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    Located in the heart of Belfast city, the Linen Hall Library – one of Belfast’s top tourist attractions – has enjoyed a fascinating history and is at the centre of the cultural and creative life of the community, writes Cathal Coyle.

     

    Situated at 17 Donegall Square North, the Linen Hall Library is a much loved Belfast institution, and its history and collections are intrinsically linked to the story of the city.


    Founded on 13th May, 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Ireland. It is renowned for its Irish and Local Studies Collections, ranging from Early Belfast and Ulster printed books to the 250,000 items in the Northern Ireland Political Collection, the definitive archive of the recent Troubles.


    Early Days
    The Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge – the official name of the institution more commonly known as the Linen Hall Library – developed from the Belfast Reading Society, which it was originally founded as.


    Such reading societies sprang up in many cities, towns and villages and were particularly influenced in Ireland in the latter part of the 18th Century by the principles of the American and French revolutions.
    From its beginnings, The Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge was an institution whose central aim was to run a subscription Library for the benefit of its members. There were fifteen founding members, and signatories to the original rules of the Society included Roger Mulholland, a builder and architect, who was the Society’s first President, and Robert Cary, the first Librarian.


    The Society moved around Belfast from various taverns, to Robert Cary’s house, and premises in Ann Street, before the Library secured its first permanent premises in rooms below the clock tower of the White Linen Hall on the site of the present day City Hall in 1802 – hence the origins of the Library’s present day name.


    In 1888, at the time of its centenary, the Library faced a crisis with the prospective loss of its home in the White Linen Hall to make way for the new City Hall. The purchase of the Library’s present main building at the corner of Donegall Square North and Fountain Street, a former linen warehouse, ensured a permanent and secure base for the library and, since 1892, this is where the library has been housed.
    This was remarked upon by the current Director of the Linen Hall Library, Julie Andrews: “The fact that the Library took up residence in 1892 in a building that also played a vital part in the city’s industrial history – a Victorian linen warehouse – strengthens our thread in Belfast’s cultural tapestry.”

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      DAVID MULLAN takes a look back at 60 years of one of Ireland’s favourite cars.

       

      When Egypt seized the Suez Canal in 1956 triggering Suez Crisis, like all wars in the Middle East, it drove up the price of oil. Just as today, when the price of oil goes up, so does the cost of fuel. Almost overnight, petrol became scarce in Britain (one of the combatants) and the cost went through the roof, badly hurting the pockets of motorists.


      Until then, car buyers were concerned mostly with reliability and style. As soon as the price of petrol went up however, buyers began to think more and more about fuel economy and started turning to tiny German bubble cars which could seat two, were usually powered by motorcycle engines and ran on fumes.


      Naturally enough, the bigwigs in the British motor industry were none too pleased about this and tried to think of a way to strike back. In 1952, the Morris and Austin companies had come together to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and by the late-’50s it was one of the biggest car companies in the world.


      Leonard Lord, the head of the organisation, turned to the talented engineer Alec Issigonis to design a small car to beat the Germans. Issigonis was Turkish-born and had form in designing successful small cars, having designed the beloved Morris Minor back in 1948. He set to work.


      Issigonis believed that the bubble cars were poorly designed and that he could come up with something just as small with all the comfort of a much bigger car. What he came up with was a marvel.


      By turning the engine sideways, putting the gearbox underneath and having it drive the front wheels, it saved enough space to have a cabin that could easily seat four people. There were big pockets inside for all kinds of luggage, and the boot, though it wasn’t huge, could still fit bags and cases.

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        V0032503 Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. Etching. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. Etching. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

        By Margaret Smith

        He was a common sight in Rome during the eighteenth century, dressed in whatever rags he could find, barefoot, sleeping in the streets near the Colosseum and always carrying his few possessions.


        These were his two Rosaries, one round his neck, the other, made from wild rose bushes, in his hand and, in a small bag a New Testament, a Breviary and a copy of ‘The Imitation of Christ’. Few ever went near him because of the odour surrounding him.


        Yet, Benedict Joseph Labre, the first child of the fifteen born to Jean-Baptiste Labre and Anne-Barba, in northern France in 1748 could have had a comfortable life as his parents were reasonably well off.
        Initially he was given a private education and then sent to his uncle, the parish Priest of Erin, some distance from the family home, when he was twelve. Benedict then declared that he was “unable to conquer a constantly growing distaste for any form of learning.”


        When cholera broke out in 1766, both Benedict and his uncle cared for the local people, though his uncle was to become the last victim of that epidemic.


        Benedict wanted a life of solitude and austerity, preferably in a strict monastic order such as the Trappists. His parents were against this but eventually agreed, fearing that any further opposition “would be resistance to the will of God.”


        Unfortunately, Benedict’s attempts to join any monastic order were met with failure. First, the Trappists rejected him on the grounds that he was too young and had no knowledge of plainchant or logic. Then he was rebuffed by both the Cistercians and Carthusians and it was said that, during his lifetime, he was rejected by eleven different orders.


        Such failures affected his health and he finally decided that his vocation “lay elsewhere.”
        He then set out to walk to Rome and then came what he called ‘a mental illumination’ which persuaded him to “abandon his parents and his country” in order to “lead a new life.”


        This life was to be “most painful, most penitential, not in a wilderness nor in a monastery but in the midst of the world, devoutly visiting as a pilgrim the most famous places of Christian devotion.”

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          From the hauntingly beautiful Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, to the spiritually uplifting You Raise Me Up, Brendan Graham is known around the world as the Irish songwriting master. As we approach 25 years since his Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids conquered Europe, the Tipperary native shares memories from his extraordinary life and music career with Shea Tomkins

          Seeing Red Hurley wash his car outside the front door of his south Dublin home might seem like an unusual place to begin a story, but that fortuitous sighting was the catalyst that sparked Brendan Graham’s epic Eurovision Song Contest adventure.
          What followed was a rollercoaster musical journey that would take the Tipperary-born songwriter to an eventual brace of Eurovision titles, including the unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids triumph of 1994, all of twenty-five years ago, this month.
          “In 1972, after living in Australia for almost five years, my family and I moved back to Ireland,’’ recalls Brendan, as we meet in a hotel lobby on a fresh spring morning, just a stone’s throw from the Aviva Stadium.


          “My parents were living in Ballinasloe at the time. One evening, while up the town, the Eurovision Song Contest was showing on a television in the window of a local electrical shop. I remember thinking that maybe, one day I could write a song to represent Ireland at Eurovision! Shortly afterwards, I heard Red Hurley singing, and I was blown away by his voice. I decided, rather ambitiously, that the song I was going to write would be one for Red. The only problem was that I didn’t know Red or, how to get in touch with him.


          “I had a job in Dublin with a company called Suedes of Ireland, and was giving this man I worked with a lift home when he pointed and said to me ‘There’s Red Hurley washing his car!’ as we passed Red’s house. When I had my song written, I knocked down to Red’s door in absolute naivety, not realising that he was probably besieged by wannabe songwriters.
          “Very graciously he invited me in. I played him When on his piano. A few days later, I received a demo that Red had made of the song. It sounded great with him singing it, so I entered it for the 1976 National Song Contest, got the telegram from RTE, and, with Red putting in a powerhouse performance, it won.


          “From there we went to Eurovision in The Hague. But When wasn’t a great song; it had no real hook and Red did a lot more for the song than the song did for him. We came tenth.


          “Red still sings it but, I had learned something – you have to have good hooks for songs to work. I arrived back in Dublin the next day, dropped my case in the hall and went straight to the piano to start another song!”

          Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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            By Ibar Quirke

            Associated throughout the world with feelings of hope and regeneration, the Solemnity of Easter, commemorating the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the most important festival of the Christian calendar.


            Easter occurs on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, March 21, decided during the First Council of Nicaea in 325.


            The true origins of Easter, however, lie not in today’s Christian celebration, but rather in ancient Germanic rituals connected with the arrival of spring: indeed, the word ‘Easter’ derives from the Old English word ‘astre’, of Germanic origin, perhaps from ‘astre’, the name of a goddess associated with spring.


            Celtic spirituality, too, emphasised a strong bond with the natural world. Through its beliefs and practices, it has continued to shape Irish folklore to this day.

            Good Friday Traditions

            On Good Friday, people traditionally engaged in ‘spring cleaning’. A priest would visit the refreshed house to bless it and its inhabitants. It was customary to plant a small amount of crops on this day, as this thought to promise a good yield. People, however, refrained from working with tools, to avoid the possibility of bloodshed on this day of Christ’s Passion and Death. It was also traditional for people to go for a haircut on Good Friday in the hope of preventing headaches during the year.
            Fingernails and toenails were also trimmed, and new clothes purchased to be worn on Easter Sunday. People refrained from speaking between midday and three o’clock in the afternoon, in memory of the Passion. Celebrations of the death of Jesus were well-attended in local churches at this hour. The intermingling of Christian and pagan belief on this day was evident when these churchgoers also collected water from holy wells, claimed to have additional curative powers.


            Children born on Good Friday and baptised on Easter Sunday were said to have the gift of healing, and boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to enter the priesthood.


            Tradition also held that anyone who died on Good Friday would receive automatic admission into Heaven.

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              Liam Nolan tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the man Hugh Jackman portrayed in the smash-hit musical ‘The Greatest Showman’

              He was the man who memorably said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And also said, “You can fool most of the people most of the time.” I wanted to make sure that my understanding of the word “huckster” was in line with what Americans understand the word to mean. So I went to the famous American Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
              “Huckster”, it said: “one who sells or advertises something in an aggressive, dishonest, or annoying way.”


              It sums up the central character of the Hugh Jackman film musical The Greatest Showman — P. T. Barnum. Or, to give him his full name, Phineas Taylor Barnum.


              Barnum has been called many things. For example, “The 19th century impresario who found fame by exploiting circus ‘freaks’.”


              He has also been called “Lord of the Hucksters”, “The Master Humbug”, “A professional b*********r with a penchant for loud rhetoric”, “King of the Conmen” and, of course, “The Greatest Showman”.


              The Jackman film is fine entertainment, spectacular, and with a musical soundtrack that is enormously attractive. But there has been a wave of criticism about the movie’s inaccuracies, and about what it has glossed over; that it has airbrushed history. But Hollywood never lets facts get in the way of a good story.


              The first film about the showman’s life, The Mighty Barnum, was made back in 1934. A drawling-voiced beery-looking actor named, appropriately, Wallace Beery, played the lead. An Academy Award winner for Best Actor four years earlier, he was at the time the highest paid actor in the world.

              The film came under the critical lash for being chronologically scrambled, and for depicting Barnum as a comic character.
              “The true story got lost somewhere,” one critic wrote. “It should just be enjoyed as entertainment, and not a life lesson,” said another.


              Is The Greatest Showman chronologically scrambled? Without a doubt. It was Barnum’s grandfather Phineas Taylor who taught him the tricks of getting money without doing hard work. P. T. didn’t like physical work anyway.
              He was known as Taylor Barnum when he was learning the lesson that he later lived by — that there is no such thing as bad publicity, if the publicity is spun correctly.


              There was a dark side to Barnum’s activities from his very first venture into the world of show business.
              By the time 1834 came around, he was married with four daughters. Aged 25, he moved to New York where he got a letter from an itinerant showman in Kentucky, R. W. Lindsay, who said that he had under his control a freed slave named Joice Heth. Heth, according to Lindsay, had been wet nurse to America’s first President, George Washington. She was, Lindsay said, 161 years old! He offered her to Barnum.

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                The Copper Kings were the three industrialists Marcus Daly, William A. Clark and F. Augustus Heinze. They were known for the epic battles fought in Butte, Montana, over control of the local copper mining industry, an area once described as ‘the richest hill on earth’, writes, PAULA REDMOND

                Irishmen were instrumental in some of the largest copper, silver and gold discoveries in the nineteenth century. Their findings led to the formation of new towns and cities in America and Australia.

                Born in Dublin, John MacKay, along with three other Irishmen, made their fortune on the Comstock Lode, the first major silver find in the US. A Cavan native, Marcus Daly, once controlled the largest copper mine in the world and Paddy Hannan, a Clare native, made a discovery that resulted in one of the largest ever gold rushes in Australia.


                Some became multi-millionaires from their discoveries, while others did not.


                The ‘Copper Kings’ was a name given to three industrialists in the United States in the late 1800s. They consisted of Marcus Daly, William A. Clark and F. Augustus Heinze. Daly was born in the townland of Derrylea (near Ballyjamesduff), Co. Cavan, in December 1853, and emigrated to America when he was fifteen. He worked in New York before travelling to the west coast where he gained employment in mining.
                He gained invaluable experience of the industry working on the first major silver discovery in the US, the Comstock Lode. By 1871 he had moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he worked as a foreman for the Walker Brothers company, supervising their local mining and banking interests. It was here that he met his wife Margaret Evans with whom he had four children.


                In 1876 Daly travelled to Butte, Montana, to examine the prospects of a silver producing mine called ‘Alice’ for Walker Brothers. He oversaw the purchase of Alice and retained a one-fifth interest in it for himself.


                While managing Alice, Daly, a self-educated mining engineer, sought out other potentially profitable mines. In 1881 he purchased the Anaconda mine in Butte from Michael Hickey (born in America to Irish parents) for $30,000. Daly developed the mine with the assistance of George Hearst (father of newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst), Lloyd Tevis and James Ben Ali Haggin, co-owners of the Ophir Mining Company.


                Daly knew Hearst as he had previously sourced the Ontario mine for him some years earlier – the Ontario was the source of the vast Hearst fortune.


                The Anaconda was rich in silver for the first few hundred feet but Daly hoped to exploit its copper resources. With the depletion of silver in nearby mines, prices of local land and mines dropped, so Daly purchased them at reduced rates and formed the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

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                  By Michael McGrath

                  Camellia Sinesis, or tea, has been consumed for thousands of years, originally in China but eventually all around the world. In China, it is called cha. It is the second most widely used beverage in the world, after water.


                  It originated in China as a medicinal drink. It made its way to Europe in the 18th century, having been introduced to Portuguese merchants and priests in China.


                  In around 1750, tea plants were taken from China to the Azores, where they were planted and grown, along with Mallow and Jasmine, also from China. Tea is still grown on the islands today.


                  The tea plant is native to south and east Asia but now tea is grown widely, from Australia to Cornwall in England, from the USA to India. It has many components: catechins, which are antioxidants; stimulants, such as theobromine and xanthanides (also found in coffee); polyphenols and tannins.
                  There are many types, including black tea, popular in the West, white tea, yellow tea, green tea and oolong.


                  Having started as a medicinal beverage, tea soon began to be used on its own with boiled water as a stimulating, if bitter, beverage.


                  China had a monopoly on the production of tea until the British introduced tea production to India, from where it was shipped to Britain. When Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, the drinking of tea became very popular at court in England and the East India Company brought many new products back from India, one of which was tea.


                  By the middle of the 18th century, tea had become increasingly popular, mainly with the aristocracy and the price of tea was deliberately allowed to be hyped and heavy import duties were introduced, primarily to provide valuable revenue for the Government.


                  This made it possible for poor people to afford. It was, in effect, the drink of the elite, the aristocratic class and the rich merchant class.


                  Tea was promoted as a precious, and indeed, rare beverage, at least by the Government, for obvious fiscal reasons.


                  Tea was taken sweet, by the addition of sugar, and there was also a sharp rise in the importation of sugar between 1690 and 1750.

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                    Left: Children and staff of Maison St. Christophe (Saint Christopher's Orphanage) during World War II; Mary Elmes, who secretly brought Jewish children to be saved from Auschwitz. (Courtesy Midas Films)

                    Mary Elmes, a Corkwoman and Trinity scholar, turned her back on a brilliant academic career to volunteer in two of the 20th century’s worst conflicts. When it was no longer safe to stay in Spain during the closing stages of the Spanish Civil War, she followed the Spanish refugees over the border into France and found herself in another war – World War II. She continued to help refugees and later risked her life to save Jewish children from deportation, writes Mary Rose McCarthy.

                    Marie Elisabeth Jean Elmes, later known as Mary, was born on the 5th of May 1908 and grew up in Ballintemple, a suburb of Cork city.


                    She was the first of two children born to parents Edward and Elisabeth who owned a pharmacy in Winthrop Street. John was her younger brother. They were a non-practising Protestant family.
                    From an early age, she showed an interest in global affairs. At the age of nine, she knitted socks for the British Army during WW1. She sent them to General Sir John French to distribute among the men. He sent her a signed portrait which she kept until it was stolen fifty years later.


                    Mary attended Rochelle school which today is known as Ashton School. She was a very bright student. Before enrolling at Trinity College Dublin, she took an extended tour of Europe including Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and France.


                    At Trinity, she studied French and Spanish modern literature and became a scholar of the university, an achievement reserved only for those of exceptional ability. She graduated with a First, and as top student of her year won the Gold Medal. On the recommendation of her professor, she was awarded a scholarship to the London School of Economics.


                    She became interested in politics but in her own words ‘was not in any way political.’ She and her colleagues kept a close eye on what was happening in Europe. During this time, she also met Miss Edith Pye, a Quaker who had been awarded the Legion d’Honneur, by France for her relief work during WW1. When Mary met her, she was coordinating Quaker relief works in Spain.

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                      By Calvin Jones

                      The American mink first started breeding in the wild in Ireland during the 1950s. It was introduced here for the purposes of fur farming, but inevitably there were escapees. Many were released by animal rights protesters, who targeted fur farms and liberated the caged animals – unleashing a deadly new predator on our unsuspecting native fauna.


                      Mink are highly adaptable, semi-aquatic mustelids (related to stoats, otters and badgers) that thrive in the Irish countryside. From small isolated populations they have spread rapidly along Ireland’s watercourses and are now found all over the country near rivers, streams, canals lakes and along our coastline.


                      In captivity mink generally have pale coats, but wild populations quickly revert to their darker natural form. The coat is generally dark brown, looking almost black when wet, and usually, but not always with a prominent white patch under the chin. The coat becomes thicker and darker in winter.


                      The mink’s dark fur can sometimes lead to confusion at first glance with the otter. However, the mink’s smaller size, slighter build and proportionally shorter tail make it relatively easy to distinguish the two species.

                      Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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