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    0 3184

    By Joan McGurk

    Jem, our coal delivery man in the Fifties, was a tall, thin, monosyllabic individual with a vacant stare in his eyes.

    Dressed in a threadbare jacket and trousers with a greasy tweed cap on his head, every exposed part of his body was ingrained with coal dust.

    His dumpy little wife, Molly, was the brains of the business. Not only did she help shovel the coal into the sacks and weigh them on the old rusty scales, she also “kept the books”.

    From a home-made cloth purse with drawstring around her neck, which she shoved down her ample bosom, she dealt with all their financial transactions without the aid of a bank or a Post Office. Jem was both illiterate and innumerate, but Molly more than made up for her husband’s shortcomings as she was a canny woman with a natural flair for business.

    Although Jem earned a good living, the couple lived frugally with Molly keeping every spare penny prisoner in her homemade purse. For many years, they lived happily together in a small terraced house with the coal yard at the rear.

    On Friday nights, after Jem had made his last delivery, Molly would give him his pocket money, which was just enough to cover the cost of two pints at the local pub. Molly’s own social life consisted of one-monthly outing to the women’s sodality.

    Walking at a slow stuttering pace with a horse and cart, Jem would arrive at our house looking as if he had come straight down the chimney. He would first remove the two steel pegs from the back of the cart, which caused the attached chains to jangle as the flap-board fell down. Jumping up into the cart, he would drag a sack of coal to the edge, jump down and load it onto his shoulders.

    As we had no back entrance, Jem would have to carry the heavy sacks through our house to the coal bunker in the back yard. On wet days, he would throw an empty sack around his shoulders to prevent the rain-soaked coal-sacks from seeping into his jacket. As soon as he arrived my mother would spread old newspapers on all the floors to keep them clean.

    Although Jem couldn’t count, it didn’t matter as most people had the exact change ready. Nobody ever tried to cheat him as ours was a God-fearing generation with respect for the Ten Commandments. One day, the locals were shocked to hear that Jem’s wife, Molly, had died suddenly at the age of 50 from a brain haemorrhage. Jem was devastated as not only was she his wife, she was also his best friend and business partner.

    People began to wonder if Jem would be able to carry on the business alone. After Molly’s death, Jem continued with his coal rounds as usual but said even less than he had before. “Yis, Mam” and “No, Mam” were the only words he uttered during this time. A few months later, the local gossips reported that Jem had “taken up” with a glamorous childless widow who lived locally. Within a short time, Jem’s life took a turn for the better.

    Now dressed in a new donkey jacket and cap, heavy trousers and strong leather boots, he carried out his coal deliveries from a small open-topped lorry; the three sides of which could be let down for easy access to the cargo.

    Very soon Jem was seen driving the widow around in a black second-hand Morris Minor and instead of going to the pub alone on Friday nights, Jem and his lady friend began to dine at the local hotel. Within a year of Molly’s death, Jem and the widow were married. Now scrubbed to within an inch of his life, and suitably dressed in a new grey suit, black shoes and an Anthony Eden hat, Jem looked every inch “the gent” as he drove his new wife to Sunday mass. In time Jem reduced his 6 day working week to a 5 day one with a two-week annual holiday every year spent in the Isle-of-Man.

    When he reached the age of 65, Jem and his second wife sold the house and the coal yard and bought a bungalow on the outskirts of the town. Overnight, he discovered a talent he never knew he had; gardening. Jem’s garden became a show-piece which regularly won the local gardening competition.

    Jem spent the last 10 years of his life in quiet contentment with his second wife, tending to his beloved garden, driving out into the countryside and eating out whenever the notion took them. He died a happy and contented man at the age of 75. It has often been said that behind every successful man there is a women. In Jem’s case there were two! 

      0 3601

      Pete’s Pets – advice from our resident vet

      Buddy is a friendly little hamster, used to being handled. When he stopped eating, his owner was worried, and she brought him to see me for a check-up.

      When I opened Buddy’s mouth, the problem was immediately obvious. His lower front teeth had become very overgrown.

      They were pushing upwards against his hard palate, preventing his mouth from closing properly. If he could not close his mouth, he could not chew his food.

      There was no doubt that his overgrown teeth were severely affecting his ability to eat.

      Overgrown teeth are a common problem in the world of small pets. Rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice and rats share the same type of dental problems for a simple reason: their teeth are continually growing.

      These small herbivores survive by eating plant matter that needs to be ground down into a fine paste before it can be digested. As a result, their teeth become very worn down, compared to the teeth of bigger animals such as dogs or cats.

      To compensate for this, their teeth grow continually throughout their lives. In the wild, the natural diet and lifestyle of small herbivores ensures that their teeth remain healthy.

      Regular gnawing on grass, wood and other hard substances ensures that the teeth are kept short and sharp. In captivity, small pets tend to be given a very rich diet. They are given energy-rich nuts and grains in vast quantities compared to their wild cousins. As a result, they do not need to spend so much time gnawing on semi-digestible low-energy vegetation.

      The disadvantage of this comfortable lifestyle is that their teeth are under-used. The tips of the teeth are not worn down as much as they should be. Gradually, the teeth grow longer and longer, until, as in Buddy’s case, they may be two or three times as long as they should be.

      If you can imagine how your mouth would feel if your teeth were much longer than normal, you can get some sense of difficulties that can be caused by overgrown teeth. Treatment of overgrown teeth can be difficult. The front (or “incisor”) teeth are relatively easy to trim, but sometimes the back (“molar”) teeth are also overgrown, and these are much more difficult to reach. A general anaesthetic can be needed, with special rasps and files to reach back into the depths of the animal’s mouth. Even simply trimming the front teeth can be challenging. Traditionally, a simple clipping instrument is used, similar to a type of nail clipper. The teeth are trimmed while the animal is conscious, which can be stressful for the small animal, and there is a risk of the teeth or tongue being damaged while carrying out such a delicate procedure on a wriggling small animal.

      The latest recommended technique is to give the hamster a general anaesthetic, and the teeth can then be trimmed in a more controlled way using a high-speed dental cutting drill. However this involves the risk of anaesthesia for the animal, and considerably increased costs for the owner. Once the teeth have been trimmed, it is important for the hamster owner to take steps to try to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

      Pieces of wood should be placed in the cage, so that the hamster can keep his teeth trimmed by regular gnawing. Pet shops often sell special chews to be used for this purpose. As soon as I’d trimmed Buddy’s teeth, he was able to open and shut his mouth normally again. When he returned home, he ate a meal at once. Hamster mix looks unappetising to us, but to Buddy, this was a gourmet meal. 

      Read Pete’s Pets every week in Ireland’s Own

      0 6272

      Although Ireland does not have a designated national dog, the common conception is that the Irish Wolfhound is the official canine symbol of Ireland, but if Michael Collins had dodged that assassin’s bullet in 1922, it would be the Kerry Blue Terrier that would hold that national status.

      Shortly before he met his death, Michael Collins had laid down plans to adopt the Kerry Blue Terrier as the officially recognised dog of the new Irish Free State.

      He tried to push an act through the Oireachtas to promote the Kerry Blue to a national symbol, but it was forgotten about after his death. Collins carried a great fondness for the small, yet sturdy, breed. The dog’s fierce, yet loyal, behaviour resulted in the ‘Big Fella’ becoming a keen follower of the breed and, during the dangerous years of the War of Independence, he risked blowing his cover in order to bring his own Kerry Blue terrier to a dog show.

      At that time all dog shows were held under licence from the English Kennel Club, but Collins and a few others, including Oliver St John Gogarty, founded the Dublin Blue Terrier Club and held its own show outside the English jurisdiction. It’s first show took place on October 16th, 1920, at Longrishe Place, Summerhill, Dublin. It was also the occasion of Michael Collin’s 30th birthday. He brought his dog, ‘Convict 224′ to compete in the show and the day proved to be a great birthday celebration for Collins when his beloved Kerry Blue terrier won first prize.

      Also at the dog show that day was British Captain, Wyndham Quinn, who resided at the Vice Regal Lodge in the Pheonix Park and presented the trophy bearing his name, while the Under Secretary for Ireland, Sir James McMahon, unknowingly brought his dog to compete alongside that of the most wanted man in Ireland.

      To this day the name of Michael Collins, along with the name of his dog, is still etched on the trophy which is now in the hands of the Irish Kennel Club which stemmed from the Dublin Blue Terrier Club. Today, under the Irish Kennel Club, the ‘Collins Cup’ is annually awarded to best of breed at Kerry Blue Terrier shows. The name of Collin’s prize winning Terrier supposedly originated from his time in Frongoch prison camp after the Easter Rising, but he is also to have said that he named his prized Terrier after Kerry man Austin Stack who served time in Lewes prison under the name ‘Convict 224.’

      To continue reading please pick up a copy of Ireland’s Own

        0 2075

        By Arthur Flynn

        One of Steven Spielberg’s most challenging role as producer/ director was the historical drama Schinder’s List.

        The film was based on the Booker Prize winning novel Schinder’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, an Australian novelist.

        The film centred on the real life story of Oskar Schinder, a German business man who saved the lives of over a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories.

        The notion for a film about Schinder’s Jews was proposed as early as 1963. One of the survivors made it his life’s mission to tell the story of Schinder.

        When Spielberg received a review of the book he immediately became fascinated by the subject and it awakened feelings of his own Jewish heritage. He convinced Universal Pictures to buy the rights to the novel.

        He did not believe that he was mature enough to direct a film about the Holocaust and attempted to pass the project onto several other directors.

        Amongst the directors he approached were Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and Billy Wilder but they all rejected it.

        Finally Spielberg decided to direct the film himself on a budget of $22 million. He forewent a salary for the film believing that it would be ‘blood money’ and a flop.

        Several writers contributed to the screenplay including Thomas Keneally, Kurt Luedtke and Steven Zaillian.

        The strong production team included cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and Editor Michael Kahn.

        When Spielberg approached John Williams to compose the score he felt it would be a challenge. He said to Spielberg, ‘You need a better composer than I am for the film.’ Spielberg responded, ‘I know, but they’re all dead.’

        Itzhak Perlman performed the theme on the violin. He considered many leading actors for the leading role of Oskar Schinder including Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford, Stellan Skarsgard and Mel Gibson. Finally Spielberg cast relatively unknown Liam Neeson.

        The director had been impressed when he saw him perform in Anna Christie on Broadway. The other leading roles were then filled.

        Ralph Fiennes was cast as Amon Goeth, the camp commander. Ben Kingsley filled the role of Itzhak Ster, the factory manager. Caroline Goodall was Emilie, Schinder’s wife; Jonathan Sagall was Poldek Pfefferberg, Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch, Mark Ivanir as Marcel Goldberg and Andrzej Seweryn as Julian Scherner.

        To continue reading please subscribe to Ireland’s Own


        0 1966

        Eugene Daly continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs

        I was sad this summer to see a decline in the number of swallows-in my part of west Cork at any rate.

        Just a handful, where in years past there were dozens soaring, gliding, swerving, making arcs and loops. I miss their effortless grace of movement, each wing-stroke a pleasure to watch. Their delightful twittering song is suggestive of running water and equally soothing. The swallows haven’t disappeared but this amateur bird-watcher has noticed a definite decline.

        Also in decline is the cuckoo; I haven’t heard his happy song for five or six years. Unlike Wordsworth, I can’t rejoice at his song: ‘O blithe new-comer I have heard/, I hear thee and rejoice/. O cuckoo! Shall I call thee bird/, Or but a wandering voice?’

        Changes in farming methods is probably the main cause for the disappearance of the corncrake pictured).

        In my childhood, it filled the summer evenings with its craking sound and often disturbed our sleep, with several of them going ‘crake crake’, repeated hundreds of times from early evening to late at night. The Scottish poet, Norman McCaig mourns the corncrake in his poem: ‘A Voice of Summer’; ‘In this one of all the fields I know the best/, All day and night, hoarse and melodious sounded/, A creeping corncrake, coloured like the ground.’ The last verse is sad: ‘Summer now is diminished, is less by him/. Something that it could say cannot be spoken/,As though the language of a subtle folk/ Had lost a word that had no synonym’.

        The corncrake, of course, still holds on in the north-west of the country and along the Shannon, but is long gone here in the south-west. So, the corncrake gone and the cuckoo and swallow diminished in number. Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t end there.

        BirdWatch Ireland has a Red List of birds whose population or range has declined by more than half in the last twenty-five years. These include the Barn Owl, Black-necked Grebe, Chough, Corn Bunting, Curlew, Lapwing, Nightjar, Quail, Yellowhammer and some others. It saddens me to learn this, especially those that were familiar to me in childhood. Of the above list I was very familiar with the waders, the curlew and lapwing, and the lovely yellow bunting, the yellowhammer.

        Rachel Carson, in her book, And No Birds Sings, images a world without birds. What an awful thought!

        Yellowhammers were plentiful in the rough farmland of Turkhead when I was young. The poet John Clare describes them well in his poem, ‘The Yellowhammer’. ‘In early Spring when winds blow chilly cold/The yellowhammer trailing grass will come/To fix a place and choose an early home/With yellow breast and head of solid gold’.

        Lonely bird of the bogs and the seashore, the curlew is a beautiful bird, with a haunting call. Norman McCaig describes his voice: ‘trailing bubbles of music over the squelchy hillside’. He describes the curlew’s song thus: ‘Music as desolate, as beautiful as your loved places, mountainy marshes and glistening mudflats by the stealthy sea’.

        The draining of our bogs is given as the main reason for their rapid decline. It is in the bogs they nest, though it is on the shore that most people see them.

        Lapwings, those beautiful green plovers, known for their acrobatic flying and ‘peewit’ call, were plentiful in our fields and on the shore when I was young especially in cold wintry weather.

        Exotic birds with radiant green plumage above, snow white below and its unique turned- up crest, they have alternative names – Peewit, Green Plover, Pie-wipe, etc. One small bird, the Corn Bunting, cousin of the Yellowhammer, is almost definitely extinct in Ireland. The Corn Bunting was once one of the classic birds of open farmland. It depended almost entirely on human agriculture. The switch from hay to silage and the absence of winter stubbles has made it extinct in all of Ireland and most of Britain. It still survives in the Orkneys. A little brown bird with streaks of gold, it is not as handsome as the yellowhammer.

        Donnchadh Ó Drisceoil, the late Cape Clear writer, in one of his essays published in The Irish Times, mourns the disappearance of the ‘gearra-goirt’ (small bird of the field) which is one of its names. It has (had) many alternative names – Barley Bunting, Briar Bunting and the delightful Corn Dumpling was used in Ulster. In Irish it is Gealóg Bhuacair, which translates as ‘bright cow-dung bird’; it is also known as Gealbhán Coirce (oat’s sparrow).

        The intensive removal of agricultural ‘weeds’ and the global drop in insect numbers has contributed to its decline. Another little bird, the Twite, a member of the finch family, has almost disappeared. They are found only in the far west and north-west in mountainy areas. The word ‘twite’ describes their call. In Irish they have a wonderful name Gleoiseach Sléibhe (mountain linnet). In summer they have a beautiful pink flash at the base of the tail. They are also known as Heatherlings, Heather-Grey, Twitty, etc. 

        To read Eugene’s series regularly please subscribe to Ireland’s Own

          0 2206

          When war broke out in August 1914 one of the great rallying calls of the politicians and the Catholic Church in Ireland was that Irishmen should enlist to fight on behalf of Belgium, a small catholic country being terrorised by Germany.

          It was not uncommon in those early days of the war for Belgium to be likened to Ireland in terms of how it was being made to suffer for its catholic faith and the politicians who favoured the war were quick to use the analogy in their efforts to persuade young catholic Irishmen to enlist in the British army.

          In general, the war also found favour within the Catholic Church in Ireland which was aghast at the early reports coming out of Belgium suggesting, rightly or wrongly, that the population there was being persecuted because of its strong catholic faith.

          So, in those early weeks and months of the war the Catholic Church in Ireland was to the forefront in the condemnation of Germany’s actions but as the conflict dragged on the very obvious support from the pulpit for it waned especially when the number of casualties mounted and the tales of horror emerging from the trenches began to make an impact on the Irish people.

          In 1914 the Catholic Church had real authority in Ireland and so the Irish people listened to and obeyed what was being preached from pulpits across the country. Many priests were quick to claim that Belgian Catholics were at the mercy of an unforgiving and monstrous Germany and that it was the duty of Catholics everywhere in Europe to go to the aid of Belgium.

          Ireland of 1914 listened to its priests and it was no surprise that thousands of loyal Catholic Irishmen answered the call to arms by their church. While many Catholic priests preached in favour of the war and openly encouraged their male parishioners to enlist some of the clergymen were prepared to lead by example and joined up as soon as war was declared.

          To continue reading please subscribe to Ireland’s Own

          0 2005

          By John Corbett

          November is a month in which many historical events took place.

          Michelangelo’s paintings of the Sistine Chapel were shown to the public for the first time on November 1st. 1512.

          The first Protestant minister to take an interest in the religious affairs of Native Americans, Reverend John Eliot, began his attempts to convert the Indians in this month in 1846. He came to be known as ‘The Apostle of The Indians.’

          November also saw the entrance to King Tutankhamen’s Tomb being discovered in 1922. It was in this month that Ellis Island received its last immigrant in 1954. The Suez Canal was opened on the 17th, in 1869.

          Catholics weren’t permitted to eat meat on a Friday in former times but US Catholic bishops decided to dispense with the rule in November 1966 and the hierarchy in other countries followed suit.

          On the technology front, the US Weather bureau began operating in the 1870’s. The Soviets launched Sputnik 2 in November 1957 and the first stereo radio appeared in the same month in 1955. The first long distance telephone call without the assistance of an operator, took place on November 10th. 1951.

          Operator assisted calls continued to be the norm in this country into the 1970’s. An important medical advance occurred with the patenting of the first artificial leg in November 1846.

          Nowadays, many athletes rely on prosthetic limbs to enable them to participate in sporting competitions. I recall seeing a dancer on TV last year who actually danced on ice using artificial legs. It made me reflect how helpless some of the rest of us are as we struggle to keep our balance, even though we have our own natural limbs!


          November has been called the ‘dark month’ of the year and not without reason. Daylight is disappearing rapidly, outdoor work is slowing down and lamps are being lit earlier each evening. One Senior used to comment perennially, “Soon there’ll be no day in it at all.”

          Storytelling was highly rated in this country at all times but when November came the darker side of life seem to take possession of men’s minds.

          Nowadays people dress up as witches or goblins at Hallowe’en but this didn’t really happen when we were children.

          ‘Trick or treat’ games were all the fashion then. We loved to disguise ourselves and call to the neighbours’ houses, performing songs or recitations.

          In return we received small sums of money or ‘goodies’ such as fruit, sweets or chocolate. We also took great delight in fireside sagas, even though we found some of them terribly scary. Were the tellers trying to frighten the life out of us, or did they truly believe the sagas that they were recounting?

          Perhaps they got a kick out delving into the occult and they just wanted to share their experiences with their listeners? Did they, as some of them claimed, have personal encounters with spectral entities from another dimension? 

          To continue reading please pick up a copy of Ireland’s Own

            0 3013

            By Sean Creedon

            Fifty years ago this month former Dublin footballer Eamonn Breslin made history when he scored a goal with his head at Croke Park in a National Football League game against Laois.

            Twenty minutes into Dublin’s home game against Laois at Croke Park on November 1, 1964, Dublin’s Brian McDonald dribbled the ball past three Laois defenders and passed to Jackie Gilroy.

            Gilroy, father of former Dublin football manager Pat Gilroy, didn’t try to pick the ball up, but instead chipped it across the goal where it was headed to the net by Dublin’s left half-forward Eamonn Breslin.

            Eamonn, who had never played competitive soccer in his native Ballyfermot, instinctively headed the ball as it came to him and it flew past Laois goalkeeper Tommy Miller into the net at the Canal End. It was the only goal of the game as Dublin won on a score of 1-11 to 0-10 in front of a crowd of 8,027.

            Apparently a few years earlier a player had ‘scored’ with his head in a football game played in Cork, but it was disallowed for ‘dangerous play’. Breslin’s header was the first goal to be allowed.

            Fifty years on Eamonn’s memory of the incident is the silence that greeted the goal. He said: “It was just a spur of the moment thing, the ball came across at the right height and I just headed it past a surprised goalkeeper. Instead of cheering, the crowd waited a few seconds before the umpire and referee agreed that the goal was legal.

            “There was a lot of soccer played in Ballyfermot when I was young, but I never really played for any team. One of my brothers played for a local team called Bromley, but I never joined any soccer club,” added Eamonn. Eamonn’s goal was the main topic of discussion in the sports pages of the daily and evening papers over the following weeks and he was named ‘Sports Star of the Week’ in the “Irish Press”.

            At a time when the GAA’s ban on ‘foreign games’ was still in force, the controversy raged for months and there was talk of submitting a motion to GAA Congress calling for a ban on scoring with the head, but it never happened.

            It was unusual for a Ballyfermot lad to get on the Dublin senior team. Eamonn played for Ballyfermot Gaels, who were not a senior club, so it was a big achievement for Breslin to wear the light blue of The Dubs.

            However, his inter-county career was short lived and Eamonn switched to rugby shortly after scoring his famous goal, joining the Monkstown club.

            Having served his time as a bricklayer, Eamonn soon realised that selling cars was much easier work than working outdoors in bad weather. He worked as a salesman with Smithfield Motors for many years and finished with Fort Motors in South Dublin in 2006.

            It was a spectacular goal by Breslin and credit must also go to referee Seamus Aldridge, who made the decision to allow the score fifty years ago. Aldridge was a useful player with the Round Towers club in Kildare. He took up refereeing in 1963 and was quickly promoted to inter-county level. Seamus was only 28 when he made the decision to allow Breslin’s goal.

            Seamus said: “There was no rule against it and there still isn’t as far as I am aware. To me it was just like the ball going in off a player’s hand or foot. But the ban (on soccer and rugby) was still in force back then and naturally it was a controversial score. It was quickly forgotten by me, but I know it still comes up in quizzes.” Aldridge went on to become one of the top referees in the country and give a lifetime of service to Kildare and Leinster.

              0 1960

              Stranger than Fiction by John Macklin

              The cardboard box was decorated with felt and tiny beads. Inside, among a mass of old buttons and cheap broken jewellery, was the cameo ring.

              John Parsons lifted out the ring and found he was strangely fascinated. It appeared to be heavy gold with a finely-wrought filigree mount into which was sunk a delicate cameo of a woman’s face.

              Slipping the ring into his pocket, John Parsons left the junk-filled attic of the Victorian house in an elegant crescent off the seafront of the English south coast resort of Weymouth and returned to the living room where his grandmother was dozing after lunch.

              “I thought she would be interested in the ring,” John Parsons would remember years later.“ But I was utterly unprepared for the reaction the discovery would have.”

              It was the winter of 1959 and Parsons, a law student articled to a barrister in London’s Inner Temple, was spending part of his annual holiday clearing out decades of clutter from his grandmother’s seaside house.

              Emily Burdette was still surprisingly active for someone in her mid-eighties but had finally agreed that the rambling three-storey Weymouth house was too big and inconvenient and it was time to think about downsizing into a smaller and convenient flat.

              Hence John Parsons had been volunteered by the family to give his grandmother a hand in sorting out her possessions and getting rid of stuff she no longer wanted.

              He started in the attic, a dump for bric-a-brac of generations and John soon found himself fascinated by then relics he uncovered and it was among a pile of long forgotten artifacts and faded photographs and newspapers that he discovered the gold ring.

              “But when I took it down to my grandmother expecting her to be pleased that that I had discovered it, just the opposite happened. She was disturbed and even frightened, and refused to touch the ring.

              “She said it was an evil thing and it would be best if I destroyed it. When she said there was a curse on it, I just laughed and said I didn’t believe in stuff like that. And if she didn’t want it I would keep it. I put it on my finger and thought it was rather elegant. I could see my grandmother was upset, but I was young and pretty insensitive I suppose.”

              He soon began to see what his grandmother meant. A week later, while skating on a local pond John Parsons was carried home with a broken ankle.

              Soon afterwards he showed the ring to his current girlfriend who asked if she could borrow it.

              “Stupidly I said she could. She was a fit healthy girl but shortly afterwards she suffered a serious illness which was eventually to prove fatal. “I was utterly appalled and shattered and when my grandmother blamed the cameo ring it didn’t make things any better. “Nor was that the end of it. A friend engaged to be married asked to look at the ring and soon afterwards was jilted by her fiance.

              Another friend who handled it lost his job and another had a serious car accident. “Could all this really be coincidence? Determined to find out more, I asked my grandmother if she could tell me about then ring and she said it had been in the family for generations and had always brought bad luck. The catalogue of disaster included several deaths, a suicide and a financial catastrophe from which the family took ten years to recover.”

              Finally, John Parsons decided on a course of action which resulted in his leaving his chambers one spring morning in 1960 and walking to the nearby Thames Embankment. A string of barges slid by on the grey water.

              To his left workmen were excavating a deep trench for a new water-main. John Parsons walked up to the embankment wall, took an envelope from his pocket and with an abrupt movement tossed it into the dark water of the ebbing tide.

              Then without a backward glance he walked away and returned to his Inner Temple office.

              “It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from me, he said later in a report for the British Society form Psychical Research. “I know it was a somewhat theatrical gesture but it seemed appropriate at the time. The ring had done so much evil that I wanted to make sure it was out of everyone’s lives for good.” But was it?

              Whether the envelope sank instantly to the bottom of the Thames or floated away on the tide to blight the life of someone who may have picked it up out of the water on some distant shore is something John Parsons could never know, and had no wish to think about.

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                0 1145

                By Sean Andrews

                At momentous times when the focus is on great conflicts and widespread loss of life, what would normally be considered a dramatic and newsworthy event in calmer times, can often become a mere footnote in history. So it was with the Carlingford tragedy.

                In 1916, the First World War raged across Europe. In Ireland the country was still coming to terms with the Easter Rising and the execution of its leaders, which took place earlier that year.

                On the evening of the 3rd of November, an autumn storm blew across Ireland. In the wind-swept east coast port of Greenore, close to the mouth of Carlingford Lough, the steamship Connemara was preparing to set out on its regular ferry run to Holyhead in Wales with passengers, livestock and general cargo.

                On board was a crew of 31, many of whom were natives of Holyhead. Although the ship could carry up to 800 passengers, there were only 55 on board that stormy evening, due to wartime restrictions. Among the passengers were several soldiers going back to serve in France, people with family and work commitments in Britain and a group of women emigrants beginning a long journey to the United States.

                Three passengers were cattle drovers taking care of the livestock on board. While the Connemara was making ready to slip her moorings, the 460 ton collier Retriever, which had set out from Liverpool earlier in the day, was battling heavy seas as it approached the Irish coast, heading for the entrance to Carlingford Lough and its home port of Newry.

                The nine crew were local men, very familiar with the Lough and its dangers. It was a dark night, and because of the fear of German U-boats, which were active in the Irish Sea, most shipping kept lighting to a minimum.

                The Connemara pulled away from the quayside at 8pm and steamed towards the entrance of the Lough, heading for the open sea. Captain Doeg, an experienced Scots mariner, was well used to rough weather, but had no inkling of the disaster which was about to befall his ship. Both the outbound Connemara and the inbound Retriever approached one another close to the Carlingford Bar with heavy seas running. The keeper at the nearby Haulbowline Lighthouse became alarmed when he saw they were coming dangerously close and fired off warning rockets, but he was too late.

                As the ships came alongside in a narrow deep water channel, the Retriever, very heavily laden with tons of coal and thus not particularly manoeuvrable, lurched to port and struck the Connemara amidships.

                This tore a large hole in the hull, which immediately began to fill with water. On the bridge of the Retriever, Captain O’ Neill, a seaman from Kilkeel, immediately put his vessel into reverse, but it too began to take in water through the badly damaged bow. Once doused with sea water, the boilers on the Connemara exploded, the vessel caught fire and sank within a few minutes. No one aboard survived.

                The Retriever went down about twenty minutes later with the loss of all but one of its nine crew members, a 21 year-old fireman called James Boyle, from Warrenpoint.

                He could not swim but clung to the wreckage of a ship’s lifeboat, which the crew had managed to launch at the last moment. As he came close to the shore he was pulled from the waves by two local men. Some animals managed to swim from the Connemara, and ended up wandering exhausted on the shore line.

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