From The Archives

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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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The extraordinary affinity the US leader had with cats is recalled by Bridget McCann

Seven score and fourteen years have passed since President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14th, 1865 – the feast of Good Friday.

The Great Emancipator, who led his country through the Civil War and ended slavery, was well known for his love of all animals, but perhaps first and foremost, his cats.

Treasury official Mansell B. Field recalled in his memoirs how President Lincoln “possessed extraordinary kindness of heart when his feelings could be reached.”

Noting Lincoln’s fondness for animals, especially cats, Field added: “I have seen him fondle one for an hour. Helplessness and suffering touched him when they appealed directly to his senses, or when you could penetrate through his intelligence to them.”

When he was first elected president, Lincoln, who had decided to leave his dog Fido at home in Springfield, Illinois, was given an unexpected gift of two kittens from Secretary of State William Seward.

The president doted on the cats, which he named Tabby and Dixie, so much so that he once fed Tabby from the table during a formal dinner at the White House.

When Lincoln’s embarrassed wife later observed that the action was “shameful in front of their guests,” the president replied, “If the gold fork was good enough for former President James Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby.”

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The Normandy Landings marked the turning point of World War II in Western Europe. The Allied armies cooperated with each other to defeat an evil enemy and, in doing so, displayed an inordinate amount of courage in their determination to preserve freedom and restore peace in the world, writes Eamonn Duggan.

“In the East, the vastness of the space will … permit a loss of territory without suffering a mortal blow to Germany’s chances for survival. Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds…consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time”. Adolf Hitler

This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings which took place on June 6th 1944 and marked the turning point of the war in Western Europe.

It behoves all of us to take the time to reflect on the importance of the event and remember the brave actions of the Allied armies as they began the huge task of pushing the Germans out of occupied France.
Only four years earlier Adolf Hitler had boasted about his conquest of France calling it “the most famous victory in history.” As a result, the British Expeditionary Force of around 200,000 men and around 130,000 French troops had to be evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk and, while Winston Churchill hailed the operation as one of Britain’s finest hours, he promised the Allied forces would return to free France from the illegal and abhorrent Nazi occupation.

The planning for that return began in 1942 when Churchill announced an understanding with Stalin and Roosevelt to create a Second Front in Europe and the work towards that goal began in earnest after the Casablanca and Tehran Conferences.

Elaborate plans were drawn up to train troops and accumulate a large number of ships. New and innovative technologies were developed in time for the invasion.

For example, two new prefabricated mobile harbours called Mulberries were constructed and a pipeline known as PLUTO was laid under the English Channel to ensure a constant supply of oil.

The Allies went to great lengths to devise and conduct deception operations in order to persuade the Germans that areas other than Normandy would be the real focus for their attacks. Closer to the invasion date, messages designed to dupe the Germans emanated from the Allies suggesting that Pas de Calais was to be the point of the main attack. Radio messages coming out of Scotland suggesting that an invasion of Norway was imminent were picked up by the German radio operators.

In the months before the invasion Allied forces rehearsed their roles over and over in order to be as prepared as possible for all eventualities. The authorities introduced a news blackout from Britain and even the people here in this country were impacted when travel to and from the Irish Free State was banned.

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By Bill McStay

Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, some 650 miles east of the United States, the island of Bermuda, with its sub-tropical climate, is a favourite holiday destination of well-off Americans.

Like Miami in the U.S. State of Florida and the East Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, it sits at one corner of a vast area of ocean over a million square miles in extent, called the Bermuda Triangle.

In popular belief, this enormous sea area has acquired an unenviable reputation as a graveyard of ships and even aircraft, despite official assertions of its being nothing out of the ordinary.

It was in this area nevertheless that as long ago as 1492 the west-bound expedition of Christopher Columbus reported seeing strange lights in the night sky. From here too have come stories of vessels disappearing without trace, such as the boat SPRAY and its sailor, the round- the-world solo yachtsman Joshua Slocum, who disappeared in this area in 1909.

Even today in the Triangle, according to the United States Coastguard, over one hundred craft vanish each year.

Of all Triangle tragedies, one in particular persists in the memory of the American public. It began in the U.S. Naval Base at Fort Lauderdale, near Miami, in December 1945, some months after the end of World War Two.

On the fifth of that month, five Avenger class bombers, called Flight 19 and carrying in all fourteen airmen, left the base on a routine navigational training exercise.

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By Calvin Jones

The Badger is the largest Irish member of the mustelid or weasel family and is one of our most distinctive mammals. Its stocky body, short, powerful limbs and striking black-and-white head markings make the badger unmistakeable. Adult badgers are typically 65-80 cm (25-32 inches) long and weigh between 8 and 12 kilos (17 and 27 pound).

Badgers are found throughout Ireland, although because they are primarily active at night they are rarely seen. They live in family groups or clans of up to twelve individuals that occupy a large network of underground tunnels and chambers known as a sett. Badgers are clean animals: they regularly change the bedding in their sleeping chambers and have been observed bringing bedding to the surface to “air” before taking it back underground again.

At dusk the clan will emerge from the sett to forage over a shared territory of between 125 and 375 acres. They are true omnivores and will eat a huge variety of food including invertebrates, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, carrion, vegetables, fruit and even cereals. Their favourite food, however, is earthworms, and a badger can devour up to 200 of them in a single night.

In common with other mustelids, badgers mark out their territory and communicate using scent. Each badger produces a characteristic musky scent from special glands, and as well as marking territory this scent serves to identify the individual badger and to maintain the social harmony within the clan.
Badgers exhibit a breeding phenomenon called delayed implantation which allows mating to take place at any time of the year. The fertilised eggs are then stored in the uterus in a state of suspended development until external conditions are favourable, when they are implanted into the uterine wall and, after a further gestation period of 7-8 weeks a litter of between one and six cubs will be born. Cub mortality is high, and only about half of the cubs born will survive to adulthood.

Even with no natural predators badgers that reach adulthood face an uncertain future. Many badgers die every year on our roads, and thousands more are illegally snared and shot. Despite being protected under both The Irish Wildlife Act 1976, 2000 and under The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (The Bern Convention), to which Ireland is a signatory, the badger population in Ireland is under siege. More than 25,000 Irish badgers have been legally culled over the last fifteen years or so in an ongoing government scheme to try and control the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in cattle.

Bovine tuberculosis is a disease of cattle that has spread into the wild badger population, and not the other way around. The link between badgers and increased incidence of bovine TB is far from conclusive, and yet badgers are routinely persecuted in an attempt to control the disease.

The effectiveness of Ireland’s extensive badger culling programme is questionable at best, and is widely acknowledged to be unsustainable in the long term. Let’s hope that an alternative strategy can be found to control bovine TB – perhaps one that concentrates on the main carriers and transmitters of the disease, cattle – before we deplete our wild badger population to the point of no return.

Read Calvin’s nature column every week in Ireland’s Own

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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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