journal circulation rose to 2,500, a decent enough figure considering that most people of the time were unable to read.

                  Other evening papers in the distant past were the Dublin Evening Telegraph and the Dublin Evening Standard. The Telegraph took a nationalist stance and was published from 1871 to 1924 while the Standard had a short existence from January to June in 1870.

                  The Evening Herald was first published in December 1891 and had a very strong readership in many parts of the country for several years.

                  The paper contained a number of popular features which readers looked forward to. The cartoon strip Mutt and Jeff was one of those and amazingly many believed that tips for big races could be gained from the comic strip.

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                    This year marks the centenary of the death of William Percy French, who was one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters. He is perhaps best known as a writer of humorous songs, but he was also a legendary entertainer, a talented author, an editor, concert promoter, sketch writer, poet, banjo player and an accomplished landscape painter, writes Gerry Breen.

                    Percy French was born on 1st May, 1854, at Clooneyquin House in Co. Roscommon, where his family had lived since the seventeenth century. He was the son of landowner Christopher French and his wife, Emma, and from an early age, his creative talent became apparent.

                    He was educated in Windermere College and later in Foyle College, Derry, before he entered Trinity College Dublin at the age of eighteen in 1872. After completing a BA degree, he began to study Civil Engineering. The truth is he wasn’t very studious, but he certainly enjoyed his time in university.

                    It took him seven years to complete his studies, and he said of himself: ‘I believe I still hold the record as the student who took the longest time to get the Civil Engineering Degree….I think taking up the banjo, lawn tennis and watercolour painting instead of chemistry, geology and the theory of strains must have retarded my progress a good deal.’

                    He is also reported to have said that he was finally awarded his engineering degree because the Trinity Board of Governors feared that if he stayed any longer, he would qualify for a pension before achieving it.

                    While he was in Trinity College, he wrote one of his most famous songs Abdullah Bulbul Ameer for a smoking concert. The song was a satirical account of the Russo-Turkish War and it became a worldwide hit.

                    At that time, smoking concerts were live performances, usually of music, before an audience of men only. These concerts were popular in the Victorian era, and those attending would smoke and speak of politics while listening to live music.
                    Knowing little about copyright, Percy French sold the song for £5 to an unscrupulous publisher. He was not credited as the writer at the time, and he received almost nothing for this composition because it was plagiarised. It earned considerable sums for others who claimed it as their own. Many names have been suggested as the author of the song, but there is not a single doubt that Percy French wrote it.

                    After leaving Trinity College, he became an apprentice with George Price who was Chief Engineer of the Midland Board, and after a short time, he got employment with the Irish Midland Railway, and then he taught art at Foyle College.
                    He then joined the Board of Works in Co. Cavan, and he was employed as a surveyor and engineer on a drainage scheme, assessing applications from farmers for grants to improve drains. He was very pleased to be appointed as a self-styled ‘Inspector of Drains.’

                    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                      By Vincent J. Doherty

                      “Pull up a chair to the front of the fire and warm yourself,” was always the welcome in my Great Uncle James’s place.
                      Gathered around the hearth, supping strong tea or sometimes a glass of stout or something a bit stronger and enjoying a slice or two of soda bread, whoever had just dropped in to pass the time would mull over the vagaries of their crops and the ways of birds, beasts and neighbours in the ever-changing seasons, the ways of the world and how they would put it right and chuckle or shake their heads in disbelief at the daily doings, real or imagined, tragic or farcical of people thereabouts.

                      Sometimes we heard stories about something that somebody had heard on the wireless or discuss a letter from an uncle in New York or a cousin in Kilburn. Or we might ponder what the priest had given out from the altar the Sunday before. There was news about people coming into the world and about others leaving it.

                      There were reflections on unlikely happenings and stories about people who’d heard banshees or seen ghosts no further than a hedge or field away, tales that made the hair on this young boy’s hair stand on end.

                      Maybe in the course of an evening we would discuss the relative lives, characters and achievements of anybody from St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, to ‘Half-hanged McNaught’ being hanged or about the night the Germans bombed Derry and the sky was lit up fourteen miles in our direction.

                      I remember Uncle James, a regular Saturday night filmgoer, looking at a picture of St. Patrick once and saying, “Didn’t he have a great beard, like Noel Purcell. I wonder if the two of them were related.”

                      Young James, my uncle’s middle-aged son, returning from his labours in their fields or one of the farms around about would position himself on the hab, a comfortable ashy place next to the fire.

                      Sometimes by the light of the flickering paraffin lamp and the flames from the burning peat he would read the ‘paper to us especially if there was a story in there about somebody or something we were acquainted with.

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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