From The Archives

0 248

Texan millionaire Glenn McCarthy opened the world-famous Shamrock Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day, 1949, writes John McHugh

It was St. Patrick’s Day, in 1946, that Glenn McCarthy announced in Houston, Texas, that he was going to build one of the biggest hotels in the United States right in Houston, Texas. Called The Shamrock, the hotel was to be so big it would dwarf anything built outside of New York or Los Angeles.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1949, the opening day of the hotel became a national event with newspaper coverage from around the world and full radio broadcasting coverage.

Gold Filigree invitations were sent out to 2,000 guests, including dignitaries from 24 foreign countries.
Glenn even rented a 14-car train which he called the Shamrock Special; this brought 150 of the top named people from Hollywood to the grand opening. The people in Houston knew who Glenn McCarthy was, but outside of Houston he was unknown. To Texans he was big, bold and brash, he was everything non-Texans romanticised about Texas.

He was probably the richest man in Texas and one of the wealthiest in the country, but who was he?
Glenn was several generations removed from his early ancestors who came over from Co. Cork.
He was called the ‘King of the Wildcatters’; the term itself came into use with the early Irish in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. A wildcatter is a person that finds oil in places not proven to have oil.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 472

A new book by Davis and Mary Coakley chronicles the history of the famous Dublin hospital, which started out as a workhouse. It’s now the largest academic teaching hospital in the Republic of Ireland and is also the site of the new National Children’s Hospital.

One of the first things a contemporary visitor to St James’s Hospital will notice is the variety in age and architecture of the buildings on its grounds. These were built in the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries and connect St James’s Hospital in a tangible way with all the institutions that have occupied the site since the establishment of the City Workhouse in 1703.

The history of these institutions forms one strand of the history and heritage of St James’s Hospital. Another strand is formed by the heritage of the four old and distinguished voluntary hospitals – Mercer’s, Sir Patrick Dun’s, the Royal City of Dublin (also known as Baggot Street Hospital) and Dr Steevens’ – that amalgamated with St James’s Hospital in the 1980s.

A third strand is formed by the historic medical school of Trinity College Dublin, which needed a large, modern teaching hospital for its students. These three interwoven strands form the fabric of this book.

Like a mirror, the history of the various institutions that stood on the St James’s site reflects the challenges faced by successive generations of Dubliners as they struggled to cope with the social, health and political challenges of their times. War and recurrent famine impoverished many Irish people living in rural areas during the seventeenth century. Often they had no option other than begging in order to survive.
A significant number made their way to Dublin, where they joined other starving people begging on the streets. After numerous complaints from harassed citizens, the city assembly decided, in 1697, to build a workhouse on James’s Street, outside the western gate of Dublin, in an attempt to stem the flow of destitute beggars entering the city from the west of Ireland.

The workhouse admitted its first inmates in January 1706, when 124 vagrants were apprehended on the streets of Dublin.

The abandonment of infants left at the doors of wealthy citizens, in churches and on the banks of the canal, was another issue that gave rise to public scandal at the beginning of the eighteenth century. After a number of parish-based solutions failed, legislation was enacted in 1730 obliging the governors to admit all abandoned children to the City Workhouse.

The name of the institution was changed to the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse of the City of Dublin. A revolving basket was placed at the entrance so that infants could be left anonymously at the hospital. Infants were transported to the institution from all over Ireland, and many of them died en route or were moribund on arrival.
Unfortunately, the infants did not receive the necessary standard of care and many died in appalling conditions, giving rise to inquiry after inquiry throughout the eighteenth century.

In 1772, the Irish parliament decided to remove the beggars and vagrants to the House of Industry, which had just been opened on the north side of the city. As a result, the care of abandoned infants became the sole responsibility of the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse and the name was changed to the Foundling Hospital. The hospital continued to admit children until parliament decided to stop all further admissions in 1829.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 516

By Con McGrath

When war puts fathers and sons in the same battle, one question is inevitable: Will either or both survive?

In the closing stages of World War Two, an Irish-American family by the name of Fenton, encountered first hand that very question. This occurred when Colonel (later Brigadier General) Francis I. Fenton, as well as his son Mike, were sent to fight on the Pacific island of Okinawa.

The subsequent fighting which occurred here between the Imperial Japanese Army, and the United States Marine and Army forces, was long and bloody.

Regretfully, young Mike Fenton lost his life in the fight. A photograph, taken of Col. Fenton attending the burial of his son, remains one of the most poignant images to come out of that period of history.

Francis Ivan Fenton was born 11 Aug 1892. In August 1917, during World War One, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. It would prove to be the beginning of his career in the Marine Forces.

Francis I. Fenton married Mary Kelly. The couple would have two sons: Francis I. Fenton who was born on September 29th, 1922 in Los Angeles County, California; and Michael James ‘Mike’ Fenton who was born on November 30th, 1925 in Solano County, California. The boys were raised Irish Catholic and instilled with a love of their country and their heritage.

As a career Marine officer, Francis I. Fenton, Sr., would be deployed for any amount of time, or the family may be together but would move every few years. The 1930 US Census shows the family living on the Navy Base in Guam in the Pacific.

Francis I. Fenton, Sr., gradually rose through the ranks and by World War Two, he became division engineer officer of the 1st Marine Division in July 1944. With this unit, Fenton won a Bronze Star for duty at the Battle of Peleliu before landing on Okinawa.

WHILE Colonel Fenton advanced to higher command, his younger son, Michael, enlisted in the Marine Corps on August 17, 1943, and joined B Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division – the same division in which his father commanded the engineers. Reportedly turning down a commission so he could fight at the front, Michael served as a scout-sniper on the island of Okinawa.

Father and son met once during the fighting when their paths crossed at a partially destroyed Okinawan farmhouse. After exchanging news from home, including information on Michael’s older brother, Francis, Jr., who had been commissioned a Marine officer in 1941, the two family members returned to their work.

They would never talk again.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 345

Kay Doyle talks to one of Ireland’s best loved performers as he looks back on over fifty years of showbusiness.

“I’m not going to get another 50 years out of it that’s for sure,” laughs Johnny McEvoy as we discuss his latest tour which celebrates five decades of the legendary singer/songwriter.

In fact, Johnny McEvoy points out that it was in 1963 when he first sang to an audience, which means he has been in the public eye for some 56 years now. Back when Muirsheen Durkin went to number one, Johnny was told to enjoy it as he’d only get six months in the music business. “They’ve been a long six months,” he laughs.
We last met three years ago, reminiscing over coffee in a Greystones cafe. At the time, he was about to embark on some festival gigs in America and he also explained this idea he had for a book which would put his songs, his stories and his life into words.

Ever the straight-talker, that book was published last year and My Songs, My Stories, My Life In Music is a fine collection of important aspects of Johnny’s five decades in music.

“It was something I wanted to do for a while,” he says. “It started in a book shop when I found a pocket song book, The Black Songbook by Leonard Cohen, with all his songs and chords, and I thought maybe I’d try it. As I put it together I had Philp O’Duffy, who was my guitar player (since passed), to write out the music and then I thought I’d explain what the songs were about and so it grew from a pocket book to a coffee table book.”

Writing the book became a form of therapy for Johnny, who would spend time at it while his wife late wife Odette was ill. Sadly Odette died of ovarian cancer five years ago.

“You just never forget,” he says. “Every single day. It gets a bit easier as time goes on but in the beginning there was a lot of anger as to why it happened. Things like Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries can bring it all back. But life takes over and if you’re going to go down the road of sitting in, looking at television, not eating properly, not looking after yourself, it will get you in the end and it’s not the best way to go.”

“When Odette was dying I stopped working and stopped touring but then after a while I got back into it. I do a spring and autumn tour and a few festivals during the year now and it’s great at this stage of my life that I don’t have to be going out and slogging it on the road like I used to.”

Johnny recalls those tougher earlier days in the beginning ‘slogging’ it to practically empty pubs and ballrooms. However, his determination and sheer love for the music guided him towards a long and successful career.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 305

‘They did the State some service’

The Tragic Story of the Ryan Brothers of Cashel

By Pat Poland

Older readers will recall the classic black and white movie, The Fighting Sullivans. It tells of the five Sullivan brothers (of Irish descent) from Waterloo, Iowa, in the United States, who all died after their warship, the USS Juneau, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific in November 1942.

Of more recent vintage was the acclaimed 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan, part of which was filmed at Ballinesker Beach, Curracloe, Co. Wexford. It recounts the (fictional) tale of a squad of US Army Rangers as they search for an American paratrooper, ‘Private James Francis Ryan’, lost behind enemy lines in Normandy in 1944.

He is the last surviving brother of four servicemen. The picture is loosely based on the true story of the Niland brothers who all served in the US Army during WWII.
As a direct result of these events, particularly the Sullivan family calamity, the US War Department adopted the ‘Sole Survivor Policy’. These regulations were designed to protect members of a family from the draft or from combat duty if they had already lost members in military service.

Nearer to home, the poignant story of the four Shea brothers from Co. Kilkenny – John, Richard, Patrick, and Joseph – all of whom perished in the First World War, has, with the recent centenary of the end of the war book-ended, been belatedly, but deservedly, remembered on RTÉ’s Nationwide.

It goes without saying that the loss of their sons was an unspeakable personal tragedy for the Sullivan, Niland, and Shea families.

This short article considers the no-less heart-rending narrative of the three Ryan brothers (all commissioned officers in the Irish Defence Forces) of Cashel, Co. Tipperary, who, although not falling in combat, nonetheless made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

The officers who died, 2nd Lieut Michael J. Ryan (19) (Air Corps), Lieut Thomas A. Ryan (22) (Army), and Capt. William J. Ryan (36) (Air Corps) were sons of Mr and Mrs W. P. Ryan, owners of Ryan’s Central Hotel, Cashel.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 463

Considered by some to be the greatest poet of the twentieth century, William Butler Yeats, who died eighty years ago, was a towering figure in literature and the driving force behind the Irish literary revival, writes Gerry Breen.


William Butler Yeats, who died eighty years ago on 28th January, 1939, was a prince among poets and a towering figure in twentieth century literature. He was the driving force behind the Irish literary revival, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre, he served as a Senator of the Irish Free State for two terms and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Many consider him to be the greatest poet of the twentieth century.

Yeats was born in Sandymount, Dublin, on 13th June, 1865. He was the oldest of four children of John Butler Yeats, a portrait artist and critic. He spent childhood holidays in Co. Sligo, and from an early age he became fascinated by Irish legends and the occult.

His mother, Susan Mary Pollexfen was a member of a wealthy merchant family in Sligo. They owned a milling and shipping business. She passed on her intense love of Sligo to her children, who were encouraged to regard it as the most beautiful place in Ireland.

Shortly after the birth of William, his family relocated to the Pollexfen home at Merville, Sligo, and William came to regard this area as his ‘country of the heart’.

William was a member of a very artistic family. His brother, Jack, became a renowned painter, and he also wrote a number of plays and novels which won the admiration of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. His sisters, Elizabeth and Susan Mary, were deeply involved in the arts and crafts movement.

William’s great-great-grandfather had married Mary Butler, the family name of the Dukes of Ormond, from whom the Butler family claimed to be descendants. It was an aristocratic link the family were pleased to preserve.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 397

They’ve been a part of our coastline since time immemorial, wonderful structures that in themselves are great feats of engineering and construction. Here Mary Rose McCarthy gives a brief glimpse into twelve great lighthouses of Ireland.

Perhaps because of their location, often looking as if perched on the edge of the land, lighthouses have long interested us.

In 2016, Irish Lights, who are the commissioners responsible for overseeing lighthouses, set up an all-Ireland tourism initiative with Bord Fáilte, focusing on 12 lighthouses on coasts around the island.

In conjunction with local tourist and community development groups at some locations, it is possible to stay in the original dwellings once occupied by keepers and their families. At other sites, accommodation is easily found nearby.

The first aids to navigation were fires lit along the shoreline to guide vessels safely to land. Then came wooden structures, succeeded by the stone built towers we see today. Some of the towers also had fog signals.

With advances in technology, it is no longer necessary to have personnel living and tending the light at these coastal locations.

Fog signals are no longer required either due to more sophisticated systems of navigation. But lighthouses still play a vital role in aiding maritime safety for commerce and for leisure.

St. John’s Point, Co. Donegal.
This lighthouse is at the end of a long peninsula and appears miles from anywhere. Designed by George Halpin, constructed of cut granite, and painted white, its light was first exhibited on 4th of November 1831. For years prior to that, merchants, traders, and seamen of Killybegs looked for the establishment of a light to protect the North shore of Donegal Bay.

There are two keepers’ residences on the site, named Clipper and Schooner which are now run as holiday lets. Operated by the Irish Landmark Trust they make a perfect base from which to explore all that Donegal has to offer.

The station was converted to unwatched in the early 1930s and in July 1942, the light was changed to flashing. The Spanish Armada in 1588 were driven off course by violent storms. Twenty four of the fleet went aground including three wrecks which can be seen on nearby Streedagh Strand.

There is plenty to do in the area including taking in the breath taking views, good fishing, walking, or surfing on nearby Rossnowlagh. Killybegs Heritage Trail is about 25 mins drive away and Bundoran adventure park approximately 55 mins away.
Or just stay indoors in the characterful tastefully restored cottages, listen to the sea and imagine life as a ‘keeper of the light’ in this wild and beautiful place.

Ballycotton, Co. Cork
Ballycotton Lighthouse is one of only two black lighthouses on the island of Ireland. Sirrus, the first paddle steamer to cross the Atlantic completely under steam, went aground near this site in dense fog. This prompted the building of the lighthouse.
Designed by George Halpin, it is built on Ballycotton island close to the shore but accessible only by boat. The light was first exhibited on June 1st 1851, its ‘character’ was flashing white every ten seconds, and in clear weather was visible at a distance of 18 miles.

At first lighthouse families stayed on the island in keepers dwellings, and children rowed ashore to school on the mainland. However, in 1896 it was decided to make Ballycotton, reliving, meaning that families now lived ashore rather than in the difficult conditions on the island. The light was converted to electric in 1975 and became fully automated in 1992.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 593

After a tough and challenging couple of years healthwise, Gay Byrne is looking forward to 2019 with typical optimism. He reflects on his colourful life, and outstanding broadcasting career, with Shea Tomkins.

When Gay Byrne, the human paradigm by which Irish broadcasting standards will always be measured, takes stock on the year that has passed, there is a heartwarming display of affection that glows like a beacon in his mind and heart – a collective gesture of goodwill that was sent his way, fuelled by the often unheralded kindness of the Irish people.

It is widely known that one of the nation’s most treasured television and radio hosts has had to face serious health issues over the past couple of years, and he is the first to acknowledge that the support of his family, friends and the overwhelming outpouring of well wishes from the Irish public has helped him, beyond anything, to keep his spirits high.

“The kindness that has been shown to me and my family has been something special,” says Gay as he chats to Ireland’s Own during the recent the festive season.

“The amount of goodwill that flooded in from members of the public was simply staggering. There were truckloads of cards, Mass cards, holy medals, prayers, just a great outpouring of good wishes which took me completely by surprise. It was so thoughtful and well received and appreciated, and what is a prayer only a good wish.

“I have a lot to be grateful for. I got through 83 years of robust good health, aside from a couple of minor setbacks. I rode my bike, I went for walks in the mountain and all of a sudden it was like crossing the road from on one side where all the healthy people were standing, to the side with the infirm and disabled.

“If I had known ill health during my life I would probably have been better able to cope with being sick. The life I knew has changed forever. I can no longer ride my bike. I walk with a crutch, and am curtailed in my diet. The treatment is very heavy, and it really sets you back on your heels. But having said all that I’m still here, and looking forward to the new year.”

Gabriel Mary Byrne was born on August 5th, 1934, and raised in a little house, number 17, on Rialto Street off the South Circular Road in Dublin. It was a straightforward two-up, two-down building and it was from here that he and his brothers Edward (known as Raysie-baby), Ernest and Al, and his sister, Mary, were given their groundings in life. His parents’ eldest child, Joseph, died when he was just one week old.

“My father, Edward, fought in the First World War,” Gay recalls. “In fact, he had to marry my mother, Annie, in Belfast as he wore a British army uniform, and couldn’t get married in Dublin. Guinness’s had promised that any man who came back alive from the War would get a job. My parents reared four boys and one girl, and they got jobs in Guinness’s. My sister was a lady clerk, the highest ranking position she could get.”
Gay doesn’t have fond memories of his schooldays in Synge Street CBS, but in spite of this he had an inkling from early on which career path he would like to go down.

“I look at my grandchildren today and how much they love going to school full of joy and happiness and so upbeat that they are going to see their teachers again,” he says, “in my schooldays you turned into Synge Street in dread, knowing you were going to be beaten that day, everybody knew. The approach to education today couldn’t be more different and it’s great.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

0 463

By Billy O’Riordan

On Monday, January 20th, 1969 Richard Milhous Nixon became the 37th President of the United States of America. By August, 1974, Nixon had resigned in shame.
The 1968 Presidential election had been a tumultuous affair, indeed 1968 had been a tumultuous year.

1968 was the year of anti- Vietnam war protest in the Capital Washington D.C. The assassination of Robert Kennedy in July after his victory in the Californian Primary, had left a bloody stain on American politics. Nixon’s inauguration was remembered for extreme protests by M.O.B.E. – The National Mobilisation Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

January 20th, 1969, in Washington D.C. saw mass protest with rocks, rotten fruit and smoke bombs being hurled at police. An oddly interesting event was taking place on the National Mall during the Nixon inauguration.

A group known as the Yippies (Youth International Party) were at the same time performing an investiture on a ‘pig’.

The Yippies had nominated a pig as a presidential candidate claiming, “he had more going for him than the other candidate”.

Earlier in 1968, ‘Pigasus the Immortal’ had caused a riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago leading to the trial of seven Yippies, who became known as ‘the Chicago seven’.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own


0 391

Francis Kaye pays tribute to the showband star and legendary performer that was the late Sonny Knowles

During the 1960s, the late Sonny Knowles was a showband star, travelling around the country four or five nights a week as a member of the Pacific Showband.

He had a number of hit singles including a great version of the Eddie Arnold classic, ‘No One Will Ever Know’ and the follow-up, ‘We Could’. With Seán Fagan, who was the band’s lead singer, he made the charts again with a ballad, ‘I Only Came To Dance With You’, arranged in the style of the Everly Brothers.

In 1968, when the band was revamped, prior to its heading for Canada as Dublin Corporation, Sonny joined Dermot O’Brien’s Clubmen and continued on the showband scene for a few more years before leaving and concentrating on cabaret where he was an immediate success, becoming known as The Window Cleaner because of his habit of making circles with one hand as he held the microphone with the other.
Sonny, who passed away recently at the age of 86, didn’t start out as a singer, in fact he was a classically-trained musician.

Born in The Liberties area of Dublin in 1932, he was christened Thomas after his father but became known to all as Sonny as he was the ‘baby’. His parents died while he was a child and he was raised by his elder brother Harry, who for many years was a trombone player in the RTE Concert Orchestra.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own