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    tincanBy Mae Leonard

    The new girl in our office was a swan – pale, beautiful and elegant – ash blonde hair and grey eyes. She seemed to be opaque until at ‘Elevens’ she went off to put on her face.  

    And what a face – a little pencilled definition of her eyes and a touch of colour on her cheekbones and she was a dream. A Princess Grace face and figure. There were boyfriends galore who collected her after work in roaring bangers and sports cars until that special one arrived in a purring Merc – his name was Marcus.
    One day I heard her on the phone offering to cook dinner for him, and he accepted with alacrity.  
    When she put down the phone I reminded her that she couldn’t cook.

    Undaunted, with a tra-la-la, she went out to the corner shop and bought five cans – stewed steak chunks, new potatoes in brine, peas, peaches and cream. God bless the man who invented the tin can, she said. What could I say but ‘Amen’ to than? But who was he? Who was the man who invented this ingenious method of food preservation? His name was Nicolas Appert. A Frenchman. There is a street in Paris named after him.

    Napoleon Bonaparte said that –  “An army marches on its stomach”  and because he had his army march so far and so fast they had very little time to stop and search for supplies not to mention cooking food.  
    Worse still, when Napoleon pushed forward into Russia, the retreating Russians had taken every scrap of food along the way.   

    As a result, Napoleon’s army suffered hundreds of casualties from scurvy and malnutrition – even more than were lost in battle.  

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      Lent (Carghas in Irish) is the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Up to the middle of the last century, Lenten austerities were laid down by the church and were observed by most people. The faithful were bound to fast every day: one main meal and two smaller ones (which were called collations) for everybody over seven and under seventy, unless the person was sick or weak.  

      People were also bound to abstain, not only from meat of every kind, but also from eggs and all milk products. The ban on meat was later changed so that only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were days of abstinence. There was also a prohibition on dancing and singing.  Card games were frowned upon.  Many people who drank alcohol gave it up for Lent.  

      The period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, Shrovetide, was a busy time for marriages, as up to the early twentieth century marrying was banned during Lent. It was taken for granted that those who wished to marry did so at that time.  Shrovetide, then, was the time to marry.  

      From Little Christmas on the matchmakers were busy and many unions were planned. Weddings were eagerly awaited, not only by the couple getting married, but also by their family, relations and neighbours. The whole community would share in the merrymaking, feasting and drinking.

      It was natural to have a last ‘fling’ just before Lent on Shrove Tuesday (Máirt na nInide).  In parts of Europe and in South America this is a big festival, which is called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. 

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        Eddie Goggin pays tribute to a rugby great

        On the Northside of Cork City, in the late 1930’s, beneath the shadows of the renowned St Mary’s Cathedral, and the world famous Bells of Shandon, was born a legend that has graced the Irish rugby scene for many, many years, at all playing levels and then going on to serve in a plethora of administrative posts, all the way to becoming the President of the IRFU.

        Noel Arthur Augustine Murphy was born on the 22nd February, 1937, into a vibrant Cork sporting family, which, up to date, incidentally, is the only family to have represented Ireland over three generations at international rugby, namely, Noel Snr, Noel himself, and his son, Kenny Murphy, giving them the only father, son, and grandson, to be capped in three successive generations.

        Noel was educated and played rugby for Christians College while at school, and on leaving joined, just like his father, the Cork Constitution Rugby Club,  which still ranks as one of the most successful teams in Irish Rugby. Noel made his international debut for Ireland on the 18th January, 1958, against Australia, a game Ireland won 9-6. In a glittering career between 1958 and 1969, Noel was capped on 41 occasions, during which time, playing mostly as a number 7 in the forward set-up, he scored 5 tries, the first one coming against Wales on the 12 March 1960, at Lansdowne Road, a game that Ireland won.

        At this stage Noel had become a regular on the Irish team, and tries came again in 1964 against England, and two more against Scotland in 1965 and 1967. Noel became captain of Ireland on the 21 January, 1967, against Australia, at Lansdowne Road, a game which Ireland won 15-8.

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          By Jim Rees

          For thirty minutes on Sunday evenings throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the County Kilkenny village of Leestown became the centre of Ireland.

          From Dingle to Rathlin, Rosslare to the Rosses, we’d watch the comings and goings of people we never actually met but who were as familiar to us as our own families. We would visit neighbouring farms, drop into Johnny Mac’s for a pint or two and to get the latest gossip about the Riordans, the Mahers, the Brennans and the dozen or so other characters.

          Sunday night was The Riordans night.

          Looking back at the iconic series, it is easy to remember it with a wry smile as something from a simpler, gentler time. That’s the problem with nostalgia; it gives everything a nice warm glow. But 1960s Ireland was very much a place of change and The Riordans was to the forefront in depicting those political, religious and social tensions.

          RTÉ – or simply Telefís Éireann as it still was – embarked on an ambitious undertaking for a broadcaster still very much finding its feet. The station had officially opened on 31 December 1961 and within two years had produced a Dublin-based soap opera called Tolka Row, along the lines of ITV’s Coronation Street.

          It proved very successful, but Ireland was still very much a rural country, and it was felt that a similar format with a rural setting would be even more popular, and so The Riordans was born.

          The first episode went out on 4 January 1965 and within a few weeks was unmissable television. The setting, the accents, the story-lines all spoke to the viewers in a very real and immediate way.

          Few of those viewers, however, were aware of just how innovative the technical details were or how controversial the series would become time and again over what was to be its fifteen-year run.

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            By Eugene Daly

            One of the goddesses of early Ireland was the Cailleach (hag), a wild woman who wore a veil to signify her mystery. She had powers over the land, the birds and the beasts and could take on various forms.  

            The southwest of Ireland was associated with the otherworld, especially that of the dead. Donn, the old Irish god of the dead, was said to live on an island off the Beara Peninsula in West Cork.  The Cailleach is usually known as ‘An Chailleach Bhéara’ (The Hag of Beara) and was said to live there also.  Her name was Boí which is connected with the word bó (a cow); at the tip of the Beara Peninsula is Inis Boí (later, Oileán Baoi) which was said to be her residence.

            The Cailleach was venerated in place names and shrines throughout Ireland and Scotland where she was known as ‘The Old Wife of Thunder’.  She was to be feared and respected because whe was also the goddess of winter, which gave her the power of life and death over communities that were more than a few square meals away from starvation.  

            She was ‘the daughter of the sun’ who grew more powerful as the days grew shorter and the weakened sun was lower in the sky.  She wielded a slachdán (wand of power) with which she could control the weather.  As the sun regained its strength the Cailleach would lose hers, before she was finally overthrown at the spring equinox in March, which was the ancient New Year’s Day.

            The Cailleach appears to be connected with the Irish banshee and the ‘Welsh Hag of the Mist’, both of whom could be heard wailing on the wind when someone was about to die. Distant relations of these supernatural beings were the wise women who, until relatively recent times, would provide their communities with herbal remedies, spells and potions.

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              With Aileen Atcheson

              For most people, March and springtime are synonymous with bulbs. Still, there are lovely small herbaceous plants which no garden should be without.

              Toothworth appear early in spring in grand colours, shades of pink, mauve and purple. Pulmonaria or lungworts are small, early flowering perennials with leaves like the herb borage. Rough to touch. Pink and blue flowers at the same time and heart shaped spotted leaves.

              There are more to herbs than parsely too, you know. Try sweet and lemon basil. The winter savory is good in casserols and is perennial. The annual summer savory goes well with beans.

              Lemon verbena is another worth a try. English mace will grow almost anywhere, in most types of soil and looks well in a big pot. Use the leaves in soups, to flavour rice and pasta dishes when young and tender.

              Thymus Officinalis is an essential ingredient of bouquet garnii. Grow from seed and put on the surface of a pot of soil in early spring.

              Plant out your early potatoes which you have sprouted on the warm kitchen window sill, before St. Patrick’s Day. Early potatoes need fairly high temperatures to make strong early growth. That is the reason for growing on raised drills. When setting chitted potatoes remove a few of the sprouts. This will reduce the number of potatoes on each plant. Then they should reach a good size more quickly.

              March is a yellow month in the garden. If your forsythia has got tall and straggly it needs pruning. Cut back fairly hard now and it should grow back over the next few years. This will probably prevent it flowering for about two years but it will be better when it comes back. Better I always think to prune a bit each year, taking out some of the old branches after flowering. This will keep the bush small and tidy. Pruning any kind should be done on forsythia straight after flowering in about a fortnight’s time.

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              Paula Redmond explains the phenomenon of a solar eclipse, one of which should be visible from Ireland on March 20. In the past, they were viewed by many cultures with mystery and fear

              A partial solar eclipse will be visible from Ireland on March 20th 2015. An eclipse happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun and obscures the sun’s light. A total eclipse occurs when all direct sunlight is blocked.

              The Babylonians and the Chinese were some of the first cultures to be able to predict eclipses. Records show that they had acquired these skills as far back as 2500 BC.
              In China, solar eclipses were associated with the health and well being of the Emperor and not predicting one was believed to put him in danger. As a result, two astrologers, Hsi and Ho, were executed for failing to predict an eclipse in 2134 BC.

              The word eclipse comes from the Greek, Ekleipsis, meaning abandoned. The Greeks believed that an eclipse signalled disaster and that the gods were angry. The Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, used a solar eclipse in 129 BC to calculate the distance from the earth to the moon.

              His computation was very accurate for the time, differing by only about 11% of what modern day scientists calculate it to be. The Chinese word for eclipse is ‘shih’ or ‘chih’ meaning ‘to eat’. In ancient times the Chinese people believed that a fire dragon ate the sun. Similarly, the Vietnamese believed that a frog or toad ate it.

              In the Hindu tradition the deity Rahu was beheaded by the gods for eating ambrosia. It was believed that his immortal severed head flew through the sky trying to swallow the sun or the moon. When he managed to eat either, an eclipse occurred but the light soon re-appeared through his open throat.

              The Vikings believed that a pair of sky wolves, Skoll and Hati, chased the sun and the moon. They believed that when the wolves caught either of them an eclipse resulted.

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              On the cold and snowy night of March 5th, 1770, Patrick Carr was unlucky. British soldiers in Boston fired indiscriminately into a mob of local people, and the Irishman was hit by a stray bullet.  

              In 1767, Parliament in London passed what were known as the Townshend Acts.
              At the time Charles Townshend, known as ‘Champagne Charlie,’ was Chancellor of the Exchequer and, to overcome the national debt, he came up with the idea of reducing the debt by imposing taxes on the colonists. The items on which duties would be imposed were paint, paper, glass, lead and tea imported into the colonies.

              Because the colonists angrily protested, 4,000 troops were sent to Boston. This town was a major shipping port, and it became a major centre of opposition. After the arrival of the troops, there was much antagonism. British imports were boycotted in America, and extreme pressure was exerted on local merchants who imported these items. Parliament had eventually to acknowledge defeat and to repeal all, bar one, of the new duties. The exception was the duty on tea.

              The colonists were annoyed that the tea duty remained, and the antagonism soon became bitter. On the evening of March 5th, rowdy youths surrounded a lone soldier, Private Hugh White, on guard duty outside the Boston Customs House, and he was subjected to harassment and verbal abuse. People were summoned to come to the assistance of the youths by the ringing of bells, the traditional means of alerting people to a fire, and within a short while the crowd numbered over 300.

              Patrick Carr, who was a maker of leather breeches, was one of those who answered the call. He was going to bring with him a small cutlass, but a neighbour persuaded him to leave the weapon at home. Crispus Attucks also answered the call. He was a black runaway slave.

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                By James B. Harris

                Giovanni Camillo, like all other grown-ups, enjoys the sight of Robert Taylor and Betty Grable on the screen. Passing the Aegeon the other night, the little rascal approached me with a “ Gie’s a lop, mister”.

                Now at the best times, my finances do not allow of their being depleted by the indiscriminate bestowing of “Lops” on every importuner – youthful or otherwise.

                But something in little Giovanni’s eye-perhaps the pathos inherited from his emotional Italian father – struck a sympathetic chord inside the pericardium, which induced me not only to produce the lop but, with unaccustomed benevolence, to ask Giovanni if he would accompany me to the best seats in the house.

                “Aw, shucks, mister,” said he, with the verbiage becoming one with a thorough grounding in the mode of expression of the cinema’s second-rate heroes, “there’s no need for the best seats. We’d be more at home in the ‘Gods.’”

                So, pocketing our pride, we bought two tickets for the “Gods” and strolled into the semi-dark interior of the Aegeon.

                May the Lord forgive me, but i felt like St. Francis stripping himself of his finery to embrace the course habit of self-renunciation as I passed some of my friends, seated in the “best seats,” on my downward journey to the “Gods”-that seething, seat-jumping, tobacco-chewing, unwashed but withal human mass, silhouetted in ever-fluctuating outline against the ruddy glow which was the screen.

                Heavens, I thought, how am i to get a seat here. But Giovanni, whom I had facilitated in making his entry, was quite at home. Sure-footed as a chamois on his mountains, he scaled that yelling mass of humanity and beckoned me to follow.

                Throwing aside all thought of self-respect and with the added stimulus of a florid-faced usher’s threatening looks in my direction (not to mention cries of “He’ll take the crease out of his pants if he sits on these seats” “ C’mon, Mister, de’s a couple o’ seats here,” “ Go to it, lad, ‘tis no shame not having the price of the two shillings”— this from a blowzy matron smelling strongly of fish, tobacco and whisky) I took the plunge, or rather two rows at a time, leaving in my wake a trail of whining children, bunion-bemoaning men and vituperative women.

                At last, seated between Giovanni and a rather aggressive-looking gentleman, I tried to draw my breath. “Thank God, I am out of view of Jim and the Boys,” thought I. But the fact of Jim and the Boys having me under observation would have been a very, very minor catastrophe when viewed in the light of the events which followed.

                Having regained my respiratory powers, I decided to have a smoke. No sooner, however, had I produced my Players than the aggressive-looking gentleman very gentlemanly produced a grimy packet with the invitation to have one of his. I declined, stating that I had plenty, but wouldn’t he have some of mine.

                With a merry “Thank’s Bud,” he helped himself to the box and, having selected a few cigarettes with a connoisseur-like gesture, proceeded to hand it around to his colleagues. A bit “thick” that, I mused. A fellow could carry things too far: in this case, my cigarettes were being carried a little too far for my liking.

                The limits of my patience were reached when i saw the before-mentioned blowzy matron helping herself to one of them. Standing up, I asked her in the most commanding tone of voice I could muster to return me my cigarettes. The aggressive-looking man turned on me with a look of pained surprise like the look that Caesar gave to Brutus when he said “Et tu Brute.” But the aggressive-looking man did not say “Et tu Brute” or anything like it. He simple said, “Siddown” and implemented his command with a dig in the chest(mine, of course) that would have done credit to a gorilla.

                Vaguely, I remember the nightmarish events which followed. After hitting the seat with a sickening thud that nearly dislodged my molars, I found that I had lost my hat. On one side, Giovanni, thoroughly enjoying the whole thing, was leering at me like one of the Notre Dame gargoyles.

                On the other, through the gloom, I could see the florid-faced usher making towards the scene of disturbance with a murderous glint in his eye. All around me the villainous plebs hooted, cackled, whistled and in other diverse ways expressed their fiendish delight at my discomfiture.

                Vainly, I endeavoured to stand again, but with the same drastic result as before, for the aggressive-looking man was now entering into the spirit of the thing and out-did himself by his efficient handling of my second rebellious effort to regain my equilibrium.
                I remember seeing my hat being tossed about like flotsam on that seething sea of Bedlamites. Soon, however, the film started-a technicolour travel talk. At last, in spite of my humiliation, I settled down to enjoy the soothing vistas of South American scenery, enhanced a thousand-fold by the suave voice of the commentator. And to tell the truth, i did enjoy it, excepting one hectic moment, when the black form of a much-abused hat sailed across the gorgeous technicolourful panorama with jarring incongruity.

                Coming home that night, I edged along through highways and bye-ways, fearful lest some of the “boys” might see me – for such is human vanity.

                If ever again Giovanni asks me for a “lop” he’ll get it, but never again will I venture to accompany him to what, in his opinion, are the beat seats in the house.

                Read readers’ memories every week in Ireland’s Own

                  0 2901

                  Stranger than Fiction (from archives)

                  All day the wind had blown hard from the north-east, drifting snow from the hills. As night fell, Mary Roberts turned from the kitchen sink after a day of trying to behave as though everything was normal and said: “It’s no use…I know I will never see him alive again.”
                  Not even her husband’s arms around her shoulders could comfort her now. Sitting on a stool by the fire she cried as though her heart would break while out on the bleak moors of Yorkshire’s North Riding, lanterns bobbed and voices called vainly into the wind.

                  Today the village near the River Ure, just east of the Pennines, is a busy community served by a network of roads. But in the winter of 1910 it was not unusual to see no outsiders for a week and self-sufficiency was bred deep into the taciturn hill farmers who extracted a sparse living from the inhospitable land.

                  “If you want anything doing, do it yourself” could well have been the motto of these independent folk but the strange story of James Roberts seems to throw this into some doubt.

                  John and Mary Roberts had farmed their smallholding at Manor’s Acre since the death of John’s father in 1904 and their two sons, James, 10 and 12-year-old Arthur, were expected to help all they could.

                  On the Saturday morning two weeks after Christmas, snow lay deep on the hills when James and Arthur took a home-made sledge on to a slope about a mile away from the house for a few hours of boyish sport.

                  “Make sure you’re back for dinner,” Mary Roberts called as she straightened the mufflers around their necks and watched them trudge away up the lane pulling the home-made matchwood sledge behind them.

                  She had no fears about their safety. They had lived on the moors all their lives, loved their beauty and were mindful of their dangers. Even so, she had a slight twinge of anxiety when Arthur returned home just after one o’clock pulling the sledge.

                  “Where’s James?” she asked and the boy looked blank. He came home an hour ago,” he said. “He said his hands were cold…”

                  It was a tiny incident, but Mary Roberts felt a shiver of apprehension. From the kitchen window she could see that the sky over  the surrounding hills was heavy with snow.
                  When James didn’t return by 5pm she was thoroughly alarmed. A party of men from the village had already searched nearby moorland without success and now, with lanterns, were searching further afield.

                  By now the night was a swirling mass of wind-whipped snow and at midnight the search was abandoned until morning. But at first light a group of six men, including the boy’s father, set out again for the moors.

                  By now then wind had dropped but the previous night’s snow had obliterated all tracks. They would have to start from scratch again. By 7am it was light enough to resume the search and the men trooped away from the village.

                  Leading the party was the village postman Walter Padleyn, who was later to remember “As the hours went by and there was no sign of the lad I think we all began to fear the worst although no one would admit it.

                  “At 11am we had split into two parties and I was standing with two other men in a narrow valley which contained a stream. Suddenly I turned round and standing on a rock by the stream was a boy. We all saw him, but it wasn’t James Roberts.

                  “He was about 15 and dressed in strangely old-fashioned clothes. There was something unreal about him, but it’s hard to explain what. He was beckoning to us and automatically we began to follow him. It was as though some power was drawing us along – we all felt it.”

                  The men would say that the figure led them down the valley and down a boulder-strewn dip towards a pile of rocks. According to Walter Padley, it walked about 100 yards ahead, turning to see if the men were following.

                  At one side of the rock-pile was a tangle of snow-covered bushes and as they watched, the figure merged with then undergrowth and finally vanished.
                  Padley and his companions reached the bushes and began to push their way through. Under the thicket, in a cleft of rock, lay James Roberts. His left leg was twisted awkwardly under him, obviously broken, and he was semi-conscious and showing signs of exposure and frostbite. But he was alive.

                  Padlery recalled later: “Without the boy’s help we would never have found him in a million years. He was too weak to shout out. He would probably have died had he been out in another night like the last one.”

                  They took James Roberts home and slowly he recovered. The story got about and a doctor from Sheffield, Dr John Stoner, secretary of a local historical research group, made inquiries in local newspaper archives and came up with some astonishing findings.
                  Apparently a boy from the same village, Richard Warley, had died in a severe blizzard in 1710. And according to contemporary reports of the tragedy, Richard Warley was the spitting image of the boy rescuers had seen out on the snowy crags just 200 years later…   

                  Read Stranger Than Fiction every week in Ireland’s Own

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