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    When the last days of 1918 came to a close, the people of Ireland had many reasons to take some time to reflect on a momentous year which had brought much in the way of political upheaval as well as heartbreak and suffering as a result of war and illness, writes Eamonn Duggan.


    As 1918 came to an end the people of Ireland were able to reflect on a momentous year which saw the emergence of a new political era while the suffering of more than four years of war on the continent came to an end.

    The pall of gloom which descended on Europe in August 1914 shaped the lives of so many for so long, bringing with it untold misery and heartache for thousands of families who lost loved ones on the battlefields as well as imposing severe restrictions on life in general.

    When the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, the release of tension was palpable across Europe as millions of people emerged onto the streets to celebrate and give thanks. It was no different here in Ireland and, though a country on the periphery of the battlefields, we as a nation of people also gave up our war dead and watched many of those who survived the slaughter return home maimed both in body and mind.

    On the political front the country experienced a seismic shift of emphasis away from the pursuance of home rule to the more radical ideal of republicanism and breaking the link with Britain.

    That shift was confirmed with the stunning result of the general election in December 1918 which heralded the emergence of a new and younger political class destined to take the country in a new direction towards independence.

    In essence, 1918 was a year of profound political change and it shaped the country for future generations.

    By far the most news worthy event at home and abroad was the ending of the war, which had claimed the lives of millions of people across Europe. Some 206,000 Irishmen of different political and religious persuasions had fought on the battlefields during the course of the conflict and at least 30,000 and probably many more never came home.

    They distinguished themselves in the trenches of the Western Front and in the humid heat of Turkey and the Balkans, as well as on the high seas. Many had been publicly decorated for their bravery while those who were not had carried out their duty in no less a fashion and all in the name of democracy and the right of all nations to exercise self-determination.

    Though the war eventually left a legacy of bitterness, with many across the country questioning whether Irishmen were right to fight in British uniform, there was no doubting the sense of relief as the population embraced those peaceful last few weeks of the year.

    While the war was dominated by the actions of men, the role played by women was increasingly recognised, especially in industrial production in the factories as well as in the area of nursing and care of the wounded and dying.

    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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      By Kieran Connolly

      When the soldiers of many nations marched to war in August 1914 they were assured that they would be home by Christmas. However, on Christmas Eve they were in the trenches on the Western Front that extended from Flanders in Belgium to Switzerland. By then it was clear to both sides that there would not be a quick end to the war.
      The area between the trenches was known as “No Man’s Land”.

      At some points the lines were very close, perhaps separated by a distance of 30 metres. The soldiers could hear the enemy talking and smell their cooking. The distance quoted seems very short but the lines of barbed wire meant slow progress and the rapid fire of the machine guns made it lethal.

      The commander of the British Second Corps, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, believed this proximity posed “the greatest danger” to the morale of soldiers and told Divisional Commanders to explicitly prohibit any “friendly intercourse with the enemy”.
      In a memo issued on December 5th, he warned that, “troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a ‘live and let live’ theory of life”.

      Prior to Christmas Eve the weather had been foggy and wet, the winter of that year was very bad. But on the night of Christmas Eve it was described as “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”. On that night along some sectors of the line the British and German soldiers engaged in a carol singing competition.

      The British would sing a carol in English to be followed by the Germans singing another carol in their language. At one point when the British sang O Come All Ye Faithful they were surprised to hear the Germans sing the same song in Latin, that is, Adeste Fideles.

      Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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        From her building in 1905 to her pivotal role in the 1914 Howth gun-running and her later use as Ireland’s first national sail-training vessel, the Asgard has had many incarnations. On display in Collins Barracks since August 2012, she stands as a monument to the skill of both the original builders and the conservation team, as well as a reminder of the turbulent events of 1914, wrties JIM REES


        We have to admit that, for an island nation, successive Irish governments have given scant attention to our maritime potential or heritage. Many of our historians have been equally remiss, the late Dr. John de Courcy Ireland being a notable exception.

        Recent decades, however, have shown a growing awareness of the vital role that the sea has played in shaping the Ireland we live in today. One positive sign of this fledgling appreciation has been the conservation of the yacht Asgard.

        Asgard now has a complete building to herself and her story in the Collins Barracks venue of the National Museum of Ireland. She has been faithfully conserved and beautifully displayed, never failing to draw ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ from all who see her.
        The yacht was originally a wedding gift to a young Englishman named Erskine Childers and his American bride, Molly Osgood. Molly’s father was an eminent doctor in Boston. He ordered the boat from the yard of the famous Norwegian designer and builder Colin Archer, and it was ready in 1905.

        This was no sailing dinghy designed to give a few hours pleasure in a sheltered bay. At a cost of £1,000 (between £90,000 and £100,000 in today’s terms), Asgard was a sea-going, two-masted yacht capable of crossing major seas – and oceans, if needs be.
        Not only that, Molly had some physical difficulties which were the result of a childhood accident and certain aspects of the yacht’s design had to take these into consideration. Molly refused to let such difficulties hold her back, and she often took control of the Asgard while strapped at the helm.
        Childers was an experienced yachtsman and went on to gain fame through The Riddle of the Sands, an espionage novel, drawing largely on his sailing expertise.
        Although English by birth, Childers’ mother was a Barton from County Wicklow and he spent many happy summers and other holiday breaks in his maternal ancestral home, Glendalough House.

        As befitted someone of his public school background, he joined the diplomatic service in Britain, but the Boer War in South Africa made him doubt his hitherto unquestioning acceptance of imperialism.

        It prompted him to look at Britain’s role in Ireland, eventually becoming a committed Home Ruler.

        Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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          A Seasonal Reflection by Patrick O’Sullivan

          The candle in the window was surely one of the most iconic images of Christmas of old. The candles in question were the real thing, of course. They came in packets of three, their waxy scent mingling with that of fruits and jams in the old country shops. They were more than just long tall pillars of wax, though: they were channels of brightness and light waiting their time to shine. Someone once described them as pools of light in the darkness of a northern winter, a sentiment which shows how much their light was looked forward to and appreciated then.

          There was nothing vain or brash or gaudy about them, their plain whites or deep reds the colours of the season: evoking as they did the pristine whiteness of snow or the rich reds of berry laden hollies.

          No, the candles had a simplicity, a modesty, an integrity that was very much in keeping with the spirit of Christmas itself.

          More than that, they embodied a tradition that went back generations, so that in a very real sense they were part of that long continuum of joy and delight and hope which Christmas had inspired for so long.

          The flickering lights of the candles may have been shy and understated, and yet they were like a link, a bond with all of the hundreds and thousands of candles that had gone before at Christmastime.

          They were a link, a bond too with all of those who had lit the candles and set them in their windows, maybe with a wish or silent prayer in honour of the season that was in it.

          It was in this way that the candles became repositories of hope, caches of wishes and longing and more, the candlelight giving those wishes expression in ways that words never could.

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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            The much-loved Dubliner passed away 10 years ago last August. Liam Nolan pays tribute to one of the most popular and instantly recognisable voices in Irish music.


            The voice was unmistakeable. Distinctive. Unlike any other. Instantly recognisable. Unquestionably his and only his.
            It was raspy and low, and likened to slate and cement.

            Nathan Joseph, the founder of Transatlantic Records, went a bit further – he said the voice was “like the sound of coke being crushed under a door”.

            Someone else called it, “Ronnie’s trademark gravel growl.”

            The voice of Ronnie Drew made impossible the quantum leap of trying to imagine exactly how he sounded before his voice broke. How could that adult voice ever have belonged to a boy soprano? But it did.

            Physically Ronnie is no more. He died 10 years ago in Dublin’s St Vincent’s Private Hospital – on 16th August, 2008. He was 73. Cancer ended his life. Ended it far too soon. But he is still alive in the minds and hearts of his family and friends, and in the minds and hearts of countless thousands around the world who remember with love, and a deep sense of loss, this man from Dun Laoghaire who sounded like the quintessential working class Dubliner.

            May he rest in everlasting peace.

            He was described as “feisty, funny and famously uncool”, and it was said that whereas Luke Kelly’s voice was stridently clear, Ronnie’s was like a bullfrog croaking in a coal cellar.

            Behind the public persona there was a kind and thinking man. He had wide-ranging musical tastes – from opera to jazz, and from classical pieces to folk songs and Irish traditional music. He was also a socialist with a philosophical turn of mind.

            Ronnie had strong views about everything, especially the way the music industry had changed during his lifetime. He was, he said, “lucky to have grown up when you could be exposed to all those sorts of music”. He regretted “the real lack of listening choice”.
            “Much of what we hear these days is foisted on us,” said he, “because someone with a money-making agenda is determined to shape the music market to his or her own ends.” (He’d surely say the same thing were he alive today.)

            About young performers professionally packaged and marketed, he said, “Once they make huge money, the media court them with questions you’d hesitate to ask Plato!”

            Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual

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              By Thomas Myler

              Scan your television listings shortly because Christmas would not be the same without a screening of Meet Me In St Louis. A captivating 1944 movie considered a classic today and set around the World’s Fair of 1903, it has Judy Garland singing some of her most famous songs such as Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, The Boy Next Door and The Trolley Song. What more can you ask?

              “The movie has a kind of bloom, a nostalgic scent from the safe past of childhood,” said Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times. “It is beautifully played, in particular by Ms Garland, whose talents as an actress are, I believe, of a much higher order than is generally recognised.”

              Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, wrote, “Charming, warm and beguiling, this is a ginger-peachy movie.”

              The idea of Meet Me In St Louis came to MGM producer Arthur Freed in early 1942 while he was looking over a collection of short stories by Sally Benson, the rights of which Freed had just purchased. They were based on her childhood in St Louis, Missouri.

              One of the stories which caught Freed’s eye was called Meet Me In St Louis. Set in the summer of 1903, it related the story of a year in the life of the Smith family in St. Louis, leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, more commonly referred to as the World’s Fair, in the spring of 1904.

              Packed with nostalgic incidents relating to a simpler, more peaceful era, the stories tapped into the same “There’s no place like home” feel as The Wizard of Oz, an earlier MGM movie starring Garland.

              Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                With the Irish Tenors preparing to celebrate twenty years on the road together, Dr. Ronan Tynan tells Kay Doyle of his remarkable life journey to date, including how an ‘epiphany’ he had at a young age came to pass in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

                As Kilkenny native Dr. Ronan Tynan begins another day of welcoming his music students on to the campus at the University of Kentucky, he finds it difficult to believe that twenty years have washed under the bridge since The Irish Tenors began making global audiences swoon with their magnificent Gaelic vocal talents.

                “Time really does fly, and it has been an absolute blast right from the very start,” he says as he braces himself against the bite that has infiltrated its way into the early winter Kentucky air.

                “I met Anthony (Kearns) when we both studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and Finbar (Wright) was already an established performer and someone that I admired very much when the idea of The Irish Tenors was first put to us all those years ago. We took to the road together and really haven’t looked back since!”
                Young Ronan had a very different introduction to the world – for a while some doctors thought that he might not ever walk. He was born with a bilateral abduction of both ankles, and a failure of the fibula bone to completely form.

                This meant that his ankles and lower legs were weak, and that he could walk only with the aid of prosthetic devices.

                These artificial devices restored Ronan to the natural height for his age, and though it meant many trips to the hospital in accordance with his growth spurts, he is extremely grateful to his parents for instilling in him the confidence to take on whatever the world would throw at him in just the same manner as any other child.

                “I spent two or three years in Temple Street and there were also trips to London to visit the medical teams, so it was an interesting start to life,” says Ronan, “but I grew up exactly the same as my siblings, with no half measures, and I was very quickly kicked into shape.

                “My mother was a woman who was before her time in many ways. She sent me to school in short trousers with chunky braces on show and my head held high, and it taught me how to fight my own battles. It was tough love, I guess, but I was blessed with great parents (Thérèse and Edmund) and the great love that they had for us all.
                “My parents certainly didn’t have it easy. They went through a lot of hardship, and lost two halves of two sets of twins. I’m the youngest, and have a brother, Thomas, who works in Brussels as aide de camp to European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, and my sister Fiona is a retired school principal.”

                Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                  Lizzie McGrath profiles Jackie Bouvier’s wedding to John F. Kennedy, which occurred 65 years ago this year.

                  On September 12, 1953, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier wed John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in Newport, Rhode Island. Long before the pair became the President and First Lady (the first Catholics to hold these positions), the beloved couple were making a splash in what was described as the ‘Social Event of the Year’.

                  Jacqueline Bouvier had been born into a well-connected New York family, and Kennedy was the good-looking junior Senator from Massachusetts. Jackie, the former debutante, after graduating from George Washington University in 1951, was hired as the Washington Times-Herald’s ‘Inquiring Camera Girl’.

                  She met Kennedy on the dinner-party circuit in Georgetown, and the two hit it off. The couple had been dating for two years when he proposed with a Van Cleef & Arpels ring set with a 2.88-carat diamond and 2.84-carat emerald.

                  The ‘Wedding invitation’ (a copy of which may be seen at The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston) was printed in black ink on a cream coloured paper. It stated: Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Dudley Auchincloss request the honour of your presence at the marriage of Mrs. Auchincloss’ daughter Jacqueline Lee Bouvier to The Honorable John Fitzgerald Kennedy United States Senate on Saturday, the twelfth of September at eleven o’clock. Saint Mary’s Church Spring Street Newport, Rhode Island
                  More than 800 guests including senators, diplomats and other notables descended upon St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newport, to attend the nuptials.

                  The bride wore a dress of ivory tissue silk, with a portrait neckline, fitted bodice, and a bouffant skirt embellished with bands of more than fifty yards of flounces. Her rose point lace veil, worn first by her grandmother Lee, was draped from a tiara of lace and orange blossoms.

                  Jacqueline wore a choker of pearls and a diamond bracelet that was a gift from the groom. The bride’s bouquet was of pink and white spray orchids and gardenias. The look was a hit with the American public.

                  Yet, according to TIME Magazine, Jackie’s traditional ball gown wedding dress, designed by Ann Lowe, complete with a portrait neckline, and a wide bouffant skirt with wax flowers, wasn’t the bride-to-be’s first pick. In fact, she had hoped to wear something entirely different on her wedding day.

                  “She has wanted a simple dress with sleek, straight lines, but bowed to family pressure to wear something more traditional, despite thinking it looked like a lampshade,” TIME reported at the time.

                  Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                    By Noel Coogan

                    From 1961 to 1973, the football Grounds Tournament was part of the GAA calendar in the months of October and November. The competition was for the four All-Ireland semi-finalists.

                    The pairings for the Grounds Tournament semi-finals were the opposite to the championship pairings with the Sam Maguire Cup finalists kept apart. In 1961, Down completed an All-Ireland two-in-a-row with a narrow victory over Offaly before a record crowd of over 90,000 and the great rivals of the time clashed again in the first Grounds Tournament final.

                    In the semi-finals of the October competition, Down defeated Roscommon by 0-11 to 0-7 in Belfast and Offaly overcame Kerry on a 2-12 to 1-7 scoreline in Tullamore. The final was played at Croke Park on October 29 and Offaly won by 0-11 to 0-8 before an attendance of 22,949.

                    In his Irish Press match report, Mick Dunne offered the opinion that the latest Offaly v Down clash – they had also met twice at the semi-final stage of the 1960 championship – was better than the previous month’s tussle.

                    Down were forced to line out without their injured star forward James McCartan and after the sides were on level terms, 0-6 each, at half-time, Offaly had the better of the second 30 minutes. Harry Donnelly took the scoring honours with a contribution of five points. Jimmy O’Hanlon also impressed in the winners’ attack and the defensive efforts of Greg Hughes, John Egan and Phil O’Reilly were also praised.

                    Kerry were the winners of the second Grounds Tournament, defeating Dublin in the decider by 0-14 to 0-7, having got the better of Cavan in a replayed semi-final. Kerry were completing an autumn double after winning the All-Ireland title with a victory over Roscommon.

                    Dublin also did the double in 1963 when they repeated their All-Ireland final victory over Galway and the metropolitans were back in the Grounds Tournament final in 1964 – this time in rather bizarre circumstances.

                    Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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                      The first coins issued by the Irish Free State government were introduced ninety years ago and drew a storm of protests over their design, writes
                      Gerry Breen.

                      Ninety years ago, in November 1928, the Irish Finance Mini ster Ernest Blythe opened an exhibition of the newly-minted first coins issued by the Irish Free State government. He declared the new coinage, which featured Irish animals, to be ‘more interesting and beautiful than any token coinage in the world’.

                      Not everyone agreed with the Minister. The new coins attracted considerable international media attention and there was much criticism of the designs from many quarters and from influential individuals.

                      Some people believed that a Christian nation should acknowledge God on its coinage, while others took offence because the coins lacked symbols depicting Ireland’s idealism and the grandeur of its civilisation.

                      The coins were also condemned for including a pig as part of their design on the grounds that the pig was long associated with caricatures of the Irish.
                      In time, people understood that by featuring Irish animals, the Irish Free State coin design team had successfully avoided religion and politics which would probably have led to far more bitter controversies.

                      The story of the new coinage began on 13th April, 1926, when the government passed the Coinage Act, which empowered the Minister for Finance to provide and issue silver, nickel and bronze coins.

                      While the Act prescribed the denominations and weights of the coins and the metals to be used, it left the choice of designs to the Minister for Finance.

                      The poet Senator W. B. Yeats advocated the setting up of a special artistic committee to advise on designs. The Minister went along with this suggestion, and in May 1926, he wrote to five people inviting them to act on a committee that would advise on getting designs submitted and also on the designs most suitable for adoption.

                      Senator W. B. Yeats was asked to act as Chairman of the Committee, and the other four people invited to join were: Dermot O’Brien, President of the Royal Hibernian Academy; Lucius O’Callaghan, Director of the National Gallery, a position from which he later resigned; Thomas Bodkin, one of the Governors of the National Gallery, and Barry M. Egan, who became a member of Dail Éireann for Cork City while serving on the committee.

                      Senator Yeats agreed to chair the committee, and the first meeting took place on 17th June, 1926, and was attended by Joseph Brennan, who was Secretary of the Department of Finance and later Chairman of the Currency Commission.
                      Mr. Brennan said he wished to convey to the committee three provisional decisions arrived at by the Minister for Finance in relation to the coins, but these were not to be regarded as final decisions or as binding on the committee

                      The three decisions were: That a harp should be shown on one side of the majority of the coins, if not on all; that the inscription should be in Irish only and that the denomination of the coin should be shown as a numeral for the assistance of those unfamiliar with Irish, and that no effigies of modern persons should be included in the designs.

                      Continue reading in this week’s issue

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