From The Archives

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By Martin Gleeson

The great playwright Brian Friel, who died in October 2015, has been described as “one of the greatest English-language dramatists”.

Originally from Knockmoyle, Co. Tyrone, Brian was the son of a primary school teacher and postmistress.

The family moved to Derry when Brian was ten years old. He received his secondary education in St. Columb’s College, a Catholic Boys’ Grammar school in Derry. Other pupils of this school include Seamus Heaney, John Hume, Phil Coulter, Paul Brad, and Richie Kavanagh. Note that the first two of these were Nobel Prize Laureates.

After training in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and St. Joseph’s Training College, Belfast, Brian taught Mathematics in Derry but took leave in 1960 to pursue a career as a writer. He moved to Co. Donegal, settling outside Greencastle

Brian wrote 14 plays in all, many of them about the people from his fictional town of Ballybeg. He worked as a writer and journalist but his big breakthrough came in 1964 with his play Philadelphia Here I Come. This was followed by The Loves of Cass Maguire and then Lovers.

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By David Mullen

When cycle manufacturer William Morris first started building cars in Oxford in 1912, he couldn’t have foreseen that within 12 years, his company would become the largest car company in Britain.

By 1924, as the economy recovered after the First World War, 51% of all new cars sold in England had rolled out of Morris’ factory in Cowley.

It had never been a particularly innovative company, but its Bullnose model gave it a reputation for solid, dependable machines and the founder’s success would elevate him in a few short years from plain old William Morris to Lord Nuffield.

By the 1930s, models like the Morris Eight ensured that even on the eve of the war, the company was still Britain’s biggest.
When the Second World War came in 1939, car production ground to a halt. Morris, like companies all over Britain, stopped development of new cars and turned its attention to building aircraft and other equipment for the military.

The engineering department attempted (not very successfully) to come up with all kinds of new vehicles for the army. One of those engineers was a young, Turkish-born designer named Alec Issigonis.

By 1942, when it looked like the tide of the war was turning, Morris began to think about what it’d do once the war was over. After all, there hadn’t been any new cars since 1938 and once the war ended, the company would have to go back to selling old models like the Eight. Issigonis was instructed to get-going on designing a new small car, codenamed Mosquito, to go into production around 1947. He was the right man for the job as he had very strong ideas about small cars.

They were often quite cramped, which he felt was ridiculous. People who bought small cars were the same size as people who bought big ones and even if the car wasn’t big on the outside, there should still be plenty of interior space.
Prototypes were ready by 1943, but development continued right up until 1948. Shortly before the Mosquito went into production, Issigonis decided that the American-styled body was too narrow. He ordered it to be sawn in half lengthways and four inches of metal added, widening it.

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For three-quarters of a century the beautiful Skellig Islands off the southwest coast of Ireland have been the main passion of Des Lavelle’s life, as can be seen in these extracts from his book Skellig, Experience the Extraordinary.

The Skellig Islands are many times more important than either their size or location would suggest. In any world map of archaeology, the Skellig stands out in bold, conspicuous letters; similarly, in the ornithological world, the name of Skellig conveys a richness of seabird life that is not easily equaled.

And there is more: fascinating lighthouse history, magnificent cliff scenery, interesting local folklore, incredible richness in the surrounding ocean … and the many, many Skellig questions that do not have answers.

But that is only part of the motivation for this book. The real reason is that these Skellig Islands continue to fascinate me – even after some seventy-five years of visitations. I have sailed around them, flown over them and dived on every sheer underwater cliff face beneath them; I have visited them in childhood and perhaps fifty times each year from 1968 to 2014 to wander and wonder, and by researching, writing and poring over a wide variety of photographs, I can be out there immediately in spirit, savouring, as George Bernard Shaw said about the place, ‘the magic that takes you out, far out, of this time and this world.’

These spiritual visits are too wonderful to hide, but one must try to strike a balance of interest for the historian, the bird-lover, the archaeology student, the Kerryman who hungers for more knowledge of his native ground and for that day-visitor who seeks a jolt of fantasy in his life.

Legend & History
‘Like two mighty ships, sailing along majestically with every shred of canvas set’; such are the Skellig rocks – Skellig Michael and Small Skellig – located eight sea miles (14km) off Valentia Island on the Atlantic coast of Kerry. These great towering sea-crags, steeped as they are in history and legend, become daily more and more important in this age of bustle, pollution and all-consuming ‘progress’. The archaeology of Skellig, the birdlife, the seals, the wide-open, timeless scenery – for one reason or another there is a balm for every soul on the Skelligs.

Visible from so many coastal vantage points between Dursey head in County Cork and Slea head in West Kerry, the Skellig Islands – Skellig Michael and Small Skellig – nonetheless seem to stand aloof, isolated and insulated from any mainland association.

This is but a latter-day impression. In any early age, a sea route was always an easier highway to traverse than the trackless mountains and boglands of the interior or the lengthy indentations of the local coast – Dingle bay, Ballinskelligs bay, Kenmare bay, Bantry bay…

Skellig and its environs were well travelled by such voyagers, local and international, throughout all eras, and it is hardly surprising that the wedge tomb at Cool East, Valentia Island, aligned ENE-WSW – as are many such megalithic monuments – in this instance, offers, from within the tomb, a tranquil scene of a well-known Skellig that is spiritually uplifting for any departing soul of any age or era.

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Carmaker Henry Ford and his mighty contribution to Allied Victory, by Con McGrath

Henry Ford was a leading industrialist throughout the early 1900s and created the first mass produced automobiles. Ford held many strong convictions on religion, history, politics, and war. These convictions led him to oppose both World Wars at their outbreak in line with his general pacifism, but he then eventually stood behind his own country as the United States entered the wars.

The carmaker extraordinaire was born July 30, 1863 to William and Mary Ford in Greenfield Township, Michigan, USA. Henry’s father William was born in Ballinascarthy near Clonakilty, in West Cork, and was the son of Thomasine (née Smith) and Jonathan ‘John’ Ford.

It was in 1847 that John (Henry Ford’s grandfather) left famine-stricken Ballinscarthy with his family for America. In Michigan John bought a farm from an old acquaintance from West Cork, Henry Maybury. Incidentally, residing on the adjacent farm was another Cork man, Patrick Ahern from Fair Lane off Shandon Street in Cork City. This family would play a part in the subsequent story of John’s son William.

Said William, aged 21 when he left Ballinascarthy, went to work farming on his father’s farm, while also using his carpentry tools which he had brought over from Ireland.

On April 21, 1861, William married Mary Litogot, she was an orphan (a daughter of Belgian immigrants) and had been adopted by Patrick Ahern and his family. William and Mary had eight children, six of whom survived into adulthood.

Their son Henry was ambitious and interested in mechanical objects. He experimented with machinery while still helping on the family farm. When aged 25, Henry married Clara Jane Bryant, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, on April 11, 1888. In the home he built for his wife on a 40-acre tract his father William gave him, Henry drew his first diagram of a gasoline engine, which he was convinced was destined to replace the noisy steam engine.

Henry soon realized that he could not build his engine on a farm, but needed the superior mechanical equipment that could be found in a city such as Detroit. So in 1891, the young couple moved to Detroit, where Henry found employment as a machinist.
At home in his kitchen Ford experimented and tested his engine idea, with the engine clamped to the sink, the spark plug connected to the ceiling light socket, and the oil cup tended by his wife. With his gasoline engine a success, Ford’s next ambition was to make his engine drive a four-wheel carriage. Motor vehicles were being produced by hand in Europe, but there was no commercial manufacturing of any motorcar.

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The West Clare Railway provided a very important service until it was shunted into history when it was finally closed down in February, 1961. It still continues to steam slowly and erratically in popular memory fuelled by the Percy French song ‘Are ye right there, Michael’, writes Gerry Breen.


The West Clare Railway opened on 2nd July, 1887. Two years before that, Charles Stewart Parnell was invited to turn the first sod in laying the tracks at Miltown-Malbay, where he was greeted by one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Clare. He was presented with a silver spade and a wheelbarrow made of bog-oak.

The railway was a steam driven three-feet narrow-gauge rail service that ran from the county town of Ennis along the west coast of Clare, stopping at numerous points along the way to two termini, at Kilrush and Kilkee. The railway employed about seventy people in Ennis alone, so it was an important addition to the economic life of the town.

Shortly after the Second World War, in 1948, the Irish national railway Córas Iompair Éireann (CIE) were preparing to close the line, but, instead, they decided to replace the steam engines with diesel engines. The last steam passenger train departed from Ennis on 15th March, 1952.

Attempts before 1887 to provide railway transport connections to west Clare didn’t succeed because of the remoteness of the area and the reluctance of investors to risk their money in such a venture.

However, when Parliament passed an Act entitled ‘The Tramways Act’ in 1883, new possibilities were opened up. The Act contained provisions which allowed the construction of a narrow-gauge track, and this meant that the costs of building a railroad would be halved and would guarantee a return for investors. Almost immediately, work began on the building of the West Clare Railway.

When the West Clare Railway was being built, it was originally intended to provide a service between Ennis and Kilrush. However, a number of its directors who owned lands in the far west of the county, shrewdly formed a second company to promote a similar railway serving the towns of Kilrush and Kilkee.

Needless to say, the railway brought new life to the entire area. It was welcomed by farmers, who could use it to transport their livestock to markets, and by business people generally.

The Kilrush Horse Fair and the Lahinch Garland Day celebrations, as well as many other events, attracted bigger attendances, and Kilkee became known as the ‘Brighton of the West’. The train service guaranteed faster delivery of goods and services and was hugely beneficial to people over a wide area.

By the turn of the century, there were five trains each way between the county town of Ennis, with many stopping points along the way, to Kilrush and Kilkee. It was calculated that more than 200,000 passengers travelled on the line and 80,000 tonnes of freight and livestock were carried each year.

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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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Irish author Maeve Binchy looking at a photo album as she sits in a chair while her husband, writer Gordon Snell, looks on over her shoulder, at home. (Photo by Ian Cook/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Mary Sheerin pays tribute to one of Ireland’s most loved authors on the seventh anniversary of her death

A few months ago I attended the opening night of Light a Penny Candle in the Gaiety Theatre. Gordon Snell, the husband, of the late iconic writer kindly invited lots of Maeve’s friends and family to what was a most enjoyable theatrical evening.
The play, based on Maeve’s first book of the same name, was adapted for the stage by Shay Linehan and directed by Peter Sheridan. The theatre was packed to the brim and the play got a standing ovation.

As so often happens with stage adaptations, I preferred the actual book to the play. I felt a lot of Maeve’ wry humour; her attention to the tiny day-to-day detail of people’s lives and her trademark warmth, was somewhat lost. That said, however, it must be remembered that Maeve’s first book was all of 540 pages, so it was a brave and noble attempt to dramatise the complexities and the social history of Maeve’s book.

And isn’t it a wonderful way to keep the memory and work of one of Ireland’s most beloved and popular writers alive?
She may not have been with us physically on the night but her spirit was well and truly there amongst us – not least by her beloved Gordon.

The audience loved it and I knew it would be a great success as we mark the seventh anniversary of her passing on July 30th.

LIGHT A PENNY CANDLE was published in 1982 and as already stated above was Maeve’s first novel. At the time she was London correspondent for the Irish Times and lived in Hammersmith with her husband, Gordon Snell.
She already had three books of short stories under her belt – Central Line; Victoria Line and Dublin 4.

She had also had plays performed at the Peacock Theatre – A Half Promised Land and End of Term. Her television play Deeply Regretted By …had won two Jacob’s Awards and the Best Script Award at the Prague Film Festival.

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By Paul Craven

ELLEN HANLEY was born in Ballycahane, near Croom, County Limerick. Her date of birth is given variously as 1803 and 1804. Her parents were Michael Hanley, a farmer, and his first wife, whose maiden name was believed to be Connery.
Known as Ellie, tragedy struck when she was aged only six – her mother died. So, she was adopted by her uncle, John Connery, her late mother’s brother. A ropemaker by trade, he also lived in Ballycahane.

Young Ellie grew up to be strikingly beautiful. She became known as “An Cailín Bán”, or, “The Colleen Bawn”, which literally translates as “The White Girl”.

The word, “Bán”, or “White”, referred to the purity or innocence of her character, rather than her appearance. However, her Uncle John’s cottage was less than a mile from Ballycahane Castle, the home of the Scanlan family.
The eldest son of this family was John Scanlan, who enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a “Buck”.

This word, which comes from the Irish word, “boc”, was intended as a term of insult for a young man of poor character. He had held a Commission in the Army, but, in 1815, he was unceremoniously kicked out of the Army.

He then returned to the family home, Ballycahane Castle, and spent his time fishing and hunting. Then, on the 29th of June, 1819, he asked Ellie Hanley to elope with him. Ellie, who was barely sixteen years old at this stage, agreed.

So, she robbed her Uncle John’s house of a hundred pounds in banknotes and twelve guineas in gold coins. (These were astronomical amounts in 1819!)

She then quit Ballycahane with her sweetheart, who was accompanied by his servant and bestman, Stephen Sullivan. They travelled to Limerick where a mock marriage ceremony was performed.

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This year marks the centenary of one of the outstanding feats in the history of aviation, when two young airmen undertook the first ever successful attempt to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, writes Gerry Breen.

On Sunday, 15th June, 1919, two young airmen, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Browne, landed in their Vickers-Vimy aircraft in a bog at Derrigimlagh, south of Clifden, Co. Galway, fulfilling what many considered would be an impossible dream. They had taken off from Lester’s Field in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the previous day, and had covered a distance of almost 1,900 miles in 16 hours and 28 minutes.

The intrepid young airmen had succeeded in completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight, and their truly remarkable achievement earned them a prize of £10,000 and an honoured place in aviation history. In the course of their flight, they experienced atrocious weather, which included thick fog, snow and icy conditions, and at one point the turbulence was so severe, they almost plunged into the ocean. Their impossible dream had become a nasty nightmare, but they faced many life-threatening situations with remarkable calm and their relief can only be imagined as they arrived safely on Irish soil.

Their average speed during the Atlantic crossing was 120 miles per hour. On take-off, their plane carried 865 gallons of petrol and 40 gallons of oil. When they landed at Derrigimlagh, they still had sufficient fuel to cover a further ten hours’ flying time.

John Alcock and Arthur Brown received a hero’s welcome from admirers around the world. When the great American aviator Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris after his own record- breaking flight in 1927, he acknowledged the feat accomplished by the two airmen. Lindbergh told the crowd that had gathered to welcome him that ‘Alcock and Brown showed me the way!’

Who were these fearless pioneers? John Alcock was born in 1892 in Basford House on Seymour Grove, Firstwood, Manchester. He was known to his family and friends as ‘Jack’, and from a young age, he was interested in flying. He gained his pilot’s licence in 1912 when he was just aged twenty.

He had tons of natural ability as a pilot and shortly after receiving his licence, he entered and won his first race. During the next two years, Alcock spent as much time in the air as he could and he was a regular competitor in aircraft competitions at Hendon.

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