From The Archives

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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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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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