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    0 2025

    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 1184

      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.

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


        0 1165

        Janet Behan was ten years old when her famous Uncle Brendan passed away.

        She remembers the famed Irish literary figure as a generous loving human being with a high level of intelligence, as well as a man with many faults.

        As a child, she recalls being more infatuated with his lovely kitten during a visit to his Beersbridge residence than having an awareness of Behan’s contribution to Ireland’s literary heritage, but as the years past she grew increasingly infatuated with the life and talents of her father Brian’s exceptional older brother.

        A successful actress in her own right, Janet was commissioned to write a play on the life of Brendan Behan around six years ago. Although she had little contact with him while he was alive, she felt that she had listened to enough stories and anecdotes about him from family members to sufficiently qualify her to take on the project.

        The result was the acclaimed “Brendan at the Chelsea”, which was first staged in London, in 2008. The play is set in the famous hotel in 1963, during his second trip to New York, and a short time before his death, in March 1964, at the age of 41.

        “The play was very well received, much to my relief,” says Janet. “It made audiences laugh and cry but also let me see what he means to the Irish people; Brendan belongs to everyone after all. He was a very well read young man. His dad used to read from many literary greats, including “The Pickwick Papers”, to the children at bedtime. They inherited a vast literary education while being brought up in a very culturally rich household. Having said that he was quite a precocious child and often ran into trouble with the nuns.”

        “He read a lot while in Borstal and the Curragh and I think it was while there that he found his own voice. He became a wonderful figure to represent the working class and his ability to succeed was an inspiration to many that had obstacles to overcome in life.”

        Brendan Francis Behan was born in Dublin’s Holles Street Hospital on February 9, 1923.

        He was part of a family of five children including brothers Dominic, Brian and Seamus and sister, Carmel. His parents were Stephen and Kathleen and they lived at number 13, Russell Street, near Mountjoy Square, in a house which was owned by his grandmother, Christine English. It was very much a republican family and his father played an active role in the War of Independence.

        At the age of 13, Brendan wrote a lament to Michael Collins called ‘The Laughing Boy’ which was how his mother referred to the Corkman, a personal friend of hers.

        His mother is reported to have acted as a courier to James Connolly during the Easter Rising, she also took her children on literary tours of Dublin. His uncle, Peadar Kearney, wrote the original English words of the Irish national anthem, “The Soldier’s Song”.

        Also at the age of 13, Brendan left school to follow in his father’s footsteps and work as a house painter. In 1937, the family moved to Crumlin. Around this time he became a member of Fianna Eireann, the youth organisation of the Irish Republican Army, and began to contribute work to “The United Irishman”.

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

        0 1454

        By Gerry McCullough

        I looked up doubtfully at the hazy sky and wondered what sort of day it was going to be.

        I had only a few days’ holiday to spend at the little whitewashed cottage I’d inherited from my grandparents in the small Donegal village of Ardnakil, and I was hoping that the weather, which had been very pleasant up until now, wasn’t going to break.

        It was late autumn, but the last few weeks had been more like summer.

        Deciding to chance it, I strolled out as I was, and wandered through the fields and lanes. Presently I heard a melodious whistling and realised with pleasure that it must be my old friend Seamus O’Hare.

        I’d known Seamus since my childhood when I came up to visit my grandparents, and Seamus had taught me country lore, how to tell a chaffinch from a wagtail and a larch tree from a beech.

        I walked on and rounded a corner of the lane. There he was, strolling along, his disreputable old pipe in one hand and his old hat crammed down on his white curly hair.

        ‘Gerry!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’m glad to see you, boy! Are you going my way?’ ‘I can go whichever way you like, Seamus,’ I said obligingly, falling into step beside him. ‘I’m just out to enjoy a walk with no special object in view.’

        ‘Hasn’t the weather been perfect?’ Seamus asked, his engaging smile lighting up his wrinkled, weather beaten old face. ‘Especially for so late in the year, when summer’s well over. Sure, it would lift your heart up just to see the sun so bright every day.’

        And sure enough, the sun had come beaming out from behind the hazy clouds just as we met up, to bring a heartful of happiness with it. We walked on in contentment and presently we came in sight of the river, flowing smoothly along, its waters gleaming with silver ripples in the light of the sunshine.

        ‘It’s the sort of day,’ Seamus said, puffing his pipe contentedly, ‘when you want to take your girl by the hand and stroll off into the distance, sit down on the grass beneath a tree and share a picnic while you chat.’

        I gave him a quizzical look. ‘And is that what you used to do on days like these, Seamus?’ I asked him, smiling. ‘Ah, well, once in a while and a long time ago, Gerry,’ he answered me, smiling in his turn.

        ‘I’ve some happy memories of that sort of thing. But my friend Paddy Doyle, now, his experience was different.’

        ‘And are you going to tell me about it, Seamus?’ ‘Let’s sit down, ourselves, under this tree by the side of the river, Gerry, and I’ll do that.’

        And when we were comfortably seated on the grassy bank beneath a flourishing ash tree which dropped the occasional leaf on our heads, Seamus began his story.

        Paddy was a bit of a joker. He was a big, happy-go-lucky sort of a fella, and most people liked him – except some who had no sense of humour and weren’t very pleased with the tricks he played on them.

        At the time I’m speaking of, Paddy was going out with a bright young red haired girl by the name of Maureen O’Flynn.

        Maureen was a lovely lass and could have had her pick of all the local fellas, but it seemed as if her heart was set on Paddy. And as for Paddy himself, he wasn’t without his own admirers, being a fine upstanding young man with fair curly hair and a beaming smile. But there was no one but Maureen for him.

        It was a warm, sunny, autumn day, much like today, when Paddy and Maureen went for a stroll and a picnic along the river banks, and at first all went, as the poet says, ‘as merrily as a wedding bell.’

        In fact, as Maureen sat leaning her cheek against Paddy’s broad shoulder, she was thinking of wedding bells herself, and wondering if Paddy would choose this opportunity to ask her to name the day. But, alas, Paddy had other thoughts in his mind right then.

        ‘Isn’t this lovely, Paddy dear?’ sighed Maureen. ‘Indeed it is, Maureen,’ Paddy replied.

        Then, seizing his chance as a leaf floated down from the huge chestnut tree above them and touched Maureen gently on her right cheek, he exclaimed, ‘Oh! For dear sakes, Maureen, look out! It’s a snake!’

        And at the same moment he threw down a withered branch of a tree, which he’d picked up and hidden behind his back a few moments before they sat down, right at Maureen’s feet.

        ‘Ow!’ shouted Maureen, leaping up and shrieking loud enough to be heard in Millerstown. ‘Paddy, Paddy, save me!’

        Then as she tried to escape from the ‘snake’ she tripped over Paddy’s feet, which I have to admit were on the outsize side, and went plunging and shouting over the edge of the river bank and straight into the water.

        Well, Paddy’s joke had gone off even better than he had hoped, and he stood on the bank and roared with laughter as Maureen, dripping wet and furious, stood up in the water, which at that point was shallow enough to be no danger, and came only to her knees.

        ‘Maureen, Maureen, you’ll be the death of me!’ exclaimed Paddy. ‘Don’t you know that the holy Saint Patrick threw all the snakes out of our blessed Ireland over fifteen hundred years ago?’ And he brandished the piece of wood he’d used to trick Maureen.

        But Maureen, whose best clothes and new sandals were, she thought, probably ruined, wasn’t in any mood to laugh. Ignoring Paddy’s outstretched hand, she scrambled out of the river by herself, and stalked off in the direction of home and dry clothes, saying only, as she left, ‘Don’t you ever dare to speak to me again, Paddy Doyle! You’re a disgrace to Irish manhood!’

        Paddy’s jaw dropped. He stood, gazing after her, unable to believe his ears. Sure, it had been a very funny joke, hadn’t it? Ach, Maureen would get over it in a short while and be ready to laugh along with him. But the days went past, and Maureen showed no sign of getting over it. When she and Paddy accidently met in the village street she swept past him with her nose in the air, leaving poor Paddy gaping after her helplessly.

        In the end, he did what so many of my young friends have done, he came to me for help. ‘What am I going to do, Seamus?’ he asked when he had told me the story. ‘I still love her, even if she has no sense of humour. What am I going to do?’ But for once I was at a loss.

        ‘Paddy, you’ve dug yourself a hole and fallen in,’ I told him. ‘As far as I can see, you can only wait for Time the Great Healer to soften Maureen’s heart towards you.’

        But this was small consolation for Paddy, who like all youngsters had no desire to wait for anything. But as it happened, only the next night young Maureen O’Flynn also called at my cottage. ‘Seamus, please help me!’ she begged.

        And then the same story came tumbling out, but from Maureen’s angle, and I heard all about how she’d been full of romantic thoughts and expecting Paddy to speak when he spoiled everything with his silly joke.

        ‘I can’t go through my life, Seamus, having everything spoilt by Paddy playing a silly trick at the most romantic moments,’ she said, with the tears starting up in her eyes. ‘Can’t you help me?’ I sat gazing into the turf fire and smelling the aroma of the smoking turf, and then I said, ‘You know what, Maureen, I think I might have an idea. Now, listen.’

        And Maureen listened, and then she smiled, and then she laughed. A few days later Paddy Doyle was called to the door of his cottage by the rap of the postman. ‘Parcel for you, Paddy,’ wee Andy Devlin, the postman, said. ‘Sign here.’

        Paddy, who wasn’t expecting anything, signed, and then stood turning the parcel round in his hands for a few moments before opening it.

        His face brightened suddenly as he saw the sender’s name on the back in large bold printing. Maureen O’Flynn, 42 Millpond Lane, Ardnakil. Was Maureen wanting to make it up, then, that she was sending him a present? Had she realised that his joke had been both funny and harmless? He hadn’t expected her to fall into the river, after all! He tore the parcel open eagerly, peeling off the brown paper. Inside were more wrappings, newspaper this time.

        Tearing them off, Paddy came to a box sealed with a large amount of cellotape. He ran for a knife and cut through the worst of it.

        Finally he was able to open the box, and found that it was full of cotton wool. Eagerly Paddy pulled off the cotton wool. There, staring up at him, was an enormous spider, black and ominous looking, with a notice beside it – ‘Tarantula – beware! Dangerous!’

        With a howl, Paddy hurled the box from him and raced out of his cottage. He had run about a hundred yards down the road when Maureen O’Flynn stepped out from the hedge into his way and said sweetly, ‘Why, Paddy, don’t you know there are no tarantulas in Ireland?’ Paddy skidded to a halt. His visual memory of the spider came flooding back. Suddenly he realised that the insect which had frightened him so much has been an imitation, made of rubber, and nothing else. I’ll say this for Paddy, he could take a joke as well as play one. It only took him a minute to recover.

        ‘Maureen, Maureen, you’ll be the death of me!’ he said, putting his arms round her. ‘I knew you had a great sense of humour all along!’

        ‘Yes, well, that’s all right, Paddy Doyle,’ said Maureen severely – not making any attempt to wriggle out of his arms, however. ‘But maybe now you understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one of your funny jokes. Not too great, is it?’

        And Paddy had to admit that it wasn’t. ‘Maureen, you had me scared out of my wits!’ he admitted generously. ‘I hadn’t time to think how unlikely it would be to find a tarantula in Ireland, any more than you had time to think about St. Patrick driving out the snakes. I’m sorry, love – I shouldn’t have done it. And I certainly never expected you to fall into the river!’

        ‘Yes, well, that’ll be enough about that, Paddy,’ said Maureen, whose dignity had suffered as much as her clothes from her unexpected bath.

        ‘We’ll not discuss that any more, if you don’t mind. All I want from you, Paddy Doyle, is a promise that you’ll never play a trick like that on me again. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in fear that you’ve got something up your sleeve for me every time I open a present.’

        Paddy only heard one thing. ‘Spend the rest of your life!’ he exclaimed joyously. ‘Maureen, do you mean it? Will you?’ ‘Only if I have your promise, Paddy.’ ‘Ach, Maureen, of course you have it,’ Paddy murmured as he put him arms round her more tightly and kissed her.

        And certainly the ring he bought her the next day was no joke, for it cost Paddy most of his savings, and it was as well he had his parents house, left to him some years ago, to take Maureen to. He only asked for one thing. ‘Maureen,’ he said anxiously, ‘Can I play tricks on other people as long as I don’t play any on you?’ ‘Sure you can, Paddy!’ Maureen said generously. ‘And I tell you what, I’ll make a promise, too. I won’t play any tricks on you, as long as I can play them on other people.

        For, Paddy, just as you saw how awful it was to be on the receiving end, I saw for myself how much fun it was to be the one playing the tricks, and I don’t think I’m planning to stop now!’ And she was as good as her word. Neither Paddy nor Maureen played any tricks on each other, but they played plenty on other people, so that the name of Doyle became famous the length and breadth of the county for joking. Especially when Maureen’s name was Doyle as well as Paddy’s – which it became in a very short time afterwards. 

        Original writing every week in Ireland’s Own


          0 2274

          Patrick O’Sullivan poses a question about our cultural identity

          I came across a book of late called The Irish by the late great Sean O’Faolain.

          The latter, celebrated for his short stories, also wrote books about famous figures in Irish history: among them Daniel O’Connell and Countess Markievicz.

          O’Faolain was born in 1900 and educated at the National University of Ireland. He spent a year as a commercial traveller but gave it up to fight on the side of De Valera in 1921. His book about the Irish was first published in 1947.

          Having discussed the Celts and the old Gods, he described the coming of Christianity. He was full of praise for a poem by W.B. Yeats, The Unappeasable Host, in which memories of Celtic and Christian Ireland were all mixed up together. Yeats poem was the “interweaving of centuries of bright imaginings and dim rememberings, of irrational terror and delight”.

          Then O’Faolain dipped into the works of the early poets themselves, then the lives of saints and scholars, quoting as he did from The Anglo Saxon Chronicle: ‘Three Irishmen came to King Alfred in a boat without oars from Ireland, from where they had slipped away because they desired for the love of God to be in a state of pilgrimage: they knew not where.’ Then the influence of the Normans and the Munster Plantation, followed in turn by the Plantation of Ulster, the creation of a new peasantry and the rise of the Anglo-Irish gentry. O’Faolain’s view of the latter was fairly caustic.

          While they brought more civilizing gifts than any previous colonist, politically and socially ‘they were either wicked, indifferent or sheer failures’. Their achievements were so removed from the lives of the native Irish that they became part of English rather than Irish cultural history. O’Faolain acknowledged the role of Yeats and the like in the foundation of the national theatre, however. He reviewed the rebels among them Tone, Emmet, O’Connell and Parnell, and all the leaders of 1916 and after. After that he focused on the church, the writers and the politicians.

          Although the book was first published in the 1940s and revised two decades later, it is a mark of its achievement that it still gives plenty of food for thought, all of which begs the question: What does it mean to be Irish today? There are some who would say that we have been so swamped by the popular culture of Britain and America that being Irish amounts to very little today.

          Maybe no more than wearing a green leprechaun hat on St. Patrick’s Day, or waving green plastic shamrocks at a rugby or a soccer match involving the Irish team.

          We seem to have developed a penchant for aping and imitating some of the worst talent shows, or so called talent shows and reality shows from across the water and elsewhere. In the case of the latter, in particular, we have Irish variations of all that is crass and forgettable in their overseas counterparts. If the formula worked elsewhere then it will work here too: this seems to be the thinking behind much of this output. New technologies mean that so much of what we see and hear is internationalised. This is inevitable, but does it mean that we have to slavishly imitate all that is mediocre elsewhere and all for the sake of creating something equally mediocre ourselves, albeit with a greenish tinge?

          De Valera’s vision of the comely maidens dancing at the crossroads may have been too romantic, too isolationist to appeal to many of us today, but it could be argued that the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

          The upheavals in church and state have, of course, challenged our view of Irishness too in recent times. There was a time when religion was at the heart of our national identity and consciousness, but the shock waves of revelation after revelation have inevitably taken their toll. In like manner, our faith in the political system has been sorely tested too. On a lighter note there were some who were critical of John Hinde’s postcard views of Ireland. I have to admit I have always loved them for their romance and sense of atmosphere.

          Happily, our national games are played with the same intensity as ever, the colour and drama of All Ireland Final day unforgettable still. Likewise our traditional music and dance are more popular than ever. It was Padraig Pearse who wrote Tir Gan Teanga, Tir Gan Anam, country without a language, country without a soul. I wonder what he and his fellow patriots would make of Ireland today.

          Would they be disillusioned that we have left so much behind, or would they be glad of our achievements, resigned to the fact that life is a work in progress and that changing times bring changing values? Finally, is the weather part of what we are? Are we shaped by living on an island ‘of dark green brooding under a sky that is one vast pearl?’

          Read Patrick O’Sullivan regularly in Ireland’s Own

            0 2149

            EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs

            The world is a much changed place to what it was in my youth in the 1950s.

            Extensive changes in technology and communication have ended a traditional way of life that had been static for many generations. Without leaving our homes, now we can see and hear about events as they happen in almost every part of our planet.

            New machines and gadgets have brought us more leisure, more ‘free’ time and all this has happened in one short generation.

            However, despite the ease and pleasure provided for us by these changes, they have destroyed many of the old customs of Irish life, particularly Irish rural life.

            The art of conversation within the home and among neighbours around the fire at night is practically gone.

            Places where people met to do business and talked and chatted have practically all disappeared.

            The small shop in the countryside and in the villages and towns has almost disappeared. Most of the rural pubs have closed; the small creameries, the forges, the post offices, the open-air dancing platforms – all have gone. These were the central pillars upon which the survival of rural culture was based. Rural Ireland, for the most part, is a much lonelier place. Many of the young have gone to the cities or emigrated to England, the U.S.A., Australia and elsewhere. For centuries the traditions, customs, stories and beliefs were kept alive by being told over and over again. For example, the poems of Seán Ó Coileáin and other West Cork poets were kept alive orally for generations.

            They were written down in this area by men like Peadar Ó hAnnracháin and Micheal Ó Cuileannáin in the Skibbereen area. The Irish Folklore Commission did much to collect the lore from the old people.

            In the 1930s they had a scheme whereby the teachers and pupils collected a vast amount of folklore – stories, poems, songs, customs, folk cures, weather lore, spirits and fairies, etc. For centuries the people had been deeply religious, cherishing a simple ‘black and white’ faith. Just as their way of life was an endless struggle to survive, the spiritual life was also seen as a struggle of good versus evil, with all good things – good luck – coming from God and misfortune – bad luck – coming from the forces of evil.

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


            0 1618

            By Margaret Smith

            Australia’s largest Catholic church, and one which has been described as ‘the finest church building in the country’, owes its origins to an Irishman from County Cork, James Goold.

            He studied for the priesthood in Italy and then volunteered for missionary work in Australia, arriving there in 1838.

            Ten years later, he was appointed Melbourne’s first Catholic Bishop but, as there was no Cathedral in the city, it fell to him to organise the construction of one and on 9th April 1850, he laid the foundation stone of the church on land that had previously been a sheep run.

            Strangely, eight years were to pass before any work took place because gold had been discovered not far away and men from all levels of society left the city in the hope of finding fame and fortune in the goldfields.

            When work did eventually start, Bishop Goold realised that the ever -increasing population of the city meant that the original plans were inadequate and a larger church would be needed. Building work began once again and, after Mass had been celebrated in the partially completed structure, the Bishop then announced that this second church was also going to be inadequate.

            Many of his congregation, along with other citizens, were frustrated at what was described as the annual knocking down and rebuilding of St. Patrick’s. Bishop Goold then announced that the ‘new’ St. Patrick’s was going to be a church ‘worthy of the city’ and help arrived in the shape of William Wilkinson Wardell.

            This thirty-five year old architect had emigrated to Australia from the UK in the hope of improving his failing health.

            The Catholic convert had something of a reputation too, having been responsible for the restoration, or building, of over thirty churches in twelve years. Bishop and architect met and, within a short time, Wardell had produced plans for a cathedral of immense proportions, which was to include – at Bishop Goold’s insistence – parts of the work that had been done on the earlier churches.

            The work was actually greater than anything ever attempted in Australia and would become the largest church built anywhere in the nineteenth century. With contracts signed, work began in December 1858, the same year coincidentally as the other great cathedral dedicated to St. Patrick, that in New York, was begun.

            By 1868 the nave was completed and Masses were being said and the organ was installed in 1880. But, from then on, building work was very slow, almost coming to a halt on a number of occasions due to lack of funds and the economic situation of the country.

            However, John Fitzpatrick, Vicar-General of the Diocese and Dean of the Cathedral, cajoled the people with his regular exhortation that “it is God’s work, it cannot be stopped,” whilst Wardell himself reminded people that this was to be a “building for all time and for “generations yet unborn”.

            Eventually, on 27th October, 1897, the building, which had cost over £200,000 sterling, was consecrated. Much work still remained though. In the twenty years after the consecration, the cathedral’s interior decoration was completed largely in accordance with Wardell’s plans. Work went ahead on the three spires during the 1930’s with the main spire surmounted by a cross six metres high, a gift from the Irish government in 1938.

            Many are somewhat surprised by the lack of stained glass here, apart from that in the chapels and sanctuary. The remaining windows, with either ‘amber’ or ‘cathedral’ glass, allow light through which actually beautifies the interior.

            The original main door, considered too narrow for ceremonial processions, was replaced by a wider one. Today’s Cathedral is 340 feet long and 350 feet high, making it the tallest church in Australia. Sadly, Bishop Goold never saw ‘his’ Cathedral completed as he died in 1886, but he is buried in the Holy Soul’s Chapel, along with Dean John Fitzpatrick. It was perhaps appropriate that his successor should be another Irishman, Thomas Joseph Carr.

            This former Bishop of Galway was not initially happy at this new appointment but he carried out his duties with a quiet determination and enthusiasm that quickly gained him the respect and love of his congregation. Indeed, within ten years of his arrival, the cathedral was free of debt.

            Wardell, who was also responsible for St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, saw the completion of this Cathedral and even when he died in 1899 he was still working on designs for other ecclesiastical buildings. There are numerous Irish connections both inside and outside this building.

            Its two Irish Bishops lie inside, Bishop Goold in the Holy Soul’s Chapel and Bishop Carr in the Sacred Heart Chapel. Outside, in the grounds, is a statue of the man whose success in the 1928 County Clare election led to the attainment of Catholic Emancipation, Daniel O’Connell, better known as ‘the Liberator’. 

            Read more articles like this in your weekly Ireland’s Own

            0 2048

            Daughter, sister, friend, actress, singer, dancer, international recording star, producer, T.V. and radio presenter and first lady of hit musicals, Elaine Paige has done it all and this year is celebrating fifty fabulous years in show business . . . and she’s coming to Ireland, writes Amanda Bell

            A star was born on the 5th of March, 1948, to Eric and Irene Bickerstaff from Barnett, North London.

            The precious baby girl cradled in her mother’s arms was called Elaine Jill Bickerstaff.

            She would go on to some day be known as the first lady of musicals and become a worldwide star, though they could not have known this at the time.

            Elaine was doted on by all the family especially her older sister Marion, whom she is still very close to today.

            Barnett is filled with many fond memories for Elaine.

            Her dad worked as an estate agent and was also a drummer who played in a dance band at weekends.

            Her mum was a gifted milliner who loved to sing as she worked on many beautiful creations.

            To this day Miss Paige cannot pass a hat shop by without stopping to take a look.

            Being surrounded by music, fashion and the family’s interest in the theatre was to become a big influence on her growing up.

            During secondary school the talented young girl enjoyed playing sport and had a very keen interest in singing and drama.

            Elaine loved to play tennis at school and at one stage thought she might like take it up professionally. That was until someone at school made a joke and said “you won’t see over the net Elaine” and that put paid to that idea.

            Even then Elaine was a petite beauty. She is just 4ft 11” in height. The wonderful thing about Elaine Paige is she doesn’t let a thing like size hold her back and laughed it off and has done ever since.

            In fact her size was to lead to her getting some prize roles during her career, as many of the characters she played were diminutive in stature also.

            Elaine has the most wonderful sense of humour and she herself is the first to crack a joke about how tall she is. Never one to be deterred, Elaine still plays tennis today and loves it.

            During her final years at school her career ideas where changing as soon as she discovered drama classes. After getting a role in the school production of a Mozart comic opera, she completely threw herself in to the role, so much so that when she sang the mezzo soprano role of Bastienne she added in her own extra piece of drama for good measure.

            During the sad part of the song she sank to her knees and sobbed for real. The audience was mesmerised. Elaine’s parents were in the audience too and they knew their daughter should be encouraged in her talent. It was soon after that outstanding performance that she was enrolled at the Aida Foster Theatre School.

            There she excelled as a student in song, dance and drama. After finishing drama school she auditioned for many roles and, as any actor will tell you, there is no such thing as overnight success. It takes time, as Elaine found out.

            She acted in commercials, was one of the many dancers in the film Oliver and also was in many chorus lines in many shows until she got her first break. This experience was to stand to her greatly.

            The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd was her first big audition. She was naturally nervous and still very young, so it was rather overwhelming standing there alone singing into the darkness of an empty theatre whilst knowing somewhere sitting in one of rows of seats, was a director listening to you and watching your every move on stage.

            The song she sang didn’t go as well as she wanted and the director called “next”. However Elaine and her agent knew the part was made for her and with a bit more confidence and practice she could certainly nail it.

            The problem was she already auditioned for the part using her real name Elaine Bickerstaff, as that was what she was known as then. So a new stage name was needed so she could reapply. That night Elaine flicked through the phonebook looking for inspiration. Then she realised what she was doing i.e. turning ‘pages. So she did a spelling change on the name Page and added an i.

            From that night on Elaine Bickerstaff became Elaine Paige. This was to be her new stage name forever after. The next day it was Elaine Paige who auditioned for the role she had tried the day before, but with new found self-confidence and a well-practiced piece, the song was a winner and won her the part.

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              0 1105

              TOM NESTOR recalls the battle of wills between his parents over what use the new barrel would be put to

              My father bought the barrel at an auction, so cheap that he couldn’t turn it down.

              It lay in the outhouse for several years as he figured out what to do with it.

              It was my mother who suggested that he place it near the back door where it could be easily accessed. But for what reason he wanted to know.

              ‘Twas he who bought the barrel and therefore should have some say as to how it might be used.

              My mother had many uses for a supply of water at her back door and could find many others if put to the test.

              There was an orchard on the western side of the house and a wall enclosing it.

              One end, near the back door, was left open to ease the coming and going of the household and there were many.

              Most walking journeys began from there, walking to school, running errands to Maggie Barrett’s shop, heading at evening time to Dunne’s hurling field, and most often, slipping away quietly, all of us expert, to avoid the drudge of hated chores.

              Trouble was that once one passed through the opening you also passed by the kitchen window looking west.

              My mother had an invisible eye in her forehead according to the lore of many failures.

              So, even before you had passed by the rain barrel, you dropped into a simian position and didn’t stand upright again until the step to the fields was reached.

              My father, though he would never accept it, had bought that barrel for a myriad of purposes, some vital, some useful, some grandiose with their full flow of imagination.

              Perhaps that was why he paid little attention to their creation until the woman of the house made up her mind and destroyed every one of his intentions, the low blown and the high blown, some ordinary, some soaring with make believe.

              It was the sudden declaration that a water container, right beside the house, was a primal necessity, capable of solving many existing problems in one fell swoop, that destroyed his vaunted mythical ambitions.

              Even if he just left it in the spare stall in the cow byre, the process of imagining and the fall out therefrom, whiled away many a dreary day in meadow or garden. And probably that was why the vision that my mother had was never put in place.

              Her idea was that a tap would convert that water barrel from something useful to something soaring with possibilities. A tap, placed near the bottom, spilling water into basins and pails by the simplest of all actions, the law of gravity. Or, to put it another way, as it was frequented quoted in that part of the world, everything that goes up has to come down.

              What a boon it would be, almost nothing in expense, and it wouldn’t require someone with a degree in mathematics, engineering, or nuclear physics, to drill a small hole near the bottom and fix on the brass coloured tap with a few screws.

              Think of it. The thought was reminded of, time and again, morning noon and night, after the dinner, after the weather forecast on the radio. And later on again, as the silence enveloped the kitchen and its occupants, she would raise her head from a book she was reading after supper, as if something within it had stoked her remembrance, and wondered, sotto voce, and to no one in particular, when was the tap to be installed.

              My father nodded, as if the very same notion had occurred to him, the man of the house, and if a stranger mistook what sounded like acquiesce, he or she would be far from the reality. If asking was failing she then resorted to strategy. There was idle moments when we were all gathered together, particularly late in the evening.

              The boss man was sitting in his favourite chair in what we called Barrett’s side, our neighbours within calling distance, lower lip over the top one as if he was unravelling some obscure mathematical problem.

              She would subtly make her case for the barrel with a tap, sending it forth in an entirely innocent observation. We were in a dry spell. For weeks the sky was cloudless. She had read somewhere that a clear cloudless daytime sky is blue because the molecules in the air scatter more blue light from the sun than they scatter red light.

              My father looked up with a deliberate puzzled face and offered his usual rejoinder, “Is that a fact now. Fancy that?” The beauty about that response was that no one was certain of its interpretation.

              The man who uttered the phrase could spin it into several possibilities, as if it were some strange language that every now and then morphed into another form or forms. But the lady wasn’t done yet.

              The water in the barrel had gone low. It made filling awkward. A body had to reach down to the bottom with a bucket and then tilt the barrel before that body could fill.

              And another thing that was a problem, whether the sky had more blue light than red light or no light at all, was the effort of hauling up a filled bucket and hoisting over the rim. And there was another thing that needed a different solution all together.

              Many times lately the barrel had been become the repository of the larger birds, pigeons and jackdaws and crows, which relieved themselves as they passed by overhead. Why don’t you throw something over it, the man said, one of my old coats in the barn. He offered the solution as if it was the product of long hours and a host of prototypes in the making. And that was that. My mother returned to her book. My father reached behind for a Gold Flake cigarette, lit up, inhaled and exhaled, as if the problem had been permantely put to bed.

              Secretly I hoped that the tap would never be installed. I had this strange notion, though I had no reason why, that somehow it would change my habits irrevocably and cause me trouble. I had a wild head, full of blonde, wiry hair in those days, that refused to lie down unless compelled to. I was too young to douse it with hair oil.

              A youngster like me, smearing on Brlycreem, was unheard of. So, every morning on my way to school, I wetted the comb in the water barrel and pulled it through several times until the hair sat flat. And I wasn’t alone in that solution. I could tell that my class mates did likewise though they wouldn’t admit. I could see the water smear on the hair that appeared when it dried out.

              More often than not I washed my face from that barrel, bringing forth water in my cupped hands. No soap. Soap was for sissies. Anyway it was fraught with danger. Very easily the soap would slip from the hands and settle itself, as if that was its calling, in the bottom of the barrel.

              And once, on a Sunday, my father was walking the fields, my mother had gone to an ICA excursion, this out of nowhere mad notion appeared to me.

              It wasn’t warm enough to go bathing, but the notion kept daring me to do so. So I threw off the clothes, naked as the day I came into the world, and lowered myself into the barrel. I splashed like a hippopotamus at a water hole, imagined that I was the first boy of Great Britain and Ireland who swam the channel. I swam until my fingers started to go blue. 

                0 1442

                Patrick O’Sullivan writes about the introduction of card games into Irish society

                It was not until the 15th and 16th centuries that the playing of cards was introduced into Ireland by English settlers.

                Elizabethan writers such as Edmund Campion and the poet Edmund Spenser were severely critical however of those professional gamblers who lay in wait for unsuspecting travellers by the wayside.

                They invited the travellers to a game of cards, wagering everything from money to clothes, even their own hair on the outcome of the game.

                The popular Irish term for a gambler was ‘cearrbhach,’ one of the most celebrated stories being that of ‘An Cearrbhach MacCaba,’ who traded his soul for skill at card playing.

                The very early Irish myths reveal that it was the game of ‘fidchell,’ a game like chess which was popular amongst the nobles then. There were many tales of enchanted strangers coming to play fidchell with a chieftain or king, forcing them to honour some pledge that they made, when they eventually lost the game. In one story, for instance, the God, Midir, comes to play fidchell with the High King, Eochaid Airemh.

                When Eochaid says that his board is in the queen’s room and that she is still asleep, Midir produces his own silver board with men and gold and bronze.

                It is interesting to note that in later folklore, cards are substituted for chess in stories of enchanted strangers and wagers. The playing of cards for a small stake, such as a duck or goose or turkey, was very much a popular pastime in the rural Ireland of yesteryear. It was a society on the edge of television and, as such, still looked to itself, to its own resources for sports and pastimes and games. It was a society that knew little or nothing of cynicism and so not only allowed for, but revelled in, the possibility of wonder and magic and things beyond the ordinary.

                If the latter found expression in storytelling, then the game of cards was in a very real sense a token of community and friendship and togetherness too. I remember an old country kitchen, the firelight leaping and shining in the great open hearth, the scent of the logs woody and green, the heavy measured beat of the clock filling the stillness again.

                Then the kitchen filling up with people, the voices jovial, good humoured, full of the promise of things to come, the orange of the flames gleaming and glowing more brightly still. We did not think of it then, but the fragrance of the logs and the rhythm of the clock and the warmth of the voices had a magic all of its own. It was in a way like the music, the sweet incidental music of childhood, that finds echoes in memory still. It was the time of year when the harvest was gathered, the day of the thresher and the bagging of the grain remembered with pleasure again.

                The favourite game was thirty one, a variant of the five card game, the game for the duck or goose, generally preceded by a game or two for lesser prizes, when the wager might be sixpence or a shilling per player.

                Still the firelight swam in the old blue willowware on the dresser; outside the moonlight slanting across hedge and field and old boreen, the curlews calling in the bay beyond.

                Those who played cards believed in good luck, luck which might stem from such seemingly innocuous things as the way the cards were shuffled, or cut, or dealt.

                All of these were rituals of significance to the game. If a woman sat knitting or sewing behind a player she was sure to bring him good luck, but such a tradition was too well-know for it to go unnoticed. It might have been the luck of the needle for even a needle stuck in a player’s clothes without his knowledge was another guarantee of good fortune.

                It was very much a social occasion, however, the making of the tea part of the ritual. Then there was the boiling of the kettle, the latter suspended above the orange of the flames, the clink of cups and saucers, taken as they were from dresser or cupboard, the jingle of spoons.

                There was soda bread and butter and jam, but generally there were treats such as apple pie or barm brack, even seed loaf or butter loaf such as might be found the morning of the stations. The conversation was homely homespun.

                After the tea and the chat, it was back to the serious business of the game, the pendulum swinging unerringly still, the friendly old sheepdog half asleep by the fire. It was late enough when the company broke up at last, the last of the stragglers making their way home down old boreens and tracks, the curlews calling still in the moonlit bay beyond. 

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