From The Archives

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By Jim Rees

Think of James Cagney and what image springs to mind? Is it the maniacal Cody Jarrett on top of a blazing oil tank imploring his mother to see him “On top of the world, Ma”?

Or what about his shedding the hard-man image to break down in tears as he entered the execution room in Angels with Dirty Faces? Whatever it is, the image you conjure up will not be of him calling someone a dirty rat – he never used that line in any of his films.

My personal favourite is not Cagney as a gangster, but as a song-and-dance man – and it is not from Yankee Doodle Dandy. It is a dancing duet, more like a dancing duel, from the 1955 Bob Hope film The Seven Little Foys.

In that film, Cagney plays George M. Cohan, the role he made famous in the aforementioned Yankee Doodle Dandy. The highlight of the film is the three-and-a-half minute sequence in which the two great performers show how it’s done.

Cagney was a man of culture, an appreciator of art and how it enhances everyday life. In 1974, he was awarded the American Institute Life Achievement Award and in his acceptance speech, he quoted what he believed was the greatest definition of art he had ever heard. “Art,” he said, “is life plus.” He said that it is how a simple sentence when properly delivered becomes a line from Shakespeare. It is when a string of musical notes becomes a Beethoven sonata or when a walk becomes a dance. “That’s art.”

Some of the greatest names in film and showbusiness were there that night, and he held them in the palm of his hand for his nine-minute speech. John Wayne, Ronald Reagan (then governor of California), and a host of household names all hung on every word.

Frank Sinatra led the great man to the podium, and in his speech Cagney thanked him and referred to him as ‘one of the neighbours’ kids’.

It was all a far cry from his origins in New York’s district of Yorkville on the Lower East Side.

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By Noel Coogan

In an age in which television, mobile phones, internet, Facebook, Skype, etc., etc., provide so much access to communication, let’s look back to a few decades ago when the radio, or the wireless as it was once popularly referred to, was one of the few means of keeping up with the main news stories from at home and abroad.

When a young boy, I can recall one or two newspapers coming into my home in County Meath seven days a week and in 1956 our first radio arrived. Before that visits were made to neighbouring houses to listen to GAA matches and big horse races with the inimitable Michael O’Hehir describing the action from the games and races on Radio Éireann.

Getting the first wireless gave us access to an interesting variety of programmes with BBC Light and Radio Luxembourg other stations listened to. In those days radio stations were not on air for near as many hours as these days.

Among the home-produced light entertainment weekly programmes I remember include ‘Take The Floor’ and ‘Living With Lynch’. The presenter of ‘Take The Floor’ was a man called DJ Fitzgibbon, a Cork-native who lived in Dublin and was prominent in the motor business in the capital city.

The popular programme provided a mixture of music, song, jokes and one of the unusual features was listening to Rory O’Connor dancing. Many felt it was rather odd to hear dancing on the radio!

Joe Lynch, later to play a starring role in the ‘Glenroe’ television series, was the main man in ‘Living With Lynch’ with Charlie Byrne and Ronnie Walsh also playing prominent parts.

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In his new book Tom Wall tells the story of Roscommon’s John McGrath, the one-time Dublin cinema and theatre manager who spent time in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII

In the graveyard adjoining St Patrick’s Church in Elphin, in County Roscommon, lies the remains of John McGrath, possibly the most extraordinary of the thousands of Irishman who joined the fight against the Nazis during Second World War.
The inscription on his gravestone records that it is the resting place of his father, John, and mother, Mary, and of ‘Colonel John McGrath OBE’ who died on the 27th November, 1946.

No tombstone can encapsulate a deceased’s life story, but this inscription is as inaccurate it is inadequate. He was never officially a Colonel, and there is no record of him ever having been conferred with an OBE.

Even his Christian name is misleading: he was baptised Michael Joseph McGrath in the same church, in 1894. But none of this can take away from the fact that he was an immensely brave officer who twice became unwillingly immersed in bizarre Nazi intrigues.

McGrath was a veteran of the First World War, where he was wounded twice. After being decommissioned, he returned to Ireland and secured work in cinema management before becoming manager of the newly rebuilt Theatre Royal, in Dublin, in 1936, then the largest theatre in Europe.

On the opening night he was introduced on stage by Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Alfie Byrne, who told the audience that “it gave him the greatest pleasure to reintroduce Mr. John McGrath, whom they formally knew at the Savoy, and who had now come back to Dublin to manage this wonderful new theatre”.

Three years later, the Roscommon man went off to war again.

His active service in the Second World War didn’t last long, for he was among those who didn’t make it across the channel from Dunkirk. Nevertheless, he must have distinguished himself with the British Expeditionary Force, for he won a field promotion to Major.

After being wounded and captured at Rouen, he joined thousands of others in a horrendous 350-mile trek from Normandy to captivity in Germany. He was placed in an officers’ POW camp in Laufen near Salzburg, but his real problems only began when he was transferred to a special camp for Irish POWs.

The Germans, following their victory in France, had begun a process of segregating military prisoners along ethnic and national minority lines, with a view to winning recruits to their cause.

As part of this strategy, a secret camp for selected Irish POWs was established near the village of Friesack north of Berlin.
The project was the responsibility of German Military Intelligence, the Abwehr, whose aim was to form an Irish Brigade, along the lines of Roger Casement’s in WWI, although their ambition moderated when the level of cooperation proved lower than expected.

The revised plan was to train willing candidates for espionage or sabotage work, for which they were to be parachuted into Ireland or Britain.

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Ibar Quirke examines traditions associated with the Merry Month of May

May Bush
The custom of decorating a hawthorn bush to celebrate the arrival of summer has its origins in Celtic reverence for and worship of nature. May Bushes were commonly decorated with ribbons, cloth streamers and tinsel – although more adventurous people included the painted eggshells of Easter, as well as candles!

These wishing trees were left outside houses or in communal areas, around which people tied rags, or clotties, symbolising their hopes and prayers. Stealing from a wishing tree was a taboo borne out of the fear of na Sídhe, malevolent fairy spirits said to be active during this time of year.

Despite being most prevalent in the counties of Leinster, May Bushes could be found in Galway, south Ulster and Donegal.
To this day, people preserve this ancient custom by visiting the wishing trees at the Hill of Tara and St Bridgid’s Well, Kildare.

The tradition of dancing around decorated poles placed in town centres or village greens has its origins in Germanic celebrations which heralded the arrival of spring.

Introduced to the British Isles by Germanic tribes, maypoles developed in their modern form during the Middle Ages as single poles began to be used instead of whole trees.

Oliver Cromwell banned the tradition of maypole-dancing during the Protectorate, as he considered its origins sinful. This tradition fell into obscurity until John Ruskin revived it during the late Victorian Era. On May Day, people don Medieval garb and dance to the sounds of fiddle and concertina. Ireland’s only maypole can be found in Holywood, Co Down, a gift given to the townspeople by a crew of Dutch traders in gratitude for the hospitality and assistance they received when their ship ran aground offshore by Belfast Lough in 1620.

The maypole stands at a height of 16.74 metres.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Co-operative Creamery has been an important aspect of rural Ireland for many years now. While most small independent co-ops have been absorbed into the major creameries, many will be celebrating 100 years around this time. Maudabawn Co-operative Creamery, in Co. Cavan, has just celebrated 90 years as an independent Co-op, the founders having overcame many obstacles to provide services to the local farmers and help combat what is now referred to as “rural isolation”, writes Pat Farrell.


Maudabawn is a small rural community nestled in the drumlins of north east Cavan, about five miles from Cootehill. In the 1920’s the biggest farmer in the area had 8 cows and only a handful had 5 or 6. Most farmers had two. The closest creamery was eight miles away. John Bannon, who was secretary of the local branch of the Irish Farmers’ Union, felt that a creamery was needed in Maudabawn. The only viable option was to establish a Co-operative.

The modern concept of the co-operative is generally attributed to Horace Plunkett in the late nineteenth century and through his efforts many societies were formed. In the Brehon Laws of the Celts there was a chapter on co-operative farming, mostly dealing with common lands and tillage.

The basis of the law was that no matter what a farmer contributed to the enterprise he only reaped what he sowed. This is the principle of a co-operative creamery; no matter how many shares are owned each shareholder has only one vote. Each supplier is only paid for his own milk.

The local schoolmaster, Bernard Brady N.T. and the local curate, Fr. O’Reilly, came on board and 208 dairy farmers applied for shares. Shares were allocated on the basis of three £1 shares per cow resulting in 1,643 shares. Why were so many farmers willing to invest in a co-operative? Undoubtedly the three men mentioned were great leaders and with a committee of sixteen well respected members the idea gained momentum.

Timing in any development is crucial. The country was barely five years old. There must have been a sense of “Is féidir linn”. Almost one fifth of the original committee was non-Catholic and, unusually for the time, there was no official opening where the new creamery would be blessed by the Church. Many of course would have seen it as a way to improving their lives, a simple question of economics.

Officials in the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (the predecessor of today’s ICOS) were not against a new creamery but had to be mindful of the effect on existing co-operatives. With such a large amount of shares a new creamery would have to go ahead and IAOS gave its full backing to the new co-operative. The support and guidance of IAOS was both needed and appreciated by the Maudabawn Creamery.
Choosing a site was the next problem. Each side of the parish wanted it close to their area. The Parish Priest didn’t want it too close to the church. There had to be a source of water and, unbelievable by today’s standards, there had to be access to the river for waste and washings!

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Caption: Emperor penguins at the calving front of Thwaites glacier ice shelf in Antarctica Credit: James Kirkham

By Maurice McAleese

A COUNTY Antrim man found himself in the media spotlight back in February, 1913 when it was learned that the famous Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, had perished, along with four companions, on the return journey from an expedition to the South Pole.

At the time, James B Love, originally from Kirkhills, near Ballymoney, was living in the house in Devonport in which Scott had been born, having taken up residence some years earlier.

Presumably there was some kind of rental arrangement because the property was still owned by the Scott family. It was in good hands – Love was a close friend of the explorer and had, in fact, entertained him in the old family home shortly before he set off on the Polar expedition which was destined to end so tragically.

Just over a year earlier, on January 18th, 1912, Scott and his companions had succeeded in reaching the South Pole. But two months later, on the return journey, they encountered horrific blizzard conditions and found themselves trapped in the frozen wastes about 155 miles from the base camp at Cape Evans.
It was not until February, 1913, that their bodies were discovered. There was a great outpouring of sympathy for the victims’ families, none more so than Captain Scott’s wife, Kathleen, who had been on her way to New Zealand fully anticipating a happy reunion with her husband.

The news was particularly poignant for the Ballymoney man who, some years earlier, had taken over the Scott family home, ‘Outlands’, situated at Milehouse in Devonport. Love was then a well-known public figure in Devonport, having served for many years as an Alderman on the local Council. Described as “a charming old residence”, Scott was born there on June 6th, 1868.

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Chieftain-in-chief Paddy Moloney founded Ireland’s spectacularly successful traditional music group fifty-seven years ago and the sprightly eighty-year-old is as enthusiastic about his music now as he was back when it all first started, he tells Kay Doyle.

On a quiet afternoon in the early 1940s, a six-year-old boy strolled into Bolger’s music shop on Dublin’s Chatham Street holding his mother’s hand. He picked out a little plastic tin whistle for himself, and she bought it for the princely sum of one shilling and nine pence. Neither of them could have known on that fateful day that this youngster would go on to be one of Ireland’s greatest whistle players, a master of many musical instruments, a gifted composer and the founder of one of the world’s most loved traditional music groups.

Paddy Moloney is wearing his trademark smile and is as happy as the spring day that’s in the air, as he remembers how music filled his childhood. Growing up in Donnycarney, north Dublin, he was surrounded by a hive of music. Having mastered the tin whistle at eight, he progressed to the uilleann pipes under the tutelage of the great pipe master, Leo Rowsome, who luckily lived just up the road.

“There were five pipers around the Donnycarney area at the time including Peadar Flynn and Dan O’Dowd. I’d go around the cul de sac playing like the pied piper and my pals would be following behind me,” he laughs.

Paddy’s father, John, was an army man before becoming a clerksman in Donnycarney Church. Married to Catherine (nee Conroy), they had four children, three girls and a boy.

“It was an extremely happy childhood. Actually, to me it was a kingdom. I went to Scoil Mhuire Marino and there was a Christian Brother, McCaffrey, there who encouraged the music in me a lot. That class, incidentally, had John Sheahan of The Dubliners in it too!

“I loved the hour of music every day in school. The tonic sol-fa was the scales system I used, same as the Chinese. I’d often get up and conduct the school band and because I knew the tonic sol-fa Brother McCaffery would always have me up demonstrating on the days the school inspector came in. I think it’s because he didn’t know how to do it himself!”

If his Dublin musical influences weren’t strong enough, Paddy’s rural roots surely set in stone the path this young boy would take. His grandfather was from Ballyfin in Co. Laois, and played the flute. He remembers it like it were yesterday; those six weeks he’d spend there every summer with all his aunts, uncles and his mother, playing the accordion, singing songs and telling stories.

“At home my mother would allow me to play the wind-up gramophone and I’d put on old records of céilí bands and Count John McCormack especially if I had a day off school – which I would try to manufacture as best I could. I’d come down and put on all my records, delighted with myself,” he laughs with that schoolboy charm still evident.

Around the age of ten, Paddy attended the School of Music in Chatham Street every Friday for his half-hour lesson with Leo Rowsome.

“At the annual school concert I’d always play O’Carolan’s Concerto. One year at the Feis Átha Cliath there were about 16 pipers against me, all older than me, but I won. I can still see Leo carrying me down the middle of the Round Room in the Mansion House when I got that first medal. It was so special.”
Paddy praises the encouragement of his family, teachers and other musicians for carrying him on his musical journey. But it was his own unique style of piping that he developed that would propel him to a world audience.

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