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    By Alison Martin

    Aside from his role in politics, Éamon de Valera is usually associated with either his passion for the Irish language or his interest in mathematics. Unbeknown to many however, de Valera was once an enthusiastic rugby player who even secured a trail with Munster, in 1905.

    De Valera had been born in New York in 1882 but was raised from the age of three by his mother’s family in Limerick. In 1898, his fortunes improved, when at the age of fifteen he was accepted as a pupil at Blackrock College on the outskirts of Dublin. Although rugby was the dominant sport at Blackrock, de Valera appeared to have little experience of the game before arriving at the school. Indeed, during an early match between the prefects and the scholastics, his ignorance of the technique of tackling resulted in one of his ears being so badly mangled that he was rushed to the infirmary for stitches.

    Such early experiences did little to deter him from the sport. Nevertheless, it would be several years before de Valera developed into a competent rugby player.

    At the turn of the century, de Valera finished his secondary school education and enrolled at University College, Blackrock. Whilst still studying for his degree, he was offered a position as a replacement teacher of mathematics and physics at Rockwell College, near Cashel, Co Tipperary.

    In common with his former school, rugby was an important part of life at the college. When de Valera first arrived, many wondered whether his slight build would stand up to the strenuous type of Munster play. However, he soon impressed them with his dedication to training, even asking the Rockwell cobbler to add bits of leather to his boots in order to improve his performance.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own St Patrick’s Day Annual

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      Texan millionaire Glenn McCarthy opened the world-famous Shamrock Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day, 1949, writes John McHugh

      It was St. Patrick’s Day, in 1946, that Glenn McCarthy announced in Houston, Texas, that he was going to build one of the biggest hotels in the United States right in Houston, Texas. Called The Shamrock, the hotel was to be so big it would dwarf anything built outside of New York or Los Angeles.

      On St. Patrick’s Day, 1949, the opening day of the hotel became a national event with newspaper coverage from around the world and full radio broadcasting coverage.

      Gold Filigree invitations were sent out to 2,000 guests, including dignitaries from 24 foreign countries.
      Glenn even rented a 14-car train which he called the Shamrock Special; this brought 150 of the top named people from Hollywood to the grand opening. The people in Houston knew who Glenn McCarthy was, but outside of Houston he was unknown. To Texans he was big, bold and brash, he was everything non-Texans romanticised about Texas.

      He was probably the richest man in Texas and one of the wealthiest in the country, but who was he?
      Glenn was several generations removed from his early ancestors who came over from Co. Cork.
      He was called the ‘King of the Wildcatters’; the term itself came into use with the early Irish in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. A wildcatter is a person that finds oil in places not proven to have oil.

      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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        Ibar Quirke takes a look at the saints who existed in Ireland before Saint Patrick

        It is widely believed that St Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. However, historians have discovered that the Irish were quite familiar with Christianity through trading-links with France and Spain. Indeed, four saints preceded St Patrick – Kieran, Ibar, Declan, and Ailbhe. It is recorded that these saints, all consecrated as Bishops, were often in dispute with St Patrick, who brought with him a Roman model of Catholicism. As St Patrick’s Day approaches, Ibar Quirke examines the lives of these important pre-Patrician saints.

        St Kieran

        St Kieran of Saighir, County Offaly, has been called ‘the first-born of the Irish Saints’. He was born of royal blood on Clear Island, and was known for his affinity with animals.
        One legend recalls how St Kieran spared the life of a small bird, seized from its nest by a hawk, by summonsing the hawk to lay its injured prey by his feet. St Kieran studied at Tours and Rome, where he was ordained a Bishop, before returning to live as a hermit in the Irish Midlands.

        He established a monastery at Saighir, which later became the burial-place of the Kings of Ossory. St Kieran’s mother, Liadan, also joined him in the religious life at Saighir.

        St Kieran was also associated with miracles raising the dead to life, and one legend recounts how seven harpers, murdered by robbers, joined him in gratitude for sparing their lives.
        St Kieran also cast spells, once showing his disapproval of King Ailill by silencing his voice for a week. St Kieran’s feast day is celebrated on March 5, and he is the Patron Saint of the Diocese of Ossory.

        St Ibar

        St Ibar established Christianity in County Wexford. St Ibar’s monastery at Beggerin was known as an important seat of learning and culture during the Early Christian era. Plans are currently being made to restore the ruins there to their former glory, thus safeguarding its historicocultural significance for the region. St Ibar was born in east County Down.

        From noble lineage, he studied at the leading Druidic colleges of his time.

        He was ordained after twenty years of intensive study and memorization of Druidic texts, which took place primarily in remote forests and caves.

        Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Saint Patrick’s Day Annual

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          EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs

          The early Irish had an extraordinary variety of personal names. Indeed, some twelve thousand names are recorded in the early sources. Yet only a handful of names drawn from this rich heritage are in current use in Ireland. A lot of them fell out of fashion when English became the dominant language of the country; common English, biblical and classical names often replaced native ones.

          Irish names are enjoying increasing popularity, which is encouraging, because it repairs to an extent an element of our culture which had almost gone. The different peoples who came to Ireland all left a mark as we adopted some of their names. So we have names from the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans, the English.

          Here are examples of some Viking or Scandinavian names. Amhlaoibh (old Irish Amlaíb) pronounced ‘ow-leave’, is a borrowing of Olaf which still a popular name in Scandinavian countries. It was adopted by the Irish and became a favourite name amount the O’Donoghues of Loch Léin (Killarney, Co. Kerry) in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and from Amhlaoibh MacCárthaigh descend the Mac Amhlaoibhs (Mac Auliffes), an important branch of the McCarthys.

          Amhlaoibh is still common in west Munster where, however, it is absurdly anglicised as Humphrey, an Old English/Old German name with which it has no connection. My father often claimed that Sheep’s Head peninsula in West Cork was called Ceann Amhlaoibh Uí Dhálaigh (headland of Amhlaoibh O Daly) but I have no basis for this.

          Raghnall (Old Irish Ragnall) is a borrowing from Old Norse Ragnal. This was the name of many Vikings who settled in Ireland. One Ragnall Mac Amhlaoibh was slain at the Battle of Tara in 980. Ragnall Mac Ímair, king of Waterford, died in 1018. It was soon borrowed by the Irish and became relatively popular.

          Raghnall Ó Dálaigh (O Daly) was principal poet of Desmond (South |Munster) and died in 1161. In the middle ages it was popular with the Mac Branains of Connacht and by the Mac Raghnalls (now usually Reynolds). It was very popular with the Hurley family of West Cork. Many of their chieftains used Randal as their personal name.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            A new book by Davis and Mary Coakley chronicles the history of the famous Dublin hospital, which started out as a workhouse. It’s now the largest academic teaching hospital in the Republic of Ireland and is also the site of the new National Children’s Hospital.

            One of the first things a contemporary visitor to St James’s Hospital will notice is the variety in age and architecture of the buildings on its grounds. These were built in the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries and connect St James’s Hospital in a tangible way with all the institutions that have occupied the site since the establishment of the City Workhouse in 1703.

            The history of these institutions forms one strand of the history and heritage of St James’s Hospital. Another strand is formed by the heritage of the four old and distinguished voluntary hospitals – Mercer’s, Sir Patrick Dun’s, the Royal City of Dublin (also known as Baggot Street Hospital) and Dr Steevens’ – that amalgamated with St James’s Hospital in the 1980s.

            A third strand is formed by the historic medical school of Trinity College Dublin, which needed a large, modern teaching hospital for its students. These three interwoven strands form the fabric of this book.

            Like a mirror, the history of the various institutions that stood on the St James’s site reflects the challenges faced by successive generations of Dubliners as they struggled to cope with the social, health and political challenges of their times. War and recurrent famine impoverished many Irish people living in rural areas during the seventeenth century. Often they had no option other than begging in order to survive.
            A significant number made their way to Dublin, where they joined other starving people begging on the streets. After numerous complaints from harassed citizens, the city assembly decided, in 1697, to build a workhouse on James’s Street, outside the western gate of Dublin, in an attempt to stem the flow of destitute beggars entering the city from the west of Ireland.

            The workhouse admitted its first inmates in January 1706, when 124 vagrants were apprehended on the streets of Dublin.

            The abandonment of infants left at the doors of wealthy citizens, in churches and on the banks of the canal, was another issue that gave rise to public scandal at the beginning of the eighteenth century. After a number of parish-based solutions failed, legislation was enacted in 1730 obliging the governors to admit all abandoned children to the City Workhouse.

            The name of the institution was changed to the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse of the City of Dublin. A revolving basket was placed at the entrance so that infants could be left anonymously at the hospital. Infants were transported to the institution from all over Ireland, and many of them died en route or were moribund on arrival.
            Unfortunately, the infants did not receive the necessary standard of care and many died in appalling conditions, giving rise to inquiry after inquiry throughout the eighteenth century.

            In 1772, the Irish parliament decided to remove the beggars and vagrants to the House of Industry, which had just been opened on the north side of the city. As a result, the care of abandoned infants became the sole responsibility of the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse and the name was changed to the Foundling Hospital. The hospital continued to admit children until parliament decided to stop all further admissions in 1829.

            Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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              By John Donohoe

              But for an injury suffered by Lord Fingall’s horse while out hunting in Meath in December, 1953, the name of Roddy Owen might never have entered the annals of Cheltenham Gold Cup history.

              The County Meath racing earl had been intending to send a different horse into training, but it was injured in Kilmessan village, and he set about looking for a new stable star.

              Both the horse and its owner are still recalled fondly in the area by those who remember the Cheltenham Gold Cup victory of 1959. Michael Power, who worked as Lord Fingall’s stablehand for over 35 years, recalled the circumstances which led to the purchase of Roddy Owen in January, 1954.

              “Lord Fingall had two good horses at the time, Florida Bay and Tuft. He intended sending Tuft over to the Curragh to be trained by Cecil Brabazon. But while he was out hunting on Tuft at Christmas 1953, in Kilmessan, they were crossing the Skane Bridge. There was a hole in the bridge and the horse was injured. Help was sought from the nearby Preston farm and the horse had to be put down.”

              Michael recalls Fingall and his vet, Louis Doyle from Navan, travelling to Kildare one day to look for a replacement for Tuft. They looked at a lot of horses at the Curragh, but nothing stood out. Doyle decided to travel on to Nolans of Kilcullen. This was where they saw the four year-old. It had been broken and ridden, but never tried.

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                The recent deaths of two Paris firefighters in a gas explosion throws into sharp relief the dangers inherent in their profession. As one commentator put it, ‘When everyone else is running out, the firefighters are running in’. What is not generally known is that the Paris Fire Brigade (Brigade de Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris, or BSPP) is an actual Brigade within the French Army. Pat Poland recalls the history of THE FIREFIGHTERS WHO CARRY GUNS


                Paris firefighters, with their distinctive silver-coloured Gallet helmets, are, invariably for tragic reasons, only too well known to us from our television screens, be it from attendance at major fires, accidents, or terrorist-related incidents.

                The Brigade des Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris (BSPP) main area of operations is the City of Paris and the surrounding départements of Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, and Hauts-de-Seine, covering a population of almost ten million.

                It also serves the Guiana Space Centre of Kourou Guyane, the Military Rocket Test Centre in Biscarosse, and the huge gas plant at Lacq-Artix. It is the largest fire brigade in Europe and the third largest in the world after Tokyo and New York.

                The brigade is the first-responder (premier-secours) to all fire and search-and-rescue missions, swift-water rescue on the Seine, and emergency medical services within its area of operations. Providing fire prevention and building control services are also part of its remit.

                It is one of two fire services in France within the armed forces, the other being the Marseille Naval Battalion (BMPM). It is a unit of the French Army’s Engineering Corps (l’arme du génie) and the firefighters are therefore classified as ‘sappers’, or engineers; thus ‘sapeurs-pompiers’ or ‘pump-engineers’.

                Paris firefighters number over 9,000 (including 450 females) 2,000 of whom have chosen to do their National Service in the brigade. Ranks are those of the military and divided into three categories: line firefighters (recruit to chief-corporal); sub-officers (sergeant to sergeant-major) and officers (sub-lieutenant to general).

                Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                  By Pauline Murphy

                  This year marks 155 years since the death of Michael Corcoran, a son of Sligo, who became a Brigadier General in the US army and a friend of President Lincoln. He was also a Fenian and his loss was greatly felt among the Irish American community.
                  Corcoran was born in Carrowkeel, Ballymote. At the age of 19 he joined the revenue police in Donegal where his job was to bust illegal poitin stills but, while in Tír Conaill he joined the Ribbonmen – a secret society dedicated to protecting Catholic and tenent rights.

                  In 1849 Corcoran suddenly took leave of Ireland and sailed for American where he worked as a clerk in Hibernian House in New York and married the owner’s niece, Mary Heaney.

                  Corcoran got involved in local politics in Tammanany Hall and enlisted as a private in the New York militia. He rose up the ranks to became Colonel but, in 1860 his Fenian credentials shone through when he refused to parade his regiment in honour of the Prince of Wales who was visiting the ‘Big Apple’!

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                    By Shane Cochrane

                    On the night of Friday, 1 March, 1901, an ‘unearthly shrieking’ woke the people of the townland of Bawn, near Nenagh, in County Tipperary. One man said it was like the sound of a horse screaming. Whatever it was, it continued throughout the night, unsettling everyone who heard it.

                    On that first night, a ‘party of investigation’ was formed to find the cause of the shrieking. And though at times the party seemed to get close to it, they never got close enough to discover what it was.

                    Thankfully, in the early hours, the shrieking finally stopped. And six peaceful days followed. Then Friday came again – and so did the unearthly shrieking.
                    The residents of Bawn called in the police.

                    They arrived on Sunday night and were immediately greeted by the “cries of a most terrifying description.” Led by Head Constable Horgan, and joined by a number of plucky volunteers, they headed into the night to find the source of the nightmarish noise.

                    And though the shrieks continued at intervals during their search, the men never got close to finding it.

                    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                      Mother Vincent Whitty – her achievements have stood the test of time, writes Ray Cleere

                      Mother Mary Vincent Whitty, R.S.M., was an Irish eligious Sister known for her work in the Australian State of Queensland. She was a leading figure in the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy, both in Ireland and in its expansion into the then British colony of Australia.

                      Ellen Whitty, daughter and the third youngest of the six children of William Whitty and his wife Johanna (nee Murphy), was born in Poldharrigge, a village seven miles from Wexford town, 200 years ago, on March 1st, 1819, and baptised in Oylgate Church, near Enniscorthy on the same day.

                      On January 15th, 1839, and then aged 19, she entered the community of the Sisters of Mercy in Baggot Street, Dublin, a Roman Catholic Order for education and social work founded in 1831 by Catherine McAuley who prepared her for religious profession.

                      Six months later, on July 23rd, 1839, Ellen Whitty received the habit and the name, Sister Mary Vincent. On August 19th, 1841, she made her profession of vows, along with Mary Justine Fleming and four English Sisters for the Birmingham foundation. Those Sisters were the last group of novices who had the benefit of direct contact with and learning from the foundress.

                      Then aged 22 and professed less than three months, Ellen nursed Catherine McAuley in the weeks before her death in November 1841.

                      Ellen’s leadership and personal qualities were quickly recognised. In 1843, just thirteen months after her profession, Mother Vincent was appointed Mother Bursar of the Convent in Baggot Street, in Dublin. There she learned and carried out administrative duties which stood to her in good stead both at home and abroad.

                      She supervised the day to day running of the Baggot Street Convent and provided for and organised the preparation of Sisters who were setting out on new missions.

                      In May 1844, Mother Vincent was appointed Mistress of Novices, a position she held for five years. On the death in office of Mother Mary Cecilia Marimon in September 1849, Mother Vincent was elected Reverend Mother in Dublin.

                      She was elected for a second term in May 1852. During her six years in that office, she founded five new houses, one each in Loughrea, in County Galway; Athy, in County Kildare; Belfast City; Blandford Square, in London; and in Clifford in Yorkshire.
                      She established three institutions in Dublin for the care of neglected children and unmarried mothers, and began planning and fundraising for the Dublin Mater Hospital.

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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