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    By Gemma Grant

    Not many of Ireland’s medieval castles are functioning as they used to back in their golden age when they entertained the great, good and the noble. Bunratty Castle in Co. Clare, can lay claims to doing just that. The castle and staff, in medieval attire, offer today’s discerning visitors, the splendour of a medieval banquet, complete with honey mead.

    Guests are invited to step back in time as the Earl of Thomond welcomes them to the Great Hall to enjoy a feast, fit for a king. Over three million visitors worldwide have accepted the invite to dine in one of Ireland’s most historic of castles and enjoy the entertainment provided by the famous Bunratty singers.

    Before the present-day Bunratty castle, with a céad míle fáilte for all, like every other Irish castle, it saw its fair share of fighting and bloodshed. Prior to construction of the current castle, it started out in life as a motte and bailey c1270, with a commanding view of Limerick’s water-traffic.

    With such a strategic location established, the wooden castle was replaced by a stone structure when Bunratty, and surrounding lands, came into the hands of Sir Thomas de Clare in the 1270s, courtesy of King Edward 1 of England. With castle construction, came a thriving town. However, not all were happy with the expansion as it was seen by the native Irish as encroachment into their lands.

    By 1318, the son of Thomas de Clare, Richard, was defeated and killed by the O’Briens of Thomond. When the Irish moved into Bunratty, they found it abandoned. One source cites, Richard de Clare’s widow burned down, not only the castle but the town as well. Over a thousand townspeople, mostly English settlers fled, fearing for their lives.

    Battles played out between the Irish of Thomond and the English, with Bunratty being captured and retaken, until eventually the powerful Irish clan MacNamara, established themselves as the new lords of Bunratty.

    Building and restoration in the 1450s resulted in an impressive structure. The castle, through marriage, rather than war-fare, passed to the O’Brien clan, High Kings of Munster. The O’Briens, true to their station in life, enjoyed the grandeur of castle living, complete with spectacular gardens and reportedly, some 3,000 head of deer.

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      By Arthur Flynn

      The film Veronica Guerin was a biographical crime film focusing on the Irish journalist of the same name who was murdered in 1996 in Dublin, at the age of 37.

      This was the second film to be inspired by the life and death of the crusading journalist. Three years previous, When the Sky Falls, centring on the same story but the names of the real-life characters were changed in the script.

      This film, shot in 2003, was an American-Irish-British production directed by Joel Schumacher and starring the leading Australian actress Cate Blanchett, in the title role. The screenplay by Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue centred on the investigations of Guerin into the drug trade in Dublin that led to her death.

      The film was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer for Touchstone Pictures on a budget of $17 million. The cinematographer was Brendan Galvin, music by Harry Gregson-Williams and edited by David Gamble.

      Jodie Foster was originally in talks to play the main role. Danny DeVito was also considering directing a film on the life of Guerin, but it fell through. Joan Allen was also set to star when John Mackenzie was attached to direct but this fell through.
      The meatiest roles in the film are those of the criminals with Gerard McSorley portraying a menacing John Gilligan, Ciaran Hinds as John Traynor, Paudge Bean as Brian Meehan and Gerry O’Brien as Martin Cahill. Emmet Bergin, Des Cahil and Joe Taylor played other leading roles. Colin Farrel, whom Schumacher launched on his Hollywood career by casting him in Tigerland, played a cameo role.

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        I found myself in disagreement with Albert Einstein recently. Don’t worry, it wasn’t down in Dolly Harney’s. Well, not initially,  and I hadn’t lost my marbles, not all of them, at any rate.  The esteemed Albert said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking which we used to create them.”  

        At first hearing, or at first glance, it makes sense. But then you may slowly begin to notice things about it.   It employs a touch of the scientific sleight of hand.

        If the esteemed Albert were still amongst us, I would invite him down to Dolly Harney’s Select Lounge for a pint of his pleasure.  But he isn’t, of course, so I wrote out his quote and put it in among my dwindling selection of euro-notes and took it with me to Dolly’s one evening the sun wasn’t shining at all even though it should have been, because it’s supposed to, because it’s summer time.  But there you are, that’s what happens.

        Rubin’s Vase is, of course, an optical illusion.  You can see the vase, or a pair of faces, facing each other, but you can’t see them both together.  The two-dimensional forms were developed by in Denmark by Edgar Rubin.  Anyway, when all this was being thought into shape, so to speak, by that obscure Danish psychologist, there was a war on, the Great War that raged from 1914 into 1919. 

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          The information on Mary O’Connor, or the Rose of Tralee as she is better known, is many-versioned, poorly documented, well analysed and like the best of stories told in Ireland over the more than a century and a half since she lived, it has grown legs. ‘The First Rose of Tralee’ is the story that presented itself to me as I researched, writes Patricia O’Reilly.


          Mary O’Connor lived with her father, mother, two sisters and brother in Brogue Lane, the heart of the shoemaking industry in Tralee, and kept house. Her father, Willie, was a shoemaker with a good reputation and a constantly full order book, but he had little business acumen and was known to be a bit too ‘fond of a sup’.

          Despite her mother Nora working as a dairymaid at West Villa, the family lived a hand to mouth existence, as did the majority of the population in the town. Poverty was endemic, and the county plagued with mini-famines and outbreaks of typhus and cholera.

          Willie O’Connor considered it was ‘ way past time Mary was married’. He wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion to his 17-year old daughter when they were alone in the cabin. Although Mary dreaded the life of constant pregnancies and ongoing poverty endured by her mother and the other women on the Lane, she saw no way around it.

          During the early 1840s Daniel O’Connell was at the height of his appeal, rallying for Repeal of the 1801 Union between Ireland and Britain. When Mary came upon one of his rallies she listened as intrigued as she was dubious by his promises that Repeal would bring ‘happiness and riches, and’, as he put it, ‘all that you desire and strive for!’ 

          Her attention switched to the handsome young man who jumped up and stood alongside O’Connell. She thought it might be Master William Mulchinock from West Villa.

          The Mulchinock family lived in style. When Michael Mulchinock died during the early-1830s his widow Margaret took over the running of the businesses – a profitable farm, dairy and several commercial interests in the town, including a hardware store and a drapery business on the Mall that William ran with singular success, although at the time he was devastated at having to have to give up his dream of being a poet and even more devastated to discover his facility for verse had disappeared.
          Margaret set up a soup kitchen, campaigned for a workhouse, and was involved in charitable works. She paid close attention to the doings of her family, raised them to be apolitical and planned that they would make happy but socially expedient marriages.

          When Nora became too ill she sent Mary to the big house in her place. 

          Mary, considered too inexperienced for work in the dairy, was started in the kitchen as a skivvy carrying water from the outside pump, peeling vegetables, scrubbing and cleaning. It wasn’t long before she was aware of the striking differences between living on the Lane in poverty and in luxury at West Villa.

          ‘The history of Brogue Lane was buried deep within Mary, a bloody splinter in her soul … but the thought grew and lingered that, perhaps, she could better herself.’ She dreamed of becoming a teacher. 

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            David Mullen looks at the history of the machine that rose from the ashes of Hitler’s dream for a ‘people’s car’ to become beloved by hundreds of millions across the globe.

            Europe in the 1920s was a cold and hungry place as countries tried to get back on their feet after the ravages of the First World War. Germany was particularly badly hit, having not only endured fighting the war, but also defeat and the crippling terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

            The terms demanded huge reparations to the victors, stifling the German economy and keeping the living standard low.
            In 1927, in the United States there was one car for every 5.3 Americans. In Germany, however, there was one for every 242 people. For Germans, the car was more than just a means of transport — it was an unattainable and vastly expensive symbol of wealth.

            It was in these social conditions, made worse by the ‘Great Depression’ of 1929, that Hitler came to power in 1933. He realised early-on that the key to creating the image of economic success was by making symbols of prosperity like, for example, wireless sets available to everyone at a reasonable price.

            The ‘Volksempfänger’ or ‘people’s receiver’ cost a cheap 76 Reichsmarks, but payment was made even easier by an instalment plan. The Nazis wondered if they could do something similar with a car?

            In 1934, the government issued a brief to Germany’s car-builders. By the next summer, they wanted to see a prototype for an economical car able to seat four or five people, travelling at 50 mph and costing less than 1,000 Reichsmarks (under €5,000 today).

            It made no financial sense. There was no way they could build a car for that kind of money. One engineer, however, thought differently. His name was Ferdinand Porsche.

            Porsche was a famous engineer in Germany for his work on racing cars in the ‘30s. His son, Ferry, had not yet started building the sports cars that would later bear the family name. He set to work designing the new car and by 1936, a set of prototypes were ready.

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              Dorothy Tubridy’s special friendship with the Kennedy family is recalled in a public exhibition in Trim, Co. Meath, writes John Donohoe

              An exhibition celebrating the life of Dot Tubridy, Irish confidante of the Kennedy political dynasty, is currently taking place in Trim, Co Meath, where she and her late showjumper husband, Captain Michael Tubridy, lived after their marriage.

              The Kilkenny-born lady became an extended member of the famous American political dynasty through her friendship with Ethel and Robert Kennedy, whose daughter Courtney is her Goddaughter.

              There are many who would use such connections to their own advantage. Dot Tubridy never exploited her relationship with the Kennedys for such purposes. Instead, she used it to benefit her country, from her involvement in the planning for President John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963, to the Northern Ireland Peace Process of the 1990s.

              And it was a real friendship, born when Dot’s husband, the daring Captain Michael Tubridy, footballer and army show jumper, met fellow equestrian Ethel Skakel, fiancée of Bobby Kennedy, at a showjumping event in Madison Square Gardens in 1949.
              The two young couples bonded and became close, and when Michael Tubridy was tragically killed in a horseriding accident at Trimblestown Stud outside Trim in 1954, the young widow was invited to America to spend time with the Kennedy clan in Florida.

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                LIAM NOLAN remembers the man who founded the Palestrina Choir, co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre (later the Abbey Theatre) and was buried in an unmarked grave.

                He was that comparatively rare being in the Ireland of his day — a Catholic member of the landed gentry. Born and brought up in a castle near Ardrahan in County Galway, Edward Martyn was said to have been so orthodox a Catholic that he wrote to the Vatican for permission to read books that were on the Index (list of prohibited books that Catholics were forbidden to read.) Martyn took his Catholicism really seriously.

                Among his friends when he became an adult were Lady Gregory (a neighbour), and W.B. Yeats who, for £35, bought a castle of his own (Thoor Ballylee) near Lady Gergory’s home, Coole Park.

                Yeats refurbished the crumbling building by the river, lived in it for five or six years with George, his wife, and their two children, and wrote some of his finest poetry there.

                Tulira Castle, where Edward Martyn grew up, had as the family motto Sic Idra Ad Astra (Reach for the Stars), and among the pictures that hung on its ancient walls were a Monet and a Degas. Later in his life, portraits of him, painted by John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser, would take their places, too, on those same walls.

                In pursuit of the goal of reaching for the stars, Martyn’s parents sent him to Belvedere College in Dublin and colleges in London, to be educated by the Jesuits. His third level education began in 1877 at Christ Church, Oxford, but ended two years later when he left without a degree.

                This large lumbering man was perceived to be something of an idealist, heavily interested in his own preconceived ideas of the Irish nation. Those ideas weren’t always in line with the ideas held by other enthusiasts with whom, as a result, he frequently found himself at odds.

                He deeply loved and was recognisably knowledgeable about music — European classical music, church music, and Irish traditional music. He particularly admired and liked the music of Palestrina. So did Pope Pius X, who held that it was a standard to which liturgical music should aspire.

                Martyn said several times that liturgical music was the chief interest of his life.

                On an organ he had installed at Tulira Castle, he practised extensively and intensively, and became sufficiently accomplished an organist as to give private concerts to friends who visited him at his impressive home.

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                  Melissa McCarthy takes a look at life around the famous Kerry landmark, and profiles some notable names that came from its surroundings.

                  In the following article we read about some well-known names associated with Meentogues and the surrounding area which are part of Sliabh Luachra. The latter is a legendary name, famed in song and story, extending eastward from Killarney and on into North Cork.

                  Having grown up in the picturesque townland of Meentogues, Joan Harrington (nee McCarthy) talked to me, Melissa McCarthy, about life there some time ago. She emphasised the fact that Meentogues and its surrounds are well known for a long-standing association with traditional music and song, and also the many links with distinguished names, historical and otherwise. The village of Gneeveguilla is often referred to as the ‘capital’ of Sliabh Luachra.

                  Joan explained that, “Meentogues, with its popular school, is a quiet, post-card perfect rural setting, having as a backdrop the towering Killarney mountains and the glistening waters of the Abhainn Uí Chriaidh.”

                  Such a scene provides an eye-catching idyllic appeal that would really make your heart want to smile.
                  Sliabh Luachra is known as a place where “music flows in the traditional sense of the word” and in this context Meentogues and its surrounds play an important role.

                  It was a joy to listen to that special brand of music played by Johnny O’Leary, the Doyles and others, to mention but a few – they are often referred to as ‘giants of the music of Sliabh Luachra,’ a title that rested lightly on their shoulders. A monument to the memory of Johnny has been erected near Killarney’s town centre.

                  Sadly, Joan’s father, John, passed away suddenly in 1955 when Joan, one of seven siblings, was quite young; his death was a great shock to her mother, Ellen, and all the family. Joan recalled that her brother, Fr. Pat, was a seminarian at the time. He continued on the path to the priesthood and was ordained in Maynooth in 1962. Apart from spending seven years working in the Kerry mission in Kenya, Fr. Pat ministered in various parishes in the diocese of Kerry – always doing great work. Even now in his retirement he is working in Lixnaw parish.

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                    By Gerry Breen

                    4th August, 1962 – On this day, Nelson Mandela was arrested by security police in South Africa. He was subsequently tried and sentenced to five years in prison.

                    Two years later, he was placed on trial for sabotage, high treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government and was sentenced to life in prison. Following a worldwide campaign to free him, he was eventually released on 11th February, 1990, at the age of 71 years after spending 27 years in prison.

                    Mandela, who was a Xhosa, was born on 18th July, 1918, into the Thembu royal family in Myezo, British South Africa. He studied law at the University of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand before working as a lawyer in Johannesburg.
                    There he became involved in politics, and was a courageous fighter against apartheid and the injustices suffered by black people. He served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

                    He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.
                    His government was noted for its work in dismantling the legacy of apartheid and institutionalised racism and fostering racial reconciliation.

                    In 1993, Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa’s President F.W. de Klerk for their peaceful efforts to bring non-racial democracy to South Africa.
                    He died on 5th December, 2013.

                    12th August, 1908 – On this day, the first Model T car, which became known as the Tin Lizzie, rolled off the Ford production line. It is generally known as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened up travel to the ordinary middle-class American.

                    The Model T was named the most influential car of the 20th century in the 1999 Car of the Century competition ahead of the BMC Mini, Citroen DS and Volkswagen Type 1. With 16.5 million sold, it stands eighth on the top ten list of most sold cars of all time as of 2012.

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                      By June McDonnell

                      It’s not everyone that gets ‘Get Well’ wishes from President Michael D. Higgins when they are ill, but that is exactly what happened to Philomena Begley after her heart surgery, and why not? After all she is known as the Queen of Country Music.

                      It’s not only the President who wants to see Philomena make a complete and speedy recovery. The Post Office in County Tyrone must be on overtime delivering the hundreds of ‘Get Well’ cards, letters and Mass Cards that Philomena has received from all over the world. I spoke with her recently and I am happy to report she is making a good recovery. She can’t wait to get back on the circuit and meet her legion of fans who were so supportive during her illness.

                      One of the songs that people immediately associate with Philomena is ‘Blanket on the Ground’ and it is 44 years since it entered the Irish charts on 14th August. It charted at No.5 and remained in the charts for three months.

                      I asked her how she came across the song?

                      “We were driving home from a gig one night and I heard it on the American Networks,” she says. “I was lucky enough to get permission to record it and would you believe that some time later I was in Nashville appearing at The Grand Ole Opry and met the composer, Roger Bowling.

                      “I sang it during the Grand Ole Opry Concert and got a standing ovation and an encore. Me an unknown singer from Ireland!

                      “When I was representing Ireland at the International City Music Festival in Wembley I was introduced to Billie Jo Spears. Her version had charted at No.11. We hit it off really well, we had the same sense of humour. She came over here for very many visits and we became firm friends. In fact we sang ‘Blanket on the Ground’ as a duet on the Late Late Show. Sadly she had been ill for some time and when she passed I was very upset. I still miss her and I’m still in contact with her family. It is still one of the most requested songs at my concerts.”

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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